The term "prepping" refers to the process by which you incrementally increase your level of preparedness for emergency/disaster on a continuum from short-term self-reliance to long-term self-sufficiency.
The term "preps" can be defined as tangible items or systems that you acquire or build and use in prepping. While some people may include intangible things such as weapons training, drills, skill development, etc. in their definition of preps, for the purpose of this piece, the focus is on physical items.
The stereotype that survivalists live in underground bunkers in the middle of nowhere is rarely accurate. The media sensationalizes the extreme cases, but the reality is that a holistic survival plan involves several locations and several different scales. I've organized the list below in order of scale from the smallest to the largest caches of preps in a pyramidal model to represent overlapping zones.
2. Bug Out Bag
3. Bug Out Vehicle
6: Bug Out Location
Preppers promote taking some level of responsibility for your safety and security by not only developing self-defense, first-aid, and other survival skills sets, but by carrying implements, tools, devices, and supplies on your person at all times. Having preps on your person isn't only so you can help yourself and your family, it's also so you can help others in need.
What you carry on your person is often referred to as "Every Day Carry" or "EDC". On this scale your preps will include an array of smaller survival gear items. The number of items you carry will be determined by the amount of pockets, belt accessories, carabiners, etc. you're comfortable with. Fashion and function can be hard to reconcile, but it's worth an attempt. Many people walk through the world without care or thought of the potential for anything to go wrong. The expectation that something bad will "never happen to me" is a symptom of what is clinically called "normalcy bias". This is a psychological tendency to avoid considering and logically preparing for disruptions in modern business-as-usual life.
Unfortunately if we encounter bad guys on the street, chances are police won't arrive on the scene until the incident is over. If we're in a disaster situation, emergency medical responders may not be able to get to us in the time it takes to die or become seriously ill from preventable causes such as bleeding, dehydration, infection, etc.
Items often carried every day by preppers may include some of the following:
cutting tool, fire making tool, multi-tool, parachute cord, led light, compass, first-aid items (band-aids, alcohol pads), whistle, water purification tablets, emergency medical info card, list of emergency contacts, bandana, cell phone with additional charged battery, flash drive, notepad, writing utensil, "forever" postage stamps, prepaid phone card, cash, checks, herbal energy pills, p38 can opener, water bottle, pepper spray, misc. legal self-defense implements...
Bug Out Bag (BOB)
The "Bug out Bag", aka "BOB", is the survivalist slang for what is more officially known as a 72-hour emergency kit. However, the critical distinction is that a BOB must be in the form of a back-pack that can allow you to move on foot, hands-free.
On this scale of preps, you may have some of the same items that you'd have for EDC, however in greater lengths, quantities, container sizes, etc. as you'll have the main column of the bag, plus many extra pockets, compartments, straps, clips, etc.
Here's a list of some of the items often found in or attached to BOBs.
More fire making tools, more parachute cord, flashlight, batteries, candles, first aid kit, extra medications, hand crank/solar emergency weather radio, signal mirror, toilet paper, tweezers, toothbrush, misc. toiletries, sun block, bug spray, warm clothes (kept dry in a large zip lock bag), rain gear, gloves, hat, sun glasses, mess kit (eating dish/utensils), lightweight pot for cooking/boiling water, salt/spices, three days worth of dry food, hooks/sinkers, wild edible plant identification books, bigger water bottle, water filtration device, 5 gallon collapsible water jug, small bottle of bleach, folding shovel, wire saw, sewing needles and floss, pen or pencil wrapped with duct tape, pen or pencil wrapped with fishing line, full size notebook, envelopes, plastic bags, garbage bags, survival manuals, entertainment devices such as books or games, documentation package (including emergency contacts, local emergency service provider phone numbers, evacuation procedures/plans/packing checklists, multiple evacuation routes, encrypted bank account, social security, etc. numbers, list of family medications/medical conditions, etc.), maps, sleeping bag, space blanket, tube tent, therma-rest pad, tarp, poly sheeting, legal self-defense tools carried in accordance with local law...
It helps to separate and categorize your items into zip-lock bags and distribute the bags into to different pockets and compartments for easy access. The bags also help keep your gear dry.
This sounds like a lot of stuff but if properly organized and compacted a lot of it can comfortably fit in/on a large camping pack. Depending on the nature of the situation, you may want to drop a lot of weight so you can cover more ground on foot. In Saving Private Ryan, the scene in which the translator joins the unit shows how a combat-inexperienced soldier tries to pack everything he was issued in his bag for the mission, and is made to leave most of it behind by his fellow soldiers. This is a useful bit of insight demonstrating that "the more you know the less you need," and that you have to be realistic about your ability to haul more than the bare minimum.
Your normal commuting vehicle (which may or not be your "Bug Out Vehicle") should always contain your BOB so that it will be accessible wherever you drive. Storing it in the trunk also ensures you'll never forget it at home, and when you need to lighten the load and take a few items out, you can lock them in your trunk or locked box in a flat bed truck.
Of course if you're riding a bus, if you are a passenger in someone else's vehicle, or riding a bike, it won't be feasible to bring your BOB with you. In those situations you'll be relying on EDC, or a smaller backpack with a selection of items from your BOB depending on the situation. For example, if you're hiking, you'd want to grab a selection of items from your BOB and put them in your day pack.
Most importantly, every member of your family should have a BOB, and every BOB should contain the same version of the documentation package. In an emergency you'll then be able to co-ordinate your response based on documented protocols that everyone has the current printed version of.
Bug Out Vehicle (BOV)
Your "Bug Out Vehicle" may be a huge 4-wheel-drive monster or a compact car.
Older diesel trucks are preferable as they have less electrical components that can fail, and they can be converted to run on veggie oil.
Whatever you prefer and have the means to acquire can serve as your BOV, though traditionally it's a truck or SUV. All that's required is that it be stocked with extra preps and be equipped with accessories that will optimize performance and provide redundancies in evacuation scenarios.
Besides simply scaling up some of your preps (such as a 5 gallon bucket of dry food that preferably doesn't require cooking, one or more gallons of water, a larger first aid kit, etc. the following are some preps specific to the BOV:
Flares, basic tools, spare parts (headlights, belts, bulbs, etc.), quarts of oil, extra fluids, map books, solar power system, power inverter, spare tire, snow chains, jack, blankets, tent, boots, trench tool, books, gas can (keep empty unless it can be stored safely and securely), more legal self-defense tools transported in accordance with local law, any other large utility/emergency items that don't fit in or are not appropriate for your BOB.
Every family vehicle should be to some degree prepped to function as a BOV, even if there's one larger vehicle that's designated as the main BOV.
This refers to the place where most of your time is spent outside of the home, wherever that may be. The goal would be to get your colleagues or co-workers on-board with prepping so that they collaborate and pool resources to ensure that there are preps on-site. Whether in a basement, storage closet, or under your desk you should try to get some amount of food/water/medical supply storage set up. If nothing else, try to convince whoever's in charge to at least have emergency kits on-site that are sized appropriately for the number of people in your office, dorm, etc.
Most likely if done right, you can store a lot without it being a nuisance and have some sense of security knowing that if you end up stuck there, you won't die of dehydration, starvation, or mild injuries.
Without being too extreme, you should see your home as your fort. It's the place where you let down your guard at night and go to sleep. It's the place where you raise your family, or are being raised by your family. It's where you should feel the most safe and secure, and where you should have the most control of your survival. Again, many of the prep items you'll want at home have been listed above, but here are some preps that are unique to the home:
large water tanks, rain water catchment systems, months to years worth of long term food storage in the form of canned foods and dry foods including your favorite grains, legumes, seeds (for eating, sprouting, and planting), nuts, spices, dried herbs, dried fruits, etc. in 5 gallon bucket/mylar bag/oxygen absorber kits on a rotation system so you "eat what you store and store what you eat", sprout jars, green house, permaculture garden (food forest if possible), irrigation systems, herbal medicine cabinet, organic recycling center (i.e. compost, vermiculture, humanure, etc), guard dog(s), livestock, food dehydrator, canning equipment, solar power system with battery bank, more legal weapons, low and high tech security systems, toiletry reserves, fuel reserves (gas, firewood, etc.), generator, full camping gear for the whole family, bigger/more specialized hand/power tools, fire-proof lock box for important documents, back up computers, back up external hard drives, lots of useful practical/instructional books and videos, cash, precious metal reserves, large self-assembled or store bought emergency kits...
Bug Out Location (BOL)
The "Bug Out Location" aka "BOL" or "survival retreat" is your ultimate destination in the case of forced or voluntary evacuation from your normal place of residence. Ideally it would be far out of the urban and suburban zones though not necessarily totally isolated. For those who can afford the luxury, the BOL is a piece of rural land that you own and have put some kind of legal temporary or permanent inhabitable structure on (trailer, teepee, yurt, cabin, house, natural building, etc.)
If you don't have the luxury to buy land, you may discover that you have relatives living in the countryside, or friends living on farms with whom you can pre-arrange to stay with under an agreement that you'll pay rent, or do work-trade.
No matter how you gain access to a temporary or permanent living situation for you and your family, what matters is that you have a plan in place. The plan should ensure that you have a main BOL and several fall back locations if the main location is inaccessible, and have multiple routes to each location. It's also important to work out a system whereby if members of your family or group reach a certain rally point, there's a predefined way to "post" inconspicuous communications about who's reached that point, when the got there, and where they left to.
In terms of the scales of preps, the main BOL will often have the largest stockpile of preps when you factor in the ability to hide or bury large caches and the ability to establish permaculture edible forest gardens, ponds, springs, streams, swales, wood lots, wind power, solar power, micro-hydro systems, etc. Ultimately the ideal BOL would be a rural homestead. However the extent to which it's developed by the time you need it will be determined by how much time, energy, and money you can afford to put into it while you're not actually living on it.
In rural zones, the land itself is a prep. The more you do to prep the landscape, the more yields you'll produce that are regenerative. In an apartment or small urban lot, you're usually not able to access and produce renewable resources on the scale needed to be fully self-sufficient (of course in co-operation with neighboring food producers). Thus urban preps are generally only going to serve for a finite period of self-reliance until the supplies run out.
Ideally if you're "bugging out" to your BOL, you'll have taken as many of the preps from the smaller levels of the pyramid with you so you'll be combining preps as well.
The BOL is typically seen as the end point of the game where if you're successful at making it there alive you'll be relatively safe, secure, and supplied. However, most preppers acknowledge to varying degrees and extremes that to be prepared while being surrounded by the unprepared is a recipe for disaster. Generally, the higher the population density, the greater the risk of being jumped, besieged, or raided. So the more remote you are, the less likely the zombie hordes will be to expend the energy to hunt you down in the sticks. There's a trade-off though which is that the further you are from at least a small town, the less services are available to you and the less functional interdependence you'll have with neighbors who you may need to rely on to save your life someday, or even just to barter with.
Re-establishing a Culture of Preparedness
No individual, family, or group is an island. Ideally the largest step of the prepping pyramid would be a culture of preparedness wherein redundancy is built into every system that the population relies on for basic survival. It's not utopian, a hundred years ago it was common sense. According to prominent prepper Stewart Rhodes in episode 602 of The Survival Podcast, "during the Cold War, this country had enough grain to feed all of its people for three years in the event of a nuclear winter, now they have enough to feed all of us half a loaf of bread."
Our ancient and recent ancestors had the wisdom to live by the ways of the ant, not the grasshopper (see Aesop's fable "The Ant and the Grasshopper"). In the modern survivalist movement, it's accepted that winter is coming again as it has in the past and will in the future.
Apocalypse would be an easy way out, but I believe the world will continue, not end. We'll have to choose to be prepared. Moreover, it doesn't take TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) for any individual or family to experience an acute localized disaster. Be it a job loss, an injury, death of a loved one, etc, when the s**t his hit your fan, it's your preps that will carry you through in a state of relative comfort and help buffer desperation.
Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast has provided numerous planning and strategy tools such as the "threat probability matrix" and notion of "disaster commonality" (see episode 166) to help people identify the threats that are most likely to occur in their personal lives, location, climate, etc. and understand that in many ways the fundamental preps and planning needed to survive anything from the "mundane to the insane" are the generally the same.
It's important while prepping to be creative and make it fun-based not fear-based. Thanks to the modern survival movement there's a fail safe principle built-in which essentially states that whatever you do to be prepared for disaster should improve your quality of life whether or not s**t hits the fan! The best example is growing some portion of your own food.
Just avoid panic buying. As with Permaculture the best solutions are small and slow. Continually incrementally add to your preps when grocery items go on sale, when you get extra cash, when you can score something on Craigslist, when there's a yard sale, etc. Start small, make it fun, get into the groove and you'll enjoy having a more sensible lifestyle that actually empowers you to be a more safe, secure, confident, and dutiful cosmic citizen, community member, and family member.
See the Disaster Preparedness Workbook here.
Image by cyphunk, courtesy of Creative Commons license.