I’ve been working on getting prepared for about 20 years now. During that time, I’ve collected a large amount of information. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of information out there, and to this day I’m still collecting. I currently have four sets of encyclopedias (including 1947 and 1954 editions). I have a fairly good library of books that encompasses a wide variety of topics and, of course, I have lots of information from the Internet. First, I’d like to tell you why I collect it (and why you should too) and then the “what and how”.
One reason why I collect information is because the source of the information may not always be there. How many of you trust that our government will always allow information to flow about freely? Do they now? How many of you can get information about how to build a nuclear weapon? I can’t, and I don’t want it. That information wouldn’t do me any good, but in a worst case scenario, information on building a small IED may be very valuable. What happens if that information is censored between now and TEOTWAWKI? Also, when TSHTF, the power grid and therefore the Internet may be down. Libraries and bookstores may be closed or burned to the ground. You get the picture.
Another reason why I collect information is that I may not be alive when the stuff hits the fan. Most of my preparations have been so that I can keep my family safe. If I’ve passed on before, or maybe while the stuff hits the fan, then having the information available (in a handy location) for my family may help them survive. Maybe it won’t help my wife or kids, but maybe my grandkids or my greatgrandkids.
The third reason why I collect information is that I can’t remember everything. (hard to believe, isn’t it?) I try to remember the type of information that can quickly save a life and I practice those skills. The quicker it can become life threatening, the more you need to know the skill (like emergency first aid or armed self defense). However, things like how to construct a foxhole, how to make hard tack, what radio frequencies to listen to, how far apart to plant cabbage, etc., can all be documented and the information retrieved when it is needed.
As a word of caution – Just because you have the “information”, doesn’t mean you are prepared. Collecting the information, and making sure it is available when it might be needed, is just a small part of the preparedness process. Remember to actually learn those skills that may instantly save lives and remember to gather the supplies that can keep you and your family alive over the long haul.
Okay, now you may want to know “what” type of information you might want to collect. I break it down into groups, just like you would with your preparedness supplies. With the supplies, you can think “worst case scenario”, but it’s not always possible to be “supplied” for the worst case. In other words, most of us can’t buy a 400 acre ranch, with a totally underground bunker, which is supplied with goods and equipment to keep your family and friends in safety and comfort for a year or more. It is, however, feasible to gather most of the “information” you might need for any worst case that you think you could possible survive. With that in mind, I focus my information on food, gardening, shelter, water, transportation, defense, energy, medical, and communication.
Most often, I ask myself questions about how to do something. If the answer is not very obvious (and most of it isn’t) then I collect information on it. I don’t just ask if the answer is obvious to me, but is it obvious to everyone. I must remember that the information might be needed and used by my children or their children.
Often, when you’ve gathered the information to answer your question, it will bring to your attention an additional item you may need to purchase, or another skill you need to learn. Consider the following questions, as starting points for your research and information archiving project:
FOOD – What do I need to eat to meet my nutritional needs? What type of recipes might I need? How do I make a meal from what I have stored? How do I make the very basic breads? How do I make sourdough? How do I make yeast? How about other ingredients? Can you make your own mustard if needed? What are refried beans made of? How do I make oil for cooking? How do I make jerky? How do I make pemmican? How do I make a root cellar? How do I dehydrate food? How do I trap animals? How do I hunt and fish? How do I butcher an animal? What parts can I eat? What native plants are edible? Can I plant a garden (see below)?
GARDENING – What seeds grow best in my area? What changes should I make to the soil? How do I compost? What plants are the most nutritious? How do I keep pests away? What plants yield the most food? When should I put seeds into the ground? What plants produce the food that I can store for later? What can I use for fertilizer? How do I use urine as fertilizer? What tools do I need? How do I save seeds? How long will my seeds stay viable? How do I keep weeds to a minimum? How much area do I need? What plants give me seeds that I can extract oil from? What tools do I need?
SHELTER – How do I make a shelter from a tarp? How do I make an effective Foxhole? How do I shelter from radiation? How do I build an underground shelter? How do I make a perimeter alarm? How do I build or maintain a shelter with no power-tools? What hand-tools should I keep? How is my shelter protected from fire? How do I secure my shelter from intruders? How do I keep my shelter warm? How do I keep my shelter cool? Do I know basic carpentry, welding or electrical skills?
WATER – How many places can I get water? How can I transport it? How can I store it? How can I make it safe to drink (from bacteria, viruses, chemicals, or radiation)? How do I dig a well? How can I pump water?
TRANSPORTATION – If I have a retreat, what vehicle should I use to get there? Which route should I take? What are alternate routes? How do we get there if the vehicle breaks down? Can I hot-wire a car? Do I know basic mechanics, or even how to change a tire? If I travel across wilderness, how do I find my way? Do I know how to use a map, compass and GPS? Do I know how to pack a backpack? What items should I take, given the type of transportation I have available?
DEFENSE – What do I need to defend against? What guns might I need? How much ammo do I need? How do I store it all? How much force can I legally use? Do I know unarmed combat? What intermediate threat weapons do I need (pepper spray, etc.)? Do my morals justify my use of force? How do I maintain my weapons? Do I have schematics for them? How do I make an “early detection” alarm system? How do other common weapons operate? How do I use camouflage? How do I use cover and concealment? How do I communicate? How do I make a booby-trap? How can I successfully block a road? How can I avoid a confrontation at all?
ENERGY – How can I make electricity if there is no “grid” power? Do I know how to operate and maintain a generator? Can I build a windmill? Can I make a mini-hydro out of an automotive generator? Can I construct a solar electric system? How do I maintain a bank of batteries? Can I make a solar water heater? How do I disconnect my house from grid power? How do I store extra fuel? How long will stored fuel last? Do I know how to make a small steam engine?
MEDICAL – What items should I have in a properly stocked First Aid Kit? Should I have an advanced medical kit? If so, how do I store antibiotics? How long will they last? What are the dosages for each medication I have stored? How do I suture a wound? How do I start an IV? How do I put in a catheter? How do I give an injection? How do I deliver a baby? How do I diagnose an illness? How do I sterilize instruments? How do I help prevent illness in the first place. How do I meet basic sanitation needs? What maintenance medications does my family need? What is the blood type of all my family members?
COMMUNICATIONS – Do I have written plans for my family? How do we communicate if we become separated? How many ways can we communicate? What hand signals should we learn? What Ham frequencies should we listen to? What local (police, fire, etc.) frequencies should we listen to? Do I have a written list of relatives, and their contact information, in my three-day pack? Do I have supplies to educate my grandchildren if they are no longer public schools?
Think through how you will collect and store your archive of useful information. First, I’d highly suggest that you try to get your information from a wide variety of sources, so you can be more confident the information you’ve stored is accurate. So what sources should you use? I use just about everything but the radio.
Books are a great source. If you can buy them, then that’s great. Maybe you can only check them out of a library. If that’s the case, then maybe you can photocopy the parts you really need. Better yet, scan and print those parts. That way you can have a digital and a hard copy of the information. Sometimes, with some topics, the only information you can find is from very old books. Information you find in an old encyclopedia might be left out of a newer set.
Another source of information is the Internet. Not only can you find lots if it, but often it’s free. If you look hard enough, you can find entire books that can be downloaded. Because some of the information you store will be in digital form, don’t overlook the value of video clips. There are programs such as Replay Media Catcher that can automatically capture a video as it’s being played from a web site, such as YouTube.com. You then have a “stand-alone” file that you can play in your media player, even when the Internet is down.
If you wanted, you could record information from the television. Programs such as Survivorman have a lot of good information.
Don’t underestimate the information you get from direct contact with a person. I’m lucky enough to have a very qualified emergency room doctor as a close friend, who has the same preparedness mindset as me. He has given me valuable information. If it’s given to me verbally, then I go home and write it down so I can preserve it. The information might come from a hunting buddy, your mechanic, or your grandfather. There are lots of people out there who have a lot of expertise in their field. Take advantage of it.
Regardless of where you get your information, make sure you store it so it’s there when you need it. My system is to try to keep as much, as reasonably possible, in a printed form, especially the important stuff. Keep the bulk of that at the location you plan to need it. For instance, you don’t need printed information about how to insert a catheter or snare an animal at your home in the big city, but you will probably need it at your mountain retreat, where you have those supplies located. All printed material needs to be properly stored so rodents or moisture don’t destroy it. Be sure to put some of the information you’ve printed into your Bug Out Bag (BOB).
Tons of information can be stored, digitally, on your computer and on a DVD. Don’t keep it only on your computer or you may loose it if the computer crashes. With the information on a DVD, you can keep copies at your home, in your BOB, and at your retreat. The DVD is fairly easy to store and common sense should tell you where to keep them.
Clearly, the type of information you gather is up to you and your individual situation. Again, keep in mind that the information you don’t think you’ll need, may in fact be what you need in an unforeseen future. That information may not be easily available at that time, or you might not be the one who actually needs the information.
JWR Adds: Keep in mind that there are now nearly 7,000 archived SurvivalBlog articles and letters. The blog content is copyrighted, but it all available free of charge. I strongly encourage SurvivalBlog readers to make electronic copies of the posts that you find useful, or print out hard copies, and organize them by topic in a file folders. In essence, as long as it is not being sold or being re-used without proper attribution, then I am glad to see the information from SurvivalBlog put to good use. If you find it too time-consuming to delve into the archives and do umpteen “copy and paste” operations, then keep in mind that I self-publish the book SurvivalBlog: The Best of the Blog – Volume 1. That book covers the crucial first six months of SurvivalBlog, where I covered lots of “core” topics. Also, be advised that in October, 2009, Penguin Books will be releasing my new book “How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It. That 352-page book is also sourced primarily from my writings in SurvivalBlog, over the past four years. BTW, it also includes a special chapter on medical topics, most of was guest-authored by numerous subject matter experts in the medical field.
It is noteworthy that the price of non-volatile memory USB Flash Drives (commonly called “pen drives”, “thumb drives”, or just “sticks”) has plummeted in the past couple of years. (I was recently astounded to see USB thumb drives for under $4 each). So there is no reason why you can’t buy four or five 2-Gigabyte capacity sticks and store copious quantities of reference information from SurvivalBlog and other web sites, for your personal, non-commercial archive. If possible, keep three copies: One at home, one at your retreat, and one in your Get Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D. backpack.)