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Disaster Plan: What You Need to Know To Survive the First 21 Days


In previous installments we have discussed natural calamities and other events that could place your family at risk, as well as what to expect during the first 72 hours afterward and the basic items to include in a survival kit or bug out bag. In this installment, we will overview the first 21 days after any type of major natural disaster or other event that would likely interrupt food, fuel and water supplies and services that we take for granted such as sanitary sewer, power and communications.

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Lessons from The Great Depression

Although a recent reality television show on doomsday preparation would like you to believe otherwise, there is nothing sensational or even remotely weird about living a prepared lifestyle. In fact, most of us have had immediate family members who would have been known today as preppers, just because they survived The Great Depression and went forward understanding the importance of having basic food on hand during hard times.

As the depression years faded, these survivors – perhaps your parents or grandparents – worked diligently to maintain a stable food supply by stocking their pantry with staples and learning to preserve excess foods, when possible. Although they faced no more events that equaled the devastation of The Great Depression, they continued to reap the benefits of their food storage efforts each time they went through difficult times as a family, such as when sickness, unemployment or other problems arose. Today, it is wise to continue the practices of our seasoned relatives, as well as taking advantage of new products ranging from doomsday survival kits to freeze-dried commercial foods that are pre-packaged and ready for long-term storage.

21 Days and Beyond

Should a devastating natural calamity, such as a major earthquake, volcanic eruption or other natural disaster occur, it is doubtful that you will go to work or send the children to school for several days, weeks or even longer. Instead, your days will be spent in working to help your family and others survive and thrive in a world that has suddenly become focused solely on the basic human needs of food, water and shelter.

In most types of severe disaster situations, food supplies and water services are likely to be interrupted. This means that many people, especially those who live in high-density areas, will be forced to leave the area or risk perishing, due to the scarcity of food and safe water within just a few days of the event. A family that has at least enough food, water and supplies to remain safe and healthy for a minimum of three weeks will have a far greater chance at surviving most disaster scenarios.

At first thought, 21 days – or three weeks – does not seem like a long time. However, if you suddenly had no access to the local grocery store or Wal-Mart to obtain food and supplies, three weeks suddenly seems like forever. A good exercise, or perhaps a reality check for those who are beginning to think about their family’s preparedness needs is to take a good look at your current pantry or kitchen cupboards. Will the current contents allow you to make 63 nourishing meals (3 meals x 21 days) for your family?

For most families, the answer is an emphatic “No”! Like most, you may find that you have only a small amount of staples and canned goods on hand, with the bulk of the food in your home actually consisting of fresh foods that must be refrigerated or frozen. Remember, however, that the food that is currently in your refrigerator and freezer should not be counted toward the amount of food your family has on hand for emergency use. Any serious natural calamity or major event will almost certainly disrupt your electrical power, necessitating that any of these refrigerated and frozen foods must be used within 1-3 days following the actual crisis, or be at risk of spoiling.

Easy Ways to Build and Maintain Food and Basic Needs

While it is now very possible, affordable and even advisable to purchase some types of doomsday supplies as part of your effort to become more prepared, it also makes sense to make small changes in the way you shop and store food as part of the process of becoming more prepared.

One small change that will yield huge results is simply setting aside a small amount of your weekly food and basic needs budget to use for preparedness items. A ten- or twenty-dollar weekly investment over the period of one year will ensure that your pantry is well-stocked in the event of an emergency situation or for those times when unexpected expenses occur and illness or unemployment strikes.

To obtain the best results from your ten- or twenty-dollar weekly preparedness shopping budget, make a master list of the staple food items and basic personal care products that your family needs and wants. Because you will be storing and rotating these supplies over six to twelve months, only include items that have a six month or longer shelf life. Some examples to include on your list are:

  • coffee, tea, instant cocoa or powdered drink mixes
  • cans or bottles of juice
  • bottled water
  • grains, flours, cornmeal and pasta
  • dried beans, rice and popcorn
  • canned fruits and vegetables
  • powdered milk and cheeses
  • canned tuna, meats and soups
  • powdered eggs
  • sugar, syrup, jams and jellies
  • pickles
  • vinegar
  • laundry soap, dish soap and bleach
  • toilet paper, paper towels, trash bags
  • bar soap
  • shampoos, toothpaste, personal hygiene products, etc.
  • aspirin, OTC medications, Vitamins, first-aid supplies
  • pet food and pet care products

Remember that there is no point in purchasing and storing products that your family does not like or want to use, even if the price seems to be a bargain. Instead, build your pantry by doing as your grandmother might have, by simply purchasing extra of the things that you already use and then continuing to rotate and restock the supply regularly to maintain freshness.

The Importance of Having Low-Tech Solutions for Everyday Needs

Another important factor in becoming more prepared and ready to handle any type of natural calamity or disaster situation is to learn to the importance of reducing your dependence on technology. The first step in doing this is to determine how dependent you really are on electrical power and technology, as a family. To do this, ask each family member to jot down each time they use any appliance or device over the course of a single day. In addition to lighting, heating, pumping water and cooking, the list will likely include coffee makers, alarm clocks, toasters, microwaves, can openers, blenders, toothbrushes, e-book readers, music players, computers and a multitude of other devices and gadgets.

While playing music may not be a priority during a crisis, many other tasks that are now often routinely performed with the assistance of electricity will still need to be performed when the power is out for an extended time.

Consider each task that is important to your family’s daily health, safety and comfort and then think about how you will accomplish this task in a low-tech manner, without depending on the electrical grid. For example, how will you:

  • make coffee and toast or cook without coffee makers, microwaves, toasters and appliances?
  • heat water for bathing and hygiene needs without reliance on a hot water heater?
  • Shave without an electric razor?
  • open cans of food without an electric can opener?
  • read critical survival books and materials without a computer or e-reader?
  • find an address or location without GPS?
  • communicate with others without email, cell phones, land lines or Internet service?

Look for a low-tech solution for each item on your list, for example, having a stovetop coffeepot that can be used over a wood fire or on your gas grill and keeping printed versions of important books, documents and reading materials.

Preview: In the next installment we will take a deeper look at keeping your home, family and the doomsday prep supplies you need for survival safe during a disaster situation.

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