At it’s core, preparedness is a planning activity – we think about what bad things can or may happen and take steps to help ensure our survival if one or more of those events does occur. But what is it that drives that planning? Many of us tend to take a list-driven approach – we identify the types of resources we think we’ll need to survive such as food, water, medical supplies, plans, skills, etc., evaluate relevant factors such as our location, weather, family and finances, then make or find lists of what we think we’ll need to increase our chances of surviving. These resources typically fall into one of several categories:
- Material – Tools, equipment, supplies, etc.
- Environmental – Location, housing, etc.
- Social – Friends, community, etc.
- Information – Information on how to do something, what to do, etc.
- Skills – Being able to effectively apply Information (Experience)
- Plans – Predefined (and usually documented) organized collection of activities, checklists, procedures, etc.
- Time – The avearge time required for the task
Based on these categories, here are some examples of how preparedness planning is frequently done for most event types:
- Medical – We know we’ll need medical supplies such as bandages, antibiotics, sutures, etc. (Material), books on first aid (Information), someone in our group (Social) that knows how to perform the procedures (Skills), and preferably someone with a medical background of some kind (Experience).
- Food – We know we’ll need stored food, seeds and tools (Material), somewhere to grow and raise food (Environment), books on growing, raising and/or harvesting food (Information), people (Social) that have grown food, raised livestock and hunted/fished (Skills & Experience), methods (Information) and supplies (Material) for preserving food, and planting schedules (Plan).
- Defense – We know we’ll need weapons and ammunition (Material), defensible locations (Environment), familiarity with the use of the weapons (Information, Skills) and defined response procedures (Plans).
These are just some basic examples of what many people tend to consider when doing preparedness planning, and all of these are perfectly valid ways to help you prepare. However, based on my experience over the years of trying out many new activities I’ve found that a simple linear checklist approach tends to fall short when reality hits you over the head. Take hunting for example – I wanted to get into deer hunting about 15 years ago, so I went out and found a ‘hunting checklist’ on a well-respected hunting web site, then purchased or acquired everything I thought I’d need based on that list (e.g. a hunting rifle, some ammo, appropriate hunting clothes, game processing gear, license, etc.). I also watched a few videos online, read a few books, spent some time at the range with my new rifle and talked to some locals about the best hunting spots.
After a few weeks I got together with a friend and we went on our first hunt, and needless to say it was a disaster. The gear was heavy, it took a lot longer to get to the spot we were looking for, it was cold and raining, there were tons of other hunters out, etc., and even if we managed to bag a deer I’m not sure we would have been very successful at processing it and hauling it back out. I’ve learned a lot since that first trip, but many of the problems could have been mitigated if I’d understood that deer hunting is a series of tasks and activities with a lot of variables and unique requirements and planned for those appropriately.
For the sample scenario in this discussion, I’m going to assume that a major disaster has occurred, public services such as water, sewer, electricity, law enforcement, etc. aren’t available, and you’re forced to adopt a completely self-sustaining lifestyle for an extended period (more than 1 year) to ensure your and your family’s survival.
For my example, I’m also assuming you’re living in a house, cabin or some other structure and not engaging in a nomadic lifestyle. The same task-driven planning process will work for pretty much any type of scenario, but I chose to focus on ones that are most relevant for me.
Identifying what tasks are going to be relevant or necessary in a post-disaster environment and determining the requirements for successfully accomplishing them can be a critical first step for any preparedness planning. Simple things such as your morning routine may require a wide range of preparations you may not have considered in order to accomplish this successfully. There may also be conditions or dependencies such as seasons, security state, etc. that necessitate modifying your approach to a task. It’s impossible to identify and plan for every possible task and every possible unique combination of activity, condition, or dependency, but by considering the most common and likely ones you’ll gain valuable insight into how well prepared you actually are. Note that if you currently live a completely off-grid self-sustaining lifestyle you’ve probably already learned most of the hard lessons necessary to effectively support your day-to-day tasks and activities.
Tasks can be described at different levels of detail – everything from ‘I’m going to survive’ to ‘I’m going to move some firewood indoors’. In many instances it helps to break a broader task down into a group of more specific tasks or activities – this is referred to as decomposition. Once you’ve done that it becomes simpler to identify what resources are relevant and required to accomplish the activities that make up the task. Let’s start with a simple task – getting up in the morning and getting ready for the day. We can decompose this task into several smaller tasks and activities:
- Waking up
- Moving around
- Getting dressed
- Perform bodily functions
- Brush teeth
- Wash face
- Eat breakfast
- Clean up
Now let’s take a look at some things you need to consider for each of these. To begin with, where are you sleeping?
- If you’re in a multi-bedroom house, will everyone be sleeping in their own bedrooms? That’s probably fine in moderate weather, but if it’s winter with sub-zero temperatures how are you going to heat all of those rooms?
- If everyone’s going to move into a single room close to your heat source to stay warm, do you have viable sleeping arrangements for everyone? Moving a California King and several Queen or Full beds into a single room might be difficult, and for me personally, telling my wife she has to spend the winter sleeping on an inflatable air mattress in the living room next to the wood stove will probably significantly reduce my chances of survival.
- If the security situation warrants it, do you need someone to stand a watch all night? How many people and for how long? Who’s qualified? Is the schedule fixed or does it change? What if someone’s sick or injured?
- What if there’s a fire while everyone’s asleep? What if an intruder alarm goes off?
- If you’re all sleeping near a wood-burning stove, what if there’s a build-up of carbon monoxide?
- How will you wash bed linens, and who’s responsible for doing so?
A post-disaster world isn’t the kind of place where sleeping late every day lends itself to survival – you’re going to have tons of tasks to do like farming, hunting, repairs, security, cutting firewood, etc., so you’ll need to wake up early every day to get everything done. If you’re the kind of person that naturally wakes up early every day this part shouldn’t be an issue. However, if you’re like a lot of folks you’ll probably sleep late in the morning unless you have some assistance, like an alarm clock.
- If you’re thinking you’ll just use your cell phone to wake you up like you currently do, you’ll need to ensure you have the appropriate infrastructure to keep your phone charged (like a PV solar system or another alternative power system). If you will rely on an alternative power system, can you keep it operating for as long as you’ll need it?
- If you want to use a battery, USB or AC-powered alarm clock, the same considerations regarding power apply.
- If you can’t or don’t want to support an alternative power system, you’ll probably want a wind-up alarm clock.
- Another option is a solar-powered watch with alarms like the Casio AQS810W.
- What time do you need to get up so you have enough time to accomplish the day’s tasks?
- Does anyone need to stay awake for a security/fire watch?
You’ll most likely find that you’re going to need to get up really early on most days in order to get everything done that needs to be done, so it may be dark when you get up, depending on the time of year.
- How will you get around a dark house early in the morning? A flashlight will require some way to charge batteries, and a lantern will require some kind of fuel.
Once you’re up and about you should probably get dressed.
- Does everyone lay out their clothes the night before, or do they have to locate them?
- What’s the right clothing to wear for the day’s weather and activities?
- Clean clothing is important for hygiene as well as extending the life of the clothing – how are you going to wash clothing and who’s going to do it?
After you’re dressed, most people will need to perform some bodily functions.
If you’re currently on a septic system, you should be able to continue using that but you’ll need some way to get water into the toilet tank to flush it.
- Will you have a powered well and pressure tank? If so, you’ll need a power infrastructure.
- Will you use a bucket of water to fill the tank each time? How does the bucket get filled?
- Will you be using an outhouse? If it doesn’t already exist, how will it be built and maintained? What about in the middle of the winter when there’s deep snow?
- Will you be using an indoor solution like a 5-gallon bucket with a toilet lid part or all of the time? How will it be emptied, and how will odors be managed?
- How will you clean yourself afterwards? Will you stock toilet paper? If so, how long will it last?
- Will you use a portable bidet and wash cloth solution? If so, how will you keep the bidet filled with water and wash the cloth, afterwards?
Once that’s done you should probably wash up and brush your teeth. Hygiene is critical to preventing the spread of disease and keeping your body healthy.
- How will you get clean water for washing and brushing your teeth?
- What will you use for soap short-term and long-term? How about toothpaste and toothbrushes?
- How will you dispose of the water once you’re done?
- What about towels for drying off?
Once you’re awake, clean and refreshed, you’ll most likely want to eat breakfast.
- Who’s responsible for making breakfast? Is it each to their own or will it be a family affair?
- Where does the food come from?
- Will it be cold or cooked? If it’s cooked, what’s it cooked on and what fuel is required?
- What utensils are required?
- What’s on the menu for each meal?
And after you’ve eaten you’ll need to clean up the kitchen and dishes:
- Who does the clean-up?
- What do you do with any food scraps?
- Where do you get water for washing?
- What do you use for dish soap?
Mapping it Out
In order to better understand each task and its associated preparedness factors, I like to create a table like the one shown below. Note that I actually do these for all of my tasks in a LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet, which allows me to create a separate worksheet for each task, link dependencies to other worksheets, link to worksheets containing my inventories, etc.
|Bedrooms 3 season, LR in winter
|Cots for winter, bedding for cots, normal beds/bedding
|Winter sleeping arrangements
Task: Washing bedding
|Casio solar watch
|Activity: Daily planning
|Lay out clothes in winter
|Non-potable water, TP, bidets, drying cloths
|Water source, privacy
Task: Washing clothes/towels
|Stocked toothbrushes & tooth powder, baking soda
|Toothbrushes, tooth powder, potable water
|Stocked powdered soap
|Soap, water, towels
|Water source, privacy
Task: Washing clothes/towels
|Cook on woodstove in winter, small wood grill otherwise
|Food, potable water, utensils, pots/pans, grill, flatware, napkins, Tang, Coffee
|Powdered dish soap, dish towels, water
Table 1: Morning Routine Tasks & Activities
The first row in this example is sleeping – I plan on using our normal bedrooms when the temperature permits and move everyone into the living room with the wood-burning stove during the cold season. For Material we’re going to need our normal beds and bedding for warmer weather and smaller folding cots to fit into the living room in the winter. Nothing special for Environmental, Social, Knowledge or Skills is needed, but I want to create a plan for laying out the living room for winter sleeping. I’d like everyone to get 8 hours of sleep (Time), and there are several other tasks and plans that can have an impact on our sleeping plans (Dependencies):
- Environmental – Heating, cooling, processing, and storing firewood, start and maintain a fire in the wood stove, etc.
- Washing bedding – Our bedding will need to be washed regularly, which is part of the overall Hygiene plan.
- Security – Our current security state will determine if we need a standing watch during the night, which will impact sleep schedules.
I’m not going to discuss every row in the table, but hopefully it’ll give you a starting point for how to go about planning for all of the various tasks and activities that you may need to accomplish in a grid-down scenario. These plans can also be extremely useful even for short-term disasters – for example, if we lose power for several days during a major blizzard we’ll be able to use the results of this planning to get by, and return to ‘normal’ once the power is restored.
Plans for Every Occasion
So far I’ve focused on a single task (morning routine), but I tend to take planning to a higher level and created a series of plans that cover a wide range of functions, with each plan covering multiple tasks and activities. Here’s a partial list of my current preparedness plans and some of the tasks they cover:
- Daily Activities – Sleeping, morning routine, daily activity planning, etc.
- Power – Solar setup and operation, batteries, charging devices, etc.
- Environmental – Heating, firewood, starting and maintaining a fire, cooling, etc.
- Hygiene – Bathing, washing clothing & bedding, hand washing, etc.
- Food – Growing, harvesting, hunting, cooking, preserving, etc.
- Security – Alarm systems, security states, watches, response plans, home defense, etc.
- Evacuation – A plan in case we have to bug out of our home in a hurry.
- Communications – Radios, code names and phrases, schedules, etc.
- Storage – Describes where all Material referenced in the other plans is located.
Each task-based plan is in a separate LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet, with separate worksheets for each task. I created a standard naming convention for things that appear in the Materials, Knowledge, Skills, etc. columns so I can easily extract those columns into consolidated lists and compare them to what I actually have or know in order to identify gaps in my preps. I print and regularly update hard-copy versions of all of the plans, and I’ve spent time reviewing them with my family and trusted friends to ensure everyone knows where they are and how to use them.
Focusing on tasks instead of just ‘stuff’ for your preparations is a great way to help identify things you may not have thought of as part of your preparedness planning. However, it’s critical to understand they are just plans and reality may have other ideas, so you need to be flexible enough to respond to changing conditions. I’ve invested a lot of time and effort in my planning and it’s helped me identify a lot of things that I hadn’t considered, and as a result, I like to think I’m a lot more prepared than I would be without the planning. But in a nod to Richard Bach’s Messiah’s Handbook, on the front cover of each of my plan notebooks is the phrase ‘Everything in this book may be wrong’.