Real-Life Inspiration for Preparedness, by K.P.

Background Information:

My interest in preparedness started in earnest really just a few months ago.  Before that, I had been an avid backpacker, rock climber, and other sports which require self-sufficiency and forethought.  I am also a Red Cross volunteer.  I was at hurricane Wilma, and I have done local search and rescue, amongst other things.  This February I was dispatched to the south-western region of Kentucky for the Ice Storms.  What I learned there changed me in a lot of ways.

I was aware of the pending economic collapse, but hadn’t really thought of practical things to do until then.  As a pre-1840s Re-enactor, I was pretty sure I could comfortably live in a pre-industrial setting.  A little hubris, maybe, but at 23 sometimes that goes with the territory.

While we drove into Kentucky, parts of it looked like a war-zone.  Downed trees and power lines, roofs collapsed, the whole deal.  It was a long drive, and it really set in for us how serious this was.  People’s lives were on the line. 

There were three FEMA gas depots throughout the State, but FEMA did next to nothing to help here.  Without electricity, the pumps at the gas station will not work.  Some place had hooked up diesel generators to power the pumps if they could, and very few business that were still open would accept anything but cash. 

When we arrived in the small town to which we had been dispatched, we found that the Red Cross volunteers at the shelter had not slept for any normal amount of time in close to 8 days.  At the height of the storms our shelter slept 150 people.

We gave the local volunteers a needed break, and worked 20-hour days.  It was rough; but anyone who has been in that situation knows it can very rewarding as well.  We served 800 hot meals a day, gave out pallets upon pallets of MREs and uncounted bottles of water.

The grid-water had been contaminated, so bottled water was really all the people could drink or wash with if they didn’t have a very, very deep well, even then they were on a boil-alert.  If your house did not have a wood burning stove, then you were sleeping with us.  All together the power and gas were out, in some places, for more than 20 days.

That’s the background and the quick version of events which eventually led to my interest in this area.

On to the practical details that I learned.  First and most important was this:  when the trucking lines break down, within two or perhaps three days, every store will be sold out of all dry food.  That means, that if you don’t have at least two weeks worth of food stored up, you’ll be visiting me at the Shelter.

We slept (at out busiest day) 150 people in the shelter. No electricity, no gas, no water.  We’re talking serious survival kind of situations.  In talking with the people there, excluding the elderly, the main reason people could not stay in their homes was heat.  If you had a wood burning stove, you were basically fine.  You could get by. 

FEMA had  a recording when you called them, that gave the residents the Red Cross local number.  They did such unhelpful things as tell people we were giving our generators, gasoline, and kerosene.  Things that to my knowledge the RC has never done, and we were not doing.  FEMA had fliers telling people the could free food if they needed it.  Supposedly they actually gave out about 1000 meals, but after that they referred people to us.

Lesson learned here: Do not, under any condition, assume FEMA or any other government agency will help you.  Help yourself, and help your neighbors.

When I got back from Kentucky, I started to put the things I had seen in order.  I started to mentally make lists of the things I would need when this situation came to my neck of the woods.  I did not want to be in the shelter when (not if) something happened near me.

The main reason I saw in this specific situation was heat.  So I planned on picking up at least two working wood burners.  Then came water, then came food, and in a long-term scenario: barter.


My house has a fireplace, and although that is not very efficient, in a pinch it would do until I can find the kind of stoves I really want.  So I moved on to next item.


Water was pretty easy.  I have a couple of streams on my property, and I can collect rain water.  Some friends and I built a gravity-fed purification system.  We modified two used beer kegs that we bought very cheap to hold water on top and bottom.  We connected them with a 4 foot long stainless steel pipe with a very fine metal mesh at the bottom and  filled with activated charcoal.  When the water is first put through a matrix of gravel and varying degrees of fine sand, then through this system, you get very, very pure water.  We believe it to be near laboratory-grade water.  In fact, this system is just a scaled up version of a purifier at out local pharmaceutical company.

The benefit of using kegs is two-fold.  First, they are readily available almost anywhere, and two they are stainless steel.  I suppose you could also pretty easily convert this into a still if you so desired, for barter or producing barter-goods.

I have been working on something called an Archimedes’ Screw to help move the water.  It is basically a screw inside a cylinder.  When a mechanical force is applied to the screw to turn it, either by hand, modified bicycle, or wind turbine, the screw pulls water up the cylinder, from a low place to a high place.  This is not finished yet, so I cannot give it 100% clearance, but the theory seems sound.


Food takes a bit longer.  I started by ordering some 6-gallon mylar bags and  a couple packages of 500cc oxygen absorbers.  I went to the local Big Box store, the kind that has a bakery inside, and asked if I could have their used 5-gallon buckets with lids.  They were happy to help; and they were free.  I cleaned them by alternating a bleach wash, a salt wash, and a vinegar with lemon juice wash.  That got all of the icing smell out of the buckets.  That step was more my OCD then a necessity, since the mylar will keep anything from being contaminated.  Although I thought this might reduce the likely hood of insects poking around my buckets…

Place a mylar bag in a 5-gallon bucket.  You want 6-gallon bags so you can press all the air, and seal the very end.  This allows you to re-use the bags several times.  Fill the bag with about 5 gallons of rice, beans, powdered milk, lentils, noodles, red winter wheat… whatever you are storing.  Seal about 9/10’s of the bag with a clothes iron being sure to leave room for your O2 absorbers to fit though; I like to make a two-inch seal.  Grab the bag and lift it and shake it a bit to allow the contents to settle some, pressing the air up towards your seal. 

You’ll want to do several of these at once, because as soon as you open the O2 absorbers, they start working.  I put the unused one in a zip-lock bag which I suck all the air out as I seal it.  I also put in the tester pellet that comes with the absorbers so I know if they are good or not.

So let’s say you are putting up five buckets.  Each bucket gets ~2000cc worth of O2 absorbers.  If you bought 500cc packs, that would be four per bucket for a total number of 20.  Feel free to err on the side of caution here, if you are using some stored in the zip lock bags.  The extra costs of the materials is drastically outweighed by the value of the stored food.  If I have had the O2 absorbers exposed to air more than once, I toss in an extra one, more than twice, I toss in two extra, and I have never had any done more than that.

You want all your buckets prepped for final sealing before you open your O2 absorbers, for obvious reasons.  I usually ask for a hand with this next stage to allow me to move as quickly as possible with as little exposure to general environmental air for the absorbers.

So, toss in your 4 absorbers, press out as much of the air as you can, and finish off the seal.  I like to make my seals 2 inches thick, and again I use a clothes iron.  I use a large dictionary with a wooden cutting board on top to make this seal.  Snap down the lid of the bucket. 

The bucket is necessary to protect the mylar.  Although the mylar bags are strong in the sense that they can bear a lot of weight, pressure, or vacuum, they are highly susceptible to puncture.

Once all your buckets contain O2 absorbers and are sealed with lids on, take clear packing tape and put a long strip on the lid.  I write the date I packed the bucket, the approximate storage life, the contents, and the weight/volume.  I stack the buckets off the ground three-high.

Keep in mind that every dollar you spend here is worth many multiples of that in the future.  Even if we are all wrong on the possibility of Schumeresque Scenarios, think of the money you will save just because of inflation.

Now, speaking of money. If you spend $20 for 50 pounds of rice today, and three years from now, you could sell it for $100; if you did not do your storage well, you’re out $100 plus the cost of storage materials, not $20.  So make sure that you do it carefully.  You can also rotate out and in new stock.


No one (or at least not me) has the resources/time/etc to put into long-term storage everything they need for the rest of their lives.  Eventually bullets and beans run out.  So, you will need something to trade. 

I like [non-numismatic pre-1965] junk silver, and one-ounce silver coins/bars.  In my mind, these would work for direct bartering: things like mason jars, food, animals, ammunition, whatever.  Flea markets are a great place to pick up small amounts of junk silver if your budget does not allow for larger purchases, like $500 or $1,000 face-value bags.

If we find ourselves in a prolonged period of hyperinflation like the Former Yugoslavia experienced (more on this later), then we might want to hedge our bets.  You could buy a few 10-ounce silver bars, with the intent to sell them for the hyper-inflated currency before the bottom drops out to purchase needed items.  Just a thought.

One could lay up, mason jars, paraffin, salt, sugar, alcohol, tobacco; lots of things for barter.  There is also the good old stand-by, ammunition.  My concern with ammo for barter, is that you might not know what that ammo is going to be used for, nor know for sure it will not be used against you or someone else.  I do see the incredible versatility and all the good reasons for an ammo-based barter system.  So do what you like.

The other event that really sent a lot of this home for me was a 6-week stay in Serbia.  Listening to stories about how people would smuggle in gas during the embargo, buy any solid good while the money was worth something, and generally do everything they could to survive really had an effect on me.  At the height of the crisis, they had 37% inflation per day culminating in the issue of the 500 billion Dinar note.  This was of course fifteen to twenty years ago, but the scars are still visible.  Belgrade did not demolish or clean up any of the damage done during the 1999 NATO bombing.  The Serbs see that every day. 

There is a quote I like, that many of you may know that I feel is appropriate here:

“History has shown us that government leaders often ignore the fundamental fact that people demand both dignity and freedom. Stripping motivated people of their dignity and rubbing their noses in it is a very bad idea.” – John Ross, Unintended Consequences [JWR Adds: This otherwise excellent novel was marred by some vulgarity and gratuitous sex scenes. Beware!]

Back to the practicals…
People stocked up on silver, charcoal, wood burning stoves, anything that could be a store a value and increase their chances of survival.  Another interesting happening was the use of checks.  Checks in Serbia and the Former Yugoslavia are all printed with a maximum amount.  Usually 5,000 Dinars, (about $70 in today’s Dinar/ Dollar exchange rate).  So, if you had a business, you are issued a certain number of checks each month.  What happened during the crisis is interesting.  The checks were spontaneously monetized. 

Here is and example of what I mean.  I write a check for 5,000 Dinars, but I don’t address it to you.  You give me the goods for the check.  Then, instead of cashing the check at the bank, you give it to someone else for your needs.  This usually went on, especially in very small towns for up to four months before my account was drawn for the amount.

This also had the benefit of me being able to write a check I might not have had the money to back it right away, so it was like credit for me, and cash for you.  This doesn’t happen anymore in Serbia, by the way. 

Although I imagine I’m preaching to the choir, I know from my own experiences that it’s easy to get down, and disheartened.  But don’t fret.  Get to work, lay in your stores, and every day do at least one practical thing that increases your and your family’s chance of survival. Keep your powder dry.- KP