How to Start Preparing

Effective preparation of any kind requires a clear understanding of the goals you are trying to achieve. In the case of disaster preparedness (DP), the primary goal is to minimize the impact of a crisis—whether it’s a house fire, earthquake, or flood. At an absolute minimum, this means you want to survive, but in most cases you also expect to maintain a reasonable quality of life. A comprehensive disaster preparedness plan should help you and your family to accomplish both.

Disaster preparedness requires much more than just stocking up on food and water. A much more ­thorough approach can be developed around five ­cornerstones. As you work through the discussion of the 14 basic human needs, consider each of these cornerstones to establish the most effective preparedness plan.


Of the five, developing useful knowledge and skills is arguably the most important. As you will see throughout the book, many of the recommendations emphasize what you need to learn, rather than what you need to buy. The truth is most of us already have plenty of stuff. Rather, it’s our know-how that is seriously lacking. That is where this book comes in—to teach you critical skills, such as how to store food, purify water, make your house safer, generate electricity, find disaster information on the Internet, protect your family, and much more.

Become a Stock-Gyv-alist

In the event of a major disaster, who would you rather be:

The Stockpiler—someone with a wide assortment of supplies, but very little knowledge of how to actually do anything,
The MacGyver—someone who can jury rig anything with duct tape, a pencil, and a pack of chewing gum, or
The Survivalist—someone who can find dinner in an old stump, and make a heater using toilet paper and a rusty coffee can?

Clearly there are advantages to each type of person. But the greatest benefit can be had by combining the traits of all three and becoming a true “Stock-Gyv-alist.” A Stock-Gyv-alist is someone who has carefully stockpiled critical supplies (e.g., food, water, batteries), taken the time to learn how things work and more important how to make them work, and developed the mindset necessary to survive nearly any encounter. This is who you want to become.

13 Basic Steps to Get Started

Most people who purchase the handbook intend to read it from cover to cover, carefully jotting down notes on how best to put together their personal DP plan. That’s exactly what you should do. However, I am frequently asked, “Can you give me a few basic steps to help me get started?” After all, busy schedules have a way of keeping good intentions from ever turning into real actions.

For this reason, I’ve included a list of some basic steps that you can start taking immediately, even before your full DP plan is complete. This is in no way meant to summarize the book or act as a complete set of preparations but rather to serve as a starting point from which you can build a more comprehensive plan for your family.

1. Start paying attention. Get a weather radio. Monitor local and national events. Be more aware of your surroundings and things that may affect your family. Stay Alert = Stay Alive!
2. Make a simple list of dangers that you are most likely to face, many of which are dependent on where you live. Next, assess the shortages or hardships that these dangers might cause, such as loss of electricity, water contamination, or inability to travel the roadways. Finally, make a few basic preparations to mitigate the effects of those hardships (perhaps keeping a generator in your garage or installing a water purifier).
3. Stock up on consumables that might end up in short supply: food, water, candles, batteries, generator fuel, ammunition, diapers, etc.
4. Shore up your shelter. Take time to inspect your dwelling to make sure it is in good repair and capable of protecting your family.
5. Plan your possible evacuation. Identify where you will go, at least two ways to get there, and what supplies or valuables you will take with you.
6. Put together a small emergency kit for your automobile.
7. Review your insurance policies and adjust or supplement them to have an adequate safety net in place.
8. Have ready a properly-sized backup heating system (if appropriate to climate).
9. Establish an emergency fund that can be quickly accessed when a financial hardship occurs.
10. Learn first aid, and put together a well-stocked family kit.
11. Maintain a minimum 30-day supply of important medications and medical supplies.
12. Create a network of like-minded individuals committed to working together to survive dangerous events.
13. Consider the special needs of those within your household, including children, the elderly, those with disabilities, and pets.

Human Needs

An excellent discussion of human needs was presented by the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow. As a humanist, he proposed that people not only try to survive, but also prosper and live meaningful lives. In our current society, this trait often manifests in professional achievement or the pursuit of advanced consciousness and wisdom. The assertion is that people wish to be “fully functioning.” Under most conditions, humans are not only interested in meeting their most basic physical needs, but also in living full and consequential lives. As conditions deteriorate, however, people are forced to focus on meeting only their most fundamental needs, the ones that help keep them alive. This necessary retrogression is frequently seen when a major disaster strikes.

Maslow’s Pyramid

Maslow established a hierarchy of needs, often illustrated using a pyramid. In his hierarchy, he identified the most basic survival needs as physiological. Included in these are food, water, air, and sleep. Above those, are needs associated with safety and prosperity. Even farther up the hierarchy, are more personal needs, such as friendship, self-esteem, and morality.

As far as disaster preparedness, you need to concern yourself primarily with physiological, safety, and to a lesser extent the love/belonging needs. The abstract needs above those are better suited to self-improvement studies. If you consider Maslow’s hierarchy and apply a little common sense, you can quickly identify eight basic needs that must to be met in a disaster situation: food, water, shelter, light, heating/cooling, air, sleep, and hygiene/sanitation.

This is a short list compared with all the perceived necessities you might require in the course of your normal daily life (e.g., fashionable clothes, premium coffee, a comfortable bed). But unlike those desires, the sustained loss of any one of these eight primary necessities will almost certainly lead to your demise. The goal of preparation, therefore, is to meet these needs regardless of the crisis. There are also six secondary needs that directly or indirectly support your survival and help to maintain a reasonable quality of life. They include: medicine/first aid, communication, electrical power, financial security, transportation, and protection.

Together these two lists comprise fourteen areas that should be addressed by a comprehensive preparedness plan. It seems logical therefore to organize this handbook around these needs. By the end of the book, you should have a good understanding of these subjects. And with that knowledge, you will be ready to tailor your own personalized DP plan.

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