Survival, Part I: Are You Prepared?

A few months ago, I posted about the usefulness of Microsoft’s OneNote program for organizing a large amount of information, notes, files, etc. I have an ebook at work that I use to share different kinds of files with everyone in my company. I also have a personal ebook that I’m just getting started which will contain my medieval research.

Then there’s my mega ebook which I call “The Survival Binder.” The purpose of it is to organize all the tidbits of info I find on survival and homesteading in one location, which I can then print and keep a backup paper copy of.

Are You One of Those Prepper Nut-Jobs?


Crazy Dave said there would be zombies!

Despite the fact that “preppers” and “survivalists” have become a little less-maligned in the last few years, most people still look at such people with a certain amount of bewilderment and downright disdain. And, you know, there really are some weird people out there with weird ideas. It’s hard to take anyone seriously who is screaming about how the zombies are going to eat everyone’s brains. Methinks someone’s brain has already been consumed.


No hablo ingles, Senor Grasshopper.

Unfortunately, people dismiss the whole idea of preparedness just because there are some people who take it to crazy extremes. If you throw away the zombie nonsense, though, you’ll find it’s very sensible. (And I think you will find most “preppers” are sensible people; you probably know some but don’t know you know them because the first rule of prepper club is that you don’t talk about prepping. Also, you never see sensible preppers on TV because sensible makes for boring TV.)

Survival Scenarios

It seems to me that all survival scenarios can be broken down into three different types. While the survival requirements of each have some things in common, each also requires some distinct skills and resources.


A temporary survival situation lasts hours up to 3 days.


These situations last from 3 days up to a month.


These situations last longer than one month.


Okay, so what do these types of survival situations look like (minus crazy things like zombie attacks or low-probability things like a high altitude nuclear detonation EMP)?


  • Rioting/ Looting
  • Terrorist Attack
  • Bad Weather
  • Utility Outage
  • Car Breakdown
  • Lost

There have been numerous examples just this year of rioting and looting and mass demonstrations that have trapped people either within the riot zone (e.g. people trapped in their cars when the road is blocked) or have left them either unable or unwilling to go home.

I was right here in Chattanooga, not 5 miles away, when a terrorist shot and killed 5 of our Armed Forces members. That’s considered a rather low-level terrorist attack compared to some. Parts of Boston were on lockdown following the Boston Marathon bombing while the police searched for the bombers. Terrorist attacks can happen anywhere and depending on the target, the severity, and police response, you may find yourself trapped at work or school, or unable to leave your house for hours or even days.


This is all true. We had almost no warning about the snow or how bad it would be, and since it was already spring, many people were not prepared.

Here in Tennessee we still talk about “The Blizzard of ’93.” In the middle of March, just a couple of days after having a high of nearly 80 degrees, we got a foot of snow overnight. (In the mountain areas, it was 2′-3′.) My parents and great-aunt and -uncle were trapped in the Smokey Mountains at a rental house with little food and no utilities (including no water) and no way to get out. I was staying with my grandmother and dad and we had water but no electricity or phone (this was before cell phones). The interstates were shut down for a day or two. Secondary roads were unusable for longer than that. We were without utilities for 3 full days. When my parents got out of the mountains after 4 days, there was still no utility service. In some communities around Gatlinburg, it took 1-2 weeks to get power restored.

But even though that was a once-in-100-years snow for us, bad weather (and the utility outages that tend to go with them) happens all over the country all the time. Think about people in Florida after Hurricane Andrew, New Orleans after Katrina, and the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy. You usually get a little warning before a weather disaster, but if you and a million other people are all at Wal-Mart at the same time, what supplies do you think will be left? Here in the South, we call that the milk-and-bread run. Whenever snow is even mentioned as a slight possibility, all the milk and bread get bought up very quickly. (We like our milk sandwiches down here.) So how much larger will the run on supplies be if the weather forecast is much more ominous?


The 2003 Northeast Blackout left people hoofing it in places like New York City. Luckily, it was well-tolerated. A blackout in NYC in 1977, however, was met with rioting and arson.

But utility outages aren’t only limited to bad weather. There have been several blackouts in major cities over the years. Recently, there was the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. These sorts of outages give you no warning and can happen at any time of the year.

Thanks to cell phones, most car breakdowns are an inconvenience and annoyance, but nothing more major. However, there are still times (such as during very bad weather) when you may find yourself broken down or stuck in a ditch and there’s little or no chance to get help any time soon. If it’s summer and the heat is intense and you have no water, this can become problematic after a few hours. If it’s winter, though, and temps are below freezing, it can become a problem in a much shorter period of time.

A broken-down car often leads to the final scenario on my list: getting lost. Most people think that getting lost is something that only happens to people who go hiking, but plenty of people get lost when they abandon their car and try to find help. Doing this in the dark or during bad weather or leaving the road for a “shortcut” across country all greatly raise the possibility that you will get lost. And while cars make pretty poor shelters because they have almost no insulation value and no way to produce heat if the motor isn’t on, being in one is still better than being exposed to the elements, especially if it’s raining or snowing (being wet increases your chances of hypothermia drastically; you can even get hypothermia when it’s not below freezing if you stay wet) or there is a bitterly cold wind.

So, temporary survival situations crop up all the time. In your lifetime, you have a high probability of being affected by at least one of these scenarios; maybe, like me, you’ve already lived through one or two. Being prepared to ride out a temporary survival situation–whether that’s at home, at your job, or in your car–is just smart. While there’s a low probability of death in most temporary survival situations–meaning you’re not likely to die if you are trapped in your house with no heat and no food for three days–being prepared means the difference between you (and your family) being miserable and scared and treating the situation with mild annoyance or even amusement.

My family, for instance, weathered the blizzard quite well because my grandmother had a wood burning stove. So while the house wasn’t heated evenly, every room stayed a tolerable temperature and the living room was quite toasty warm. My grandmother–having grown up cooking on a wood burning stove–was able to cook all of our food on it, so we didn’t go hungry (even if we were a bit short on our normal snacking supplies). She even had an oil lamp, which we used in the evenings. Many puzzles were worked and many crafts were made over those three days. I think I got all of my spring break reading done, too. So, overall, a bit annoying, but no big deal. Now imagine you have no heat, no light source, and only some cans of cold vegetables to eat. You’ll survive, but certainly not in the relative level of comfort we enjoyed.


  • Continuing rioting
  • Major bad weather/utility outage
  • Temporary disability
  • Money shortage

While most rioting is temporary, there are cases where it can go on for many days–to the point that the National Guard is called in and curfews or even lockdowns are put into place. The Rodney King riots in L.A. in 1992, for instance, lasted 6 days and required not only the National Guard, but also the Army and the Marines to intervene to restore order. 55 people were killed as a result and over 2,000 people were injured.


2009 ice storm in Kentucky.

Large weather events, like hurricanes, can cause much more a few days’ worth of headaches. After a hurricane or even a devastating tornado, people might find themselves living in a tent or camper for weeks while they wait for their house to be repaired. Utilities might be off for a week or more, or water contaminated for several weeks. There’s also the possibility that back-to-back storms, like the ice storms that hit Kentucky a few years ago, can keep people bottled up at home and utilities off for weeks. Or, in the case of some friends of ours who lived through that, they got to enjoy having power and getting out of the house for 1-3 days before another ice storm tore down their lines and iced up their roads for several more days.

But disasters aren’t only the widespread kind caused by weather or people. Sometimes a survival situation strikes only your household. A family member of mine recently had to go on disability. Although she had short-term disability insurance, the insurance company was reluctant to pay her what she was due. (My husband had a similar situation come up when he was out of work for a couple of weeks and his insurance made him jump through a lot of hoops and ended up not paying him.) Her long-term disability kicked in before her short-term insurance ever paid out. Arguing with the insurance company became a daily chore. It also meant she was without any income for a few months.

If you found yourself unable to work for a couple of weeks or more, how would you get by? What if your backup plan, like insurance, doesn’t pay out as expected or when expected? What if your bank account gets hacked and all of your money is taken and it takes more than a week to straighten out? Or imagine that you have an unexpected emergency, such as a major car repair, that leaves you strapped for cash. Maybe you can afford the repair and still afford your rent/mortgage, but what if you have little money left over for things like utilities and food? What if your power gets shut off and you can’t afford to have it turned back on until next paycheck? Or what if you can’t immediately pay for your emergency and you need to cut corners for a few months to save up the money to cover it?

Being strapped for cash can create a survival situation that almost exactly resembles those caused by weather or power outages. (The only difference being that you can contact other people for help, such as family members, a loan company, or a charity like a church or food bank. But depending on your situation, you may not have access to (or want to ask for) help.)


  • Long-term or permanent disability or unplanned early retirement
  • Job loss, business failure, or death
  • Major economic downturn or collapse
  • Major civil unrest or war
  • Catastrophic failure of utilities (esp. power grid)
  • Government overthrow

You can also think of long-term survival situations as “the new normal.” This is when there is little to no hope that life will go back to the way it was before the disaster, so you have to learn to live in your reduced circumstances.

Most preppers/survivalists (certainly the ones you see on TV) spend most or all of their time preparing for long-term survival situations. While you’re more likely to experience a temporary or short-term survival situation, if you’re prepared for the long-haul, you will generally have the skills and supplies you need to manage most shorter crises.

As I have already mentioned, an unexpected disability can leave you cash-strapped for the short-term, but if it turns into a long-term or permanent disability, being poorer will become your new normal. You will get hit with the double whammy of increased expenses for doctors, medicines, and special equipment plus a reduced income.

Job loss–especially in an economic downturn–can also create a survival situation. Even if you qualify for unemployment insurance, it, like disability insurance, only provides you with a portion of your regular take-home pay, which can leave you short. If you don’t qualify or it runs out before you’ve found a job, you will have no money at all. Even a temporary job will probably leave you no better off than you were on UI, meaning you will still be short money. If you are self-employed, a failure of your business is the same as losing your job. Or your spouse may die unexpectedly, leaving your household short an income (maybe even short its primary income).

ap100916053695-croppedEveryone reading this blog right now lived through the Great Recession (maybe we’re still living in it; certainly we seem to be living in a Great Stagnation). I was one of millions of people who lost their jobs in 2008. It took me two years to find another job and it was for greatly reduced pay and no benefits. At one point both I and my husband were unemployed and while we had a surprisingly good time hanging out with one another all day, the stress of how we were going to pay the bills certainly makes that period one we don’t wish to repeat. Thankfully, we had paid off all our debt, but the mortgage, when we were both working good-paying jobs, and we had built up a little emergency pantry. While we were not working, we ate our way through all of that food.


In Venezuela, people wait in lines for hours just to get into grocery stores, only to find the shelves almost completely bare.

The other possible long-term scenarios are more remote, but not impossible. Venezuela, as we speak, is collapsing. Inflation is spiraling out of control and in Caracas, hungry people have already eaten all the animals in the zoo. Cats, dogs, and pigeons aren’t safe roaming the streets in any major city. Yet Venezuela is sitting atop a wealth of oil; everyone should be living like Saudi princes. Instead, their government was taken over by socialists, then the socialists started taking over people’s businesses and expected them to work all day for a loss. People wouldn’t work for free (much less pay to work), so things like dairy farms began to shut down until now you can’t even find toilet paper and aspirin, much less really crucial things like food and medicine. History is littered with failed states, including democracies and republics; we’re not immune from a government-induced social or economic collapse. And as the Japanese demonstrated at Pearl Harbor in 1941, we’re not immune from military attack, either.



“Food for five years, a thousand gallons of gas, air filtration, water filtration, Geiger counter. Bomb shelter! Underground… God damn monsters.”

I hope I haven’t depressed you too much, but I hope I have also made it clear that it’s important for you to have some sort of immediate safety net that will allow you to survive hard times. “Survival” doesn’t mean eating rats on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific or preparing for the zombie apocalypse (or an infestation of graboids); it means being ready for the next cash shortfall or power outage.

In following posts, I’ll cover what you need to know and have to survive each type of survival scenario and how I got all the information I wanted organized on OneNote.



One comment on “Survival, Part I: Are You Prepared?

  1. Preppaaja says:

    Good points to think about. Thanks for the post.

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