Chapter 1: What do I Prepare for?

Before you can prepare, you must decide what you are preparing for.  Sound simple? Well, it can be – if you are preparing for only one thing.  But once you get started, you’ll probably want to prepare for more than one thing, and this can make it more complicated.

Unlike some web sites, is not specific to one event or disaster. We won’t tell you to prepare just for nuclear war, only for an earthquake, or just to withstand a hurricane, or because of terrorists.  This guide is designed to help you become prepared for any large scale disaster or emergency.  Why?  Because just like you will be on your own when disaster strikes, you need to be the one driving your own planning process.  We will guide you (as the name Captain Dave’s Survival Guide implies) and provide tools, lists, and questions, but you have to take personal responsibility and develop your own plan.  Here are some steps to take:

Step 1: Determine what specific scenarios you are preparing to survive and how each disaster threatens you, your safety and survival.

Step 1 isn’t tough; and only requires a few minutes of thought.  It is important, however, because your survival plan depends on what you are planning to survive, so please don’t skip this first step.

As you work through Step 1, we suggest you jot notes or switch into your word processor while you work. You may want to talk to others who will be affected by your plan, such as a spouse.

Before we get started, a warning not to get carried away.  It’s important to realize that you cannot prepare for everything — only the military tries to do that, and we’ve yet to meet any individual with the resources to match the military’s. So establish your priorities so you can avoid wasting your time and resources preparing for something this is highly unlikely.

Captain Dave suggests you prepare first for those things that are likely to happen in the next five years.  Sure, even if you live near a fault line, you may wait seven or ten years for the next earthquake, but you may have to wait thousands for the next comet to hit us.  So prudence dictates that you spend your time, money and other resources prepare for the earthquake before you invest in preparing for the comet.  Thankfully, most of the basic preparations — food, water, and shelter — are the same for almost any emergency.  In fact, the 80/20 rule means that if you prepare for a specific emergency, you are likely to be 80 percent prepared for a different emergency.  That means you can prepare for two or three disaster scenarios with only an incremental expenditure in time, money, and effort.

What, you ask, is going to happen in the next five years? If we knew, our web page would look different! You’ll have to extrapolate, evaluate trends, read the newspaper, and conduct your own research. Don’t trust people that predict one disaster whether it is peak oil or bird flu; hedge your bets and prepare in such a way that you can best survive a range of disasters.

Step 2: Evaluate your geographic location.

Take a few minutes and consider your location – both where you live and where you work.  What climatic or weather related emergencies might strike?  Is your area likely to see a blizzard, a drought, forest fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis or other emergencies?

What features of the local area could be a danger?  Are there chemical plants, rail yards, nuclear facilities, federal offices, water treatment plants, oil tanks, or other potential targets nearby?  Are you near government facilities or historic monuments that could be a target of terrorism?  Are you in or near an inner city that could be the site of civil unrest?  If rioting broke out, would it be likely to spread to where you are located?  Remember, an accidental chemical spill or a riot can kill you as dead as a targeted terrorist attack.

Pull out a map or go to Google Earth and look at what’s within a two-mile, five-mile 10-mile and 25-mile radius of your home and place of work.  Put on your pessimist hat and consider what might go wrong that could directly impact you. For example, is there a dam upstream that could break?  Are you near an air field and could a plane crash into your home?  Decide if that’s something you want to prepare for (see questions one and two, below).  Visit the EPA web site and see what hazardous materials are store or used near you.

Check your state or county web site and see what their disaster preparedness plan calls for.  For example, if you live a “safe” distance from a river but inside the 500-year flood, should you prepare for a flood? We would, but it’s your call. It’s your house on the line, so you have to decide.

That nuclear plant 30 miles away has an excellent safety record. Should a nuclear disaster be on your list? We think so, but again, it’s your decision.

Are you worried about a meteorite crashing into your house? Well, it has happened, but it’s probably not worth preparing for until you have addressed the more immediate concerns.

Step 3: Consider the current geopolitical situation


All threats are not natural; there are plenty of man-made disasters waiting, and many can be identified on the world stage.  Look at those rattling their sabers, making threatening speeches, or attacking U.S. outposts and allies overseas.  Threats come and go over time (and come again — look at Russia), so while we may have feared Libya 20 years ago, Iran is a more significant threat today.  Will they destroy Israel, attack U.S. Interests, shut down oil production, or use military power to close the strait of Hormuz?

Look at regional disputes, such as squabbles between India and Pakistan, Israel and Iran, China and Tawian, North Korea and just about anyone in the region.  In hostilities break out, are they likely to go nuclear? What kind of economic impact might be felt here?

Is there widespread illness somewhere else?  Will it head this way?  Keep abreast of the news and tailor your response level to what you are reading and hearing.

Step 4: Enumerate your fears

Finally, if you’ve been afraid of something since you were a child — whether it’s a raging fire or nuclear war — prepare for it. At the very least, you’ll sleep better at nights knowing you have done all you can.

Questions to Consider as you Plan

Here are some questions to ask yourself during the initial planning stage:

What natural disasters or extreme conditions am I (we) l likely to face in the next five years?

Make a list and rank them in order of most to least likely to impact you. Consider your location from a geologic and meteorological standpoint. You can review our list of possible natural disasters if you need to.

Your list might look like this:

  • Heavy thunder storms that result in local flooding, power outages and disruption of emergency services
  • Severe winter weather that could result in power outages and restrict travel
  • Drought that causes water restrictions or even rationing
  • SARS, flu epidemic or other naturally occurring epidemic or pandemic
  • Ashfall from a large volcano

What local man-made disasters or emergency situations might I face?

Add to your list the man-made or other disasters that you might face in the next five years (again, you can refer to our list, if necessary).

Let’s say you have added these categories:

  • Toxic material emission/spill from train derailment or truck accident, resulting in the need to shelter-in-place for six to 24 hours or evacuation.
  • Riot or other civil disorder resulting in a breakdown of police protection and other emergency services, which leads to arson, looting and anarchy.
  • Emission (minor) or melt down (severe) at the local nuclear power plant, require evacuation within a 20 mile radius.
  • Terrorism attack with conventional explosives or chemical weapons causing personal harm to self or loved ones.

What national or global disasters are likely to affect me?

  • Nuclear conflict that results in fallout
  • Terrorist attack with nuclear or biological weapons
  • War
  • EMP strike
  • Extra-terrestrial emergency such as sun spots, asteroid impact, etc.

What economic or financial disasters might strike that could affect me?

  • Loss of job resulting in diminished income, inability to pay bills with a long-term possibility of being unable to pay the rent/mortgage.
  • Illness, accident or other medical emergency that could result in a loss of income and ability to sustain current lifestyle.  Disability that affects ability to work and could require long-term care.
  • Financial depression resulting in stock market crash, rampant inflation or even currency devaluation that wipes out retirement savings.
  • Hyperinflation followed by a collapse of the dollar, a cessation of trade, and shortages and scarcity making it difficult or impossible to obtain food, medicine and other necessities.

What are the ramifications of each item on my list?

Now, take your list and create a second column.  Put the ramifications of each disaster in the second column. What do we mean by ramification? How the disaster or emergency situation could affect you. Think this one through very carefully, as everyone’s situation is different. For example, families with children have different concerns than those without or singles.

Finally, note if the ramifications could require evacuation (our next topic).

The results of this pre-planning should be in a table and look something like this sample:

Potential Disaster
Severe thunder storm with possibility of a tornado.  Electrical outage for 12 hours (average) to two weeks (severe)
  • No electrical lighting except flashlights
  • Possible food spoilage due to lack of refrigeration
  • Lack of air conditioning/heating could result in discomfort (short term) or even death
  • Potential damage to residence and/or car from nearby trees, flying objects, high winds.  Range from minor to loss of roof to complete destruction (in a tornado)
  • Possible local flooding (see below) may prevent travel
  • Local transportation impaired by fallen trees, downed wires
  • Lightning damage/fire potential
  • Communication interruptions – phone and Internet outages. Limited access to news only via battery powered radio
  • Any electrical medical equipment will cease to work without battery back up or generator power
  • Houses with wells may lack water supply, which will lead to personal hygiene issues as toilets won’t flush
  • May not be able to cook or heat water
  • Lengthy outages may result in illness due to poor hygiene, undercooked food, contaminated water, etc.
Severe winter weather, such as a blizzard or ice storm.  Affects may linger due to duration of event or lasting cold temperatures.  Worse in areas that are no used to such events and have limited snow handling equipment
  • Trees and power lines may break resulting in electrical outage for 12 hours (an inconvenience) to 14 days (severe).
  • Electrical outage would affect furnace operation (see above for other power outage effects)
  • Exposure problems/potential hypothermia as house cools
  • Frozen pipes/ damage to home and infrastructure due to freezing temperatures
  • Roof may be in danger of collapsing due to weight of snow.
  • Schools closed, non-essential workers are not required to go to work
  • Disruption of travel, transportation due to road conditions, airport closures, disruption of mass transit, etc.
  • You or family members may possibly stranded away from home
  • Possible vehicle accidents due to travel during storm
  • Emergency response by police, fire, and ambulance may be limited, curtailed or impossible
  • Possible food shortages due to limited pantry and empty shelves at local markets
  • Kerosene heaters and wood burning devices may result in carbon monoxide poisoning when used improperly or represent a fire hazard
  • Livestock in fields may starve due to no access to food, frozen water sources
  • Possible shortages of necessities such as medicines, diapers, formula, etc.
  • Possible heart attack or injury clearing snow
Nearby flash flooding
  • Local transportation disrupted
  • Danger while traveling in car or by foot
  • Possible loss of utilities
  • Loss of personal belongings due to flooding
  • Damage to or loss off home, not covered by insurance
  • Potential loss of life
Sever regional flooding 







Nearby train derailment

  • May result in loss of home and/or contents
  • May result in loss of life
  • Cars and other vehicles may be swept away or damaged by exposure to flood waters
  • Not covered by normal insurance; requires separate flood insurance
  • Even if not directly flooded, flooding may result in loss of utilities, loss or limits to emergency response, unsafe drinking water, unsanitary conditions leading to disease, etc.
  • Possible leak or spill of chemicals
  • Short-term exposure problem
  • Long-term cancer concerns
  • Evacuation may be necessary
  • Road closures/travel disruption
Riot or other civil disorder
  • Stranded in car or office while family is at home and/or school
  • Inability to get to work/home or pick up children
  • Danger of riot spreading to your neighborhood, with arson, looting, wanton destruction, etc.
  • Attack or threat to personal property and personal safety
  • Looting and rampaging by otherwise lawful citizens
  • Fire with potentially no response by authorities
  • Police are overwhelmed, cannot protect law-abiding citizens
  • Fire crews, ambulance will not respond in areas of rioting due to danger to personnel
Nuclear plant problems
  • Reactor vessel damage could result in release of radioactive chemicals to atmosphere
  • Evacuation may be necessary
  • Potentially life threatening exposure to unsafe levels of radiation
  • Items left behind may be impossible to retrieve due to radioactivity
  • Food sources and milk from cows downwind may be contaminated
  • Threat to safety at work and during business travel
  • Disruption of commerce, travel
  • Less personal freedom, privacy as a result of government reaction to terrorism
  • Could trigger stock market sell off, economic problems.
Avian Influenza or similar pandemic
  • Extreme illness leading to possible death for a significant percentages of the population
  • Loss of utilities and public services due to illness of workforce and quarantines
  • Government restrictions on personal liberties, by way of mandatory quarantines, travel restrictions and curfews
  • Potentially huge economic losses on a national level and loss of jobs on an individual level
  • Overwhelming of hospital and medical facilities, as well as morgues
  • Lack of medications and treatment options