Surviving a disaster at home is easier than surviving one anywhere else. Not only does your home provide you with shelter—thus satisfying needs #1 and #2—but you have pretty much everything you own all in one place. There is no way that you can carry as much survival gear with you when you are away from home as you will have when you are safe on your own turf.
Nevertheless, survival at home is still a challenge that requires adequate preparation and training. While you may have everything you own in one place, there’s a good chance that you won’t have some things available to you that you are used to having. In most disasters, the normal infrastructure is severely damaged, eliminating services regularly taken for granted, such as electrical power and fresh water. Additionally, supply chains are compromised, which means running down to the corner store to buy something you need is out of the question.
To properly prepare a disaster survival kit for your home, you must first take into consideration the worst disaster you are likely to face. There is no sense in preparing for a situation that you aren’t likely to see, like a tsunami in the desert, nor is there much sense in preparing for anything less than the worst-case scenario. If you prepare for the worst situation possible in your life, then you will have everything you need on hand to survive a lesser calamity.
For the sake of this book, we’re going to assume that the worst-case situation is a hurricane or tornado that disrupts electrical power, water supplies, communications and supply chains. Due to the lack of supplies, there is a breakdown in society, and looting and violence abound.
The next thing to figure out is the amount of time that will pass before life resumes as usual. It takes time to restore essential services when they are disrupted. A hurricane may pass through an area in 24 hours, but it could also be days or even weeks before life returns to its regular state.
The easiest way to determine how rapidly your life can return to normal is by looking at the aftermath of previous disasters. How quickly were government agencies able to react? How long did it take to restore electrical power? How many days (or weeks) passed before stores had the standard level of stock back on the shelves? All this information is available, although it might take some work to uncover.
The answers to those questions tell us how long of a time we need to be prepared for. In most cases, it’s not surviving the disaster that’s the toughest part; it’s surviving the aftermath while things are being restored to how they were before the storm hit.
How Your Home Helps You
Besides the shelter that your home provides you, there are a number of other advantages of being caught at home in a disaster. More than anything, it provides your family with a safe place to congregate and support one another. Being in familiar surroundings helps maintain a semblance of normalcy, even though the situation may be anything but. Nevertheless, those creature comforts can give your family confidence to overcome the situation.
Don’t underestimate the value of making your family feel comfortable as well as feeling that things are at least somewhat normal. The hardest part of surviving any disaster is the psychological strain. People who are comfortable will be better prepared to confront the problems that are associated with a disaster and its aftermath. Take a group that waited out a long, difficult storm at home and throw them into unfamiliar surroundings, and their chances of survival will be drastically reduced.
With the right preparation, your home can do much more for you than provide shelter. While all homes are limited as to how much storage space they have, a house or apartment can pack away much more food and supplies than what you could carry on your back.
Of course, the more you do to prepare your home for disasters, the better off you will be when and if a disaster strikes. For example, if you have stockpiled food and water, then when a disaster takes away water service, you’ll at least have a week’s water to drink. You might not have enough to last you forever, but you’ll be much better off than those that haven’t stored a single bottle.
What to Do When the Lights Go Out
Since most disasters result in the loss of essential services, we must assume that whatever disaster strikes your family will leave you without electrical service, fresh water from the tap, sewer service and food from the grocery store. The more you can do beforehand to prepare for the loss of these services, the better off you’ll be.
You might think that electricity is mostly important for the television set and your computer, but we use electricity for many more critical things like heating and cooling, refrigeration and lighting. In addition, both city water services and a private well on your property depend upon electrical power to supply your family with water. So, to fully prepare your home, it is necessary to develop a plan for dealing with the loss of electricity and water.
The first part of this is providing heat in the home. Modern heating is either electrical or gas. Even in cases where gas is used, the controls are electric. Luckily, humans heated their homes for centuries before the invention of modern central systems, and we can return to those methods, like fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. While not as convenient as central heating, a good old-fashioned fire will heat a home. If it is impossible to install one of these heat sources in your home, a portable kerosene heater will do.
The second need is for water. The average person needs a gallon of water per day in moderate temperatures and two gallons in hot temperatures. (This quantity doesn’t account for what is needed for personal hygiene, which can be several gallons per day.)
Drinking water can be stockpiled. However, even the best stockpile will eventually give out. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a means of filtering water as well. That way, available water supplies from nearby streams, lakes and rainwater can be filtered and used for drinking water. Be sure to make note of what nearby water supplies are available.
Refrigeration is the third necessity that is lost when electrical power is out. There are two ways to respond to this: use up the food that you have in the refrigerator ASAP, or provide alternative refrigeration. The latter can be accomplished through evaporative cooling.
The zeer cooler is a means of keeping food via evaporative cooling. This simple yet ancient device consists of two clay pots that nest inside of each other. The space between them is filled with sand, and the sand is wetted. Since the clay of the pots is porous, the water in the sand will wick towards the outside of the outer pot, where it can evaporate, cooling the entire zeer, including its contents. Covering the zeer with a wet cloth helps the process as well by adding additional cooling and insulating the contents from the ambient temperature.