Preparedness in Megalopolis by John C.

One thing to be said of modern life, you generally wind up living where the work is. Money can be very good, for example, when you’re working as a government contractor in the Washington, DC area, so that’s a plus. The bad side of this lifestyle, though, is that you’re planted squarely in Megalopolis, with guaranteed chaos and congestion during any catastrophic event, severely hindering your ability to get home from work or to evacuate the area.  Those who commute into cities or live in high population areas can relate, as evidenced by what normally might be a 1-hour commute quickly morphing into a 3-to-7 hour odyssey during inclement weather or traffic accidents.  On 9/11/01 the DC commuters went through H*ll getting home that evening, even though no roads, services, or power infrastructure were compromised.   Living or commuting within a Megalopolis will challenge your ability to be truly prepared for those unpleasant events life can throw at you from time to time.

This article focuses on preparedness in Megalopolis. Long-term survival in Megalopolis is not addressed as that is an entirely separate can of worms, and the crystal ball of the future isn’t looking good.  Instead, what you can do now before something bad happens is begin preparation for you and your family.

I detest the term “Bug-Out Bag.” I really can’t explain why the term seems so creepy to me, but one thing for sure, you should always keep one handy when you live in an over-developed area like DC. Most of us have to work to pay the bills, and should something happen while you’re at the office you’ll need a few basics close at hand to help you both deal with it and hopefully to be able to get safely home. Keep in mind that this bag is designed to get you from work to home (that’s where you have the stuff you can’t carry on your back) and nothing more; it doesn’t pack a three day supply of food, for example. To that end, each vehicle has a small day pack stashed inside, packing a pair of comfortable and broken-in walking shoes / boots, a 100 ounce water reservoir (filled), a lightweight Gore-Tex jacket, a change of socks, and a few power bars. Each car has a GPS, a head lamp set, and a good detail map of the city. Depending on the situation, I’m prepared to abandon my vehicle and then walk out of the city in order to get to home and safety. Note that caveat… depending on the situation. Some situations may dictate that I stay where I am, seeking shelter at the workplace, while others will indicate heading home. Staying abreast of the news is critical, and being able to think clearly during an emerging situation without acting rashly is going to go a long way toward putting you on a course of action that may save your life.

Now, “bugging out” has taken on a life of its own. AirSofters talk excitedly about having a bug out bag for when the zombies come. I’m a bit more jaded, and after having lived in DC, I have a real appreciation for just how many people are actually in this city, and how absolutely impassable the roads leaving it can become. What to do? Be decisive. If the situation warrants, then get out. Don’t concern yourself with “what will the boss say?” Keep your fuel tank at least half-full, all the time… just consider the ½ line to be the same as Empty, and fill your tank frequently. A two gallon can in the trunk will just about always get you home, should you need. When you do bolt from work, drive carefully but quickly and directly as long as possible, until the roadways become impassable. That’s when it is time to ditch the car and hike home. Mark the location on the GPS and make a written note of the location. Put the GPS and any other loose gear you’ve got in the pack and move out towards home. Stay off the highways, but don’t go overland unless you know the area well. Stay to yourself, move continually, and work your way directly toward home. If you’re a recreational hiker, you’ll make it in good order. If you’re out of shape, it will be harder, but keep a good attitude and you’ll be fine.

Congratulations – you’ve made it home in one piece. The degree to which you’ve prepared for the event causing you to leave work and maybe even vehicle behind will determine the extent to which you’ll resemble a healthy and productive person in six months. If your goods are put up with some forethought and careful planning, your family will be in good shape in the days to come. So, more is better, right? Maybe. One big consideration (and limitation) to your preparedness planning is cost. If you’re serious, plan on spending $200 or $300 per month on preparations; in a surprisingly short time you’ll be in much better shape than you’d imagine. The important thing is that you begin. Failure to attend to some basics, like having the ability to get home from work, can be costly. Other basics include water, food and shelter. Are you squared away?

Before rushing headlong into a stockpiling frenzy, the basic question to first answer is, “what are my goals? For what kind of scenarios do I want to be prepared? Does my pathetically small Megalopolis apartment/townhouse/condo support these goals?” Now is the time for truly honest answers, answers that must be devoid of emotion or delusion. The answer regarding scenarios can range from a simple cessation of public utility service (nobody at work, decrepit infrastructure, or who knows why), to anthrax attacks and dirty bombs. In DC and some other major cities, just about anything is possible, even probable given time. Understanding the situation, which includes your resource base, and what issues you can reasonably expect to overcome will help greatly in how you should prepare.

My tolerance for problems is pretty high, as is that of my wife. We’re both retired military, enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities, and are generally speaking able to contend with just about anything that might come along. That said, DC is one huge target, so the worst-case scenario is well within the range of the possible. But the worst-case isn’t really very likely, is it? What kinds of events are more probable? Again, my crystal ball for fortune-telling is rather foggy, but I did live on a Caribbean island for six years that had hurricanes passing by rather frequently.  Every time they came it was the same; the supermarkets were stripped bare by an unprepared and nervous populace in the last hours before landfall.  The same thing happens in my part of Megalopolis prior to a major snowstorm. I can picture lots of events that might cause a serious breakdown in economy, public infrastructure, or security; it doesn’t take a creative imagination, but the end result is always the same – there is no longer any food on the shelves at the grocery. Batteries are non-existent. Plastic sheeting? Gone. Bottled water? You’re dreaming. People may not even necessarily be fleeing Megalopolis, but we can’t get basic foodstuffs or supplies anymore. I happen to live in a townhouse, so there isn’t a lot of space for bulk goods, but where there is a will, there is a way.

We found that a sensible approach, scaled over time and as your budget allows, is the best way to go. While working in DC pays well, the bills and mortgage are very high, so our budget for contingencies isn’t big. Effectively, we took our time to plan our purchases and ways to stock groceries and other items such as an emergency hand-crank radio, extra batteries, and water filters.

Water is of course a major concern. What if the electric goes out for an extended period? Will the city use generators to keep the pumping stations running? I think not. Luckily we live only a few hundred yards from a five or six acre lake, and I can fetch water manually if needed. Here’s the plan: first line of defense is water storage, and to that end we plan on using a “Water Bob.” Picture a bathtub-sized water bag. That’s essentially what this 20 dollar product is: a 100-gallon storage bladder that goes inside your bathtub, completely sealed up so dust and other contaminants don’t befoul the water.  Hopefully we can fill ours with city water before the services stop, but regardless we’ll then keep it topped off with lake water that has been purified with a homemade filter system.

If water does not originate from a municipal source that is fully-functioning, you should consider it suspect, which means filtration to the degree necessary that it will not harm you. I’ve set up a normal double bucket filtration system using a very popular brand of filter that is made of a very finely porous black ceramic.  Their filtration is so good they are actually considered water purifiers rather than simple filters.

When I go to get water at the lake I can use either a red wagon to haul four five-gallon buckets, or my Army surplus ALICE Large rucksack to carry one. Central to the process is a high-efficiency hand-operated water pump that allows me to fill a bucket in about 30 seconds, and with a strainer-equipped 15′ intake hose and 3′ of outlet with which to fill the buckets, I can accomplish the whole operation quickly and without unnecessarily exposing myself too much, lest thirst folk who’ve not planned ahead take undue interest in my process.   To minimize any potential unpleasantness, I’ll be planning on getting water at about three in the morning. No sense in advertising a capability when you don’t have to, right?  Regarding having a strainer on the water pump, this does one very good thing for you: a strainer with a mesh of 500 or higher will go a very long way in taking most of the solid particulates out of your water before you run it through the black filters at home.  By first taking the majority of the solid “floaters” in the water, your black filters at home can be cleaned much less frequently, and the flow rate of the water through the system is kept high. We recently purchased three pairs of filters, so that should hold us for a good while, but as time goes by, I’ll be adding a few more to the stash. On the market now is a nice screw-on top for 5 gallon buckets. All of the buckets in use for water are sporting them, as trying to open and close the old-style bucket lids, even with a bucket wrench, is trying.

Research is your best weapon, knowledge your best tool. I winnowed out the hysterical and actually uninformed chaff in the basic set of survival literature, and quickly realized that long-term food storage solutions are not only feasible, but pretty easy, too. Without going into the “how to do it” details, as that info is readily accessible, we began packing lots of beans, rice and pasta, purchased in bulk and on sale, into heavyweight gallon-sized mylar bags from the LDS store. With both a small vacuum pump and oxygen absorbing packets I made rock-solid, oxygen-poor packages labeled with magic marker that stacked neatly into big plastic tubs you can get at the home improvement box store. As the mylar bags themselves are good so long as they’re not punctured, intent here is to protect them from accidental damage and to keep them all together. Once packed up, each tub weighs in at about 150 pounds, so find their long-term storage spot and leave it alone. In my case that spot is underneath the stairs on the ground floor where they are cool, dry, dark, and out of the way… just the thing for long-term storage.

After putting up what I reckoned to be about six months of vacuum-packed dry foods, I started to augment it with cases of canned goods: chicken, no-bean chili, corned beef and other high-calorie foods, along with chocolates (mini York Peppermint patties, already individually mylar packed), sugar, freeze-dried coffee, tea bags, spices, salt, etc. My thinking about food developed along these lines: I can’t buy any at the grocery, but we’ve got stocks of plain but wholesome food at home. Over time I’ll lose weight, but will still be eating after six months or so. My neighbors won’t.

Cooking is the difficult part of the equation, and to be frank I do not have it quite figured out yet. We have an electric range at home, and a natural gas fireplace. Both of those utilities are expected to fail in a bad situation. Our first fallback is a trusty old double burner Coleman gas stove, along with a few of the big propane tanks to fuel it. To make gas consumption go more slowly, I’ve picked up a couple cases of Army surplus MRE heaters… just add a few ounces of water and a chemical reaction makes enough heat to warm an entrée wrapped inside a Baggie. At least 60 pounds of charcoal in the tool shed is available in small quantities to cook in the BBQ grill, and I’ve got saws for acquiring wood from the small set of woods that are bordering the rear of the property. If things get very, very bad… we just had hardwood floors installed in about half the house. That oak will burn hot and nearly smoke-free, but it will cost a large expenditure of work to remove the wood flooring.

Waste disposal is never a pleasant topic, but in the case of preparedness, it isn’t one you can dismiss. During grubby times it is a very good thing to have a septic tank rather than a sanitary sewer connection, as eventually the city’s pumping and lift stations will stop working. The sewers will be backed up, and then you’re in a fix. If you’ve got a septic tank, though, you can continue to flush the toilet long after city water stops flowing by using 5 gallon buckets of water. Without a sewer, though, you’re very much limited in your choices. You can dig and maintain a slit trench in the yard (get your shovel before bad times), or you can invest (heavily) in a waterless composting toilet.

I’ve mentioned maintaining a slit trench after the water supply stops. The ability to do this assumes you have a good supply of hand tools.  All maintenance tasks will continue, but the power tools won’t be available anymore, so having a selection of tools and even better knowing how to use them is a crucial piece of being prepared. Bench stock (screws, nails, nuts & bolts, wire, various cordage) should be already on-hand. Put fire extinguishers in each major room of the house. Also, try to avoid buying the really cheap discount tools that are likely to break, letting you down when they’re most needed.  Instead try to acquire a decent kit that contains most of the basics including a hand drill, auger, wrenches, pry bar, crow bar, sledge, shovel, hack saw, rip saw, crosscut saw, a good ax, machete, cold chisels, etc. The more the better, but remember that tools are very heavy. You’ can’t take them with you… if you’re staying at home then yes, more is better. If the situation dictates that you must evacuate and mobilize, then you’ll need to take a very long and hard look at what tools should remain on your packing list, and which get cut. For those who remain at home, consider stocking some materials to board up the house, should looters, gangs of thugs, and predators roam the area.

Talking about thugs… I really don’t have too much to say about this topic. I believe in preparedness, and I’m retired military guy. Guns have always been in my life, and they are still there. I am well-trained, and have what I need to get by, but I’m not a walking armory, either. If you want protection, but are unfamiliar with them then you should seek competent instruction now. Get a decent quality revolver that is .38 caliber or larger, and practice.  Keep a large amount of ammunition stored with it, enough so that you may defend your family and property if necessary.  Consider a shotgun and/or a rifle, too. If you get them, then [get qualified training and] practice, as having weapons you can’t safely handle is a danger for all around you. My last comment on weapons is that they should be kept private. Don’t advertise them. Don’t display them, or talk about them, either. But if you must pull one out, be fully prepared to use it as a part of the Use of Force Continuum in the defense of yourself or your family.

Any preparations you may have completed could prove useless if they are not actually practiced. We all dislike fire drills, but we all accept the need for them, recognizing that without actually having conducted the drills we really don’t know what issues might arise in the event of an actual emergency. Drills not only identify shortcomings in our plans, they help identify the strengths, too. Don’t fail to complete your preparations by failing to plan, inventory, test, or practice on the equipment and supplies you’ve so carefully put away for bad times.

In wrapping up, I just want to recommend to all who may read this that if you’ve not begun any preparation for contending with emergencies in Megalopolis, then you should. People are indeed like cattle, and when they begin to stampede, you’ll find yourself in a very dire situation if you did not prepare in advance. For those readers who have taken steps to protect their families, congratulations. You’re already on the road, but note that you should never “be done” with your preparations. There is always food to rotate, batteries to test, filters to add, moldering toilets to save for, tools to clean, sort, or buy, and plans to review. But hey, you’ve already started on that task, right?