The off-the-rails election and Putin’s frosty Russia are giving those of us born near the middle of the last century Cold War flashbacks. I feel like we’ll be back to “duck and cover” drills any day now. So it’s no surprise that there is a trend toward “Doomsteading,” a term being used to describe the new disaster preparedness that is gentler and definitely more stylish than the concrete bunker and stockpiled ammo scenarios of the post WW II era. I’m expecting to see Browning gun safes offered in J. Crew colors like “pebble,” “lichen,” and “chalk” in the catalog next to the cashmere t-shirts very soon.
Many of us started thinking about “prepping,” as it is called, after September 11. Also, for those of us living in earthquake and wild fire prone California it doesn’t take a radical extremist mentality to believe that some emergency preparedness is in order.
A perfect example of the new style prepper is a former military officer now personal chef I interviewed who preferred, in true prepper security-conscious fashion, not to be named. Let’s just call him Chef.
During last year’s Valley Fire when hundreds of displaced Lake County residents took refuge at the Calistoga Fairgrounds, Chef’s experience in the military and food service made him a valuable, uniquely qualified volunteer. He wasn’t too surprised to see just how unprepared for disaster most people were, saying that most arrived with just the clothes they were wearing. Some folks, he reported, arrived barefoot. Some had pets in tow, but no food for themselves or the animal.
Chef has a very organized approach to prepping. He has collected emergency supplies such as tents and water filtration systems over a period of time, but after the Valley Fire, he became more proactive and upped his prepper game. He shared some crucial prepper tips with me for this article.
Water is, of course, the first and probably most essential item to consider.
Chef recommends gallon jugs rather than storing water in larger containers, because the jugs are easier for a woman, child or elderly person to lift. Plan to store one gallon of water per person per day; that’s a lot of water if you are prepping for a month. Start out with a week’s worth and get into the habit of drinking through it and rotating on a FIFO (First In First Out) basis, then decide if you want to store more.
Important Note: The garage is where most of us will have to store all of our preparation supplies, so that means some clearing out is probably in order first. In my work as a residential organizer I have seen plenty of hoarded survival supplies, but often the owners are too disorganized and have too many other possessions to be able to find on their supplies when they need them. Don’t just add survival supplies to your existing messy or packed-to-the-gills garage—do a thorough clean out first.
Further on water preparedness, purification filters and iodine tablets in your supplies will keep you from having to store exorbitant amounts of water. There are lots of different filtration systems, Chef told me. He recommends a hand pump. He also stocks water straws (buylifestraw.com). “You can drink straight from a mud puddle and it instantly filters everything out,” he says.
Household bleach is important to have on hand. Three tablespoons added to a 55 gallon drum of water and left to sit for at least five hours will purify the water.
If you don’t think you will remember or don’t find it practical to drink through your stored gallons of water on a regular basis, you can buy water that has been stabilized to last five years. Also, if you have a swimming pool, you’ve got water you might not have considered. Don’t forget you have to use water for bathing and food preparation as well as drinking.
Chef’s combination of survival skills and culinary expertise means that his food storage for disaster preparedness is not just MREs (Meals Ready to Eat, the dehydrated food of the armed services). A fruit and vegetable garden is a great renewable resource when the grocery store is not open for business. A good garden can provide a nutritious variety of food, but again, water is crucial. You can’t grow food without a good water source, so add a generous amount of extra water storage to your survival plan if you decide to keep a garden.
Chef recommends rabbits and chickens as excellent renewable protein sources for the gourmet prepper as part of the “doomstead.” “Rabbits have the best feed to meat ratio,” he says. Also, unlike a cow or sheep, one rabbit could be a family’s meat for the day, so that nothing is leftover to be frozen. Remember, when the electricity is out, freezers and refrigerators are precious real estate that require a generator.
Generators are a key part of a serious preppers planning. Chef’s favorite is a solar powered generator by Goal Zero that can run a refrigerator for 24 hours on a 12 hour charge. Because it is solar, it is noiseless, unlike a gas generator.
Silence means survival in the prepper world. Noise alerts people to your presence and sometimes survival means, as Elmer Fudd likes to say, being “vewy, vewy quiet.”
Smoke is another way you might attract undesirables to your doomstead, so a gas grill is preferred for cooking. A stash of propane is necessary if you want to avoid smoke from a wood fire.
Traditionally, people that prep tend to be reclusive, but it is important to have a trusted community of family and friends to pool resources with and who will look out for each other. Communication is hugely important, and Chef makes sure to have Walkie Talkies charged and in the family vehicles at all times.
As I found out when I was away from home and my cell phone got wet and died, having your contacts list on your phone doesn’t do you much good when you can’t use it. A printed card or sheet with all your important numbers is a must. Post it or file it in the house, carry a copy in the car, and maybe have a small version in your wallet in case you can’t use your phone. Not many of us have our important phone numbers memorized any more.
Another great way to stay connected is to sign up with Nixle for your area. Nixle reports on police, weather, traffic, municipal and fire activity. To get reports texted to your phone, text your zip code to 888777.
Since not everyone has a green thumb or wants to butcher adorable rabbits, Chef suggests having items on hand that are valuable to trade. Wine, for example, is something many of us in Napa Valley have in surplus. It could be extremely valuable as a trade item and can be used as a liquid source and medicinally as well.
There are plenty of web sites that you can check out to learn more about prepping for disaster. Chef highly recommends patriotnurse.com, which focuses on medical and first aid preparedness. He also suggests theorganicprepper.ca and theprepperjournal.com.
There’s a lot of great information on the internet, but also a lot of cool stuff to buy, so beware. Refrain from buying items like aluminum stoves that fold flat and an all-in-one spork. Since food and water are most important, having all kinds of bottles and gadgets won’t make you truly prepared, it will just make you feel like you did something when really you added more junk to your garage. Don’t just shop—prep.
One way to get juiced for survival is to watch the first few seasons of The Walking Dead (AMC). We won’t be encountering zombies during a disaster, natural or otherwise, but some of the issues the characters have to deal with are things we would need to be prepared for: highways filled with cars, lack of fuel, scarce or unclean drinking water, lack of food, lack of electrical power, poor or no communications, illness and injury, etc.
Another entertaining way to learn about prepping is the television program Doomsday Preppers on the National Geographic Channel. Many of the people profiled on the show are extremists, but they have some amazing tips and will give you some options and ideas.
If you are interested in prepping, you should have a plan and supplies for two scenarios: Bugging In (also known as Sheltering in Place, discussed in the main article) and Bugging Out. Bugging In means that you will be staying in place. Bugging Out means that you will venture into the wild with minimal supplies. Extreme preppers will Bug Out to a secret location where they have a full cache of survival gear, food and water.
At a minimum, a good Bug Out bag should include: a dust mask, food for three days, water for a week, an extra change of clothing, a blanket, matches in a waterproof container, a knife, a crowbar, a flashlight (preferably solar powered), $100 cash, a compass—learn to use it–and a paper map of your area.
You should be able to walk five miles carrying your Bug Out backpack. There’s a reason the military works out wearing full gear. If you can’t carry it, you’ll be stuck Bugging In.