Are we already forgetting the lessons we should have learned?

I’m not a gung-ho “survivalist“, one of those who gets ready for the end of the world as we know it, with food and supplies for at least a year stashed away, and the necessary firepower to keep it from the ravening, unprepared hordes who want to take it.  I think that’s a pipe-dream.  If things get that bad, very few will survive, and then only because luck went their way.  Having been in too many Third World hell-holes for comfort, I know all too well that no amount of preparation can guarantee survival when society disintegrates around one’s ears.  There are too many variables.

Nevertheless, I’m a strong proponent of preparing for emergencies as best one can, and being ready to make it without outside assistance for a few weeks to a couple of months.  I learned a lot traveling through those Third World hell-holes.  I’ve been through four hurricanes in the USA, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (about which I’ve written extensively), and experienced the Nashville floods of 2010.  I’ve seen enough to learn a number of important lessons.  The photographs of damage and destruction after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria over the past few weeks have merely reinforced my determination to do all in my power to have emergency essentials on hand, just in case.

What boggles my mind are the reactions I’m already hearing about (from friends in local and state law enforcement) among those who rushed to get gasoline, and panic-bought bottled water, bread, beer and other essentials (?), when they knew the storms were almost upon them.  Now that the storms have passed, and rescue and recovery have turned into repair and rebuilding, how many of them have bothered to restock their emergency supplies?  How many of them would be prepared if another Atlantic storm system strengthened into a hurricane, and headed their way?  (We’re only halfway through hurricane season, after all.)  I suspect relatively few have even considered the possibility.

I’m equally baffled by the nonchalant attitude of those living outside the hurricane-stricken areas.  We’ve all seen the photographs and video clips of the damage to Texas, Louisiana, Florida and a number of Caribbean islands.  (Here, for example, is the Atlantic’s photo essay of damage caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.  It’s worthwhile viewing.  Ten days ago, those neighborhoods looked like many in mainland USA.  Now . . . not so much.)  We know what Mother Nature can do when she sets her mind to it – and that’s not just involving hurricanes.  Scenes of disaster after tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes, floods and the like are all too familiar, and have been splashed across our news media for years.  Newspapers regularly publish scare stories about “the Big One” in California, or the Yellowstone “supervolcano” letting go . . . but most of those living in the danger zones for those hazards carry right on as usual, doing little or nothing to make what preparations they can in case such an emergency should arise.

I don’t understand that.  OK, I’ve seen more than my fair share of disaster situations, but even so, everyone else I know has seen them too, albeit only on TV or in newspapers.  Why the mental switch-off?  Why the refusal to heed the advice of FEMA and other official resources, all of whom recommend that you maintain at least a minimal level of emergency supplies?  Why the resentment directed by so many against “preppers”, when they’ll be the first to ask those same preppers for help if disaster strikes their area, and resent the hell out of them if they don’t share what they’ve put aside to help their own families?  Why the refusal to invest even a hundred dollars, over the course of a year, in building up a three- to seven-day reserve of food and potable water?  If you put $2 to $5 every week into buying a couple of extra cans of food, or a flat of bottled water, or other basic needs, at the end of a year you’ll have your basic minimum emergency needs covered – so why not do it?

I’ve gone further than the minimum.  Miss D. and I have invested in our preparations, and expect to spend more over the next year or two, providing additional resources such as a small generator.  We don’t have every “i” dotted or every “t” crossed – we can’t afford to – but we’ve covered most of the basics.  Following the lessons I learned during Hurricane Katrina, I’m fairly sure we’ll need to help friends and acquaintances, too, so we have enough put aside to do that if necessary.  We’d all get tired of rice and beans, but we’d survive.  What’s more, if things become untenable locally, we can load our food and other gear into our vehicles, top up their tanks from our stored supplies, and head for safer pastures.  We won’t be an immediate burden on those at our new location.

There are those who argue that, if they’re not in an area prone to hurricanes or similar major emergencies, they don’t need to make such extensive preparations.  That’s their business, of course.  However, hurricanes are far from the only major threats.  Where we live now, in northern Texas, we could encounter the “triple whammy” of earthquakes to our north, in Oklahoma;  weather emergencies coming in from the west, along the “dry line”, including torrential rains and the risk of tornadoes in summer, or ice storms in winter (as Lawdog can attest);  and wildfires or floods, both of which are far from unknown in this area.

Any one of those would be bad enough.  Two or three of them at the same time would stress every resource we’ve got, including the transport network through which assistance and supplies would have to reach us.  That stress would be made worse by the need to help other communities, perhaps worse off than we might be.  We might have to wait until their immediate needs were met before we received help and supplies ourselves.  That’s not being paranoid;  that’s being realistic, and is entirely in line with historical reality.  I’m sure, if readers check the history of their own areas, they’ll find similar risks for which to prepare.

It worries me very much to see how few people around here have taken any precautions against or made any preparations for emergencies, even after official advice to do so, and after the recent hurricanes have demonstrated so clearly why that’s a good idea.  In the event of real need, what will they do?  They’d better not come knocking at my door, because my reserves will go to my wife and our small local network of close friends.  That’s what they’re there for – not for public distribution!

I’m sure many of my readers are familiar with Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper.  The original version goes something like this.

In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.

“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”

“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”

“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; we have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil.

When the winter came the Grasshopper found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing, every day, corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer.

Then the Grasshopper knew…

It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.

The revised version is somewhat different.

The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks he’s a fool, laughs, and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

CBS, NBC and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food.

America is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper, and everybody cries when they sing “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”

Jesse Jackson stages a demonstration in front of the ant’s house where the news stations film the group singing “We Shall Overcome”. Jesse then has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper’s sake.

Al Gore exclaims in an interview with Peter Jennings that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and calls for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his “fair share”.

Finally, the EEOC drafts the “Economic Equity and Anti-Grasshopper Act,” retroactive to the beginning of the summer.

The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the government.

Hillary Clinton gets her old law firm to represent the grasshopper in a defamation suit against the ant, and the case is tried before a panel of federal judges appointed from a list of multi-generation welfare recipients. The ant loses the case.

The story ends as we see the grasshopper finishing the last bits of the ant’s food while the government house he is in, which just happens to be the ant’s old house, crumbles around him because he doesn’t maintain it.

The ant has disappeared in the snow.

The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the once peaceful neighborhood.

I fear those of us who prepare for emergencies are more likely to encounter the second version . . . but that doesn’t make preparations less worthwhile.  I hope, dear readers, that you’re doing the same – and not being grasshoppers.  There are altogether too many of them for comfort.




  1. The only actual 'emergency' I had to use my supplies for was unemployment. Having them was good AND I've been lucky.

    My grandpa was in San Francisco during the '06 earthquake, supplies would not have helped, he said you needed gold or silver to get a ride out of the city on a ferry boat.

  2. how many of them have bothered to restock their emergency supplies?

    depending where you live, it is gonna take from 2 to 3 weeks for shops to re-stock to levels prior to Irma. You won't be able to buy all at once but gradually.

    We still have plenty to go at least another 2 weeks without services. The only thing I need to do is replenish gas.

  3. Old Prepping Rule #1: STFU about your preps.

    Why? The difference between a stray cat and your cat is one dish of food.

    People work the same way, only worse; when you have prepared, sacrificed to spend the time and money procuring supplies to – hopefully – get through a disaster, there will come a point when you have provided all the assistance you can to others without sacrificing your own situation. At that point you will be called a "hoarder," "selfish," and hear the cries of "it's not fair you have food and I'm hungry." The next step will the hungry or cold forcefully helping themselves to your preps.

    Which is why preppers are well armed.

    All that said, despite STFU about your preps, it's worthwhile suggesting others engage in it, and helping them learn what to do and how to do it, because the more who do the fewer who will need assistance when the smelly stuff hits the rotary impeller.

    Build a one week supply – 7 full 24-hour days – of everything you need to get by with absolutely no electricity, running water or outside assistance,, then start adding to it. When you've reached a one month supply, you can begin adding "nice to haves" while you continue to slowly add "must haves" on your way to 2 months.

    At 2 months, don't stop, but start making some contributions to local organizations that have demonstrated competent disaster help to local victims. This allows helping others and puts a buffer of anonymity between you and the recipients.

  4. Besides plain stupidity, I think failure to prep is largely caused by two attitudes. The first is that the government will take care of all our problems. The second is that modern folks don't want to spend one red cent on anything that doesn't bring them some sort of instant gratification. The latter is the same reason that people now have debts instead of savings accounts (or buried jars in the back yard).

  5. In that second case the ant failed to properly assess the situation and eliminate the problem before it grew to a size it could not fight.
    Ant should have realized that grasshopper jerky is a fine survival food.
    North Alabama had a wall of tornados come through a few years back. Took out the main lines from the nuke plant to the city, and left us without power for upwards of a week. My neighborhood turned it into a block party, looking out for each other, but mostly older folks who by nature had set a little something back just in case. And we were blessed in that we never lost city water. Generators kept the wells pumping though they did enact conservation restrictions. But then too, we were only a couple of serious house fires away from dry taps.
    Note, you need at least a 1,500 to 2k generator to cover the startup load on appliances such as refrigerators and freezers, but you only need to run them for 15 minutes every six hours or so to keep things cold. Just don't open them unless you absolutely must.

  6. A years supply of salt for two is less than $10. You just have to start small and work up.

    We added a generator to our supplies this past week. We purchased an inverter style because it requires less fuel and has a quieter noise signature. It costs more (double) but the lower profile and reduced fuel storage needs makes it worth it. Hopefully, we've wasted our money but hope doesn't keep the furnace fan working when the powers out and the temps are below zero.

  7. One reason I've had to go a while without re-supply was finances. Yes, you can rebuild in small steps, but a few too many surprises on top of each other and it was almost tornado season before I could start getting ready after a massive ice storm with a few chasers.


  8. The 2nd grasshopper story has been around a long time(note the reference to Peter Jennings). If you live in North Texas a storm cellar is a good idea if you have room for it. I seem to remember back in the late 60's or early 70's a 5 mile wide super tornado wiped out a big chunk of Wichita Falls. We have had many smaller but often deadly ones since then.

  9. "…but you only need to run them for 15 minutes every six hours or so to keep things cold."

    This may no longer be true with newer appliances. Newer ones seem to run much more often, and for longer periods, and it can take a long time to compensate for adding warm items to the contents. I suspect lighter duty compressors have replaced the old style ones, and consequently require more run time to keep things cold.
    Might be useful to determine what the typical duty cycle is for your cold boxes now, while you have time to track it. Bear in mind, that if the weather is hot, your now non-air-conditioned house is going to put more of a strain on them. They might need to run near constantly under these extremes.

  10. Along with Gorges Smythe's reasons must be one more – people today just don't think these things happen to "modern" people anymore.

    Floods and such are like Grandpa stories about walking uphill through the snow to school at night barefoot in the rain and Ma is sick after plowing behind a mule all day with only sticks and dirt for breakfast 'cause that's all we had and we were glad to have it and kids today I swear.

    Someone called them "Ikea people".
    – Charlie

  11. RE: STFU about your preps

    I had the misfortune of a guest staying over. This guest opened a cupboard she had NO REASON TO OPEN (this happened over 10 years ago but angers me still to this day)

    "Why have you got so much water stored?" (we lived in a flat). My wife told her as well as showing my other preps (food, firearms etc)… (getting angrier just thinking about it). Oh that's silly was the guests reply.

    Fast forward a couple of months & this guest is in Christchurch during a big earthquake. Her first thought? About MY preps. Pity for her we are in different countries

    Another quick point

    I spoke briefly to a work colleague about buying gold and silver. And I do mean briefly. three years later he brings it up.

    So yeah, STFU. Talk about sport or game of thrones. Not preps

  12. What surprises me is the number of buildings made of wood. It's notable that it's those that get destroyed and those made of bricks & mortar still stand. Shelter is right up there in the list of basic needs.

  13. Quentin,

    Brick/masonry buildings fall apart very easily, and cause more injuries. They need to have expensive reinforcement, which most don't. Most building are wood, due to cost. There are improvements in fasteners now, designed for hurricanes. But, most were built prior to these new items.

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