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How Prepared Are You Really?

If you have followed any of my writing, or know me at all, you know me to be a relatively hard-core survivalist. But as things often go during certain stressful situations, I was recently caught off guard. Fortunately, the situation remained a minor one, and it turned out to be just a blip on the radar of normal life.

A few months ago in San Diego, California, my beautiful home for my entire life, the grid went black. Ordinarily a situation like this would be a good proving ground for your inner survivalist; however this time it was different: a random set of variables, almost every one of them negatively impacting my situation, combined to make this situation much more difficult than it could’ve been.  This wouldn’t be a chance to rotate some stored food and water and enjoy my self-sufficiency.  As simple as it may seem to the reader, this actually almost had me panicking (being September 11th in a military town with an unexpected and unexplained outage). The main reason was that I was away from my home base and weapons/defensive setup.

Earlier that morning, I had driven down to my girlfriend’s house, took her out to breakfast, and then headed to work. We would be spending the evening together at her house, and her car was out of gas, so it made sense for me to drive. Getting caught up with work during the day, I forgot to fill up the tank on my car. There was a large fire near her work, and I spent some time working remotely there on my laptop and wireless card, just in case the fire got out of hand. (Having been trapped in two fires in last ten years living in San Diego, I don’t fear fire per se, but I respect its capabilities.)

At her house and in the trunk of my car, I had some basic equipment and supplies, but it was nothing near what I had at my own home. I’m not much of a worrier, as I’m usually more than prepared to handle most situations. Even as we sat in traffic approaching “E” on my gas gauge, it never dawned on me how long of a night it was going to be.

There wasn’t any food in the fridge and just barely more in the freezer and pantry, so we decided to stop by the grocery store on the way home, followed by a trip to the gas station.

I only carry cash in my bug-out bag, but it was not with me. Only a small, modified version was with me in the trunk of my car. In this cashless society, I had no reason to believe it would be difficult getting money with my bank and credit cards. As we pulled up to the grocery store, near chaos unfolded: two cars were parked in front of each of the entryways to the grocery store blocking them from entry, while the gas station adjacent was fifteen cars deep in each lane.  Some pumps were already completely out of gas.  Customers were arguing heatedly with store management, and there were a lot of people walking around and acting almost panicked. The fast food chains and restaurants were either closed due to lack of refrigeration or required cash to pay for their leftover food.

As we arrived home, I realized we didn’t have any water in the storage jugs or the water cooler. Not a big deal—we still have tap water, right? Wrong. There was a note on the front door saying that to the power outage wastewater had gotten back into the main water supply. We only had three one-gallon jugs of bottled water in the closet. (Her place is small and not necessarily conducive to having a large storage of backup supplies.) At this point it was still no big deal, as it seemed to be a minor inconvenience more than anything else.

Things we were lacking or were unprepared for:

  • We had no cash and no access to ATM’s/cash
  • No sizable backup of drinking water
  • Only about four to six days of canned, dried, or shelf-stable foods.
  • No long-term fuel source
  • No backup power for large appliances
  • No back-up long-range personalized communication to backup cell phones (the towers were down three hours after the start of the grid problem)
  • No defensive/offensive protection to speak of
  • No gasoline to travel to a place which had resources
  • No support system close enough to positively impact our situation

What we did have that most people around us did not:

  • Charcoal (three fifty-pound bags) and two smokers along with a charcoal starter to minimize efforts and starter fuel
  • Multiple hand-crank long-range radios with battery chargers integrated
  • 2000+ tea light candles
  • A backpacking stove
  • A gravity-fed water filter
  • Bleach and other water purification essentials
  • A DC-chargeable high-intensity flashlight (my trusty “Light for Life”)
  • Multiple charged batteries for cell phones
  • A good supply of batteries in normal sizes
  • A large-capacity backup battery for remote charging (18000 MwH) of small devices
  • A small solar panel
  • Two tactical folding knives
  • Two large fixed-blade knives (fourteen inches)
  • Two ABS polymer Great Katanas (practice gear which also serves well as batons)
  • Extra toilet paper and feminine products
  • First aid supplies and antibiotics
  • Two extra SIM cards for cell phones (which actually bought us about two hours of cell phone data usage, which we used to order overnight shipping on food from It certainly eased our concerns for a long-term situation; FedEx apparently was still running, according to news outlets.)
  • Ice jugs in the freezer to protect frozen items
  • Various other miscellaneous survival/event items like plastic sheeting, tools, and medical equipment

It wasn’t ideal, but from what we could tell, it was significantly more than any of our neighbors, relatives, and friends had with them. While it would have been a comfortable twenty-four hours had we been at my place, we weren’t uncomfortable considering that the situation didn’t degrade further than the grid going out.

I was the first in the neighborhood to know when the lights were coming back on because of the communication devices and battery backups, and I had a forty-eight ounce rib-eye and potatoes cooked on the BBQ/smoker and some fresh juice from the produce we did have on hand.  A couple cold beers and a nice candle-lit dinner can go a long way when there is no power and you are completely (or almost completely) unprepared.  I could hear people’s car alarms going off and groups of kids getting rowdy around midnight, but because of the preparations that we did have, I felt confident enough to go to bed.

While I’m pleased now with the result, deep down I feared the worse when it dragged on past five hours without electricity in the situation like I had going for me (no gasoline, cash, water, or weapons to speak of). It was a stark wake-up call for me to bring out some of my inner survivalist.  While I was confident in my skills, I was unhappy about my personal execution and the long-term sustainability (without having to resort to illegal or unethical behaviors) to obtain the comfort level I was used to.

Often times, survival will be about preparation more than anything else, and preparation relies on a holistic approach.  You cannot possibly prepare for everything, but forgetting or neglecting the basics at the wrong time can be devastating in a situation going downhill in a hurry.  Take a realistic look at your setup, and then think about how many variables affect you and your situation. Ask yourself: How prepared are you really?

©2011 Off the Grid News

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