Doomsday prepping for less crazy folk

Friday, August 24th, 2018

Michal Zalewski discusses doomsday prepping for less crazy folk:

The prepper culture begs to be taken with a grain of salt. In a sense, it has all the makings of a doomsday cult: a tribe of unkempt misfits who hoard gold bullion, study herbalism, and preach about the imminent collapse of our society.

Today, we see such worries as absurd. It’s not that life-altering disasters are rare: every year, we hear about millions of people displaced by wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods. Heck, not a decade goes by without at least one first-class democracy lapsing into armed conflict or fiscal disarray. But having grown up in a period of unprecedented prosperity and calm, we take our way of life for granted – and find it difficult to believe that an episode of bad weather or a currency crisis could destroy almost everything we worked for to date.

I suspect that we dismiss such hazards not only because they seem surreal, but also because worrying about them makes us feel helpless and lost. What’s more, we follow the same instincts to tune out far more pedestrian and avoidable risks; for example, most of us don’t plan ahead for losing a job, for dealing with a week-long water outage, or for surviving the night if our home goes up in smoke.

For many, the singular strategy for dealing with such dangers is to pray for the government to bail us out. But no matter if our elected officials prefer to school us with passages from Milton Friedman or from Thomas Piketty, the hard truth is that no state can provide a robust safety net for all of life’s likely contingencies; in most places, government-run social programs are severely deficient in funding, in efficiency, and in scope. Large-scale disasters pit us against even worse odds; from New Orleans in 2005 to Fukushima in 2011, there are countless stories of people left behind due to political dysfunction, poorly allocated resources, or lost paperwork.

And so, the purpose of this guide is to combat the mindset of learned helplessness by promoting simple, level-headed, personal preparedness techniques that are easy to implement, don’t cost much, and will probably help you cope with whatever life throws your way.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    The Doom’s Day preppers are probably over-reacting, but FEMA is on record that the federal government will not provide any assistance for the first three days of a disaster. A sane recommendation is to have 30 days of supplies on hand.

    And a gun.

    And a place in the country.

  2. Kirk says:

    The idea that “the government will provide” has always been risible. Especially when you consider that most of the likely problems would be stemming from a failure and/or breakdown in government in the first place…

  3. Grasspunk says:

    SW France had an outage in 2009. Several days, maybe a week without power and water. Tempête Klaus, it was called, and it happened in the middle of a snowy winter.

    The emergency services are really well organized here. We’re in a commune of 350 people that has its own sapeurs-pompiers (volunteer firefighters/emergency services). There’s maybe 25 locals in that so everyone knows someone who is a pompier. It communicates hierarchically up through various divisions. There are giant aerials for fancy communication devices at their base in the village.

    If there’s a significant outage the people here have the culture to check the neighbors and communicate back to the village if there’s anything needed. The pompiers also have water tanks as part of their firefighting equipment and they do transport water for cattle if needed as well as anything the humans might need. We all know where the old fragile folk live.

    There are maybe 11 big farms and several smaller ones with heavy equipment. So they were all out there with tractors and diggers and chainsaws clearing the roads for a few days after the tempête. They also have towable cattle water tanks and pumps. Even without the emergency services the farmers would do fine looking after people. It is also in the culture to look after the locals.

    One of my kids is a firefighter cadet so she knows more about the details than me. It’s a well networked system that I think would be of a lot of value if we had another Klaus or worse.

    But yeah you could conceive of a time when government broke down. The local structures would still be used since they make so much sense. We’re farmers in the country so a lot more independent of the government than town or city folk are. They network with their neighbors because that’s just what they do. The kids all go to the same schools and play on the same sports teams. They all have a hatred of Paris. Now I think of it they’d probably do better without a central government interfering in an emergency.

  4. Harry Jones says:

    When disaster comes, I’ll take any help offered me and offer any help I can give. But I will presume nothing. My Plan A is always me. I’m always there for me, and I always have my best interests at heart.

  5. Graham says:

    I figure my situation is fairly hopeless in anything serious. 47, unfit, unhealthy, urbanite with no outdoor skills and no bolthole. Have fired guns, able to hit a target at pistol range, but it’s been a while and I own none nor could easily get them in this country. I do know some people who could help with that, but if I have to get to their house on foot its a while since I walked 7-8 miles. SO it goes. I’d make the effort.

    For those everyday situations, I’ve thought a tad more seriously about it. I got into the habit of drinking bottled water, so 3 days’ water in house with moderate consumption is probably never a problem. Non perishable food is more of one, though surviving on crackers wouldn’t be the end of me for just the officially proclaimed 3 days. fruit and veg in the fridge would last some of that of course, so I don;t have to poison myself with all starch diets.

    I might need attention at the end of those 3 days, more than once would have been the case.

    But this summer has at least proved to me that I can endure my apartment at 30 degrees celsius for many days at a time. If it were an Ottawa winter and the heat is out, though, 3 days will be hard.

    No point to this, really… Just happy to endorse the bottled water industry.

  6. Graham says:


    Interesting comment. Sounds like an optimal combination of govt service and local community is in place there, with the latter able to work redundantly. We should all be so fortunate.

    We’ve had heat waves in Ontario this year, and some decent recent winters, but our last big challenge was the 2003 blackout over much of eastern North America. Depending on where you were, that went on for days or weeks.

    There was a huge ice storm in 1998 in much the same large regions, hit some places like Montreal and outer Ottawa hard. Downtown, not so much. I got shoved into the plexiglass side of a bus stop hard enough to show up at work with my forehead bleeding icy blood all over the place, but OTOH never lost power at home. Good times.

  7. Talnik says:

    Most people who deride preppers don’t realize contributing to a 401k is prepping as well.

  8. Kirk says:

    One of the more successful ploys of the Soviet intelligence agencies was the general discrediting of Civil Defense they accomplished in the West. If you doubt that they played a role, look to the Mitrokhin Archive papers–It was all of a piece with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

    And, sadly, the credulous fools here threw the baby out with the bath water. We should have kept civil defense planning in the forefront, if only for the resiliency it lends during national disasters. Instead, we “de-emphasized” it all, and kept pouring concrete since the 1960s without including provisions for civil defense storage or shelter. Utter foolishness…

    But, as with all things, the citizens are doing a better job than the government, in certain locales:

    Joyce is a small town on the coast of Washington, and they’re doing what every community on that side of the Cascades should be: Taking pragmatic steps to ensure community survival. If I were over there, one of the things I’d be suggesting is that they need to stockpile fuel for earth moving equipment, and know where to get what they’ll need to repair the damage to communications that will likely result from “the big one” letting go out on the Cascadia.

    Interesting BBC report on the town’s efforts, here:

    Self-organized and individual preparations at the lowest level are more likely to actually work and be effective; rather than do what they did in New Orleans during Katrina, awaiting Big Government to fly in and rescue them, some of the locals in Western Washington are doing their best to “get off the X” on their own.

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