Every Marine a Rifleman. Every Sailor a Firefighter. Every Citizen a Prepper.
Since the founding of the United States Marine Corps, their philosophy has been, "Every Marine a Rifleman." This means that a person has not earned the privilege to be called a Marine until they have proven themselves an expert with their rifle. This term carried over into the United States Navy on 17 May 1987 when the USS Stark (FFG-31) was hit by two Iraqi-fired Exocet anti-ship missiles. From that moment the credo of the Navy has been "Every Sailor a Firefighter."
As I write this, we are all to varying degrees confined to our homes to try and combat the COVID-19 crisis currently gripping the world. I am writing this to convey this message to you: "Every citizen a Prepper."
As with the political spectrum that I normally write about, there are extremely crazy people on both ends, while most of us are in the center. Except on this subject, we're not. From the "hyper-ready bomb shelter, 25 year crop seeds, 100 guns and a million rounds of ammo" crazies to the "nothing bad will ever happen to me" delusional crazies on the other end, most of us are on the latter end of not prepared. Let's fix that, shall we?
First, this is not a "27 things every prepper must have" kind of article. I am going to discuss broad points to engage your brain to think about what you need, then you can navigate to the solution that best fits you.
And prepping isn't just for earthquakes, pandemics and hurricanes. It can also include extended unemployment.
1. The scale of your prepping.
The very first thing you must define is "How long and how bad" do you want to plan for? You're preparing for a disruption of society and the supply chain. For natural disasters, you're on your own for 3-5 days until coordinated rescue services get to you. If you have to "shelter in place" for an extended period of time, with or without utilities (water, power, etc.) that situation carries with it different problems to mitigate. My suggestion is act like you're not getting a restock of food or medications for sixty days, two months at any minute. Build your pantry so you can draw from it that long. If you thin the portions down, you can probably get another month out of it.
2. Think before you start.
Have a plan. Plan the work, then work the plan. Think of everything you need/use, write it down and think about the best way and amount to get.
The last thing you want to do is panic buy during the onset of a crisis. This wastes resources because you might buy something you'll never use, thus you won't have the cash for something you need and can use when it comes along.
Food and water in a societal collapse or disruption will always be a top priority. A grocery store will start running out of food a day after the first truck doesn't arrive. Quicker if there's a panic and people panic hoard. Toilet paper anyone? Knowing this, it is advantageous to you if you can have 1-2 months worth of food stocks on hand. Not the perishables (bread, milk, eggs, fresh veggies, etc.), but the shelf-stable foods. Canned goods, easy-to-fix boxed dinners, and the like. Depending on your freezer storage and the ability to keep them running you can add things like frozen meat/vegetables/baked goods into your plans.
The most important point beyond having food, is having food you and your family will eat. You might have gotten that case of canned Brussels Sprouts for a great price, but it will be a waste if the family will only eat it at the point of a gun.
There isn't a lot of mystery to this. Look at a box or a can and read the "Best by/Use by" date. This means, "we promise full flavor and nutritional value up until that date." A can of food will most likely still be eatable for a year or two past that date, provided the integrity of the can has not been compromised.
Canned goods have a shelf life of 2-3 years to their "Use By" date and you can eat out of them without any kind of preparation. After all, they were cooked in the can right after being sealed to kill the bacteria that would spoil the food.
Dry Boxed dinners (pastas/rice/etc.) have a shelf life of 1-2 years and as long as they are kept cool, dry and bug free will hold out well. They do require preparation (boiled in water, milk/butter/seasonings) so take those resources into consideration. You might not have your refrigerator, microwave and stove during an extended crisis.
Bulk products like flour, rice and sugar should be considered, depending on how much you use. Flour has a 6-12 month "best by" date. Rice and sugar have no practical expiration date. If you don't make baked goods (bread, etc.) regularly, then don't get flour. Likewise, if you don't eat rice or use a lot of sugar, don't go this route.
The best thing I can suggest is figure out what you use normally and slowly expand those stocks. Analyze your spending and consider changes. Let's say you use ten bags of frozen corn in a month. Next month, get 5 frozen bags and 7-10 cans of corn. Alternate frozen-can-frozen-can for the ten uses. At the end of the month, you still have a couple cans of corn in the pantry. Next month, do the same. Five frozen, 7-10 canned. When you have 20 cans left at the end of the month, you can go back to purchasing ten units, split between frozen and canned. However many cans you used that month, you replenish back up to 20 and keep going. Even if you only buy 2 cans extra a month, you're still ahead of the game.
Set up a "FIFO" (First In, First Out) rotation system so you're always using the oldest goods first. Keeps everything fresh that way.
You can live for days and sometimes weeks without food, but you won't make it more than 3-4 days without water. The consensus is 2 gallons/day for every person. That will cover drinking, washing and sanitation. Storage options are varied and the advantage of water is you do not need have an emergency supply of more than 2-3 days on any given day. For most disruptions outside of an earthquake or nuclear strike, you'll have enough time to open your taps and capture a couple hundred gallons very quickly if your utilities are in danger of stopping or being compromised.
Let's plan for a moment on the consideration that in a crisis you have no utilities. Refrigerators only stay cold for so long if there's no power for them. Houses get cold in the Winter if the furnace doesn't have gas or power to run. That also means your stove won't work. So, how are you going to keep the freezers running, the house warm and be able to cook food? Remember generators and stoves require fuel, wood also if you're set up for it. How much fuel do you need, how to stabilize the fuel (gasoline goes bad in 30-45 days unless you add a stabilizer to it) and how will you rotate it to keep it fresh?
Dog? Cat? Birds? Rodents? Lizards? How much food/treats/bedding do you have for them?
I'm not discussing the "25 year" crop seeds, meant for you to plant and try to be a farmer if things fall apart more or less permanently. I'll tell you right now, those bacon and pizza seeds are very expensive. I'm actually talking about bean sprouts and similar "fast and easy to grow" fresh food. A spoonful of seeds, some water, light and dirt, and in a week you have a meal. The growing setup can be as simple as Red Solo Cups and a few other odds and ends. I'm not sure, my wife handles that stuff. I was told about a group of people who were snowed in at a remote location for several months and all they had was a bag of bean sprout seeds. They came out healthy.
Your plans are also going to have to take into consideration where you live. If you live in a high-density city, you have to consider the option of relocation to another site. How will you get there, where are you going, would you be welcome/expected and more are the appropriate questions to be asking. What you take with you is also to be considered. You likely will not have the time or cargo space to take everything you want or need. Bug-out bags would be especially prudent for this option.
With any collapse or disruption, a barter system will likely develop, but cash would still be useful, at least in the short term. If worse comes to worse, you can always use it as kindling. Cash (paper and coins) on hand is always good. "In the bank" will not help you if the power goes out, because ATM's don't give out cash unless they have electrical power and an Internet connection. I keep a jar of coins and a couple rolls of dollar coins along with a wad of cash in my safe. This also helps as an emergency fund in case of an unexpected car or house repair or unemployment.
10. Back-up to the back-up.
What are you going to do if the generator breaks? Or the wood is stolen? Or anything essential breaks? I don't know, I don't know what you have. The question is, can you have a backup, repair what's broken or how are you going to get along without it. More things to think about.
I saved this one for last. Consider this Dilbert cartoon:
Don't go out and just "get a gun to protect yourself." If you don't know anything about them, if you don't practice with them regularly to have that muscle memory, they're useless. You can't go to the gun store, get a gun, take it home and stick it in the closet and never practice with it, then expect to use it quickly, correctly and accurately in an emergency situation. When the lives of you and and your family are on the line, not knowing where the safety is so you can take the safety off and shoot the weapon will be embarrassing at a minimum, and fatal at the worst.
The most important weapon you have is between your ears. Your brain and will is just as important as the weapon in your hand. If five hungry people come to your door and demand you give them some food and you can't/won't, what are you going to do if they say, "Well then, we'll just take what you have and your daughter too!" If you haven't mentally prepared to go full John Wick on them and be able to shoot and kill every one of them at that moment (before they advance, the guy going the talking should be dead before he gets the words "we'll just" out) then the likely result is you're dead. You can't be like Lt.Col Tanner in Red Dawn, "I was outnumbered 5 to 1 and I got 4 of them!"
If you can't/won't take up arms to protect yourself and your family, I suggest partnering up with someone who does have that will and those skills. Then again, they just might tell you, "There are two kinds of people in this world my friend. Those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig."