Apocalypse: en route or ongoing? I won’t argue whether something terrible will happen. It’s a flawed premise. Something terrible is already happening, just not where your computer is plugged in. It is not necessary for the entire planet to be threatened for a single region to be thrown into chaos. It wasn’t necessary for the whole state of Louisiana to be in peril before New Orleans turned medieval after Katrina. The mistake in logic occurs with the base assumption that a survival scenario is the end game. If that’s your assumption, there’s no need for extensive preparations. All you can hope to do is postpone the inevitable. For the rest of us, disaster will bring about a dire, though temporary state of more primitive living conditions. It’s temporary because we are working to make sure it doesn’t last. Everyone’s survival objective should be to rebuild and sustain. Adapt does not mean devolve.
Civilization is usually restored in a matter of months after the most catastrophic disaster. Push that period of primitive lawlessness out to several years and you’ll get no argument from me. What I’m talking about is realigning your survival paradigm with the realm of the probable. You will never be prepared for everything possible, and you will probably never hunt feral cats with a bow in a radioactive ash storm. Even if you do, I submit there is no conceivable way to prepare yourself for that eventuality while maintaining a tolerable existence in the pre-apocalyptic world. It makes more sense to concentrate on the remaining 99-point-something-percent likely scenarios which, combined, will take 4,000% less preparation and worry. This paradigm shift takes about as much time as reading this article.
Still not sold? Well, I still won’t argue. Please see Robert Heinlein’s quote about teaching pigs to sing. But let’s assume you recognize the benefit in an approach based on overwhelming probability. I’m going to reward you with the single biggest life saving strategy you will acquire this year, and it costs nothing. In fact, it’s going to save you money. Ready? Stay home.
You heard me. Don’t go anywhere. Metaphoric pause inserted here to allow for knee jerk reactions. Someone exclaims, “I’m not staying in this city!” Another asks, “Why should we listen to this guy, anyway?” And that’s a reasonable question.
As a rescue technician, I’m qualified in high angle (dangling from a rope), trench, excavation, and underwater environments, as well as vehicle extrication, wilderness search and rescue, confined space safety and response, unexploded ordnance (bombs), mine fields, and HazMat operations. There are very few rescue scenarios I have not trained on, drilled on, commanded, or otherwise participated in. The rescuer’s creed is simple. I am the most important person on the scene, my partner is second, and the victim is third. This means I am primarily trained to keep myself and my team safe while we do all we can for someone else. Or, survival, for short.
What I am not: I may be the only survival expert who was never associated with the Naval Special Warfare Development Group. Quite frankly, if you are getting all your survival tips from a SEAL Team member or any other individual whose primary qualification is combat experience, then you fall into the threat category for the rest of us. I dig special ops as much as the next guy, but they are trained to kill people. At night. With suppressed automatic weapons, helicopters and Zodiac boats. Is killing really that big a part of your overall plan? Or, do you envision saving yourself and your loved ones from the perils of a disaster-stricken city or suburb when additional resources may be hours or even days away? Because that’s what I do on a regular basis.
What I don’t often get a chance to do is speak to people before trouble finds them and explain how to best avoid becoming a victim in the first place. This information is hard won, paid for in some cases with life itself, and not the product of idle web surfing. I hope it strikes a chord with someone. I hope never to see you in need of rescue. That’s a result that benefits us both.
Here, I’ve enumerated the reasons for staying in or near your home (what we call “sheltering in place”) as opposed to immediately fleeing to an alternate location when disaster strikes. Do not lament any bug out preparations you have made or might be in the process of making. Survival is first and foremost a matter of options – having them, realizing them, and implementing them. If you can afford a subterranean bunker and it makes you sleep better at night, knock yourself out. Can’t hurt, right? I’m simply saying, in the most probable survival scenarios, the greatest number of us stand the greatest chance of helping ourselves by shifting the bug out option down the list a bit. For the vast majority of people who do not have bunkers, piling into the truck and heading for the hills is a very bad first option. And here’s why:
1.) The more familiar you are with your surroundings, the better your chances of long-term survival. All else equal, meaning your immediate surroundings aren’t grossly contaminated, you will live longer in the neighborhood where you’ve spent the last ten years than you will in the forest. Yes, this takes into account roaming bands of armed thugs. Yes, it’s true even if you’ve found the last virgin wilderness where the ground is fertile and game abounds. There is no substitute for, nor any advantage that trumps a thorough knowledge of your surroundings. You can “feel” when something is not right in your neighborhood. That’s because it is your habitat. In the best of conditions, animals struggle outside their habitat
2.) You will need support. Because you can’t anticipate every eventuality, you will not know from whom, or from where, aid might come. When you flee the worst of human nature, you also hide from the best. Okay, you may discount completely the kindness of your neighbor, but are you going to ignore the benefit of trading with him when supply caches are lopsided? And what about when your interests align with his? When, for example, those armed thugs show up, they won’t be coming just for what’s in your house. They’ll be going door to door. You will suddenly discover allies all around you and it will have nothing to do with philanthropy or humanitarian principles.
3.) Have you ever heard, “Train how we fight, and fight how we train”? It’s an accepted strategy by now, from athletics to the armed forces. You will perform in the same manner you practiced. This holds true for your environs. Football isn’t practiced on a soccer field just as jungle warfare techniques aren’t honed in alpine forests. The better you know your surroundings, the better able you are to use them to your advantage. Near your house, you already know which streets are dead-ends, which drainage and choke points to avoid, where the nasty dogs are, and you know all routes from there to everywhere else in a 20 mile radius. Unless you are at least that familiar with your bug out location and spend at least half your time there, you are safer at home. Note: companies like onPoint Tactical offer urban survival courses customized to most metropolitan areas. Check for one where you live and improve upon your turf advantage instead of trying to learn new terrain.
4.) After shelter and food, your psychological well being is the most important factor in your survival. I cannot overstate the importance of your surroundings on your psyche. All of those familiar, comforting belongings that you cannot pack in a go bag will make the difference in morale when things get really tough. These morale stabilizers will translate to poise in the face of extraordinary circumstances, when every decision matters. But let’s say you’ve adopted the Spartan lifestyle and everything you own already fits into that go bag. My question to you is, why defend any ground at all? Find yourself a mule and go nomad. Most of us social animals, however, need our territory. And the psychological benefit we derive from home territory – the home field advantage, in other words – is no myth. It reminds us what we’re struggling to preserve.
5.) If you have put any thought into a remote shelter, you have grappled with the problem of supply. Everything from food to first aid and farm implements must be transported there and stored there. You probably already have all this stuff at home. Consider how much easier it would be to simply increase your stores in that one location. You can maintain equipment in your garage. Rotate fuel and food into consumption before it expires and replace it with fresh goods. Keep your medicine and vitamins in the refrigerator that’s already running and extend their shelf lives. Yard not good for growing things? Let the dog poop somewhere else and rehabilitate your soil. Take the money you would have spent driving to your remote shelter on a monthly basis and construct some raised vegetable beds. Start a compost heap. Raise fruit trees and perennial crops now instead of depending on your ability to learn this skill under life and death pressure.
6.) There will be an “after”. There may be several. Hollywood is largely responsible for our warped vision of a post-apocalypse world. They share the blame with unscrupulous fear merchants and a several religious sects. Disaster and ruin are not end states. Ever. Populations regenerate and societies rebuild. That means that there were more than a few people left after every catastrophic occurrence in history, and there have been some big ones. What has happened before will happen again, including the healing process. What kind of shape would you expect your property to be in after you abandoned it to looters and the elements for a few months? What if, instead of a single big bang Hollywood style disaster, a much more likely succession of smaller disasters strike? You have the option to weather them one at a time and rehabilitate in between, or isolate yourself at the onset and forsake your home. The latter could well prove to be an irreversible decision.
There are more reasons than I’ve given here – some technical, some the lesser of two evils – but I’m hoping this is sufficient to compel many readers to pause and consider the basis for their assumptions. If something about your plan of action is troubling you and you can’t quite get a handle on it; if every problem you attempt to solve creates two new ones; if the amount of money, worry, and time you’re spending on this somehow doesn’t make sense, it’s because your premise is flawed. It’s likely you inherited someone else’s premise and didn’t ask the right questions of it. There’s time to do that now. Take another look at what you already have before buying anything new. Then get some qualified advice on how to maximize it.
The latest economic recession was, for thousands of people across our nation and millions worldwide, apocalyptic. Vast numbers of those people are still in survival mode. One of the benefits to being less severely impacted by this disaster is the unbelievably cheep expertise available to us on the open market. Security consultants, architects, builders, fire fighters, self defense specialists, farmers and firearm instructors (to mention a very few) are scouring the want ads for any kind of employment. Offer them a day’s wage to help educate you and your family. It’s money wisely spent because it helps you and it helps a skilled individual without a job. We will need those skilled people nearby when the worst comes to pass. This is symbiotic, community recovery without going all Kumbaya around a campfire. It is practical, sustainable, and it will serve you much better than an individualist approach. I promise.
So, my advice reiterated is this: ignore the microscopic possibilities and concentrate on some solvable problems. Learn to separate practical survival from movies and video games. Go back to the beginning and question everything. It’s not hard. It will make you feel better. It will save you money. It will save your life and possibly many others. Be safe out there.