Friday, January 1, 2016

Disaster Preparedness Part Two: Food, Water, and Gear

In the first post in this series, I talked about the antecedents to disaster preparedness in San Diego including characteristics of the area and the most probable disasters we face here. In this post, I'll talk about the actual process of gathering the gear and supplies needed to survive in the event of a short-term disaster. 

The general idea behind my plan is to tackle the lowest-hanging fruit first. And work on my tendency to used mixed metaphors. Or similes. Or whatever the fuck you call them. Anyway, I'll start with all the stuff that requires little effort, is free, or both. This includes things like checking smoke alarms, making sure all window and door locks work, and starting to stockpile water. We'll start by thinking short-term, then fill out the plan over time to prepare for longer and longer disasters.

The first part of the plan is to prepare for three days of zero outside support. What would we need to survive on our own for those 72 hours? Three days is a pretty short time. Honestly, given the weather in San Diego, it would be totally possible to survive most situations with a few bottles of water and a blanket in the winter. The goal, though, is to create a foundation of gear and supplies that would be increasingly more valuable if the impact of the disaster lasts more than 72 hours. Let's get started!


As I mentioned in the last post, San Diego's water supply is uncomfortably fragile. Given that few people actually stockpile water and it only takes 2-3 days for people to die of dehydration, a disruption that lasts more than a few days would create an exceedingly unpleasant situation. Stores would sell out quickly and the vast majority of the population would be really desperate, especially in the heat of summer. Desperate people to scary stuff. 

The general rule of thumb is to plan one gallon per person per day. If you're active, that number should be doubled. For my family of five, that would mean five gallons per day. For all my initial planning, I assume I'd need supplies for three days. Once I get those supplies procured, then I plan for longer time frames. Water is the exception. I want a seven day supply on-hand from the onset, so I need to stockpile 35 gallons of water. I store this water in a variety of places in a lot of smaller containers both for convenience and, depending on the disaster, helps assure at least some of the supply would survive. 

This is exclusively for drinking purposes only. I also stockpile another ten to twenty gallons of water for cleaning purposes or flushing the toilets. I would normally stockpile more, but I have access to a large swimming pool and hot tub filled with non-potable water. If there was any sort of advance warning, like an impending storm, I would also fill our bathtub with water. 

Since we live in a small apartment, I'll limit my water reserves to about seven days. In the event it was needed, I have the capability to use some solar stills to convert non-potable dirty water (from the pool, ocean, puddles... whatever) into clean drinking water. As long as it's not cloudy, I can produce five gallons per day even in the winter. 


Stockpiling food is as straightforward as stockpiling water. I assume we need about 2,000 calories per day for a total of 10,000 for the family, then multiply that by the number of days. Since humans can live for two to four weeks without any food, having a huge stockpile in this early stage of disaster preparedness isn't necessary. I'll start with a three day supply consisting of shelf-stable foods that do not require cooking. Spam, tuna, canned veggies, canned fruit, jerky, trail mix, dried fruit, crackers, cereal, peanut butter, evaporated or powdered milk, chocolate, Tang, and instant coffee make up the vast majority of the supply. I also have white rice and dried beans in the stockpile, but both require cooking (if there was a power outage, I have the materials to build a solar oven.)

All the Other Gear and Supplies

Everything else is carefully chosen to help solve specific problems that may arise, to help procure and prepare food, water, or provide security or comfort. 
  • Lifestraw - This nifty water filter typically used by hikers was chosen because it is small, light, and pretty effective. Even though I have a stockpile of water and solar stills, water is a critical need that's absolutely necessary. Order one here
  • Topographical and road maps for the entire Southwest - In the event I do not have access to the Google Maps app on my phone, the maps come in handy. 
  • (3) Bic butane lighters - Disposable butane lighters are handy because they're waterproof, cheap, and reliable. It's far easier starting a fire with one of these than a primitive method.
  • Bbox strike-on-anything matches - You can never have enough methods to start fires. I would also recommend waterproofing the matches. Here are two excellent methods
  • Basic first aid kit - This simple kit includes things like band-aids, gauze, Neosporin, OTC pain relievers, anti-itch cream, burn treatment, etc. 
  • (5) plastic spoons, forks, and knives - So we don't have to eat with our hands... until all the plasticware is broken, of course.
  • Steel wool - Can be used for cleaning or starting a fire with a 9 volt battery. Instructions can be found here
  • Bottle water purification tabs - Again, water's important. 
  • Roll paper towel
  • (12) rolls of toilet paper 
  • (6) cans Sterno - It's not ideal for cooking, but it's cheap, stable, and easy to transport if needed.
  • Bottle rubbing alcohol - Can be used to disinfect and can be used as a fire-starter. If you happen to have the materials, you can even make a small alcohol stove
  • Can opener - It's not necessary, but a nice convenience. Here are some more labor-intensive alternatives if you don't have access to one.
  • Bar of soap
  • Small bottle of dish soap
  • Fishing line, sinkers, hooks 
  • Emergency radio - I like this particular model. It can run on batteries, solar power, and crank, or can be attached to external power, and it can even be used to charge your phone.
  • Set extra shoe laces
  • 100 feet of paratrooper cord - Paracord is handy shit. If you like spending cash, these premade "survival" bracelets can be fun additions to your supplies. 
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Vice grips
  • Crowbar
  • Hammer
  • Multipurpose tool - I recommend the Leatherman Wave.
  • (3) glow sticks
  • (2) LED flashlights - I HIGHLY recommend the Fenix LD22
  • Rechargeable batteries, solar/crank charger - I haven't tested these enough to give specific recommendations. The goal is to have a method of charging batteries for the flashlights and other devices in the absence of electricity. 
  • (3) candles
  • Compass - As a backup to a real compass, download a compass app for your cell phone using the built-in magnetometer. . 
  • Sharpening stone
  • Whistle
  • Roll heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • Pack straight razor blades
  • Mechanical pencils, pens, Sharpie marker, and paper
  • Roll duct tape - Make sure it's high quality. I like the extra-sticky Duck brand. And it can be used for almost anything
  • Potassium iodide (anti-radiation) - Admittedly, this feels a tad excessive, but still a good precaution. Here's some useful reading from the CDC on the hows and whys of potassium iodide.
  • Extra contacts for all + solution
  • 10 coffee filters - These could be used for a cup of joe, or they can be used to filter all kinds of shit. 
  • Box large plastic storage bags - For storage, I prefer gallon size freezer bags from Ziplock.
  • Box black garbage bags - They can be used for garbage, making a solar still, sealing windows and doors, or as a really shitty shelter.
  • (5) toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • Close-able clothes pins
  • scrub brush
  • Small signal mirror - I recommend this one
  • Unscented bleach - When mixed with one part bleach and nine parts water, it can be used to disinfect. Mixed at a 1:16 ratio, it can be used as a quick and dirty water purifier.
  • (5) pairs of surgical gloves
  • (5) mylar space blankets - These gems have a ton of useful purposes.
  • (2) large sheets of plastic, one clear, one black
  • tarp
  • Playing cards - to combat boredom. For the adventurous, I recommend these
  • Box of wine
  • Wall and car phone chargers for any device you may be carrying 
  • Copy of all important documents - This includes birth, marriage, and death certificates, loan documents, pictures, passports, insurance papers, etc. When time allows, I like to make a hard copy and store it in a waterproof bag, and also burn PDFs of the documents on a DVD. 
  • ABC fire extinguisher - The "ABC" refers to the types of fires the extinguisher can be used to extinguish, and these cover all the bases. 
  • Dental floss - Waxed, unflavored, which can be used for a multitude of purposes.
  • Hand sanitizer - it can double as a fire-starter.
  • Q-tips
  • Tweezers
  • Small glass magnifying glass - can be used to start fires. Or fry ants.
  • Sun screen - SPF 50, waterproof. This is a biggie here in the Southwest.
  • Break-proof thermometer
  • Eye dropper - used to measure bleach
  • Tent - Keep them simple. 
  • Small pocket umbrella
  • Bolt cutters - Having the ability to cut through chain-link fences could be handy. This pair is small, cheap, and effective.
  • Sewing kit
  • Earth-colored and flat black spray paint - Sometimes you want to be as visible as possible. Other times? Not so much. 
  • Insect repellent
  • Bottle of multivitamins - I specifically choose my food supply to provide for all required vitamins and minerals, and malnutrition isn't likely going to be an issue over the course of three days, Still, this is something that will be handy if you don't have access to a diverse diet.
  • Sling shot - They're quiet, reliable, and can be used for defense and hunting. 
  • Pellet gun + 2,000 pellets - I would label this one as a low priority, but something useful to have on-hand if you have the resources. Pellet guns are quiet, accurate, and reliable. They can be used for hunting, and a .25 caliber can be used to take rodents, birds, and varmints. Note - faster muzzle velocity is NOT better. The Benjamin Marauder is an excellent choice. 
  • (2) headlamps + batteries - Hands-free lights are especially handy.
  • Pepper spray
  • Foam ear plugs
  • (5) wide-brimmed cotton hats - I prefer the military-style "boonie" hats.
  • Large sponge - Can be used to collect dew off plants and other surfaces in the morning.
  • Two-way radios - Having alternative communication devices is smart, and two-way radios are a good choice. I recommend these
  • Neodymium magnets - These tiny wonders have a million potential uses.

Putting It All Together

Back in Michigan, there would have been little reason to ever evacuate other than a house fire. Our duplex we were renting actually flooded once, but it only affected the basement. As such, there was no need to make sure all the gear and food was mobile. 

San Diego is another story. Some of the possible disasters discussed in the previous article would require evacuation. In other cases, evacuation would be advisable, but not necessary. Because of this, we need to be able to keep the gear together in one place. I'm currently using a large duffle bag, but will soon upgrade to two backpacks for ease of carrying should it become necessary. The food is kept in a Rubbermaid storage container, which can double as a water receptacle. 

The goal is to have all the gear and supplies ready so we could theoretically bail out in a matter of minutes. If we did have to evacuate, the earlier the better. As I mentioned in the previous article, the huge population, limited highways, and rugged mountains and desert make Southern California a potential evacuation nightmare. It requires me to consider the pros and cons of evacuating versus staying put, which would be determined by the nature of the disaster. 

In the next post, I'll discuss the skills we need to develop to be adequately prepared to survive a disaster.

Part Fou


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