In 2011 I retired from the military and my wife and I moved to our forever home in Northwest Nevada. At the time we were not preppers, nor were we from here. We just wanted to live on some acreage, away from big city problems, in a location in which we could indulge our love for the outdoors. After the 2012 elections, our fears about the direction of our country grew rapidly and we stumbled upon the concept of prepping.
As we begin our second calendar year of prepping I thought it would be helpful to execute a self-assessment of our readiness. A fellow beginner with whom I shared it for feedback thought it was very helpful to him and suggested that I share it with other newbies. I realize that survivalblog.com has a good number of technical experts who post here and many more who read it regularly. I don’t claim to be one of those, but I do think that a) a formal self-assessment could benefit anyone, and b) seeing things though new eyes can provide new insights and ideas. Here is a slightly abridged and sanitized version of my self-assessment.
This document is intended to encapsulate our ability to survive a natural or manmade disaster. Putting it all in writing may illuminate some weaknesses we had not considered and will allow third parties to evaluate our preparedness.
Most likely potential threats:
Earthquake – Northwest Nevada is considered a high-risk earthquake area. According to the USGS there is a 55% chance that a 6.5 or greater earthquake will hit our area within the next 50 years. (No, we didn’t know that when we moved here!) To put that into perspective, San Francisco has an 80% chance of that occurring while Boise has only a 2% chance. Fortunately, as likely as this is, it should only be a regional and relatively short duration event.
Wildfire – Another natural disaster common to our area is wildfire. We’ve literally seen two since we’ve been here and felt/breathed the effects of the giant Rim fire for weeks last year. These will continue to occur, we just have to hope they miss us. The only practical way to prepare (I think) is to have a bug-out plan ready.
Terrorist Attack – While I believe this is likely to occur again soon, it is unlikely to be large enough to be a true TEOTWAWKI event. Still, if they hit the west coast or DC with something big, we will feel the effects here. Worst case scenario is a long-term grid outage.
Economic Collapse – There is no mathematical reality that will allow the continued creation of debt which can never be repaid. If the Federal Reserve stops printing, it will not be able to lend the money required by the government. If the government stops borrowing it will shortly be insolvent. If it stops supporting the multitude of social programs there will be massive civil unrest. If the Fed continues to print, hyperinflation looms. Either way we are in for very tough economic times in this country; it’s just a matter of when.
Global Pandemic – In 1918, a flu that started in Kansas eventually killed 50 million people worldwide, including 600,000 Americans. Although we are better able to contain and fight infections today, we also have the potential to spread infections much more quickly. If a similar pandemic occurred today the infection would only be half the threat. Basic services would likely be very limited as well.
Electromagnetic Pulse (from solar flare or terrorist attack) – the NOAA estimates a 6-12% chance of a solar flare large enough to knock out power in a widespread area in the next decade.
To be clear on the philosophy of our preparation, we aren’t convinced that a SHTF scenario will occur in the next decade. If we knew for certain that rampant hyperinflation will occur in 2015, or that a terrorist attack would bring down our electrical grid for an extended period, obviously prepping would be our top priority. As it is, our goal is to be as prepared as practical for most potential disasters. As such, issues like budget constraints, logistics, and not appearing completely nuts factor into our prepping decisions. I do believe there is a very good chance that some type of major disaster will occur within the next 5-10 years.
Fortunately, our location has inherent advantages. If the SHTF, the big cities will be hell. Imagine how people will react if the shelves are bare or the power is out for even a few days. (Think Hurricane Katrina on a national scale!) Only in a long-term SHTF scenario will the desperation and violence eventually migrate to a rural area like ours. Further, we are much more self-sufficient than we’ve ever been and hope to continue evolving in that direction. Our well and septic tank give us advantages those on city water and sewage won’t have. Our generator, garden, and laying hens provide additional buffers against the problems of the “system” failing. However, these advantages only go so far and our goal is to extend our SHTF survivability as much as practically possible. To that effort, I will review our specific preps, and possible next steps, for several facets of survival.
From a physiological standpoint, water is by far the most crucial prep. People can live only a few days without it. Unfortunately it is also one of the toughest for us due to our high desert location – we cannot rely on rain catchment. Our water heater holds 100 gal and our well tank holds 120 gal at any given time so we a have a head start. In a grid down scenario, our well pump will be run by our 6 kW generator. At the first solid indication of SHTF-scenario, we plan to fill our 100-gal Water Bob as well as a few smaller containers. We have multiple water filters. However, our generator is powered by propane, not a renewable supply, so in a long term survival situation we will be limited by water, especially if we chose to water our horses.
Options for improving this survival asset are:
1. Installing a Hand Pump – these run about $650. The drawback is that we’d have to work awfully hard to pump small amounts of water, then hand carry it 100 m uphill to our house.
2. Purchase a well bucket – this has the same disadvantages as #1 but only costs $80.
3. Purchase a solar water pump – this would be ideal (and) would save us money long-term even if the S doesn’t HTF, but has a $2,500 minimum cost.
4. Convert our existing 3.5 kW solar system to off-grid. I’m not sure about how difficult this may be. It would entail rewiring the system and acquiring a large storage battery bank. We may also be able to rewire the system so that the main power flips from the power grid to the solar if the grid goes out. Right now it flips from the grid to the propane generator.
Similar to our water scenario, our main appliances are run by our generator in the absence of grid power. Therefore we can easily last a few days without grid electricity. However, in a scenario where power goes out for more than two weeks our generator could run dry. Probably by then we will have cooked and/or eaten all our foods that need refrigeration. Rewiring our grid-down switch from the generator to the solar system would provide enough power in most months to run basic appliances.
In all SHTF scenarios except fire, we plan to “bug in” to fully utilize our preps and geographical advantages. If it gets so bad that we are forced to leave our rural home, we are screwed. 99.9% of people could not survive in the high desert for an extended period of time. The climate is not bad but the lack of water would mean death. In a true TEOTWAWKI scenario those water sources that exist will likely be controlled and defended by gangs or quasi-governments. And no way am I walking voluntarily into a FEMA camp.
Regarding the earthquake threat, our house was built in 1996, after most of the codes for earthquake protection were adopted, so we should be okay. However, we might consider putting safety film on windows and securing cabinets and large pieces of furniture.
Our seasonal climate should allow us to survive in our home for prolonged durations. For the winter we have plenty of blankets and a portable propane space heater with 20 gal of propane (about 60 hours of heat). It may be wise to increase our propane supply or find out how to refill small bottles from our main tank.
Our rural location should keep us out the line of fire from the desperate survivors leaving the cities. We are 50 miles outside of the mid-size city of Reno (pop. 425K.) We have an early warning and defense system of two large dogs that don’t like strangers and bark like mad whenever someone approaches our house. We have one 12g shotgun with 400 rounds, one .22 rifle with 600 rounds, and one 9 mm handgun with 800 rounds. Unfortunately we also have lots of glass windows and doors and our locks are not exactly heavy duty. I feel like we could easily defend ourselves against a couple of random low-lifes but an organized squad of more than four attackers would definitely defeat us.
Options for upgrading our security:
1. Upgrading the locks. This is a no-brainer. It’s relatively cheap to simply replace existing strike plates with longer plates and 3” screws. I also plan to add door clubs or door braces to each of our doors. I can do all that for around $100 and a few hours labor.
2. Reinforcing the windows, at least those that could be easily accessed from outside. 3M makes an 8 mm security film for this purpose that is relatively cheap. I could do all the easy to access windows and doors for about $180.
3. Adding to our armory. I’d like to have a bigger armory but budget is the issue. I’m willing to spend a little money here but not sure whether the best investment is a long gun, a second handgun, or more rounds for what we already have.
4. Training. We need to shoot more frequently and incorporate more tactics into our training. I shoot 3-4 times a year and my wife shoots 1-2 times per year. I’m not sure what the best schedule might be, especially considering the high cost and limited availability of ammo, but I know it’s much more than what we do now.
[JWR Adds: Training at a good firearms school like Gunsite, Thunder Ranch or Front Sight is a must. I would much rather own just a few guns and have top-notch training than own a large home battery, with little or no training. The goal here is to someday hand your gun collection to your grandchildren personally, rather than having them inherit them from “Grandpa Fred, who you never met, who died in a gunfight back in 2016.” Or worse yet, to have your guns fall into the hands of criminal low-lifes.]
This is such a big topic on prepping web sites but I’m not as worried about food as I am water and security. (Maybe I’m missing something?) We keep a minimum of 20 lbs of whey protein stored at all times. That is 140 50g servings, which when combined with eggs from our laying hens should be plenty of protein for an extended duration. There are lots of quail and rabbits around our property as well. We keep our pantry relatively full and we also have 8 #10 cans of freeze-dried food and about 70 lbs of quinoa stored. I estimate we could feed four people for about 45 d, much longer if the event occurs near the summer or fall when our garden and apple tree are producing.
We plan to expand our 120 sq ft garden to 150 sq ft and add a pear tree to our apple tree this spring. We also plan to learn canning and be ready to do so for our fall harvest.
As I mentioned above, economic difficulties are coming. It could be a depression, if the Fed stops printing. It could be hyperinflation if they don’t. In July 2013, due to worries about this, I moved our retirement accounts from growth stock funds to conservative balanced funds. Our non-retirement funds are still mostly in stocks and stock funds but I keep a close eye on them. We have a few grand in I-bonds as a hedge against inflation. I’ve also started to invest i n silver for an inflation hedge.
I have moved about 15% of our non-retirement portfolio into paper silver. I’ve also begun slowly collecting physical silver and have about $1,000 worth at home in bullion and pre-1965 dimes and quarters. (I like gold too but chose silver because it’s easier to buy in small quantities and has an historically low relative value to gold right now. It will also be easier to use as currency if the SHTF.) I plan to continue to accumulate physical silver.
We keep a few hundred bucks cash at home too, in case of a situation where cash is still accepted and plastic is not.
Outlook: We’re torn on just how conservative to get. We’ve considered taking it all out and “investing” it into hard assets, like PMs and preps. But that seems like a bigger step than we are ready for yet. We have a limited income these days and the thought of depleting our financial reserves is scary.
[JWR Adds: It is notable that you picked Nevada for your new home. Nevada has no personal income tax, and that is a significant advantage. Some other states have corresponding tax advantages, such as the absence of a state sales tax, or low property taxes, or inexpensive car registration.]
If the SHTF medical care may not be available. We have a very basic, aka deficient, first aid kit: band-aids, alcohol, antibiotic ointment, NSAIDs. We need to upgrade this but I’m not sure where to start. We obviously need bandages that would stop or at least slow bleeding in case of major trauma. I’m considering getting some Quick-Clot and/or a suture kit for that too. We’ve also considered ordering antibiotics online from India or buying fish antibiotics to fight infection. I’ve no idea how to lay in an extra 90 days of my wife’s prescription medications.
We have about 30 N-95 masks (that came in handy during the Rim fire.) But we need to stock up on other hygiene items: rubber gloves, soap, more alcohol and toilet paper.
I was repeatedly trained in Self-Aid and Buddy Care throughout my military career but rarely had to use it. I haven’t had that course in 3 years now. We might benefit from taking a local first aid course.
A ham radio setup is ideal if the SHTF. But that requires about $500 and several hours of training. I’m hesitant to spend money on something we would not use if the Stuff does not Hit The Fan. We do have a solar powered AM radio and two decent walkie-talkies that will reach the 7 miles into the closest small town.
Here’s an area where we really fall short. Although we’ve lived here for two years, we barely know our neighbors. (We do know that one nearby family is Mormon and prepares.) Part of it is simply the physical distance between homes – much different than the suburban environment we’re used to. Part of it is OPSEC; I don’t want to advertise our preps. The last part is my natural introversion. Thankfully, my wife is better at making friends than I am. Maybe I’ll put her in charge of this one!
We have lots to do but I feel better knowing that we have a plan and that we are making progress. It sure beats being a sheep. I will re-assess our updated readiness in six months.
JWR Adds: For anyone who plans to move to an arid region, I strongly recommend making a concerted search for a property with surface or near surface water. Even in Nevada, you can find properties with year-round springs. For instance I once evaluated a retreat in the mountains near Uniontown, Nevada. This secluded valley was blessed with both year-round springs and a year-round stream that was a snow-melt fed torrent in springtime and early summer, but just a trickle by autumn.
If you find a property with a reliable well, the photovoltaically-powered well pumps are an option. But the more shallow the well depth, the better. Both DC line loss and the tremendous weight of power cable and pipes in deep wells are detractors. Again: Center your search on properties with surface or near surface water.