One of the good things that could potentially come out of the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami is an awakening of people to the reality that even in seemingly protected and developed world space, disaster, true disaster, is more common than you think, and requires basic preparedness. I pointed out in a previous post that we are so troubled by the idea of preparing for bad times that we often fail to do so entirely, leaving us vulnerable. Others pointed out that for many of the Japanese who lost their homes or had to evacuate, some preparations would be of no value.
There is some truth to this – there is no way to prepare for everything. If you have stored resources in your home and it goes up in flames or is rapidly washed away, you are out the money you spent on them and you have nothing. However, if you have to evacuate and have a little notice, or if you have to shelter in your home, such resources can be invaluable. Since it is more common to have some notice of the need to evacuate or to stay in place than it is to lose your home entirely, this seems a worthwhile trade-off.
In the meantime, it seems useful to re-run a food storage post I wrote some years ago about applying your storage to an evacuation plan. I assume all of us intellectually realize that an evacuation plan is necessary – any of us can have a fire, a radiation leak, a chemical spill, a flood, a tornado, an earthquake in our region that requires evacuation. It is not so very strenuous to have a “grab and go” bag together – and the difference between escaping with the resources to meet very basic needs and escaping without them is huge. There is no certainty in this world – I cannot promise that having the preparations will ensure you can grab them and have access to them. I can, however, promise that you have much better odds of being secure if you have done some advance preparation than if you haven’t thought about it.
Most of my discussions of food storage are predicated on one assumption – that you are going to be in fairly stable place. Either you are going to stay where you are, or move infrequently, with lots of horsepower to get you and your reserves where they need to be.
Now I don’t think this is a bad presumption, quite honestly. The reality is that in a majority of crises you might face, the foods you store are an asset, not a liability – in a job loss, extended illness and host of other crises, having food matters. Most of the time, in the face of a disaster, you either leave temporarily and return to conditions not dissimilar to the previous state or you shelter in place. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions.
What about if you have to evacuate? Being able to leave in a hurry, and have some mobility is also essential for most of us. Every region has the potential for different natural disasters – and some not so natural ones. Whether chemical spill or a hurricane, earthquake or other disaster, all of us might have to leave home in a hurry. Or we might have to leave in not so much of a hurry, but some of us may end up moving into a household already full of people – with family or friends because of an extended disaster like Katrina or a personal loss like a foreclosure. Either way, moving hundreds of pounds of food storage may be tough.
On the other hand, sudden evacuations tend to leave people hanging for a time, and during that time people need to eat. And arriving at someone’s house with multiple mouths to feed can also be a big burden. How do you finess this?
For the very short term, there’s the bug-out bag. This is simply a light pack of urgent necessities – food (the kind that doesn’t require much, if any heat or cooking – this is the place for cup a soup, instant coffee, dried fruit and power bars), a change of clothing, essential documents, something to do with your hands and brain (light trashy novels, knitting, woodworking – once out of the immediate range of the disaster, crises are usually pretty boring and involve a lot of waiting), water, toilet paper, emergency supplies like matches, a space blanket, medications, small first aid kit and anything specially required for children or elders. Kids can even pack their own bags, and choose a toy to go with them.
The idea is that while in transit, in a shelter or otherwise dealing with a crisis you’d be able to meet immediate, urgent needs. The bags should be light enough that you can carry them if necessary on foot or on a bike if roads are closed or you don’t have gas for a car.
But once you get to your destination, what do you do? How do you descend with your family, pets and other needs on a family member who may also be struggling to make ends meet? Family consolidations are likely to be the name of the game – I’ve written about that here - about the fact that most crises evolve into exercises in shared housing. How can you make your food storage help out, even if you have to leave home?
I can’t take any credit for figuring this one out – the answer was given to me by reader and new friend Catskillmamala who has a large and diverse family. She wrote me about this, and I thought it was absolutely wonderful. She’s kindly given me permission to post it here. Here’s what she wrote:
“…I have an emergency bag containing all important family papers,
water filter, etc., and a plan to go to mother-in-laws house 1.5 hours west
of here if there is a need to bug out (such as a nuclear accident at Indian
Point). I cannot show up at mother-in-laws house with 8 hungry mouths to
feed and no food.
So, this last weekend, I prepared a number of emergency food storage
buckets. These are NOT part of my regular food storage plan. Rather they
are packed for a period of time say 3 years and will be taken back and
redone at that time. I have given these buckets to family members who
refuse to do any food storage for themselves. For example, my parents joke
that have 3 days of food in their house. In addition, I have given several
buckets to my mother-in-law in case I ever need to go to her house for an
emergency vacation. Below is how I packed and what I packed…
The buckets contain:
Coffee or Tea
Freeze dried broccoli
Freeze dried carrots
Dried beans (lentil, kidney, garbanzo and black)
Yeast or baking powder
Jello or pudding
The buckets are mylar storage bags, packed within 6 gallon buckets with
gamma or other good sealing lids, oxygen absorbers and a slice of bread for
Even better, she sent me a link to her new blog, complete with pictures!!! . I think this is a great idea for a gift, but similar buckets could also be packed to be quickly loaded in a vehicle and taken along. Catskillmamala tells me that while her MIL thought she was crazy, that her reaction to the gift was to feel more secure.
Not everyone has a car. Not everyone can afford this. But for those who can, I thought it was a wonderful solution! I admit, personally a disaster would have to be pretty huge for me to eat freeze-dried broccoli, and I would probably substitute whole wheat for sprouting, or alfalfa for sprouts, but that’s a matter of personal and family preference.
For those who cannot, even a small contribution to the communal pantry can be a big difference – perhaps one shopping bag of staples might be added to your vehicle in an evacuation. Make sure it includes some treats, particularly if you have children – even if you don’t customarily do a lot of junk food, crises are tough on kids, and there’s no need to make them harder.
At a minimum, do the work of thinking about this – the Japan crisis is a reminder that all of us are vulnerable. Disasters like the Tsunami happen, and little can be done about them – but the kind of disaster where you have 10 minutes to grab your kit and run, where you have time to prepare a little happen more often. This is the time to realize that your family’s suffering in a crisis is something you can often do something about.