Disaster Preparedness Strategies – Will Yours Work?

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Over the past few years Disaster Preparedness (‘prepping’) has become a popular topic. A very large mix of people have begun preaching prepping, all having different motives for promoting their particular views on ‘how to prepare’, which makes it very difficult and confusing for people who are trying to figure-out what to do. Because of this, some people end up doing the wrong things for the right reasons; they simply want to protect their families and friends. And in other cases, as a result of a lack of continuity in advice, some people do nothing at all, which may be just as bad.

Another problem is there are too many people pushing disaster preparedness concepts that are based upon fringe disaster scenarios related to events that occur in geologic time-frames of every 500,000 years and the like. While some others fancy preps and plans of action which are based upon hypothetical events driven by various illogical conspiracy theories. Statistically speaking, all such events have virtually no chance of occurrence during our lifetimes or those of our children and grandchildren. And even though these views are held by a small minority of Preppers, the promotion of these concepts in Prepper media circles fuels false impressions by the general public that; Preppers in general have lost their sense of logic and common sense. Because of this, many people looking into the idea of prepping form the wrong opinion of all Preppers and the value of disaster preparedness.

My advice to anyone considering disaster preparedness is to do the math without the hype. Disaster preparedness is really about risk analysis; what good is a box of guns and ammo when you actually needed a boat during a flood, because you lived in a flood-prone area? Or what good is gallon jar of peanut butter when you bought only one slice of bread? Too many people today have just that problem; too much of the wrong thing and not enough to the right thing. Money is tight in today’s economy as it is, without making over-allocations for incorrect or low-utility preps. The financial allocation for any disaster preparedness asset must be in proportion to its statistical utility, where items having a high probability of usefulness are capitalized in that order. Trends and emotions driven by media headlines or movies have no part in this process.

New-comers looking for assistance and knowledge should choose to listen to credible people who are defined as such by their verifiable experience. In today’s world of Internet illusions, none of us has the time to sort through a hundred self-proclaimed experts, who want our trust and respect yet fail to provide their true identities and bona fide resumes. The best path to knowledge is to look to the experienced professionals for information, which will help assure you’re not wasting your time and money, and possibly risking your life in the process.

“Sourcing Information is like sourcing water; good water sustains life, bad water may kill you” — Capt. William Simpson – USMM

It’s hard enough to prepare for unexpected events that have a statistically relevant chance of occurring in our lifetimes, without worrying or trying to prepare for possibilities that are statistically speaking, ridiculously remote. Of course if you’re one of those people who because they purchased a lottery ticket today, believe they are going to win Powerball tomorrow; then good luck!

This article focuses on developing disaster survival strategies that are statistically relevant to average Americans, and range from the most common localized emergencies and disasters to the more complex less frequent yet credible large-scale disaster scenarios.

How-To Develop Your Own Suite Of Preparedness Strategies

By using logic and statistical analysis you can develop disaster preparedness strategies by taking all the hype and emotion out of the process and instead, use proven methodologies that are offered by genuine experts to prepare in a manner that is both measured and proportionate to the risk being addressed.

In survival circles discussing the very basics, you will hear about the ‘Rule of 3’: If a person is deprived of air for 3 minutes that person would likely die. If a person is deprived of water for 3 days, that person would likely expire. And if a person is deprived of food for 3 weeks that person would likely perish.

Of course the ‘Rule of 3’ fails to consider exposure to the elements of nature; we all need shelter to survive. These are the realities of basic survival and therefore we must be prepared to deal with these very simple basics as a minimum. Therefore, as an extension of that same logic; it makes sense to have a minimum stockpile of water, food, clothing and other various supplies and equipment that would keep you alive and as comfortable as possible during various emergency-disaster scenarios and possibly longer. For instance; it’s wise to keep some supplies in your car, such as; several days worth of water, food, warm blankets, flashlight & batteries, gloves, dust masks, small tool kit, poncho or simple rain gear, first aid kit, etc.

Let’s start by examining some of the most basic unexpected events (in no particular order) which history teaches happen frequently enough to absolutely justify some level of preparedness and a plan of action to stay alive:

1. Cardiovascular Disease, Infectious Disease, Parasites & Cancer:

Deaths by cardiovascular disease, infectious disease, parasites, cancer and stroke top most lists for the cause of death in most countries. The majority of these problems stem from food, not just how we eat, but what we eat. People who are really serious about surviving need to tend to their own health first and maintain a diet that will prevent these conditions. There are many guides to preventing disease and living longer through proper nutrition, here are a couple of examples:


2. Car Accidents:

Aside from death by disease, medical accidents and natural causes, car related deaths ranks among the top causes of death. This statistic warrants a plan action. You may be asking; ‘but what can I do about this’? Being independent, most Americans would rather drive themselves instead of using mass transit, which is safer. So with that said; you can take a defensive driving course, and I am not referring to the one you’d take to get a driver’s license. In these specialty courses you learn how to make high/low-speed maneuvers, J-turns, and how to prevent being caught in dangerous situations with your vehicle. Bodyguards, FBI and other government agents take this course and it is available to all citizens. There are dozens of training facilities all over the U.S. where this training is available; here is just one example:


3. Violent Crime:

We live in a world where there are enough people who care less about the rule of law to warrant proficiency in self-defense. The job of the police is not that of your personal body-guard or protective service. Therefore, basic martial arts training for defensive use is warranted (including physical fitness training). I also recommend that everyone of a proper age take a gun safety course that is administered by a certified trainer. If you elect to have a gun in your home, like most Americans, then there are additional safety precautions needed, which include the proper education of any children in the same home, as well as securing any weapons from unauthorized use. If you feel you need to carry a gun, then it would be prudent to take a concealed-carry training course, again, administered by certified trainers who can also guide you in the choice of a handgun for your individual needs as well as obtaining the licensing required to carry a concealed firearm. There are hundreds of training facilities across the U.S.; here is just one example: http://threatdynamics.com

4. Accidents – Injuries:

Accidental injuries, lacerations, broken bones, heart attack and stroke are a major cause of death and disability, and in many cases were preventable if a trained person had been on scene early enough. Everyone (including children 6-8 yrs.+) should be trained in both CPR and First Aid. This training will come in handy in many situations. Many organizations provide training for free, or for a small fee if you need to be certified. I have found that the certification courses are more detailed and develop greater proficiency in these skills. In most cases, there will be a training facility in your own neighborhood. Many fire departments will provide training courses as does the American Red Cross, which provides courses across the U.S.

5. Fire:

Fires cause a tremendous amount of property damage, injuries and loss of life and certainly represents a threat that everyone should be prepared to deal with. You can learn a lot about fire safety, firefighting and useful tactics during a fire by simply contacting your local fire department and attending some classes. I have found that almost universally, the dedicated people at your local fire station will be happy to help you develop your knowledge and skills in this area.

6. Flood:

Flooding poses a frequent risk to both property and life. Do you live in an area that is prone to flooding? Or within the 100 year flood-plain? Sometimes it’s not obvious and it pays to make some inquiries to your local county authorities. If you live in any area that is at risk to flooding, then you need to have a basic plan to deal with this risk. If you are unsure as to how to proceed, you can certainly contact your local emergency managers or fire department, who have experience in these matters. If you live near any body of water, it certainly makes sense that everyone in your family should be able to swim. And it wouldn’t be unreasonable to have a small portable boat for instance.

7. Earthquake:

Many areas of the United States are subject to the effects of earthquakes. Compared to other unexpected events, they occur with less frequency, but when they do occur, they do so without notice, and with sufficient force, they can inflict tremendous property damage and cause many injuries and deaths. Here again, your risk analysis will pay dividends in determining your strategy and its cost in time and assets (money).

Interestingly, structures that are built on solid rock are affected very little by even strong earthquakes. However, most structures are not situated on solid rock, and are greatly affected by earthquake. In fact, there are some areas of the United States that are subject to a phenomenon known as liquefaction; where whole buildings can sink into the ground during an earthquake. Here’s what that looks like:

If you have established that your home (or where you work) is in an area vulnerable to earthquake, then it makes sense to have a plan in place.

Secondary events as a result of an earthquake add to the complexities of such a disaster and include fire, falling debris (during and after), explosions from gas leaks and electrical hazards from exposed wiring and high voltage lines on the ground. Additionally there are environmental hazards from toxic smoke, dust and possibly chemicals in the air during and after the initial event. Clearly, this is a disaster scenario that requires many preps and training. Here is a starting point for your due diligence.

8. Severe Weather Events (Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Ice/Snow Storms ):

Every year the U.S. is stricken by severe weather events. Your preparedness in regard to such weather events should, as in all potential scenarios, be in proportion to the frequency and scale of such events. For instance, if your home is fifty miles inland and on high ground from where a hurricane might make its landfall, you will not have the same concerns that someone right on the coastline would have.

The upside to hurricanes is that they can be forecast with great accuracy and this provides a large window of time for advanced preparations. This fact should not be construed as ‘a window of time to get prepared’. If you live anywhere that can be affected by hurricanes, you should have all of your preps completed well before hurricane season starts. The same holds true if you live in an area subject to severe winter weather, where having an adequately sized generator and fuel supply will help when the power fails. This also applies to heating systems and fuel (wood, oil, gas); these systems must be ready to go before the seasonal adverse weather.

Tornadoes are more problematic than Hurricanes from the standpoint that they can strike with little or no warning in some cases. However, thanks to modern technology and things like Doppler Radar, conditions that promote funnel cloud formation and tornadoes can be forecast in advance. However, in order to take advantage of this technology, you must have the proper preps, which includes a radio receiver with a weather alert feature. Here is an example of that system in an actual tornado:

Given the incredible power and extremely high wind speeds associated with tornadoes, properly constructed underground shelters should be considered for use in tornado prone areas given the level of safety they can offer during such short-term events.

Less Frequent Potential Disaster Scenarios

In conducting risk analysis with regard to the less frequent man-caused and natural disasters, we must take into consideration the extreme severity of such disasters in regard to our measured and proportionate level of preparedness.

Severe Geomagnetic Storming

Geomagnetic storms originate from our own sun, and can occur at any time. Even though the most notable historic geomagnetic storm that hit our planet was in 1859 (known as the Carrington Event), the planet his since been affected numerous times by lesser storms in more recent history. In 1989 a powerful geomagnetic storm wreaked havoc in Quebec:

By comparison to the Carrington Storm, the Quebec storm was a baby. If we suffered a stronger storm, or one as strong as the Carrington solar storm today, it would quite likely be end of our modern technological world.

Basically, a severe geomagnetic storm will overload and damage the national electrical grid to such an extent that it will likely be irreversibly damaged. Additionally, most electrical devices that are attached to the grid in any way will also be damaged by very high voltage spikes. As a result, our modern society would be essentially thrust back into a pre-industrial revolution era status, and such a loss of technological infrastructure would create uncontrolled social chaos.

From a disaster preparedness perspective, this scenario is overwhelming, and as such, is not a topic that is very popular in emergency management circles, even though it must be addressed. Of course this is natural; people much prefer working on problems where there is a palatable solution. During a national grid-down disaster, the systems and infrastructure that can normally be utilized by emergency management personnel will no longer be available, not to mention that the civil unrest and lawlessness would severely hamper any efforts for immediate effective response. Since a geomagnetic storm has no direct effect on biologic organisms; the real hazard and threat from such an event stems from people who have made no provisions for any disaster scenario. In fact, once the infrastructure goes off-line post event, and the highly leveraged supply chains that supply fuel, food and other vital resources stops, these unprepared people will quickly exhaust the few resources in their homes. As a result of hunger, desperation and hopelessness, many millions of survivors will turn violent in their struggle for the dwindling remaining resources. Added to these issues; it is expected that disease will spread quickly as a result of the loss of critical sanitation infrastructure and the unavailability of medicines and medical care.

This is a scenario that requires special planning (strategy and supporting tactics) by people who truly intend to survive such an event.

For average Americans, there is really only one strategy to survive such massive unrest; remove yourself and your family to a location far from any civil unrest.

There is another man-caused event that essentially creates the same havoc and therefore requires the same strategy and tactics, which will be very briefly covered below.

High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (‘HEMP’) Attack

A HEMP attack on America would be devastating and is very difficult to defend against. Simply; using a low-tech missile (no high tech guidance needed), a nuclear weapon is delivered to upper atmosphere anywhere over the U.S. and detonated. This causes the release of gamma radiation into the ionosphere which initially stimulates the production of an extremely powerful energy pulse which within a few microseconds damages most unprotected electronic devices (anything not in a Faraday Cage). On top of that, within the same extremely brief time period (seconds) the earth’s magnetic field is temporarily disrupted by the nuclear event, which creates the same extreme voltage and power fluctuations in the national power grid as a severe geomagnetic storm, and thus creates the same devastation to the national energy grid and most everything that is connected to it. This video highlights the issues:

It is important to understand that a HEMP attack does not kill biologic organisms on the surface, nor does it destroy any buildings.

With regard to a HEMP attack, most credible experts on the phenomenon of a grid-down disaster are making similar projections as to the civil unrest, lawlessness and disease that will spread after such an event, regardless of how it was caused. The only real difference between HEMP and Geomagnetic Storm is that; in a post Geomagnetic Storm scenario, there will be some usable legacy electronics after the event, even if not protected by Faraday shielding. In the case of a HEMP attack, the only electronics that may be useful post-event, would be as a result of proper planning (Faraday protection) that was in place prior the HEMP event. Any availability of these high-utility electronic devices post event, such as some communications devices, will allow those who have survived the civil unrest, and who have prepared accordingly, to advance the use of certain tactics that will certainly enhance their ability to survive such an event, both short term and long term.

Occasionally when people start talking about the marauding lawless masses and about ’shooting-it-out’, I am forced to remind them that:

“Rule-1 in Survival; Don’t Get Dead” …. Seems too obvious right? Even so, some people continue to proffer survival strategies that encompass planned combat during competition for resources, which is an excellent way to sustain casualties and to ‘get dead’.

There is a quote by Bernard M. Baruch that applies here;

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

There are many former military operators who are providing information into the disaster preparedness and survival arenas these days. And of course their primary field of experience relates to combat… which is the last thing you need to be engaged in while trying to survive, especially when you are out-manned and out-gunned in a grid-down scenario.

I am constantly amazed by some people who think a lot of guns and ammo solves the problems related to survival during civil chaos. Any soldier who’s been on a battle field can tell you about all of weapons and ordnance lying around the corpses. As my father use to say; “it doesn’t matter how well you’re armed or how big your guns are; sooner or later someone comes along with more guys and bigger guns, and then you get dead“.

Each problem has a specific solution; and that tends to be the case here. If the grid goes down, you’ll have a tiny window of time (maybe 24-48 hrs.) to extract your family and relocate them away from the dangers related to the hoards of desperate grid-down survivors.

And the preparations to achieve that evolution must be made now or certainly at least well before any such event.

An example of the appropriate logic is this:

If you live under an active volcano and don’t want to die, then you move away, before it erupts… not while it’s erupting. The same correct strategy goes with surviving a grid-down situation and with grid-down preps.

Preppers need to decide a few things right off:

  1. Are the experts right? Do you believe their assessments of the risks posed by HEMP and Geomagnetic Storms? If you don’t, then good luck. And if you do, then;
  2. Do you really think you won’t be overcome, out-gunned and out-manned by the millions of people (also armed) who will sooner or later likely find your location? If you don‘t, then you may be watching too many Rambo movies.
  3. How serious are you about saving your family and yourself? Are you willing to do whatever it takes, including relocating now (Alaska/Canada/Equatorial Island)? Or having a special provision in place for emergency relocation? (sailboat or long-range airplane)


There are undoubtedly some readers thinking; ‘if we’re overrun, we’ll just bug-out to our secondary location’. That is much easier said than done! You could do that if you have a sailboat or a long-range aircraft ready-to-go and you left within 24-48 hours of the onset of a grid-down scenario. But if you are thinking in terms of walking or driving to another location after you’re discovered by the masses of survivors pouring out the cities, you better think again. Keeping in mind that there will be hundreds of thousands (millions in some cases) of armed desperate people in your area of operations, once you lose cover, you’ll be traveling over open ground and will become part of the ongoing shooting gallery. Sure, a few lucky ones might make it to their ‘secondary’ Alamo… only then to possibly be overcome there as well.

Sure, some people will get lucky and survive despite their mistakes. That’s not my survival model.

There’s nothing wrong with being lucky; I just don’t depend upon luck as my first line of preps for emergency management and survival.

Cheers! Capt. Bill

Semper Veritas / Semper Paratus

Capt. William E. Simpson – USMM

CaptainBillCapt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, who has successfully survived long-term off the grid at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family using sailboats that he equipped for that purpose. Capt. Bill holds a U.S.C.G. 500-ton captain’s license for commercial inspected passenger vessels, including, power, sail and assistance towing vessels. He is also the author of many articles on sailing and the book ‘The Nautical Prepper’ (Ulysses Press) You can read more from the Nautical Prepper on Capt. Bill’s personal site at www.williamesimpson.com/

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