The typical image of ‘preppers’ is of heavily armed Americans living in compounds in the mountains, with stockpiles of food and ammunition, or their close relatives the ‘survivalists’ who are kitted out ready to live in shelters in the woods, making their own clothes out of squirrels. But has the coronavirus pandemic turned us into a nation of preppers? The early scenes of empty supermarket shelves would certainly seem to show that a lot of people realised that they needed to be better prepared, though I’m not sure they knew what for.
Certainly our society here in western europe is less well prepared for the unexpected than our grandparents were. Even until 40 or 50 years ago people would have been less impacted by, say, a power cut. Our extreme reliance on electricity and internet connectivity has left us incredibly vulnerable, and the ready convenience of well stocked nearby shops and car ownership means that huge numbers of people rely on being able to buy little and often.
The last six months have shown just how easily our daily routine can unravel, and how things that seemed so certain back at the start of 2020 can vanish almost overnight. We all need to take a serious look at how we can improve the resilience of our famillies, so that when situations like this arise – as they surely will with increasing frequency – we can get through them a little more comfortably.
Judging by a lot of prepper groups I see on facebook, there’s a strong contingent of men who fall into the ‘Bear Grylls’ camp, and should the worst happen, we can expect to find the woodlands of Britain teeming with camo-d blokes fleeing suburbia as they ‘bug out’. This is not to say that being able to light a fire, pitch a tent and live out in the countryside aren’t great skills to have, but I’m just not sure its the most likely scenario.
So what is the most likely reason to need to ‘be prepared’? Well we’ve already seen that being confined to our homes, or at least to a small area is one. Another is food rationing or limited availability, either because of government rules, or potentially because of supply chain issues. Covid has caused some, through lack of workers to harvest or plant crops, and through transportation issues. Brexit may cause further issues; climate change may simply mean there isn’t enough of come crops to maintain supply. Other likely scenarios are power cuts, water stoppages and extreme weather – whether heat, rain or wind. Supply chain issues in particular can have many unforseen consequences, from rising prices to complete unavailability. Inconvenient maybe, but if if it impacts medical supplies, or your ability to earn an income, it can become more serious very quickly.
So what to do? In the short term, having a week’s supply of food in the house, keeping some bottled water, a torch, spare batteries, candles and matches is a good start. Buy a bit extra when you shop, be aware of use by dates, and rotate the supply so food isn’t sitting there for months or years.
The next step would be to also grow a bit of food, maybe get a water filter, catch rainwater. Don’t try and do everything at once. Consider what you would do if you couldn’t get to the shops for a week, or there was a very limited supply of food in stock, or the power went out for 3 days. How would you cook? Heat water? Would your water still run from the taps?
A cheap camping stove would be a way to ensure these weren’t insurmountable problems, but a better way might be to integrate the solution into your daily life. Do you have a woodburning stove? Does it have a hotplate or room to put a pan or kettle on? If your gas boiler won’t light because the power is off, then a woodburner will give you one warm room plus hot water if you have a back boiler, (and without the need for electricity if you have a thermosiphon system) and a means of cooking. Plus if it is something you use regularly, when the power does go out, you won’t be worrying about what to do. For obvious reasons, you’re more likely to be able to find your own supply of woodfuel than other solid fuels, should supplies run low.
If you’re one of the many people who have solar panels fitted to their roof, but no battery storage – consider getting some, even if its only a moderate amount to keep your freezer running for a couple of days and a few lights on. Many people don’t even realise that when the grid goes down, their solar panels become disconnected and are effectively useless. Retro fitting battery storage that will give you energy independence need not be a big or terribly expensive job, and it will give you peace of mind.
Although I haven’t tackled it first, water should be a priority. For most people their mains water supply relies on electrical pumps to get it to their house, and so it is certainly worth storing some bottled or containerised water. I won’t go into the details of how to purify and safely store water here – the internet is full of such resources, but rainwater harvesting systems are well within the reach of DIY, and safe filtration inexpensive and perfectly doable.
Sanitation is something that people overlook – in the event of a water supply problem, your flushing loo will stop working, so you’ll need a source of non potable water to flush it, and less often that you might normally too. (If its brown send it down, if its yellow, let it mellow). Better still, a composting loo that doesn’t require any water and which is part of a system whereby you can ultimately use the compost in a garden.
Personally my own instinct is that our family would plan to stay here in the event of any likely problems, but you need to consider whether there are external influences that might require you to be able to leave your property in a hurry. Until recently, the idea of wildfires being a real issue in the UK just didn’t exist, but we’re increasingly seeing them become a problem in certain areas, so for some it is a real consideration, and having a ‘bug out bag’ with some essentials ready to go at any time, is worth doing. The same can be said for the increasingly large areas that are being affected by flooding, and other extreme weather events such as high wind. Take a good look around your home, think about what potentially could happen, and how you and your family would deal with or escape those scenarios.
We are now at this eight years, and although I wouldn’t describe us as ‘preppers’, our lifestyle has led us to be relatively well prepared for many eventualities, and less reliant on outside influences. That said we’ll never be entirely self sufficient, and can only mitigate the problems, not eliminate them. We are constantly looking at where our weaknesses are, and trying to find ways to increase our resilience as part of a never ending process. Resilience is key, and having multiple solutions to a problem. For instance, we have a mains water supply, as well as a 5000 litre rainwater store. It’s pumped electrically, run by batteries, and we have spares for the pump. But we also have a manual pump just in case, and if that failed, we’d rely on gravity to get water out of the tanks. We also have a ram pump in the stream down the field, which is purely mechanical, although the water is definitely last resort material. There’s also a box of plumbing parts out in the shed so we can repair faulty pipes and joints. I could do the same with our hot water and heating systems. The point is that there’s no one single point of failure.
Something we all need to remember is that it is a lot easier to be prepared as part of a community, so building good relations with neighbours is going to be increasingly vital, especially now. None of this is accomplished overnight, so the best time to start is now, and every little you do will be an improvement on not acting at all. I hope this has been helpful – I don’t want to sound like a doom monger, but we do face significant challenges that really haven’t existed before, or certainly in my lifetime, and in that regard I have been extremely fortunate. My wish is that the next generation are ready for what might lie ahead.