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The image of the doomsday prepper with a lifetime supply of junk food in an underground bomb shelter might be a fun plot for a zombie novel, but it's not what the Practical Prepper does. In fact, surviving disasters and long-term scenarios is secondary here on Rat Farm. Our immediate goal is keeping ourselves fed and maintained in the present. Getting by on a day-to-day basis needs to happen before we can think about the future, let alone prepare for it, and when we do stock and plan for tomorrow it is out of necessity and a rational mind.
Practical Prepping is about accounting for the basics and working to ensure that you're never without. It's not about zombies or societal collapse but about basic safety, health, and personal responsibility. If these things appeal to you but you're not sure how to take the first step, this is the place. Comprised of first-hand experience, the Rat Farm Guide is by no means a definitive source, but it will give you basic information and show you what worked for us so you can fine-tune the approach to your own situation.
Our goal in providing this guide is to give everyone an obtainable concept of self-reliance with an easy start. The Rat Farm Guide is a beginner's guide to homesteading and frugal survival with an emphasis on small scale projects and preparedness.
-Judas & The Fam
Reasons to Store Food
Simply put; non-perishable food stores are the single best investment you can make. If managed properly they never lose function or value, many foods can last for decades, and no matter how much you have it will be used eventually. It's economical; bulk amounts are generally cheaper than standard retail sizes, you also have a strategic edge by having a supply when prices fluctuate or items become scarce.
Food storage equals safety through big and small emergencies, whether it be severe weather, illness or injury, job loss, market disruptions, or civil unrest. Always having food on hand offers a unique sense of self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction, it's comforting to know you and your family are fed!
While extreme scenarios aren't impossible, the more common and likely events are what you're primarily planning for. The goal is being safe and maintaining a basic standard of living despite external forces and indeed, even despite income. We on Rat Farm currently feed ourselves on less than $150 a month per person with extra food going into a storage rotation plus food for pets and cleaning/hygiene supplies all coming out of the the same budget. Food storage may take time to build up but it can be done on just about any income and though initial bulk purchases cost more than small portions, they'll save you money in the long run because they're cheaper per unit.
The decision to store food is an important philosophical inquiry into self-reliance; what kind of a life do we decide to have and what kind of participant in society do we choose to be? When emergencies happen and friends, family, neighbors, charities, and government agencies must funnel resources to the unprepared, less resources remain to go around. Help is often not immediate and when it is it's the neighbor with a surplus, not FEMA, that delivers it. How many people who find themselves in an emergency situation are that way because of extreme and unavoidable circumstances versus a failure to plan ahead? A strong society is built on personal responsibility. If everyone took the initiative and made the effort to plan and be ready for the unfortunate, those who are truly in need would be far fewer and much easier to help without resources stretched thin. We might even be prepared enough to help our immediate neighbors and end reliance on distant, ineffective government agencies. Self-reliance is a question of self-responsibility and a philosophy of living. The question isn't "why should you store food", but rather "why would you want your wellbeing to be the responsibility of anyone other than yourself?"
How to Store
There are a couple of key things to keep in mind with storage; food simply needs to be dry, cool, dark, and free of as much oxygen as possible. Good conditions are paramount to the longevity and nutritional content of your stores.
For temperature: 50-70°F (10-21°C) is ideal for canned items. At 75°F (28°C) prolonged exposure increases nutrient loss. Temperatures over 100°F (37°C) will rapidly degrade canned items. Freezing poses a danger to anything packed in liquid that could expand and break, both metal cans and glass jars. Dry items are less susceptible to temperature and through the course of history whole grains and legumes have endured extremes in both heat and cold. Refrigerated and frozen foods, while far from the bulk of otherwise non-perishable supplies, are nevertheless an important part of food storage and should be kept at least 40°F (4°C) or 0°F (-18°C), respectively.
Air, moisture, pests, and environmental contaminants such as mold are generally prevented by good containers. If storing in less than ideal places (such as a damp basement or where mice might nibble) repackage things that come in cloth sacks or paper packaging, either by transferring to plastic food buckets or other containers (tins, reused jars, other food containers) or just dropping sacks into a new clean aluminum garbage can. Bucket lids with a gasket (rubber ring) provide the best seal. With large quantities it may be more convenient to portion some of a product into a smaller container for daily use or put Gamma Seal lids on large pails if you need to open them frequently. Non-food grade buckets are fine to use so long as you place food within a Mylar or metalized bag to prevent the leaching of chemicals from the plastic. Even in food grade buckets a liner will prolong freshness and can be sealed with oxygen absorbers for maximum shelf life.
Light will break down food in clear containers and warm everything up so find (or make) a dark location for your storage. Small portions in current use will be consumed quickly enough that degradation isn't the issue it is for long term storage, so feel free to portion out smaller amounts for convenience without worry in jars or other containers out on a counter or other open place in the kitchen.
Bucket Accessibility: A bucket opener or "pickle wrench" is an inexpensive way to easily remove pry top bucket lids without killing your fingers; just hook the lip of the lid and break the seal, working your way around as you go. They retail for a few dollars and last forever. Stash a pickle wrench if you're going to be opening food buckets, even if you have no problem opening them you never know when an injury might occur. It's easier on your hands and might even keep you from developing stress related problems, such as carpal tunnel. If you or someone in your household needs something easier to open or you just want functional convenience, Gamma Seal Lids are awesome. They seal very tightly and reliably while remaining easy to open and close for anyone with disabilities or handicaps whom might struggle with a pry-top. They also save time if you open buckets frequently. Gamma Seal Lids have a raised X in the plastic to grab and spin on large threads, locking with a rubber gasket. You'll have to open the buckets once to install the new lid but if you need assistance find someone to swap multiple buckets at once; it's very simple and quick. Set the Gamma lid with rim on top of an open bucket and push straight down until it locks, the rim will stay attached to the bucket when you twist off the lid. While these were once specialized items through preparedness warehouses you can readily buy them from local and big box hardware stores and various places online. They retail for about $6-9 and you can save money by buying only a few (one for each type of food) and transferring the contents of newly opened buckets into old ones instead of putting a new lid on each one.
Be sure to consider how a power outage would affect your supply. Do you have an alternative power source, such as a generator, to run a refrigerator or freezers? Limiting what needs to be frozen/refrigerated is generally the easiest solution, whether you tailor your buying habits or process foods yourself by canning or drying. If you have a generator keep it maintained and run occasionally to ensure proper functioning and flush old gas. Make sure you have everything you need to use it including gas, maintenance items, and extension cords that reach what you need to power. If you do lose power and have no backup, refrain from opening fridges/freezers to prevent cold loss. A refrigerator will maintain temperature for 4 hours with the door closed, a freezer will last for 48 hours if full, 24 if partially full. Keep freezers well-stocked for the best insulating value or fill empty spaces with bags of ice, this will also make it more energy efficient. In suitable climates you may be able to store food outside but have a way to secure it in case it attracts animals or people. Keep thermometers on hand to check the temperatures, cold storage food should be 41°F (5°C) or less to remain safe. Bring the temperature of any meats or hazardous foods up to 140°F (60°C) or higher before eating to ensure safety and eat perishables before non-perishables to reduce waste.
Where to Store
Cupboards, closets, spare rooms, basements, and garages can all be suitable pantries for your food supply. Don't worry if your storage area isn't an ideal walk-in pantry located next to the kitchen, even a bedroom closet (or the room itself) is fine. Keep moisture, temperature, and light in mind and don't be afraid to get creative or maybe even "un-creative", you definitely wouldn't be the first person with a hallway lined with food buckets or a kitchen with a stack in the corner. Just keep in mind who may see your stash and remember that people get desperate in an emergency and the kind of person who doesn't see the value of planning ahead also won't understand why you need "so much". As a general rule of thumb you should keep the bulk of your storage private if not carefully hidden or locked up.
Keep your stores out of direct sunlight by putting them behind a door or curtain or in a dark location such as a closet, spare room, basement, or garage. The cooler your location is without freezing, the better, making basements ideal but even a door kept shut on a closet can make a significant drop in temperature from an otherwise warm room. Garages may only be suitable during colder seasons and heat up during the summer or in the case of some modern construction have heated foundations. Remember that below room temperature is where you want your food.
When storing in a basement or any environment that could flood (be it nature or a burst pipe) be sure items are stored off the floor. Shelves or wood pallets will do nicely in most instances but depending on where you live you may need to take special precautions. Locations where cold meets warm or cold items may warm up rapidly can cause condensation so if you store food against a cool exterior wall (particularly in a basement) leave a bit of space behind your stores for circulation. Be sure to keep an eye on your stock, inspecting regularly in case mice or other pests visit, something leaks, or commercial cans or metal lids/rings of home canning jars show signs of rust.
The Shelf-Life of Food
Preservation Methods include freeze-drying, dehydration, canning, and freezing, but we'll focus on shelf-stable items suitable for long-term storage. Dehydrated foods (including dry legumes and grains) retain their nutrition and don't degrade if managed properly. Freeze-drying has the least nutrient loss, retains texture and colour best, and is long lasting. Freeze-drying also has the benefit of preserving a plethora of foods, including things you might only expect to find in the refrigerator such as dairy products and meat and products. Even ice cream can be freeze dried and despite it's sponge-like appearance is rather tasty. Canned items retain the least nutrients and alter the most with time.
Foods that will store indefinitely or "Forever Foods" include wheat and other hard grains (buckwheat, kamut, millet, dry corn, spelt), rice (white, wild, jasmine, basmati), legumes (beans, peas, lentils), sugar, powdered milk, salt, baking soda, corn starch, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, distilled white vinegar, alcohol/hard liquor (even after opening), and soy sauce (unopened). Freeze-dried foods and MREs produced with modern methods last at least twenty-five to thirty years. Soft grains (barley, oat groats, quinoa and rye), dry pasta, and dried fruits/vegetables are best within a decade. Commercially canned foods are best within five years though high acid foods can corrode cans and should be used sooner. As a conservative estimate, home canned food should be good for at least a year.
Active dry yeast is best consumed in two years because it is alive but dormant, it can be tested by adding a little to warm water and watching for bubbles. All Purpose Flour should last at least a year as is and many if repackaged in an airtight container. Flours containing oils (such as whole wheat) will go rancid in a few months. Brown rice also contains oils which go rancid and only last 6 months to one year. Most retail foods found in bags and boxes including cereal, granola bars, crackers, oatmeal, etc. are good for a couple of years but will get stale without repackaging.
Frozen foods are best six months to one year are susceptible to freezer burn the longer they're stored. Anything prepared fresh and kept in the fridge without preservatives should be consumed within a week.
What "best by" dates specifically refer to: these dates reflect optimum quality, not safety or nutrition. While most processed shelf-stable foods will remain safe to eat long after the expiration date the contents may change with time, leading to different colours, tastes, and textures, particularly with canned foods. Nutrients do deplete with age but life-sustaining calories do not so long as the food doesn't spoil. Optimal storage conditions preserve food longer and diligent rotation prevents stores from getting too old in the first place. Repackaging retail foods can also extend their shelf-life.
"First in, first out" is the mantra of food rotation. Consume the oldest items first to keep everything fresh. Organize your stores so the oldest stuff is at the front and gets selected first. Depending on your storage area you may be able to load from the back of a shelf and push everything forward but most likely your pantry will resemble Rat Farm's (current) pantry: a plain ol' closet. I have to unload entire rows of food from the shelves to place new items in the back and although it's a bit of fuss it's a minor inconvenience for the peace of mind of a well stocked pantry. I always date everything with a Sharpie (writing month/year) so when items get jumbled I can easily reorder them. I tend to ignore the printed date on food once I buy it and would rather go by the date food enters my home, writing bold numbers I can see at a glance rather than hunting for tiny print prone to smudge with handling.
Things to Avoid
Avoid anything leaking, exhibiting bad smells or tastes, dry items that have gotten wet, signs of pests or mold, and metal cans with bulges, rust, or sharp dents. If you drop a can and dent it severely at home you can use it immediately, assuming the food didn't spill out and risk contamination. A few minor dings are no problem but you don't want cans with compromised structural integrity. Rust can create microscopic holes that aren't obvious but still let contaminants in so look for rust or even just discoloured spots on the can's wrapper. You can always remove the wrapper to determine if they came from the can or were stained elsewhere and have that Sharpie ready to re-label the can if it turns out to be fine. Canning jars with broken seals (the lid will flex and pop when pressed) should also be avoided. If a newly processed jar doesn't seal you can reprocess in a clean jar taking care to make sure the rim is wiped for a good seal or place in the fridge and consume right away.
Botulism: Never keep or eat from bulging cans, that's a sign that Clostridium botulinum bacteria or botulism is growing, it paralyzes organs and can be fatal. Botulism is very serious and although cooking the occasional small amounts found in the environment makes consuming it safe, an expanding can has an excess of toxin in production by active bacteria. Cans may even rupture under pressure so place anything suspected of botulism gently in a garbage bag, tie it off, and place in an outdoor bin. Honey may also contain small amounts of botulism and while safe for children and adults to consume should be strictly avoided for infants under one year of age due to their underdeveloped gut flora.
What to Store
"Forever Foods" are great for the bulk of your storage with dry grains and legumes as the foundation of your diet. They are inexpensive, filling, nutritious, shelf-stable for decades (arguably indefinitely with accounts of eating hundred-year-old beans and even sprouting ancient wheat). Grains and legumes are quite versatile cooked and eaten as stand alone dishes, added to recipes, or in the case of grains ground and used for baking. Grains include wheat, oats, corn, barley, rice, wild rice, buckwheat, millet, and quinoa, among others. Don't be tempted to to swap All Purpose Flour for whole grains, it's heavily processed and lacks the germ and bran of whole kernels. Whole wheat flours containing these parts spoil too quickly. The unprocessed seed of wheat and other grains is protected and excellent for storage until it can be used making whole grain wheat vastly more efficient to store than any processed flour or wheat product. Legumes include beans, peas, and lentils (to name a few). When you combine grains with legumes you get complete protein, essential for a balanced diet.
Gluten-Free Grains: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Though anti-wheat diet fads have pushed a profit-driven agenda celiac disease is a real and serious autoimmune disorder that makes people sick when they ingest gluten and damages the small intestine. Celiac only affects a small portion of the general population and can be tested for. Wheat allergies (caused by antibodies to wheat proteins) can also be medically diagnosed. Whole grains are an immensely important part of a healthy diet but our bodies can become used to processed foods such as store-bought bread. A sudden switch to a whole grain diet high in fiber can cause temporary gas and bloating which may be mistaken for illness. Some gluten-free grains include amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, and sorghum (milo). These provide excellent nutrition and unique qualities and are worth stocking even just for variation.
What you stock depends on what you have access to and what you need/use (more on both later). Freeze-dried aren't "Forever Foods" but they are the next best thing, they are basically "Lifetime Foods" and included a wide range of fruits, vegetables, meat, textured vegetable protein (or TVP, a meat alternative), and dairy products. An array of complete meals are also available freeze-dried and require only water and cooking. They are, however, expensive to produce and thusly purchase but provide alternatives to refrigerated products and add variety to your meals. A subcategory of freeze-drying are MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat). They were originally field rations used by the US military but have become a readilly available product to the public. Modern versions have come a long way from the once unpalatable (and occasionally indigestible) packets and are popular for emergencies as well as camping. They travel well and don't need heat or water to prepare.
Canned items may have a comparatively short lifespan but they're still useful and likely a significant part of your stores. Canned foods are afordable, abundant, and varied. Individual ingredients as well as prepared soups or cooked beans cut prep times and make food storage more convenient. You ideally won't stock as much canned as dry goods, but think along the lines of a few years worth (1-5 depending on your personal preferences and situation) while the others you can safely put up a decade's (or several decades) worth. Small cans ensure that in a situation where power is unavailable the contents are quickly consumed. I tend towards mostly small cans for this reason even though #10 (coffee sized) are cheaper. Freeze-dried items in resealable #10 cans do fine once opened. Powdery contents may clump from exposure to moisture in the air but it's easy enough to break up with a cooking utensil. Often I will transfer the contents from opened cans with plastic flexible lids to jars with twist lids.
Procuring Food Stores
You can collect supplies any number of ways. The easiest and most readily available option is simply to stock up on regular items when they're on sale at a local grocery store but you can buy bulk with a membership at a warehouse store such as SAM'S Club, Costco, Superstore, Real Canadian Wholesale Club, Bulk Barn, or whatever you have access to in your area. You can also order from dedicated sources such as Emergency Essentials. Our storage has all come from the aforementioned. We get our wheat in big buckets from Emergency Essentials and most of our dry and canned goods from SAMS. Once a friend drove from Minnesota to North Dakota and bought hundreds of pounds of dry beans in different varieties to divide between a number of people. Even with the cost of gas factored in he got a better deal per pound than we could find anywhere else, however you can absolutely buy small portions and build a bulk supply from them. I can never find lentils for a good price in bulk so I will buy a few 1 lb. bags every time I go to Wal-Mart or a grocery store and toss them in gallon jar (one jar holds about 5 lbs.).
Other options include local farm shares, farmers markets, roadside sellers, or even asking a local farmer or neighbor if you can buy direct. Process fresh produce yourself and you can add a wonderful supplement to your stores, if not eventually produce much of your own. Chances are you're new to this so absolutely don't be afraid to buy the goods you need while developing the skills to produce your own. Many folks dream of being entirely self-sufficient but developing a homestead takes a lot of resources. Even a seasoned farmer can get hit with disease, pests, injury, or bad weather, so it's important to have what you need on hand and remember that self-reliance can be achieved in different ways.
Starting your Storage: The Weekly Supply
Don't be daunted by food storage, here's where it starts and it's easy! What do you eat in a week? Keep a running list of what you use and proceed as normal. I dare say most people are already doing this and rural readers tend to have more on hand out of practicality (it's harder to get to a store) but for the sake of being a "Beginner's Guide" and for any city dwellers who only have a few days of food on hand (I know you're out there) stock a week's worth!
Expanding Your Storage: One Month Supply
Use what you learned from your food habits over the course of a week to start a One Month Supply by buying four times the amount of non-perishables you use. If you have room in your freezer, stock up on those items as well. Don't worry about what's in the fridge unless you have a habit of going to the store every few days and limit grocery trips to once every two weeks. We used to be hardcore about only driving into town once a month for all supplies to save on gas, but once Judas Jr. was on solid food we realized we needed fresh fruits and vegetables to be readily available. Now we buy supplies twice a month, though in a tough situation we can certainly buckle down and sustain ourselves for quite a while without setting foot off the property. Do what works for you based on needs, finances, and travel considerations but build up the non-perishables for those times when you can't go to the store.
Now is also the time to account for meals you prepare every so often, maybe not every week (so it wouldn't show up in your weekly list) but as a recurring meal. A month is a nice amount of time to figure not just what you eat but how much of a single ingredient goes into multiple meals. Let's say you buy ground beef and use that for hamburgers, tacos, sloppy joes, lasagna, stuffed peppers, casserole, etc. Or chicken, black beans, tomato sauce, etc. Many meals can come from the same individual ingredients so don't hesitate to take a lot of notes while plotting your storage. Start with a household "menu" and list all the meals you make then use that to figure out how much of each ingredient you need for a month of meals. To make things easier keep separate lists for multiple ingredient recipes and single ingredient meals such as single serving oatmeal packets or canned soup. For ingredients that are hard to measure and calculate for recipes keep track of when you started using them and get a rough idea for how long they last. I can't tell you how many teaspoons of garlic granules I use per month but I know I use one 26 oz. container within about six months or so. You don't have to be super precise, just get an idea and make a note of things that come up short.
Use this time to experiment with new items by trying a small amount first to see how it works in recipes and how the household likes it. Just because something is a bargain doesn't mean it's a good idea to have. Have you been ignoring legumes and grains? Experiment with rice, pastas, whole wheat, and beans. Break down your long term storage goals into manageable steps by working hard at getting that One Month Supply figured out and stocked. Don't worry about anything beyond that. Are you running out of non-perishables before a month is up? Don't eat less, figure out how much you really need. If you eat away from home take a break to see how much you consume so you can stock accordingly. Try new recipes and revisit old ones to figure out what different things you can make with the same ingredients. Try making breads and cakes from scratch, utilizing basic ingredients such as flour, oil, yeast, and baking powder over biscuit, pancake, and other mixes. Throw lentils, whole wheat kernels (which cook up soft), and pearled barley into soups, stews, and casseroles. Support all food groups while preparing meals around your needs and try shelf-stable alternatives to diary and protein. Limit meat portions, bulking meals with beans or rice to save money and eat more non-perishables so you aren't overly dependent on refrigeration. This is an culinary adventure and chance to expand cooking skills and your meal repertoire so have fun with it!
Expanding Your Storage: Three Months, Six Months, One Year
At this point you're just multiplying what you use in a month and getting a feel for how long larger items will go for. Whenever I opened a bucket of wheat I'll add a second Sharpie date to the stocking date and when we finish it I can see how long it lasted and base my next order off of that. If you've managed to keep your one month supply stable you've done the hardest part! From here on out you're just biding your time and slowly collecting what you can afford and building off what you already have. Don't go into debt over your storage or feel rushed to stock as much as possible as you may swap out or add products here and there (we certainly have, recently replacing tomato paste and sauce with dehydrated powder). You'll likely retain a core supply of basic things and experiment with others. Some products, like specific brands of processed foods such as cereal, fade in and out of availability, but flour, oil, oats, and other basic things are more reliable. If you can get good at cooking with basic ingredients you can coast through market fluctuations and even replicate your favourite products, for example, Bisquick (and any recipe from it) can be made with flour, baking powder, salt, and oil. Go slow and aim at incremental achievements in your food storage volume. If you feel stressed thinking about one or five or ten years out step back and look at where you are now, keep it stable, and then aim for collecting ONE more month. It can take a long time one a tight budget but you'll get there if you're patient and diligent. A single month is a huge triumph over modern culture and six months to a year's worth of food is a fat safety net. You can continue to stock out as long as you like but that 6-12 month point is the sweet spot that's both an obtainable goal and a big help through all manner of realistic scenarios.
Water Collection, Storage, and Purification
Keep at least 72 hours worth of potable water within your home, calculating one gallon (4 quarts or 3.7 liters) per person per day. This leaves half to drink and half for sanitation and food prep. You can stock bottled water for drinking (and to carry in kits) and purify your own large containers to use around home. Start now and have it on hand before an emergency arises and familiarize yourself with collection and processing methods. I like to stock both 1 liter bottles for ease of carrying (and because my purification tablets are per liter) and larger 5-7 gallon surplus containers (available in the camping sections of big box stores) that I can use around the house and refill the bottles from. We also have some 1 gallon jugs from the grocery store and refill opened bottles and keep them in the fridge at all times to grab as needed for daily use as well as emergencies. You can buy bottled water and keep that on hand, it's safe indefinitely if unopened and store properly. Another option is to fill your own large containers. I can't emphasize enough the importance of having water on hand, it's your safest and most convenient option and having an immediate drinking source without going through the rigors of collection and purification is more important even than food! You can go quite a while without food, especially for a temporary situation, but will start failing in 24 hours without adequate hydration and die in days. Weather, illness, injury, or other factors may prevent you from getting to a water source so it's absolutely critical to have water on hand and ready to drink. Cases of water bottles and gallon jugs work quite nicely and are easy to divide up and carry. Have your 72 hours worth of water in these small containers. If you fill up larger containers for longer term (two weeks out is a good buffer/basic amount in most cases though like food you can always have more) clean with a splash of plain bleach and a little water and swish it around. You can rinse afterwards but you don't need to. Mind how heavy containers will get when full and plan accordingly. When filling from treated water sources you don't need to do anything except seal the water well in a clean container and stick it someplace dark and cool. Untreated but clean water (such as from a well) you may wish to disinfect with bleach when storing or when ready to use as a precaution. You can also add storage tanks in line with your water supply. This is beneficial for well owners as larger water storage puts less stress on well pumps and supply water when the electricity is out or there's a mechanical failure. We experienced this not long ago and had a fun time lugging around those 5 and 7 gallon containers which were filled off site and transported back home. Water tanks in circulation also keep water fresh and clean automatically. Stored water may taste stale after sitting a long time but this is only due to deoxygenation and shaking containers or pouring water between vessels will improve that. Water can also be collect water via rainfall, melting snow, bodies of water, dew, and so on but let's be realistic. If you're planning ahead you aren't going to have to mess with any of this. Make life easy and stash the clean water now. If you do have to collect find the clearest water, dip your vessel and collect from below the surface, being careful not disturb sediment at the bottom. You can filter through cloth, paper towels, coffee filters, sieves, or cotton stuffed into the bottom of a funnel or get a hold of a portable filter (check out camping suppliers for all manner of filtration products) and then purify with chemicals or boiling.
Boiling is a very safe method of sanitizing water but it can use up a lot of fuel, take a long time. Bring your water to a rolling boil for a full minute, then allow it to cool. To Purify Water with Bleach: From the WHO (World Health Organization), "Chlorine is commonly available to households as liquid bleach (sodium hypochlorite), usually with a chlorine concentration of 1%. Disinfection with chlorine is the most appropriate way of ensuring microbiological safety in most low-cost settings." Use bleach free of perfumes and other additives and add 2 drops to 1 liter of water, 1/8 teaspoon to 1 gallon, 1/2 teaspoon to 5 gallons, 1 teaspoon to 10 gallons, and 5 teaspoons to 50 gallons and stir well then let the water sit for 30 minutes before consuming. If the water is cloudy double the amount of bleach and give it a sniff. A slight bleach smell isn't dangerous and the amount that is unsafe will be very strongly smelling. You can use test strips checking for 0.5 and 1.0 mg/l (0.5 and 1.0 ppm), according to the EPA the maximum allowable amount is 4ppm. Always use proper ventilation when working with bleach.
Iodine will also purify water, it's popular with backpackers and useful in a bug-out-bag as a small bottle with a dropper or in pill form, however it tends to stain containers and carry a distinct taste that may be unpleasant. Using iodine for prolonged periods may harm the thyroid or be inappropriate for people with certain medical conditions. Iodine will kill bacteria and viruses but it doesn't do a good job on microscopic parasites that can make you sick. A good alternative (and my go-to method) are Katadyn Micropur tablets, they're the only EPA-registered tablets on the market and are effective against cryptosporidium and giardia as well as viruses and bacteria without the funky taste or health concerns of iodine. I stock clean water first and keep them as a backup in bug-out-bags and plenty of bleach around the house. No sterilization method will remove contaminants such as pollution or lead.
Common Storage Mistakes
No water: Stock at least 72 hours worth of easily transportable water (in case you have to leave in a hurry) and two weeks of more according to your means. If you are handicapped you can stick with small bottles for easy lifting.
Not Enough Variety: Variety is important, you need food storage that delivers complete nutrition and prevents "Food Fatigue". Besides having a nutritional diverse food supply you need options. This is a mistake I have repeated a few times out of flawed philosophy and occasionally simply from financial limitations. When you get burned out on eating the same stuff you can lose your appetite and have difficulty staying healthy, children and the elderly are especially prone. In times of extreme hardship pretty much all of us will eat "anything" but before you hit that point you can hit "stupid mode" and not want to eat at all which will leave you weakened, less able to perform important tasks, fight off illness, or heal from injury. Avoid this by having a variety of foods and recipes to choose from. Spices and condiments can go a long way in adding interest as well.
Failure to Rotate: The oldest food should always be consumed first to prevent spoilage.
Not Eating Food Stores: Your food supply is not a separate stockpile for emergencies, the volume will sustain you but the food itself should be part of your normal daily diet. By consuming from your storage you learn what and how much to stock, how to prepare foods, develop and test recipes, and keep it fresh by eating the oldest stores.
Non-Essentials are Still Essential
You can live cheaply on basic ingredients but some "non-essentials" are still an important addition to your food storage. Consider shelf-stable alternatives to daily ingredients such as powdered/canned milk, even if you don't like the taste for drinking, such alternatives are indistinguishable in recipes. Freeze dried butter, cheese, sour cream, meat, and TVP (textured vegetable protein) allow you to recreated your favourite recipes without relying on a refrigerator or a trip to the store. Maintain a supply of ingredients necessary to prepare all your meals including oil, yeast, baking powder, baking soda, salt, vinegar, sugar, honey, dry and/or condensed milk, and whatever else you use including spices and condiments.
Have foods that are ready to eat with little or no prep. I love grinding my own flour and cooking from scratch but people get busy, sick, hurt, tired, and overwhelmed, both in our daily lives and when emergencies crop up. Sometimes you work all day and forget to eat until you take a step and realize you're dizzy or someone who's less practiced at cooking needs to take over. Instant and quick foods can be the biggest help in the world in the middle of a crisis or rough day and won't sacrifice your overall health (or budget) if used in moderation. Some quick meal ideas include: canned or instant dry soup, mac n' cheese, canned or cured meat, boxed dinners, freeze dried/MREs, jello, cake mix, popping corn, and drink mixes, or even chocolate bars to boost moral and add a sense of normalcy when stocked for an occasional treat. Healthier options include edible seeds, nuts, dried fruits and berries, and granola, any of which can be eaten alone as a fast snack or be added to cereal, oatmeal, breads, and other recipes.
What Are You Preparing For?
If you read the Food Storage section you're already familiar with having food on hand in case of emergencies, but what about other necessary supplies when you're away from home or must suddenly leave? Why would you even have to? This can be a tough concept to grasp, especially when the more boisterous preppers talk about nuclear war and apocalyptic situations. Don't worry about those scenarios, the chance of them happening, let alone any of us being around for it are pretty small. Consider a real life example, in the summer of 1992 I was 7 years old and a train derailed dumping 30,000 gallons of liquid benzine into the Nemadji River. It turned into a noxious cloud and drifted across my hometown of Duluth (MN) and neighboring Superior (WI), causing 50,000 people to be evactuated from the Twin Ports. We packed bags and went to my grandparents house in a different part of town and then when that area was evacuated we went to the family cabin in Cloquet. At the time it was exciting, I asked what we'd do if the cabin was evacuated and my relatives said we'd find a motel somewhere. I secretly hoped we'd get to because I was 7. Looking back, it's easy to see how this was a shitty situation for a lot of people. It's also served as poignant reminder of why I keep a bag packed ready to grab at a moments notice. Other situations that a Bug-Out-Bag (BOB) is handy for include forest and house fires, floods, tornadoes, winter snowstorms that may strand you in a vehicle or damage your home (in 2014 record snowfall in our area collapsed many roofs, including houses and our barn), earthquakes, acts of terrorism, a family crisis, funeral, or medical emergency that takes you to a big city away from home, a broken vehicle that strands you someplace inconvenient, the list goes on.
Items commonly found in bug-out-bags include food, water, first aid, flashlights, radio, GPS, batteries, matches/fire starting kits, lighter, bad weather gear, extra clothes, blankets or sleeping bags, compass, maps, cash, emergency contacts, paper and writing tools for notes, emergency whistle, pocket knives or multitools, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soap, disinfecting wipes, paracord, sewing kits, glue, duct tape, and tarp. When putting together a kit consider your weather, location, likely events, and you (or your family's) specifics needs (such as medications). Charging cords or charging devices (containing batteries or solar powered) for phones are also a good idea. You goal is to cover basic needs of food, water, sanitation, shelter/clothing of some sort, heat, be able to attend to unjuries, repair the things you're relying on, navigate, and communicate. Make lists of these things and brainstorm what you can use.
24 Hour Bag
Your 24 hour bag should your basic daily pack, think of this as your "Get Home" bag. This is what you keep on your person and bring to work, school, or wherever you go. It should contain everything you need to get through 24 hours and get you back home. Keep stuff like snacks or ration bars, water, and cash in small denominations and change in case you need to take a bus or cab, basic first aid supplies, and anything you need on a daily basis as well as the things you likely won't need but would be in big trouble without. As an asthmatic I always carry an inhaler even though years away from smokers has mostly cleared up my breathing issues because the attack I'm unprepared for could kill me. Aside from obvious stuff (such as water or medications) it helps to start carrying a bag as soon as you can and take note of what you need as you run into situations. One thing that always threw my game off was having a bootlace break, you know how a loose boot flops around and blisters your foot and makes it near impossible to walk? I do, so I started always carrying a spare set of laces and eventually upgraded that to a 25 foot length of paracord which can cut to lace boots and do a number of other useful things besides. Any bag will do, a standard backpack being fine, though cheaper nylon ones tend to tear quite easilly (reaffirming the utility of a sewing kit at the ready). The pack I use now is canvas and and leather for durability. You can always upgrade bags later, getting in the habit of being prepared, even if it's cobbled together out of what you have on hand or easy access to means you're more likely to be covered when the unexpected arrises. With that said, I stay away from tactical bags because they look suspicious. The same goes for ready-made emergency bags that are loaded with (mostly) first-aid supplies and generic gear as they tend to come in a bright or neon colour with survival slogans, medical crosses, and reflective tape stitched all over them. They lack the personal approach that enables you to carry the gear you need for your specific situation and stand out. If there is a crisis situation you don't want to look like a walking target. If you do end up with pack like this you can always cherry pick/transfer the contents or rip out the stiching on the embrodered logos or patches that make it's contents obvious. Likewise, very nice looking backpacks are always targets for theft. I cover my gear in band patches and let it get grimy as it tends to make it look like I don't have anything to steal.
Pocket & EDC Kits
An EDC or Every Day Carry is a kit, pouch, or bag you bring everywhere and covers what you need in your daily life. This could be your entire 24 hour bag or a smaller component that goes in it or stays on your person, EDCs and 24 Hour Bags may be synonymous. An EDC may also contain things you use in your daily life, be it personal items or tools of a given trade (I always carry a Moleskine sketchbook and selection of writing tools), or things you may not need every day but would be horribly inconvenienced without. There are no hard and fast rules, carry what works for your situation. A pocket kit designed to fit in a cargo pocket or get tossed in a backpack can contain a lot of useful small gear. Tiny pocket kits (such as those made out of Altoid's Tins) may serve to organize small items but are not suitable as a stand-alone kit despite thier popularity. The closest I came to building a comprehensive pocket kit was a delicate balance of minimalizing and including neecesarry things and I was able to compact it into a 8"x4"x2" pencil bag. A fanny pack (chaos bag!) makes an excellent "pocket kit" and can be worn for security or shoved into a larger bag with the rest of your gear and works to keep all the odds and ends together. My EDC is a zipper pouch full of pockets and stretchy loops that keep everything handy, it was made specifically for Every Day Carry by a brand called Maxpedition but of course you don't have to worry about brands and can make your own gear oranizer or repurpose another container. If I ever had to replace my EDC pouch and couldn't get another of the same one I'd probably just go with a fanny pack and possibly sew some elastic loops in to keep things accesible and unjumbled.
72 Hour Bag
While your 24 hour bag is your "Get Home" bag, the 72 hour bag is the "Get Out". This is what you grab if you have to evacuate or flee. This pack should sustain one person entirely for 72 hours (three days) in absence of electricity, plumbing, shelter, and other enemeties. It's also a good idea to have things like more cash and a backup credit card, greater self defense measures, maps of a greater range and/or a road atlas. If your Get Home Bag is geared towards navigating a strictly rural or urban environment the Get Out bag should see you through any place you can to get over the course of three days. If you're going into the city, remember to have cash. You should be able to carry it long distances. Basic survival gear you don't already carry (rope, fire kit, first aid) needs to be in this kit along with enough food and water. To save space I only have 2 liters of water in my 72 hour bag but if I'm travelling by vehicle I'll grab some from the pantry on my way out the door or refill my bottles on the way, either from a clean source or use use purification tablets I always carry. Be aware of your environment and if you live in a place where refilling water isn't practical you'll need to carry more. Being a little fiesty about survival I keep all the essential stuff in my EDC in my day pack along with food and water, spare clothes that vary with seasonal needs, never go anywhere in boots I can't run or walk a long distance in. I use my 72 Hour Bag for additional food and water, extra clothes, extra money, extra batteries, and ammo for my sidearm as I live in a "right to carry" state.
First of all be sure to keep your vehicle gasssed up, if a lot of people are suddenly leaving at once or you need to move FAST never letting your tank get too low can give you an advantag. Just like banks and supermarkets, gas station have limited supplies that deplete quickly when everyone takes at once. For vehicle maintenance find a container (it can be a cardboard box in your trunk, steel toolbox, plastic bin, bag, whatever) and load it up. Try to stow it somewhere where it's not going to roll around if you get in an accident. If it locks, clips, or zips close it securely so tools don't turn into projectiles.
For a solid kit pack: ratchets and sockets sticking with 3/8" drive (do the big stuff at home, skip the torque wrench and snug things up enough to get to your destination), take apart a socket set and ditch the sizes you don't need to save space, just be sure you have all sizes inlcuding a deep drive for lugnuts and an extension or two. At minimum pack an adjustable crescent wrench or a set of combo end/box end wrenches (better but more expensive), 3 pliers (needlenose with wire cutter, groove joint, and locking), utility knife, heavy duty scissors/clippers, basic screwdriver set, hammer, and miscelaneaous stuff such as duct tape, electrical tape, super glue, zip ties, flashlight with batteries, jumper cables, window scrapers, a small shovel, extra fluids (oil, coolant, transmission fluid, brake, amd gear oil), spare bolts/washers/nuts, wire, fuses, etc.
Keep spare clothes and cold weather gear in your car, including sleeping bags rated for extreme temperatures (assuming you live in a place that gets cold), snacks or ration bars (I have a jar of peanut butter with a spoon plastic wrapped to the side, excellent survival food), water, toilet paper, a small bucket or coffee can to piss in extreme weather, and flashing alert lights. You can warm up frozen water to drink but if you're already trying to stay warm hugging ice isn't a great way to do that. I always carry water with me in my daily pack. If you find yourself stranded get into a sleeping bag before the car (and you) start cooling off and toss your water bottle in as well, before they freeze.
Long Term Bag
A Long Term Bag is what you'd carry for indefinite survival. It will contain many of the same things as your Go Bag but there are some practical considerations and a lot of complicated variables. The easy part is to swap things that will run out such as matches for flint and steel or waterbottles for a refillable container with filtration/sanitation. The LTB bag may also contain more gear to accomadate a change in seasons. While you'd carry everything you need to eat and drink 24/72 hour bags you're going to have to rely on skills and resources and get your food on the go, whether that's busking on a street corner and dumpster diving or hunting and forgaing in the woods. For indefinite survival consider where you will be; urban, rural/small town, wilderness, or between thos eplaces. The amount of information that could be written on this topic would fill several books so my best advice is to plan for immediate and likely scenarios and build off of that. If you're looking at long term survival but you haven't lived out of a basic BOB (or built one) you need to back up. Most sources that tout hardcore wilderness survival are full of a few cute tips and and a lot of showmanship. The people I've learned the most from when it comes to living out of a backpack in a range of environments are gutter punks, train hoppers, rubbertrampers, and assorted travelers who've actually dedicated some part of their life to doing these things and my favourite source built on that experience is squattheplanet.com. If you can get the basics of preparedness down you can do things like camp or do other other small adventures and fine tune what you know and pack based on what you do and use. This is how you build a more comprehensive and functional knowledge of longer term survival.
An overly heavy pack is going to slow you down at the worst possible time and may even cause an injury or be too bulky to be practical through daily carry. Consider items with multiple uses or that can be rigged to work in place of other things.
Not having a sturdy bag can land you in trouble by failing while in use, usually by spilling contents or blowing a shoulder strap. If a cheap pack is all you have access to try reinforcing weak areas with leather or canvas scraps and/or thick stitching. My favourite thread for repairs is synthetic sinew (waxed nylon) though heavy thread or even dental floss will do in a pinch. Don't forget your sewing kit for on-the-go repairs.
Not having a practical bag can throw you off as well. Don't use the backpack you didn't otherwise like using but couldn't bring yourself to toss out, or the shoulder bag that's uncomfortable when full of gear and hard to run with.
Forgetting to update packs can find you short on items or toting around what you don't need. Check periodically to ensure everything is present and functioning properly. Do clothes still fit or need to be swapped to match the weather? How about other seasonal items such as sun screen or bug repellent? Do batteries, charging devices, flashlights, and other electronics still work? Check to see if you need to restock consumable items such as snacks/rations, band-aids, and matches. Perhaps your emergency contacts are outdated or you have more money to add.
Looking like a target with a top of the line flashy pack in red or neon is going to make you stand out to those who are unprepared and desperate. Tactical backpacks may look suspicious. Try to keep it low key or at least low suspicion. My 24 hour bag is olive canvas covered in band patches, it makes me look like a teenager but not a prepper with a lot of good shit to steal. Even a modest backpack is a common item to be snatched, though, so take care to keep a good grip on your bag and if you must leave it somewhere make sure it's secure and out of sight, not taunting someone to break a car window to grab.
The Importance of Having a Plan
Having supplies stocked for all manner of emergencies puts you in an excellent place, whether hunkering down at home or on the move. But it's also important to know what you're going to do in an emergency.
Notes & Checklists
Write down important notes and checklists, don't try and remember things in the heat of the moment, emergencies are stressful and encompassing and the last thing you need to be doing is wracking your brain for details when forgetting a critical component to your strategy is completely avoidable. Notes don't just save you frustration, they free up mental resources for critical decision making on the fly. Write down any lists of things that need to be collected, meeting places, routes, emergency contacts, and special instructions. Most of these things can go in a bug-out-bag but copies around the house may be of value for reference or the benefit of others.
Meeting Places & Routes
Have a designated meeting place for your family, household, or group as well as a designated travel route. A common meeting place gives everyone a chance to assemble and check in. If a meeting place is unreachable, members don't show up, or your chosen evacuation route is compromised have an alternate plan and inform all relevant parties of them ahead of time. "Go to this location and wait for me" is a fine default plan, but if a party doesn't show up make sure others know to proceed ahead and where to go. Another rendezvous point further down the line can be a safe backup for regrouping. Be sure to outline all plans and include copies with maps in bug-out-bags and car kits.
Practice your emergency plans by walking through your home with your checklist, mentally collecting each item. Don't rush, just move purposefully through your list, as you would in an emergency. Drive to meeting places and along escape routes. Depending on how elaborate your bug-out plans are, you may wish to pack everything up to ensure things fit. Do timed drills for fires, where speed and efficiency is of the essence. Remember that variables will exist in the event of a real emergency, you may not be able to grab items or pets or have to exit through any number of routes. Become familiar with your options (such as which windows you can safely exit from). Spare clothes in your car kit can be of great value if you find yourself dashing out of a burning building under dressed. Children can benefit from practice getting ready and loaded into car seats briskly, as do animals who may not have much experience going into kennels or livestock transport.
Panic is a recipe for disaster but by having a plan we regain control and direction during a crisis. Don't rush, breath deeply and go through your plan. Your mind may be all over the place or blank, that's why you wrote everything down, now all you have to do is follow the instructions. If you can keep a level head you will navigate things much smoother and those around you will be calmed and helped. If someone is panicking tell them it will be okay and give them clear simple instructions to follow. It may be something you desperately need help with "you're job is to help Harold load the horses" or it may be something to keep them occupied in the face of a nervous break down and out of other's ways "your job is to get buckled safely and eat these crackers". Those last instructions could have been made to a child or an adult, sometimes when people are unsure they just want to know what to do. Even if you are very unsettled yourself, those around won't realize it so long as you keep your wits about you. Remember, being brave isn't about being fearless, it's about doing what you need to despite how you feel. Hang in there and you will get through.
When a protest or other large gathering gets too intense you may find yourself in a dangerous situation. The trick to staying safe in huge groups of people is to keep calm and aware while understanding the fluid dynamics of crowds.
Starting with the obvious, the best measure of safety is always avoidance. Even if you agree with a cause you might have practical reasons for not participating. I'm pretty comfortable with large groups and how to move through them but I'm severely asthmatic and a good lungful of pepper spray would likely kill me. Fast. I also have a small child who depends on me and if we were to get swept up in a riot accidentally, I sure as Hell wouldn't think twice about getting him out as soon as possible. The good news is riots don't happen spontaneously and if you practice basic situational awareness you're not going to be caught by surprise.
Situational Awareness: This means "to observe your surroundings and make detailed assessments about the environment". When it comes to political/social issues, large protests form around major events and media (whether mainstream or social) will clue you in that something is brewing. This takes time to grow and you really shouldn't be surprised by anything and able to avoid affected areas. Riots that pop up less expectedly tend to be large groups of people already gathering for something (think concert or sporting event) but something goes wrong. Perhaps a celebrity acts up and refuses to perform and people Angry Riot, or an emergency happens (such as a afire) and people Panic Riot. Usually an Angry Riot by a few starts a Panic Riot by the rest, the biggest difference being if people rush a stage or the exits, the results are usually the same in that property is destroy, people get trampled and injured, and it's a bad scene. Likewise, even when entering a peaceful event you should be practicing heightened awareness of your surroundings. Always take note of exits and multiple escape routs as well as the general "climate" of the people around you, keeping attuned to shifts that could lead to trouble and moving yourself towards exit paths as necessary. In a large venue arrive early and scout out exits (always have multiple in case any become inaccessible) before you become locked in a crowd and try to position yourself on the outskirts of large groups. Pay attention to the mood of the crowd as well as environment. Be alert to things like smoke or rising dissent as well as suspicious activity such as catching sight of weapons, doors being shut or barricaded, law enforcement appearing, or anything "off". At the first sight of anything calmly but steadily make your way to a free exit.
The Fluid Dynamics of Crowds: The danger of crowds is that a large enough body of people is like a large body of water and fluid dynamics apply. A single person doesn't have a lot of mass or force, but when hundreds or thousands of people are pushing them from behind they become an incredible force. Individuals are powerless to stop it. If a venue has a poor design and the exits open inwards and everyone rushes the doors, people become pressed against them, trapped and crushed. Even though every reasonable person knows that all you have to do is back up a few feet and swing the doors in, thus allowing everyone to flee easily, no one can move enough t0 do it. The crowd just keeps pushing forward and people die inches from freedom. Crowds also flow like water. The middle current of a river of people moves the fastest. Being in the center of the flow rushes you forwards quickly and is hard to exit. Stopping or trying to go against the current literally sweeps you under the flow of people. The perimeter of the flow is weaker and slower.
General Rules for Surviving Riots
Walk, never run and try to blend in with the crowd so as not to draw attention to yourself. Keep your head down, avoiding eye contact and confrontation. Keep moving. If you have the option dress inconspicuously or to match the crowd.
Riots tend to happen in the streets so getting inside of a sturdy structure and staying put until it passes can be a good strategy. Keep the doors locked and stay away from the windows. Seek shelter in building interiors with walls and other barriers to protect you from projectiles or bullets.
If in a vehicle stay inside with the windows/doors secure unless the vehicle is targeted. If people are blocking your way honk and drive forward at a moderate speed, people will move. Never drive towards a police barricade, even for "help", they will interpret the vehicle as being used against them and respond accordingly (with violence).
Walk mindfully and be careful not to stumble in a mob, you will be trampled. If you go down curl into a ball and protect your head and organs, your chance of survival and avoiding injury is much greater like this. Others will trip on you in this position and they will form a pile that will force the flow of people around you, just hang tight until the crowd opens and you can stand up again.
The longer you spend in a riot, the greater your chances of injury or death but it takes time and patience as moving out is slow. Stay focused, calm, and determined. Always follow the flow of the crowd until you reach a doorway, ally, or side street to step into. If you are in the center of the crowd move diagonally towards the outside. Get out before you reach armed barricades or get close enough to come under fire, if you can help it.
Riot Control Agents (RCAs) are chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin. They include pepper spray and tear gas. Generally pepper spray is fired directly from a hand held device while tear gas is deployed from a canister launched into a crowd. The extent of poisoning caused by RCAs depends on the amount, level, duration, and location of exposure a person experiences. The immediate effects on a healthy individual are usually short-lived, about 15-30 minutes after the person has been removed from the source and decontaminated throughly. Rashes and minor irritation may persist longer. Common symptoms immediately after exposure include excessively tearing eyes, blurred vision, burning of the mouth, nose, and airways, excessive mucous/saliva, difficulty swallowing or breathing, coughing/choking, burns, rash, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. Long-lasting exposure or exposure to a large amount (especially in a confined area) may cause severe effects including blindness, immediate death due to severe chemical burns to the throat and lungs, and respiratory failure possibly resulting in death. Impact from tear gas canisters can cause injuries including sever burns and head/face injuries, including skull fractures. If symptoms go away shortly after a person is removed from exposure to riot control agents, long-term health effects are unlikely.
Decontamination & Treatment: Remove contaminated clothing as quickly as possible. Clothing may be cut off rather than pulled over the head if necessary to prevent contamination to the face. Rinse agents away from the body with cool water and wash thoroughly with soap, you can use warm water after rinsing with cool but colder water will keep your pores closed. Don't sit in a bath or allow agents to soak on the body. Don't rub or wipe the eyes or face. Affected persons may need help holding their eyes open, it'll hurt temporarily but flushing the eyes with water or saline solution will remove irritants, being sure to irrigate from the inside corner of the eye towards the outside, with head tilted back and slightly towards the side being rinsed. Flushing affected areas with water for 10-15 minutes is ideal. Use caution when handling contaminated items and place them in sealed plastic bags until they can be washed several times or safely disposed of where no one else will risk accidental contamination. Use gloves or turn the bags inside out to gather items and use caution if you open bags later as agents may off-gas, open bags outside and keep your head back and hands protected. Be mindful of contaminated areas you might touch or sit down on while treating people. Any clothing or accessories (glasses, jewelry, etc.) must be washed before being put back on. Treatment consists of helping the affected get more oxygen in their blood and stopping chemical burns from getting worse. Medications that are used to treat asthma (bronchodilators and steroids) can be used to help people breathe (not just asthmatics). If you have asthma be extremely cautious about exposure to RCAs, they are more likely to be deadly to someone with a chronic breathing problem. Burn injuries to the skin are treated with standard burn management techniques.
"Non-lethal" shot such as bean bags, rubber buckshot, and other ammunition may also be deployed. Be aware that while these do less damage than regular ammunition they can still cause injuries, sometimes severe, and occasionally fatal depending on the range they are fired from and where they hit people. Severe facial injuries including permanent blindness have occurred. More typical injuries include bruising and surfaces wounds. Distance from weapons and thick clothing and protective gear such as goggles, masks, and even bike helmets can keep you safe.
Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) are sound cannons that use loud high-pitched sounds to induce debilitating pain within a 300 meter range. US police are said to use devices that only produce about 110 decibels (the same as a live concert) but the military grade LRAD produces 160 decibels. That's above the human discomfort threshold of 120 (chainsaw), the permanent damage threshold of 130, and the point at 140 decibels where human targets became disoriented and may be unable to leave the path of the sound cannon. They induce headaches to sever pain depending on the range and there are reports of people suffering long term hearing and nerve damage that results in permanent dizziness. Sound in open air decreases in amplitude relative to frequency, bass carries and propagates wildly but higher frequencies diminish proportionately to distance. The further away from the source you are, the less higher frequencies will reach you. Sound also disperses in proportion to frequency with higher frequencies tending to leave a transducer/loudspeaker in a beam that narrows relative to frequency, though bass is mostly omni-directional. This means that if you aren't directly in front of the sound canon the higher frequencies will miss you almost entirely. Move diagonally or sideways (depending on your escape options) from the direction it projects to minimize the effects. Gun-range ear protection combined with good earplugs can give you a chance but if you are still directly in line/too close to an LRAD you can still suffer hearing damage or become immobilized. Even without sound cannons a pair or durable ear muffs can protect your ears from impact and combat sensory overload keeping you more stable and focused, always use a gun-range spec or similar (combat, aviary) as noise canceling audio headphones won't provide significant protection or be as strong under fire. For ear plugs look for military grade (reusable silicone) but even cheap foam plugs are better than nothing, especially under proper muffs.
Blinding lights may also be used in conjunction with with these tactics to mark a police line and drive people back by making it hard for them to react to assault or move forward. This also serves to disorient and may be especially troubling for persons with certain neurological disorders. If your protective goggles are tinted, all the better.
DIY Riot Gear
Eye/Face protection: goggles that seal tightly (such as for swimming) are ideal because they'll keep spray irritants out and can protect your eyes from projectiles or debris. You can also look for shatterproof lenses with thick padding that will absorb shocks, though make sure they are tight fitting. A respirator with a high rating will offer the best protection. Be sure the fit is secure. In lieu of a mask a Palestinian or tactical style scarf, bandanna, ski mask, or some combinations of things (such as a mask and beanie or hoodie) that covers as much of the face as possible and used in conjunction with eye protection will go a long way. Layers are helpful, as is a tight weave to clothe to keep irritants out. Thick clothes will provide additional padding. Subsequently, pepper sprays may soak the fabric and be held against the skin but cheap rain ponchos and disposable medical gloves will repel it. Pepper spray exposure requires a certain degree of proximity to law enforcement. Tear gas is a dry crystal so proper coverage of any layers will greatly assist in minimizing skin contact. Tear gas can also be fired greater distances and into crowds so you are more likely to come in contact with it even if you keep your distance of law enforcement. I would recommend not soaking a bandanna in water or vinegar and tie it around your mouth as a filter because tear gas comes in the form of water activated crystals. Other useful items are high energy snacks, water for drinking or flushing eyes or wounds, spare clothes to change into (bagged for sterility), first aid, disposable gloves, garbage bags to place contaminated clothes into, asthma inhalers, cell phones/chargers, ID and emergency contact information in case you are injured. Avoid contact lenses as they can melt to your eyes from chemical agents. Lotions, sun screen, body oils, and makeup can also cause RCAs to adhere to your skin. A thick heat-proof glove (such as a welding glove) can allow you to hurl hot tear gas cans out of the crowd.
Remember, anything is better than nothing. If you are caught off-guard and have to improvise, do so. I've seen people in riots with two-liter soda bottles cut into face shields.
If you are committed to or forced to fight back to survive keep calm and focused on what's around you. Pay attention to crowd dynamics and how to move with the flow to get to where you want to be.
When tear gas canisters are deployed, don't run but watch where they're going to land and only move if you are in the way of being hit by one. Once they land you can move upwind or throw them back at those attempting to exert force over the crowd. Only throw canisters back if are wearing a heat resistant leather glove, bare skin will burn severely and synthetic materials can melt. You can also kick the canister away. If you need to move with the canister, run, the micro-pulverized powder dispenses under pressure and will trail behind you without landing on you. You can also slam a bucket or other container (such as a trash can) down on the can to contain the cloud.
When RCAs are deployed remain calm, press protective masks/breathers closely to the face to prevent a broken seat and stay put or hold your breath and close your eyes while navigating away. If your face is properly protected you will be able to withstand these assaults without fleeing. Those who are unprotected will experience agony and panic from the choking sensation and may collide with or trample others in an attempt to get away. This is what these agents are designed for and they are very affective. The more people who are prepared the less panic there will be, making dialogue and awareness before events critical in maintaining order and strength against oppressive forces. If you are sprayed with chemical agents without sufficient protection remain calm, minimize your exposure by closing your eyes an holding you breath, covering your face with objects or facing away. Calmly move away from the agents. You will experience discomfort but in most healthy people (especially if you can minimize contact) it will only be temporary. Breath as slowly as you can to avoid intaking more chemicals. Avoid rubbing your face and eyes and cough, spit, and blow your nose to expel as much of the irritant as you can. Rinse your mouth and eyes and remember to avoid touching other things or people to avoid cross contamination. The effects are unpleasant but the worst of them generally subside relatively quickly. Tear gas is heavy and stays close to the ground, so remain upright and move to high ground, buildings, or other places you can climb to escape/avoid it.
Carry spray paint to obscure vehicle windows of those trying to exert force or spray in assailants faces. Fireproof/leather gloves are also good for throwing Molotov cocktails. Wear protective gear against "non-lethal" ammunition. If deadly ammunition is being fired, get behind objects or (if you must) other people. If the people in front of you go down or there's no cover, drop to the ground. Run in a zig-zag to be harder to hit. If your ability to escape gun fire is completely exhausted (such as if you are trapped) go down and play dead. If confrontations get tight, most weapons are less affective at close range. Blunt instruments, chemical agents that you're dressed to withstand, and even guns can be aimed away from your body, others behind you, and grappled out of the control of oppresive forces.
Books and Other Publications