Updated: May 9
If, for weeks, months or even years-
The power goes off and stays off, what happens to you and your family?
Water stops flowing and toilets back up, what do you do?
Your car won't start and your phones die, what is the next step?
You can't access funds through your bank, phone, or ATM, do you have backup?
Food deliveries in your area stop for any reason, how do you react?
Add natural disaster, war, social unrest, runaway inflation or terrorism (pandemic?) to any or all of the above--do you have a plan to cope? Could you be ambushed by circumstance and left without food, water, necessary medications or even contact with emergency services or your loved ones?
Could you suddenly be robbed or assaulted--including by panicked neighbors looking for food and water? Even worse, most preparedness scenarios assume looter gangs will quickly flourish-- current evil-doers PLUS criminals who break out of suddenly unpowered, unstaffed jails. Can you counter this?
Isolated you at home, you will quickly exhaust on-hand food, water, liquor(!), medicine and other supplies. The average family has only a few days' worth--many of us live by "running to the store" or ordering online as needed. Even most stores now restock on a day-to-day, "just in time" basis. How do you restock--including maintenance medications--without access to suppliers?
And who supplies the suppliers in a major disaster? What happens when power grids and food distribution shipments break down and stay broken (no truckers to drive, no gasoline for trucks?) Some estimate that there is only a 90 day supply of food for the world's population available to distribute at any time.
For older adults, hunger, thirst, and looters are just the beginning.
Do you need specialized medical care or regular visits from a caregiver? Do relatives visit regularly to provide informal care, drive you to the doctor or do household chores? Unless they live close by this may abruptly end. What would happen to you?
Are you frail or otherwise physically limited? Do you use a wheelchair, walker or other assistance equipment? Is your home modified to accommodate your reduced abilities? What if repair, replacement or even adjustment is no longer available?
What about "normal" chores, including lifting, carrying, washing clothes or even cooking?
Is it very hot or cold where you live? Without power, how do you keep your body temperature in a safe range?
Could your medications (or even the possibility that you HAVE medications) attract unwanted attention? Opiates and other painkillers may be more valuable than food and water to addicted criminals--and their suppliers-- when the grid fails.
Can you defend yourself and your home?
Could this really happen?
The "amenities" of civilization truly hang by a thread. Everything works fine--until it stops working. All our basic needs are met with systems that typically have very little redundancy or backup. Large cities are the most vulnerable, but any grid-connected, "just in time-" restocked community could be affected.
Two "bottleneck" issues drive most emergency planning: grid down/no electricity, and the resulting lack of supplies (food/water/medicine etc.)
Power: the US national power grid is fragile, disorganized, and highly vulnerable to physical sabotage or cyber attack. Infrastructure upgrades and healthy redundancy have been ignored for years by any administration or local government. Widespread use of delicate electronics to run and regulate power has increased vulnerability to electromagnetic pulse (EMP) disruption or just plain cyber-villainy. EMP can be human caused ( for example, low-atmospheric nuclear detonation) or intense solar flare activity ("geomagnetic" storms, coronal mass ejection, or CME.)
Outright physical attacks on power lines, substations or transformers could have the same effect, especially if coordinated nationwide.
The power grid also requires PEOPLE to run it. Anything that keeps workers from their posts (pandemic, unrest, lack of gasoline, war) will ultimately impact power.
Please read this chilling paper, on power grid vulnerability and the disastrous consequences of a sustained national outage--which include mass starvation and death as on-hand food supplies disappear, water stops flowing and production of everything halts (including oil and gas.)
[EMP/CME note: these events may also "fry" vehicle electronics, disabling the vast majority of vehicles--including emergency service and law enforcement fleets. Your pre-1970's electronics-free antique truck may become priceless overnight.]
Food: anyone who went shopping during COVID, especially the first months of the lockdowns in the USA, may have gotten an uncomfortable first look at stripped grocery shelves. Despite our personal preps, we visited a local Walmart around 9 PM in early 2020 to stock up--and found very little available. Crowds thronged the aisles between eerily empty shelves.
Right now, mass media if focusing on a serious baby formula shortage. What's next?
Imagine a grid-down or no-gasoline scenario that would prevent your local Walmart from normal overnight "just in time" restocking. Or, what if food (and gasoline and everything else) suddenly becomes unaffordable for anyone due to uncontrolled inflation or outright financial collapse?
Could you forage, hunt or even steal food to survive? Would you join a "food riot?"
Humans can go without food for up to a few weeks--but maybe only three or four days without water.
Water: Most of us, especially city dwellers, receive water through antiquated, often poorly-maintained, compromised or otherwise fragile systems. Pressure loss due to power failure is only one example of what can go wrong. Water can quickly become unsafe or simply unavailable for many reasons, including terrorist sabotage. Open water sources are vulnerable to bacterial growth, pollution by careless users, uncontrolled industrial waste--or deliberate poisoning.
Is there an open source near you? How safe would it be if everyone for miles around needed to use it? Are you prepared to transport, filter, boil and purify water? Could you defend yourself while obtaining water?
Medication: maintenance medication use is so common it must be addressed in any disaster planning. Could you die or become debilitated without your meds? Could you "forage" for medication if needed (raid local pharmacies?) Would others be willing or able to do this for you? Remember that looters will quickly target all sources of opiates and painkillers. If law enforcement is overwhelmed or paralyzed, can you defend your medicine cabinet?
Infection: without access to antibiotics, even small cuts or scrapes can suddenly become serious--even life threatening. "Routine" illnesses like sinus, strep, UTI, pneumonia, all relatively curable with antibiotics, may become deadly without them--especially for seniors. How do you plan for this?
Your next steps
If you need help "imagining" the impact of major disaster, please take the time to read One Second After by William Forstchen. This novel is set in modern times just after an EMP event, is not too badly written, and is extremely realistic. Like many good "doomsday" books it is full of useful survival ideas, and also has the dubious honor of being recommended by Congress for every US Citizen to read. Wonder why?
If you embrace the need to plan, keep researching and reading--but don't wait too long to begin basic preparations. See our resources page for other book and web suggestions.
Beginner peppers of all ages could also do worse than to start with How to Survive the End of the World As We Know it, by James Wesley, Rawles. (That comma is not a typo.) This is my personal "prepper's Bible."
Emergency preparedness can seem daunting, especially when you realize that you are essentially trying to re-create civilization from scratch, in your own home, on a budget.
Don't let "all things you should be doing" distract, delay, or intimidate you. Start small and slow if needed. Build readiness gradually. This is what I do--add to our stockpile with one or two steps or small purchases each week. See our upcoming posts for basics.