Most articles on resiliency talk about resiliency as a personal trait, describing one’s ability to bounce back from failure, disappointment, etc. In this article we are discussing resiliency as one’s ability to bounce back from a failure in infrastructure resulting from a prolonged disaster or emergency scenario. Other articles on emergency preparedness talk about the need for an emergency kit. That is fine for isolated disasters where emergency relief is (theoretically) on the way. But in a prolonged widespread disaster, outside help arriving in a beneficial timeframe may not happen. Storms, earthquakes, social turmoil, war, famine, climate change, intimate contact with small asteroids, pandemics or any combination of these can make a mockery of your and your family’s best laid plans for a comfortable life. Fortunately, your chances of successfully navigating a disaster are greatly enhanced through preparation and changes in lifestyle. Here are some ideas for improving your family’s personal resiliency.
Yes, it’s always a good idea to keep a store of supplies to get you through the first few weeks of an emergency. There are lots of web resources that will help you decide what items are needed for your emergency kit. Important items include non-perishable foods, bottled water, a deluxe first aid kit, a supply of critical medications are specific to your family, batteries, flashlights, etc. Such kits are not really that helpful for a long term scenario however, because they rely on the concept that help is on the way. But what if you want to thrive in the face of long-term adversity, be of assistance to your neighbors, and help rebuild your community?
DIY (Do It Yourself)
One thing that can make you more resilient is to do your own repairs and maintenance of your home and appliances as much as possible. This will require you to keep tools on hand as well as certain spare parts and materials. If something critical does break during an emergency, you will be much better equipped to deal with the situation. Basic familiarity with plumbing, electrical, and carpentry is essential. During emergencies, there may not be enough professional trades-people available. Even if an emergency never materializes, you’ll be surprised at how much money you can save through DIY.
Backyard gardens are nothing new, and as many as 1 in three Americans households grow some amount of vegetables at home. During World War II, Americans were encouraged to plant Victory Gardens as a means of saving the available canned foods for soldiers. It is estimated that by 1943, up to 40% of all vegetables were grown in home gardens. Gardening environments can range from open air gardens, to greenhouses, to high-tech vertical farming using LED lighting systems, or Aquaponics which combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. Aquaponics and vertical farming can be very productive but require a fair amount of technology and energy sources to work. So you will need to make sure that you have resilient power sources, and the ability to maintain and repair the underlying systems yourself, if you decide to go this route.
Raising chickens for eggs and meat is also a very productive way to ensure a good supply of protein, can be accomplished on rather small plots of land, and require relatively little effort compared to other types of livestock. If you do choose to raise other types of livestock, please educate yourself thoroughly on the commitment required so as to avoid animal neglect. A great educational resource for food production, bothe vegetable and animal, is the Mother Earth News.
Hunting and fishing are also important sources of food and over 100 million Amreicans already engage in these activities at some level. Wild sources of protein could be wiped out very quickly, however, in a long-term emergency scenario. so communication, coordination and resource management in your community would be important.
There are few things more impactful to our resiliency, than the ability to produce or own food at the household level. Teaching our children how to produce their own food is an essential skill for a resilient society.
Hand in hand with food production comes the necessity of food preservation. Food production is seasonal and irregular, so storing and replenishing food supplies is an important capability that requires planning. Learning how to properly perform the canning, pickling, smoking, desiccation, freezing, and storage of foods as part of your regular lifestyle can yield dividends when times get tough.
A human can only survive without water for about 3 days, so water is of vital importance. Whether it comes from a municipal water supply or from our own electrically pumped well, most Americans are accustomed to having water on demand. In a crisis, however, access to clean water can be one of the first critical resources to disappear once your supply of bottled water runs out. The first line of defense is being able to purify whatever water you are able to access or recycle. Water purification tablets are a good short term option for an emergency kit, but having the ability to filter water with charcoal, and/or to produce distilled water by boiling is better for the long term. As far as obtaining water for purification, a home water catchment system can be pretty effective in wet climates, and a cistern can help improve the benefit in dryer climates. If you do have a well, having a resilient power supply and the means to repair the electric pump would be wise. Drilling a manually pumped well, if possible, would have a huge impact on your overall resiliency. Atmospheric water generation (AWG) is also an option but it is technology and energy dependent so keep that in mind if you invest in that type of system. Low-tech atmospheric condensations systems can also be built ahead of time and assembled when needed.
Your access to energy largely defines your life circumstances when it comes to a prolonged emergency scenario. The form of energy matters also so let us break this topic down by application.
Heating & Cooking
If you live in a climate where it gets cold, shelter alone may not be enough to keep you warm, and you will need heat for cooking regardless of climate. Having a wood burning stove or fireplace (with a grill insert for cooking) increases your resiliency tremendously, and you may get on just fine without electricity, propane or natural gas, as long as you have access to wood for fuel.
Natural gas or propane gas appliances for cooking and heating are very vulnerable in a long-term emergency. While you may have gas service, many modern gas appliances do not work without some electrical power, so you may want to investigate whether your gas stove can be started with a manual lighter in advance of an emergency. Keep in mind that your gas furnace won’t work if the electric motor in the air circulation system can’t run. For long term resiliency, one should consider the availability of natural gas and propane as fuels. The very emergency that interrupts your electric power may also interrupt your natural gas lines or the propane delivery truck, but a propane tank does provide a buffer supply that you don’t get with a natural gas line.
The ability to maintain electrical power when the grid goes down represents a huge improvement in your personal resiliency. A natural gas or propane standby generator can keep all of your appliances running including heating systems, cooking stoves, and well pumps which are critical to maintaining a modern lifestyle. The ability to operate power tools and communications systems will also favorably impact your level of daily struggle. If a standby generator is out of your price range, having one or more liquid fueled portable generators will allow you to use power tools or run a pump for critical activities, but will consume too much fuel for continuous use.
Since access to natural gas and propane fuel sources might be a challenge depending on the nature and extent of the prolonged emergency, solar panels are a great solution for improving your long term resiliency. Combined with batteries, photovoltaic solar panels can provide power around the clock for years on end with no fuel costs or interruptions. There are no moving parts so a solar plus battery system will last much longer, and be easier to maintain and repair than a generator.
Of course you will get maximum resilience improvement by adopting all of the above: wood burning stove, standby generator and solar plus batteries will allow you to deal with a prolonged emergency with the reliability and efficiency that multiple options affords.
During a prolonged emergency our transportation habits could be greatly altered, and fuel supplies may be erratic. If there is no fossil fuel available, having a bicycle with a trailer for transporting items or passengers can make a big difference in your ability to obtain critical supplies or transport someone who needs medical attention. If you are fortunate enough to have a resilient electrical power supply, electric bikes, electric 4 wheelers, electric cars and electric trucks are now available. For resiliency preparation purposes, the simpler the vehicle to maintain and the less energy it requires, the better. The good news is that electric vehicles will be easier for the average person to maintain and repair than a traditional internal combustion vehicle. If you have enough land, fodder and inclination to keep a horse, you are also in luck.
As a society, we have become extremely dependent on internet connectivity for our communications, but wired and wireless internet are dependent on the availability of power at your location and also at local cell towers and wired internet head-ends. While wired and wireless communications systems often have back-up power capabilities to ride-out power utility outages, prolonged emergency scenarios have the potential to interrupt these services for extended periods. Among the items on any survival kit list is a shortwave radio with weather band capability. These are helpful for getting emergency news updates if you lose your internet connection, but they are limited to one-way broadcasts. Two way communications, particularly with your neighbors and local community, are very important for long term-resiliency. Satellite phones are one expensive option,and they also depend on complex support systems that could be vulnerable in prolonged emergencies. An inexpensive CB radio, on the other hand, will operate as long as you have access to resilient power. CB radios have a range of anywhere from 3 to 20 miles and represent an alternative communication system for your community, as long as others have CB radios also. For longer range two way communications, a HAM radio is a great asset in a prolonged emergency, although their effective use requires more training and expertise than a CB radio. HAM radios can communicate worldwide and can be configured to transmit and receive voice signals, video signals and digital data.
Being trained in the proper use of firearms for hunting and self defense certainly improves your resiliency. It is probably a good idea to have extra firearms and ammunition on hand to arm any neighbors (after you have trained them in gun safety) that may have neglected to prepare. Keep in mind you may not be able to rely on local authorities for your security. Thugs, bullies and gangs that might want to take advantage of a prolonged emergency will generally steer clear of well armed communities, however.
In addition to improving your overall DIY skills, you might also consider specialized training in some critical areas. Humans fare better when they work together, so maintaining critical services in your community is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your own survival. People that already possess critical skills through their normal profession will be highly valued and in short supply during a prolonged emergency, but just because you currently produce cat videos for a living doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be of assistance to your neighbors when our infrastructure breaks down. Assuming your basic electrician, plumbing and carpentry skills are up to snuff, making a serious hobby of a single critical skill is the next priority. Consider becoming a specialized practitioner in areas such as electronics repair, gunsmithing, advanced first aid, welding, blacksmithing, HAM radio, small scale farming, distillation, fire control, water purification systems or animal husbandry. Being able to pull your own weight plus helping your neighbors with critical skills is a huge benefit to your personal resiliency.