Prepping 101: What is it and Why are you doing it?





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So you have decided to become a “prepper.” Great, but first a couple of questions – why are you doing it? You think the S might HTF? Zombies? Natural Disaster? The Golden Horde might come over the next hill?

The reason I ask is that there is a fine line between “prepping” and hoarding, and most people do not understand that distinction. When someone tells you they are a “prepper,” visions of closets full of canned goods, boxes of MREs, and piles of ammo and guns abound. Odds are these folks are hoarders, not preparing, and will probably fare poorly in a real life situation.

The first step to being a “prepper,” or one that is “prepared” is to sit down with a pencil and a stack of paper, and engage your brain. It is time for a serious Q&A session.

  • What is it you are afraid of or concerned about?
  • What do you want to prevent?
  • Are you “surviving” or “thriving” through this scenario? Surviving merely means living through it. Survival is not necessarily comfortable.
  • What are the threats/risks/challenges that you are facing?

Threats don’t only mean zombies, but hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, and wild fires to much more boring scenarios like loss of power for a few days. Do you have anything that you depend on? CPAP machine? Oxygen machine? Diabetes medicine? Other chronic illnesses? If you have a medical condition like these where an interruption in your medicine means you might die, it is a scenario you must absolutely consider, and consider first before more outlandish scenarios.

Risk and Risk Management

But what about Global Thermonuclear war you say?

Well, let’s start with a couple of terms:

  • Risk Management – The identification, mitigation/elimination,  and acceptance of risks in a prudent manner
  • Risk – Something that can cause harm or undesirable effects should it occur, e.g. a house fire.
  • Possible – the fact that something is able to happen
  • Probable – the likelihood of something happening vs. not happening
  • Severity – How severe something is, should it happen

Global thermonuclear war is possible, but not probable. Hurricanes (for the East Coast) are possible AND probable.

Note: For an example risk management guide, see here.

The basic process works like this:

  1. Identify the risks present in the task/process/situation
  2. Eliminate those risks that can be eliminated
  3. For those risks that cannot be eliminated, apply mitigation/controls to them to reduce the probability of them occurring to an acceptable level
  4. Where the benefits outweigh the costs, accept risk in that area

Risk management is a complex subject, and there are many methodologies to manage risk. Prepping is essentially risk management at the individual/family level for major disasters and minor events.

Hurricanes are possible and probable. Global thermonuclear war is possible, but not probable.

If you live in Florida or along the East Coast, you should worry much more about hurricanes than nuclear warfare in your preparations.

This is not to say that you can’t take mitigation measures, but it is further down the list of probability. To make the most use of your resources, you should address the most probable concerns first.


Example of scenarios by region of the US:

Southeast South West North East Central North West
Thunderstorms (loss of power, flooding) Drought Hurricanes/Nor’easters Thunderstorms Wind storms
Hurricanes Thunderstorms (flash floods) Blizzards / Snow Tornados Snow/Ice
Occasional snow/ice storm Snow (based on elevation) Cold (i.e. heating fuel requirements) Drought Flooding
Hurricanes Wild fires Flooding (major rivers) Wild Fires
Flooding (major rivers)


For an example of risks across the US, visit this map by the NY Times.


Do you live in a flood zone? Visit to find out. If you are moving or buying property as a “bug out” retreat, it is a good idea to understand what, if any, flood zones are on the property. It would not do to be the guy on TV going down the street in a canoe because your house is now under 8 feet of water.


Always consider evacuating your property. But, wait, what’s that – you want to bug in? That is a choice and may be viable depending on the scenario and your personal specifics. However, you need to be prepared to leave. Fires, mobs, riots, and chemical spills are things that will force you out even if you are prepared. Imagine a tanker car of chlorine derailing and rupturing. Now there is a massive cloud of chlorine gas headed your way. Absent exceptional efforts, you have to leave or die. You will get to return, but the situation is at least temporarily untenable. Always have an exit plan.

(Hat tip for this method from an article on many moons ago) Take one of those sheets of paper and make 3 columns. Label the first “1 minute”, the second “1 hour”, the third “1 Day”. This is the amount of lead time you have to get out of your house. Try and figure out what you will take in each scenario that fits into the allotted time. For example, in the one minute scenario, you might grab a bug out bag (pre-built, right?), a USB drive/NAS with your digital files, and any medications. In the 1 hour / 1 day period, you might pack a car/trailer with a lot more things.

These evacuation scenarios are situation independent in that it does not matter why you are leaving, but merely that you are leaving.

So now you have to do the hard work, and identify the most probable and most severe hazards that can occur in your area. This is a decision you have to make, as it will affect how and where you spend your money, time, and other resources to address the hazards.

Once you have your list(s), it is time to start addressing each disaster and developing mitigations to reduce the probability (but not the severity).

I will work through one example to provide an idea of how to address each scenario. Note that we haven’t bought anything yet – just thinking about stuff so far. Once the scenarios are mapped out, the shopping lists will write themselves for the most part.

Scenario: Hurricane (location: Florida)

In a Hurricane scenario there is an important decision to make – stay or go. Plans are needed for both. If it is a Cat 5 hurricane – time to go. If it is a Cat 1, and you are relatively far from the coast/flood zones, probably OK to stay. Each decision has consequences that you need to be prepared to face.

Evac plan assumptions:

  • 2 Cars
  • Dogs / Cats
  • Expect to need to go ~300 miles to get away from the affected area, possibly further
  • Expect that gas stations nearby will be out of gas/unavailable
  • Survive on own for 24-48 hours (while on road trip/camping outside the impact zone)
  • Water/food should be readily available outside the impacted area
  • ATMs/credit cards likely to be down once the leading edge windstorm of the hurricane hits


  • Acquire/store gas cans with enough gas to top off both cars if they are empty
    • Better to fill cars up early if there is hint of a hurricane headed your way
      • Many cars become abandoned on the road for lack of gas, walking hundreds of miles is not fun, nor is the idea of abandoning the valuables/pets in the car
    • Extra range provided by gas cans can provide a buffer to possible gouging on the outer rings of the impacted area
    • Have enough gas in gas cans to get from home to evac destination if the cars are empty and you are reliant on stored gas only
    • Stabilize gas with Stabil (~2 year life) and rotate gas to keep it fresh
  • Utilize 1 Day evac list (see above)
  • Build small kits that you can live out of easily in a hotel
    • Toiletries
    • Entertainment (cards, games, puzzles etc. esp. for kids)
    • Snacks/food (include can opener)
    • Special needs items
  • Plan multiple evacuation routes
    • One with primary (highway/interstate) roads
    • One with back roads if the primary roads become blocked
    • Plan reasonable driving times between stops – roads will be packed with traffic and it is unlikely you will make the speed limit
    • Pick out hotels that accommodate pets if you have them
    • PRINT out directions and store them with your kit(s)
  • Have cash on hand prior to departure (at least $500, $1,000-$2,000 is better. You may need to cover gas, food, hotels for several days out of cash until CC/ATMs come back online)
  • Share intentions with family members
    • Cell calls will probably not go through. Text messages will most likely get through overloaded cell networks.
  • Plan for at least 2 weeks before you can return to your home/property

Shelter in place (hurricane):


  • Line power will go out, 2+weeks until restoration
  • Telephones will be out
  • No internet
  • Cell service may or may not function, if it is, text messages will probably work but calls probably not
  • Possible looters / unfriendlies (to include hostile law enforcement ref: Katrina & New Orleans)
  • Possible Probable interactions with law enforcement (trying to get you to leave)

For this next step, I’m going to use a five category method to break out things that need to be done. This helps ensure that nothing is skipped, although things may overlap between categories

Actions/focus areas:

  • Food
    • Need at least 2 weeks to 1 month supply on hand
    • Need ability to cook food
      • Electric stoves may take too much power from generator to run
      • Gas stove works without power, gas oven needs power to run
      • Camp stove / BBQ burner will work
        • Fuel reserved? Tanks full?
      • Do I have a way to cook on a fire / wood stove?
  • Water
    • Need to provide water
      • If on well, need generator to power well pump and house pump operating at the same time
      • If on city water, need stored water sufficient for cooking and drinking for 1 month and to flush toilets (or use bucket/pit toilet) for waste disposal
    • Rain water collection
      • Better if set up ahead of time and tested (purification methods and as well as composition testing – would not do to use toxic materials in your collection)
    • Unless hot water heater is gas powered, unable to provide hot water due to energy requirements
    • Need to be able to purify water if quality is in doubt (multiple methods preferred)
      • Boil
      • Bleach (loses effectiveness over time if stored)
      • Calcium Hypochlorite (why?)

      • Iodine
  • Energy
    • Refrigerator and Freezers will lose power. Need to be able to provide electricity to them before contents spoil (or use up food)
    • Generator must be sized for all power requirements – check well pump rating and other loads you plan to run
      • Unless you have a “whole house generator” do not plan to run electric water heaters, hot tubs, electric dryers, or air conditioners off of the generator. These loads typically exceed the 30 amps that most portable generators are capable of producing.
      • Generators are noisy and will advertise your location and the fact that they exist
        • Chains / other method of securing generators is good. Also be advised that being the only house on the street with lights is going to attract attention
      • Need a generator transfer switch (wired to the house) / method of connecting loads to the generator
      • Need fuel for generator for 2 weeks / 1 month. Refer to manual for fuel consumption at 50% load (will be something like 1 gallon/hour etc.)
        • Do not have to run generator constantly, but will have to run it periodically to cool down refrigerator/freezer and provide water (if on well)
      • Candles/lantern/flash lights for nighttime illumination. Solar powered landscape lights work well as well
  • Defense/Security
    • Firearms and ammo, quantities for each adult, extras for friends?
    • Holsters
    • Armor/vests?
    • Flashlights, batteries
      • Alkaline and/or rechargeable – but how to recharge if rechargeable? Solar? Generator?
      • Note: It will be DARK because street lights and other typical ambient lighting will likely be inoperative due to loss of power
    • FRS (or HAM) radios to communicate with around the property/neighborhood
    • AM/FM Radio for news
    • Decide on watch/security plan.
      • Remember: you have to sleep sometime. How many adults? How many children? Are friendly neighbors staying around that can help watch out?
      • Do they have firearms? Training? Do you have spares for them if needed? Common calibers between firearms?
  • Homestead / Shelter (catch all category)
    • First aid kit
    • Toilet paper & other consumables?
      • Remember, assumption is that no stores or services will be available for at least two weeks
    • Chain saw(s) to deal with downed trees
      • Fuel, oil, and tools for chain saws (what’s that – you have an electric saw?)
    • Be prepared to deal with downed power lines that may be energized
    • Be prepared to ‘camp’ outside if your structure is damaged (e.g. tree falls on house)
    • Communication methods with authorities/rescuers – know signaling methods if you have to get medivac for a person who becomes severely injured
      • Staying behind with a known medical condition is a poor decision, barring an extraordinary situation. If you have such a condition, you should seriously consider evacuating early rather than staying.
    • Multiply requirements by additional people expected to arrive/join you; also plan for a couple “unplanned” friends that you may take in

So what can we see from this break down? If you live in an apartment building, staying behind is probably not for you. This means that you need to put your efforts into a more robust evacuation plan, and getting out earlier rather than later since staying is probably not a suitable option in your scenario.

This example also shows that prepping is more than stuff, it is a life style. The energy requirements for all electric households make them untenable without utility provided electric power. It takes thousands of dollars and time to convert homes to gas and/or wood stoves for heat and other uses. It also means a commitment to dealing with getting wood and gas, which electric homes do not have to deal with.

The Resilient Lifestyle

The most important piece of gear you have is between your ears. Plan out for each scenario that is likely to affect you. For those that are out there on the probability curve, acknowledge them and decide if you are going to address them or not (costs will likely be higher to handle these outlier events). Once you have planned for all the major events, review your notes. You will notice significant overlap in some areas and many minor changes in your life that can impact your life significantly post-event.

Commitment to a resilient life style (aka true prepping) means committing to a lot of work. Modern Society provides many services to us today – fuel, food, and electricity with the process being transparent to most of us. To restore the ability to provide those things for yourself requires significant retooling and effort on the individual’s part. The main issue behind every decision is the type, amount, and how energy is stored. That may be in battery form, liquid form as in gasoline or oils, or in solid form as in firewood. Each has advantages and disadvantages that need to be carefully considered for your situation, capabilities, and locality. Do your homework – penciling through scenarios will show you where to focus your research. Have a plan and execute it and you will be lightyears ahead of everyone else who is still trying to figure out what is going on.


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