Guest post by Karl Denninger at The Market Ticker.
Today we’ll discuss what I argue is the most common set of circumstances that you might prepare for. Indeed, it has been my experience that these scenarios are likely to come up for most people several times during their lives. This marks them as quite unique among things you might prepare for, in that the odds of most things that are “prepped” for are extremely unlikely, yet they tend to occupy most people’s minds in this regard.
Consider your ordinary “stomping grounds”; that is, where you roam during your daily life over the space of a year. It probably involves a radius of a hundred miles from your home on a very common (weekly or monthly) basis and it might involve a range of as much as 500 miles from your home, depending on what you do for a living and where you are situated. For some who live in a small town or in a big city that range may be smaller, but it almost certainly involves a radius of at least 20 miles.
Now consider this: It’s 3:00 AM. You wake up choking and there is a nasty, yellow, flickering light coming from the hallway. Your house or apartment is on fire! You have 30 seconds to grab whatever and make your way out or you’re going to die.
Far too many people in this situation do die, and we read about them all the time in the newspaper, but nearly none of them should. This sort of emergency situation is one of the “base” levels of preparedness that everyone should have thought of and had put effort into. The obvious from the fire departments and such is “have a smoke detector” but there’s much more to it than that.
How many times have you seen someone who survived with nothing more than their underwear? They had no “go bag” sitting inside their sleeping area they could grab that had a few basics in it — like some sort of lightweight but effective means of preserving body heat. Now consider that if this occurs while in a place not so-populated in the winter time you might well be in serious trouble or even die of exposure!
The other place that such disasters commonly happen is in our vehicles. Do you have a small, easily-toted “get me the F out of here” bag in your car? If so, what’s in it?
In today’s world of cellphones most people blow this sort of thing off. That’s a serious mistake; not only is there no guarantee of a signal but cellphones require battery power and can be damaged in a crash or other incident. Water exposure, in particular, can render your phone instantly useless and in many (but not all) cases a fractured screen renders the phone unable to be used as well.
Never mind a reasonable med kit, which most people simply do not have. Why not, given how cheap this is?
If you broke down — or had a serious mechanical failure and crashed as a result — 20 miles from nowhere, how serious would this be? What if you find yourself somewhere that forces you to abandon your vehicle for some reason (e.g. it’s mechanically broken beyond your ability to fix it) without assistance? It gets even worse if you are on required prescription medication or are injured and have nothing to deal with your injuries.
The goal here is to have something you can grab in seconds and that will get you home (or to someone you trust, if your home is destroyed) in a bad situation. Comfort is not a factor and neither is the end of civilization, social order or anything similar.
These scenarios all presume the disaster is local to you but that doesn’t make it any less real from your point of view. They are the most-common scenarios and yet they’re also the ones that most people who call themselves “preppers” pay the least attention to. This is a serious mistake as you’re rather likely to have several of these incidents happen to you during your life; all of the other potential scenarios are either almost-entirely avoidable or unlikely to happen at all!
There is utterly no way anyone can call themselves a “prepper” unless they have in their possession pretty-much all the time a bag or other “go kit” containing, at minimum:
- Warmth and makeshift shelter. You’ll die of exposure faster than anything else out in the open under less than great conditions. Accidents and personal disasters never happen when it’s cold, rainy or you have otherwise compromised environmental situations, right? The cheezy one-time-use mylar “space blankets” are small, light, and sort of work; if not so much for warmth they will help keep you dry. Their problem is that they’re almost-literally “one time use”; unwrap it and it’s a pain in the ass to pack back up, plus they rip very easily. But they can be wrapped around you under a light jacket or even a shirt and pants and will provide a near-impervious wind barrier and some heat reflection, which is good. The more-serious versions take a bit more room, aren’t much heavier, are reusable, wrapped around you will actually keep you warm and a couple of them can be turned into a quite-effective makeshift shelter. Be aware that wind + wet = bad news, even in relatively moderate temperatures. If you travel in places where the temperature goes below freezing a poly blanket that will not absorb water is a damn good idea to keep in the car although it’s totally impractical to stick in a bag due to size. Ditto for an extra woven hat and at least light gloves. If the temperature where you are goes below 20F or so you need to pay far more attention to this circumstance as any sort of wind turns such temperatures into immediate life-threatening exposure if you don’t have good thermal and wind protection, and effective protection against those conditions is quite bulky. Get wet in such conditions and you’re in big trouble.
- At least two means of making fire. The simple is a pizeo butane lighter, preferably a “jet” or “torch” style. These are cheap; you can get ’em at the local Chinamart for under $10. Why that rather than a BIC? Because the flint-based striker lighter will not work if it gets wet. Try it yourself; take your common BIC and stick it under the faucet for a few seconds, then try to use it. Surprise! The pizeo one will function with nothing other than blowing the water out of it with your mouth. The second should be some form of mechanical fire starting device but don’t kid yourself about how easy these are to use; they certainly work (especially the magnesium ones you shave and then use an embedded flint) but they take time. Fire isn’t just for warmth, it’s also a signal and can be used to draw attention. Be aware that in many situations you may not be able to get a fire going (think deep snow or soaking rain and no dry flammable material) but if you need warmth and can get one going life gets a lot better in the immediate sense.
- Light. LED flashlights are great but be sure to have a couple of new, wrapped and thus waterproof batteries. Two flashlights are even better. A flashlight and a wearable headlamp trumps six flashlights; the latter is extremely useful for fixing that which you CAN fix on your vehicle in the middle of the night out on a dark road, for example. Rechargeable batteries are fine in these but you must have alkaline or lithium primary dry cells in your kit for them, double-bagged to keep them from getting wet — rechargeable batteries all self-discharge and a dead battery means no light!
- A means of obtaining reasonably-certain to be drinkable water. Water is life. Water of unknown quality can literally be death and if it’s not you may wish it was. This typically doesn’t mean bottled water (it’s heavy, containers are subject to puncture and can go bad over time if stored) but it does mean a way of filtering appearing-to-be-clean but of unknown quality water. You need a half-gallon a day per person if not under stress, and more if you are or would like to use some for reasons other than drinking (trust me, you do.) Forget food, by the way. You’ll be fine for a week without anything to eat and this is a 48 to 72-hour situation at worst. You won’t be happy but you’ll live.
- A cutting device; combined with a minor toolkit is even better. A decent multitool fits this requirement.
- Vinyl gloves. Those are for two purposes — they are great for routine emergencies where you can fix what’s wrong (e.g. with your car) but would trash your hands and then clothing in doing so (and that would suck) and they’re also very useful if you come upon someone else who is in serious trouble such as having just had a serious auto accident. Blood-born disease is a no-bull**** thing and being able to immediately don basic hand protection is always good. These are so cheap, light and small that there’s no excuse for not having two or three pair in your bag all the time.
- Money. If you always have access to credit on your card lines it might be ok to rely on that but if not a couple hundred bucks needs to be in your kit. A vehicle with nothing wrong with it other than being out of fuel is at best a shelter against the wet and wind (but not cold) and at worst is an instant tow and a big fat bill. Note that if you have a diesel vehicle the necessary tools to restart after running out of fuel or getting air in the system, and knowing how to use them, are necessary.
- A reliable, small and light noise-making device. Fox40 whistle anyone? Have one in the bag. Believe me, these things are loud
- A basic med kit. A fair discussion can be had as to what ought to be in there, but if you have particular required medications that will leave you infirm or worse within 24-48 hours those must be in there. A small supply of both DEET-based bug spray and sunblock are things you’ll be happy for in non-emergency situations when you forget them, and you will. Some sort of infection control wash (e.g. Hibiclens) for minor to moderate wounds that could be significant sources of infection is a good idea. If you want to get more-aggressive you can; I have my personal preferences here including a couple of things that are very unlikely to be needed but if they are they can save your life or someone else’s (e.g. Celox.) I also carry a pretty-serious OTC systemic antihistamine (generic Benedryl), my personal favorite anti-allergy medication (since hayfever gets me pretty good) and aspirin. Note that if you need a generic antihistamine due to some sort of allergic reaction and don’t have any you’ll be damned miserable at best. This is not a substitute for serious allergies (e.g. peanuts or similar); if you have that sort of thing going on you need an epipen in the bag as not having one at the wrong time could literally mean your death.
- A modest amount of decent cordage. The gold standard is so-called “550 Paracord.” It’s inexpensive, light, small in reasonable quantity and strong. That plus a couple of the heavier space blankets = makeshift shelter. The inner strands can be stripped out and used as kindling if necessary (yes, it burns.) It can be used as a component of a sling or splint.
Everyone wants to talk about weapons, of course, but consider carefully the law in the areas where you are and travel to. There’s little worse than wrecking your vehicle, surviving without much bodily damage, successfully bailing off with your go bag in the car and then getting arrested when found because there’s a pistol in the bag and where you are forbids their possession outside of one’s home or business. It’s even worse if you wind up needing to take some form of public transportation back home after such an event and can’t take that weapon with you; now what? Attempting to sneak it through is risking a prison sentence while not doing so or removing enough pieces to make it legal to transport means abandoning or intentionally destroying an expensive piece of equipment.
All of this should fit in what would look like a moderate-sized purse. LA Police Gear has a “tactical bail out gear bag” that is of a decent size and is very serviceable for this sort of purpose; it’s inexpensive and solid enough, while having a sufficient number of compartments to separate and keep things organized. I own a couple of them and they both do the job and are cost-effective; the included and detachable shoulder strap makes for easy carrying if required.
IMHO this is the most common set of circumstances; indeed, I’m willing to bet you’re at least 10 and perhaps 100 times more likely to need this level of preparation than anything else, and yet not one person in a hundred, including many who claim to be “preppers”, have this covered.
Start now to make sure you are staying prepared.