Preparing for the Unexpected — Food, Water, Shelter

Old Boy Scouts handbook cover

The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared.” For a Scout, that means being ready to help others at all times. It also means you are ready, willing, and able to do what is necessary for any situation that comes along. I was an Eagle Scout, so this means something to me. Even if you were not a Scout, being prepared means so much more when you have a family, business, or other group depending on you to protect them and help meet their needs. Have you been preparing for the unexpected?

Needs are often dictated by circumstances we didn’t anticipate and can’t control. However, our basic needs haven’t changed throughout the centuries. Water, food, and shelter are at the top of the list. Following those are medical supplies, clothing, and tools — defensive tools and tools for planting, building, and maintaining.

closet converted to a pantry filled with food stores
Having an adequate food supply on hand could mean having food for your family to sustain them through weeks or even months.

Have a Plan

When I was young, the big concern was atomic war. Many people dug and equipped fallout shelters. Others just prayed or hoped it wouldn’t happen. More recently our concern has been about an EMP attack propagated by nuclear blasts in the air or through targeted attacks on our electrical grid. However, it doesn’t take an attack by an enemy to disrupt our normal way of life.

During the winter of 2021, Texas was hit with a winter storm that did a number on our power grid. We had power outages and brownouts — sometimes for days. Some of you who live in the Northeast may scoff at our power outages when you compare them to the ones you have had to deal with.

Near where I live, the power outages affected Fort Worth’s ability to process clean water. This resulted in the city’s water supply becoming contaminated. This didn’t just affect Fort Worth but many of the outlying cities that depend upon Fort Worth for water. Unfortunately, this included the city in which I live.

I make no apologies when I use our family as an example of things you can be doing to protect your home and family when shortages or personal security challenges occur. My wife is a strategic planner. She looks at what could occur, what the results could be, and does her best to keep our family protected and supplied.

She thinks of things like extreme weather, EMP attacks, and infrastructure failures that may result in extended power outages, a contaminated water supply, and transportation failures. I take responsibility for our personal and home security. My responsibility is to ensure we have the tools necessary to defend ourselves and our home and know how to use them.

Prior to the start of 2021, a pandemic was not on our radar. But I can truthfully say my wife’s planning helped our family sail through events that had others panicking. In addition to the shortages and supply chain disruptions caused by the Pandemic — more reasonably stated, our government’s reaction to the Pandemic — the rolling power outages and three weeks of water supply contamination in our location was something that caught many families off guard.

multiple type of containers for water or gas
Having a water supply is critical for survival. Sometimes your household water supply may fail you, in which case it’s critical to have stored water on hand. You not only need drinking water, but also water for bathing, washing clothes, flushing toilets, etc.

Water Storage

We have plenty of medical supplies, vitamins, and medications. We have lots of water — some in barrels, others in 5-gallon jugs, and yet more in the many 1-gallon jugs stored everywhere. We store both potable and non-potable water. The non-potable starts off as drinking water, but once it reaches a certain date, we keep it for uses such as bathing, flushing toilets, and general cleaning.

It’s true that water doesn’t have an expiration date, but the containers make a difference. Plastic containers can leach chemicals into the water over time — especially if exposed to heat. The type of bottle can make a difference. Most commercial water bottles can be reused at least one time; beyond that, you may have to worry about leaching from the plastic.

Milk jugs don’t last as long as other bottles and are almost impossible to completely clean. Two-liter soda bottles are a good, inexpensive option for water storage. Just be sure to thoroughly wash them before refilling with water. Fifty-five-gallon water barrels are a common option; they should be pretty easy to find. These barrels are usually blue, indicating drinking water is stored inside. They are made with heavy-duty, food-grade plastic materials.

Our family has used the blue barrels to capture rainwater by hooking them up to our rooftop gutter system. This brings up the need for water purification tablets. Get these and keep them on hand not only for ensuring the water you store is clean, but also so you can purify the water you may need to gather in the future from ponds, lakes, or streams. Keep in mind that these tablets also have expiration dates.

Homemade Faraday cage using a trashcan and 3M tape
This is one of the author’s Faraday cans that was recently opened to recycle batteries approaching their expiration date. In this can are stored a USB power hub solar lantern, battery-operated radio, flashlight, TV, and lantern combo; a couple of 10-inch battery-operated electric fans; Coleman battery lantern, laptop computer, which is wrapped in a Faraday bag, along with 50 D batteries, 20 C batteries, and 60 AA batteries — all Duracell batteries with expiration dates several years in the future.

Food Prep

Survival food can be disappointing. If we have long-term food shortages, it may be the answer, but buy it carefully. It’s generally expensive and may expire long before you anticipated it would. For the most part, we stock canned goods and boxed goods that you can buy in the grocery store.

We converted an upstairs hall closet into a pantry. Everything that goes in that pantry has the expiration date written on the container with a Sharpie where it can easily be seen. As food comes up on its expiration date, we start eating it and replacing it with food having a date further in the future.

Food doesn’t necessarily go bad upon or soon after its expiration date, so don’t go throwing stuff out just because it didn’t get eaten before the expiration date on the label. You can research to see how long each food type lasts beyond its expiration date. Acidic foods such as tomato paste or ketchup will not last long, but grains and many vegetables may surprise you at how long they last.


Power Supply

We may or may not have power, so an alternative method of cooking with heat is important. We have a camp stove that runs from a propane tank, and we have several containers of canned heat. We also have a gas grill and a fire pit in the backyard. We have enough firewood to keep us warm for at least two months without power. We have enough food for our family for at least three months. And yes, we had a nice supply of toilet paper on hand. We also have some cast iron cookware for cooking over open flames.

Since the great gasoline shortage of 1974 and the great ammo shortage of 2008–2010, I have kept adequate supplies of both on hand and properly stored. We have plastic gas storage cans in one-gallon, two-gallon, and five-gallon sizes. We treat the gasoline in these cans with a gas stabilizer, and we rotate them by pouring them into vehicles and refilling the cans once or twice a year. Not only do we need gasoline for transportation needs but to keep the generator running.

red 5-gallon jerry can-style gas can
Sometimes we take for granted the supply of gasoline at service stations. However, that supply may be interrupted by weather or political unrest. Having a supply of gasoline on hand is critical, especially if you run a gasoline-powered generator.

Wrap Up: Prepping

We have several Faraday cans and bags in which are stored batteries and battery-operated fans, solar chargers, lighting, and a radio. This is imperative to have in case of an EMP attack that will wipe out all exposed electrical circuits. You can buy Faraday bags or cages, or you can make one out of a garbage can lined with cardboard and sealed with 3M Venture tape.

If the day ever comes when you have food and water but those around you don’t, unless you have enough to share infinitely, you will most likely need to protect what you have with deadly force. Make sure you are prepared for such an event —mentally and with the right stores.

Most of the readers of the Shooter’s Log have already started preparing for an emergency. However, that is not to say everyone is prepared for every eventuality. What do you prepare for? What would you add to the author’s plan? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • mobile screenshot of the weather forecast in Keller Texas
  • closet converted to a pantry filled with food stores
  • multiple type of containers for water or gas
  • red 5-gallon jerry can-style gas can
  • Homemade Faraday cage using a trashcan and 3M tape
  • Old Boy Scouts handbook cover
  • Corkboard with a fail to prepare, prepare to fail note pinned on it

About the Author:

David Freeman

David is an NRA Instructor in pistol, rifle and shotgun, a Chief Range Safety Officer and is certified by the State of Texas to teach the Texas License to Carry Course and the Hunter Education Course. He has also owned and operated a gun store. David's passion is to pass along knowledge and information to help shooters of all ages and experience levels enjoy shooting sports and have the confidence to protect their homes and persons. He flew medevac helicopters in Vietnam and worked for many years as a corporate pilot before becoming actively involved in the firearm industry.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (11)

  1. Bret,

    I feel your pain and had the same issues with long term gas storage. I learned that high octane gas without corn additives stores much longer, but I think we are talking two years at best, while the lower grade fuels last around six months. I can’t speak for racing fuel. I wouldn’t know what to look for or where around here. Would 100 octane avgas suffice?

  2. Re. fuel (gasoline) storage: stabilizer/rotation is a real pain and just one more thing to do. Forget the conventional gasoline and go with 100 octane (unleaded) race fuel. These are specially formulate fuels that are much more stable and store much longer. Years longer, and they won’t gum/tarnish up like traditional old gas does.

    It costs a bit more (e.g. double), but it is worth it in ever respect as a long-term storage source. Check around your area, some regular gas stations have it at select pumps, it is often easier to find than you think, esp. if you live in an area with a strong racing community. Otherwise it will be available at a local fuel depot.

    On a related note: this also makes a great primary fuel for your yard/mowing equipment. I don’t know how many years, each season, I’d have to rebuild my gummed up carburetors due to winter storage and/or improper season prep due to bad gas. Since switching to using race fuel for yard equipment 10+ years ago, I’ve never had to rebuild a single carburetor!

  3. Prepare for the worst, pray for the best. Batteries are fine for short term. Laptops and phones will be useless without the internet and WiFi. Small handheld shortwave radio with a small transportable solar panel will keep you up on the EBS (emergency broadcast system). Remember the rule of three: 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food.
    Rule of packing: ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain. Remember you have to carry what you pack. Not just for a few minutes or hours, but for days and miles.

  4. I have been searching for a good source of Faraday container construction and Faraday containers to purchase. There is so much information and so many sources out there that weeding through all of the options without a good knowledge base on what works and what does not is looking like a huge task. Can someone provide a proven source of education on detailed Faraday container construction?

  5. I’ve been keeping up with in the war in Ukraine. Most of my family is from the WW2 era and fought in both Europe and Asia. I Grew up hearing the horror stories’ of that war. I’m hearing a lot the same stories’ now. When We start feeling the effect’s of it here, hopefully by then people will understand and appreciate what We have, and take the necessary step’s to protect it.The bombing of Pearl Harbor happened because we didn’t think it would.( who would dare attack us ,right)?Prepping is a small price to pay considering the alternative.

  6. Okay, i gotta ask. What are the C batteries for? Lol!
    I went with lithium rechargable batteries and solar cells for small electronics. Walkies, shortwave/am/fm/wb receiver, lights. These batteries will hold charge for months and months. A large battery bank is charged, then plugged in to top off all the devices via a hub inside the cage. I do also have batteries as well. Don’t store them in the cage since an EMP wont affect them.
    I have a couple old phones, sd cards and usb drives with vital docs on them.

    Food: some freeze dried and a couple cases of MREs with heaters. Mainly, for long storage i vac seal and freeze legumes, grains, flour. Definitely agree with just keeping a larger rotating stock of grocery.

    Water: aqua tabs, and multiple filters. Storage of drinking water only. This is a definite weakness.

    Misc: have emergency bags for the family. Get home bags in the vehicles. Stock things for trading. Lighters, ammo, chapstick, soap, ziplocks, etc. And yes… plenty O’ TP. I have a stock of propane for heating, cooking, generators. I like it over gasoline for the long term storage advantages.
    I’ll digress.

  7. Great article.

    I got on board early….after I saw what Katrina did, and swore I would never allow myself to be in the situation those folks were. I may be extreme but have managed to set aside a few years worth of food, Wise Food specifically, and also put back a few hundred pounds of beans and rice and associated condiments (salt, pepper, flour, taco seasoning etc.). And I can, at least 200-300 jars a year, enough said about that. And yes, the firearms and ammo are more than set and I took the extra initiative to add some NBC protection and ballistic protection.

    And while I have a 16KW Generator with an automatic switch, I put in a Pitcher pump for a novelty really, but for a SHTF situation in a worst case scenario. I used a hand auger and hit water at 16 feet, continued on to 24 feet. The grand kids love it and it will come in handy if bad goes to worse.

    Bottom line, do a little at a time and before you know it, you are done and can sit back and not worry.

  8. This site has difficult search parameters, making it difficult to find products you’re interested in. I would like to find the availability of. 410, .45LC and 12 Guage slugs.

    1. From the home page, top navigation (red bar) select Ammunition. Then choose Shotgun Ammo, Shotgun Ammo by Gauge, or Rifle Ammo, Rifle Ammo by Caliber. If you do not see a link for the caliber or gauge in the menu, we are out of stock. .45 LC – out of stock, 12 Gauge Slugs, .410 – out of stock. Dave

  9. “I was an Eagle Scout”. Correction, you are not a former Eagle; you are always an Eagle. I’m speaking as a former BSA District Executive. This was something we were told to remind Eagles about whenever they made a past-tense comment. I too am an Eagle and I keep ready supplies, which are rotated or destroyed. Dry foodstuffs such as wheat flour, white rice, and corn are best kept in sealed glass jars with periodically replaced desiccant packs and stored in a refrigerator. This can more than double their shelf life. Brown rice is a bit trickier. It can be stored this way, but it does not last as long. The key is to deny the food a source of oxygen. If you plan to operate a vehicle, I suggest you own a simple one that does not rely on electronic components. I have a 1947 Willys CJ2a that I think qualifies.

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