Prepping During the Calm After the Storm, by D.L.

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One of the hardest things to do in prepping, especially if you were inspired by a specific incident or disaster, is to maintain your preps long after the initial threat seems to have faded away. There’s an initial burst of energy and acquisition of skills; then there is a slow fade and then a rapid fade. Eventually, something will happen, and you will find yourself unprepared again.

It’s a bit like dieting before your high school reunion. Then, once the reunion is over, trying to keep your diet going but allowing yourself a weekly cheat day, then adding a cheat weekend, and then also adding a cheat Wednesday. Before you know it, there’s another reunion coming up, and you need to diet again.

The Earthquake Diet

We live just outside of Tokyo and started prepping seriously after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Although we were barely inconvenienced, for several months we suffered daily aftershocks and the threat of rolling blackouts.

As a result, we plunged ourselves into prepping education, including discovering several useful websites, and started building our water and food supplies. We managed to put together a blackout kit of lanterns, batteries, and flashlights, even though all of those things were scarce in the aftermath of the quake. We assembled bug-out kits for every member of the family and get-home kits for the days we had to travel down to Tokyo or for days I was working but the trains home weren’t.

Since knives are about the only form of self-defense allowed in Japan (and even that is questionable) and are necessary for bug-out kits, I assembled a small collection of knives and retaught myself how to maintain and sharpen them. I revisited the handful of outdoors skills I’d learned way back in Boy Scouts.

We got good at filtering the propaganda from both sides of the nuclear debate and found private sources for good information on radiation and radiation levels in Tokyo.

We were also painfully aware of the weaknesses we still had in our preps.

For example, we live just 20 miles from the heart of one of the most densely populated cities in the world and were lucky that it wasn’t hit by anything worse than a few rolling blackouts. Although the Japanese were fairly calm, there was a lot of panic buying and no way to resupply anything. If Tokyo ever gets hit by a major quake (or more accurately WHEN Tokyo gets hit by a major quake), we are smack-dab in the middle of the main escape route.

Although phones didn’t work during the crisis, the Internet worked as did data service on cellphones. That inspired me to research possible communications sources. I discovered it’s difficult to find communications devices that are both useful and legal in Japan, and I put further research on those aside for later.

By the one year anniversary of the quake, we were prepared for another major quake. However, that’s when things started to change.

The Cheat Days

Starting about one year after the quake, three things happened that caused everyone to calm down.

First, and most importantly, the aftershocks stopped. It suddenly became possible to relax for more than a day without literally being shaken out of a stupor. Second, in the Fukushima Number 1 discussion, both the fearmongers and the calmmongers were discredited, and we began to get much better assessments of the situation that let us make cool-headed decisions. Third, the threat of rolling blackouts ended, which also let us relax.

We did keep our eyes on Fukushima and had our bug-out bags and radiation pills ready. We also still knew our escape routes and bug-out locations and alternate bug-out locations, but the sense of urgency was fading.

We also updated the supplies, or at least some of them, and updated some of the food in our bug-out bags.

However, over time, as we relaxed more and more, the bug-out bags got pushed to the side again and stuff got stacked on top of them again. Supplies were allowed to expire, as we began to dedicate resources to other, more immediate needs.

Keeping the Fat Off

Because the initial disaster or motivation for starting prepping eventually fades into the distant past, keeping and maintaining all the supplies and gear begins to seem more trouble than it’s worth. You not only have to dig everything out and spend time sorting through it, you have to spend time shopping to replace items that are past their “use by” dates. It’s possible that a once willing spouse becomes one that questions, “Is this really necessary?” Even your friends might be asking, “You aren’t still into that stuff, are you?”

At this point, serious discipline and habit has to take over. It’s helpful to begin expanding your skills by taking survival courses or first aid classes. We always remind ourselves that it’s best to learn these things when it’s calm. (Once your car is in a slide, it’s too late to learn how to steer out of a slide.)

If you’ve already taken such courses, you can work on updating your skills. You can also work on refining your prepping system and updating your supplies.

We’ve partially automated the process of updating supplies. I’ve marked on every calendar, both paper and electronic, which days we should check the emergency supplies. I’ve also set my electronic calendars to send me reminders as the check dates approach.

Fortunately, as we assembled our gear and supplies, we kept good notes about what was in each bag, the expiration dates of each item, and when each item was last checked. Because we live in a humid climate with hot summers, we find it important to check any metal cans for signs of rust and the batteries for signs of corrosion. The rest we check to make sure there’s no damage.

Each bag contains an inventory sheet with key information. As of now, the sheets are handwritten with a fountain pen using Noodler’s Black (Bulletproof) ink, which is a waterproof, archival ink.

These are samples of our inventory sheets. Please note: Because the actual sheets are handwritten, these are merely examples. They also do not represent the complete lists of everything in the bags.

Large Bag

Supply

Amount

Placed

Expiration

Checked

Water

12 liters

6/20/12

7/11/17

6/20/13 7/26/14

Food (cans)

10

6/20/12

6/15/15

6/20/13 7/26/14

Food (MRE)

12

6/20/12

4/30/15

6/20/13 7/26/14

Maglite(s)

1

6/20/12

 

6/20/13 7/26/14

Batteries (AA)

8

6/20/12

5/15/15

6/20/13 7/26/14

Butane Lighter

2

6/20/12

6/20/15

6/20/13 7/26/14

Large FAK

1

6/20/12

6/20/15

6/20/13 7/26/14

Silver Bag

Supply

Amount

Placed

Expiration

Checked

Water

6 liters

6/20/12

7/11/17

6/20/13 7/26/14

Food (cans)

4

6/20/12

6/15/15

6/20/13 7/26/14

Food (MRE)

8

6/20/12

4/30/15

6/20/13 7/26/14

Maglite(s)

1

6/20/12

 

6/20/13 7/26/14

Batteries (AA)

8

6/20/12

5/15/15

6/20/13 7/26/14

Butane Lighter

2

6/20/12

6/20/15

6/20/13 7/26/14

Large FAK

1

6/20/12

6/20/15

6/20/13 7/26/14

As batteries reach expiration, we pull them out of the bags, and they are relegated for use in household items. Also, regardless of what it says on the package, our plan is to never have batteries older than three years in our bags.

We store the kit flashlights without batteries to prevent corrosion; we have other flashlights for immediate emergencies, but once a year we take them out, put in some of the old batteries, and make sure the lights still operate.

To check the butane lighters, we simply flick them to make sure they still produce flame. They are also replaced after three years.

The First Aid Kits have their own inventory sheets, and expiring contents are replaced every three years as is anything with yellowing paper.

The Family Diet

Because our girls are now older, we’ve also been able to keep our focus by teaching them how to assemble and check gear, use small knives, and start fires with our various fire starting materials. Each has her own bug-bag she’s responsible for checking, using the inventory sheet. She also has to make sure any clothes in her bag still fit.

At this point, we also assess the bug-out bags themselves. Are they still in good shape? Are they still adequate for the job? Is something better available? Our youngest is about to turn nine. Her current bag is small and pink and holds a couple of bottles of water, some snack food, a small first aid kid, extra clothes and a couple of toys. It’s little more than a way for her to pretend she’s involved. However, now that she’s taller and stronger, we can give her a slightly larger, slightly heavier bag with a few more actual supplies. This year we also plan to replace our silver bag, which is little more than a shiny duffle bag that is common in Japan. We want to get something that both holds more items and is easier to carry, as the current one lacks a hip belt.

One way we try to keep the checking and updating process fun is to have meals based solely on our old supplies (mainly the dried goods and intact canned goods). We once ate six year old cookies and five year old canned bread. We also regularly have meals with new kinds of emergency food, just so we can figure out what we all like and what is easy to prepare. At the same time, we cycle out our stored water and begin cooking our regular meals with it.

We buy and try new gear, including flashlights and small stoves, to keep our equipment up to date. We also swap out parts of the bags depending on the weather. Because of our environment, we won’t need heavy gloves and wool caps and scarves during the summer. We therefore swap those things out with extra bug spray and cool packs.

Although this is fun, the hardest part is keeping up the interest in doing drills. Every couple of months, we practice evacuating the house. Everyone gets their gear, and we report to a place outside. The girls used to enjoy it. Now, especially to the teenager, it all seems silly. During the sweltering summer months, it all feels sweaty and exhausting, and it’s very easy for us to say, “Let’s just wait until autumn to do this.” There’s no way to make this fun, though. It just has to be done.

Getting On the Scale

At this point, I’d say we are still prepared, but it is a lot of work. Prepping is not something you do once, even if you live in an area that’s not prone to regular earthquakes. It’s a process, and it takes discipline, especially when things have been calm for a long time.

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