As Hawaiian Liberatrian notes, at some point, the likelihood of the Shit Hitting the Fan (SHTF) increases as the unsustainability of our debt as a nation (and world) continues. Even if you don’t subscribe to that theory, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, zombies…any number of things may rock our world, even if it’s just the short term.
I’ll break this up into a few different parts. I am by no means a tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist, nor someone who is an active “Prepper” with atomic bunker filled with 20 years of food.
I’m just a regular boyscout looking to be prepared should a situation arise, and do so as cheaply as I can.
We can last without food for a long time. Certainly a couple of days, maybe as much as a few weeks. Potable water though is critical though. If we aren’t exerting and are neither too hot or too cold, we can live 3 to 5 days without any water, but it won’t be very pleasant. If you are in hot weather (or cold where you need to exert to stay warm) you are going to need it much sooner. The general rule of thumb is one-half to one gallon per person per day. This isn’t hard and fast though, Aron Ralston survived six days with only 12 ounces of water and a couple of burritos, though he was sheltered in a canyon.
So stop reading for a minute and think: if the power went out right now, and stayed out for a week, would we be ok here? Water towers and the the like have some storage capacity and pressurize municipal water systems, but once down, they need electricity to pump them full again. Most communities will drain their water tower dry within 24 hours. And when the levels are dropping, the water pressure drops too (it takes 50-100 psi to run most municipal water systems, so a 120 foot tower can pressurize that requirement non-mechanically). It’s likely, or at least possible, that your community has backup generator for their water pump, but you never know how long it will last with someone feeding it fuel (it is a high priority though, so it should theoretically be babysat by the authorities) or what shape the generator is in.
If nothing else, recent snowstorm and hurricanes have shown that any sign of inclement weather and people panic, buying as much milk, bread and water as they can get their hands on. Don’t count on being able to go down to the grocery store and picking up a case, especially when power is down (you do have some cash on hand in these situations right? In case credit cards don’t work).
What did you come up with? Maybe a case of 20 ounce water bottles?
At a minimum, having water on hand to last a few days is a good idea. You can start with a case or two of water from the store. Rotate it out every few months or so as the plastic isn’t high grade and does have minor degradation with time, and accelerated through light and heat. For long term “fill it and forget it” water, we wouldn’t want to use old 2-Liter soda bottles for the same reason- off tastes, though if you are diligent and rotate through that is a cheap option as are old plastic milk jugs. Another alternatives are five gallon jugs like they deliver from the water guy or camping store. You can find them for $7-20 or so. I’ve also filled up glass jugs and containers (the big table wine containers to glass milk jugs) with water, but they are bulky and are more likely to break. You can also find free or reduced priced food grade plastic bucket in various sizes from your local grocery store (usually baking stuff like frosting is stored/shipped in those containers and they usually just recycle them). Finally, you can work your way to larger storage containers. My next step up will be a 55 gallon food grade plastic storage vessel. You can find something like this with siphon pump and hose for under $90 without looking too hard.
Other options for water, if you have a supply like a pond or river or lake (may vary based on season though – we have a nearby pond, but is frozen in the winter), filtration is an option. A larger-sized bag filter like this is what I’d consider ($62) and is useful if you do any longer camping trips more away from civilization:
Besides filtration, you can purify your water by boiling it for 10 minutes to kill bacteria, or with a few basic chemicals, some which you already own. Remember in the book/movie The Road, when upon seeing the blast, the first thing the unnamed father did was start filling the bathtub with water? It is subject to growth of stuff without being in a container, but most water is drinkable with just a little help, even that stuff from the pond in the backyard. This resource is good if you’d like more information: Great Northern Prepper’s How to Purify Water and Water FAQ. He recommends 8 drops (1/2 tsp) of chlorine bleach (with 5.25 hypochorite) per gallon if water looks fairly clear, and twice that if cloudy. Stir and wait 30 minutes before drinking. It may taste nasty, but the bacteria should be killed and you should be able to drink it if you had to. Purificaiton tabs are also available and are usually iodine based. Neither of these methods are completely effective against cryptosporidum. Chlorine dioxide or silver ion based tabs or drops will kill both cryptosporidum and giardia but need to sit up to 4 hours before drinking and is 4 times more expensive.
Most people don’t even think about this. Power goes out, where are you going to take care of shitty business? It’s going to get real nasty, real quick if the water supply doesn’t work. If you have a nearby water source, you can fill up your toilet bowls each time you flush. Most municipal septic systems are gravity drained to a point. At a low point, they then pump through a lift station to a higher elevation. When the power gets cut, these lift stations will likely stop working. Depending on where you are on the chain, things could take a long time to back up or a shorter time. If water isn’t available, not many people will be flushing so you’re probably ok if you have a water source for manually filling the bowl.
If you don’t have a water source, you’re left to either the latrine method (dig a hole in the ground in your yard) or putting a toilet seat on a 5-gallon bucket into garbage bags. Not the prettiest or most fun, but temporarily will work. I just bought a bucket seat just in case. You can then sprinkle saw dust or kitty litter or put a lid on the bucket to keep the stank down. If you’re a dude, I’m sure there’s a tree that needs water outside anyway, unless you need to stay indoors so the zombies don’t get you.
As you can see, for next to no money, you can at least store some water to get you through a real emergency, and have now at least thought briefly about where you’re going to take your daily growler when shitting in the toilet bowl won’t cut it.
Part 2 will focus on food preps, another deficient area for most of us.