Preparing With A Group For Natural Or Other Disasters: A First-Person Account

By Hakim Isler

Photo by Roger Brown

Almost deaf to the screeching sounds of my two-month-old son crying, my senses are hyper-focused on whether there is an immediate danger to me and my family.

The power is out, but according to my wall clock, it is only about 1 PM, so the sun is providing natural light. An earthquake has just hit, and my family and I are in the doorway to the bathroom.

I tell my wife to stay with the kids in case there is an immediate aftershock, and I survey the house for damages. I find minor cracks in the walls and items strewn throughout the house, but nothing major. My wife has tried to call her mother, but the lines are down. We open our laptop, which still has a charge of 30 percent, but the Internet is down as well. I pull out our hand-cranked radio and ask my wife to monitor it for any information while I circulate about the neighborhood to check on others. It appears that only three out of seven neighbors are home, most at work this time of day.

As I go house to house, I find that everyone is okay. However, one of our neighbors lets me know he has heard via CB radio that there is a mass power outage. He also says water and gas are down and several sources are speculating it may be a long-term outage.

Good thing for us, we formed a neighborhood emergency response group and a disaster response plan.

One of the first steps on our plan is to inventory and consolidate, while a few of us will go to the store and collect additional supplies in the event we are indeed facing an extended situation. Unfortunately, there are only three guys home, and as the saying goes, you can’t plan for everything, so we decide to use our emergency cash stash and purchase as much water and food as we can. Even though the power is out, we know if we hurry to the local store, workers will still be there, and with cash, there will be no need for a cash register. As part of our community emergency plan, we have all been saving resources but still feel that factoring in a last run for supplies is important if we can do it safely and before looting ensues. There are several items on our list, such as tuna, canned chicken, rice, crackers, peanut butter, trail mix, medicine, multivitamins, baby food, pet food, batteries, lighters, Clorox bleach, rubbing alcohol, soap, and iodine.

Before we go to the store, we make sure we have a way to communicate. Our plan consists of short-wave radios for communicating between aisles, but we also make sure our group has GoTenna, which is a device that allows us to form our own communication network over a distance, giving us the capability to send text messages and GPS info without the use of a cell tower or satellite. Meanwhile, those who remain at the house are tasked with contacting friends and family, also using GoTenna, to see if they are okay and find out when they will be home.

Just as we are leaving, we see some store employees frantically rushing out the door as other people are pulling into the parking lot; the remaining employees are struggling to keep them out while simultaneously pushing us out. I hold no hard feelings, as I know they have families of their own to be concerned about. As we approach our vehicle, a few individuals are circling it so we load up quickly and take off. It is obvious to us that, in another hour, there will be looting at the store. Unfortunately, we are not able to get gas; the lines are long and the pumps do not appear to be working.

For power, we have our generators, as well as solar box kits to provide power for light and heat. We also stop at the local hardware store for a few extra propane tanks. On our way back to the house, I get a text from my wife saying that the missing families in our group have arrived at the pre-designated congregation spot and are all accounted for. There are twenty of us in total, and three of the twenty are babies, which will pose a great challenge for long-term survival. There are also three dogs, four cats, and fish between the families. It is important for us to assess the needs of all during this event.

The congregation station is the home of one of my friends, his being the largest house with the most room for everyone. Once we arrive, we all start to work on the details of our situation. Based on reports from the hand-crank and CB radios, as expected, we will be without service for a long time. What makes the situation worse is the fact winter is only a few weeks away. We have to make sure all of us can survive with little or no help from others.

On the positive side, we all have a monthly budget for what we call Survival Insurance. Just like home and life insurance, this is money set aside for the purchase of disaster prep items, including food and supplies. We have been doing this for two years, and together we have amassed enough resources to sustain us all for four years. We have freeze-dried food, water, rainwater collection barrels, water purifiers, and solar panels on our homes (which, with a little tweaking by one of our group members, can link directly into our homes). Other members have herb and vegetable gardens, stocks of baby and pet food, and supplies of candles and batteries.

In further contingency planning, we divide our supplies between two or more homes; in the event one sustains some kind of damage, we will not lose everything. For the group members, we choose to collectively occupy two houses with big backyards, privacy fences, and wooded environs. We know at some point those who are unprepared could come scavenging, and although we may be able to help some of them, we won’t be able to help all of them. The moment we have to say “NO” might be the moment nice people become desperate and not so nice. Therefore, being in these houses gives us good security; from the top floors, we can see anyone coming from any direction and, even with the woods, there is enough cleared land to spot potential threats at a distance.

For additional security, we decide to block off the entrances with folding sawhorses and arrange our vehicles in the garages with one at a backyard exit point. They are full of gas, food, water, and medical supplies in the event we have to bug out. We remove the batteries and gas from any we do not plan to use, the batteries and fuel being usable for power and generators. For heat, we have had a fire collection crew cut and process enough wood to sustain our houses for the winter.

For more water, we have drained the pools and used tarps to help funnel rain into them. We can also run our gutters into the pools. With a combination of above- and in-ground pools, we can hold 10 to 20,000 gallons of water. This will be more than enough to prepare and make food, for personal hygiene, and for drinking. The average individual should consume about 32 to 64 ounces of water a day, so it’s important to tap every potential source. If needed, we can drain our water heaters. The pools will be covered overnight, adding the appropriate bleach to help clean and keep the bugs out. We will always boil the water we plan to ingest.

Finally, there is the issue of the waste management for our group of twenty. One member has previously found a solution by transforming a shed on a nearby hiking trail into a waste compost.

I share this account in the hope it will provide some inspiration and motivation for preparedness thinking as a group of family, friends, or neighbors. There truly can be strength in numbers as sharing knowledge and resources can not only provide comfort, but sanity and security as well.