By Matthew Stein, P.E., Author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance and Planetary Survival, ISBN #978-1933392837, published by Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT (800) 639-4099

Confidence, like art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions.

-Earl Gray Stevens

The destruction of the World Trade Center, and the continuing terrorist threats in today’s world, have plunged a lot of people into a downward spiral of fear. For some, this fear has been paralyzing. For others, it simply brings restless nights and anxiety. In spite of the fact that our chances of being caught directly in the midst of some terrorist act are probably much smaller than being caught in a bad traffic accident, most of us find it hard to shake the fear that terrorism could strike our selves or our loved ones.

We are all well aware of the potential for horrendous accidents on our freeways, yet we drive on our freeways with only passing concerns about traffic accidents. Victims of both terrorism and car accidents are usually innocent people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, so what makes the image of a fatal accident on the freeway so much less intimidating than those jets flying into the Twin Towers? The most obvious answer is the magnitude of the situation, but another key factor is insurance. Most of us have automotive and medical insurance but who has insurance against terrorism? Emergency preparedness is one form of terrorism insurance that can help you put your mind at ease, knowing that you have done your best to protect yourself and family.  

Before September 11, if you mentioned emergency preparedness, it tended to conjure up images of survivalists crawling around in the woods, shooting at each other with paint ball guns and preparing to fight off the starving hordes in some grim apocalyptic fantasy. Not so anymore. In today’s world of terrorist acts, global warming, and super-storms, we recognize that most of us will probably experience significant disruptions in the flow of electricity and goods at some point in our lives. Stocking up on a few extra supplies, learning some new skills, and making a few emergency contingency plans doesn’t take a lot of time or money, and it’s cheap insurance that can foster peace of mind in turbulent times.

The four basic areas for emergency preparations are:

  •  Portable short term supplies (72 hour kits)
  •  Supplies for longer term disruptions
  •  Mental preparations and planning
  •  Medical supplies and healing skills

Short-Term 72-Hour Kits: 

These kits, sometimes known as “grab-and-run kits,” should be readily accessible and include food, water and emergency supplies to cover the basic daily needs of your family for a period of at least three days. Note that it was 9 days before most survivors of the Kobe Japan earthquake received potable water and food rations, so you should also have at least one or two weeks’ supply of food stored in or around your home. You may purchase ready-made 72-hour kits from various survival supply outlets, or you can put together your own. Large families should divide up the stores between several easily grabbed backpacks or plastic containers. Here are some recommendations for supplies to go into your 72-hour kits:

  •  Portable radio, preferably one that works with dead or no batteries, such as hand crank or combination powered with solar cells (available through survival and surplus outlets).
  •  First aid kit with first aid and survival handbooks (my book covers both).
  •  Water, water purification chemicals, and/or purifying filter. Enough to provide one gallon per person per day (see Chapter 5 inWhen Technology Fails). Retort (foil) pouches can handle freezing in a car trunk, but most other water containers can’t handle freezing without the potential for bursting. Three gallons per person is heavy (24 lbs), so consider including a water filter and water treatment chemicals. I suggest a pump type back country filter (like Katadyn or MSR brands) that is rated to filter out all bacteria and has a carbon core to remove toxic chemicals. Also, supplement your filter with purifying iodine (or other chemicals) crystals, such as a “Polar Pure” water purification kit to kill all viruses. Pump filters that are rated for virus removal tend to clog quickly and a clogged filter is worthless.
  •  Waterproof and windproof matches in a waterproof container, and a utility-type butane (large, with extended tip) lighter.
  •  Wool or pile blankets (avoid cotton), because they are warm when wet. Also, a heat-reflective, waterproof “space blanket.” Fiber-pile, mountaineering-quality sleeping bags are great, if you have the space (no down sleeping bags, because they are worthless if wet).
  •  Flashlight with spare batteries, or solar recharge flashlight. I highly recommend that you purchase a headlamp with LED bulbs. Headlamps leave your hands free and LED bulbs use a fraction of the power and last far longer than traditional light bulbs so your batteries last much longer.
  •  Candles (useful for lighting fires with damp wood) and light sticks.
  •  Toiletries, including toilet paper, toothbrush, soap, razor, shampoo, sanitary napkins (also good for severe bleeding wounds), several packs of dental floss (for tying things), sun screen, extra eyeglasses, diapers, and so on.
  •  Food for three days per person, minimum. Use foods you will eat, and that store well, such as nuts, sport bars, canned vegetables, fruits, meats, dry cereals, and military type preserved meals (available at surplus and survival stores).
  •  A Swiss army knife, or a stainless steel multi-tool knife (Leatherman), with scissors, can opener, blades, and screwdrivers.
  •  Map, compass, and whistle. When you are in a weakened state, or have a parched throat, a whistle may draw someone’s attention and save your life. In smoke or fog, a compass may be the only thing pointing you in the right direction.
  •  Sewing kit with extra-heavy-duty thread. Should be strong enough to stitch a torn strap onto your backpack.
  •  Towel or dishcloth.
  •  Knives, forks, spoons, and so on. A camping “mess kit” is a compact set of utensils.
  •  Tent and/or roll of plastic sheeting for shelter.
  •  Extra clothing, such as long underwear, hat, jacket, waterproof mittens, leather work gloves, rain coat or poncho, sturdy boots, and so on. Remember, cotton is almost worthless when wet, but wool and outdoor clothing made with polyester pile is warm when wet.
  •  Entertainment for kids and other special needs (prescription medicines, diapers, extra glasses, etc.).
  •  25 kitchen-size garbage bags and sewage treatment chemicals (powdered type preferred) for garbage and toilet sewage. A few large hefty bags can double for raincoats, ground cloths, and shelter.
  •  50 feet of heavy duty nylon string or light rope.
  •  Record of bank numbers and important telephone numbers.
  •  Spare checks and cash. Many Katrina victims were caught without any cash
  •  TIP: Use a bank that has widespread branch locations so their records won’t disappear in a severe local disaster, leaving you with no bank account access.

Supplies and Gear for Longer-Term Disruptions:

Stock up on non-perishable provisions. You never know when you might need them for your family, friends and neighbors. In our mountain resort town, when the tourists are up and a major storm closes the freeway, the supermarket shelves are mostly bare within a single day. Long-term preparations might also include things like having a back up power system and a garden or greenhouse. Shelf life of stored goods is important, and is covered in detail by books devoted to emergency planning. For example, canned meats have a recommended shelf life of only 18 months, brown rice keeps for a year or two before going rancid, dried beans keep for 5-10 years, and properly stored whole wheat berries can keep for centuries. You should keep a minimum of 2-4 weeks of food on hand. Some folks store supplies for disruptions of 1-5 years. I suggest that you let current world events and your intuition help you to determine what level of preparedness you wish to maintain. Here are some supply recommendations for longer-term preparedness:

  •  Water: stored supplies, and purifying filters or chemicals. Water is the most important commodity. You can live for a long time without food, but only three or four days without water. Figure on providing a minimum of 2 quarts (preferably 1 gallon) per person, per day.
  •  Wheat and other grains, flours, and beans. The easiest bulk materials to store for calorie, shelf life, and nutritive value. Whole grains keep longer than ground grain.
  •  Grain grinder. Buy a quality grinder for grinding grains into flour. Should be hand cranked or combination hand and power unit.
  •  Cooking catalysts and seasonings. Includes oils, shortenings, salt, leavenings, herbs, and spices.
  •  Powdered milk, dairy products, and eggs. Good for nutritive value and variety in cooking options.
  •  Sprouting seeds and supplies. With a couple of jars, some nylon stockings, and a variety of seeds, you can eat garden-fresh live foods for pennies a day. I suggest alfalfa seeds, any whole grains, mung beans, soybeans, lentils, and cabbage, radish, and broccoli seeds. The sprouting process radically increases the vitamin content of dried nuts and grains.
  •  Sweeteners. Honey, sugar, and maple syrup. Not essential, but may help sweeten an otherwise bitter experience. Honey has the advantage of being a natural topical antibiotic. It has been used for centuries on the battlefield for helping wounds to heal.
  •  Canned and dried fruits, vegetables, and soups. Store a variety of your family’s favorites.
  •  Canned, dried, or frozen meats and fish. Store these if you will use them.
  •  Dietary supplements. Vitamins and minerals to supplement the limited nutritional value of stored foods. I suggest using quality supplements manufactured from live foods wherever possible (check your local health food store).
  •  Fuels, lighting sources, camping gear. Camping gear can provide you with portable shelter and materials for living comfortably if you must evacuate your home.
  •  Medicines and first aid kits. Don’t forget to stock herbs and alternative medicines that may work when western style medicines run out or fail to heal.
  •  Pet food and personal items. Remember to store some of the simple things that can help you to stay happy and centered. A deck of cards and a copy of Hoyle’s book of card games can bring a lot of laughs when times are tough.
  •  Open pollinated seeds for gardening. I recommend that you store a variety of seeds for gardening. If you use open-pollinated seeds instead of hybrids, you can save seeds from your garden for future plantings.

Mental Preparations:

Try to get out of a fear space. Fear tends to cripple both your rational mind and intuitive self. Make your emergency preparations and contingency plans, then put your mind at rest, knowing that you have done your best. Your statistical chances of being caught in a direct terrorist act are lower than the chance of being killed while driving down the freeway. We all wear seat belts, just in case, so we should all make emergency preparations, just in case.

Develop your intuitive spiritual self (“gut feeling”): your rational mind is only as good as the information base it has to draw upon, which is always imperfect at best. Your intuitive spiritual self can “see around the corner”. We all have experienced situations where our intuition (conscience and gut feeling) was urging us to do something that our rational minds didn’t agree with or understand. When we listened to that inner voice, afterwards we were usually glad we did. When we didn’t listen, we got our fingers burned.  The hard part is learning to distinguish between the voices of fear, desire, and true intuition/inner guidance. There are several fine books on the subject of developing your intuitive edge without having to attend one of the high priced seminars that cater to wealthy businessmen.

Using your intuition to help make a decision:

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

-Albert Einstein

The following is an exercise to use your intuition to “feel out” the optimum choice when making a decision. First, take several deep, slow breaths to calm your mind and alter your consciousness. As you do this, offer a simple inner request or prayer for guidance. Once you feel that you have calmed and quieted the rational mind, make a mental picture of the potential action, path, or decision. Check for physical reactions in your stomach area. If you have an expanded, relaxed feeling, your pictured action is probably a good path to follow. If you get a clenched, tight feeling in your gut, it’s probably a good idea to avoid the pictured action. If you get nothing, either the choice is unimportant, or you simply are not intuitively in touch with it. I suggest that you practice this process on minor decisions before using it to help with life changing or life threatening situations.

Medical Preparations: 

In times of large-scale emergencies, high tech medical facilities are usually overwhelmed and western style medicines are often in short supply. It makes sense to have a good first aid kit and extra medicines on hand. Also, do yourself a favor and get some training and experience with first aid procedures.

Both through biological weapons programs, and the overuse of antibiotics in animal feeds and human prescriptions, antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria have evolved that have the potential to wreak havoc on the modern world. Most of us once believed that widespread plagues were a thing of the past, that diseases could never again ravage the planet as they have for countless centuries. Unfortunately, quite the opposite is true. Due to the potential for viruses to mutate into deadly virulent strains, the increasing number of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, the increasing probability that bio-weapons will fall into terrorist hands, and the almost instantaneous worldwide transport of humans and animals via modern air travel, the risk of worldwide plagues is probably worse now than ever before!

When it comes to antibiotic resistant bacteria and deadly viruses, so-called “alternative medicine”, including herbs and a variety of other treatments, could be your most effective form of treatment and prevention.  A couple years ago, my wife suffered from an antibiotic resistant urinary infection that was probably caused by the same strain of antibiotic resistant E. coli that reportedly plagued women across the country (San Francisco Chronicle 10/14/2001). We spent several hundred dollars on three courses of different antibiotics, including the infamous Cipro. After months of unsuccessful medical treatment, she was finally able to kick the infection when she resorted to an alternative medicine combination of grapefruit seed extract (from the health food store) and large quantities of homemade antibiotic colloidal silver solution.

Some handy alternative medicines and herbs:

  •  Astragalus. One of the most highly regarded herbs used in Chinese medicine, astragalus is an effective immune system booster.
  •  Colloidal silver. The medicines that hospitals use to fight skin infections on severe burn patients are all based upon the active component of silver.  Colloidal silver is a broadband antibiotic solution that has been used against a myriad of harmful protozoa, bacteria, and viruses, though users indicate that it may require significant quantities (like a quart a day) to successfully treat serious illnesses. It is available in health food stores (expensive!) or can be made for just pennies a day with a simple commercial or homemade colloidal silver generator.
  •  Echinacea. A traditional Native American medicinal herb, Echinacea has become a part of mainstream self-help medicine. Since its antiviral and antibacterial properties have been scientifically documented, Echinacea is now available at most drugstores.
  •  Garlic. A true “wonder herb,” garlic has powerful antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal properties as well as tremendous nutritional antioxidant value. The number of active ingredients in penicillin is one. At least thirty-five active ingredients have been identified in garlic, making it much more difficult for bacteria to grow resistant to garlic than penicillin. CAUTION: cooking destroys most of garlic’s potency, so your friends may not stick around after a serious raw garlic treatment.
  •  Grapefruit seed extract (GSE). Like garlic, GSE is another true “wonder herb,” exhibiting powerful antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral properties. It has been used successfully to battle numerous diseases and ailments, including Lyme disease, Candida,Giardia, amoebic dysentery, many kinds of parasites, athlete’s foot, ringworm, gum disease, herpes, colds, flu, and some forms of arthritis.
  •  Homeopathic Medicine: Homeopathy appears to stimulate the body’s own immune system in ways that western science still doesn’t fully understand. For a reasonable price, you can buy homeopathy kits that contain 10-30 common remedies for treating a wide variety of ailments. Sometimes homeopathy works wonders when other medicines and remedies fail, like the time it helped my dog rebound from the edge of death when she was suffering from a serious antibiotic resistant infection. During the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, regular hospitals experienced fatality rates of around 33% whereas homeopathic hospitals treated over 20,000 people with a fatality rate of less than 1%.
  •  Honey is a natural antiseptic. It has been used on the battlefield for treating wounds since ancient times and as recently as WWI. Some modern physicians claim that wounds treated with honey heal faster than those treated with antiseptics.
  •  Hyssop. Though little used in the West, hyssop is another powerful herb, exhibiting strong antiviral and antibacterial properties. One of the few herbs that has been proven effective against active tuberculosis, Hyssop is often prescribed by Chinese herbalists for lung ailments.
  •  Neem oil. The National Research Council (NRC), Washington, D.C., considers the neem to be “one of the most promising of all plants. . . . [It] may eventually benefit every person on this planet.” Like garlic, neem appears to be have powerful antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties.
  •  St. John’s wort. Sometimes called “nature’s Prozac,” St. John’s wort is mostly known for its antidepressant and mood-enhancing properties. It is also an immune system booster with strong antiviral properties.
  •  Tea tree oil. A powerful antifungal and disinfectant. Use topically (do not take internally) for skin infections, itchy scalp, and fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. This oil is very penetrating and will penetrate through the skin to heal sealed-over infections and pimples. Tea tree oil is one of the few liquids that can seep through toenails.
  •  Usnea. Another powerful herb with antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties. Use internally or externally against bacterial, fungal, or viral infections. Often combined with Spilanthes and called “Spilanthes-Usnea”.
  •  Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, immune system booster, natural detoxifier, and necessary body nutrient for tissue health and wound healing. Powdered vitamin C is handy for sprinkling in foods and liquids to detoxify mold aflatoxins and many other toxic substances that may be present in foods. Sprinkle powdered vitamin C into purified water to remove the taste of iodine or other water treatment chemicals.