How To Bug-In: What You Need to Know To Survive a Grid-Down Disaster

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As the East Coast of the United States recovers from Hurricane Sandy, aka u201CFrankenstorm,u201D the rest of us watch the unfolding aftermath from a distance — thankful Mother Nature hasn't unleashed her fury on our doorstep today. Hurricane Sandy is yet another sober reminder that none of us are exempt from disaster. Mother Nature doesn't discriminate. She doesn't care where we live, what we drive, how much we make, or what we do for a living. Her antics are diverse and far-reaching. She has a recipe of devastation for all parts of the world: hurricanes, tornados, floods, wildfires, winter storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, heat waves, volcanoes, land-slides, and sometimes even a combo pack.

It is human nature to avoid potentially bad news. It is also human nature to procrastinate. Consequently, many of us avoid going to the dentist, taking our car in for routine maintenance, implementing a home security plan, getting our yearly physicals, and many other important preventative and preparative tasks. Unfortunately, avoiding the thought of potential bad news has absolutely no bearing at all on whether or not it will happen. In fact, this attitude is completely self-destructive. Avoiding preparing for or prevent a very dangerous and probable threat is irresponsible and incredibly foolish. Yet, people do it all the time when it comes to potential natural disasters. The mentality of u201Cit's not going to happen to meu201D is no longer an acceptable excuse. In the 15 years I've taught Survival and Preparedness courses I've come to the conclusion that there are no acceptable excuses and I have run thin on patience to those that offer them. Burying your head in the sand is not a strategy and depending on the government to save you is not a plan.

Many of you remember the article I wrote a while back titled How to Make a Bug Out Bag. u201CBugging Outu201D is the decision to abandon your home in search of a safer destination in the event of a large-scale disaster. Sometimes, Bugging Out is not necessary nor is it the best decision. A disaster may, in fact, make it impossible to Bug Out. The alternative is called u201CBugging In.u201D Bugging In or hunkering down during a large-scale disaster can present many challenges to a survivor. Oftentimes, the utilities we depend on are ripped off-line — known as u201CGrid-Down.u201D

Disasters can devastate our most critical services including water supplies, medical facilities and first responders, waste and trash processing and removal, transportation options, fuel and grocery supplies, natural gas lines, electricity, phone service, and even public safety. A Grid-Down scenario can last for several days or even weeks. During this time, you must be able to provide basic survival needs for you and your family. These Bug In preps and plans need to be made in advance. They cannot be made in the heat of a disaster.

How Long Should I Prepare to Bug In?

That's the question of the century! The government says 3 days. I have preps to get me through 1 year. My answer is a minimum of 2 weeks and then keep prepping for longer as time and money allow. Start with 3 days then work up from there. Don't let this question prevent you from making progress.

What Are the Categories I Should Consider When Prepping?

Our basic human survival needs remain the exact same no matter where we are in the world or what circumstances we face. They will always be: shelter, water, fire, food, first aid, and self-defense. The order of priority may change, but the basic categories will not. Below is a brief breakdown of each category including several solutions to consider for a short-term Bug In scenario.

Shelter

During a Bug In scenario, shelter may seem fairly obvious. It is your primary place of residence. However, there is more to shelter than just a roof over your head. Shelter must protect us from the elements — even if access to modern utilities is limited or nonexistent. Shelter becomes your #1 priority in cold conditions. You must have alternative heating solutions in place just in case a disaster strikes during cold weather. Some excellent and affordable options are wood burning fireplaces, kerosene heaters, and portable propane heaters.

The back-up kerosene heater I keep at Willow Haven that will heat 1000 square feet for 11 hours on one tank of fuel.

Kerosene heaters can be purchased for just over $100 at virtually any home improvement store. My grandparents heated with a kerosene heater in their living room most of my life. They don't require electricity and are very easy and safe to operate. Some countries use kerosene heaters as a primary heat source, in fact. The fuel (kerosene) also has an extremely long shelf life — I've heard of 20-year-old fuel burning just fine, and I've personally used kerosene that's been sitting for 5 years with no issues. Above is a photo of a back-up kerosene heater I keep at Willow Haven that will heat 1000 square feet for 11 hours on one tank of fuel.

A small propane heater can last 4-6 hours on one tank.

For smaller spaces or supplemental heat, portable emergency propane heaters are excellent little solutions. Mine photographed above takes a one-pound propane canister that is available at most camping and home improvement stores. It really puts out the heat and lasts a surprising length of time (4-6 hours) on one tank. Extra propane canisters are easy to store as well.

I had the wood burning fireplace pictured above installed in my home for about $1500. Even a small stove like this one will heat 1000 square feet of space to a comfortable temperature in freezing conditions for as long as you have wood to burn. If you opt for a fireplace, choose one that can also cook and boil water. Multifunctional uses are always a survival plus. The brand I have is Jotul though there are many excellent brands on the market.

Below are some other home (and car) heating tips I've collected from personal experiences testing my preps:

  • Close off certain rooms of your house and u2018move in' to the room with the heat source. Close doors or hang blankets to zone out other areas.
  • Hang blankets in front of large windows to reduce heat loss.
  • Have good blankets and sleeping bags on hand to help keep you and your family warm.
  • Just one candle can warm the inside of a freezing car as much as 8 degrees.

Action Steps:

  • Decide on an alternative heat source
  • Buy it / install it
  • Test it to calculate how much fuel you need for your chosen prep period
  • Stock up on fuel

Water

This summer we had the worst drought in over 100 years here in Indiana. It sucked my well dry for over 2 months, and I had to live on my water storage. It wasn't fun, but really put my back-up plans to a test. Whether you use a well or depend on municipal water service, a disaster can put a stop to your flow of fresh drinking water. Without water you can die in as little as 3 days. The best short-term Bug In water solution is to simply store extra water in your place of residence. You can buy commercially bottled water by the case/gallon or you can bottle and store your own water in food-grade containers.

A very popular do-it-yourself water storage solution is repurposed 2-liter pop bottles. Below is the process I use (I don't drink soda but friends and family members are happy to give me their empty bottles):

  • Step 1: Wash each bottle using water and dish soap.
  • Step 2: Sanitize each bottle and cap inside and out with a bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach mixed in 1 quart water). You can use this same solution to sanitize other types bottles. Rinse the sanitized bottle with clean water.
  • Step 3: Fill each bottle with tap water. Add 2 drops of standard unscented household bleach (4-6% sodium hypochlorite)
  • Step 4: Empty and refresh your water storage once each year.

There are countless water storage solutions available ranging from fancy interlocking containers to 55-gallon drums. You'll have to choose a solution that is right for your environment, budget, and consumption needs. Always store your water in a cool place away from full sun exposure.

A few additional emergency water storage tips:

  • Keep a few gallons of unscented household bleach on hand at all times. This can be used to purify water and for other sanitation needs.
  • A 55-gallon rain barrel used to collect water from your gutters is really easy to install and only costs about $100. You can make your own for even cheaper.
  • Your hot water heater contains many gallons of emergency water storage. All hot water heaters have a drain valve at the bottom. This water does not need to be purified.
  • In the event of a large-scale disaster, fill your bathtub(s) with water as an extra precaution. This is bonus water if your supply is threatened.
  • Pets? They need water too — don't forget to store water for them.
  • If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down.
  • One gallon of water per day per person is a good rule of thumb for water storage.

Action Steps:

  • Decide whether you are filling your own containers or if you are buying commercially bottled water
  • Calculate how much water you need (one gallon x people in household x days in your chosen prep period)
  • Stock up

Fire

During a Bug In scenario, fire represents two categories: warmth (which we've covered) and cooking. You'll see in the next section that I recommend your emergency meals be very simple to prepare, requiring no cooking at all, if possible. However, it's important that you have an alternative cooking solution in place to cook meals and boil water if necessary. Several affordable and turn-key off-grid options exist. I've listed a few below in no particular order.

Solution # 1: Fireplace or Wood Burning Stove

Not all wood burning stoves can be used to cook meals or boil water. If you are installing one, be sure it can do both. Even an open concept fireplace can be used to cook and boil water. I installed a metal swing arm in the fireplace at Willow Haven that can hold pots and kettles over the open flame. This is an excellent cooking solution.

Even an outdoor fire pit can be an efficient means of cooking or boiling water. A tripod and swing-away cooking grill make these tasks much easier.

Solution # 2: Good u2018Ol BBQ Grill

Now this isn't even roughing it! However, you can't cook on the grill if you don't have a propane tank or charcoal. Always keep an extra full propane tank (or two) or several bags of charcoal on hand if you choose a BBQ grill as your back up cooking solution. Both store long-term very well.

Solution # 3: Natural Fuel Rocket Stoves

Solo Stove works really well for one-pot meals for one or two people.

Rocket stoves have come a long way in recent years. They are incredibly efficient and can operate on a variety of natural fuels such as sticks, twigs, pinecones, charcoal, and other biomass. Above is a photo of a small version from Solo Stove that works really well for one-pot meals feeding one or two people. You can literally cook an entire meal with a little pile of twigs and sticks.

The EcoZoom stove is also a great off-grid alternative that can burn small sticks and split wood for fast efficient cooking.

The EcoZoom stove is also a great off-grid alternative that can burn small sticks and split wood for fast efficient cooking. The cooktop can accommodate big pots when cooking or boiling for larger groups of people.

Solution # 4: Camping Stoves

The MSR Pocket Rocket Stove is what Creek keeps in his Bug Out Bag

Your options are endless when it comes to lightweight camping stoves. They are all fuel dependent so you will need to stock applicable fuel canisters if you intend to use this option for more than a few meals. They are also designed to cook for one or two people at a time versus a large group.

Regardless of which cooking stove you choose, make sure you have the necessary metal cookware, pots, and utensils to both cook meals and boil water in an emergency.

Action Steps:

  • Choose an off-grid cooking solution that best fits your needs and budget
  • Stock up on fuel
  • Make sure you have metal cooking pots and pans that fit your stove choice

Food

Our food supply is dependent on a myriad of factors. When disaster strikes, it screws with pretty much all of these factors. 99% of the food you see in a grocery store is on the shelf. Their back rooms are filled with empty cardboard boxes. The food arrives on a truck and is immediately stocked on the shelves. If it's not delivery day, guess what? No milk and bread today — that's what. But you won't have to worry about that because you're stocking your own shelves in advance.

Think u201Copen and eat meals.u201D Ideally, your emergency food rations will consist of meals that require little to no preparation. Boiling water for reconstitution should be the most complicated step of any emergency food ration. Your food preps should also have a long shelf life and not require refrigeration. There's no sense in stocking your shelves with fresh vegetables that are going to rot in a few days or with frozen dinners that will go bad without electricity. It's very easy to overcomplicate food storage. Keep it simple! Below are a variety of emergency food storage options.

Food Storage Option # 1: Freeze Dried/Dehydrated Meals

Many dehydrated meals have a 10+ year shelf life.

These meals are easily reconstituted with hot water. You can eat most of them in the pouch they come in. And, many of them have a 10+-year shelf life. This is a really easy and nutritious food storage option. Some reputable brands are Mountain House, Wise Foods, and Backpacker's Pantry.

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