When preparing for a disaster, it’s wise to start with what you expect to happen. Many places on earth can reasonably expect earthquakes, hurricanes or typhoons, tornadoes, floods, winter weather, avalanches, volcanoes, or tsunamis. Electrical power can be out for days or even weeks. In a flood or earthquake, your cache of supplies may suddenly be blocked by debris,or worse, they could be underwater. Clean water may become unavailable.
There are a range of disasters you might encounter, and a lot of scenarios to consider. It’s hard enough to prepare for recurring disasters, but what if you are preparing for something a lot more dramatic? Something history has not seen yet? What if you are planning for nuclear fallout or radiation from a dirty bomb? Or if the local government has become nonexistent or powerless? Your preparations will be far different, and you may realize that you can’t go it alone.
You can prepare for a disaster, but you may also need to prepare for a new way of life. “The end of the world as we know it” (TEOTWAWKI) means exactly that. You can’t expect rescue, help, supplies, electrical power, or the rule of law for a long time to come. It would be impossible to stockpile everything you and yours will need for the rest of your lives, because things change. People get sick, injured, things break and supplies are eventually used up. In short, life happens, and preparing for an entirely new way of life will require interdependence, not independence. That means you have to join a community.
In such an extreme disaster the rules change. Although it’s hard to say exactly what life will be like, we know that without infrastructure it will be much more like the 18th or 19th century than the modern 21st.
Back then there wasn’t a lot of need for bus or truck drivers, computer programmers, sales people, retail clerks, administrative assistants, or lawyers. But there was a need for farmers, masons, cobblers, dentists, doctors, nurses, veterinarians, and cooks. It will help to have a skill or a trade that a future community or group of people will value. Hobbies can easily segue into a post-apocalyptic economy trade or craft. Gardening, cooking, fishing or hunting, fixing cars, boats or motorcycles, or making home improvements all build skills and knowledge that will make you valuable to a community. After the disaster, there will be crafts that don’t exist yet, even as a hobby, or they just aren’t common. Pre-industrial professions such as herbalist, midwife, weaver, trapper or tanner may suddenly make a comeback.
If you are in a community now, chances are good that you’ll be in one when things go south. Get to know the people in your community, which disasters they expect and what preparations they are making. Also get to know their skills and natural abilities. Does someone seem unimpressive but has a keen eye for nature? He might make a good tracker or hunter. Does someone you know seem to have an excellent memory for names, even last names? Give her a book about plants, and you may be surprised what she finds. In general, someone who appears quite ordinary can have latent, undiscovered abilities.
If you are not now in a community, in the new world, depending on its new rules, you may have to buy your way into a community or have valuable skills that they lack or have only in limited supply. Weapons, medications, antibiotics, ammunition, food, fish hooks, surgical equipment, certain books — anything that is highly specialized — can be rare enough to be valuable to a community. You will first have to talk to them to see what they need. It may not be what you expect. Perhaps they discovered that the children in the community are more rebellious without games to play. That set of multi-sized dodge balls that you thought was utterly useless has just bought you something that nothing else could.
Without the rule of law, things will definitely change, and communities will likely be as diverse as individuals. If communities are smaller and more isolated, they will take on the personalities of their strongest leaders. This means that some communities may be good, free, enjoyable and wholesome, but others may be violent, ruthless, brutal, selfish, cult-like, or maybe just disorganized and unsuccessful. Joining such a community may waste your time, cost you your supplies, or much worse. Since you don’t want to join just any community, it’s a good idea to observe the community from afar before deciding if it’s in your best interest to join.
Once in the community, integrate with them immediately. Cross-training will be important because knowledge is, and always will be, the most valuable thing you have. If they know something you don’t, learn it. Let your kids play together and support inter-tribal relationships. The more the lines are blurred between the two tribes, the easier it will be to have equal status, and the harder it will be to be exploited.
After the post-disaster recovery is no longer new, and the new lifestyle becomes the status quo, it might again become possible to live independently, much as you initially did. You may now be able to have loose associations with many communities. You could go from town to town, selling your goods or services. This is probably not good if you are in a family with small children, but if you are alone and have an important skill, or are lucky enough to possess a rare commodity in abundance, this could be lucrative for you. Going from group to group, perhaps staying the night just outside of the community grounds, close enough for protection but far enough to avoid joining the community (which will make it harder for you to live your life on the road), might be good for a single person or someone who loves to travel and meet new people.
As impossible as it is to know exactly what the future will bring, it is important to think about likely alternative futures and how to prepare for them. Thinking about things now, compared to thinking about them after a disaster, may be the difference between life and death.