Next, and far down the list from a common personal disaster (like a house fire or a car wreck out in the middle of BF-nowhere) is an event that impacts more than you and extends to either a local or regional area.
None of these are especially likely but if you live in some parts of the country you may experience a few of these during your life. In other parts of the country these sort of events are exceedingly rare, but they still dwarf the sort of event most “preppers” are thinking of by a factor of at least 100.
These events all have one thing in common: They typically make the news in a big way and while statistically they’re unlikely they sure suck if you’re one of the people who get nailed by them!
I divide these events into two categories: The foreseeable and the unforeseeable.
Foreseeable events are things such as hurricanes. Back before weather radar, near-instant communication and satellites (e.g. the 1800s and before) you found out about a hurricane when it showed up. There was little warning until the storm hit, at which point you were either prepared or not, and suffered greatly or not. This is no longer true; it is virtually always the case that you have at least a couple of days, and usually a week advance warning that a potential impact from these storms is coming.
To a somewhat-lesser extent this is also the case for floods. While true flash floods do happen most of them are reasonably foreseeable at least several hours in advance.
Few of these sorts of events come with certainty of an impact; it is very common, for example, for a hurricane to be targeting “somewhere” on the gulf coast and yet whether we’re about to get 120mph winds or a thunderstorm is not known until hours before it happens. But that’s not the same thing as “no warning”; there’s plenty of it, if you pay any attention at all. Most floods are the same way; you may not get hit with a flood at any particular time but that the conditions are ripe for one to get you is usually known reasonably well in advance.
For a foreseeable event one gets to choose whether to stay (if you have and can up-armor where you are sufficiently) or go (if not.) This is not always a simple decision but it usually can come down to one or two hard decision points where the prudent person either leaves or does not. Fleeing is always an option and for some people (e.g. military members) you may be ordered out under certain circumstances, but for those of us who get to choose where and how to cover our own ass we decide.
Unforeseeable events include things like the possibility of wildfires (in some parts of the country); while this looks foreseeable at first blush it can be the other way around as the fire might start just beyond your property giving you hours or even mere minutes of warning. Then there are tornadoes (anywhere from hours of knowing one’s possible to seconds before you’re hit), tsunamis (anywhere from a couple of hours to a few minutes warning) and earthquakes (virtually never any effective warning.)
These events are relatively simple to plan for and they come down to two basic points:
- Hardening, to the extent reasonable and possible, your residence so as to withstand whatever is coming and mitigate the conditions that will occur after the fact. This means not just mitigating things like flying missiles (during a hurricane a pinecone may as well be a rock shot out of a cannon!) but also dealing with the potential of being cut off from normal “supplies” (utilities, fuel, food stores, etc) for a period of time. If you are in an earthquake area consider an automated (seismic) shut-off on gas lines and power, for example, as one of the greater risks of such an event isn’t the shaking — it’s the fires that result from severed gas and electrical connections.
- For those events in which one gets warning, or an opportunity to bug out immediately after the event, a plan of action to bail out with a defined time to execute if the parameters of safely sitting put are breached.
The “Go-NoGo” decision is one that requires extremely careful consideration and will be different for each person and identified risk. For example, if you live in a hurricane flood zone (where storm surge is a risk) you must determine where your exit choke points are and at what point they get cut off. Even if your location is not subject to flooding at that level of surge once your exit points are inundated you are forced to stay, like it or not. Good planning and risk control means that if you live in a place where exit choices are limited by such choke points, and in many cases they are, prudence dictates that you bug out if your option to exit will be cut off.
Do not ignore this part of preparation or fail to treat it with respect and never violate a zero barrier in this regard as doing so may get you killed. This will often mean bugging out unnecessarily (a serious annoyance and possible expense) but that beats not doing so when you should have. If you get cut off during an attempted bug-out you may not be able to return, either due to the authorities or conditions, to where you started. During Hurricane Andrew, for example, marinas evicted boat owners quite late during the approach of the storm where bridges had already been locked down. Due to the storm’s approach and the locked-down bridges many of the vessels were unable to reach any sort of rationally-safe harbor and were forced to attempt to ride out the storm in unprotected areas — with disastrous results.
Hardening requires a systemic approach, particularly for unforeseeable risks. There is an insurance element to this if you have material property worth insuring (but do pay attention to what it costs, the relative risk, and whether it’s worth it on balance) but in addition you need to contemplate if there’s an unforeseeable impact of some sort what will survive of your preparedness and how will you access and use it?
A chainsaw is great to clear a felled tree provided the tree does not fall on the shed with the chainsaw in it, destroying it before it can be used. As such a big part (in fact, the largest part!) of preparedness for such events is figuring out where your weak spots are and taking action to mitigate or remove them before the opportunity arises for the bad event to occur. The person who leaves their vehicle where it can be flooded out by rising water, for example, might not care if he has comprehensive insurance (other than the claim hassle and impact on future rates), but he sure as hell does care if not!
I consider all of these events to be 5 – 7 day risks. This bounds my preparation and expectations for such events. I expect that during that time period if I do not bug out I will have to provide all of the following:
- Drinkable water or other fluid. No, beer and liquor does not count. I will probably have access to water, but it may not be potable; again, you need about a half-gallon per-person per day, assuming only drinking.
- Food of some sort. It doesn’t have to be great, and you will survive not having any, but it’ll be damned uncomfortable and there’s no reason to put up with that. Said food doesn’t have to be complicated or special, just edible and calorie dense. There is no argument for stashing back a month or six worth of food for these types of events unless you intend to distribute it to others in your immediate area (more on that in a minute.)
- Shelter. My residence may be uninhabitable or destroyed, in whole or part.
- Tools for makeshift repairs and mitigation. These will vary widely depending on where you are; a chainsaw is rather useful if in a storm zone, for example. A circular saw (controlled depth-of-cut) is a must if you live in a hurricane or flood zone and might flood; the reason is that if you flood you must get the wet part of the drywall cropped out and the carpet out of the building immediately as soon as the water recedes or you will wind up with mold in the walls and your building will be economically destroyed. It’s ok if this is a battery-powered unit provided you have a couple of batteries and a charger (more on that in a minute too.) In addition you need at least one solid means (and more is better!) to put out fires that will survive whatever events you prepare against; a surprising number of people do fine in the event itself and then a fire that is otherwise controllable gets started and they have nothing to put it out with.
- Power. Some means of making enough power to run your refrigeration (if undamaged) and, if undamaged, your AC. Again, a minor flood is very survivable provided you can get the moisture out of the house fast. AC does a great job of this; it’s not the cooling, it’s the dehumidification that is of value. No power, however, and you’re screwed — and that circular saw doesn’t run without power either. Realize that most portable generators people buy will run your refrigerator and that saw but will not start your whole house AC unit. Starting requirements for large loads like AC units are much higher than running requirements, frequently by a factor of two or three. Be aware that the small, portable gensets such as the little 2kw Hondas, are reasonably light, quiet, and fuel efficient and they can run a refrigerator or microwave (not both at once!) and a few lights but cannot start or run a whole-house AC unit, hot water heater or range. A larger, heavier 8kw “portable” (frame-mounted but heavy) unit can run a range or hot water heater but nothing else at the same time, and still can’t start the house AC unit. Whether all of this is acceptable or not is up to you but do understand the trade-offs. Natural gas fueled, permanently-installed generators, provided they are protected from flooding, are nice unless one of the risks is an earthquake where gas service is almost-certain to be lost. Whatever direction you go and whatever limits you accept for power make sure you have enough fuel to power minimum requirements for 3-5 days because it may be at least that long before you can get more fuel. For fuel budget expect a gas-fueled generator to require 1 gallon per hour for every 10 horsepower of engine size at full load; a diesel will require 1 gallon per hour for roughly 15 horsepower of engine size at full load. At half-load you should size fuel requirements for 60-65% of that fuel consumption. With the exception of the little inverter generators (e.g. the 2Kw Hondas) a generator running at very light load will burn far more fuel than its load percentage would otherwise imply, so if you’re not consuming power you should turn it off! In addition be aware that generators all make noise and after an event with utility power off it will be very quiet; as such running a genset attracts attention. Finally, these units all require maintenance if you expect them to start and run when the emergency arises, and you need make-up (or change) oil (and possibly a replacement filter) if the requirement for operation is likely to extend beyond 3-4 days as most small units have 100-hour oil change intervals.
- Any sort of medicine or other supplies you must have. Be careful here if you’re dependent on any sort of medical infrastructure; you’re in big trouble in an event like this and, if it’s foreseeable, bug out every time rather than take the risk.
- Security. This is people, environment (e.g. what you can lock down, etc) and, probably, weapons. Looting is unfortunately a reality after events like this and you may have to shoot. This is a particular problem if you have external assets that are not under continuous observation and are worth stealing (that’s a very purdy genset you have there on the porch….) Do not expect communications of any sort, other than Ham Radio, to be working. The good news is that unlike the personal emergency in most areas of the country having weapons on your private property, and using them in defense if someone attempts to loot it, is not going to get you arrested. Note that you don’t have eyes in the back of your head (that is, you’re severely disadvantaged if you’re alone!), you need to sleep (ditto) and further one standing against a small mob, even if you’re armed, isn’t going to give you great odds. On the other hand a neighborhood that posts a watch after an event like this is unlikely to get overrun even by a fairly determined bunch of looters. LA is instructive; after the Rodney King event a number of business were looted and burned but shopkeepers who decided to stay and defend their property with a shotgun did better, on-balance, than those who didn’t. Speaking of which, if you have gross levels of supplies (e.g. food) after such an event providing them to your neighbors as a cooperative effort that happens to include perimeter security is an excellent and prudent trade. This is what you can productively use that six month supply of freeze-dried food for — along with your propane-fired grill or turkey cooker to heat water — when a hurricane comes.
- Medical. You need a decent med kit for events like this; it is not optional. Besides the usual cuts and scrapes that arise there is a significant risk of severe puncture or laceration wounds from falling or flying objects. These frequently produce severe hemorrhage and will reliably kill the victim if not immediately dealt with. Severe crush injuries also occur and those can be even worse as freeing someone from such an entrapment can open an arterial hemorrhage that kills in minutes or less. You cannot expect medical support assistance for anywhere from hours to days after such an event. There are limits to what you can reasonably handle, but again being able to clean wounds and deal with short-term infection risks, along with having a means to control severe bleeding, is certainly in order.
Notice what’s missing here — long-term water and food as other than a means to help your neighbors who can in exchange assist with joint security, to name two. It is extremely unlikely that you will be cut off from assistance for more than a week after such an event, but there’s a wide gulf between “assistance” and “comfort.”
As an example after Ivan here in the local area we had power back in 18 hours. That’s wasn’t exactly luck; I knew we were in a priority restore area due to what else is on the feed that serves our subdivision, along with how that gets fed. But that was no guarantee of quick restoration, of course — just an educated guess. We would have been fine without it, but having utility power back certainly was nice.
On the other hand people not far from me were off for a couple of weeks due to destroyed feeder lines, poles and transformers. This means you either had your own means of power (e.g. a generator and fuel) or you had no ability to maintain your refrigeration and lighting. If your range and oven were electric then a small portable generator was insufficient to power them; I hope your BBQ grill had either available charcoal or a full bottle of gas or you couldn’t cook anything!
I made the decision not to bug out during Ivan about 7 hours before landfall. We were prepared to go if it was necessary, but judged that it was not. That was the correct decision when all was said and done.
After Katrina there were places without power for an extended period of time, plus of course the flooding. But everyone who was in the below sea-level areas knew the risk of this in advance. Those who got nailed with the surge in coastal Mississippi, on the other hand, probably didn’t expect a 20′ wall of water, but that they got. Everyone in that area had warning though — at least enough to bug out, and if you are smart when there’s a Cat 5 storm bearing down on you unless you’re 30+ feet above water in a structure that can withstand 150mph winds that’s exactly what you do!
If you do decide to bug out you need to have prepared, in advance, exactly what’s going and how. You also need to contemplate the possibility that there will be nothing to come back to. The preparation list should be divided into three groups: Must have, want to have and nice to have.
Must have things should be those that can be hand-carried in aggregate if necessary (e.g. your means of transport are destroyed or unavailable and you’re reduced to human power.) This includes money (don’t count on credit card terminals working without electricity!), essential documents (e.g. ID), a change of clothes and everything in your bug-out bag for a personal emergency in the current set of environmental conditions you are in. This should all fit in that bag or on your person. Note that decent foot protection is absolutely mandatory.
Want to have includes things that you can transport for reasonable distances on foot and without material hassle with any sort of mechanized transport. This, in short, should fit in a large backpack or be able to be attached to it. Very important personal effects get added here, along with a limited number of things like insurance papers or other items that aren’t routinely in a safe deposit box at the bank.
Nice to have can fill your car’s trunk or even the entire vehicle, for that matter, or more if you have the means (e.g. a trailer, motor home, etc.) Again, prioritize.
All of this has to be figured out in advance. You should be able to execute a bug-out with “must have” in under a minute, with “want to have” in 10 minutes or less and “nice to have” within an hour.
Note that you may well start with Nice to have and wind up losing it — vehicles do break down, for example, and if you’re still in the danger zone when it does you may be forced to abandon all but “must have” at that point. For this reason these three categories of items need to be separated and loaded such that grabbing one category down (to “want to have”) is simple and requires no time or rummaging. Not co-mingling categories is extremely important; bug-outs in advance of, during, or immediately after mass events are nasty, often-chaotic and clogged messes with no certainty of reaching your goal. It is very important that if your plans go sideways you can ditch down a category or even two within seconds.
In addition you should plan your bug-out location for such an event with a primary and alternate destination, possibly both in the same general direction, and finally, determine a tertiary destination in a different direction. All of these destinations should be reasonably clear of the expected impact radius of the disaster you’re preparing against and all should be reachable within the carrying capacity of your vehicle for fuel at a pessimistic estimate on fuel economy with no less than a 20% reserve. An empty fuel tank with no means of filling it before departure means you’re screwed, incidentally, and being caught in a potential surge zone during a storm with a dead car, as just one example, is about as bad as it gets. During a bug-out occasioned by a regional event you cannot expect fuel to be available at any point in the trip; in such an event all the fueling stations on your chosen path are likely to be immediately drained by others and you may be forced to travel certain routes and avoid others by the authorities. This is one of the better arguments, by the way, for always keeping your vehicle at least half-full.
Karl Denninger is the author of Leverage: How Cheap Money Will Destroy the World in which he discusses the ill-use of leverage and how it is destroying the global economy, as well as where all of this will lead. The result is ugly: the value of everything—including gold—falls, and even personal safety is at risk in a world where there is limited money even for essentials like food and fuel.
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