When it comes to disaster preparedness, most people think immediately of a “bug-out” bag, or even a “get home” bag, or any of the other variations one finds of the general concept of having to put gear on your back and make your way from point A to point B. It’s much simpler to think about just that initial process of “bugging out” when things go bad, than staying put.
However, the harsh reality is that bugging out is the last thing you should ever want to do. The entire concept of bugging out requires that you be willing to sacrifice the known for the unknown. In order to be willing to take this step you should have no other option available to you. In contrast to bugging out, if you have spent any time or money prepping your home (or even if you haven’t), your odds of making it through a disaster by “bugging in” to your own (or even a friend’s or loved one’s) home are far better than biking, driving or walking to a destination that may even be worse than the one you are trying to escape.
In this article I would like to give you a brief overview of how to bug-in to your home, all the way up to the point where you may not have any other choice than to bug out. Bear in mind that the bug-out situation is far less likely to happen than the need to bug-in, so put your primary resources to prepping your home base first.
At my survival school, we run (among many other things) many urban survival courses that start with what we call the “Urban Core Basic,” which is 50 hours of hands-on skills training and scenarios to introduce all students to the same level of basic urban survival skills. The very first thing we do as a class, is focus on securing the 5-acre portion of our training facility that we hold this course on, and then create some kind of secure shelter(s) for our class as a group. This is the “nesting instinct” and there’s a reason for it. Having a home or even just home base to work with greatly increases your chances of survival. It also greatly helps overall morale and attitude, which – make no mistake about it – are every bit as important as all of the other necessities combined.
If you don’t believe me on this, take the “homeless challenge,” which is another training scenario we put some of our more advanced urban survival students through. Forcing yourself to live on the street with nothing more than the clothes on your back (especially in an unknown area) will wear you down very quickly. This is no different than having to bug out through different areas to reach a destination. In a bugout situation you are essentially in unknown territory, having to walk many miles every day, deal with hunger, thirst, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, illness and security issues.
While this may seem to be a romantic notion that is idealized by Hollywood fantasy, the actual reality of bugging out in a post-SHTF environment is that unless you have seriously trained for it at least weekly if not daily, and are working with other people who have done the same, it is most likely a quick way to become nothing more than a walking re-supply for people who were smart or more fortunate than you and stuck to their own home base rather than bugging out, and who don’t mind taking everything you have, to include your body or life.
So while it is obviously a very sound idea to have a planned bug-out destination (or even several), along with a “get-home” bag in the car and/or office, the purpose of this article is to walk through a more important step of prepping your own home and neighborhood (i.e. “home base”) for a post-disaster situation.
Prepping your Home Base
As with everything in the realm of disaster preparedness, it’s best to start and stick with the simplest concepts. We already know the basic necessities of almost any survival situation: Fire, Water, Food, Shelter and Security. In an urban environment, or any environment that involves our home, we can break these 5 necessities down in several different ways, and in doing so the essential concepts expand just a little bit into sub-areas. I like to break it down as follows: Water, Food, Heat/Cold, Power, Communication, Light, Health and Security. As an example of this break-down of needs, rather than just the basic necessity of “fire” we ideally need to be able to both heat and cool things like food or possibly even our living environment.
1) Water: This is one of the areas where many people miscalculate, and it is really one of the simplest and most crucial needs. My advice is to tackle the issue of water before you try to take on anything else, because it is so easy to take care of and doesn’t require a lot of financial investment. The biggest mistake most people make is that they woefully underestimate the amount of water they need because they don’t take into consideration exactly how much and for how many things we use water.
- Water to drink – This is of course the most obvious need. But how much, exactly? Plan on a minimum of 1 gallon per day, per person for your hydration needs. This is probably more than you need to survive at a bare minimum inside your home base, but plan on using that much drinking water anyway. Firstly because it doesn’t take that much room or money to plan for that amount and also because you’ll be glad you overestimated a little. As an additional backup water plan, you should also invest in at least one water filtration system (for example: Berkey water filters), and also invest in one or more of the numerous and inexpensive, portable bugout-bag type systems.
However the first and most important necessity to start with is having a supply of water that does not need filtration or purifying. It is very simple to buy several 55-gallon, food-grade plastic barrels. The prices for these range from about $25 – $50, depending on whether they are new or used, and also depending on whether they already have a spout installed at the bottom or not. Alternatively, the 5-7 gallon plastic water containers you can buy for under $10 will work as well. They are usually square and stack neatly.
- Water for sanitation – Most people don’t consider this aspect, so let’s think about it here: Disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes create an huge mess of sewage, salt-water (near the coast), agricultural waste, and much more. This means that even a minor cut, abrasion or laceration can become life or limb threatening, especially if medical care is limited. Proper sanitation means that we need water for washing off (shower), cleaning our teeth, cleaning out wounds and other first aid needs. Also we need water for helping clean and take care of toilet needs, whether that amounts to 5-gallon buckets, trash bags, or even a trench in your back yard.
- Water for food – If you’re growing your own food (and you should be), then of course you will need water for that. In most urban areas it is rare to find very much water supply that is gravity-fed. This means that a power outage results in no water supply for your home, garden, greenhouse, etc. How much water does it take to keep your food growing? Do you know? One way to track this is to set up a gravity drip system with PVC pipe drip irrigation (drill holes in it) and a 35 or 55 gallon drum. It doesn’t cost much to create this and saves a lot of water even when your water supply isn’t restricted. Rainwater collection or other sources of gray water are also a very good plan. Rainwater collection, depending on where you live, is a good plan for drinking water too, but requires specific filtration in that case as well. Bear in mind that there are some states where rainwater collection is actually illegal. The constitutionality of this kind of regulatory practice is outside the scope of this article, but it is something to be aware of before you start building your own system.
2) Food: Disaster food prepping should be thought of in at least two categories. Short-term and long-term food supply. By “short term” I am talking about time periods of two weeks or less. What a lot of prepper-type suppliers will try to sell you on is the concept of MRE’s and freeze-dried food-storage solutions like Mountain House for your home food supply. While it’s true that these have calories to keep you alive for a short-term disaster (less than a few weeks) they are not any kind of real food for the medium or long haul. The only real advantage you get from those short-term foods is portability and weight. So I’d recommend having Mountain House or MRE’s in a small supply that you can either pack into your car or bugout bag very quickly (if not already pre-packed), in case you have to become mobile. Otherwise use real food for your home-base prepping and stay away from prepackaged food entirely for that purpose.
You can very easily and inexpensively take care of all of your food supplies. Start with extremely inexpensive with foods like beans (red beans, lentils, etc.) and rice. Then build up from that starting point by using food drying (dehydrators like the Excaliber brand, for instance, can be bought starting at around $100) dry canning, wet canning, mylar and food-grade storage buckets to package and store your food. The important thing is to store your long-term food in vacuum sealed containers that will allow your food supplies to keep for several years. Storing your food in this manner is a skill, but one that is very easily learned. We teach these skills at my school, but you can also learn many of them on your own through “YouTube University” or through good books.
One very important concept to keep in mind however is that “food fatigue” is a very real and imminent concept if you are planning on living on stored food for months or even years. To really understand how to work with stored food, you must also change your lifestyle as a part of your prepping. What I mean by this is that you must begin using and cooking with your stored food on some kind of regular basis. Doing this will allow you to rotate through your long-term food stores as well as understanding what kinds of flavorings, spices and sauces you also need to avoid food fatigue. This will help keep both your own and your loved ones’ morale and attitude sharp.
Finally, any real long-term food storage plan is incomplete without the talking about gardening and backyard livestock such as chickens, rabbits, ducks, goats, etc. Again in reference to the myths that are propagated by prepping-supply stores, this does not mean simply buying a can of heirloom seeds and storing them at the back of your pantry, thinking you’re all ready to grow your own food after society collapses. This means actively gardening right now. Raising food to live on takes work and most of all experience and time. You have to fail for at least a few years at gardening to get good at it. Understanding soil health, composting, vermiculture, droughts, insects, disease, harvesting, winter gardening, seed harvesting and so forth are all necessary aspects of growing your own food that you can only learn from experience. Not from books. A good analogy to this would be:
Not having any experience in growing a garden for actual food you need to live off of and expecting your non-hybrid seeds to fulfill this part of your plan is similar to reading about starting a friction fire using a hand-drill and then assuming you can do it on that day when it’s 40 degrees Fahrenheit, raining and you’re almost hypothermic. Some of the related subjects (and of course also subjects we teach at my school) are: Raised bed gardening, “guerilla” gardening, wicking beds, aquaponics, permaculture, vertical and forest gardening. If you are interested in herbalism, I highly suggest you start growing those kinds of plants as well, while also learning to identify those that grow naturally in your surroundings whether urban or rural. I also talk (and interview many other experts) a lot about herbalism and growing your own food, urban survival and a myriad of other preparedness topics on my podcast, if you are looking for more information on these subjects.
Until then, what would you say is the most important thing to have on hand when bugging in?
Let me know below.