If disaster strikes and public services are limited, you want to know that your family will be taken care of. Learn how to inventory and rotate your food supply, pack an evacuation kit, maintain communication with loved ones, and much more. You’ll soon gain the ingenuity and resourcefulness to get your family through even the most unfortunate circumstances.
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About the Author
Kathy Harrison is the author of Prepping 101 and Just In Case, as well as Another Place at the Table and One Small Boat. She is a national spokesperson, touring and giving lectures, for both family preparedness and foster parenting. She has appeared on The Today Show, Oprah, National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers, and in NPR interviews. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
"Honey, where's the flashlight?"
"Has anybody seen the tweezers?"
"I thought you bought peanut butter."
"Who's got the scissors?"
This is what my husband, Bruce, refers to as the maddening treasure hunt: ferreting out the necessities of life from under an avalanche of clutter. On a regular day, the overwhelming junk that many families are drowning in is just bad for us. Unfinished projects, broken or useless appliances, mountains of toys, and closets stuffed full of clothing rob families of space, time, energy, creativity, and resources. But during an emergency, clutter can be downright dangerous! Do you really want to evacuate your children from a smoke-filled house in the middle of the night when you can't safely walk across their bedroom floor on a sunny day because of all the toys on the floor? When the lights go out, will you have to scour the house searching for the flashlights and batteries? Disorganized preparedness is just as bad as no preparedness if you can't locate what you need. The biggest obstacle most people cite with planning a preparedness program — lack of storage space — might disappear if we just clean house.
The organizing process also provides the perfect opportunity to determine your family's individual needs. After all, your family's must-have list is not likely to be exactly the same as mine or anyone else's. Organization will also allow you to figure out your equipment and storage-space needs. Having that list in hand will allow you pick up what you need when you find a good sale or, better yet, a tag sale or Freecycle find. In fact, all of your family systems will be getting a thorough inspection so that you can assess your needs and assets.
While the process of organizing your home could be a book in itself, the guidelines below will get you started with an eye toward creating space and assessing inventory.
I am not, by nature, organized. I am a gatherer. Tag sales are far more appealing to me than any sale at an upscale department store. I am a particular sucker for kitchen gadgets from the 1940s, discarded furniture, and vintage toys. Left to my own devices, my house would look as though a thrift store exploded in the kitchen. Fortunately, I married a Navy man for whom organization is second nature. His mother claims he was neat even as a child. Together, we make a good team. I can find anything on sale and Bruce keeps me from buying it unless we really need it.
The benefit of getting organized is that it creates both space and order. You'll be able to fill your home with those things that you really love or actually use, while at the same time making the best use of all the storage space available in your house.
CLEARING OUT: PURGING OLD STORAGE
Purging your home of the stuff you don't want or don't use will give you the space you'll need for the equipment and goods that will sustain your family in a time of crisis. Tackle one room or space at a time. Pull everything out of the cabinets, drawers, and closets. Pay special attention to stored clothing, books, toys, sports equipment, and small electric gadgets and appliances, especially broken ones waiting to be fixed (someday). Be ruthless! If you haven't used it, fixed it, worn it, read it, or played with it in the last year, you probably don't really want it or need it. It's junk! Get rid of it!
When I began looking for storage space, I found that by eliminating our stock of rusty bicycles, twenty-year-old skis and boots, and boxes of baby clothes (the baby was four!), I picked up enough space to stock a two-month supply of canned fruits and vegetables, one hundred pounds of wheat, and some camping gear. I also discovered places we were wasting space and money every day. While organizing the bathroom I found six almost-but-not-quite-empty bottles of shampoo, three half-used tubes of toothpaste, and an embarrassment of outdated bath salts and lotions. Tossing that stuff out and organizing what I actually used freed up enough space to store all of our daily needs plus a well-stocked first-aid kit.
We made a new family rule: No one may open a new bottle or box of anything until the old one has been used up and the container has been discarded or recycled. This one commitment freed up more space than you might imagine.
As you clear out and organize your storage, pay special attention to the kitchen. It is truly the heart of the home and command central in a crisis. A well-stocked kitchen can mean the difference between comfort and misery, abundance and want. You want as much of your stored food to stay in the kitchen as you can. Rotating your stock, the key to reducing waste, is much harder if everything is in a difficult-to-access space.
Most kitchens are a breeding ground for useless stuff. I got rid of three fondue pots that had never been out of the boxes they came in and found space for eighteen quarts of spaghetti sauce. Donating an old high chair to our community house left a corner of the kitchen empty that was just right for a freestanding corner cupboard that now holds all of our pickled vegetables. Purging my cookbook collection (it was out of control) left me with all of the cookbooks I really use and two bare cabinet shelves that now hold a three-month supply of bulk peanut butter. Do you use that cappuccino machine, the pasta maker, and the bread machine? If you do, great! Use and enjoy. If they are just taking up valuable kitchen real estate, consider donating them to a thrift store, selling them at a tag sale, or giving them to a friend. If your resolve starts to crumble when you think of the wasted money, jut think about how many boxes of pasta you could store in your newly acquired space.
I can hear the question now: "Won't I be glad I kept the [fill in the blank] in an emergency? After all, our grandparents never threw anything out. You never know what might come in handy." I can pretty much promise that twenty-five used margarine tubs and the three-foot stack of outdated Reader's Digests you got from your mother-in-law will not be as handy as a case of canned beans.
Beware the lure of the "antique mystique." Just because something worked in the last century doesn't necessarily make it the best bet for an emergency. For example, it is better to invest in a new, well-engineered pressure cooker than to waste time and energy on an old model of questionable safety and efficiency, no matter how much your grandmother loved it.
THINKING AHEAD: CREATING NEW STORAGE
While you are purging and organizing, be on the lookout for space where an extra cabinet or cupboard might fit. Bruce hung a cabinet over the freezer in our mudroom, and now I have enough space for a six-month supply of jam. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a pantry, but a small closet can be converted into one with the addition of inexpensive shelving. As I type this, I am eyeing a corner of the kitchen that is occupied by a very tall, very ugly plant and picturing a freestanding, antique cupboard that would be just right for storing my jars of dried fruits and vegetables. Hmmmm.
Most garages, cellars, and attics are treasure troves of untapped space. Although the temperature extremes and moisture problems in these locations may make them unsuitable for the storage of some foods, they can work well for dry goods like toilet paper and soap. The petroleum and exhaust fumes in many garages make it the wrong place to store water but just right for your lanterns, fuel, and canning supplies.
Look hard at recreational spaces like dens, spare bedrooms, and family rooms. Can some portion of that space be converted to storage? A blank wall along one end can provide room for simple shelving. It's a question of priorities. Is a six-foot length of wall space better devoted to collectible beer steins or powdered milk? If the aesthetics bother you, curtains can partition off a wall of shelves and doors can be added to bookcases.
While you are organizing your space you can also be looking at your assets and assessing your needs. What supplies does your family need? How much food and water should you keep on hand? What equipment might you need to keep your family comfortable in an emergency? What sort of skills would you like to learn in order to feel confident in your ability to handle a crisis?
To answer these questions, you must begin by looking at the crises your family and community are most vulnerable to. Plans for evacuation must be foremost if you live in hurricane territory. If you live in an area of major winter storms, priority must be given to emergency heating and cooking supplies. A flu pandemic or power grid failure could affect any of us, and drastically, since transportation of people and goods, communication, banking, medical care, and other societal systems all rely on electronic networks and databanks. Today, a computer virus is potentially more devastating than a biological virus.
THE PREPAREDNESS NOTEBOOK
The most valuable tool you can have for assessing your needs is a dedicated preparedness notebook. My notebook is a three-ring binder, divided into categories such as food, home systems (including lighting, heating, and cooking), first aid, car supplies, and evacuation kits. Each section contains a list of items my family needs; the lists make up an inventory of what I have on hand and what I need to locate. I also have a section dedicated to skills I want to have, such as canning food, CPR, and cutting firewood.
As you organize and clear out storage, you can take inventory of your own state of preparedness. Maybe you already have a couple of kerosene lanterns but you need to figure out how to bake bread without an electric oven. Perhaps you have a four-week supply of pasta but no pasta sauce. Beginning an inventory of such things in your preparedness notebook is the first step toward being prepared for a crisis.
As part of your assessment of your family's needs, keep track of what your family eats. Keep a log of daily meals and snacks for a two-week period. This exercise will show you the foods and beverages that your family typically enjoys. There is no point in buying a case of pineapple, no matter how good the price, if everyone in the house hates pineapple. On the other hand, recognizing that your kids don't consider the meal complete without potatoes means that it is worth the expense to purchase a supply of good-quality dehydrated potatoes.
Be sure to make note of any special dietary needs and plan for them. My youngest child requires a special formula, so I have made it a point to put aside a case every few weeks for the past year, and I now have a stockpile that can last several months.
Do the same for health-care products, soap and shampoo, and other nonfood supplies. (See The Other Necessities of Life for the basic essentials.) If you have a child in diapers, for example, you must have either a large supply of disposable diapers or a way to launder cloth ones.
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU STORE?
The amount of supplies you will want to put away is an individual matter. Obviously, the storage needs for a couple in a city apartment are going to be very different from the needs of a rural family with six small children and a flock of chickens. How vulnerable are you, and to what sorts of emergencies? Are you planning for a power outage, a flu pandemic, or a breakdown of society? Are you comfortable with a four-week stash, or does three months seem reasonable? Do you have a 250-pound lumberjack or a nursing mother to feed? Are you likely to be responsible for just the people in your household, or do you have extended family that would join you in an emergency? Have you decided to purchase everything at once or a packaged survival kit and get it over with, or do you plan to stretch your purchases over time?
I can't answer these questions for you. This is a conversation to have with your family in the early planning stages. The process will be much easier if you have a common goal and work together for the good of the family.
Most families find it easiest to begin by planning to store enough to meet their most pressing needs for three days. With an appropriate satchel, this can become your evacuation kit. (See more on Evacuation Kits.) Next, move on to a two-week supply. You can then add a week's worth of supplies at a time until you reach your target goal of, say, two to three months. You'll probably need to purchase durable goods such as lanterns, radios, and a nonelectric cookstove as well. With good planning and organization it should be possible to accomplish this task with minimal family disruption.
Sit quietly in your kitchen. What do you hear? The low-pitched rumble of your furnace? The whine of the washing machine's spin cycle? The phone rings. The teapot whistles on the stove, and the microwave beeps to signal that lunch is ready. A toilet flushes in the upstairs bathroom. The refrigerator motor comes on. The sounds go on all day without our really being aware of them. The background noise is only apparent when the power goes out and your home is truly silent.
When you begin a preparedness program, you will learn how to manage all of these home systems without electricity. Chapter 4 will give you the details of how this can be done. After reviewing that chapter, make note of each of the systems you are currently dependent on for comfort and survival, and whether those systems will operate without power. Decide which home-system alternatives your household needs. For example, if you depend on an electric water pump for your water supply, you must be especially diligent about water storage or purchase a hand pump or generator. Then add the necessary equipment to your preparedness notebook.
Assess skills as well. Baking bread and making yogurt are as much art as science, and the time to learn how to do either is not when you are feeling desperate. The time is now to make a list of skills you want to have and to make a plan for getting them. I had listed learning how to dehydrate in my preparedness notebook, so when I found a dehydrator (for five dollars, still in the box) at a tag sale, I picked it up. I added a book on the subject to my home library and tried it out over the summer. I made a few mistakes but I learned from them, and I can now cross dehydrating off my list. I had the space for the dehydrator, which is quite large, because I had donated an equally large bread machine that I never used to a thrift shop.
During this phase, look at your community resources. Are there like-minded neighbors who could support you in your efforts to prepare? What classes, such as first aid or CPR, can you take advantage of? Can you ask your local librarian to keep books on preparedness available? It may make sense to share the purchase of some expensive items such as pressure canners and grain grinders with a friend or relative and work together to put up food. In this way preparedness can serve what I believe to be its true purpose: not to isolate us from the world but rather to build local community and allow us to recognize our interdependence.
GETTING READY TO STORE FOOD
Now that you have organized your space and belongings and assessed your needs for emergency food and supplies, it is time to give some thought to the particulars of storing food. This will include identifying the household spaces you plan to devote to storage and acquiring any equipment and containers that will be necessary to store food and keep it fresh. Temperature, moisture, light, oxygen, rodents, insects, and bacteria are the enemies of stored food, and all deserve careful consideration when you are looking for space for your supplies. There is nothing more disheartening than opening a cupboard and finding the telltale signs of bugs or mice that mean throwing out your hard-earned food supply and starting over.
When Bruce and I moved to our first house in the country over thirty years ago, I was thrilled to have a cold storage room in the basement. We had a huge garden that produced well in spite of our inexperience. The fruits and vegetables multiplied like so many loaves and fishes. That first summer I canned on our ancient cookstove every day and gave away mountains of zucchini, stopping only long enough to deliver son number three. And still the vegetables came. We stored bushels of tomatoes, carrots, beets, and potatoes. Unfortunately, I was unaware of what went into storing foods, and most of what we put away ended up feeding the worms. The tomatoes rotted, the potatoes turned green, the carrots shriveled, and the beets developed a mold. The jelly got furry, and we were afraid to eat the spaghetti sauce after reading about the dangers of botulism. The right storage systems could have prevented this.
We have learned a lot about food storage since those early days and, so far, have not lost any of the kids to botulism.
Excerpted from "Just In Case"
Copyright © 2008 Kathy Harrison.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1: The Oar System
Chapter 1: Organize
Chapter 2: Acquire and Rotate
Part 2: Preparedness
Chapter 3: Personal Preparedness
Chapter 4: Home Systems
Chapter 5: Communications
Chapter 6: Preparedness with Children
Chapter 7: Pets
Chapter 8: Preparing your Car
Chapter 9: Evacuation
Part 3: Dealing with Disaster
Chapter 10: Loss of Power
Chapter 11: Fire in the House
Chapter 12: Natural Disasters
Chapter 13: Toxic Hazards
Chapter 14: Pandemic
Chapter 15: Terrorism
Part 4: Doing it Yourself
Chapter 16: Skills for Independence
Chapter 17: Food from Scratch
Chapter 18: The Stored Food Cookbook