Lessons Learned by J.S.P.

I will begin with a brief introduction. I have been an avid reader of SurvivalBlog for a few years. I have never found a better collection of tips, ideas, and information. Every time I view the blog I learn something new. I was born and raised in the south, spending most of my time outdoors or in church. I grew up hunting, fishing, camping, and learning the value of a hard days work. I had believed that growing up as I did would provide me advantages in disaster situations without really making any in-depth preparations other than the occasional power outage. In my early twenties, I joined the Army. That is when I woke up and began to see the need for long term preparations. I started paying more attention to news reports and world events and realized I would not survive long on only good intentions when TSHTF.

I knew I needed to be better prepared, but I had no idea where to begin with such an enormous task. One of the soldiers in my unit suggested that I read the novel Patriots by James Wesley, Rawles. It was as if someone turned the light on. I now had a place to begin, a plan. I started out getting a bug out bag together and a small kit that is kept in my vehicle. I then moved on to food stores and other necessary tools. After I built up about six months worth of supplies I began to slow down. I had no real reason to slow down, I knew I still needed to have a larger stock of goods.

My continued efforts to increase my stores were given a new life and faster pace after April 2010. At the time of the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak I was serving in the Alabama National Guard and living in north Alabama. My Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was Military Police, so as soon as I heard of the storm system heading our way I knew the probability of my unit being called up was high. The day seemed as if it would never end, the devastation was awe inspiring to say the least. One of the many tornados that touched down that day cut a path nearly a mile wide just a few short miles from a nuclear power plant which was less than an hour from my house. By God’s grace alone, the tornado left the power plant itself unharmed. This served as my first wake-up call, I hadn’t yet prepared for any kind of a nuclear disaster and hadn’t thought of a natural disaster effecting the nuclear power plant. Although the tornado missed the power plant, it did not miss the transmission lines supplying most of north Alabama with power. The few small hydroelectric dams in the area simply did not have the strength to cover the demand. Even if they could compensate for the loss of the nuclear plant the physical line damages would have prevented power coming back on line soon. From the Tuscaloosa and Birmingham areas north to the Tennessee state line, nearly half the state of Alabama, was dark and would stay that way for a week or more in most locations. Let me tell you first hand, it is one thing to hear someone say with the loss or damage to a supply chain or basic utilities we are only three days from total chaos, quite another to live it.

As I believed, my unit was called up within 24 hours to aid our fellow residents. We loaded up and headed to a city in the area that had been directly hit by an F-5 tornado. Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw upon our first arrival. More than half the town had been erased. Many had lost their lives in the storm and many more had been injured, lost their homes, or were missing. It was like rolling up to a live combat zone. We handed out nearly every scrap of food and water we had with us within just hours of our arrival. We continued to provide medical care and any other aid we could until other agencies arrived. Needless to say it was a long day for all involved.

In the coming days our role shifted to providing security for the area. After the initial shock wore off problems began to arise. We found that most people were completely unprepared for anything like this to happen. Most people didn’t even have any cash on hand, relying only on their debit or credit cards to buy anything they could from the few places that were able to quickly reopen. The problem with this was with a lack of power and phone service to authorize payments stores were only accepting cash. To make matters more stressful to people trying to snatch up any items left many stores, in an effort to prevent fights and theft, were only allowing customers accompanied by an employee in the store for a specified time limit. Many of the stores were even putting limits on how many items you could buy. The lines at the few grocery stores and gas stations quickly stretched to several miles long full of panicking people desperate for supplies. The grocery stores were full of empty shelves within hours. There was only one gas station that was able to sell gas at first due to the owner’s foresight to have a back up generator. Due to the lack of an operational power grid the fuel at other stations sat in the tanks with no way to operate the pumps. This too sold out in just hours.

There were a few small fights here and there usually occurring over the last of an item, bags of ice, or people cutting in front of others in lines. There were a few reports of people being robbed in parking lots after leaving a store, thankfully no one was harmed in these attempts but could have been easily. At this point power and distribution had only been interrupted for two days. People were becoming very desperate and in turn much more willing to take any step they thought necessary to get what they needed. The third day things started to improve overall. Many resupply trucks had rolled in to restock the open stores. Most of the larger chain stores and gas stations had brought in large generators to operate refrigeration systems allowing for cold items such as milk to be sold for the first time since the tornados. The generators also allowed the power needed to begin to process credit card payments. The next few days followed similar patterns with stores being resupplied in the mornings and empty at night. Stores still had incredibly long lines to purchase anything with waits ranging from 30 minutes to several hours. It seemed that the ability to purchase goods again and credit card systems back online provided enough of a sense of normality to keep most people from steeling or escalating to violence despite an operational power grid in many locations. From conversations with my family back at home I learned that things had followed a similar pattern. There were no large areas of destruction in my city other than trees down and a few houses missing roofs from trees falling on them. It was simply the loss of power that seemed to get everyone all riled up.

If there is only one thing that you take away from my experience here I would hope that it is the need to sit down and think of every possible thing that could occur in your area. As I stated above, I had not given much thought to a nuclear power plant being in my area simply because it would not be a likely target for a terrorist attack because of its location. I really hadn’t given much thought to something like a tornado hitting it directly, although looking back now it seems like such an obvious possibility. I guess that’s why they say hindsight is 20/20. I have now provided the necessary provisions for this possibility. Another area I would like to touch on is probably widely realized already by most survival blog readers but I feel the need to mention it anyway. As prepared individuals, we should never rely on the government or any other organization to provide us any aid in times of disasters or attacks. For our own safety we should never be in a position where we might have to give up our freedom or other rights in return for assistance, as in the case of many FEMA camps and shelters where once you enter you may not be allowed to leave until officially released.

One other topic I would like to discuss here is one that I have had difficulties with from time to time, tunnel vision. Tunnel vision can be problematic when making preparations. It can be very easy to focus too much on one aspect of survival needs and allow another area to fall behind. To put it another way, what good is it to have a two-year supply of food if you have failed to provide everything necessary to cook your stores or do not have the knowledge needed to properly utilize your stores. What would happen if someone showed up trying to take all that you have, would you have the necessary gear and training? One thing I have noticed in my own extended family is a family member would go out and buy a tool, no matter if it’s a rifle water filter or other survival tool, and feel like they were covered in that aspect. If you do not have the skills and knowledge to use the item then you might as well not have it. It is very important that you follow up the purchase of something with whatever training is necessary to make you proficient in its use. Take for example a rifle. This is a very important and useful tool if used properly. To use it properly you need training of some type on the safe operation of the rifle as well as fundamental marksmanship skills. Beyond the initial training it is crucial that you continue training with your rifle. Keep your skills sharp, shoot as often as your time and finances allow.

Getting back to the tunnel vision issue, having a military background I tend to lean heavily towards the tactical aspects of prepping because it is what I am most comfortable and familiar with. I have to constantly remind myself to take a step back and look at the big picture. I encourage all of you to also take a step back and look at the big picture. May God bless you and keep you safe in your prepping adventure. I leave you with a verse to look up, one of my favorites Romans 8:28.