A Beginners Guide to Practical Prepping: Lessons From a True Story of Disaster, by R.L.

It was September 1989, a time in history that is forever burned into my
memory. I was working as a firefighter in a small town outside Columbia, South
Carolina. Hurricane Hugo had developed in the Atlantic, it was ripping apart
the Carribean islands and it was headed our way. All the news on television and
radio were inundated with updates on this killer storm; we were tuned into the
Weather Channel at the firehouse carefully watching and waiting. The original
forecast was that the Category 4 hurricane would turn north and only threaten
the North Carolina coast. It was assumed that as with most previous hurricanes
the forecasters were usually correct and there was little concern, only that we
would see high winds and maybe some bad weather.

As my shift continued throughout the day I was asked to work an additional
shift the following day in anticipation of the “storm” so I agreed to work
an extra shift. There was a quiet sense of anxiety and being nearly glued to
the television all day we quickly realized that the storm of the century was in
fact more of a threat to us than we had first thought. A nearly sleepless night
ended with early morning emergency meetings and additional crew arriving in
preparation for a major disaster. The hurricane had increased in intensity, it was now a Category 5 and as it turned out, it was not going to turn north. Hugo was going to hit the South Carolina coast somewhere. I was told that my shift would end at 7 a.m. the following morning, wait… what? That would be right after the storm, when all the work begins! Due to policy at the time, working more than two shifts back to back was not allowed, even in an emergency.

I received several desperate phone calls from my in-laws living in the Charleston area requesting a generator, fuel, and ice. They were already without power and I knew that I had to help. Knowing that I would be off duty for at least two days in the aftermath of this disaster I began to prepare.Better late than never, right? I only had hours and I knew that it was essential to do everything within my means to help my friends and family living near Charleston.

Evacuations of coastal areas were ordered and all of the stores in Columbia were completely wiped out. There was no generators, supplies or even groceries available anywhere. All the shelves were empty. Fortunately I had the resources of the fire department and my fellow firefighters. In the basement of the firehouse there was a pile of old equipment, no longer used or fit for service but perfect for my needs and I was given permission to use whatever I needed. I managed to borrow an old generator, a chainsaw, axes, old fire hose, water coolers, tarps, rope, fuel cans and a few bags of ice. So I loaded everything that my little Toyota truck would hold.

During the night of September 22nd, Hurricane Hugo slammed into Charleston.The devastation was unimaginable, simply beyond belief. Houses were completely destroyed, whole forests of trees were snapped in half and power lines were down everywhere. As the rescue and recovery began, clearing roadways, cutting trees and dealing with the devastation in Columbia, I was ordered off duty after working 48 hours. So I headed out for Charleston and what was at the time Ground Zero. I immediately realized that the devastation was worse than anything that I had ever seen and what should have been a two hour drive turned out to take nearly five hours due to broken down vehicles in the roadway,downed trees blocking roads and downed power lines. When I arrived at my mother and father in-law’s house I realized that my small truck load of supplies was worth it’s weight in gold. What do we need to do? I asked. Their replies:

“We need water, the power was cut in anticipation of the storm and we can’t flush the toilets.” (They were on well water powered by an AC electric pump.) They also said: “We need to wash and all our food is spoiling.” I had the generator. It was small but enough run the water pump,the freezer and a few lights. I had tarps that were loaned to neighbors with roof damage, a chainsaw to clear roads and driveways. I had gasoline for the generator that was essential, since gas stations were closed for miles around,due to power outages. The power wasn’t restored for several weeks. There was looting in the streets of Charleston. The National Guard was called in and a state of emergency was declared. The storm took 23 lives, destroyed thousands of homes and caused massive destruction and countless injuries.

Had it not been for the valuable resources available to me at the time from the old storage room junk and a few friends, then I would have been of little help. My family would have certainly had a greater loss and suffered without the essentials that were delivered by my little Toyota truck. It seems that ina time of disaster when everything that we depend on is taken away, it’s thebasics that come first; Water, electricity, fuel, shelter and food.The resources that are available to you and how you prepare prior to any disaster situation will make a huge difference, and perhaps even save your life. At that time I was not a prepper, just a very underpaid firefighter who was willing to lend a helping hand.

What will you do when you can’t just “Go to the store”?

It has been 26 years since that event and that question is always on my mind. We now live in a society in which we all greatly depend on our local stores such as the supermarket, pharmacy, hardware store, home center, and gas station. What will you do when you simply can’t go to the store? Either they won’t be open due to lack of electricity or property damage and looting or you simply won’t be able to get out of your driveway.

Preppers around the world have their own ideas about what will, or could happen, be it EMP, financial collapse, natural disaster, nuclear attack,pandemic, or any number of SHTF scenarios. Personally, I am not convinced that the world as we know it will come to an end. However, I am absolutely certain that another natural disaster will occur. I still live in Hurricane Alley and very near a fault line that is overdue for a major earthquake.Whether it’s a hurricane or earthquake, I don’t know, but what is certain is that it’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen, butwhen. I am now prepared and if you are not, then you should be.

Prepping is largely based on your budget. Let’s face it, if there was an unlimited budget our bugout vehicles would be a fleet helicopters and our destination would be an abandoned missile silo in the Midwest completely outfitted for survival for at least 50 years. Right? For most of us that’s just financially out of the question. Any prep is better than no prep. We all have budgets to live within our means and if you have the ability to stock upon a few crucial items that will make life easier during a survival situation,that’s certainly better than doing nothing at all.

Number one for me is electricity, period. We just simply can’t survive very long without it. Don’t believe me? Go flip the main breaker to your house and see how long you can do without. Test your ability to survive without one basic need. Go turn your water main off, how long can you go without a bath, the ability to flush a toilet, or have a drink of water? I guarantee that you won’t last 24 hours. So if you don’t have an alternate means ofproviding power or water outside of the grid, then go buy a generator, store some water. and buy a water filter. You don’t necessarily need a big expensive whole-house generator. Simply having the ability to keep your refrigerator, freezer, lights and a microwave running is good enough for temporary survival in most cases. Generators are useless without fuel and even more useless without extension cords. [JWR Adds: And it is notsafe to use without a transfer switch at your breaker box to isolate your house from grid power. It would be a very bad thing to electrocute one of your local power utility’s linemen!)]

Since gasoline has a very limited shelf life you will need to get into aroutine of rotating it by storing it, then using it in a vehicle and replacing it with a fresh supply, the amount you store is up to you but I would recommend having at least enough to run your generator for a month non–stop.[JWR Adds: Better yet, buy a propane-fueled generator, and install the largest propane tank that you local fire code allows. Propane stores indefinitely.]

Good heavy duty extension cords and power strips are not expensive, easily stored and absolutely necessary. Fitting your home’s electrical system with a transfer switch so that your emergency power is fed into your home’s electrical system but much more expensive. But it is money well spent if you can afford it, for the sake of safety.

Water is a different story, you can store water almost indefinitely and it’s easy to treat unfit water with filters or by boiling or with bleach.Water, water storage and water treatment is cheap. Determine the amount of survival water needed by your family per day, then use whatever means necessary to either store enough water or find a source of water that is independent of the power grid. Water storage options include anything from cases of bottled water to elaborate rainwater collection and water well options. These are all of course are budget and location dependent.

The Bug-Out

There is a lot of hype about bugging out, especially on those television reality prepper shows. The fact is, those shows are produced for entertainment purposes, not to say that some of the information isn’t valuable–it can be.Keep in mind that it’s television. I personally don’t have a bugout location to go to, and I realize from experience that during almost any bad situation no matter what it is, the roadways are nearly impassable. I plan to bug-in. I have a small bug-out bag, for what reason? I don’t know. I guess to some extent I could use my bug-out bag to survive for a day or two away from my house but my focus is on staying put, surviving at least the best I can in my own home. I know that there is a possibility that my home along with all of my preps could be destroyed and all my efforts would be in vain, and that’s the calculated risk that I have chosen to take. As a new prepper, you must evaluate your budget, your needs and your resources. Then take action.

The Dollar Store Prepper

For many years I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a discount dollar store. As it turns out your local dollar discount store, those Family Dollar and Dollar General discount stores are a viable resource for the budget prepper. I found that most of their medical and first aid supplies are far less expensive than some of the well known pharmacy chains and often are of better quality. I have even found great survival items at those ”everything’s a dollar” stores as well. These type stores have some of the best deals on staple foods and basic necessities that any prepper could want. You can’t get everything you need but it’s a great start for very little money.

As a beginner Prepper you may feel overwhelmed with information on the Internet. Keep in mind that this article is meant to address the needs of the beginner prepper for a temporary period, in a practical way. I have chosen to prepare for a natural disaster emergency lasting a short period of time of upto a few months. There are obviously much more elaborate and expensive ways to prepare for long term survival. The following is a short list of some of the items that you should consider as part of your basic survival needs preps. Most of these items are available at a reasonable cost locally and will certainly help you get started with your survival preparations.

  • A good quality generator. (Those rated to deliver 4,000 to 8,000 watts are adequate and reasonably priced.)
  • Gas cans, spouts, gasoline, extension cords and power strips.
  • Bottled water, 5 gallon water containers or clean 5 gallon buckets with pour spout lids
  • Plain liquid bleach or pool chlorination tablets, soap, hand sanitizer
  • An advanced first aid kit that is well stocked with extra bandages and dressings
  • Supply of rope, duck tape, paracord, and tie straps
  • Candles, Sterno fuel, oil lamps, flashlights, extra batteries
  • Tools, pliers, hammer, screwdriver, nails, screws etc.
  • Dry foods; pastas, dried beans, rice etc.
  • Canned foods; especially canned meats and beef jerky
  • Powdered foods; powdered milk and dehydrated potato flakes
  • Dehydrated fruits and vegetables, canned nuts, etc.
  • Peanut butter, honey, spices, salt, sugar
  • Knives, firearms, ammunition, chainsaw, handsaws, axe, and hatchet
  • Extra clothes, tarps, work gloves, extra boots or shoes
  • Lighters, matches, firestarters, propane fuel, charcoal, quick start fire logs
  • Important documents including prescriptions in a sealed plastic bag.

Remember to rotate your stock. Even bleach has a shelf life. If you don’t know how to use the tools and equipment you have, then now is the time to learn, not when you need them.

There is no right or wrong way to prepare, what you choose to do and how much time you spend is largely based on your budget, your location, your spare time, your reasons for preparing, the risks you are willing to take and your resources. The bottom line is that anything you do to get ready for a disaster situation is much better than just doing nothing.

Networking with others is a great way to discover survival sources and to get ideas. You don’t necessarily need to belong to a “group” but think of your fellow preppers as resource for information. Finally, practice using your preps. Just purchasing the items I have described is not enough. Use your generator from time to time, practice by simulating a scenario and learning what works and what doesn’t. You will gain the peace of mind in knowing that your plan works. And therefore you and your family will surely benefit during the difficult times of survival.