The Rural Working Class FEMA Plan

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.” Obviously, if food is not available for two weeks a lot has gone wrong with the world and you are likely to want more than just food. A discussion of what it might take to meet this requirement from a “yuppie” point of view was posted here. Originally that post was going to include a rural working poor plan as a kind of contrasting way of looking at the issue. That did not happen due to excessive length of the yuppie plan so in this post we will pick up where we left off.

The Rural Plan

The rural plan is constructed to the same general rules as was laid out in the yuppie post. In other words…

1: This plan is designed to enable a theoretical working rural poor family of four to remain functional and to be part of the solution in the event of an unexpected emergency lasting two weeks in the urban areas. 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 in urban areas.

3: All the stuff listed in this plan 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 this plan 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 this plan is that the theoretical family lives in the northeast and have to deal with weather and water resources typically for that region.

6: Budget for this plan is $800. It was figured on the grounds that seems to be roughly the amount that working class families I am familiar with spend on a “vacation” if they don’t have a lot of money but are gainfully employed.

Except for the budget, everything above is the same as the yuppie plan. But our assumptions about the nature of a theoretical rural working class family are going to be different then our assumptions about the yuppie family.

Assumptions: If you live in South Carolina and you are prepared for the impact of 4 inches of snow, you are prepared for a particular type of emergency situation that while possible will rarely happen. If you live in upstate New York and you are prepared for four inches of snow, you are simply competent to deal with everyday life. Same logic holds true for the difference between living in a rural area and a subdivision. In a rural area, a power outage that last for a few days is not out of ordinary even if it is not something that happens every year. On the other hand, if a subdivision loses power for a few days it is a big deal. It is for this reason that many rural people I know think that they are better prepared for a disaster then their yuppie counterparts. They heat with wood. They have a freezer full of food. They have guns and know how to hunt. They have been without electricity for awhile and it was no big deal. And so on and so forth.

But an emergency by definition is something that we don’t expect. Rural working poor are in general more prepared for utility interruptions because they expect them but that does not mean they are any better prepared for a true emergency. For example, we read this about the 1998 Quebec ice storm:

Many power lines broke and over 1,000 transmission towers collapsed in chain reactions under the weight of the ice, leaving more than 4 million people without electricity, most of them in southern Quebec, western New Brunswick and Eastern Ontario, some of them for an entire month.

Most of the urban areas had power back in days or at most a week. It was the rural areas that waited more than a month for power to be restored. So a disaster that means a yuppie needs a two week kit means that the rural person might be looking at a month or more of roughing it. That is why we define our two weeks in terms of urban centers being without for two weeks. It always takes longer for the rural areas to have services restored so if it is rational for suburban folks to be prepared for two weeks, the rural family should be prepared for longer.

Not only are rural areas last in line for any kind of help and relief, but disasters can have problems for rural areas that don’t even impact urban areas. For example, earthquakes can have a negative impacts on wells for weeks after the earthquake happened. You might think that earthquake related well issues can’t impact you because you don’t live in an area prone to earthquakes but consider this….

The 1998 M5.2 Pymatuning earthquake in northwestern Pennsylvania caused about 120 local household-supply wells to go dry within 3 months after the earthquake (Fleeger and others, 1999). The 2002 M7.9 Denali Fault earthquake in Alaska caused a 2-foot water-level rise in a well in Wisconsin, more than a thousand miles from the epicenter.

Now imagine a another New Madrid style earthquake that devastates America’s heartland and leads to all kinds of supply shortages as pipelines and highways critical to bringing supplies to the northeast are disrupted. Your house is standing and you are well outside the areas impacted by major shaking but somehow your well was still impacted. How fast is someone going to fix your well when the rest of the world is having trouble getting gasoline because the pipelines that transport it are out of commission?

These types of scenarios are not very likely. But the entire point of an emergency kit is to prepare for the unlikely but possible. If something is truly likely, you should spend a lot more time an effort preparing for it than is envisioned by this kit.

So for this list, our assumptions are going to be a little different than they were for the Yuppie list. We are going to assume that our rural working class family of four is prepared for normal run of the mill power outages. We will assume they are used to working with their hands and solving problems. We will also assume that they have all the normal tools to solve normal rural problems such as chainsaws and firearms. We will take it for granted that they heat with wood and have clothing appropriate for their climate. In short, we will assume they all ready for likely problems that come along in a rural environment.

Since we assume that the rural family is already equipped for likely rural problems, we are going to set up the kit augment what a rural household typically already has. We will build this kit with the assumption that anything that causes urban areas to go two weeks without resupply will be that much worse in the rural areas. Since this is a shelter in place kit, we will assume that that the house remains standing and the wood stoves is still working but other then that, we are not going to assume that any of the modern appliances found in a rural home will actual work.

The Question: What can you get for $800 dollars that will expand a rural working class family of four’s ability to deal with serious systematic disasters not normal to rural life? My list is as follows…..


For all that rural working class like to think they are better prepared to handle things then their yuppie cousins, they rarely seem to have much in the way of serious first aid supplies. This is ironic because the working class blue collar folks are a lot more likely to experience really bad injuries as part of their normal activities.

I know a lot of yuppies and lot of blue collar workers. Amongst the yuppies I know, I am unaware of any serious injury that they have experienced that I can think of off the top of my head. Amongst the blue collar guys I know, I know guys who have had digits cut (or in one case, torn) off, scars from chain saws cutting them open, and lots of stuff that had to be dug out of their eyes for lack of wearing proper eye protection. Given how common it is for working blue collar types to injure themselves, they really should be better prepared.

Part of the reason they are not goes back to the old familiarity breeds contempt type issue. Having seen more blood than your average yuppie, blue collar folks are typically more relaxed about whipping up ad hock bleed stopping fixes out of things like electrical tape and paper towels. But while I have seen these things work first hand for moderate injuries (not saying they are recommended), I am pretty sure that if anything really bad went down even the most blasé backyard medic would want things like a proper tourniquet or chest seals.

That is why even for the rural working class kit I am throwing some scarce dollars at a first aid kit. But instead of going for a kit that tries to cover everything like the Yuppie first aid kit does, we are instead looking at a much cheaper kit that is solely focused on stopping serious bleeding.

I am going with the intermediate kit because I think the chest seals are important thing to have for worst case scenarios (gun shots wounds amongst other things). I am avoiding the advanced kit because while haemostatic dressing is a good thing to have, it adds a lot of cost and we only have $800 to work with on

Things To Consider: I am by no means an expert on things medical, but I don’t doubt some kind of provision for serious medical issues should be made if you are going to spend any kind of money at all on preparedness. In fact, given that medical stuff is more likely thing to be needed on this list, you could argue that I should not have cheaped out on this as much as I did. On the other hand, how much medical equipment should you invest in if you don’t have a lot of medical skills?

GobSpark Armageddon and Palm Scraper

Rural preparedness and survival in the northeast depends on fire. Almost everything on this list outside of the first aid kit assumes that a fire can be made. In any kind of normal situation, this should be no big deal. If there is anything a typical rural household is prepared to do, it is to create a fire. The ability to light fires is necessary for a rural household on an everyday basis to start up the wood stove, start up the barbecue, or even to light a bonfire for a party. So we can take it for granted that a rural household will have the ability to start a fire in any normal situation.

But being prepared for a normal situation is not the same thing as being prepared for emergency situations. Since almost everything on this plan depends on the ability to create a fire, we need the rural household to be able to create a fire no matter how bad or how long supply disruptions last. Short of teaching everyone how to make a friction fire, the best way to insure a fire “no matter what” is a good quality ferro rod. If for some reason supplies stop coming for months or more and all other means of making fire have been used up, a ferro rod will still be working.

Like everything else in life, ferro rods are not all made equal. The bigger the ferro rod (within reason) the easier it is to start a fire. In spite of this, most ferro rods are quite small as they are designed to be low weight and easy carry rather than functional. To a certain extent, this makes sense as they are aimed at people who will carry them backpacking but likely never use them. But since this is a home based kit and weight is not an issue, we will focus on getting the largest and most functional one that we can find. For me, this was Gobspark Armageddon.

Things to Consider: The best arguments against having a ferro rod is that it is extremely unlikely to ever be needed if the household is even moderately well equipped to start fires the normal way. Moreover, a ferro rod is harder to use then a lighter. It takes some knowledge about how to prepare tinder to catch the spark and how to build that spark into a bigger fire. So an argument could be made that a ferro rod requires too much skill to be used by anyone who lacks good bush craft skills and is unlikely to be used in any case. So why use the scare dollars in this plan to get one?

I understand that line of argument, but I don’t agree with it. Even a good quality ferro rod does not cost much and does not go bad so I think it is very cheap insurance for something that the rest of this plan depends on. And while it takes some skill to get a fire with a ferro rod, I am pretty sure that anyone with a basic understanding of fire could get one to work given sometime. And we should remember that we are not talking about trying to make fire out in wilderness while we are almost dead of hypothermia. Instead, we are talking about making a fire while sheltering in place in our home after the lighters don’t work and we are out of matches because the stores are still out of everything. So I don’t think the “skill needed” argument has much weight either.

Two 5 Gallon Pails Of Rice, One 5 Gallon Pail Of Beans, #10 Can Of Salt

A two five gallon pails of rice and one five gallon pail of beans will provide a family of four with more calories than the Mountain House kits on the yuppie plan and it is also far cheaper. If they are properly packaged with oxygen absorbers and impermeable packaging, the rice and beans will last just as long as the freeze dried food will.

The down side is that the rice and beans will not be as well balanced or tasty as the Mountain House. However, beans and rice can keep you alive all by themselves for a very long time. This is particularly true if you have salt to add to them which is why a can of food grade salt is part of this kit.

Another downside is that the yuppie plan pre-cooked freeze dried meals can be eaten without heating them but beans and to a less extent rice need to be cooked for their nutrients to readily accessible. But if you don’t have a lot of money and you do have a working wood stove, rice, beans, and little salt will give you lot more bang for your buck.

You could make that buck stretch even further if you did the packaging yourself, but for just three buckets and a can of salt I would buy it prepackaged from a reputable place.

Things to Consider: White rice has calories but not much in the way of nutrition. Brown rice is much better from a nutritional stand point but you can’t store brown rice for the long term because of the free fatty acids that go bad. Hard Wheat is much better then rice from a total nutrition standpoint and technically it can be cooked the same way rice can. But most people will not really know what to do with wheat in its grain form and there is no money in this budget for a hand mill. That is why we are going with rice on this plan.

A more salient point is that I have made a big deal about how two weeks of disruption in urban areas is going to be much longer in a rural area and yet two buckets of rice and a bucket of beans is only two weeks of food for a family of four if they are all eating normal adult diets. But I figure that most rural homes have freezers full of meat from hunting and what not and so I imagine that this would be supplemented by other things. Also, if you only ate as many calories as is allowed in the yuppie plan these buckets of food would go a lot farther than two weeks. That said, if you can find the money another two weeks worth of food would be a cheap improvement on this plan.

Outfitter Series Cast Iron Camp Oven 7.5 QT

If you have to cook over wood heat, cast iron works a lot better than thin wall pots most commonly used in the kitchen. And since there is no provision for water filtering in this plan, the only way to make water safe is by boiling it. Put both of these things together and having a large cast iron pot with a lid is a useful and possibly critical part of this plan.

A regular old thin walled stock pot would be perfectly fine at boiling water as long as it was not allowed to go dry, but if you try to cook a mess of beans or a decent amount of rice in it you run the risk of burning the food close to thin wall before the stuff in the center ever cooks.

Now a family of four might not need a two gallon pot to cook food in, but due to ever smaller families you can’t rely on even a rural house hold having big enough pot to boil effective amounts of water in it. So having a two gallon cast iron pot in the plan enables better cooking over wood heat should that be necessary and make boiling large amounts of water in order to render it safe easy as well.

Things to consider: Given that my experience with rural working class is primary centered working with them in typical male dominated sittings, I am not really sure how common it is these days to have big stock pots in the kitchen in rural kitchens. If you already had big stock pots for boiling water and making it safe, then you could get a much smaller cast iron pan for cooking the rice and beans and save some money. Only disadvantage of this plan is that if our rural family wanted to boil water over an open fire outside (say it was summer and the desire was to avoid heating up the house) your stock pots would not look very pretty after you were done.

SDS Liquid Oil Candles 6 pack

The logic behind having candles is no different than it was for the yuppie plan so I am not going to rehash that here. The main difference from the yuppie plan is that to save money we are only looking at one packet of candles and no trick candles to save on matches. Since we are assuming a working wood stove and have put in a ferro rod as worst case scenario, we are not worried about extending the life of our fire starters.

Since the rural areas are likely to be without power for far longer than urban areas and we have cut down on the number of candles, than by extension they will have to be husbanded much more carefully. But when the budget is only 800 bucks some corners have to be cut and emergency lighting seemed to be one of the better places to do it.

Things to Consider: All the issues from the yuppie plan still apply. One thing to think about if you are really tight on money is that our rural family could make your own emergency candles. However, I am not sure how much money that really saves and how functional they really are.

21 Bricks, 4 pavers, and TIMESETL 304 Stainless Steel Woven Wire 5 Mesh.

Let us say that our rural family lives through a Carrington type event in late August (the historical The Carrington Event happened first two days of September). Let us say this event blows up transformers all over the northern hemisphere. Power is not going to come on anytime soon and your pump does not work. Do you really want to be using up firewood that you will need for the winter to make water that you get from the nearby creek safe to drink? Do you really want to heat up the entire house in August every time you want to make meal?

Assuming our theoretical family can’t get propane or other fuels, the best solution is a rocket stove. You can easily use a rocket stove to cook simple meals like beans or rice, boil water, or really anything that you can do over a regular propane cookstove. There are even people who can on a rocket stove. You can find instructions and videos for making a rocket stove all over the internet.

If our family had enough time on their hands, they could probably make one out of rocks, but it would be more difficult and the instructions to make one typically assume that you have brick. Having said that, when I see videos of people making a rocket stove without the “proper” materials the hardest thing to fabricate out of found materials seems to be the mesh. But then again, there are designs that don’t require mesh at all.

One thing that I have seen people do that makes me nervous is that they use galvanized wire as that can be easily found. But when you heat up galvanized metal it releases stuff that is not good for you. I am not sure how much that matters at the heats we are talking about (particularly if you are using a pot and don’t breath the smoke) but I would make the effort to use non-galvanized wire mesh.

Things to Consider: The cost of materials for a rocket stove even if brought brand new is very small. But by the same token, it could be argued that you can make a “good enough” rocket stove with found materials if things ever got bad enough that you needed one. Maybe just have some mesh on hand and call it good. But given the small cost of having the “right” materials I decided to put everything needed on the plan.

Katanaboy 20 in. Folding Saw

If our rural family needs fire, they need a way to get wood to burn. If you have a wood stove, you have a chainsaw already. But the thing about chainsaws is that they need fuel and they love to break down. So a rural plan that depends on fire should have a way of getting wood if worst comes to worst that does not depend on a chainsaw for the same reason that we have a ferro rod on the plan.

Most people will think of an ax. But an ax is dangerous and hard to use for those who are not used to using it. Even if used competently, it takes more energy and wastes more wood then a saw when you get to the bucking up phase of making firewood (we are assuming that our rural family already has a splitting maul due to having a wood stove). For this reason, a hand powered saw is the best option for emergency firewood creation.

The Kantanaboy 20 in folding saw is probably the best one person saw to get firewood on. What sets it apart from other saws is its sharpness and the length of time it stays sharp when used. It has been used by a number of contestants on “alone” just because it makes gathering firewood much easier compared to other human powered methods in adverse situations.

Things to Consider: The case for the ax could be argued more. If you use it improperly, the Katanaboy saw can be broken when it bids up in the wood. And if it breaks, it becomes unusable. Also, almost everyone lacks the tools and ability to sharpen the Katanaboy and while Silky brand folding saws (of which Katanaboy is the biggest) are famous for how long they stay sharp, they will go dull eventually.

On the other hand, an ax head is almost unbreakable. If you break the handle and are handy, you could theoretically carve a new one. And an ax head is pretty even to sharpen. And I was using an ax to cut down small trees as a young teen with no training so it is not like it takes a rocket scientist to use one.

But having said all that, I still think that a saw is the best bet if you can only have one tool (in part because I do have experience using an ax) because bucking up fire wood with an ax is a real chore where as a saw can take down and buck up small trees with ease. So given the budget for this plan, I choose the saw. But if you have a little extra money, it can’t hurt to have an ax and a saw.

2 Water Storage Drum – N014 – Square Blue 5 gal

If the well pump does not work, but our rural family can still drive their vehicle to a nearby water source, how would they transport water? If they have to go a 300 yards through a field and some brush with wheel barrow, how are they going to keep it from spilling all over the place? One common theme in widespread natural disasters is the need to travel to get clean drinking water. As a recent example, people in Puerto Rico were having to haul water back to their homes a month after the most recent hurricane came through.

We take it for granted that clean water will come out the tap when we need it so we are not prepared to transport water if that should be needed. But for most of human history and much of the third world, the need to transport water is still a fact of life. And if the stuff of modern first world life breaks down the need will be there again to transport and store water. For that reason, there are two water storage drums on this plan just like on the yuppie plan.

Things to Consider: Given the constraints of the budget, you could argue the same thing could be achieved with five gallons buckets with lids. And while that may be true, I am not sure the savings are worth the aggravation of trying to pour out a full five gallon bucket or worrying about the lid coming off when you throw it into the back of a car. Also, I don’t know how much cheaper two food grade five gallon buckets and with good lids would really be. From the sources I am familiar with, if you only bought two buckets with lids that were food grade you would not save much over getting dedicated water drums. Of course, 5 gallon pails could be used for more things but then would you really want to use them as water?

Honorable Mentions

When you have only 800 dollars to spend, there are lot of things that have to be left off or cut down in numbers. Just as with the Yuppie plan, I think the biggest thing that would be missed is some way to stay informed about the outside world that did not depend on electricity or the internet. For this reason, some kind of emergency radio or a way to power a normal radio would be a really good addition to the plan. But as with the Yuppie plan, I am just not sure those emergency radios will really still work after sitting in a closet for twenty years.

Another thing I considered is that effective water filters are cheap and I think would make life a lot easier than having to boil all water. But since the budget was only $800 I had to limit the items on this list to things that were critical and had no easy workarounds. The same logic caused me to drop bucket toilet that I had on the Yuppie plan even though I think it is cheap and useful.

Honestly, if I was as budget constrained as this plan envisions the main things I would try to scrape up the cash to add would be more food and some kind of radio. In most accounts of widespread disasters, whether in this country or another, the one widespread constant was dependence on the radio for any kind of information on what was going on. And of course the logic of outages lasting longer in rural areas then urban areas logically calls for more food then is on this plan.

So What Was The Point?

Neither the yuppie plan nor the rural plan address my needs for my situation. And I am not knowledgeable enough to put forth my ideas as having any kind of value for others. The primary goal in formatting these plans was to sharpen my own thinking about my own situation. I find that it is easier to figure out what other people to do then it is figure out what I should do. Also, I find that it is easier to start simple and build to complex when thinking about things and both scenarios are much simpler then my own situation.

Having said the above, I did not really think I was going to lean much by going through this exercise. My general thought was that it would be an exercise in prioritization that would help sharpen my own priorities. But in the process putting together theoretical plans for other people, I did discover some significant gaps in my own thoughts on the matter. One of the most significant gaps concerned the central cornerstone of this plan. Namely making fire.

Now I had devoted some thought to how I would get firewood in the absence of working chainsaws and thought I had a pretty good handle on the various issues involved. But I had been taking it for granted the ability to start a fire. My family starts fires and lights gas burners all the time. It was not something I really thought about the need to prepare to do in case of an extended emergency.

It was not until I was thinking through what a bunch of incompetent yuppies would need to start fires that I really started to think about that in regards to my own situation. I realized that at the time we had about three lighters total in the house. And all of those lighters had to cross an ocean to get to us. That seemed like a week reed to base an assumption that I could always start a fire if needed on.

Now three lighters will last longer than two weeks and I am pretty sure that given enough time I could start a fire without a lighter. You can short out a battery. Figure out some way of focusing the sun (not that I see the sun much in my neck of the woods). Mix chemicals that generate heat. Or even figure out some way of using friction. But all of those methods would be a lot of stress and bother. And they would require that I obsess over the fire to make sure it never went out because restarting it would be such a pain (the pain of starting a fire from scratch is why the iceman was likely carrying live coals with him when he was killed). Given that I was stockpiling food for fear that there would be significant supply chain disruptions, it seemed silly that I was not spending what amounts to pocket change for things like a ferro rod or a small stockpile of matches.

Another blind spot was lighting. When I was young, we had few meals by candle light because the power was out. And that was cool and all but when I got older I focused more on making sure the power did not go out. Now my house has a transfer switch and a generator that runs off of propane. But even assuming that the generator always works when needed (and in my professional life I have to deal with lots of generators who choose the wrong time to stop working) it still is only good for about a week without resupply. I was very aware of this problem long before I started working on these plans. But the focus of my thoughts was more to how to get water without a well pump and what to do with food in the freezer. Lighting was really on my radar.

Honestly, I am still not sure what the best way to deal with that problem is. I need to experiment more as I really don’t have experience with the type of candle that my plan calls for. I need to try them out and see how well they really work in various situations (and how much light they really provide).

There are various other issues I came across while working through these plans. What they all had in common was that they were issues that could be solved pretty cheaply but that I was overlooking because they did not play into major concerns that I had. And this plays in what I have noticed when I read accounts of people who lived through various natural and manmade disasters. It is often simple and cheap tools that made a huge difference to people in those situations.

So if there is any value to these types of plans, I think it is in thinking systematically about what the problems that would be faced are and how they might be overcome. And maybe it did help to see those issues more clearly by stepping outside of my own situation and considering what others might have to face (or have faced). Obviously, this is one question you can never know the answer for sure. Or at least, if you do learn the answer to that question, it will be too late to change anything. But on a purely intellectual level, I found it enjoyable and hopefully others did as well.

One thought on “The Rural Working Class FEMA Plan

  1. One thing I often think about is how it would be nice to have an oven. Obviously, worst case scenario, you can bake bread directly over coals, and we probably wouldn’t have the yeast for anything other than flatbread, anyway. But in my imagination, it would be nice to have a nice, woodheated oven…. Even if it was just a fairly short power outage, where running out of food wasn’t a concern, if the generator stopped working, we wouldn’t be able to bake anything. But baking things isn’t a survival necessity, it’s just nice to have. You can live without brownies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *