Note: This was originally written as part of my family’s Substack. As we’re now moving away from that platform I’m moving the post over to here.

Disclaimer: Below are my rambling thoughts that came to me while our family went somewhere around 4 days without main electricity due to an ice storm. Take them with a metaphorical grain of salt as I am still sleep deprived and exhausted, but it felt important to record them while they were fresh.

What does it mean to survive?

If you look up media on survival you may find a number of things. People fighting off zombies, dramatically eating grubs in a forest, or perhaps post apocalyptic wastes, driving along a highway. They make for very good stories, and create striking pictures. They really don’t convey the reality of what it means to be in a survival situation, or what it feels like. Let’s start with the feeling.

It feels like every other day, except worse

In most survival situations there is no clear marker that says “you are now entering a survival zone.” Some of them do, a plane crash, falling into a frozen lake, etc. The reality though is those are rare. Instead the most common survival situations(and some of the most dangerous) feel exactly like a normal day, except off. It’s noticing that you can’t seem to find your trail on a hiking trip, your car breaks down in a rural area, or in the most recent experience the power goes out during an ice storm.

For those of you not aware the state I live in (Michigan) has one of the most unstable power grids in the USA. I don’t mean that in hyperbole either, but a factual statement. It means for better or worse we have become accustomed to periodic power outages and brownouts. Most last only a few hours to a day. Some however, like this most recent one, last for several days in freezing conditions.

What does this all have to do with survival?

The thing is in the US we rely on electricity for significant parts of our infrastructure. No electricity means no heating, means no water, means no refrigeration of food, means limited or not way of preparing/cooking food. People can survive in optimal conditions for some time without those things, but in non-optimal conditions that number is measured in hours or days.

I mention all of this because power outages for my area have become routine. They don’t register as a crisis, just an inconvenience while we wait for power to be restored. Maybe light some candles and pull some blankets around and wait it out. But when it’s a significant outage in the length of days, by the time you realize it’s a problem you may have already used up valuable resources that you may have spent otherwise.

An ounce of prevention

Generally speaking when I am dealing with the concept of survival preparation I break it up into a few different categories, from the long term to the most immediate:

  • Long term - This includes such things as strategy, learning foundational knowledge(Physics/Chemistry/Engineering/Medicine), building community, preparing property, etc. This also happens to be the most impactful and most difficult to do well.
  • Medium Term - This includes things such as making and drilling emergency plans, learning new tools/techniques and practice using existing ones in new ways(relational thinking, practicing fire starting, proof of concept experiments, etc). Also importantly taking measures of personal physical/mental health and learning how to keep those sustained in a crisis. That may also involve learning what ones physical/mental limits & needs feel like so they can be navigated.
  • Short term(this borders on preparation to active implementation) - Awareness of conditions / engaging survival(or triage) plans, resource assessment.

There is a lot more that goes into a survival situation and this isn’t meant as an exhaustive list, but it does give a glimpse in how I tend to think of things. Each section builds on the next. The more long term investment there is, the less need there is for as much medium term, the less need there is for triage/emergency response in short term, but it doesn’t remove them entirely. It just lightens the load.

In Practice

For our family when the ice storm hit, at first it didn’t register as a crisis. We had already done a fair amount of preparation and had food/water/shelter for the immediate term. We had adjusted our plans and strategies so everyone was in a safe location for when the worst of it hit.

It wasn’t until we didn’t get power back after the first day or so that we started to engage our more comprehensive emergency plans because it became apparent that this might be a longer outage than usual outage. Because of the preparation we had already put into place it meant we could afford to do that. Those who haven’t been able to invest in preparation likely faced much more dire conditions than we did.

Even so one of the core aspects of survival preparation (and of our clan) is that we should be constantly learning. In this case there are things that we’re learning about how we did to be better prepared for the next crisis. That ranges from what our maintenance schedules are for our backups to what sort of things we keep on hand for supplies. It also helps us to find gaps in our existing processes and plans so that we can address them for future situations.

Wrapping it up

I have a lot more thoughts that I may share later on. Especially as what these things look like in practice in our lives. That said this is a glimpse of how I tend to approach disaster/emergency security for our household.