If I had to name only one quality that separates the advanced prepper/survivalist from the pack it would be the presence of a solid disaster plan. When I refer to “planning”, I don’t mean having a plan “in mind”, and I don’t mean having a file on a computer somewhere – I’m referring to a physical document that has been printed and distributed to all relevant locations and individuals. Human memory is far too fallible and too specific to a single individual, to serve as the storage medium for a serious disaster plan; and of course computers are relatively fragile and subject to the availability of an electrical grid that may not be available post-disaster.
Consider a disaster plan to be a force-multiplier for all your other preps. If your plan results in a greater crop yield then you have multiplied the effectiveness of the seed you have stored. If your plan allows you to address a security incident with less use of ammunition, then you have multiplied the effectiveness of your ammunition stores. As you might imagine, a good plan should touch on all aspects of preparedness.
When it comes to disaster preparedness it is more the exception than the norm that the new or intermediate prepper will take action without first developing a comprehensive and coherent plan. In fact, I’m probably more guilty than most when it comes to “prepping without planning”. It was only while authoring my book that I came to fully appreciate the importance of planning, and my folly in not having planned much better in advance (Had I planned first I can guarantee you that I would now have fewer survival knives and more buckets of beans and rice!). While you may have some serious supplies and equipment stored away and ready for disaster, if you don’t have a plan then you still have significant room for improvement.
Side-note: My first step in researching the topic of disaster planning was to perform some online searches to learn what was already available that could serve as inspiration for my own writing. I was stunned to discover how very little good information was available on the topic. The only real material I could find were stylishly-designed, lightweight, one-page checklists published by various governmental “alphabet agencies”. All of these plans assumed a very short duration emergency during which government played a major role in recovery. (In other words, these plans described a fantasy world that does not exist!) This discovery only reinforced my sense of urgency in giving this important topic the coverage I had come to realize was sorely lacking and much needed.
During times of crisis one can imagine that there will be plenty of nervous energy available that can be put to good use in executing a disaster plan, however it is just as easy to imagine that the same nervous energy would make it very difficult to develop any sort of meaningful plan. Do not wait until disaster strikes to plan, as it may very well be impossible at that point.
With planning, as with skinning cats, there are any number of valid approaches. In this article I’ll describe the approach to planning that I formulated myself as I authored “When There is No FEMA“. The foundation of my approach to disaster planning that I develop consists of:
- Designating the chain of command at each covered location and the criteria for the transfer of that authority from one individual to the next.
- Defining “alert levels” and the criteria for each level. These alert levels will be referenced in your plan to allow the actions you take to vary with the severity of the disaster.
- Defining “security postures” for each alert level.
CHAIN OF COMMAND
“Chain of command” is a military concept that refers to the group’s organization structure and which group members are responsible for providing direction to others. Typically the individuals occupying these positions of authority will be assigned either by simple mutual agreement among group members, or possibly by vote. Having a defined chain of command is essential not only to provide quick resolution of disagreements, but also to enable the group to act quickly and decisively when faced with a threat. If for some reason the individual at the top of the chain of command becomes unavailable or incapacitated then that leadership role should automatically be delegated to the person next in line in the chain of command.
Side-note: I am firmly convinced that many people in my own daily life who, if I shouted “Duck!” to them on observing that they were under immediate threat, would react but by asking me why I wanted them to duck, or perhaps by questioning my right to tell them to duck. During times of disaster everyone needs to be explicitly pre-conditioned to follow orders first and to ask questions only after the threat has passed.
The incorporation of alert levels is one of the key factors that differentiate a simple disaster plan from an advanced plan. The alert levels reflect different degrees of disaster severity. One reasonable way to define levels is to base them on the expected post-disaster recovery period. The following are examples of typical alert levels:
- Level 0 – No alert, all is normal.
- Level 1 – Maintain heightened awareness
- Level 2 – Normal life significantly impacted for less than one week
- Level 3 – Normal life significantly impacted for 1-2 weeks
- Level 4 – Normal life significantly impacted for 2-4 weeks
- Level 5 – Normal life significantly impacted for 4-8 weeks
- Level 6 – Normal life significantly impacted for more than 8 weeks
The concept of “security posture” is another useful principle that has military origins, and refers to the tasks and responsibilities assigned to individuals within the group based on the alert level. So, for each alert level a security posture should be defined. The definition of security postures is as important in helping to avoid over-vigilance as it is in assuring quick detection of and response to threats. The security posture defined for a Level 0 alert level, for example, may be a simple statement that all group members are adhering to established schedules and performing tasks as routinely assigned through the chain of command. The security postures for higher alert levels, however, may specify that certain individuals move to certain pre-defined observation and/or protective locations with weapons ready for use. Orders through the chain of command can still, of course, override the requirements of the security posture.
CONTENT AND ORGANIZATION OF AN ADVANCED PLAN
At the highest level disaster planning should consist of a general disaster plan (“GDP”), along with a site plan (“SP”) for each covered location. Of course if your plan is to only cover a single location then these two sub-plans can be merged into a single document. The GDP provides information that is common to all locations, while each SP provides location-specific information. If, for example, you had family members that were living out of town (e.g. sons or daughters in college) then your plan would include SP’s for their locations in addition to the home, as well as a GDP. A good GDP should include:
- Identification of all alert levels and the criteria for each level.
- Identification of the chain of command at each location where more than a single individual resides.
- A list of guidelines for travel between locations
- A list of guidelines for communications (radio frequencies, code words, etc.)
- A list of contacts at all locations, along with addresses, phone numbers and other relevant information.
- A list of basic emergency supplies that should be kept on-hand at all locations.
- Travel maps with recommended routes between all locations marked, and key resources (refueling locations, lodging, etc.) marked, along with relevant contact information.
The SP for each location should cover the following topics:
- Required site inventory = this should consist of a list of all equipment and supplies, over and above those identified in the GDP, that should be stored on site at all times.
- Procurement Planning – specifies additional equipment and supplies that may be gathered (time permitting) in the time immediately preceding the disaster.
- Storage, Caching and Transportation – identities where equipment and supplies are stored, how they may be concealed, and how it would be transported during evacuation.
- Defense – identification of battle stations, vulnerabilities (e.g. “blind spots”) and measures to deal with vulnerabilities (e.g. booby traps and alerting mechanisms). It also should define rules of engagement for various defensive scenarios
- Fuel and Energy – how and when to make use of fuel, generators and energy-consuming devices.
- Food and Water – covers the acquisition, storage and rationing of food and water.
- Sanitation – lists policies and procedures governing basic sanitation (including quarantining anyone coming into the group or community).
- Post-Disaster Activity Schedule – a definition of regularly-scheduled routines (chores, meetings, watch duty, etc.).
- Medical – a plan for dealing with medical needs that may arise.
- Commerce – a plan for participating in a post-disaster economy (identifies items and/or skills that can traded or used for barter).
- Evacuation – identification of criteria for evacuation, bugout procedures and destinations and routes to travel.
The coverage of each of these topics in the SP is important; however some of these topics may not more than a few sentences in the plan. For example the sanitation plan might consist of a simple bulletized list of rules that govern sanitation (when to wash hands, sprinkling lime powder over human waste, distance of latrines from living areas, etc.). It would be prudent to assign these topics as areas of responsibility to members of your survival group or community, and to have those group members lead a discussion of their topics during scheduled group meetings.
Of the planning topics identified above, special attention should be paid to procurement. While many preppers will assert that you should put away all the supplies that you may conceivably need well before disaster strikes, real world constraints often simply do not permit this. Under the right circumstances, however, you may very well decide to re-prioritize your preps, and because the window of opportunity to do so may be very brief it is essential that this procurement process be planned in advance. The procurement plan could break down into the following distinct steps:
- Pre-procurement: A list of tasks to perform immediately before beginning procurement (e.g. filling gas tanks of all vehicles that may be used, or calling ahead to have items waiting at a checkout counter).
- Procurement – a list of “shopping trips”, with each procurement location identified along with lists of items to obtain from each location. The locations should be listed in the order they should be visited for most efficient travel. The items for each location should be listed by store row such that they can be most quickly gathered. These items may be associated with alert levels such that they are only procured at certain alert levels (e.g. you may wish to obtain additional ammunition if the disaster is expected to extend some re-defined time period).
- Post-procurement: Unloading, storing and/or assembling items that have been procured (if you obtained the parts for a home alarm system, you might install the additional alarms during this step).
Even in today’s pre-disaster world there are increasingly common stories of “home invasions”. Stories of looting in the wake of even relatively small disasters are all-too-common. It is a certainty that in the aftermath of a major disaster that all preppers must be ready to defend themselves and their property. A good defense plan should consider avoidance, deterrence, detection and response. Avoidance might consist of simply keeping a low profile so that potential threats pass by without engagement. Deterrence might include posting signs around the property that could convince some threats that the risk they take in attacking will not be worth any benefit they can gain. Detection might include establishing watch posts and means of communications between locations as well as alerting systems and booby traps. Response would include a list of policies governing how and when force is to be used to repel attackers, as well as how and when an orderly retreat should be conducted.
The defense plan for a location should cover:
- Definition of security postures for different alert levels
- Means of alerting the community to changes in alert levels
- Areas of approach (the paths to be most likely taken by an adversary)
- Lookout positions
- “Blind spots” from which an approaching adversary ay not be directly observed
- Identification (and creation) of hard and soft cover
- Communications during defensive operations
- Defining rules of engagement
EVACUATION (“BUGOUT”) PLANNING
The process of evacuating (“bugging out”) to another location during a time of crises is one of the most important aspects of disaster planning. In the absence of a plan valuable time will be needlessly consumed in determining what supplies should be taken. Additionally, the likelihood of leaving behind critical items increases greatly when evacuation does not take place in accordance with a pre-defined plan.
Because each location has its own equipment inventory and bug-out considerations a separate evacuation plan should be developed as part of the SP for each location. Evacuation planning should cover:
- A list of equipment and supplies to be taken
- A map marked with recommended travel routes and roadside resources
- A pre-departure checklist
- A list of best practices for travel during disaster
- Guidelines for communication while traveling (radio channels, reporting times, code words to use, identification of radio channels to monitor, etc.)
While your disaster plan may not be a “polished document”, even a good rough draft that is printed and distributed can make a world of difference. By causing you to consider all aspects of preparedness in advance and how to make best use of resources, a good disaster plan can greatly increase the effectiveness of your prepping investments and can easily make the difference between life and death.
About the Author: Richard Bryant is author of the preparedness book “When There is No FEMA – Survival for Normal People in (Very) Abnormal Times” and a long-time preparedness group organizer in Central Florida. He has recently relocated permanently to his disaster retreat in rural West Tennessee. The first 60 pages of his book are available for review and download at http://www.nofema.com.