Building Tangible Margin: Staying Put, Part II

In the last post, we looked at storing water and food for staying put in the event of an emergency. Here we will look at Tools & Materials.

[It should be noted that we are looking at short-term survival—roughly four days to two weeks. While long-term preparedness may be addressed here in the future, the fact is that most people don’t even have the basics for the short-term. Once those basics are in place, you can build towards self-sufficiency for a month, six months and beyond. Many of the principles and tools are the same, regardless of the time you’re looking at, but you’re obviously not going to need a hand-powered grain mill for four-day survival, so keep that in mind.]

This is a basic “What You Need” list. If you live in places that are earthquake or flood-prone, you may need some specialized items like hardhats or a small boat. While I have Chicago-area residents in mind, these core basics should serve anyone well:

Radio—Stay informed. While the Web, TV and telephone may be available, don’t count on it. Assume your power will be out and get a good crank-powered radio with battery backup. Eton/Grundig radios are solid choices and can be had in both AM/FM/Weather/TV (FR300) and AM/FM/SW (FR200) configurations, with the former being preferable in most situations. A cheaper option with fewer features is the crank-powered AM/FM/Weather radio from Jensen/Emerson, the MR550.

Corded phone and/or cell phone—If you haven’t gone completely wireless, a traditional corded phone can be valuable if the power goes out. Your cordless phone won’t work, but a corded phone may since the telephone network is separate from the power grid. A cell phone can be valuable if charged or you have a means of charging available. Not the best choice, as they are unreliable on a typical day and the cells can be easily overwhelmed during an emergency, but worth maintaining if you have one.

First Aid Kit (FAK)—This should be as fundamental as smoke detectors or fire extinguishers in each home but is all the more important during a time of crisis. Buy the best kit you can afford but avoid equipping yourself with tools you can’t use. A field surgery kit may sound good, but you’ll do more harm than good if you don’t know how to use it. If you take prescription meds, be sure to include an emergency supply. If you have small children Ipecac syrup and activated charcoal should be on hand for poisonings. Watch the expiration dates on meds but know that they are very conservative and, if stored in a dark, cool place, likely have a longer shelf-life than indicated. A good thermometer, basic sphygmomanometer (“b.p. cuff”) and stethoscope are good additions to your FAK and not generally included with most kits, though be sure you learn how to use them to take vitals beforehand. Lastly, if you live in a large urban area or downwind from a nuclear power plant, you should have a supply of potassium iodide (KI). It is not to be used lightly but, taken correctly in the event of a radiological disaster, can prevent one of the most common problems from radiation exposure, thyroid cancer.

Lights—Your choices for lighting are endless. Minimally, it’s a good idea to have some type of area lighting (e.g. lanterns or candles) and some type of directional lighting (e.g. flashlights or headlamps). If you opt for flame-based light sources, be sure you can use them safely, have adequate ventilation and redundant means to light them. Lights using electric bulbs can give you dramatically longer life if they have LED bulbs rather than traditional bulbs. LEDs have the added advantage of being almost indestructible. A flashlight or headlamp per person is a good idea.

Batteries—Whether for flashlights, radios or Game Boys for the kids, a good supply of batteries is important. For short-term survival, bulk alkalines are a good, economical way to go. Lithiums are more expensive but have a longer shelf-life (10 years). If you have a means to recharge them (solar most likely), rechargeable batteries can be a very good investment, particularly for longer-term scenarios and everyday use. It’s a good idea to standardize your batteries as much as possible, keeping yourself to two or three common types (AA, AAA, D, etc.).

Blankets and heating—Imagine you’re staying put during a blizzard and your heat goes out. You may need two or three times the blankets you normally use to stay warm. Chemical hand-warmers work well, and are particularly good to store in automobiles, but you’d have to stockpile an awful lot of them to keep a family warm for several days. Heavy blankets, particularly wool, are very good insulators and should be your primary means of retaining heat. If you have a wood stove or fireplace, store wood or coal and keep it dry. Another option is a propane powered heater. There are some with oxygen sensors that will shut the unit off if oxygen gets too low, such as the Heater Buddy, but they all must be used in ventilated areas and kept away from children and flammables. Most take the one pound propane canisters and some can be connected to the grill-style 20 pound tanks. Other materials good for heat retention are…

Duct tape and plastic sheeting—These are recommended by the Red Cross, FEMA, etc. primarily for nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) emergencies to seal windows and doors. This may be effective for the short term, but do not seal up the doors and windows of a small room and expect to survive for a week there. Unless you live in an old drafty building, you will likely suffocate eventually. Duct tape is endlessly useful, however, and the combination of tape and sheeting is good for sealing windows during cold weather.

Stove—If you lack the gas or electricity to operate your stove/oven/microwave, a free-standing, compact stove can be a valuable asset. While most of the emergency food you have (the stuff you stocked up on after reading the last blog post :) does not require heating, many of the staples available in your fridge, freezer and cupboards do. And a hot can of soup that could be eaten cold offers invaluable benefits on a cold winter evening. If your budget allows, a propane camp stove (with lots of spare fuel) can be a very good solution. Cheaper options include small hibachi grills, Sterno cans and pocket stoves with fuel tabs, e.g. Esbit. As with all flame-based heat and light, use proper ventilation and keep it away from flammables and children.

Sanitation supplies—Assuming you already have water stored, you already have some level of sanitation available. To help stretch your water supply, baby wipes and alcohol-based hand cleansers are useful. Toilet paper will be appreciated by everyone and a means of “using the toilet” would be good. Depending on your plumbing and electrical situation, you may or may not be able to use your toilet as you normally do. For hygienic and aesthetic reasons, it’s wise to have a backup. Liquid waste can probably be captured with a bag or bucket and poured down a sink drain. A 5 gallon bucket with a tight-fitting lid, double-lined with plastic bags, can serve well as a backup toilet, particularly if you put a Luggable Loo or similar toilet seat atop it. There are chemical toilet treatments that can be sprinkled over the waste to keep the odor down; cat litter or a small amount of bleach will work too. Sanitary napkins/tampons should be stored as well.

Basic tools—If you’re handy at all, you probably have basic tools already. If not, you can outfit yourself fairly inexpensively with a pre-assembled toolkit. At minimum, you’ll want a claw hammer, flathead and Phillips screwdrivers, slip-joint pliers, needle-nose pliers, adjustable wrench, tape measure and a utility knife. Beyond that, a socket wrench set, Allen/hex head wrench set, hand saw, hack saw, hand-powered drill, staple gun, etc. (look around for potential needs for special tools) are valuable additions. An assortment of hardware is a good idea as well—basic roofing nails, wood screws, bolts and matching nuts, wire, cord and rope.

Home security tools—Good locks are important. You may have little control over this if you live in an apartment but, if you have the option, good locks are your first line of defense. Peep holes on any door to your home or apartment that doesn’t have a window are valuable, as well, and actually required in apartments, though many landlords neglect this. An alarm system is great but may not function for an extended period with no power. Door chains are nearly worthless and should be replaced with much sturdier swing bar door guards. A determined intruder will only be slowed by these obstacles, however, necessitating two tools—a powerful, reliable flashlight (I recommend SureFire or similar) to insure that your intruder is not a desperate friend seeking shelter/food/water/safety and a firearm to dissuade an intruder with malevolent intent. The latter is not for everyone, but far more effective than any other option. If you are not willing to learn and safely maintain a firearm, or a legally prohibited from doing so, you’ll need to go the baseball bat/crowbar/pepper spray route. Feel free to contact me for specific home security firearm recommendations if you’d like, or visit the blog Plinkers and read the “Buying Your First Gun” post.

Advanced tools—These are devices that are either specialized or expensive and not something I would recommend for everyone or things I can necessarily afford myself. Nonetheless, they can be invaluable. First, a generator is an invaluable tool and very important if you have a member of your household who relies on electrical medical devices or refrigerated supplies. They are generally expensive, noisy and require fuel, however. A good investment if you own your own home. Not worthwhile if you live in an apartment. Second, a CB or HAM radio. The former is less expensive, requires less skill but also has a limited range. The latter requires an FCC license, a fair amount of skill and a bit of an investment for a good setup but can be a great way to communicate with friends, family and emergency personnel over great distances. A more limited option than both of these would be FRS/GMRS radios for local communications. GMRS requires an FCC license.

In the next installment of Building Tangible Margin, we'll look at Strategies for staying put.

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