Many people are intimidated by the idea of becoming more self-sufficient or preparing for disaster because of the misconception that you have to live in the country or at least have a bug-out location in order to do so. This simply isn’t true. There are many things urban or suburban dwellers can do to improve their chances of surviving or even thriving in the event of a disaster when leaving is not an option. A little thoughtful preparation can prevent you and your loved ones from becoming victims in an unstable situation, even if you live in the city and don’t have a lot of room to spare.
Here are nine ways you can make yourself more self-sufficient; less dependent on frequent trips to the grocery store; able to take care of injuries and illnesses in an emergency; and defend yourself, your family, and your property. Even if you can only do a couple of these things right now, you’ll still be ahead of the game while you work toward implementing the others:
- Invest in a water filter. My family uses a Big Berkey every day. (I am not affiliated with them in any way.) I run our tap water through it to purify and make it taste better, and it couldn’t be easier to use. Do some shopping to find a water filter that fits your budget and your space. It is critical in a disaster to have clean water. This cannot be stressed enough. You will need it for drinking, washing, and cooking. So, invest in the best one you can afford because cases of bottled water will not be enough, even if you have the space to store them.
- Build an emergency medical kit. When someone in the family is sick, do you have to run to the corner pharmacy for pain reliever or cough medicine? Someday, that might not be possible. Over-the-counter medications are easy to buy, have relatively long shelf lives, and don’t take up much storage space. Watch for sales and make use of preferred-customer programs to save on the ones you are likely to use for colds/flu, coughs, fever, stomach problems, and allergies. You’ll need plenty of bandages in all sizes as well as rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and antibiotic ointment for cuts and such. Add a few Ace bandages and ice packs for sprains and muscle/joint injuries, and don’t forget to include hand sanitizer and soap. Again, if the grid goes down, sanitation instantly becomes a priority. When you can obtain extra prescription medications for chronic conditions, do so and make sure you keep an eye on their expiration dates to ensure their effectiveness when they are needed. A well-stocked medical kit, rather than a huge stockpile of food, may be the one thing that saves your life.
- Keep a few hens. Yes, real chickens. Backyard Chickens is a great site for more information about keeping urban hens. Check your local ordinances if you live in a city. Many do not allow roosters, which is not a problem unless you want chicks, and some communities require a certain size yard. Hens are easier to care for than a dog and will reward you with fresh, nutritious eggs with minimal work. The only real concern is predators– dogs, cats, raccoons. They will need a safe home, but there are numerous ways you can house them. You can make your chicken coop as attractive as you wish. Healthy hens will lay almost every day, so if you have four of them you may get two dozen eggs a week. If that’s too many for your family, sell a few eggs to friends and family. Then, use the money to buy your chicken feed; your happy hens will be supporting themselves. In a worst case scenario where you cannot leave your house or all the grocery stores are sold out, you will have a source of protein in the form of eggs or the hens themselves. They also produce great fertilizer for your garden, which brings us to gardening.
- Grow some vegetables and/or fruits. You don’t have to have an actual garden plot; just a few plants in pots will serve you well. You can grow sweet onions, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, herbs, and berries; grow whatever your family eats. Your produce will be more flavorful and nutritious than any you can buy at a supermarket and you can be sure that it is chemical-free. What do you do with your extra produce, which you are certain to have? Give it to friends or family; barter with it; or preserve it by drying, freezing, or canning. A single cucumber plant can yield several quarts of pickles in a season, even after eating many of them fresh. Just a couple of tomato plants can ensure a freezer full for the winter. The only vegetables that can’t really be preserved and therefore must be eaten fresh are lettuces. Still, they can be grown almost year-round in most areas in order to never be without fresh salad greens.
- Learn to can. It’s really quite simple and very rewarding to preserve your own food in jars. First, you absolutely must get the Ball “Blue Book”, which is usually right alongside the canning jars in your local mega-mart. Your grandmother probably has an old copy of it somewhere. It’s pretty much the authority on home canning and breaks it all down into simple, easy-to-follow instructions for you. You will need a canner (the big pot you process the jars in) and jars with two-piece lids, commonly called “mason jars”. Boiling-water canners are about $20 and will enable you to can ONLY acidic foods such as pickles, jams, fruits, etc. To can foods that have a higher pH such as potatoes, corn, beans, and carrots, you will need a pressure canner. Pressure canners are a bit more expensive, but it is worth noting that you can use a pressure canner to preserve any type of food since it can also be used to can acidic foods in place of a boiling water canner. Jars are usually less than $10 per dozen so there is minimal investment for the return you’ll get. Don’t be intimidated; it’s a great feeling to look in your pantry and see shelves of pretty jars of food you “put up” yourself.
- Get a stand-alone freezer. This can be a big investment or a small one, depending on what size you want and how much you can afford to spend. The idea is to freeze as much food as you can when it is on sale or in season so you can eat it year-round. The National Center for Home Food Preservation ( has a great site that will tell you how to freeze just about anything from meats to fruits. You can also keep extra grain or flour in your freezer to prolong its shelf life and keep it safe from insects and rodents. A well-stocked freezer will enable you to eat for weeks without a single trip to the supermarket and, in the event of power loss, a full freezer will maintain its temperature rather well (unlike a refrigerator), as long as is not opened too frequently.
- Learn to bake bread. Don’t let anyone tell you that baking bread is hard. That’s just nonsense. Millions of illiterate peasants have been doing it for ages! Bread is simple and satisfying and, in a worst-case scenario, you could feed your family on little more. Bread and a few small slices of meat, cheese, or an egg makes a sandwich. Bread with some veggies and some melted cheese is pizza. The shortest bread recipes tend to be the best and only contain flour, water, sugar (or honey), salt, and yeast– all things you should keep in your house at all times. Variations are endless and simple: to make the bread softer, replace the water with milk and add a tablespoon of oil. You an add some chopped garlic or nuts and cinnamon. Do whatever you like, but do it! Bake several loaves once a month and freeze them, or make fresh sandwich buns every week. Do whatever works for you. A word of caution, though; bbread baking can be addictive.
- Purchase at least one firearm and get comfortable using it. Imagine being the only person on your block who has food in a disaster. Imagine being the only house with potable water. You will need to defend yourself and your family. If you are not comfortable around guns, then get comfortable. You can be sure the guys that are willing to steal from you are. Buy ammunition every chance you get, too.
- Homeschool your children. I realize this may be a big step for some, but consider that in the event of a disaster (whether natural or mad-made), you will want your children with you. If you have to relocate unexpectedly, school will not be a problem. They can continue their studies wherever you find yourselves. Of course, the most compelling reason to homeschool, in my opinion, is so that you can cultivate in your children the knowledge, principles, and values that are important to you while you take full responsibility for their education. You don’t have to enumerate all the problems with our public school system to understand that responsible parents are better equipped to educate their own children than those government-run institutions that resemble prisons more than schools. I live in a state that is very homeschool-friendly; resources are readily available and it’s not difficult to find other homeschooling families. However, if homeschooling is less common where you live, I recommend exploring the Internet for inspiration and ideas, if you are unsure about homeschooling. It is a lifestyle change, but one that is immensely rewarding and will give your family a degree of independence that will be an advantage in an unstable world.
Like so much in life, being prepared is more of a way of thinking than anything else. Anyone can do it, regardless of where they live. You don’t need land in the country or vast storage space – you can survive a disaster right in the middle of a city, if you are adequately prepared.