Prepping for Beginners: How to Survive an Emergency

Do you want to be prepared for an emergency, but you are questioning your sanity? Are you trying to prep, but you just aren’t sure where to start?

Prepping for beginners is intended to walk you through the basics, providing sound and well-researched expert advice. When you are done reading this guide, you will be ready to handle crises arising in the modern world.

Some emergencies for our time include the following:

  • Sudden job loss
  • Home invasion
  • Vehicle accidents
  • Power outages for several days/weeks
  • Long-term economic decline
  • Long-term social decline
  • Natural disasters
  • Global pandemic

If any of these scenarios worry you, it is crucial that you start preparing right now. If you wait until you are compelled to act by outside circumstances, it may already be too late.

You Are Not Alone

A 2018 YouGov survey showed that as many as 41% of Americans would be unprepared in the event of a natural disaster.

Fortunately, the percentage of unprepared individuals is headed down. On the other hand, the frequency of natural and man-made disasters has increased globally, necessitating increased vigilance.

People are realizing that in this ever-changing world, we cannot always count on others to save us.

Why Emergency Prepping Is Unpopular

There are two major reasons why prepping is shunned.

Human Nature

People tend to believe that disasters could never happen to them. This is attributed to behavioral tendencies such as the normalcy bias and the ostrich effect. People who believe this have no reason to prepare for a crisis.

Beyond a certain limit, normalcy bias poses a serious threat to life and property.

The Media

The year 2001 saw the beginning of the zombie film revival. In 2002, zombie fever spread the world over successfully up until 2015. And yet, despite the decade-long popularity of these zombie movies, preparing for disasters has become frowned upon.

To make matters worse, Doomsday Preppers made a debut on National Geographic. The documentary showcased people who have measures in place to survive tragedy and end-of-the-world scenarios.

The reality show focused on eccentric personalities who had extreme prepping ideas. Regular people who store a first aid kit or extra water and non-perishable food are not shown.

The last group of people who have given a bad name to prepping are prepping blogs and YouTube channels. A lot of them have replaced rational preparation with extremism and reckless misinformation.

Both real and scripted shows contribute to prepping being regarded as unrealistic and a waste of money. At worst, it has been associated with mental illness.

Why You Should Prepare

In reality, many of the situations that the Doomsday Preppers prepare for could happen. Admittedly, some are less likely than others.

The world has even experienced some of them recently. Here are the situations to be ready for:

  • Worldwide pandemic
  • Massive earthquakes
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Financial collapse
  • Volcanic eruptions

Regardless of the emergency scenario you are planning for, keep going – there is nothing to be ashamed of.

The point of prep is to minimize the occurrence of major life disruptions, and to better your chances of recovering when disturbances occur.

You may not realize it, but even that fire extinguisher in the hallway is prepping! A large part of being ready does not even come close to building bunkers and buying bullets.

How to Prepare for Emergency

1. Prepare Your Mindset

The right mindset is key to successful prepping and survival. This means that you no longer deny your vulnerability to disasters.

You must be determined to move swiftly when you are confronted with a catastrophe. When you know what to do and act quickly on that knowledge, you can survive.

To get to this level, research and plan on:

  • Your vulnerabilities to certain natural catastrophes and man-made mishaps.
  • A plan that involves a way to communicate with your family, where to meet, where you can move to, and how to get there.
  • Practice and learn new survival skills such as creating a shelter, lighting a fire, and meal prep without utilities.
  • Carry out disaster drills for everyone to learn what they are supposed to do.

2. Store Safe Water

Safe water for drinking is the most important component of a supplies list. You can never store too much water.

  • At the very least, you need at least three liters per person per day. This amount excludes the water needed for washing up.
  • Purchasing bottled water is easier if you have the means. Alternatively, fill clean, sealable plastic and glass containers with tap water.
  • Purchase water filters or purifying tablets to make the water safe to drink.
  • You can also collect rainwater into storage tanks.

Finding and purifying water is a life-saving skill to acquire.

3. Pack Plenty of Food

A reserve of food needs space and finances, but you can shop during sales when prices are heavily discounted.

As you buy food, keep it stored in a cool and dry location.

You do not have to grow your pile in one day. Start with modest, achievable goals such as a stock of three days’ worth of non-perishable food.

It is safe to buy two cans of food per person per day. Keep working to store food that can last up to six weeks or twelve weeks. Canned Food Alliance has all the essential information on canned foods you must learn.

Note: Exchange your stockpiled cans of food every 5 years.

4. Be Ready for Defense

In the case of natural disasters, communities have often come together to help each other out.

However, in times of social and political upheavals, neighbors and friends have turned against each other. You cannot always predict how the members of your community or city will respond in a crisis.

This is uncomfortable to think about, but there may be a need to defend your family and supplies. Defense involves the possibility of acquiring a weapon and a means to secure your home from intrusion.

Invest in a biometric safe if you choose to have a gun and ammo in a family with children. Take classes on how to use and maintain your weapon of choice.

Home Emergency Prep Summary Checklist

  • Water: Store 15 gallons of drinking water per person (1 gallon per day and have ways to treat suspect water).
  • Food: Minimum 23,000 calories per person, or 1500 calories per day of non-perishable and long-lasting food that is ready to go or only needs boiling water.
  • Shelter: A tarpaulin that you can get from your local store, or tents.
  • Fire: Lighters, matches, and fire starters.
  • Lighting: Flashlights, candles, lanterns, headlamps.
  • Hygiene: Camping soap, wet wipes, sanitizer.
  • Communication: NOAA one-way radio or the two-way ham radio.
  • Power: Solar-powered rechargers, hand generator, and other renewable power sources.
  • Cash: As much as you can stash.
  • Important documents: Digital and physical copies of insurance policies, birth certificates, title deeds, pictures of family members, and maps.
  • Emergency contacts: Important numbers such as local police, emergency medical, shelters. Familiarize yourself with the shortest route to the closest hospital.
  • Tools: Shovel, wrench, axe, work gloves, duct tapes, etc.
  • Defense: This is entirely up to you. May include firearms, stun guns, pepper sprays.
  • Mental health: Emergencies are stressful. Pack things to keep you and your loved ones entertained: headphones, board games, downloaded movies, and books.

Note: If you wish to swap your food stash, donate what you don’t need to your local feeding program.

Prepping Based On Your Risks

When you ask preppers how to begin preparing, the most common reply is, “What are you preparing for?”

Once you establish that, it is easier to tailor plans and supplies specifically for that scenario. This way, you do not stray into end-of-the-world fantasies.

However, the basic prepping checklist remains similar for 98% of disaster situations and individuals. Once you get past the essentials, you can start customizing the list based on your needs.

For example, say you are preparing for a tropical cyclone. You make a plan to reinforce the storm shutters. All the essential stocks like two weeks’ supply of food, water, and an exit bag (go-bag) remain the same.

Prepping with the Pareto Principle and Maslow’s Hierarchy

The Pareto Principle or the 80-20 rule states that most things in life are not distributed evenly.

  • In disaster preparedness, it means that 20% of the prep (the basics) gets you 80% of the way through the event. This guide covers 20% of the prep.
  • To go from 80% prepared to 100% prepared calls for significantly more financial investment and effort.

Maslow’s Hierarchy, on the other hand, states that human needs can be organized into a hierarchy. The five categories of needs in order of importance are:

  1. Physiological (air, water, food, shelter)
  2. Safety
  3. Love
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-actualization

Once you have covered your physiological needs, you can think of the next category and so on.

The Rule of Threes

The Rule of Threes for survival states that:

  • You can survive for three minutes without oxygen
  • You can survive three hours of exposure in a harsh environment
  • You can survive for three days without water in a regular environment
  • You can survive for three weeks without food (but with access to water and shelter)

These principles and rules are meant to guide prep and keep you focused.

Building Bug-Out Bags

A bug-out bag is essentially an emergency kit. You will be okay if it is the only thing you have or prepare.

  • It is crucial because of the unpredictable nature of crises. You may have only a few seconds to evacuate your home.
  • A bug-out pack may also give you the advantage to beat the traffic or flee to safety.

This is the reason why the primary part of the prep is having one bag that is always ready to use. These bags are made to be portable on foot. You cannot assume that you will have vehicle transport.

A basic go-bag weighs 20 pounds on average. It should contain the following:

  • 1-liter drinking water in a hard container
  • First aid kit
  • Collapsible pouches/canteens
  • Ready to eat food
  • 2 lighters
  • Tinder
  • Field knife
  • Headlamp
  • Tarp
  • Digital (USB drive) and physical documents
  • Paper and pen (waterproof)
  • Toilet paper
  • Nail clipper
  • Camp soap
  • Base layer 
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Pants
  • Hat
  • Outer shell jacket
  • Shemagh/bandana
  • Cash
  • Battery pack Li-Ion
  • Respirator
  • USB cable and plug
  • One/two-way radio
  • Walter filter/purification tablets
  • 2 contractor trash bags
  • 20L dry bag
  • 5 gallon Ziploc bags

Having a bug-out bag on the ready can mean the difference between life and death, or at least the difference between a smooth transition and a lot of pain.

Prepping For Emergency Away From Home

An emergency can strike while we are going about our errands away from home. Since we cannot carry a 20-pound bag around with us every day, we must work around this problem.

Outside the home, you can keep some supplies in places that fit into your daily life patterns. This may include work, school, or business trips.

For modern societies, alternative supplies may mean any or combination of the following.

Get Home Bag (GHB)

This is a pack of supplies for when the nature of a crisis dictates that you should not or cannot get home.

Get home bags can be stored in the vehicle trunk, office, or wherever it can be safe and near you for most of a typical day.

For example, say you cannot make it home during a snowstorm. Having a GHB within your reach means a comfortable night in your car or office.

The GHB and bug-out bags (BOBs) are similar in many ways. Use the BOB checklist to customize your Get Home Bag.

Crucial differences between a bug-out bag and GHB include:

  • Car trunks can heat up to 100-150 degrees Fahrenheit. Be careful not to pack foods and medicine that melt at those temperatures. Fill water containers ¾ of the way to make room for expansion by freezing in colder climates.
  • Most countries have strict weapon ownership laws. Keeping one in the BOB at home might be legal. Keeping one in your GHB outside the home may not be legal.

Everyday Carry List

There are also items that you have on your body, purse, or backpack on a daily basis.

Every day carry (EDC) items are with you all the time, so they must be light and compact.

EDC items comprise the following:

  • “In Case of Emergency” laminated details
  • Cash and credits cards in secret compartments
  • Smartphone with offline maps and other useful apps
  • Self-defense weapons
  • Boo-boo kit
  • Respirator
  • Rechargeable batteries
  • Paracord
  • Flashlight
  • Lighter
  • Pocket knife
  • Multi-tool
  • Splash-proof notepad and pens

Vehicle Supplies

You may be keeping a GHB in your trunk, but these additional vehicle supplies are for vehicle problems.

Basic roadside emergency gear is kept in the car since it is unlikely that you will need to carry it on foot. Common roadside emergency gear includes:

  • Maps
  • Jumper cables
  • Jumpstart battery
  • Tow straps
  • Spare tire
  • Jack
  • Tire wrench
  • Tire repair kit
  • Road flares
  • Window breaker
  • Seatbelt cutter
  • Mylar blankets
  • Normal blanket/extra coat
  • Windshield de-icing fluid
  • Windshield scraper
  • Individual first aid kit (IFAK)
  • “In case of emergency” information in the glove compartment/console
  • Plug to transform the cigarette lighter into a USB charger
  • Sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, and other sun protection
  • Entrenching tool/shovel
  • Sand/cat litter or other spreading traction material
  • Traction board
  • Potable water

You Have The Survival Gear – Now What?

According to survival experts, great preparation is a mix of equipment, skills, planning, and practice.

This means you are not really prepared if you simply purchase the necessary supplies and then lock it away.

  • No one wants to be caught in an emergency situation where their life depends on the equipment they have never used before. Even if it looks simple to operate, few people are rational under duress.
  • There is survival gear that malfunctions the moment you need it. So test everything before you trust your gear in the field.
  • Schedule annual or semi-annual reviews of your prep supplies. Update the expired, swap clothes in the go-bag according to the season, check and update contact information.

Preparing for 3 Days Sustenance vs 2 Weeks

Government agencies’ preparedness guidelines normally encourage having supplies that will last up to 72 hours.

Although surviving for three days is better than not having anything at all, modern guidelines recommend being prepared for two weeks minimum.

Emergency responders, systems, and local supplies get overwhelmed in hours. This has happened during hurricanes, wildfires, or even localized earthquakes. People in those situations stayed without basic services for weeks.

The politics of budgeting for disaster response has made things worse. On average, it takes at least a week to coordinate outside relief resources to help during a localized disaster.

Build up your home to be self-reliant for two weeks. Home is usually the best place to go through a crisis. It is also where governments advise people to stay, especially during a pandemic.

Common Beginner Prep Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

  • Buying a store-made survival kit is a bad investment 98% of the time. Instead, build up your kit from scratch.
  • It is impossible to predict when emergencies will occur. Always be ready.
  • If a similar crisis has happened before, do your research and due diligence to avoid assumptions.
  • Let your preparation be grounded in reality and practicality. This is not the time to be guided by a zombie apocalypse prep routine.
  • Prepping should not be overwhelming. Simple is better. Don’t spend your life savings on survival preparedness.
  • Ignore extremism among preppers, as well as criticisms and shaming.
  • Go the extra mile and connect with other preppers on community forums and sign up for some new skills.
  • When prepping on a budget, it is better to end up with fewer, high-quality pieces of gear than a lot of cheap stuff that will fail when you need them.
  • You can be prepared without money. Go the DIY route and make second-hand purchases where necessary.
  • Do not spend money on supplies or gear beyond the bare essentials without first having financial prep in place, such as rainy day funds or even a retirement plan.
  • Avoid the temptation to use your emergency stock for any other purpose. Even if you intend to replenish, you may forget, or be held up. During that time, an emergency may strike and you’ll be unprepared.
  • Practice with your survival gear as much as you can. Go through your emergency plan until you are familiar with every step.
  • Grab the bug-out bag when you leave your home during an emergency. It doesn’t matter whether you already have another predetermined location to flee to.
  • Do not try to set fixed plans on how to go through an emergency. Have a plan B in case the first plan fails.

Taking Care of Your Health

When it comes to prepping, the most important thing is to take care of your physical and mental health above all else. Consider these points:

  • Emergency prep is pointless if we are too ill to handle the physical requirements during an emergency.
  • Addictions also affect our responses to a crisis. You have to keep your head clear, and this is not possible if you have to go through withdrawal.
  • Pay your insurance premiums and have a plan for your estate and dependents in the worst-case scenario.

Once you have learned about prepping, share the information with your family members and close friends. Prepping is more effective when it is a communal effort. Going through a crisis as a lone wolf is only glamorous and practical in the movies. Things just do not work that way in the real world.

Encourage your neighbors, friends, coworkers, and family to take the Community Emergency Response team courses. Upon completion of the course, you can be part of the community response team that is activated during a crisis.

Note: In as much as you can share prepping tips and advice, avoid showing off your food or equipment stockpile. Doing so can expose you to danger especially during hard times, as everyone knows what you have.