First let’s define “capacity.” Capacity is how much of something we have. Think about your “capacity” in terms of beans, bullets and band-aids. For food, your capacity might be 72-hours’ worth of food in a bug-out-bag, or 1-year supply for 4 people. Your capacity for bullets might be 1,000 rounds for rifles and 500 rounds per pistol. For band-aids, you might have 10 boxes of 4×4 gauze pads, 2 boxes of gauze rollers and 2 rolls of tape enough to dress one small wound for about a week. When your capacity runs out, you have no more unless you somehow resupply.
Many of us are very good at building our capacity to meet set goals. Some of us don’t have set goals for capacity. For example, we see many preppers write that they “never have enough ammunition” or perhaps they add a bag of rice to their stores every month regardless of how much they have already and plan to continue that practice indefinitely. There is nothing wrong with this strategy but we need to ensure that all our needs for the long run are addressed in our preparedness efforts and that is where building capabilities comes into play.
We can define a capability as our ability to “do something.” Many of our Prepper capabilities are very easy to identify. Let’s go back to the old beans, bullets and band-aids mantra. We need to have a capability to provide nutrition, protection and healthcare. It is very easy to go out and simply buy something to fulfill a need. But does simply buying beans, bullets and band-aids really build a capability?
Only Building Capacity?
I contend that when we simply buy beans, bullets and band-aids we aren’t really building a capability, we are simply building a capacity and there is a big difference in some scenarios. Let’s consider our 72-hour bag. When we assemble a 72-hour bag, we are actually building the capability to survive the time period it takes to get us to our retreat or BOL with a limited 72 hour capacity. Now let’s look at our retreat or BOL preps. If all we have is food for 1 year for 4 people, we just have capacity to feed ourselves for 1 year. What we don’t have is the capability to produce our own food.
Building capability takes some forethought and in-depth planning. To have the capability to feed yourself and your family when that one-year supply of food (capacity) runs out you will need the knowledge, experience, skills, equipment and supplies to plant, care for, harvest and process the food for storage. Just having a number ten can of survival seeds isn’t building capability either, but it is one step towards building the capability to feed yourself and family.
Consider Grid-Down Times
Consider a TEOTWAWKI  event like a CME, EMP or a cyber attack on our national electrical grid. We hear and read how this will take us back technology wise somewhere between the 1700s to early 1900s and last decades with perhaps 90% of our population dying. Yet many of us only build a finite capacity to feed ourselves and family for 1, 2, 3 or perhaps 5 years. Then what? We also hear and read that being able to truly survive isn’t about “stuff” its about skills and knowledge. Well that is only partially true. Even the hardiest bushcrafter or mountain man has “stuff.” The difference is that the bushcrafter or mountain man have very limited “stuff” and rely upon that “stuff” to make or produce other things needed to survive the day.
But let’s be honest with ourselves here since we are discussing our ability to survive. In a post-TEOTWAWKI day, where you may need a piece of cordage, do you want a piece of 550 cord or do you want to forage around the forest, spending hours to make your own? Being truly ready to survive is a balance of “stuff” with knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences to make the best use of our stuff to survive.
Where and How to Invest
Building the capability to provide food for yourself and your family should be an equally important goal as having a capacity of stored food. A one-year supply of food for four people is around $5,000 (commercial dehydrated/freeze dried). After we have put up a one and a half year supply of food for our family, we should then start to build the capability to provide food by taking the next $5,000 and invest it into fruit trees, garden tools, bee hives, raised beds, bird netting, pressure canners, jars, and lids and have a capability that will last much longer than one year.
About now I can hear many bemoaning the fact that they don’t live in the county and have the ability to have a garden or orchard. It does not take a lot of land to produce a lot of food. There are many good books on square foot gardening and vertical gardening that can be used even in the smallest of city lots. The good news is many cities are encouraging residents to have gardens and many are evening getting rid of laws that banned having chickens in the city. One of my daughter’s friend’s father a few blocks away even has a few bee hives in the city. Will it feed you and your family for a year? What you are able to grow at this point in time may not, but after the massive die off there will be space to expand gardens. The point is that you are building capability.
We have just used food in our examples but the same can be said for bullets and band-aids too. Do you know how to reload ammunition? Ammunition reloading is a great example where the need for both gear and knowledge can be realized. As for band aids (medical) what capability do we have when our bottle of fish-mox runs out? Do we have the capability to use alternative medicine like essential oils, or salves that we manufacture ourselves? One of the items that I have been looking at for my long-term preps is a seed and nut oil press. Currently, I am also building my own distillation set for extracting essential oils. Having knowledge and experience in identifying plants and knowing what their health/medical benefits are, is also needed to build a medical capability.
Making Extra For Barter
When we build capabilities, they are not only a potentially endless source of food, defense and health for ourselves and family but they also become a source items for trade. In FEMA’s study entitled “Markets, Distribution, and Exchange After Societal Cataclysm” (1989), researchers look at historical trade and extrapolate the ancient ways of conducting trade to a post cataclysm world. It is evident that those with the capability to make something will be in a much better position than those who must barter their labor in exchange for goods and services.
When we think about post-TEOTWAWKI life, we need to think about the ancient figure of speech of “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Having the capability to fix, alter, make, and adapt things will make it easier to survive. In today’s world of disposable consumerism, the number of “Jack of all trades” is dwindling. Take a new tradesman, such as plumber, they can install Pex tubing and a hot water tank, but how many of them understand water and hydraulics to the point that they can build a ram pump? Throw a carburetor in front of a 21-year-old “mechanic” and they have no idea how to fix it since we have come to a point where we interface with a vehicle’s computer to determine the problems and then simply swap out parts with no real skill or knowledge needed like in the 1970s.
It is astonishing the number of things I see at auctions, yard sales and flea markets that are being sold because a spark plug needs changed or a chain needs to be sharpened or some other trivial easy to fix issue. If you are not already a “Jack of All Trades” you should start to become one now before TEOTWAWKI. Most of learn by “doing”. Sure, we can read a book and have a general concept about something but when we actually “do” we gain experience that I like to refer to as “tricks and tips”. These “tricks and tips” are the tidbits of knowledge that are only gained by doing. It might be something as simple as using a one type of hack saw blade to do a particular job verses others.
Consider this: You have to build a ram pump. If you build that ram pump today you can look on the internet or run down to the local library to seek information on designs. You can also stop in to the local hardware store to pick up supplies. Perhaps your first attempt works but you remember reading that there were other ways of building the ram pump. So, you re-engineer your first attempt with another trip to the hardware store and few hours in the workshop. Doing this in a pre-TEOTWAWKI environment doesn’t have the same consequences as doing this in a post-TEOTWAWKI world. If your homemade ram pump doesn’t work today, no harm, just walk over to the faucet and turn it on. But post-TEOTWAWKI, not being able to get water from point “A” to point “B” may mean that your garden (your food supply) dies. Having to re-engineer things takes up precious time and limited resources.
Being truly prepared for TEOTWAWKI requires both having a capacity and capabilities. Are you building both? As I tell my friends, if all you do is put a year’s worth of food away, then you will just simply live a year longer than most.