Welcome back to our series on short-term disaster preparedness. Last time, we talked about ways to save money while building a stockpile of food and other necessary supplies in order to shelter in place in your home.
In case you missed it, I’m going to briefly quote myself: “There are differing schools of thought in the preparedness community regarding whether you should evacuate or shelter in place in the event of a disaster. Like many discussions in our modern era, it’s a false dichotomy. I don’t think it should be an either/or, I think it should be a both/and, based on your unique needs and the situation you find yourself in. I think it’s wise to be mobile and have a 72-hour pack for each member of your family, and be able to get out of dodge as fast as possible should the need arise. That need could be a formal evacuation order, or just seeing the storm on the horizon and deciding it’s time to leave.
But there are also times when it’s best to stay put. Martial law may be in effect, and there may be an order to not leave your home. You may have family members who are elderly or have special needs, who cannot or should not be moved unless there is truly no other choice. And for less serious reasons, think of this: If the tornado hit your town and your power is off for a few days but your house is undamaged… why leave? If you’re not in danger and there’s no urgent need to leave, sheltering in place is the most practical course of action in a disaster.
The bottom line is, whether it’s out of choice or out of necessity, people end up sheltering in place.”
And if you remember our very first post in this series, you’ll recall that 72% of Americans don’t have the necessary supplies to shelter in place for at least 72 hours. We’ve also defined our parameters, that is, the specific types of events we need to plan and prepare for.
Today, we’re going to bring all of that together. We’re going to talk about the basic principles of putting together a Shelter In Place (SIP) Kit. Most articles about putting together a “home preparedness kit” or something of the like focus on a list of things to accumulate, and very little on the theory behind WHY you need them. We’re going to do the opposite. At SARCRAFT, we know that it’s not your gear that will save you. It’s the knowledge of why you have it and how to use it. Having a stockpile of stuff won’t do you a bit of good if you don’t know why you have it or what to do with it. We’ll touch on several specific items (highlighted in bold), but this is more than just a shopping list. With that being said, we’re going to talk about how to build your SIP kit in line with our Core Four priorities of survival. When the grid goes down, sheltering in place at your home shares a lot of similarities with surviving in the woods, with the distinct advantages of having far, far more resources at your disposal. However, the basic principles remain the same.
Priority #1: Shelter
The worst of the storm has just passed, and it’s time to survey the damage and establish action priorities. It stands to reason that if you’re sheltering in place at your home, you’ve got shelter covered. Well, not necessarily. What if your home sustains enough damage that it no longer properly shelters you, but not enough to justify your leaving? Well, you’ll need some basic supplies to do some temporary fixes to make your home livable again. Like we covered in the post a few weeks ago, you’ll need to define the parameters of what’s most likely to occur in your area. In my neck of the woods, most homes are damaged by falling trees or limbs. Other concerns are windblown debris, especially in the wake of a tornado, and direct damage from high winds themselves. What sort of damage does this cause? Holes in roofs. Sometimes big ones. Blown out windows and doors. And trees where they really, really shouldn’t be. In the wake of a disaster, your goal isn’t going to be a perfect repair – it’s to keep the elements (wind, water, cold) out until the crisis is over and the damage can be fixed properly.
To deal with intruding trees, you’ll need some woods tools. A chainsaw is indispensable. And not an electric one, either. That won’t do you much good when the power goes out. Along with the chainsaw, you’ll need the supplies to keep it running, which means gas, 2-cycle oil, bar oil, and a sharpener. A disclaimer here: If you’re not comfortable using a chainsaw, learn from someone qualified before you attempt to cut a section of tree out of your home. As someone who’s used one a lot and had some close calls, chainsaws can get you severely injured or killed if you’re not careful. And a bad injury from a chainsaw is only made worse if the grid is down and you can’t get to a hospital. If a tree is under a lot of tension or can't be felled safely, let it be.
If you run out of gas, you’ll need a backup tree cutting tool. A quality axe is indispensable. A pole saw (manual, not powered) is great for cutting small limbs you can’t reach.
If you’ve dealt with the downed trees, you need some things to keep the outdoors out. Nylon tarps are a great thing to keep around. Spend a little extra and get the brown and silver heavy duty tarps – the blue or green light duty ones don’t hold up well against high winds or heavy rain. Heavy, clear plastic sheeting does performs the same function as a tarp, but is better for covering windows or doors where you don’t want to block out all of the light.
Quality plywood (not cheap OSB) in at least 3/8” thickness can serve as a temporary wall, door, window, or roof section. It’s stronger than any tarp, and if you live in hurricane-prone areas, you’re already familiar with its usefulness for boarding up windows and doors to keep roofs from being blown off. 3 or 4 4x8’ sheets of plywood can cover a lot of territory, and don’t take up much space leaned up against a garage wall. A handful of 2x4s can be great for bracing your plywood, providing a framework for tarps, and many other uses. To manipulate your plywood and 2x4’s, you’ll need some basic carpentry tools: A clawhammer, some galvanized nails, and a hand saw.
But what if it’s a different kind of storm? Instead of a spring or summer tornado, what do you need to prepare for Snowpocalypse 3.0 (or whichever one we’re on now)? In this case, your home may be intact, but the power’s off. And it’s really, really cold. The best way to look at this is like an outdoor survival situation. Your first line of defense is your clothing. As we’ve discussed in prior posts, you’ll want plenty of layers. Wool is ideal, synthetic is second best. Cotton kills. Secondly, you’ll want a way to sleep warm. Even in Georgia, it can get cold enough in the middle of winter for you to die of hypothermia in your own home if you don’t have a way of staying warm. Have a sleeping bag with at least a zero degree rating for each member of your household. In addition to that, surplus wool blend army blankets are a great, budget-friendly way to add more insulation.
Priority #2: Fire
In this context, “fire” can mean actual fire, or other ways to cook your food and warm your home that still get the job done. If your home has an actual, functional fireplace, great. That’s a blessing. You can heat your home and cook your food like humans have for centuries. Stockpile some firewood (even if you don’t burn it regularly), and learn how to build a fire in your fireplace without cheating and turning the gas on. (Municipal gas pipelines may be turned off in a disaster.)
But what if you don’t have a real fireplace? Maybe you live in an apartment, or a mobile home. Well, let’s explore some other options. This is where a small propane heater comes in really handy. Unlike an electric heater, they are completely portable and don’t require power to run. A little heat goes a long way in a small space. They use Coleman propane fuel bottles, and are safe for indoor use. Just make sure you ensure adequate ventilation.
Now that you’ve got heat covered, you’ll need a way to cook. The classic Coleman two-burner camp stove can’t be beat. It’s a tried, true, proven platform that’s been around for decades. It’s very simple to operate, and exceptionally reliable. They’re cheap new, and even cheaper used. With this (contained) fire, you can cook a hot meal and heat your living space.
Priority #3: Water
Water is life. In hot weather, even going without it for a few hours can cause impaired mental function and lead to heat exhaustion and stroke. As we saw during the recent water panic in the midst of Hurricane Irma, water is a hot commodity. The rule of thumb for drinking water is one gallon per person per day. For our two-week kit, that’s fourteen gallons for every person in your household. And it’s a wise idea to keep an additional gallon per person on hand for cooking, cleaning, and washing. Now we’re up to twenty-eight gallons per person. For a family of four, that’s 112 gallons. Plus the needs of your pets, if you have any. Buying jugs of drinking water at the store is not the wisest idea. 112 of those suckers takes up a LOT of space. Investing in some food-grade 55-gallon drums and a hand pump is worth considering instead. If you’re not willing or able to do that, some BPA-free reusable water containers are the next best thing. A word of advice: If you’re trying to stockpile your own water, don’t re-fill milk or juice jugs. Even when cleaned thoroughly, they still have enough residue inside to facilitate bacteria growth and ruin your water over time. For most of us, there are also two additional (and really easy) ways to access large amounts of clean water. One is to fill your bathtubs. The average bathtub in this country holds between 45 and 65 gallons of water. If you think that there might be a water crisis looming, go ahead and fill ‘er up. Even if you have a supply of drinking water, why waste it with washing and cleaning when you can use this supply?
The second resource is your water heater. If you have a tankless water heater, disregard this. But if you have a conventional water heater, that’s an additional 30 to 80 gallons of clean water at your service.
What if your water supply has been compromised in the wake of a disaster, and you don’t trust its security? You’ll need the same sort of water purification supplies you’d take into the woods with you. We’ll talk chemicals, filters, ratios, and more in a later post. But suffice to say, you’ll need some chemical methods, and some filtration methods. Bleach is a superb multipurpose item to keep around, and a single jug can treat hundreds of gallons of water. Iodine tablets and other chemical purifiers such as AquaMira are great to have, as well. If you’ve ever taken our Wilderness Water Essentials class, you know how much more there is to choosing a water filter than meets the eye. That’s a detailed topic that deserves its own post.
Priority #4: Food
In our last post in this series, we talked about how to build a food stockpile without spending a pile of money. Whether you grow your own, buy in bulk, or use coupons and shop sales, it’s well within the reach of most people to maintain a stockpile of food sufficient to feed your family for two weeks or more. How much food do you need, exactly? Probably a lot more than you think. Check out this helpful excerpt I found on yoursafetyplace.com:
“BMR - Basal Metabolic Rate:
The BMR, which stands for Basal Metabolic Rate, is one metric to determine caloric needs. BMR is what the body consumes at rest just to survive.
The BMR Rate for an adult can be very different from one individual to another. Height, Weight and Activity Levels can vary widely. Gender also affects the numbers as males need more calories per day than females.
For example: The BMR for a 185lbs. male, 6' 2", 40 years old is approx 1900 calories per day. The BRM for a 135lbs. female, 5' 7", 40 years old is approx 1400 calories per day.
Calculating the BMR per Person
There are a number of ways to calculate an individuals’ BMR. The first way is calculating it by the manual equations below.
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) - ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) - ( 6.8 x age in year )
The Harris Benedict Equation is a formula that uses your BMR and then applies an activity factor to determine your total daily energy expenditure (calories).
- If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
- If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
- If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
- If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
- If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9
The easier way is to use a BMR Calculator. There are many online that will work. We have included some links below at the bottom of the page so you can figure out your needs.
Example of Calculating the BMR for a Family
To help assist you in calculating the BMR daily caloric intake for a family, we have created a sample family below.
Bob (The Dad) is 6' 0", 225lbs., 42 years old, Lightly Active due to Disaster Conditions = 2,883 calories per day.
Susan (The Mom) is 5' 7", 145lbs., 39 years old, Lightly Active due to Disaster Conditions = 1,949 calories per day.
Jimmy (The Son) is 5' 4", 120lbs., 15 years old, Lightly Active due to Disaster Conditions = 2,096 calories per day.
Jenny (The Daughter) is 4' 9", 95lbs., 13 years old, Lightly Active due to Disaster Conditions = 1,778 calories per day.
That's a total of 8,706 calories per day for this family of four.”
That’s a lot more than most prepackaged “disaster prep kits” offer, and it’s more than most lists recommend. Most of those kits and lists are geared towards survival, not fully meeting caloric needs. 800 calories a day is adequate to survive. But it’s not enough to function at one’s best, and in a disaster, you’ll be wanting to function at your best.
What sort of foods are you looking for? High-calorie, non-perishable, and ideally require little to no preparation. Canned vegetables, soups, peanut butter, dry cereal or granola, canned meats, crackers, nuts, dried fruit, jerky, and juices are all great. In your preparations, make sure you include things like infant formula if you have a baby, or pet food if you have pets. Sounds obvious, but more people overlook it than you might expect.
With this basic stockpile, you’ll have adequate resources to survive and prevail in the event of a local or regional disaster. But what about a generator? First aid kit? Self-defense? We’ll be covering that in the next post in the series. Those things are vital, in my opinion. But as I’ve stated earlier in this series, this is how to set up a basic kit. These are the non-negotiable core essentials. Most people don’t even have the things listed here, so obtaining these items is a great place to start, and will put you far ahead of 72% of Americans. There is also the issue of cost. What we talked about today, with the exception of the chainsaw, can be had – all of it – for around $1,000, if you shop intelligently, buy used, and wait for deals. That sounds like a lot, but spread out over the course of a year, is within the reach of nearly anyone. If you start now, you can have it all put together by next hurricane season. On the other hand, the next level of items – guns, generator set, and more – can be a significant investment. We’ll discuss some tips on searching for those items and some things to look for in our next post in this series. See you then!