How to Prepare for a Flood: Emergency Flood Checklist

A flood is among the most universal of natural disasters: It can happen just about anywhere. That includes parched desert country, where canyons and washes are highly vulnerable to flash floods. And that includes urban areas, too, where heavy rainfall over a paved-over cityscape often generates violent runoff and overspilling channelized streams, and where storm drains may back up from clogged debris or simply the magnitude of precipitation.

Whether a seasonal floodplain overflow or a catastrophic 500-year inundation, floods can kill and sicken, rack up billions of dollars in property and infrastructure damage, and impede transportation and services for days and weeks on end. (The National Weather Service tallies some pretty sobering yearly flood statistics.)

Here’s how to ready yourself for high water in your neck of the woods!

Waterlogged Primer: The Nature of Floods

Floods come in all shapes, sizes, and timetables. They might impact a single waterfront neighborhood or swamp entire towns or regions. Hydrologists distinguish between slow-onset floods, which may slowly build from multiday rainfall and persist for weeks or months, and rapid-onset floods, “flashier” affairs that rise and fall more quickly.

Streams and rivers may leap their banks due to heavy and/or prolonged precipitation; they may also flood from spring snowmelt. Some parts of the country often see inundations from ice jams. (For instance, the Red River of the North, which flows, rather unusually, poleward from Minnesota and North Dakota to Lake Winnipeg, is notorious for regular flooding not only due to its pancake-flat basin, but also because its southern watershed often melts out earlier than the northern portion, where lingering ice can dam the river’s swollen springtime waters.)

Ferocious as the winds of hurricanes and tropical storms most definitely are, the most lethal effects of these tempests tend to be flood-related: from storm surges—where cyclone winds pile up ocean water inshore—and inland deluges caused by torrential rains. Storm surge can also coincide with high tide to result in a so-called “storm tide,” which may pummel coastal areas with waters better than 20 feet above the normal tidal reach.

Floods, of course, can also stem from the failure of artificial infrastructure: breached dams or levees, for instance, or burst pipes.

Flood Risks

Sound flood preparation means understanding just how dangerous high water can be. Overland floodwaters are deceptively powerful: A mere six inches can knock you clear off your feet, and only a foot or two can sweep a car away. (Cars can also stall out in surprisingly shallow water, leaving occupants vulnerably stranded.) Overflow may also be contaminated, and there’s also the risk of electrocution. In short, whether you encounter them while evacuating by foot or vehicle or inside your home, avoid entering floodwaters if at all possible.

Besides drowning, electrocution, waterborne illness, and other directly life-threatening effects, flood impacts can also include damaged or destroyed property, blocked transportation corridors, interrupted power, and polluted municipal water supplies.

Flood Preparation for Your Home

If you live in the U.S., you can assess the vulnerability of your home to flooding by looking up your address via the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Flood Map Service Center. The agency generates Flood Insurance Rate Maps (aka FIRMs)that portray high-risk, moderate- to low-risk, and undetermined-risk flood hazard areas. Federal law requires many home- and businessowners in high-risk areas to obtain flood insurance. It’s not required in moderate- to low-risk areas, but damaging flooding can still occur in these zones: According to FEMA, they account for a third of flood-related federal disaster assistance and better than 20 percent of National Flood Insurance Program claims.

If you live in a place prone to flooding, it’s smart to take measures to protect your house, such as:

  • waterproofing your basement;
  • installing a backup battery-powered sump pump;
  • elevating electrical systems and appliances such as furnaces at least 12 inches above the projected flood level; and
  • securing fuel tanks.

Putting Together a Flood File

As part of your flood checklist, FEMA recommends maintaining a “personal flood file,” a collection of essential documents kept in a waterproof container. Said file should include copies of your insurance information and a detailed inventory of major possessions, including serial numbers and receipts for appliances.

Flood Checklist: Emergency Kit

You may need to evacuate in the face of a flood and be unable to return home for an extended period of time, and goods and services may well be disrupted during and after the inundation. This means it’s vital you have an emergency readiness kit already assembled before a deluge comes knocking at the door. This should include water and non-perishable food provisions (such as Mountain House Just In Case…® supplies) for at least three days and preferably a week-plus.

Your flood preparedness/flood evacuation kit(s) should also include first-aid, any necessary prescriptions and toiletries, insulated clothing (including raingear), sleeping bags and/or blankets, flashlights (and backup batteries), a charged cellphone, spending cash and credit cards, and other essentials. A battery-operated or hand-crank NOAA Weather Radio is also a valuable tool to have on hand, as it allows you to closely monitor real-time flood conditions.(Check out this FEMA factsheet for a full flood checklist.)

Developing a Flood Action Plan

Evacuating ahead of or during a flood is much easier when you have some sense of where you’re going. This means developing a flood action plan that everyone in your household’s well versed in. Identify evacuation routes to high ground in your neighborhood as well as around workplaces and schools. In the event of a large or long-lasting flood, you may need to take refuge out of the region, so make a list of friends or relatives you might be able to stay with. Make sure everyone’s phone has emergency numbers programmed in, and identify a family member out of the region to serve as an emergency point of contact.

Practice makes perfect, right? “Dry runs” (if you’ll pardon the pun) put the finishing touches on any flood evacuation plan. Carry out periodic simulated flood drills with your family so everyone’s familiar with the step-by-step. Besides instilling confidence, these exercises can help you identify and fix any potential hiccups in your plan.

Flood Forecasts & Evacuation Orders

Pay attention to those meteorologists: The National Weather Service issues a “Flood Watch” (or “Flash Flood Watch”) when conditions are ripe for flooding; a “Flood Warning” (or “Flash Flood Warning”) means a flood’s underway or soon to occur. It’s also a good idea to keep tabs on alerts from the NWS River Forecast Centers, which monitors current and predicted river levels.

It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway): Take any evacuation orders issued by local or state officials seriously. The sooner you can seek safe high ground ahead of a flood, the better: Traffic’s liable to be heavy on major evacuation routes.

Imminent Flood Preparation

Besides the general measures we outlined above, you may need to implement some last-minute prep if a flood watch or warning has been issued. (But remember, again: Evacuation is the most important course of action in many cases, and you should absolutely abide by any evacuation orders issued by local or regional officials.) Move important documents, rugs, furniture, and other possessions to higher floors of your house. If directed to do so, you may also end up shutting off utilities and/or water to your house. Clear your gutters and downspouts of twigs and other debris in anticipation of downpours.

Don’t let floodwaters catch you off-guard: Prepare a flood checklist, assemble an emergency kit, come up with (and practice) an evacuation plan, and stay abreast of weather/hydrographic forecasts and any emergency declarations. You can learn more about flood prep and response over at Ready.gov.

Here’s to staying dry—and safe!

How to Prepare for a Wildfire

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In 2015 (according to the National Interagency Fire Center), nearly 70,000 wildfires raged in the United States, scorching more than 10 million acres and racking up better than $2 billion in federal suppression costs. A wildfire may spark in the middle of huge wilderness from the lick of a lightning bolt; at a front-country campsite from a careless campfire; or within city limits when the spark from a car or a tossed-away cigarette alights the brush and weeds of an untended lot or roadside hedge.

Wildfires can be terrifying and life-threatening. They don’t need to be terribly large to become essentially uncontrollable, and many of the biggest yearly blazes only die down with the help of Mother Nature in the form of sustained rainfall or snow—though wildland firefighters across multiple agencies do an amazing job protecting lives and property. Here are some tips on wildfire preparedness any homeowner would do well to take to heart.

The Risk

Wildfires are on the increase in the U.S., as they are in many parts of the world. The reasons aren’t cut-and-dried, although global warming is almost assuredly playing a role by, for instance, enhancing drought and proliferating tree-killing pests and diseases. And the historical American policy of essentially blanket wildfire-suppression has also made many landscapes—evolved over millennia under the influence of occasional scorching—more vulnerable to bigger burns: woodlands, savannas, shrublands, and grasslands once regularly flushed by low-intensity wildfires have in many cases become overgrown with trees or brush, making a much larger fire more likely.

Keep in mind that, while we often colloquially refer to “forest fires,” wildfires can and do occur in non-forested habitats. Brushfires and grassfires can be swift and ferocious, threatening structures far removed from the nearest timber. Furthermore, wildfires may break out in rural and even urban settings.

The Wildland-Urban Interface

Among the people most vulnerable to wildfires are those who inhabit what’s called the wildland-urban interface. This describes the overlap zone between developed, human-dominated areas and wilder, undeveloped country. Millions live in these threshold landscapes, not least because they directly appeal to many homeowners eager to reside on the edge of countryside or wilderness.

These homes are often located in fire-vulnerable settings such as canyons, shrubby or forested foothills, and enclosed woodland. If this describes your HQ, it’s incumbent to make your home and property as fire-resistant as possible—and to develop an emergency plan of action in case a blaze breaks out in or advances into your vicinity.

A Fire-wise Home

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) oversees an initiative called the Firewise Communities Program aimed at educating homeowners about steps they can take to make their households safer from wildfires. The Firewise website is an absolute must. We strongly urge you to take advantage of the many resources it provides.

The first step in converting your domicile into a Firewise one is assessing your so-called “home ignition zone”: the area 100 to 200 feet around (and including) your home that may cause it to catch flame via embers, brands, or simply radiant heat. That home ignition zone is your defensible space, and you want to make it a buffer less likely to fuel and/or carry a fire.

It’s a good idea to begin your Firewise effort with your home itself: the most important part of your property, after all. Keep your roof and gutters clean, as accumulated leaves, twigs, and other debris can combust from a mere ember. You also want to make sure to fix or replace any busted or missing tiles or shingles, as the gaps they create can allow embers to enter your house. Vents can serve as similar entryways for flaming material, so consider guarding them with wire mesh.

Decks and patios can be significant avenues for fire. Remove material from underneath and alongside them, and blockade the crevices beneath with mesh or some other material so debris doesn’t build up.

The NFPA recommends keeping a “fire-free” radius within five feet of your house. Eyeball the exterior walls of your home, and you’re more likely than not to see something combustible leaned or stored against them: woodpiles, lumber, compost bags, brooms, etc. And that’s not even including plantings. Remove flammable items and consider replacing vegetation or mulch with hardscaping: gravel, pavement, and the like.

Beyond the immediate radius of your house, consider planting trees, shrubs, and herbs that are less likely to violently combust in a fire. The Firewise website has links to state/region-specific references on fire-resistant landscaping. Space out trees and shrubbery: For instance, within 30 to 100 feet of your home individual trees should be separated by 20 feet and tree clusters by 30 feet. And you want to prune your property’s trees so they’re free of branches six to 10 feet from the ground. Such low-hanging boughs are what firefighters and foresters call “ladder fuels” for their propensity to carry a ground-hugging flame into the canopy.

Fire Emergency Plan

Just as critical as Firewise home maintenance and landscaping is developing a sound fire emergency plan for your household. This should include assembling the sort of emergency kit we’ve discussed here at the blog before—including an adequate supply of non-perishable provisions such as Mountain House meals!

In the case of a fire, you may well be forced to evacuate with little advance notice, so you’ll want an emergency kit designed as a “go bag” that can quickly be grabbed on the way out the door. In addition to food, water, first-aid, and other survival essentials, it should include backups of any prescription medications as well as copies of critical documents.

You’ll also want an emergency kit stowed in your vehicle in case you need to evacuate by car, or you’re blocked from returning home by a wildfire.

Your wildfire evacuation plan should specify at least two and ideally more escape routes from your home and neighborhood, in case an oncoming inferno blocks one or more exit points.

Everyone in your household should be familiar with the fire preparedness plan, and it should include evacuation and other emergency-protocol details for workplaces, schools, and anywhere else family members spend time. Program emergency numbers into everyone’s cell phones.

You also want to refresh yourself as to your homeowner’s insurance policy and inventory your home’s content ahead of any potential wildfire.

You can be the most diligent Firewise homeowner out there, but your wildfire preparedness may end up being for naught if your neighbors aren’t as responsible. Educating your neighborhood about fire-resistant landscaping and home preparation is an excellent first step in coordinating communal safety efforts. You’ll all be more secure and better-prepared if the entire neighborhood keeps tabs on the local risks of fire. That also means making sure street signs are clearly visible (for emergency responders), and having a sense of who’s most vulnerable in your community—for example, the elderly or infirm.

Ahead of an Approaching Wildfire

The most important instruction if a wildfire’s in your area is to heed any and all evacuation orders. If such haven’t been issued, take other anticipatory steps: Besides doing another once- or twice-over of your defensible space to get rid of or more safely away from any combustible material, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends attaching garden hoses of suitable length to reach all parts of your home and filling tubs, bins, garbage pails, and other receptacles with water.

Keeping Tabs on Weather

In the U.S., you can stay abreast of potentially dangerous fire conditions by keeping tabs on any National Weather Service (NWS) alerts. When particularly hot, dry, stormy, and/or windy weather is forecast, the NWS may issue a “Fire Weather Watch,” a “Fire Weather Warning,” or a “Red Flag Warning.” (You might consider purchasing a NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards receiver for your wildfire emergency kit so you receive up-to-the-minute notifications of fire weather.)

Wildfire is nothing to play around with. Check out helpful wildfire-preparation resources such as FEMA and Firewise, and prepare—and practice—a fire emergency plan for your household!

How to Build an Emergency Shelter In Your Home

You’ve probably seen the pictures, even if you’ve been lucky enough to avoid the experience yourself: sturdy homes reduced to jagged rubble by a monster tornado or hurricane. It’s a stark and shocking illustration of the power these violent storms wield—and the threat they represent.

If you live in an area prone to such atmospheric disturbances, one option for protecting yourself is installing a safe room: a reinforced, firmly anchored shelter that can shield you from hammering winds and projectile debris. Here we’ll take a look at some of the basics of building such a structure and briefly consider other kinds of at-home emergency shelters.

The Safe Room

Under the guidelines of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a safe room is meant to deliver “near-absolute protection in extreme weather events.” Such a room needs to be independent of any surrounding or connected building structure (in the case of an interior or adjacent safe room). FEMA’s standards call for safe rooms to resist winds of 250 miles per hour: an “extreme weather event,” to say the least. (Most of the information in this blogpost comes from FEMA Publication P-320, “Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business.”)

A home constructed solely to local building codes is still definitely vulnerable to the devastation of a major windstorm. A Category 4 or 5 hurricane boasts winds in excess of 150 miles per hour; the most powerful tornadoes, classed as EF5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, may whirl away at better than 300 miles per hour. Single gusts in less intense storms can still pack a heck of a punch.

High winds aren’t just pummeling a building from the outside: They can also smash out roofs and walls by streaming in via windows, doors, or any other openings, and lift a structure right off its foundation. And that’s not even considering the ballistic impacts of windborne debris: tree branches, 2X4s, sheet metal—all manner of everyday objects turn into missiles during these sorts of maelstroms.

A properly designed safe room, accessed via a single stormproof door, resists such forces with its reinforced roof, walls, and foundation, to which it’s firmly anchored. Besides being resilient to wind loading and windborne wreckage, safe rooms also are meant to withstand the collapse of a surrounding building.

Should you invest in a safe room? If you live in the U.S., you can gauge your home’s vulnerability to damaging winds by checking out Figure 2-7 in “Taking Shelter from the Storm,” which divides the country into four wind zones and also identifies hurricane-prone regions.

A Word on Terminology

We’re mostly focused here on FEMA-defined safe rooms. The International Code Council (ICC) established a set of standards for “storm shelters,” ICC 500, in collaboration with FEMA and the National Storm Shelter Association. FEMA’s safe rooms meet the minimum ICC 500 guidelines while incorporating additional protective design elements. In other words, a FEMA safe room meets or exceeds the ICC’s storm-shelter standards.

And it probably goes without saying that a term like “storm shelter” is pretty loosely bandied about in books and websites, so don’t assume the structure in question actually meets FEMA or ICC standards. The same goes for so-called “storm doors”: Many of these don’t meet the benchmarks of a tested tornado safe-room door (which you can learn more about in this FEMA factsheet).

You’ll also see “safe room” used synonymously with “panic room” to refer to a location secured against home invaders. That’s a different aim, of course, than a FEMA-style stormproof safe room, and it’s beyond our purview here.

Long story short: It’s absolutely critical to understand terminology and standards when it comes to safe rooms or any other survival shelter. You’re relying on this installation to keep you safe and sound during a life-threatening event at home: Skimping is not a good idea.

Construction Considerations

It’s pretty much always easier to install a safe room in a home under construction than in an existing one. For example, as FEMA notes, it’s relatively straightforward to incorporate a safe room into the layout of a home being built of concrete block by adding steel reinforcing bars and grout to the exterior walls and then using reinforced concrete-block interior walls and a concrete roof deck to wall off the shelter itself.

It’s certainly possible to retrofit your home for a safe room, but the process is more involved. For example, you may need to cut out a portion of your slab foundation to install one of the proper thickness and reinforcement to support a safe room.

With an eye toward minimizing household disruption, logistical headaches, and (most of all) costs, often the best bet for an existing house is to go with an exterior safe room rather than monkeying around with retrofitting.

Besides having a custom-built safe room added to an existing or under-construction home, you can also opt for a prefabricated unit. These are increasingly available as both interior and exterior safe rooms, often made from steel or precast concrete. Prefab safe rooms tend to be less expensive than custom-built ones. Keep in mind, though, that unless an existing foundation can adequately bear and anchor the safe room, you’ll still have to thicken and/or reinforce the slab. (It’s a good idea to have the prefab safe room and the foundation professionally inspected to make sure the setup will actually do the trick.)

Realistically, the construction and installation of most safe rooms—particularly those made from reinforced concrete block, solid steel, or fiberglass—should be left to professional builders. That said, you can find resources for building your own, such as this Family Handyman version of plywood and steel.

Other Considerations

One common complication for safe-room installation in those low-lying coastal areas vulnerable to hurricanes is the risk of flooding. A below-ground safe room isn’t appropriate, for obvious reasons, in a place prone to storm-surge inundations. FEMA has special criteria for safe rooms in Special Flood Hazard Areas; check out P-320 for more info. (If you’re in the U.S., you can use the FEMA Flood Map Service Center to investigate your area’s flooding potential.)

If you live in a region with significant seismic risk, you’ll want to take into account the additional reinforcing standards necessary to protect your safe room not only against wind and debris, but also earthquake damage.

Also, you may want to incorporate certain comfort and convenience amenities—electrical outlets or ceiling fans, for example—into your safe room. Some of these features may make more sense if you’re in a zone vulnerable to hurricanes, as these large, long-lived storms may require holing up in a safe room for a more extensive period than a tornado or severe thunderstorm.

Siting a Safe Room

One basic decision to make when installing a safe room is whether to place it inside or outside your home. As we mentioned above, the design of your existing house and the realities of your bank account may well make an exterior safe room the better option. Keep in mind, though, that reaching such a safe room will expose you to the weather: Particularly in the event of a tornado, you may not have very much time to seek shelter, so you want it close enough to be swiftly reached. One option is to build a safe room that shares a (reinforced) wall with your house and is accessed via a properly bolstered safe-room door in that wall.

Inside, some common locations for safe rooms include bathrooms, basements, closets, and storage areas. As FEMA points out, a typical bathroom may recommend itself above other options because it has the crucial elements of a toilet and a water supply, and also because it may well be inherently less cluttered than other rooms—making it easier to access and safer to hole up in during a storm.

Safe Room Size

The size of your safe room depends on a variety of factors, not least how many occupants will need to use it and—as we touched upon above—the type of windstorm you’re safeguarding yourself against. Exceptionally violent as it is, a tornado is a short-lived phenomenon: You likely won’t be sheltering long from one, so your safe room doesn’t need to be particularly roomy. A hurricane, by contrast, may require hunkering down awhile. Therefore, FEMA advises that a tornado-focused safe room in a one- or two-family home accommodate at minimum three square feet per person; a hurricane-focused safe room in the same house, by contrast, should have seven to 10 square feet per person.

Cost to Build Underground Bunker/Safe Room

As we mentioned above, it’s typically cheaper to install a safe room during the construction of a new home rather than retrofit an existing home. Furthermore, a prefab safe room’s usually less expensive than a custom-built one: You can buy a turnkey unit of 10 square feet for as little as a few thousand dollars (though remember you’ll often still need to reinforce the foundation).

You may be able to obtain some funding assistance for the installation of a safe room via various FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance grants. You can find out whether your project’s eligible by contacting your State Hazard Mitigation Officer.

Other Kinds of Shelters

If you live in an area vulnerable to tornadoes, hurricanes, and other significant windstorms, a FEMA-standard safe room provides the most assurance. Maybe, though, you’re looking for a cheaper, less rigorous option, or a shelter that’s not necessarily extreme-stormproof.

If you’re curious about how to build an underground shelter, there are many resources both on- and offline. Many DIYers opt to construct a semi-buried shelter to lessen the excavation work involved—say, by using bermed-over earthbags or poles. Don’t forget to check your local building codes before tackling the project. Also, any such bunker should be equipped with two entries so you can bail in the event of a fire.

Though a basic version is simpler to construct than a safe room, the disclaimer we made early on in this article should be heeded again: You want to be absolutely certain of your bunker’s structural integrity, as a shoddily designed and poorly sited one may flood or collapse—even without the stresses of a natural disaster. It goes without saying an underground bunker needs to not only be adequately bolstered against the forcing of surrounding and overlying soil, but also well ventilated.

Outfitting Your Safe Room or Bunker

You’ll want to have an emergency kit inside your safe room for meeting your basic needs while hunkering down. You can learn more about assembling such a kit by reading another of our recent blogposts, “How to be an Urban Prepper.” Needless to say, Mountain House Just In Case…® products are ideal for covering your bases food-wise—remember, we’ve got the longest shelf life in the industry!

You’ll also want the means to force open the shelter’s door if necessary, in case it’s blocked by debris.

Depending on your situation, building a safe room or emergency bunker may be a practical choice for safeguarding your household in the event of a storm or other disaster. And stock up on tasty (and long-lasting) Mountain House meals for your shelter’s provisions!

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Prepping On A Budget

Maybe you want to ready yourself for a potential natural disaster or other unpredictable emergency, but you worry that gathering the necessary supplies will be too expensive. Indeed, more than a quarter of households responding to a 2011 survey by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) complained that prepping was prohibitively pricey.

When you’re staring down bills, grocery lists, a car making less-than-encouraging noises, and other everyday budget concerns that seem a heck of a lot more in-your-face than some hypothetical hurricane or earthquake or alien takeover, it’s easy to write off emergency prepping as a luxury.

Here’s the deal, though: Emergency preparedness doesn’t have to break the bank. We’re going to run down some tips for budget-conscious prepping in this blogpost, but at the outset a little perspective’s probably in order. So, two points to keep in mind when weighing the cost of disaster readiness:

(1) A life-upending contingency can happen to absolutely anybody, it’s just part of the deal in our stormy, restless, volatile, and increasingly tech-dependent world. You can go about your life ignoring that reality, and maybe you’ll never get in trouble. But even something as mundane as a grid malfunction can result in several days (or longer) of not being able to cook on your stove, or draw water from your tap, or combat the cold of a winter’s night with a simple crank of the thermostat. Not a time to play the odds.

So consider a modest investment in emergency preparedness as a completely sound and practical investment: a form of insurance in an uncertain universe. Money spent on the supplies that you and your family need to get by for a few days or weeks in case the normal systems and routines you rely go out-of-order—well, that’s about as far from a frivolous expense as you can get.

(2) By its very definition, prepping delivers built-in cost savings. If you wait to stock up on essentials until the flood warning is declared or the monster nor’easter is winding up offshore, you’re not only facing the very real likelihood of absolutely ransacked grocery/hardware/drugstore shelves. You’re also under major time pressure, and thus don’t really have the option of picking-and-choosing. You may be forced to buy more expensive supplies, or grab goods willy-nilly without assessing whether or not they’re of practical value in your situation.

Prepare for such events before they’re actually imminent, and you have the luxury of seeking out good deals, purchasing only those items you’ll likely need, going about prepping incrementally—in short, all the good stuff we’re about to cover.

So let’s consider some of the ways you can secure yourself and your household against the unexpected without devastating that pocketbook of yours.

Define Your Needs

Do a little online research about prepping, and you’re going to find entire galaxies of advice: some of it good, some of it questionable. But keep in mind that many preppers are focused on “SHTF” strategies for going fully off-the-grid: “bugging out” to some remote hideaway for a spell, or even going full-time backwoods if circumstances call for it.

All well and good with the right perspective, but remember that, if budget constraints are an issue, you don’t necessarily need to prepare yourself for off-the-grid living: You need the essentials that’ll see you through days or even weeks of upheaval until things get back on track.

Buying (or learning to build) equipment for indefinite living-off-the-land can be a more expensive proposition than readying a 72-hour kit, like the one FEMA recommends. And sure, maybe at some point you’d like to outfit yourself in the event of a more extreme and protracted survival scenario. But start with the emergency basics, that needs to come first.

See What You Already Have

Whether it’s from FEMA, the American Red Cross, or your local emergency-management agency, review an authoritative checklist of staple supplies for an emergency kit. Then assess your household and see what you might already have on hand.

Sure, you might need to go out and buy a hand-crank flashlight or radio, but you probably have some spare blankets and warm clothing lying around that can be dedicated to your emergency supplies. And perhaps you have some plastic soda bottles that can be turned into storage vessels for your backup water supply. (At a minimum, you should have enough for a gallon of water per person per day for at least 72 hours.) Ready.gov includes detailed instructions for preparing these bottles for safe long-term water storage.

Remember, too, that some emergency-kit essentials don’t need to be purchased at all: for example, copies of essential personal documents such as birth certificates, deeds, and medication lists.

A Little Here, a Little There

The other key thing about prepping on a budget is that you don’t need to get all your emergency supplies all at once. (Remember what we said about having the luxury of time to plan and prepare?) Do a little here and there, and before long you’ll have the basic essentials without making any distressingly big single purchases.

You might buy one or two prepping items each time you go grocery shopping, for instance—or, if it’s more amenable to your financial situation, maybe one item per month. Keep a list of the goods you need to round out your emergency kit, and cross them off as you acquire them piecemeal. The expenditure of a few dollars a month can slowly but surely compile what you need, and hey: You’ll also be buying a little peace-of-mind as you go along.

Savvy Shopping

If you’ve always got one eye on prepping, you can be ever-ready to pounce on a pertinent sale item: a discount sleeping bag at the camping store, a winter parka on the summer clearance rack, canned juices the grocer’s price-slashed, etc. In other words, coupon clipping is an excellent way to go about gathering cheap emergency supplies.

When you’re outfitting yourself for backpacking or camping, you don’t want to rely on low-quality apparel or equipment. But for keeping warm in a stranded car or an unheated house, any old outerwear and blankets picked up on the cheap can do the trick—it’s all about layering, after all.

Another tip: Give up one trip to the movies or dining-out night a month, and you’ll have that much more pocket change for doomsday prepping on a budget. A bit of fiscal sacrifice can build your buying power for those emergency essentials that do honestly cost a bit of money, such as a NOAA weather radio or a water-purification system.

Putting Together Your Own First-Aid Kit

Sure, it’s convenient to go down to the drugstore and buy a prepackaged first-aid kit (another absolute fundamental of your emergency stockpile, of course). Often, though, you’ll save money by putting together such a kit by yourself. Sometimes this means having to purchase, say, gauze pads or bandages in larger quantities, but remember you’ll ideally be spreading out these supplies among several first-aid kits: You want one in your car, at your office, and in your house.

Going Makeshift

Cheap emergency supplies can still be lifesavers. For example, it’s easy and inexpensive to outfit your home and your car alike with the materials necessary to build a makeshift space heater. As Jennifer Abel nicely explains in a Consumer Affairs writeup, all you need is a coffee can, tea lights in metal cups, and matches.

Another tip: For cheap backup fire-starting materials, shred up newspaper into strips, roll these into bundles, and secure them with a rubber band. Store these with your matches and lighter in a waterproof container, and you’ve got reliable tinder for when you need a flame.

Mountain House Food Supplies

To toot our own horn a little bit, Mountain House can be your best friend when it comes to prepping on a tight budget. Our delicious freeze-dried meals lay claim to the longest shelf life in the industry: That 30-Year Taste Guarantee of ours means you can purchase from us with confidence! And our super-handy Just In Case…® multiday food supplies make stockpiling a breeze!

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How To Be An Urban Prepper

In the developed world of the 21st century, it can be all too easy to forget how quickly the comforts and systems we’re used to can go out the window: All it takes is a bad storm or a major power outage. You may be well-versed in the 1,2,3’s of wilderness survival, but the idea of having to apply some similar tools and techniques as an urban prepper may be a new one.

In this article, we’ll explore the concept of urban survival and what it takes to be an urban prepper.

urban prepper

Urban Survival

There are plenty of scenarios that might disrupt the normal and predictable routines of everyday city life. While our imaginations might gravitate toward visions of disease outbreaks and terrorist attacks—or the odd zombie apocalypse—extreme weather events are a more likely situation. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, severe thunderstorms, blizzards: The atmosphere can wreak real mayhem, and in the wake of one of its outbursts you may find yourself stranded in a devastated neighborhood, marooned by floodwaters, or simply contending with a widespread, long-lasting power outage or a contaminated public water supply.

Similar calamities can also occur via earthquake, tsunami, wildfire, and any number of other natural disasters. Because many such natural disasters are difficult to predict, and because one kind or another can strike just about anywhere, preparing in advance is the first step in reducing your vulnerability.

You might have only a few days’ advance warning about a hurricane making landfall, and if you wait until then to stockpile provisions you might be facing long lines at the grocery store and gas stations—not to mention picked-over shelves.

In this hyper-connected day and age, abrupt emergencies might also arise from a cyberattack (or, less dramatically, a system malfunction) that disrupts, for instance, a region’s transportation or power grid.

The Urban Prepper

A person might decide to become an urban prepper for any number of reasons, and there’s no question some have more dire outlooks than others. But being prepared for the unexpected—wherever you live—is sound, rational, and potentially lifesaving.

Imagine an unforeseen catastrophe occurs: a tornado detours through your subdivision, an unexpected shift in winds means you need to quickly evacuate ahead of a blaze. In such situations, you may not have the time or the ability to assemble what you need to stay safe and comfortable for some unknown length of time—however long it takes for things to get back to “normal.” And you shouldn’t assume rescue workers will quickly come knocking at your door (or tracking down your stranded vehicle): Depending on the circumstances, they may have their hands full, and transportation corridors may be blocked.

Self-reliance and forethought are called for. If you’ve readied yourself for a disaster—even if, of course, you didn’t know what form it might take—you’ll hopefully have emergency supplies at hand and a preplanned emergency protocol to follow.

You may never have to use the urban survival gear you acquire or the urban survival skills you cultivate—hopefully you won’t! But urban prepping gives you the peace-of-mind of knowing you’ve got a game plan—and some practical tools—if disaster does strike.

The Basics

A basic emergency kit, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency notes, should provide the supplies you need to get by for at least 72 hours, and ideally longer.

We’re talking at least a three-day share of non-perishable food and water (a gallon per person per day), with larger reserves all the better. Here at Mountain House, we offer a selection of kits and buckets, including our three-, five-, and 14-day “Just in Case” emergency food supplies ideal for an emergency kit. (Don’t forget: Our products have the industry’s longest shelf life, which is backed by our 30 year Taste Guarantee!)

You’ll also want items such as a first-aid kit, a battery-operated or (better yet) hand-crank radio, multiple flashlights, backup batteries, a cell phone with a charging system (or two), a whistle, and materials such as plastic sheeting for making an emergency shelter.

It’s also a good idea to include blankets and warm clothing, copies of critical documents, some cash money or traveler’s checks, and household chlorine bleach (which can be used to disinfect both wounds and water). If you use prescription medication or you wear glasses or contact lenses, keep backups of these in your emergency kit as well.

And don’t forget Fido and Whiskers! If you have pets, they need their own emergency kits, too (including their own stockpiles of water).

Urban Survival Training: Practice Makes Perfect

It’s one thing to have assembled the urban survival equipment necessary for a comprehensive emergency kit. But that’s not all that urban survival demands: You also want to define a plan of action, and make sure that everyone in your household’s familiar with it.

This means mapping out an evacuation route in your house, ensuring everyone knows how (and when) to shut off utilities, and practicing putting these kinds of measures to use through emergency drills. Occasionally running the family through a simulated disaster response might seem like overkill, but if an actual disaster occurs, you’ll be thankful for the game plan you established—and that were able to refine through trial-and-error—in calmer moments.

The same idea applies to workplaces, schools, and anywhere else you or a family member spends a lot of time: Familiarize yourself with that location’s particular emergency-response protocol, and make sure everybody in the family has the contact info for every pertinent location.

Bug-Out & Get-Home Bags

There’s plenty of lingo connected to modern-day urban prepping, and some of it refers to variations on the standard emergency kit. You may have heard about “bug-out bags,” for instance, also known as “72-hour bags” among several other monikers. Bug-out bags are meant to include items to sustain you while you evacuate from a disaster zone to a safe retreat (a “bug-out location”). Given such havens might be in the backcountry, bug-out bags typically include many of the same items an experienced wilderness traveler carries, such as fire-starting and water-purifying materials, in addition to tools for “living off the land,” such as fishhooks. (Some Mountain House freeze-dried meals would come in handy, too!)

And then there’s the urban “get-home bag,” a survival kit specifically designed to help you return home if an emergency or disaster catches you away—say, at work. Many people, after all, spend most of their waking hours on the road, at an office, or in a classroom. A get-home bag’ll typically be smaller and lighter than a bug-out bag—weight’s at a premium, after all, when you’re trying to get yourself home as quickly as you can—and might include items such as tennis shoes (for comfortably walking or running blocks or miles of city streets, not to mention hopping fences and other obstacles) and a detailed city map. Once home, you might determine you’re secure enough to hunker down there (what some call a “bug-in” scenario); or, if conditions are dicey, you might reach for that bug-out bag of yours and light for safer territory.

Both kinds of survival kits are meant to be catered to your personal situation. A bug-out bag will look differently depending on the sort of place you live: The tools and supplies for bugging-out in a swamp forest, for instance, won’t be exactly the same as those a desert dweller would depend upon. And a get-home bag will reflect the specifics of your workplace (or wherever you spend most of your time outside the house), including—naturally—how far from home it is.

Building Confidence

It’s all too easy to go overboard when it comes to urban prepping, both in terms of scaring yourself silly with apocalyptic visions and in terms of amassing too much equipment (or impractical stuff for downright outlandish scenarios). But remember: Readying yourself for emergencies of even the most mundane sort is actually an exercise in building confidence, in feeling calmer and more secure in your day-to-day life. Life’s unpredictable, but some simple preparations and straightforward provisioning can go a long way to helping you sleep a bit more soundly!