I am an active prepper. I do have sort of a retreat but not a great bug-out vehicle (yet), but I do what I can for bugging-in and preparing for emergencies. I have extensive food and water preps, tactical supplies, and all of the other trappings of modern-day prepping. Although my family is aware of my prepping, and support my efforts, they are not “in the loop” with how to do what, when to do it, and what to do it with. I have come to realize that many of my preps will be useless if anything happens to me. A good example of this is my emergency comm gear. It’s good gear, easily accessed, and will work well, but there are no user-friendly instructions on how to use the gear. Another example would simply to list where everything is located, as my preps are spread throughout the home, vehicles, and remote locations. There are many, many things that I can do with the gear, but might be a stretch for my wife and children, simply due to the lack of instructions.
To this end I have begun documenting all of the needed information regarding our preps. This is being done in plain text, and then a printed copy will be hidden, and a copy given to my wife. Digital versions on the thumb drive are encrypted with a password that we all know well. The docs begin with a detailed inventory that gives location, quantity, and a short description. After the inventory I have started writing how-to docs for each area of need, and the level of detail is just deep enough to get the job done. As is the case with most such articles on preps, bug-out-bags, etc., I begin with water, food, shelter, protection, safety, communications, and lastly, comfort. I have kept the technical jargon to a minimum, and intend to solicit feedback from my family to clear up any points that need it.
With regard to each are of prepping, in some short discussions with my family that safety and security are two areas where considerable discussion was required before writing my docs. The reason is very predictable, my family consists of my wife and two teenage daughters. While they are all very sharp, and quite capable, some aspects of safety and security are difficult for them to accept. An example is the need to hide the bulk of our preps, while leaving a substantial quantity of food and water out in the relative open. I think this is needed because looters WILL come, and they can more easily dealt with if they are not coming up empty-handed. The other reason may be obvious, they might give up looking once they think they have taken all they can find, so the bulk of our preps will be secure. My family thinks that there will no looters, and that if I think there will be, then we should hide all our preps. Another example is dealing with strangers. My family of females is not as callus as I am, and will want to lend aid much too readily. After having lengthy discussions with my family, I was careful to re-state my concerns for security in the related docs. Mainly, be cautious and suspicious at all times. We should always be ready to lend aid and be charitable, but individual safety comes first. My rules are simple, in an emergency situation, no one outside the family is allowed in the house, and if we are providing any sort of aid the recipient will remain at least twenty-five feet from the door until it is closed and locked, no exceptions.
In creating my docs, I have tried to write instructions as I perform a task, at least mentally. I have found that when I describe how to do things, I leave out small details that I take for granted. Don’t do this! Be exacting when it counts. We don’t want to bog-down anyone with too much detail, but overlooking a small but critical detail could be disastrous. A prime example is the fact that my gun safe key must be turned before dialing-in the combination or it wont open. It’s a key feature of the safe, and a detail I have long since just taken for granted. Although a tiny detail, this could easily hinder my family in my absence. I’m sure you can all think of dozens of small things similar in this respect.
Another aspect of preparing these docs is the printed version. Digital copies are valuable, I store mine on a pair of thumb drives, but printed copies are mandatory. If there is no computer to read the docs, they are useless. I have started printing my docs on waterproof paper, using larger than normal (14 pt) bold type font. They are then placed in zip-loc bags with moisture absorbers and stored in a predetermined location, high above the water line of any potential flood. My wife thinks putting a copy in a fire safe is a good idea, I may agree with her. (it’s so hard admitting she’s right!). I have read articles about encoding printed docs, but it seems to be a dangerous practice, except maybe for very sensitive information, and the need for that kind of secrecy is far outweighed in my mind by the need to get the information quickly in an emergency situation. We’re talking about how to start the generator here, not nuclear launch codes!
I believe that the digital copies of these docs should be written and saved in a simple .txt format whenever possible, even if encrypted. You never know what sort of device or program you might have to open them on. The more universal the format, the better. If you have diagrams or pictures, consider using a PDF format for those. The PDF format is widely supported on computers, phones, tablets, just about any digital device available. If you will be printing docs that must contain actual photos, try and use high-contrast black and white in all of your images. In the long run, these images will last longer and will maintain readability better under adverse conditions, and the high contrast will make them easier to read under low-light conditions. Regarding storage of the printed docs, I found some surplus Army signal flare tubes that seem to fit the bill perfectly for this task. I also put a chemical light stick in the tubes with the docs. This way we have a ready light source if needed to read them in the dark. I found the tubes at a local gun show, but I bet there are millions of these things out there on Ebay and military-surplus outlets. Another idea would be just to make your own tubes with PVC pipe and screw-on caps. If the tube does not fit your docs, there are countless waterproof containers out there. You might even consider fireproof containers in addition to waterproof containers.
So far my family has been supportive in giving me feedback on my docs and it’s going well. I expect that will change some as we get into more sophisticated activities like setting the channels up on a 2 meter hand held radio, or setting the bait hook on a small game trap. In the end, I believe that my preps will be complimented well by a good set of documents and procedures. My original thought was to provide the needed information to my family in the event that I was not here, for whatever reason. After several weeks of typing, I am keenly aware that there were some things I needed to brush up on as well. Now more than ever, I think it’s true: you don’t know how to do anything well until you can tell someone else how to do it. I strongly suggest that you use this opportunity to use and test gear and practice using tools and techniques, having found many times that some things were much easier to do in my memory than they currently seem to be. It can also be a great opportunity to get your family more involved in the practical side of preparation. We live in the deep south east where hurricanes are quite common, and I love the thought of my family knowing how to take care of themselves in the event of any emergency. It also gives me a chance to spend more time with my kids, and that’s always good.
So to recap my thoughts here:
Make a good inventory of all of your preps.
Write a detailed how-to document for each prepping item.
Make no assumptions, where needed be very thorough.
Store digital copies in an encrypted file.
Use a safe but easy-to-remember password on your files.
Make printed copies on waterproof paper.
Store multiple copies of digital and printed versions in safe locations.
Review the docs with the people that will be using them.
Use the docs to practice using tools and techniques.
Setup a periodic review and update schedule for updating your docs.
I hope others find this informative, good luck with all of your preps, I hope you never need them!
For more in depth information on encryption, see the Wikipedia page on encryption software.
And this link will take you to the free encryption software that I use:
Some really good sources for waterproof paper can be found using these links:
Or, you can waterproof your own paper.
Start now to make sure you are staying prepared.
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