Disasters are going to be part of our future. Actually, they’re increasingly part of our present—whether fires in California, Alaska, and Siberia, floods in the mid-West, or typhoons in southeastern Africa and northwestern India, to name just a recent few.
But with climate change, the frequency and scale of disasters are going to grow. Bigtime. So what should our response be—as individuals? (Of course, societies will need to effectively respond to disasters—including preventing rebuilding in the most fragile places and helping people to start anew elsewhere, all while reducing emissions to limit future disasters—but that is an answer to a different question.)
What should individuals do to prepare for the possibility of a disaster affecting their families and communities, whether directly, like a flood washing over their town (and the secondary disasters it brings, like cholera), or indirectly, like a sudden economic crisis that makes food and the means to buy that food harder to come by?
The Mormons had it right when they decreed that all Mormon families should establish a food and supply reserve. It is expected that Mormons have a 72-hour portable reserve, a three-month supply of essentials and a one-year supply of non-perishable staples. There are even calculators online where one can calculate how much this is at different household sizes.
This expectation nurtures self-reliance and mutual aid (as sharing these supplies with other Mormons or neighbors is encouraged). Most likely, this mandate stemmed from the continuing persecution Mormons experienced as a marginalized cult in Mormonism’s early years—with Mormons being driven from settlement to settlement in their early days. Having a food store that could be loaded in a wagon or relied on when the locals became unwelcoming certainly seems wise.
And it is wise for Gaians to learn from this. When possible, Gaians should maintain some basic food store—and at least a 3-day supply, including a water filtration system of some sort, to weather sudden emergencies. Ideally we should have a three month reserve as well. It is only a matter of time before the consumer economy ends (whether rapidly or in fits and starts is impossible to know). We need to integrate being prepared directly into The Gaian Way so that even as times change, and as access to information disappears, these elements are encoded in our communities.
What Does Being Prepared Entail?
The Mormons’ three categories seem relevant. All Gaians should have: 3-days of emergency supplies and 3-months of staples to get your family through winter or supplement crops and foods you can forage as you adapt to the new reality.
A one-year supply of non-perishable foodstuffs, as the Mormons suggest, seems too much of an investment and, for Gaians, who should live in smaller homes, this may be difficult to store. And frankly, this opens up a significant risk of food waste (not to mention unjust accumulation), which conflicts directly with expectations that we should not put added stress on Gaia. But if diet and lifestyle allow for more than three months storage—without stress, decline in nutrition, or food waste, then it’s not in itself a bad thing, as a larger supply is more readily shared with neighbors in need. However, if this reserve ends up causing unnecessary damage to Gaia, or limiting your capacity to help heal Gaia (as you obsess over its management), a longer reserve will probably prove detrimental rather than beneficial.
A fourth category is not included by the Mormons—but is probably the most valuable and certainly more valuable than investing in a one year reserve (if it’s an either/or situation). And that’s having the skills to survive even without supplies. Invest in learning Ancestral (and modern) skills that mean that with nothing but a knife (which certainly should be part of your immediate emergency supplies) you can keep from freezing, dehydrating, and starving even in the most remote wilderness. And invest in permaculture skills to start growing your own food. And invest in essential barter-able skills, like basic first aid, doula/midwifery skills, conflict mediation, carpentry, and so on.
To be clear, being prepared isn’t where Gaians should focus all their energy, but recognizing the growing fragility of the ecological, economic, and political worlds we live in (and how these are increasingly feeding each other), none of us should travel blindly into the future, especially not when it is easy to set aside a 3-day supply, increase some basic longer-term supplies in your home, and learn a new skill or two.
So what should these supplies and skills include?
A Three-Day Supply
In the short-term, a portable 3-day supply is worth creating in case you’re faced with the type of emergency that means you have to leave (e.g. fire, flood, or conflict). This “go-bag” doesn’t need to be fancy. Just include your essential papers (or copies); key friends’ and families’ contact information (how many of you actually know phone numbers of friends and family by heart any longer?); water; and a water filtering system as you can’t carry much water if you’re evacuating on foot (though bring more if you’re leaving by car); some calorie-dense non-perishable food (that you can rotate through your cupboards so they don’t go to waste); flashlights; a knife; a length of paracord; synthetic or wool clothing (that’ll hold its warmth when wet); and money.
I always find it amazing the statistics on how little cash people keep on them even as stories abound where ATMs or banks no longer distribute money in crises. Without going to the extreme of hoarding gold as many paranoid preppers do (it is a metal that is deeply abusive to the Earth and therefore does more ill than good), it is wise to have some cash stored safely in one’s home. Also as a precaution, for those that have cars, get into the habit of refilling your tank when the tank becomes half empty. You cannot assume gas will be available at all times, and being overly efficient—filling your tank when you’re close to empty—may come back to bite you. (On the flip side: having extra gas stored in the home or garage seems dangerous to me. Increasing the odds of causing a fire that destroys your home to make yourself more ready for a crisis where you have to flee—which is certainly a low-probability event—is bad calculus.)
One interesting suggestion I’ve read is to have several bags (especially if you have several family members) and organize them as most to least important—the bags not the family members! That way if you can take three bags, then take them, if you can only take one, you take the most important one, which has the essential papers and medicines, money, one full water bottle and a water filter, some duct tape, some matches or a lighter, a length of paracord, a flashlight, a first aid kit, and a knife, and one high calorie snack, for example. (Additional bags can have additional water and food, clothing, and so on.)
What do I need for three months?
A three-month supply is something I have yet to set aside for myself, so I have less advice to offer (though I will update this as I explore further). While some suggest to keep the 3-day supply and 3-month supplies separate, that seems wasteful. Just know what you keep in your 3-day supply that you’ll need if you have to shelter in place (i.e. basic first aid kit, a water filter, etc.). In the 3-month supply you should have non-perishable foods (we cook a lot with rice and beans, so we do have more of those now as I’ve been buying extra now and then).
Along with food (that you can rotate through so none goes to waste) it might be worth figuring out some basic technologies you want to invest in and master. The solar oven is top on my list to learn—as that should be a good back-up means to sterilize water, and cook with if natural gas, electricity, nor wood is easily available. However, I just learned that simply putting filled PET water bottles in the sun for 1-2 days will sterilize these as well (so perhaps a solar oven isn’t as essential).
So, really at the most basic, we’re talking about non-perishable food and necessities (toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, etc.) and some large (1.5ish liter) water bottles (they can start full of course), and your water filtration system (perhaps an extra filter is included here). Having additional first aid supplies might be wise as well, especially if you have the skills to help neighbors with these challenges.
A Lifetime of Skills Development
As for skills, most important are the very basic survival skills, and those should be learned first. But there are also many skills that can complement other Gaians’ skills in your community and if you are highly skilled in these can provide or be exchanged for basic food and other essentials.
- How to make a basic water filter (SODIS and bacterial water filters will work better with clearer water)
- Gardening/permaculture basics
- Foraging basics
- Acorn processing—acorns, which are available in many parts of the world, are a highly valuable food source that few will compete for as few realize they are edible (once properly processed). Plus acorns are easily stored and processable year-round.
- How to make basic shelters
- How to make animal traps and basic butchering
- Basic/wilderness First Aid
- Martial Arts, which strengthens both once ability to defend oneself, and recognize potential threats before they become actual hazardous situations
Finally, what is rarely discussed in the context of preparing for disaster is one’s mindset. It’s not enough to recognize that there is a threat and that we should prepare ourselves and our communities. We should recognize that getting prepared also comes at an ecological cost. Thus we should be extra careful that we do not let food go to waste, or buy into prepping ‘fads’ that are unnecessary. But we should also consciously acknowledge the sacrifice Gaia (and other people and other lifeforms) are making to support our preparedness (in the form of additional carbon and environmental burdens, food shifted from those in need to our closets, etc.). Here is a short prayer worth reciting when adding to your emergency reserves:
Gaian Food Storage Prayer
Oh Gaia, we store these fruits of Your body for our families. Thank you for your bounty.
We remove this food and energy from Your community, and for this we ask your pardon.
But we promise to use these goods wisely—to not let them go to waste, to share them, and to use them to spread an understanding of Gaia to our neighbors and to the world.
In future posts, I will map out more specifics for preparations at different time frames, as I figure them out for myself, though if you want to go down this rabbit hole sooner, the new website The Prepared is filled with lots of material. And of course, suggestions are welcome below.