It's amazing what a tornado can do. The last ones in my area were just a couple of weeks ago. One hit Branson, Missouri, and the other hit Buffalo, a town just thirty miles to the north of my home. Both were bad. I was in Branson a couple of days ago and the damage was pretty bad. One hotel was in effect destroyed and there was major damage to many other structures.
Above: Picture of Stockton, Missouri a week after the tornado.
As is common with such storms, the power went out for quite some time in and around those towns. I wonder how many homes lost the contents of their freezers? There is a solution to common issues like that when the power goes out. It is not only a tornado that can knock out power. Just yesterday the news reported a huge southeaster affecting many areas in the northeast seaboard that are expected to knock out power for several days.
In the past I have helped in the clean-up efforts, both in Joplin and Stockton, Missouri. Photos and news footage on TV just can't do justice to the devastation, nor really capture the stunned look on the faces of residents who survived the howling monster that damaged or destroyed their homes. It makes me want to build a storm shelter.
I think I would want a shelter that could do triple duty as a storm shelter, safe room and storage area for valuables. I'm not so much talking about replaceable items, but I would like to safeguard various family heirlooms such as our family bible that dates back to mid 1800.
There are other things, not of great intrinsic value but are of historical value to my family that are irreplaceable.
What would my ideal safe room look like? It would have to be constructed of reinforced concrete. It would have two heavy steel doors of about quarter inch (5mm) plate, one to access from inside the house and the other to the outside. They would have to open inwards so as not to get jammed with debris and be lockable from the inside. It would contain supplies of food, water and other things to ensure survival beyond just a few days. Power would be off the grid using a Humless Sentinel electric power storage system with solar panels. Water would be in a 20-gallon tank with a siphon pump. I would not expect to live in the shelter for more than a couple of days at most, so a simple lidded bucket half filled with kitty litter and a can of Lysol would suffice for a toilet.
While an underground shelter would be ideal, I would go for an above ground style bunker with deep piles to hold it secure to the ground. I'd make that choice because our soil is quite rocky and I would worry about an underground shelter becoming flooded. Rather than leave the outside of the shelter as bare concrete I think it should be clad with siding and even a false curtained window to make it look like a storage shed (got to keep the neighbors happy). These days one must consider the possibility of having a secure room in case of home invasion or civil unrest. The thought of a hasty retreat into a handy secure bold-hole is quite attractive to me.
I don't think I'd have an issue with local authority planning permission for a storm shelter considering the tornado risk in my area. I also believe that with a bit of help from some like-minded friends I could build it myself at a reasonable cost.
Looking at the headlines and watching the news (with a huge grain of salt) on TV I see a world that is not only fast changing, but has already changed almost beyond recognition. I think back to my teenage years, even to the time early in my marriage and life seemed simple and quite secure. If you lost your job, well just go and get another. People didn't earn a lot but things balanced out. Sure, in those days we worried about the Russian menace and nuclear war, but food was plentiful, as was fuel and life went on. Money was worth a lot then.
Those were the days when about the most crime the ordinary family would have to endure was their mail box being smashed by teenage thrill-seekers with a baseball bat and an old truck. That was the Day of the American Dream. It has eroded fast. Yet so many seem to be unaware of the potential of a very uncertain future.
There is certainly a great need to make even basic preparations for teotwawki (the end of the world as we know it). Why? Because it is happening all around us right now. Not as some huge disaster or political upheaval, although that is possible, it's more of the major changes in the personal circumstances of individuals and families.
I believe that when a family makes preparations for the possibility that the breadwinner may lose their job, or be unable to work because of a medical crisis, then that family has the right mindset to survive almost anything. Let's face it, for some even a week without a paycheck could spell disaster without the foresight to prepare. Don't think you can just run down to the local supermarket and buy. It is a fact that shops can be cleaned out of essentials in three days or less in an emergency situation. The cause? A business practice called "just in time delivery." What if circumstances (and there are many possible) dictate that deliveries can't be made? Hmm...!
Picture: A typical Missouri ice storm
So what should a family or individual do to prepare for the unforeseen? Let's get to basics: food, water, electric power, fuel, medication, shelter, cash/trade items, tools, comfort goods, toiletries and protection. Don't forget the "bug-out" pack, or 72-hour kit with the necessities of life.
Food - become a squirrel.
The best basic rule is to store what you eat and eat what you store. I am not against the many freeze-dried foods that are available at reasonable cost today. They are excellent, lightweight and best for a grab-and-go pack. The downside is that you need a source of clean water in order to reconstitute the food. You do have a good small water filter for your grab pack.
It also makes good sense to store basics like wheat, beans and corn. It is not a good idea to try to store wheat for extended periods, so you will need a wheat mill. A hand crank mill is the best because you cannot rely on electric power being readily available, if only because you can't afford to pay the utility bill. Other food items to store are salt, herbs and spices, sugar, baking soda and egg powder. Some sort of shortening is essential. Canned goods are excellent but do need rotation so watch the dates on the cans, and avoid buying dented canned food unless you plan to use it almost immediately.
It is a very wise idea to find out how to prepare meals from the very basics before the crunch comes. For instance, wheat can be sprouted to provide wheat grass with a high vitamin C content. Do you know how to extract the gluten from wheat to make protein rich meatless steaks? It can be done but it takes practice. In a real emergency situation it is best to have a variety of foods that are both nutritious and acceptable to all around the meal table.
Live a month without food, live four or five days without water. We take water for granted, open the tap and there it is, clean and safe for the most part. I lived in Africa for two decades. When you live there you appreciate the need for water. While I lived for the most part in or near cities, millions of people walk several miles each day to collect five gallons of water of questionable quality. Do you think that could happen here? Don't bet you life on always having a clean supply. An earthquake, broken water mains, floods, or even a terrorist attack could leave you very thirsty.
Can you imagine life without your iPad, iPod, or whatever (some might say, "Great!"), but really what about something as simple as a reliable light source that uses free energy. Let's face it; to have light when it’s dark is very comforting. Here are a few ideas to fuel some thought in your preparedness plan.
Power to cook, make light, receive or transmit radio signals takes fuel of some kind. We don't often think of wind or water as fuel, but it is when harnessed efficiently. It was not many years ago the windmills were used to pump water for drinking and irrigation on farms. Water in a creek can be directed to a millrace to run a simple electric generator. A gasoline or diesel generator is great until the fuel runs out because it is no longer affordable or available.
So, what do you do? Not many people have a creek flowing through their back yard for a water-driven generator, or a place to build a windmill. Nor is it practical (or even legal in some areas) to store liquid fuel.
One answer is to go solar. While it would be nice to go off the grid entirely you don't actually have to. The answer lies in the ability to collect, store and generate clean electric power at home, whether you live in the city or country. When you get a moment, take a look at the Humless, particularly the Sentinel model. It offers a very, dare I say, powerful solution. Especially in an emergency or even a bug-out situation. It doesn't need to sit on a shelf, it can be also used for wilderness hunting or just peacefully quiet camping trips - the Humless is totally silent.
I have several wonderful books on survival that offer various ways to prevent, and treat many common medical issues that may arise when there is no other alternative. One of the best bits of advice in one of those books makes a very simple suggestion for those who are on prescribed medications. Ask your physician if you may be prescribed a whole year's worth of your prescription in the first instance and then renew rotate every six months. This may not work for some medications that have a short shelf life.
Keep a good comprehensive first aid kit on hand. There are many to choose from but don't skimp on this item. You may save someone you love some serious grief. Find out from your local Red Cross when first aid classes are available. You never know when you'll need the knowledge. I remember some years ago when my daughter had a silly but potentially very serious accident when she nearly cut off her big toe. Thankfully I had just completed a Red Cross course and was able to offer first aid handling the emergency correctly before rushing her off to the doctor for professional treatment etc. She went on to become a national high school gymnastics champion.
Shelter from raging storms of circumstance
When disasters, natural or man-made occur we see pictures in the media of refugees miserable from the situation huddling in rude shelters of plastic and cardboard. That's not the way I want to live if suddenly I'm homeless because of some disaster. At the very least a decent size insect resistant tent with sleeping bags suitable for the climate, along with basic camping gear, is essential. Even if you have a pre-arranged bolthole or country dwelling relative to go to, it might take a few days to get there.
If you want to experience a mock disaster situation just lock yourself our of your comfortable home and try sleeping rough in your back yard for a couple of days without a tent. In summer it would be a miserable experience because of heat, humidity and insects. In winter - well you can imagine the rest. Even a well-stocked 72-hour kit would not be of much comfort without adequate shelter from heat, cold or rain.
Under the heading of shelter I must include the need for fire, both for warmth and cooking. As the old saying goes, to start a fire rub two boy scouts together! Seriously, do you know how to start a fire without matches or a lighter? It is a basic skill that every family should know. If you don't, ask a boy scout how. At the very least explore the different ways on YouTube - and then practice. Hint: save lint from the lint trap of your tumble dryer. Store it in a plastic bag as it makes great tinder for primitive fire starting methods. Try it some time.
Fire is an essential part of basic survival.
Cash and trade items
It's nice to go to the ATM machine and draw some cash then run down to the local supermarket for the day's food supply. It wasn't always like that, and it could revert to that in a heartbeat. Imagine for a moment a major fuel shortage shutting down the trucking business nation-wide, or if all the roads to your town are cut off by floods (think Katrina), of some other event that shuts down the power grid, and/or the transportation system. The possibility of a cyber attack or even an EMP (electro magnetic pulse) strike could cause major shut down of the electricity grid - no power to pump gas, or operate the ATM, no checkouts at supermarkets or run your credit card.
What are you going to do? Short term you can use cash if you have it in hand. The other alternative is to fall back on the old system of barter. That means having a supply of items as trade goods. There are many items that make great trade goods in times of disaster from food to alcohol, diapers, tools to toilet paper, food and bullets, even alcohol makes a good trade item. Then there are skills and services that can be traded for things you need. You get the idea.
Tools for survival
We are talking hand tools here. That fancy power hungry reciprocating saw I bought to get a honey-do job done will be of little use if there is no power to run it. Basic tools include several good knives, a splitting axe, a chopping axe, a hand axe, a machete, a heavy duty pry bar, digging and other gardening implements, various wrenches, and rope, a sharpening stone, and files are essential too.
Having an array of tools and the knowledge to use them will allow you to help neighbors and even allow you to make a living in the case of the collapse of society. Reference books on skills our great grand parents took for granted are also invaluable - obtain and read them before you really need them. Some of those skills could become great hobbies.
This could be a never ending list depending on your likes and dislikes. My wife would say chocolate and books to read. For some it would be chewing gum or candy. My kids would choose iPods and the grandchildren would no doubt include favorite toys. Comfort goods cover a wide gamut of items from toilet paper to board games and hobby items. It would make sense to build up a library of good books including the scriptures, not forgetting educational books and those that teach basic survival skills. It is difficult to read or do much else in the dark, so lighting is a must. I'm not fond of candles. They are not bright and pose a fire risk. The same goes for oil lamps. Both are not easily renewable items. I certainly would store some but prefer a renewable electric power source such as the Humless Sentinel with LED lights. It has the capability of drawing on a number of energy sources - solar, wind, hand crank, and mains power (if available). There is nothing more comforting than light when you need it. Another argument for a lithium ion power system like the Humless is that it has the capability to run a deep freeze or refrigerator as well.
Don't forget clothes and shoes in the comfort category, along with the means to keep them clean. Laundry detergents should certainly be in your preparation plans. My wife can across a recipe for making her own. In my mind it is far more effective than brand name products, less than one-fifth the cost and easy to make. I'll share the recipe another time.
Perhaps these essentials should be listed under comfort items, for that they certainly are. The basics are soap, toothpaste, deodorants, disposable razors, etc. You get the idea. If you are reduced to hunting for food then unscented toiletries are a must! Don't forget towels.
You've now prepared well. You have enough for your family, maybe some to spare for neighbors and friends. In times of recession, depression and high unemployment people get desperate and some resort to theft and violence to survive. Questions arise - how to protect what you have, and more important how to protect the well being of the ones you love?
Nothing is absolutely foolproof. That said there are many ways to protect your family and secure them in the event of hard times for which you have prepared. These methods extend from firearms to alarms, burglar proofing your home to having a viable escape plan. There are many resources available to help you in your circumstances. You'll have to figure out what is best in your situation. Don't forget the simple escape plan in case there is a fire. You may lose everything, but you don't want to lose your loved ones.
There are many suppliers of hardware with which to grind wheat, start a fire, filter water and cook without electric power, and more. I'll maybe go into more details in a later posting.
Mean time - talk it over with your family and set some goals to become self-sufficient in every aspect of your life now by setting priorities based on risk and preparing a bit at a time. You may never need to fall back on your teotwawki preparedness plan, but if you do you'll never regret it.
A recipe promised.
I learned to make biltong, Africa's version of jerky, while I lived there for twenty years. One major difference is that it is not smoked. Once cured it can be kept out in any dry place (generally dry atmosphere) until consumed, otherwise store in a freezer if you live in a humid area like Missouri as I do now.
The secret is to experiment a little with the recipe so that you develop the mix of spices you prefer. I'll give you my favourite mix as well as the basic.
1. Basic - salt, pepper, brown sugar
2. My favourite - salt, course ground black pepper, garlic powder fine ground coriander & crushed whole coriander, brown sugar, white vinegar
The meat - Unless you live in a desert area and can make use of natural dry air (winter in Africa worked for me) you'll have to use a dehydrator and cut the meat more thinly than the natural dry area method.
You can use beef or venison, your choice. I assume that you will buy some beef to start with so choose a large roasting joint like top sirloin but any tender part of the hind quarter works. Slice the meat along the grain NOT across the grain.
Using the natural dry air method you can safely cut the meat in strips 3/4 inch thick, 3 inches wide and up to 12 inches long. Using the dehydrator you are rather forced to cut the meat much thinner - max 1/2 inch thick, about 2 inches wide and about 6 inches long. This (and smaller) works for me.
The spice mix - Salt is the main ingredient but don't be too heavy-handed with it.
If you just use the basic method mix up about 60% salt 30% brown sugar, 10% pepper.
My favourite - 50% salt, 25% brown sugar, 10% ground coriandor, 5% course ground black pepper, 5% garlic powder, 5% whole crushed coriandor. Don't be fanatical about the proportions - "about" will do.
Method - mix all your spices together. Mix up well. Sprinkle the meat strips individually and LIGHTLY with the spice mix but try to sprinkle on all surfaces.
Place the strips in layers in a container. Sprinkle a little vinegar on each layer. How much you use is up to you. For me about two ounces to 5 pounds of meat is about right or it might be too salty. Place the meat in the refrigerator in a non-metallic bowl and let sit for 24 hours (longer is OK if you can't fit all the meat into your dehydrator in one batch). Turn the meat over a couple of times during that marianade time. The salt helps draw the juices out of the meat as well as curing the meat.
Now pack your dehydrator as per the maker's instructions.
IMPORTANT - try not to let the meat strips touch each other in the drying process - the air must be able to circulate freely.
If you live in Arizona or other area with a dry atmosphere you may simply hang the meat in any shaded breezy area. If flies are a problem in your area a closed screened porch makes a good drying area. Use homemade wire hooks to hang the meat strips. It takes up to two weeks using this method. Important - the hanging strips should not touch each other.
18-24 hours later and you can have "wet" or soft biltong, or after 48 hours if you prefer it dry. Warning - the smell will have every South African within 30 miles arriving glazed-eyed at your door with that want-some-puppydog-look muttering "lekker lekker" (tasty, tasty) and you will be drooling in anticipation.
You can keep biltong in the freezer in sealed plastic bags. If you store it outside the freezer, a paper bag is better, or just air hang. Properly cured and stored it should last 6 months in a dry atmosphere, or a year in a freezer, but it tastes so good that you'll never need to worry about shelf life!
(1) That's it for now! Maybe, I'll come up with a recipe next time.