I'll start this by saying I'm a single 33 year old. I've been into preparedness long before I knew there was a word for it. I don't really know where it came from in the beginning, though my mother was my Cub Scout leader in elementary school. Some of my best memories were sitting on the floor underneath the dining room table tying knots around the table legs. I also remember reading The Hardy Boys Handbook: Seven Stories of Survival in elementary school, which was a mix of survival stories and information. It is worthwhile to find a copy for your kids.
As I graduated high school in Texas, Y2K was looming. I had always been someone to keep a flashlight and jumper cables in my car, but that seemed just sensible to me. I bought several magazines on Y2K preparedness but being on a college student budget and living in the dorms there was little I could do besides buy a couple of plastic water storage bags. Then after graduation I moved to Florida.
Florida, it would seem, would be the natural place for someone with a survival mindset. Having never lived in Florida before but being someone that watched the news often, all I knew about the state was: Hurricanes.
My father and extended family had lived in Florida for several years and had been through at least one hurricane and the wildfires of the late 1990s. My father being ex military I was sure they would be accepting of the idea and most certainly were several steps ahead my concept of preparedness. Boy, was I wrong.
When I arrived at my father's house, I couldn't find a functioning flashlight. They had no water storage. They had a grill that was electric. They had a generator that was not only undersized, but had never been taken out of the box. When I inquired to where there fuel storage was, the reply was 'we're going to siphon out of the cars'. Ok, reasonable idea. Where is the siphon pump? Where are the extension cords for the generator, or do you plan to put it in the middle of the living room?
These questions bothered me greatly, and then Hurricane Floyd came. I was working for Radio Shack store on Merritt Island at the time, and we had set up a display full of weather radios. I even went as far as to print a picture of the satellite track and tape it onto the stack of boxes. It was mostly ignored.
Until the final few hours.
I was at the store with a co worker when the wind started to pick up. I made the decision to go home to help the family pack for the evac. The story that was told to me later was that about 5 minutes after I left, the district manager called to tell him he was free to close the store whenever he felt uncomfortable. The story goes, that after the district manager hung up, the store was inundated with local people, buying every flashlight, battery pack and weather radio they could get there hands on. Good day for business, bad day for common sense.
We were lucky enough to have a house in Orlando, so we had some place to go. I was in the first carload to the house that I had only visited once. The Orlando house had even few preparations than the primary house had. I fell asleep that night in my clothes with my five year old 4-cell MagLite next to my bed, trying to figure out how to put the skylight back on with duct tape, that I was sure was going to blow off during the night.
As with most Hurricanes that head for the Space Coast, it blew itself out before it barely made landfall. We didn't even lose power, thus the complacency continued.
One of my windfall moments was a few months later when Hurricane Irene hit. [By the time it reached us,] it was a tiny storm, barely a Cat 2. We had put up our opaque lexan window panels by that point. Irene hit late in the morning and I had slept though most of it. Ironically enough, though the winds were pretty minor, we had lost power. Since my windows were darkened due to the panels, I had problems finding my way out of my own bedroom. I've slept with that 4-cell Maglite under my bed ever since. It's there right now, 11 years, two states, and many cities later.
I lived in that house on the Space Coast for another year, quietly building a first aid kit, some batteries, flashlights and other equipment quietly. I hid a lot of two liter coke bottles re-filled with water under my bed. It got little attention, until we got our latest 'boil water order'. As my father started to fill pots to put on the stove, I pulled a couple of bottles out from under the bed and passed them out. Not a lot of appreciation, but not a lot of scorn either. I was okay with that.
A year or so later, I was on my way to my student research project on my off college day. I wasn't much one for the local Orlando radio stations, so it wasn't until I got to work when I found out about what was going on in New York. It was 9.11.01. My boss was e- military and we had several active duty military personnel in the research project. I watched the Internet go to a crawl and cell phone service die. I finally decided to go home and began filling up anything I could find with water, not sure what would happen next. My brother got home a little while later. He was working at Sea World at the time and for the first time in remembered history, they had closed and emptied the park.
I remember the uncertainty of the following few months. I recall the anthrax attacks, the invasion of Iraq and the D.C. Sniper. I was in college in Orlando at this point and had a few extra dollars. I gathered what I could, mostly first aid and water storage as quietly as I could manage.
Many years later I found my way back home to Texas, and to a place of my own. I didn't have to answer anyone about preps and though Y2K had long passed and the overall sense of dread of domestic terrorism was starting to subside, I still wanted to continue prepping. I had been a member of an online survival forum for a while at this point and it was gaining momentum. As I tried to talk to friends and family about prepping, I had mixed results. When you talk about prepping, people's minds often go to the extreme. While there certainly are people sitting in cabins in the woods, surrounded by MREs, I'd put them in the extreme minority.
I try to talk about balance and threat analysis. I currently live in Central Texas, which has a stable climate, stable power grid, no major targets for attack, and is seismically stable. We did have some radical flooding a few years ago but other than that, we've been pretty lucky. I've mentioned that about the most extreme plausible thing I can think of is a freak ice storm.
Then Hurricane Katrina happened.
I was working for another Radio Shack store at the time, and it began with strange phone calls from other stores. Locations were selling out of weather radios and flashlights as fast as we could get them in. I hadn't been paying attention to the news lately so I was caught unaware of the situation. I remember going home that night and reviewing my preps. I was pretty solid at that point, but decided to venture out for some last minute items.
You couldn't find a pack of batteries in Austin if you tried. You couldn't find a bottle of water if you had $1,000 to spend on it.
I remember going to an Academy Sports store to look for items. There were several very confused and frightened looking people in the camping aisle, staring at the wall of water filters with glazed over eyes. I reached for the last 5 gallon water jug a half second before another man did. I had 3 at home, so I let him have it. He turned and started to look at the MSR Miniworks water filters and I made a quiet comment about what to look for. I glanced up to see 8 pairs of eyes, fixated on me, eager for information. I answered what I could and made my way home. Seeing that the parking lot at my local grocery store looked like Wal-Mart on the day after Thanksgiving, I found a new respect for Walgreens. They had everything I needed, with reasonable (if not slightly higher) prices. Keep an eye out for a Walgreens or CVS pharmacy if you're in an emergency situation.
I watched the news that night and attempted to keep my stress level down. I'm a marginally high strung person and I though I've been into prepping for a while, I had yet to actually be in an emergency situation. I packed my freezer with as many bags of ice as I could make and filled everything I could find with water. I moved a mattress into my closet and even made plans to block the windows. You see, in those final few hours, there were news reports that estimated that Katrina was supposed to go right up the middle of Texas, through Houston and up and through Austin and onward. Bastrop (a South East Suburb of Austin) had evacuation orders was another rumor.
The next day was a mix of emotions. Texas barely got anything, while the insanity of New Orleans took hold. My own personal temper was fanned by my employment situation. You see, when no disaster came to pass in Texas, virtually every pack of batteries, weather radio, flashlight or pocket television was returned. I wanted to scream at every customer, standing there holding there receipt. It was less about my deflated bonus check about the frustration that was so similar to what I felt in Florida. It wasn't like we were selling generators or gas masks. It wasn't like the items were thousands or even hundred of dollars. I couldn't understand why someone would return a $5 flashlight 'because nothing happened, so now I don't need it.'
I've stopped trying to beat people over the head with prepping. I've found that you catch my flies with honey than you do with vinegar. When I talk to people about prepping, I focus on realistic threats and low cost solutions. People think that prepping is expensive. It doesn't have to be. I tell people that if they stop to think about it, probably 80% of the things they need they already have, and another 15% of things, they should have. Does every house need a flashlight, a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher? Have you ever gone camping? You probably have a stove, blankets and sleeping bags. Water storage is as cheap as a 2 liter soda bottle, or a $12 Aquatainer. It's not about guns and gas masks, though I don't discount those either. It's not about zombies or EMPs, though I don't discount those either.
If you stop and look around your town or city, you can probably come up with a few plausible, reasonable situations that could happen with little to no warning. Are you prone to snow, ice, flooding or extreme heat? Do you live near a rail line? (overturned chemical car anyone?). If you live near a nuclear power plant or military base, do you know several ways to get out of town?
Mostly, focus on the little things. I still feel strongly that most of the situations that you're going to come across you won't be home for. Do you carry a flashlight, tool kit, jumper cables and a flash light in your car? You don't even want to know how many of each of those are in mine. I don't feel normal if I leave the house without a knife in my pocket and a flashlight on my key ring. Why? These are things that I use every day of my life. People reading this would say that will probably think that is too basic a thing to even mention, but look around you. How many of you have friends or family that don't own flashlights. How many of your friends don't have jumper cables in their car?
I've slowly got friends and family into prepping. It was a hard road. Being subtle helps. Christmas and birthdays provide opportunities. I wouldn't suggest buying a relative a gas mask if they aren't already on board. Start easy, like a wind up weather radio or lantern. Something they will likely use even not in a disaster situation. Even cheesy disaster movies like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow (one of my favorites) provide opportunities. Anything that will give you the chance for a discussion is of benefit, just keep it light. Let them come to you for more information when they are ready. Let them know that you love them and you're trying to help save their life, but don't beat them over the head with it if they aren't ready.
Most importantly, keep a good attitude. At the end of the day, unless you're Bill Gates, you can't prepare for every single situation. Pick your battles and your primary threats. Do what you can when the finances allow. By reading this and going to the store, you're already ahead of 95% of the population. Regardless of what the voice over on Doomsday prepper says about the odds of a disaster happening, remember: It's not about the odds, it's about the stakes.