I read articles and letters on this site, and other blogs and web sites, where people are prepping for survival. Oftentimes these articles and letters concentrate on hypothetical or theoretical post-TEOTWAWKI situations. My family’s and my survival experience is not theoretical. We live in an everyday survival context. I hope this article can help to enlighten some of you on prepping for everyday living and to expose some of the challenges faced across America and the world by people wishing to prep in less than ideal circumstances.
I am an American, an Army veteran of foreign wars, believer in the Lord Jesus, and a missionary overseas. I woke up this morning to the sound of the imam calling out over loudspeakers, only three blocks away. He was calling his faithful out of their slumbers and to their morning prayers. Walking down the street to get started on my work day I passed numerous police checkpoints, body scanners, bag checkers and armed guards. In the country where my family and I live, the central government is extremely strong and often heavy-handed. The reason for all these security measures is that this area is 100% Muslim and they are not happy.
The risks in this area are many and profound. We live with the daily reality of potential attack by Islamic extremists, expulsion by the government (which is currently quite anti-U.S.) and frequent earthquakes; not to mention the standard risks of living in a third world country with the associated poor infrastructure and basic services. To put things into perspective, several years ago the whole area was shut down to outside communication due to instability and riots. That meant: No Internet. No cell phones. No outside phone lines. Bombings, attacks on public places and gatherings, and kidnappings are just some of the activities that happen to make people and the region ill-at-ease and wary.
The risk of being expelled by the government is quite real and has affected a number of our friends. This expulsion could happen at any time with little or no notice. Last year a village near us was completely leveled by an earthquake and in a period of three months earlier this year we had four earthquakes above magnitude 5 on the Richter scale. That doesn’t seem too big when you are on the ground, but when you are 10 stories up in an apartment building the swaying can be significant. And we are now on a three week stretch of having water, electricity and Internet in our apartment, the longest continuous stretch of connectivity for all three at the same time since we moved here.
Preparing for the future in an environment like this poses many challenges. It is a large urban setting where the majority of the population, including us, live in high-rise apartments. It i quite dry and hot and remote. Though our city does have an airport, it is at least a day’s worth of flying to get to a more stable region.
As a husband and father, I have the responsibility to make sure that my family is safe and able to live and thrive and minister in our new environment. Additionally, as the leader of a team, I have to ensure that my team has the ability to thrive in this new environment. A large part of our emergency plans and our ability to thrive day-to-day revolve around our everyday survival and prepping measures.
Our preparedness plan includes the basics: food, water, shelter, communication. Because of our location it includes things such as: extreme weather, emergency transportation both within the country and to get out of the country quickly, situational awareness, First Aid, being ready for services shut down and physical fitness. Much of what we have found is that if you have creativity and ingenuity you can make preparedness work here, even if we lack some of the items and resources that make it easier in the U.S.
Despite not having access to MREs, freeze dried food, or other pre-packaged resources, putting in our food supply has been fairly straightforward. Beans and Rice. Since the people here eat a lot of rice, and cook almost everything from scratch it was easy to find bulk bags of rice, flour, beans, jugs of cooking oil and more. Enough for two weeks at any given time. As I find canned goods–surprisingly unavailable as it happens–I purchase them. Anything I can find is fair game – fruits, vegetables, sardines. This past week I was even able to find canned beef luncheon meat. If it adds to our caloric intake in a survival situation, it makes the cut. All of that food is useless without a means to cook it. To that end we bought a smallish grill that folds up and fits neatly inside a cupboard in our apartment. In the event of natural gas getting cut off, we can load the grill up with charcoal, coal, or scrap wood and have a way to cook, making sure to properly vent the grill to an outside window. The idea of self-sufficiency resonates greatly with our family but, with no yard, no outdoor space and no way of getting any we have had to make do with growing some vegetables inside in pots under grow lights.
Water purification is a daily necessity and was taken care of through an on-faucet filter for a number of years. We recently upgraded to a 10 gallon Katadyn Gravidyn filter and have avoided all waterborne illnesses through the use of these two systems. This is significant as waterborne illnesses are endemic in our area and can quickly spread through the whole family. When we first arrived I went to a local market and bought as many plastic water jugs as I could find trying to get to 5 gallons a day (family of 5) for a week. As always, finding room in the apartment is a struggle but again, with creativity and ingenuity you can make it work. Due to the instability of the region from a basic services standpoint, we find ourselves using the stored water to cover our water needs about once every other week for 24 hours or so. In a recent water shut-off, with no advanced warning given, we were able to take sponge baths, cook all of our food and stay well hydrated in the high desert heat while all of our neighbors were lining up around the block to fill one or two tea kettles with water from a water truck. They ended up repeating this process for two and a half days. Not my idea of a good time. We also keep a case of water bottles in the back of our car at all times and we don’t leave the house without having at least one water bottle with each adult.
Shelter is easy, as it is our apartment and there is no option for bugging out or going out into the country to “live off the land.” In the event where we are forced to leave the country quickly, leaving us to “camp out” in airports or train stations as we find our way to somewhere safer and more stable, we have a tent, sleeping pads and bags prepped and ready to go.
Solving our communication needs for a survival situation has been a bit more difficult. This region was completely cut off to communication for close to a year a few years ago, making communication within and without the region extremely difficult. If something happens where we can’t get back to our home, every member of the family knows where to meet. For our team, we also have set up ways to communicate and link up with each other if something happens and communication lines get cut off. A simple and relatively inexpensive, though not secure, solution were simple FRS walkie-talkies that our boys play with. They have a long battery life, can reach up to 6 kilometers [with direct line of sight] and are multi-channel. Pretty amazing tool for basic communication during a shutdown–all in a kids’ toy. We keep our cell phones charged and carry power blocks with us when we are out. If we lose connectivity to the “outside” we have a plan to get us to a city with connectivity as soon as it is safe.
Handling security, self-defense or home defense has also been a challenge. Guns are illegal. Carrying a fixed blade knife is illegal. Pepper spray is illegal. Keeping any of these in your home is illegal, with the exception of cooking knives. Physical security revolves around staying aware of our surroundings, keeping the door locked and building relationships with our neighbors and local shopkeepers. Early this summer my wife and children were coming home from getting some groceries and an unstable man followed them and kept calling out to them. This is extremely out of the ordinary for this culture and was frightening to my wife and children, as it should have been. My wife ignored him, walked fast, and, when she got to the entrance to our apartment building she called me and asked me to come down. She didn’t call before then as she wanted to have her hands free to help keep the children away from this man and fight him off if necessary. Instead of coming up to our apartment, or even getting on the elevator, both would have revealed our apartment number to anyone watching, she sat with some women that she knew and kept the children close while this man kept calling out to her, making inappropriate gestures and asking to visit her home. My wife is an experienced traveler and not easily shaken and by keeping her presence of mind, she kept herself and our children safe without revealing to this man the exact location of our apartment. I quickly made it downstairs, confronted this man about his behavior and stayed downstairs to make sure he left and my wife and children went upstairs. I then went and talked to the apartment complex’s manager and asked that the man be banned from the premises. In follow up I also talked with the women that my wife had been visiting with and they confirmed that the man is mentally ill and, while seemingly harmless, his behavior is erratic and impossible to predict.
Situational awareness also includes simple and often overlooked things such as how our bodies are doing or what the weather is doing. We live in an extremely dry climate and in a third world country. Between stomach illness and hot climate, the risk of dehydration is real. We have trained each other and our kids to report anytime that their stomach is upset and limit our time outside in the heat of the day. Extreme weather such as sandstorms in the spring, torrential thunderstorms that cause flooding in the summer, and blizzards in the winter can all unexpectedly shut off services. Knowing the signs that these are coming and communicating them to each other has helped us avoid unnecessary hardship when extreme weather has hit.
[JWR Adds: It is wise to also stock up on a oral rehydration solution (ORS), such a Pedialyte. This can be a lifesaver, if anyone in your family gets a prolonged stomach ailment that causes diarrhea. Every well-prepared family should keep that on hand.]
We pay attention to what is happening on the streets. A few years ago, when a transportation hub was bombed, nothing was broadcast by the government or police. I was out on the street with no access to news or alerts and I started seeing people getting off of the street and into neighborhoods, and shops started to roll down their metal shutters. I followed suit, got off the street, called my wife and told her to double check water and food, grabbed a few additional food items and headed home. Once there I was able to talk with neighbors who told me what was going on. Shortly after I arrived home, military vehicles were being driven down the street and stationed at all intersections with soldiers and police checking anyone they saw and telling everyone to get off the streets. Staying aware of my surroundings kept me from getting searched and possibly jailed that day.
Expulsion and Getting Out
One of our biggest concerns is being able to leave the country quickly, whether that is due to being expelled by the government, this country going to war, societal unrest, terrorism or whatever. This is our version of bugging out and is a very real possibility. Since we live in a fairly remote area we keep enough cash on hand in local currency to be able to not only buy plane tickets out of the country, but also to hire a car to take us to the border if plane tickets are unavailable. We keep enough money and other sundry goods (cigarettes and alcohol) around to bribe guards and government officials if we have to in order to get us out of the country. All of our necessary passports and documents are centrally located in our apartment and in an easy to grab container. We keep a family bug out bag with extra clothes, easy food items for three days, first aid kit and more packed at all times. We have plans for if we have two weeks’ notice to leave, one week’s notice to leave, one day’s notice, or two hours’ notice.
We established a decision-making tree to help us make the decision to leave or stay while under stress. If the decision is made to leave, whether by us, our organization or the government, we have pre-arranged places to go to in nearby foreign countries. Not just cities, but hotels within those cities where we know foreigners can stay and where they have good communication infrastructure so we can communicate with family, organizational leaders and U.S. government personnel if necessary.
Medical care in our city is fairly advanced for a third world country, but still is far from U.S. standards. As such, our best defense against illness or injury is a good offense. We eat a nutritious diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy whole grains. My wife and I exercise in the home–the only place it is allowed for my wife–and we do high intensity interval training and calisthenics to get and keep ourselves in shape. We all take a multi-vitamin every day, try to get at least 8 hours of sleep and also try to keep our stress levels low through prayer and intentional time together as a family. We additionally keep expanded first aid supplies in the house and have a plan for medical evacuation if that is ever needed.
We have all seen the images of Ferguson, Baltimore, or Charlotte with rioters and rampant criminal activity. We have seen the images of Washington, Minnesota and Orlando with madmen destroying people’s lives. And we have all seen numerous other acts of terror and violence. It is easy to look and say that it could never happen to you and so you prepare only for a future day. I want to tell you that the day is today. Living our life in this place in these conditions has impressed upon us all the more to not just stock up food and water, but to go through each day recognizing that anything can happen at any moment. We would advise you to do the same.