The Federal Emergency Management Agency says that “Even though it is unlikely that an emergency would cut off your food supply for two weeks, consider maintaining a supply that will last that long.” And later on in the same document they say “Consider storing at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family.” Using this document as an authority, we can say that being prepared for two weeks is the Boy Scout level of preparation. If you are at this level, nobody can consider you paranoid because you are just a good little citizen doing what your government recommends that you should do.
But what does it really mean to be prepared for two weeks cut off from resupply of food and water? Honestly speaking, if your sole goal is to stay alive then you likely don’t need to do anything. Most everyone would still be alive if all power, sewer, clean water, and other supplies were cut off for a period of two weeks. The frail might die, but everyone else has enough spare fat and could drink bad water if they had to. At the end of the two week period many people might be sick and weak, but they would not be dead.
If your goal is a little higher than just staying alive, then you have to define what you are looking for. Do you want perfect comfort just as if the disaster never happened? Do you just want to remain healthy until the cavalry arrives to saves the day? On the other paw, you also have to consider what you are willing to do to achieve your goals. After all, if money is no object, we would all pick riding out the disaster in perfect comfort. But it takes effort and money to prepare for things and we all have a finite supply of both.
What follows is two separate “FEMA Plans” constructed as a thought experiment to aide me in my ponderings of the subject. One plan is constructed for a yuppie family of four living in a suburban environment. The other plan is constructed for a rural working poor family of four. What differs between the two plans is budget and assumptions as to the capabilities of the theoretical family in question. What both plans have in common is the following…..
1. Both plans are designed to enable the theoretical families to remain functional and to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Comfort is not a goal. Rather, the goal is being healthy enough to function normally and having the equipped needed to do things that would make the situation better.
2. The plan is based around what is theoretically necessary to accomplish the above goal in a situation where there is no utilities, no sewer, no gas for vehicles, and no outside emergency support services for the duration of those two weeks.
3. All the stuff listed in these plans needs to be functional and ready to use 10 to 20 years in the future even if forgotten and ignored up until it is needed.
4. All the stuff in one of these plans should be able to fit into a closet. This is more about defining the amount of total storage space sacrificed to disaster preparedness and it is not a requirement of the plan that everything be suitable for storing in a closet. In the abstract it would be better for me to say that total space needed by the plan should be no more than 126 cubic feet (3*6*7) but it is easier to envision a closet then that amount of space in the abstract.
5. The assumption behind both plans is that the families live in the northeast and have to deal with weather and water resources typically for that region.
6. Budget for both plans is defined ahead of time and items are chosen to fit within that budget. For the “yuppie” plan the budget for this plan was derived from the one year cost in annual premiums if a healthy 30 year old male signed up for whole life insurance to the tune of $500,000. Buying life whole life insurance seems like a very middle class thing to do so the assumption is if they can afford to do that on a regular basis then they can afford pay that amount out once to prepare for FEMA style emergencies. At the time this plan was put together, that premium cost was estimated to be $4015 per year and so that is our budget number to stay under for the yuppie plan. For the rural working poor plan the budget is $800 on the grounds that seems to be roughly the amount that they spend on a “vacation” if they don’t have a lot of money but are gainfully employed
We will consider the “yuppie” plan first.
The Yuppie Plan
Assumptions: For this plan we are assuming that the theoretical family has nothing needed for this plan except clothes, bedding, and common cooking equipment. It is assumed that the yuppie family has little in the way of hands on ability so everything stored must be very simple and straight forward to use. It is assumed that the family has sudden burst of concern that leads them to get all of this stuff and may cause them to practice using some of what they get but after that they will forget about it for a decade or two.
The Question: Give the assumptions above and keeping in mind our budget ($4015) what should be bought to enable this family to be functional and healthy in the event of a total supply chain and utility failure? My list is as follows….
A common habit of modern life is the reliance that people place on their phones to function as a flashlight. In any kind of long term loss of power this is a really bad idea. The battery life in the phone is precious and should be preserved for communicating for as long as possible. Having a flashlight is the first order of business when it comes to being prepared because it is tough to do anything at night if the lights go out and you don’t have one.
But having a flashlight is not enough; the flashlight must also be in working order when it is needed. In the shared environment of a family finding a flashlight that works can be tough. Nobody has the same idea of where it should go and nobody changes the batteries as they get weaker. And since the tendency is to buy a cheap flashlight that is “good enough,” the flashlight dies the first time someone drops it on concrete. The end result is everyone goes back to using their phone because they can find the phone and the phone works.
To guard against these things, a wall mounted quality rechargeable flashlight is needed. The wall mounted charger should be used as the place “where the flashlight belongs” and the fact that it is a charger should ensure that the flashlight works and can be found when it is needed. The fact that it is a quality flashlight should ensure sufficient light and durability to function in adverse conditions.
Strictly speaking this item violates the rule that the items should still be working 10 to 20 years later with no attention. I don’t know that any batteries can be trusted to keep a charge for that long. But since this is the one item on the list most likely to be used, we will let that failure pass and hope that our yuppie family will replace the flashlight as it starts to fail.
Things To Consider: My choice of this Streamlight is based on my experience with rechargeable Streamlights in a high pressure steam plant with all three shifts using it. The model that we used in that environment survived drops from ladders onto concrete, being soaked in water, being buried in the mud, and all sorts of similar abuses. And in a plant where the shifts could not seem to agree on where things were supposed to go, the flashlight was reliably returned to the charger when not used. However, that was before the days of widespread rechargeable lithium batteries and the massive increase in the number of companies making “tactical flashlights”. So my experience with Streamlights back in the day might not be a valid reason for using Streamlights today. There are certainly cheaper flashlights, but I would be careful about choosing a cheap flashlight as they always seem to fail on me when I need them most. Furthermore, a lot of cheaper flashlights don’t have a wall mounted recharger and in my experience a flashlight that does not have a fixed place to go will not be found if it is communal property.
Setting this plan up for two weeks means that it is presumed that the cavalry will be coming to the rescue at some point. But if you can’t stop the bleeding or if wound gets badly infected, then it doesn’t matter if help is coming eventually. And if someone is spraying blood, then having a stockpile of food and water is not going to do a lot of good.
Of course, since we are presuming that our yuppie family is not very capable, it is unlikely that even a good first kit will enable them to take care of anything really serious. But it does not take a medical degree to place a sterile bandage on a wound. The trick is having a sterile bandaged available.
Aside from what limited treatment the unskilled can provided, there may be nurses or other people in the neighborhood who have medical skills but don’t have enough materials to work with. By having a quality med kit our yuppie family can be part of the solution and that is the primary goal of this plan.
Things To Consider: One of the benefits of the MyFak for this exercise is that it covers a lot of possible problems. The only down side is that some of the materials in the kit are not likely to be effective after 10 to 20 years of sitting around. It could be argued that a better use of money would be to just buy chest seals, tourniquets, sterile gauzes, and other bandages given the amount of time that they would likely just be sitting around. Another question is what kind of medical stuff is worth storing for people with little or no training? The bottom line is that I am not confident in my answer for this issue. I only know that if someone has blood spurting out of their arm, I would prefer to have something better than band aids on hand to deal with the issue. And I think that goes for anyone regardless of their training.
The ability to make fire is critical to survival. In a suburban sitting, you don’t want to rely on a traditional camp fire unless you are really desperate. But it is good to have that option in case it ever gets really bad. Even sans desperation there are many other items on this plan requiring the ability to set things alight. We can hope our theoretical suburban family likes to barbecue and keeps lighters around. But given how critical this ability is, we want a reliable back up even if they do have a lighter or two for everyday life.
The question of how to preserve the ability to light things for people who have no skills is more complicated then you might think. Throw a traditional lighter into storage and 10 years later it will not work because all the fluid will evaporate out. You can get electrical lighters that rely on battery power but batteries tend to go bad over time as well. A Ferro Rod will be as good as new after 20 years but they take some skill to use. More importantly, they would be tough to use in a safe manner to light the kerosene heater on this list.
The only remaining solution seems to be matches. The only question is will matches last 20 years in storage and still work? The all knowing internet seems to be divided on that question with some claiming that matches start losing effectiveness over time while others saying that they can last indefinitely. It seems that the truth is dependent on how dry you can keep your matches and the quality of the matches. Storm proof matches should last the longest as they can burn even when wet and so they should be more resistant to humidity (I have read that they should last indefinitely when stored in a water proof container but I am not sure what that statement is based on).
In the case of this plan, it is also important that matches be long enough to light a kerosene heater. The length gives an element of safety but more importantly it gives a longer burn time while you are messing around trying to get the thing to light. You might argue that it should not take that long to light a kerosene heater but it should be remembered that we are not assuming competence on the part of the users with this plan.
Since we need the matches to be stored for a long time, we will look to purchase them in a container that is rugged and water proof to increase the chance that they will still be useful when needed. We also need enough matches to last two weeks. For those two reasons, we are getting two Zippo Typhoon Match kits which you can read about here.
Things To Consider: This is certainly a choice that could be argued about. Most people with experience in these matters will tell you that you can get better matches (UCO brand). Other people will argue that you don’t need the kit as you can just store the matches in plastic baggies (and it is cheaper to buy the matches by the box). And one might question if there should be more matches (two containers is 30 matches and that is barely more than two matches a day).
I chose the Zippo kit over the UCO because I judged that kit taken as a whole (i.e. the container and the matches) was more idiot proof that comparable UCO offering. That was more important to me for the purpose of this plan then having the absolute best match.
A similar reason goes for why I choose to buy the kits instead of the cheaper option of buying them in bulk. It should be remembered that we are not dealing penny pinching adventuring backpackers. Instead we are dealing with inexperienced yuppies breaking out matches for possibly the first time in their lives. The fact that typhoon match kit stores the matches in a water proof container with a silica gel packet in the bottom of the container makes it worth the extra cost over buying matches in normal boxes and trusting our theoretical yuppies to store them correctly.
The more pressing concern for me was how many matches to get? Given the importance of fire and the relative cheapness of matches it is tempting to throw a few more cases into the plan. And maybe that should be done but I had a budget to stay under and lots of other things to purchase. So my rational for sticking with only two cases of matches is that with candles burning there is plenty of ways of preserving the matches if it looks like that should be necessary. But more about that as we go further into the plan.
During the deep freeze that took Texas by surprise a story came out about a kid dying of hypothermia in his own home. This sent a co-worker of mine who came from a less developed part of the world into a rant. She went on and on about how white people were too hung up on themselves and everyone in that house should have been all sleeping together under every single blanket they had. Now I think she was mistaken as to the race of the family in question and I suspect that there was more to the story then was found in the news story. Nonetheless, the story did highlight in my mind the need to make it as fool proof as possible for our yuppie family to avoid freezing to death.
The best way to do that is to create a sleep system that is not dependent on any supplemental heat. And what simpler way of doing that then to have a nice warm sleeping bag?
Now it should be noted that the selected “zero degree” sleeping bag is not really good to zero degrees by itself even for the warm blooded. You will rarely find a bag that is called a “zero degree” that will actually keep a young healthy male (much less anyone else) warm at zero degrees all by itself. And when you do find such a bag it will cost a lot of money and be aimed at mountain climbers.
But we are not talking about sheltering on the side of the mountain. We are talking about sheltering in your average suburban home that has blankets, clothes, and other such things to supplement the bags with. The first step would be for everyone to sleep in one room and make it a little camp in the house (depending on how scary it is outside this might need to be done regardless of temperature). If four people in one room are not enough to keep everyone warm with these bags, then the bags can be supplemented as necessary with extra blankets and clothes.
Worst come to worse, the sleeping bags are roomy enough that you should be able to put one bag inside another and have two people share each double bag. Such a double bag system is how the military creates sleeping system that works to extreme low temperatures. In this particular case, if our yuppie family had to share double bags they might not be comfortable but they could survive the worst temperatures that the east cost of the United States could throw at them (assuming they could stay dry).
Things To Consider: I arrived at this sleeping bag by highly scientific method of going to The Outdoor Gear Review website and clicking on the Sleeping Bag tag. I trust Luke and there are a lot of sleeping bags out there so it was easier just to limit myself to stuff he had reviewed. Once I found a bag that that he reviewed that I felt would meet the needs of this plan, I stopped looking. So there very well might be a better sleeping bag out there.
Just keep in mind a couple of things. First, a lot of the negatives of this bag (primary weight and less then rugged construction) don’t really apply to the situation we are talking about. If you pay more money for a bag that is lighter and tough enough to survive the wilderness then how have you really helped this situation? On the other hand, you might find a bag that is cheaper but still claims to have a zero degree rating (and I know for a fact that such bags exist). But how are you going to be sure that they are not made by manufactures who lied about the warmth even more then this company does?
As a general rule, houses in the suburbs have stoves that run off of electricity or natural gas. Since we are trying to construct this plan so that our yuppies can stay healthy in the absence of all utilities we need to figure out how we are going to create fire in a way that is safe for the urban environment. Wood is unlikely to do the trick even if we have one those increasingly rare suburban houses with a fire place. Where are you going to get enough wood to see you through two weeks? And a fire place is not well suited to boiling water without equipment that most yuppie homeowners are not likely to have.
The first problem is that your simplest easy to use stoves are upright gas stoves that don’t work well in cold weather. They start having problems at about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. If you get a stove that uses liquid propane you can take that down to about 0 degrees Fahrenheit. That should be enough for our scenario but it is possible to see temperature lower than that in the northeast. In any case, storing away a stove that gives you more issues the more desperately you need it does not seem like a good plan to me.
Another issue is that propane is not as energy dense as the liquid fuels are. For example kerosene has 131,890 BTUS per gallon. Propane only has 91,500 per gallon. When you are tight on space to store fuel, this difference in BTUs matters even if you don’t have to deal with temperature issues.
The problem with liquid fuels is that they are not rated to last as long as propane. Propane will last as long as the container it is stored in (30 years plus). The liquid fuels are not rated to last near as long. Kerosene is the longest lasting of liquid fuels and it is only “officially” good for 5 years (if stored in the original container). Or at least, that is what the experts say. Speaking from personal experience, I have used kerosene that was older than that. In a professional capacity I have used diesel fuel that was older than that to run generators (albeit the diesel fuel was run through pre-filters before it ever even got to the generator’s fuel filter).
In the case of our cooking stove we don’t have to resolve this question because the Optimus Polaris Optifuel Stove will run on just about anything you can image. It will run on propane, kerosene, gasoline, diesel, and a bunch of fancier fuels you will only get from camping supply stores. And unlike other stoves that require you to change nozzles every time you change fuels, this stove can run all those fuels without any need to mess around with nozzles.
Things to Consider: An argument could be made that our not very capable yuppies would be better off with a very simple gas camp stove and that I am overstating the issues propane has in cold weather. After all, lots of people use propane through the winter to heat their house. So why is it such a big deal to rely on propane for a camp stove?
This line of thinking ignores the fact that camp stoves rely on small propane tanks that can’t boil off as much as gas as properly sized tanks for a home system. More importantly it ignores the fact that cold weather backpackers the world over will testy that gas stoves have issues during the colder weather.
To my way of thinking, the most important thing about this stove is the ability to melt snow and ice. This plan is set up so that the Yuppie family should be able to survive without heat in most conditions. With the items already mentioned and items still to come, our yuppies should be able to get clean drinking water, eat their food, and sleep without having any source of heat if push came to shove. The only issue requiring heat is if it is so cold that all sources of water are frozen solid. It is in that kind of weather that propane stoves would have the most issues.
Having said all that, it is only a small portion of the year that a good propane stove would have issues in the northeast and you could always do things like warm up the small camp stove gas canisters with body heat if you were really desperate. So I am not saying the arguments in favor of gas stoves are totally invalid. But that is the not the way I would go if preparing for a worst case scenario and I had the budget that we have for the yuppie plan (although there is a nagging question in my mind about how well the seals in the fuel pump would work after having been stored for 20 years).
FEMA says to try to store two weeks of water. They define the needed amount of water as one gallon of water per person per day. That works out to 56 gallons of water for a family of four. That is tough to store in a closet with everything else that is needed. And how do you feel about drinking water that has been sitting in a storage container for 20 years? It would be one thing if we could trust our family to rotate the water on occasion but our operating assumption is that they are going forget about everything not long after they store it. Adding to the problem is the fact that the food for this plan is dehydrated and this is going to increase the need for water.
The obvious solution is to get water from the environment. That is what serious hikers do. It is what people all over the world do. But some people seem to believe that this is only an option for people who live in rural areas.
It is unclear on what basis this idea is founded upon. If we were talking about serious urban areas or communities out in the drier west it might have some validity. But the basis of this plan is a suburban family in the northeast. There are few suburban areas in the northeast that are more than a mile from running water in the form of a stream or a river.
Most likely some of the people who think this is not an option for our theoretical “yuppie family” are operating on the impression that the water is not safe to drink if it is close to suburban and urban areas. If this is the operating idea, then it rest on a very naïve idea of where most urban communities get there water from. If you have a river or a large lake next to an urban area, then that is where at least some of the water feeding the urban areas is coming from. All the average urban water department does is treat the water that flows naturally by that community and make it safe to drink. To be sure, the quality of this water that comes from those water departments often has quality issues. But the water that comes out of the average urban water system is safe enough keep you hydrated and able to operate even if it might not be good to drink it long term. There is no reason our yuppie family can’t treat the local water and create something as healthy as the local water department.
The most fool proof way of treating water is to boil it and you could do that with the cook stove if you had to. But that requires fuel for the fire and as much as possible we want our theoretical yuppie family to be able to survive without fuel or fire. That is why we are going to put a high quality water filter designed for a group of hikers on our list.
There are people who have used similar filters to drink out of polluted third world rivers. That is not recommended if other options are available, but those who have had to do it lived to tell the tale. The best choice is to use rain water and water from streams coming into the suburban areas from the rural areas. But if one was faced with the choice was suffering from dehydration or filtering the water from the local river then it is better by far to filter the river water. Water departments all over the world take water from the rivers and make it drinkable simply by filtering it (it is true they add chlorine but I was taught that is largely to keep water safe in storage and transit) and there is no reason our theoretical yuppies can’t do likewise if it comes to that.
Things to Consider: A argument could be made it is dangerous for dwellers in suburban areas to rely on water from the environment as it will be too dangerous to venture far from home in the event of the loss of utilities and supply chain failure. The idea is that significant unrest and rioting would accompany such an event and you would not want to be going out to get water in such a time.
It is easy to imagine that this might be the case. But it is worth remembering that historically speaking, the rioting and looting tends to occur more to where the stores and government offices are. Heavy urban areas and poverty stricken areas are also more subject to those kinds of things.
Having said that, it would be better to have the option to stay close to home, but we are constrained rules of the exercise. We will allow for some water storage later in the plan and one can always drain the hot water heater (Our yuppies might have to in any case if they can’t keep the house warm enough) to get the 30+ gallons stored in there. But ultimately if you don’t want to have big storage tanks, a private well (illegal in most suburban areas), or a cisterns then you are stuck with going out and getting the water at some point. Better to have the option to treat that water and not need it then to have to go out and get it without a method of treating it.
When the family well went dry during one drought in my youth, the family mini-van got drafted to haul water. But in order to haul this water, we needed containers to transport it with. Dear old Dad acquired a 15 gallon drum with a water tight cap and that was key to facilitating the process. Given that we have storage space constraints and we are presuming no gas to run vehicles, we need something smaller for our plan.
What we will get is two stackable 5 gallon containers made to store water. If stored full of water they will proved the first two days of drinking water (even if the water is allowed to fester in those containers for twenty years we have already provided some treatment options). But more importantly they will provide a leak proof method of transporting collected water that does not leak all over the place with rough handling.
Things to Consider: You can think of cheaper ways of transporting water (like five gallon buckets with lids) but you have to think about how you would transport the water and how you would store it. For most yuppies, I think buying things that are made to store and transport water would be worth the minor cost over cheaper things like five gallon buckets. This is particularly true if you are really storing your emergency water in a closet.
Food is the single most expensive thing on this list. It can be pricey enough to feed a family of four for two weeks but if you feed them pre-made meals designed to be used in adverse conditions then the cost only goes up. But for this plan we want meals that are simple to use even when nothing else works and that don’t require fuel of any kind. Only meals that meet these criteria will be fool proof enough for our theoretical “yuppie” family.
When faced with these requirements, a lot of people (particularly those with military experience) want to stock up on MREs because that is what they know. But MREs only last for 5 to 10 years depending on what temperature they are stored at. If you strip out the components that fail the fastest you can make the MREs last even longer than this. But that is too much to expect our “yuppie” family to accomplish so we are going to turn to freeze dried meals from Mountain House instead.
There are cheaper ways of feeding people during an extended power outage but with Mountain House meals you get decent balanced meals (I personally tried some of them and been surprised by how good they were given my low expectations) that only need boiling water added to them to make a hot meal. And if push comes to shove, all you can just add cold water and eat them cold. It won’t be as good but the calories and nutrients will be the same.
Based on laboratory testing of thirty year old stock, Mountain House claims that their food is good for at least 30 years. That means that Mountain House can be stuck in a closet and forgotten about. Between only needing water and long storage times, this seemed like the best way to go for our theoretical “yuppie” family.
The main down side (besides the cost) is that Mountain House has a very stingy idea of what constitutes enough calories to get through the day. They figure the kits on this plan at 1700 calories per day and generally the recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000 calories a day for women and 2,500 for men. People who want to go through two weeks without losing any weight should add more food then is on this list.
Things to Consider: You easily find freeze dry kits that are cheaper and have more calories in them than the mountain house kits. But a lot of them seem to accomplish this by adding “drink mixes” to the meal. As best as I can tell, a lot of these “drink mixes” are basically sugar and Kool-Aid packaged to last awhile. I guess a calorie is a calorie but that kind of stuff makes me wonder about the quality of the rest of the meal. And even though a calorie is a calorie, if the company is trying to make it cheap as possible it can taste really bad. Bolstering my suspicions is all the reviews online explain how bad a lot of the “cheap” freeze dried food aimed at peppers really is. A lot of food sold for “survival” is sold with the assumption that nobody will really eat it. Whereas Mountain House is eaten by back backers and other adventures types all the time. (Speaking personally, I am a fussy eater and I have found that I prefer eating Mountain House to going to a fast food restaurant).
That said, Mountain House has been around long enough that they can afford to charge for their reputation. I suspect that are new upstarts around that offer better value but I don’t have enough experience with freeze dried foods to know who they are. The bottom line is that we have enough room in the yuppie budget to go with the safe bet.
If you don’t have power, you don’t have light. The flash light will not last forever. You can get all kinds of solar powered recharging systems and rechargeable lanterns to go along with them. Some people have alleged that such systems have more or less rendered candles obsolete for emergency purposes. But there are two problems with that idea. The first is that it is remains unproven that there is any battery that can be thrown into a closet for twenty years and still work when you pull it out. The second is that we have a budget to stay within. So candles are what this plan is going to rely on to provided emergency lighting.
But candles have problems of their own. Wax candles have been known to be targeted by rodents when kept insecurely in storage. They require trimming to keep them in good working order over the long term. And in generally, you need a lot of them because they don’t last all that long if you are looking at two weeks without light.
So for this plan we are going to rely on a type of candle called a liquid oil candle. In reality, these candles are more like the lamps of classical antiquity made with modern materials then they are a real candle. But most people only associate the word lamp with modern eclectic lamps or Coleman style storm lamps. Given those expectations, it is understandable that these would be labeled “candles” even though they are oil burning wicks in bottles.
Regardless of what you call them, these “candles” have a number of advantages over the more traditional kind. The biggest advantage for the purposes of our plan is that they last a lot longer than regular candles. Manufacture claims that they will last 115 hours for each candle. Other sources say that run time is highly optimistic and relies on you keeping the wick at a setting that provides minimal light. Regardless, nobody disputes that oil candles will last longer than a typical wax candle.
But the talk of variable nature of the oil candles run time brings us to another advantage of this type of candle. You can pull more of wick out to provide more light (this is limited by the wick’s ability to pull up oil and by how much extra wick you have in the bottle). So you can have some candles set up to provided maximum light that will use themselves up more quickly and others to serve as night light burning as little fuel as possible.
Another advantage of the candles is that if you keep them burning they eliminate the need for matches or lighters to light things. But with liquid candles you need something to transfer the flame to whatever you want to light because they are not suitable for lighting the things that need to be lit on this plan (the camp stove and the kerosene heater). That is why trick birthday candles have been added to the plan.
If you have the trick birthday candles, you can use them to transfer the flame from one of the oil “candles” to the camp stove or whatever else you are trying to light. Any kind of normal wax candle would work for this. But the rules of this plan say that it must be used by people with little to no hands on skills. It is possible you could have problems with a regular birth candle going out in a breeze or if you moved it too fast through the air. But in theory, a good trick candle should not have this problem as they are made to not go out.
This combo of the oil candles and trick party candles is why I feel comfortable with only 30 matches in this plan. In theory you should be able to go a long time without ever needing a match or lighter with this system. By the time this system fails you will have long since run out food, fuel, and most things you want to light.
Things to Consider: I really struggled over the candle choice. Growing up we used regular wax candles during power outages and I have no practical experience with the oil filled ones. Wax candles can take some trimming even with candles that are not supposed to need it (a hands on skill I don’t know that we can rely on our yuppies to perform) and they don’t last as long. So for these reason I reject them. But oil filled candles have one big flaw.
That big flaw is that oil tends to jell up in really cold weather. Oil that is jelled up (or maybe even in the process of jelling up) will not travel through the wick very effectively. If push comes to shove, I imagine the oil filled candles can be warmed up with body heat and hopefully in a sheltered area the heat from the candle and the four bodies that are around will keep the candle going. But not having a lot of experience with these I can only imagine how that will work.
If all utilities fail in the winter, it would be nice for our yuppies to be able to heat the house. But this is a trick to do with stuff that you can store in the space of a small closet as one of our rules dictates. In fact, if we are dealing with the absolutely coldest temperatures and we really have to go two weeks without resupply then it can’t be done. That is why this plan is set up so that heat is not strictly necessary.
But even if heat is not absolutely necessary for this plan, it would be foolish to forgo what heat can be created within the constraints of this plan. And there is no better compact heat producing implement then a Dyna-Glo Kerosene Heater. As long as you have fuel for it, it will keep your average house above freezing even in bitter weather. Besides being compact heater that puts out a lot of heat, this system also has the advantage of Kerosene being a very safe fuel to store. I would not store it in a closet (even though it would fit) but you can drop lighted matches in Kerosene all day long and it will not ignite. There are a very few commonly used fossil fuels that you can say that about.
The downside to kerosene is that it is also the most questionable part of this FEMA plan’s longevity (outside of the flashlight). People who go by manufactures written instructions will object that Kerosene does not store long enough to meet the rules of this exercise. All I can say in answer to that is that I have used Kerosene 10+ years old to run a Dyna-Glow heater that was used and abused. It ran fine with no evident issues for the time I needed it to run. And judging by the posts on this forum, I am not alone in that regard.
Based on my experience with using old diesel/fuel oil, I would guess the biggest problem with old fuel is the plugging of nozzles and filters due to stuff that grows in those fuels when exposed to moisture. Since the Dyna-Glow heater relies on a wick and not nozzle and I suspect that is why it tolerates old fuel so well. But honesty compels me to say that the manufacture of Dyna-Glow heaters is not as optimistic as I am about their heater’s ability to run on old kerosene.
From my perspective, the bigger problem is that 10 gallons of fuel will not last two weeks of really cold weather. And if the weather is that cold, you will want to make sure you reserve enough for your camp stove to melt the necessary water. In that case, our yuppies will have to drain the pipes and rely on their sleeping bags and their winter clothes to keep themselves from freezing to death.
Having said that, a Dyna-Glo Kerosene Heater can go between 4 to 6 hours on one gallon of fuel if you are running it flat out. So if our yuppies can get out of the mindset that heat is something you have to have all the time and instead look at heat as something they only need occasionally then they can stretch the fuel in this plan for a long ways. It is better to have the option to be able to provide some heat when needed for emergency medical care or while eating supper then to have no heat at all.
Things to Consider: As with a camp stove, an argument can be made for propane. But if you are feeding your heater off the same size canisters as you fed your barbecue then you could still have problems with cold weather robbing you of gas pressure as this link shows. And propane is just about the most dangerous fuel commonly used in residential settings. In my experience propane is far more likely to create CO problems (although nobody official seems to acknowledged this). Additionally, when propane leaks, it comes out as a gas that is readably ignitable and since it is heaver then air it tends to roll along the ground looking for something to ignite it instead of dissipating.
Such fears can be over sold. Propane is used by just about everyone for barbecuing even if they don’t use it for heating and explosions are rarely a problem. And many people use propane heaters for supplemental heat without having problems from low gas pressure or CO headaches.
But in this case I have to go with what I know. My strong tendency towards kerosene heaters come from my youth living in a very drafty old farmhouse. There were a couple of times when we lost power or the furnace broke down and only a Dyna-Glo Kerosene Heater running through the night kept the pipes from freezing. In the end, we all have a tendency trust most what we have already had experience with. I don’t have any experience making “emergency” propane heaters work when it counts so it is hard from me to trust them when I am aware of stories of them failing when it really counted (i.e. the weather was at its coldest).
A city’s water and sewer systems are its most reliable systems. So your average suburban person will experience power loss at some point in their lifetimes but many of them will have never experience a widespread failure of the water system. At most they might have experienced a boil water order or a brief loss of water due to a line break. But failures of water delivery system have happened. And one of the biggest issues in such a situation is the toilets.
Imagine that there has been a really bad ice storm and the streets are nothing but a tangled mess of iced over cars, down powers lines, and fallen trees. The high voltage towers that tie your city into the electrical grid have come crashing to the ground (this really happened in Canada in the recent past) so the power will not be restored anytime soon. You live up on a hill and the city has to pump water up nightly to a receiving basin that is even higher on your hill then you are in order for your development to have water. Normally these pumps have generators to back them up but either they ran out of fuel or they broke down. Regardless, you are not getting any water out of the pipes (I had this type of water supply failure happen at a facility where I was employed though not because of an ice storm so this is not entirely theoretical). The nearest source of water is half a mile away and you can’t drive there because the roads are blocked. All you have on hand is the water stored in your closet and what you can get out of your hot water heater. How much of that water are you going to use to flush toilets?
Of course you can walk the half mile with your two water containers to get the water. But if things are still icy or otherwise hazardous you are not going to want to do that unless you absolutely have to. And if you are a yuppie not used to physical labor, it is going to be tough just to get the water you need for drinking and eating and maybe washing up. Furthermore, digging scat trenches in the frozen wasteland in a suburban yard when you hope things will return to normal in a week or two is not an ideal solution even if our yuppies have the tools and strength to make it happen.
Speaking from personal experience, I know what people do in situations that are not nearly this bad. First they try holding it in. Then they start loading up the toilets and hope that water will be restored soon. You would be amazed at how much crap you can fit in a toilet before it is overflowing but you would also be amazed at how much crap people generate with only 48 hours without access to a working toilet.
There is a simple solution. You get a 5 gallon bucket potty system sold in most hunting and camping stores. You bag it up as you need to and you are good to go as long as you have bags. They make special bags to help control the odor and are supposed to be more sanitary. I honestly don’t think that the stuff that makes these bags “special” will last twenty years. But they will still be bags that hold crap after that time even if they don’t “control odor” or other such things.
Things to Consider: I don’t think there is too much to consider with this item. If you are cheap and handy you could probably rig something up by removing the seat from your existing toilet. But the total cost of the “Luggable Loo” at the time of this writing is $20. Is that really worth making something yourself?
Ironically, at almost $30 a box the bags are more expensive then the “Luggable Loo.” In actually, I suspect that all you would need is high grade contractor plastic bags which would be cheaper than the bags I selected for this plan. But I went with bags that were “meant” for human waste because I have no practical experience with this system.
Even though the rules of the exercise state that our theoretical “yuppies” don’t have “hands on skills” they are still going to need some tools. In an emergency you don’t know what is going to come up, so having some basic options is always a plus. And aside from the unknowns, there are some needs that are almost certain to come up in an emergency. For example, if you can’t keep the house heated in the winter, you are going to need to shut off the water and drain all the piping to keep them from freezing and bursting. And if you have to go looking for water without the benefit of a motor vehicle it sure would be nice to have the means to make hauling the water easier.
It is the need to haul the water that accounts for the hand truck on my list. We previously noted that would be highly unusual for someone in a suburban area in the northeast of the United States to be more than a mile from a source of water. The unspoken assumption is that even yuppies unused to physically labor could walk a mile for water if they really had to. But the trick is getting that water back to the house. If they are really weak and out of shape, they might struggle just to get the 5 gallon water containers that are part of this plan up a moderately steep creek bed.
That is where the hand truck comes in. A hand truck can make it a lot easier to move square loads like those presented by our square stackable water containers even if you have to pull the hand cart up a bank. And given that this particular model selected can transformer itself into a cart, you will have an even easier moving experience if you are on good sidewalks or roads. The fact that this model has hard tires instead of pneumatic tires makes moving the loads a little more difficult. But this is necessary because we don’t want the tires to be flat when it pulled out of storage.
It might seem kind of silly to buy a hand truck for “emergencies” just in case you need to haul water. But I am pretty sure that as long as our yuppies have the fitness level to walk to water, they will have enough fitness to walk back with 10 gallons of water loaded on the hand truck. And if you are going to prepare for the fact that yuppies might have to go out and get water by giving them a filtration unit and some containers then you might as well go all the way and give them a method to get the water back to their house. And once they have it, they are likely to find that they use the hand truck for all sorts of things in their normal life so even if they never have to use it to haul water it will not be money wasted.
The Channellock 10” pliers are for if our yuppies lose heat in the winter and decided they can’t keep the kerosene heater running. A lot of time the main water valve for the house is a gate vale that can be tough to shut with your bare hands. And sometimes the gate or globe valves that you need open to drain the system can be tough to move as well. We don’t want our theoretical yuppie family to be like all those people down in Texas who had all their pipes burst because they did not shut off and drain their plumbing system as soon as became clear they were not going to be able to heat their homes. Having a tool to make stubborn valves open or close is a key component of that.
And while we are on the subject of suburban vales, the most recent critical use of a Leatherman in my little world was to close a gate vale to stop water from pouring out of a burst pipe all over an administrative area. The pliers on the Leatherman are too small for this particular gate valve handle, but that did not stop the hero of this story from jamming the open pliers vertically into the holes on the gate valve handle and using the resulting V handle to provide enough leverage to shut the stuck valve. Now a Leatherman is not the tool I would recommend for tackling a stuck gate valve (that is why the 10” pliers are on this list), but they are the tool I would recommend if you don’t know what life is going throw at you and can’t carry around a tool box full of tools.
In the case of our theoretical yuppie family, we can’t rely on them to have basic tools around. And there is not much point in putting a lot of tools into the plan when they don’t have hands on skills. By putting a Leatherman wave on to our plan, we give them some options that they may need even at their limited skill level in a package that does not take up much space.
And last but not least we need a couple pairs of leather work gloves in the emergency tool kit. One of the goals of the plan is to enable our yuppie family to be part of the solution. Given that they don’t have any hands on skills, odds are the best way they are going to be part of the solution is be available as bull labor to either clean up damage or unload supplies. In either case, our yuppies are going to want gloves.
Things to Consider: I grouped all of these tools together because they could be argued about endlessly. When it comes to getting things done, there are a lot of ways of skinning a cat. For example, the idea of having a hand truck was inspired by World War II refugees transporting critical belonging in wheelbarrows. I look at various options that would best suit our yuppies needs and decided that all things considered a hand truck would be better for them to have around then a wheelbarrow if you had to choose. But that choice, as with all others could be argued.
For the channellocks I just went with what the big box stores had available in the size that I wanted. Many plumbers I know have strong feelings about which type is best but all I care about is that they give you the leverage to open or shut stuck gate and globe vales. There is always the risk that unskilled people will break things trying to use this but if it a choice between having your pipes freeze and burst or accidently breaking something with the pliers what do you have to lose?
The Leatherman selected could be argued on multiple fronts. Since this is part of an emergency kit you could argue that it would be better to select one of the largest Leathermans. On the other paw, you could argue for budget reasons that it would be better to get one of the other reputable multi tool brands that is not made in the US (and so is typically cheaper). The only thing I really feel strongly about is that there be some kind of multi tool in the kit. Otherwise, I went with the Wave because it was the cheapest Leatherman that was functional enough for the demands I thought it would have to meet and I stuck with Leatherman because I don’t have any experience with the other brands.
With gloves, the question is how fancy do you want to get. When I started out with this plan I was going to pick gloves that meet a certain cut and abrasion resistant standards. But I decided I was kidding myself if I thought yuppies were going to do anything that could not be safely handled by regular old leather working gloves.
This is likely the most controversial part of this FEMA plan. People who either don’t approve of firearms in general or are just not comfortable around firearms are obviously not going to approve. But even people who don’t have a problem with guns are going to question putting a firearm in this plan. After all, per the rules of the plan we can’t assume that our yuppies will practice with the shotgun more than once or twice before putting it in the closet and forgetting about it. How is it safe to give them a gun? And what can they do with it anyway?
Although concerns about safety might seem compelling given the inherent dangers of firearms, experience has shown that firearm safety is more a matter of attitude then it is of training. The rules should be taught to all gun owners and enforced on all firing lines. But the rules are pretty intuitive and are not hard to learn. Following them is more a matter of having the proper respect/fear of firearms then it is having any kind of special training. Where extra training is needed to be safe with a firearm, it is when specialized tasks are being done with a firearm that breaks or comes close to breaking the firearm safety rules ( for example, drawing a loaded pistol from a concealed appendix holster or holding someone at gun point while another officer searched the suspect). Outside such specialized tasks, people new to guns who know the safety rules are often safer and more careful then people who have grown comfortable around firearms (the most dangerous and irresponsible handling of a loaded shotgun that I ever personally witnessed was done by an off duty cop who grew up around guns and was a good shot).
The more pressing question is could our yuppie family do anything useful with a shotgun if the gun spent most of its time in a closet? The answer to this question revolves around how we define something useful. Is the ability to shred targets the size of a small red plastic drinking cup at fifteen yards something useful?
I have personally witnessed someone who had never fired a pump shot gun before shred three red plastic drinking cups fifteen yards away with the first three shots ever fired. Likely those will be the only shots that individual will ever fire from a shotgun as the recoil from the 12 Gauge was too much for this individual to desire to continue shooting. Nonetheless, if those red cups had been pigeons or snakes, they would have been dead notwithstanding the novice and reluctant nature of the shooter. Is the ability to kill pigeons or snakes useful?
A yuppies answer to this question when everything is working as it should is always going to be no. But if a situation comes up where there is no supply of food, water, or any working utilities, the odds that our yuppie family will feel the need to have a gun goes up considerably. So what type of gun do we get them for that situation?
The first requirement is that it is easy to use. What seems simple to a person with familiar with fire arms can be daunting to someone else. For example, when I was a young I needed to kill a raccoon as nobody else was around who could do it. At this time in my life I had only used a 10/22 once or twice before and it had been a few years in the past. As I lacked experience with the gun and it was the first time I had ever killed an animal with a firearm I was little nervous. Nerves plus lack of experience meant that at first I could not remember how to close the bolt. I figured it out in time and it was better for both myself and the raccoon that I did not have to resort to a hockey stick. But it drove home to me how even simple things can stop you from being able to use a firearm if you lack experience.
This is the reason that the firearm on this plan is a double barreled shotgun with a separate trigger for each barrel. A double barreled shotgun is as simple as it is possible for a firearm to get in terms of loading and firing. And since it is a shotgun, all that is required is looking down the barrel and lining the target up with the front bead. This is far simpler then the sight alignment that is necessary with the iron sights on other types of firearms.
This simplicity of a doubled barrel shotgun comes with a certain lack of capability compared to other types of firearms. But the greater capability of other types of firearms is of no use if novice short strokes a pump shotgun or can’t figure out how to load a rifle. And despite its lack of capability in some respects, a doubled barrel shotgun is capable of killing just about anything at short range, and that is the only range that novice shooters can hit anything at anyway.
Some of the lost capability comes from the fact that a 20 gauge shotgun has been selected as opposed to a 12 gauge. But the recoil of a 12 gauge is a real turn off for most people not already interested in guns. It is better to have a 20 gauge shotgun that are yuppies are not afraid to fire then to have a 12 gauge that triggers a filch at the mere thought of firing it.
The last part of this gun needs to be considered is the fact that it is going to spend at least 10 to 20 years sitting in a closet per the rules that govern this plan. That means we need to be able to store in safely (hence the case and the lock on the plan). But it also means we can’t be sure who will be the one actually using the gun if the time comes. The big man who imagines that he will always be the one to take care of problems might be a health wreck in twenty years. That is why we have specified a youth model.
The difference of a youth model (sometimes called a ladies model depending on the brand) and regular shotgun is the length of the pull. Since people with long arms can used a shorter length of pull easier than people with short arms can use gun with a longer length of pull, it is better to go with the shorter length of pull if you can’t be sure who will have to use the gun.
Things to Consider: There are lots of things to argue about on this item. Some might argue that it is cheaper to buy a decent pump shot gun then a double barreled shotgun and since a pump is more capable, why would you ever get double barreled shotgun? I think the risk of short stroking is too great for unskilled yuppies but I have to admit that I have not seen a lot of evidence of short stroking when novices are using pumps for the first time (but I have done it a time or two when I was learning and breaking in a new pump….).
Other people might argue that a 410 shotgun is better choice for unskilled yuppies then a 20 gauge shotgun. I personally think that you give up to much capability when you drop all the way down to 410. Having said that, I have to admit that odds are slim yuppies would ever need a 410 much less the greater capability offered by the 20 gauge.
And that is the real bone of contention around this group of items on this FEMA plan. How likely is it that a family living in a suburban environment would have a real need for a shotgun? But the point of this plan is to think about how people with disposable income could prepare for a disaster that would cause all supplies and utilities to be absent for two weeks. If you truly enter that frame of mind then the question becomes, can you imagine that our yuppie family would want to have a gun if supplies and utilities were down for two weeks? If the answer to that question is yes, then the time for them to get one is now, not when it starts to seem likely that they will need one.
There are a couple of things that I think should be part of an ideal suburban kit, but could not fit into the above list given the self imposed rules. For example, some kind of emergency radio would be a good pick. I would take the Midland E+Ready ER310 Emergency Crank Weather Alert Radio because it can charge your phone and you in turn can charge it with either a hand crank or sun light (if you are really patient). But it did not make the list because I don’t trust any battery to last 10 to 20 years in storage. I bent that rule for the flashlight because I figure that people will use a flashlight often enough to notice when it goes bad if it is readily accessible. In the case of the radio, I could not convince myself that people would use it often enough notice if it went bad so the odds are the radio would be placed into storage and then not work when it was needed.
Another honorable mention would a Pave n’ Trail bike. If you want to check on grandma but can’t get gas from your car or there is too much stuff on the roads to drive a full sized car, then a bike can get you there a lot easier then walking. Across Europe during World War II bikes became the default means of transportation as fuel was reserved for military reasons. If wide spread fuel shortages ever strike urban and suburban areas again, bikes are likely to be use for similar reasons. But if you just stick a bike somewhere for 20 years and don’t use it, the tires are likely to be flat and the bike unusable. Also, it takes a lot of space to store a bike. For these reasons I decided that there was no point having our theoretical yuppies order one just in case they might need one if they did not already have one.
Lastly, I thought about putting a Titan Solo Stove on the list. The advantage is that you can use pine cones and other such things to heat water so you would not have to worry about finding fuel even in a suburban environment. And unlike other stoves, it would never go bad in storage. But the entire plan is built around staying in the house or at the house as much possible. Given that, it did not seem like a solo stove was worth the cost for the capability it added. Having said that, the really paranoid part of me can’t help feeling that the Polaris Optifuel Stove should have been dropped from the plan and a large stove like Solo Stove Campfire should have been in the plan instead. What kept me from doing that was imagining the yuppies I know trying to find workable fuel for such a thing in a suburban area shut down by massive amounts of snow and ice. It could be done if you had some idea about how to make wet fuel work and the physically ability to put some effort in, but those are two things we can’t really rely on our yuppies to be able to do.
The Final Thoughts
The yuppie plan might seem expensive but when you compare it to the costs that many yuppies spend on other things “just in case” it does not seem as crazy.
For example, the major urban and suburban area near me recent experienced a power outage that lasted for 24 to 48 hours depending on the location. During this event, people cleared the stores of generators and were driving hours out of their way to get them. Those generators typically ranged in price anywhere from $2000 to $6000. Lots of people were suddenly willing to spend that kind of money for a power outage that everyone knew was going to be only a couple of day at most.
As a more mundane example, it can cost $700 for an install and around $50 a month in monitoring charges for an ADT home security system. In other words, it would only take six years of installing and running a run of the mill security system commonly found in yuppie homes to pay for this plan.
The point of these cost comparisons (and of looking up life insurance costs which is how I established the Yuppie budget to begin with) is not to establish the “reasonableness” of the plan. I am not looking to get in the business of convincing yuppies what they should do and I imagine the terms I use are not exactly conductive to that goal if I was. Rather, I want to establish a reasonable budget that could be used by a certain demographic group to solve a problem defined by FEMA. By looking at how to solve this problem for hypothetical people, I had hoped to gain some insight in how to address these problems myself.
But what I learned by doing that for the yuppies and the rural working class will have to wait until next time as this post is already way to long. Hopefully the next post will be the rural working class FEMA plan along with lessons learned from this creation process all rolled into one. However, while I know that the rural plan will be shorter then the yuppie plan because it has way less items, I can’t be sure how long the lessons learned is as I have not yet written it out. So there might be to more posts on this subject depending on the length of the lessons learned.