“Home is a shelter from storms–all sorts of storms.”
― William J. Bennett.
When disaster strikes, staying inside your home is almost always your best option. You already have a home shelter, so you aren’t exposed to the elements. You have the majority of your preps and other things on hand to assist you in your survival. You may already have the advantages of a community or neighborhood. Even if you don’t know the neighbor across the street by name, but you exchange a smile and a wave, you have an advantage over bugging out across hostile terrain filled with unknowns and strangers. When it is safe to leave your area, you will have a better idea of where to go and stay safe.
You need to do things immediately before or in the minutes after conditions necessitate an extended period of needing to shelter in place. You won’t be able to run out to the store to pick up what you need, so your supplies and ingenuity will have to get you through as long as necessary. If you know the disaster is coming, you must stage and ready your home environment like you might your basecamp in the wilderness. So let’s jump in…
If an official shelter in place or curfew has been ordered or is about to be ordered, make sure all electronic equipment in need of a charge is plugged in and charging. Immediately fill all sinks and bathtubs with water. Fill any additional containers like pitchers, pails, glasses, and buckets you have with water. You will want as much water immediately collected to extend your supplies of stored water. You will need the absolute minimum of one gallon of water per person per day. If you have water storage at your home, make sure they’re all topped off. There are storage options ranging from Waterbricks for stacking to 55-gallon barrels. Rain barrels and precipitation collection systems are also possible, but these are typically on the outside of a person’s house and may not be defensible. If water goes off then on again, you have to understand that the municipal treatment plant has been down. The water may not be safe to drink, but a boil order may not have been officially issued. Make sure that your water supplies also include a means to filter or purify water. Boiling water out of the tap may not always be an option, as municipal water services may be one of the first things to go.
At the same time, touch base with any trusted neighbors. If you share a fence line with a neighbor, commiserate about the disaster you both face and let them know you’ll be keeping an eye out for them, too, though you are locking down. Neighbors who share a fence line insulate your home from disasters and the aftermath. They may also want to swap out something with you. They may have something for you, and you may have something for them. How well you want to know and how close you want to be with your neighbor is up to you. Every situation is different. I have had neighbors I trust and an occasional neighbor who I felt that I had to keep an eye on them. Every neighbor is different, and I have always believed good fences make good neighbors. It’s true here too.
Next, you need to make sure your perimeter is safe, that your doors and windows are locked, that your garage door is locked from the inside, your home security system is operational, and curtains and shades are drawn. You want the possibility of your home being occupied to be there without advertising that you are indoors. Next, pull out and have ready any defensive equipment you may need. It may feel a little extreme in the early minutes of a brewing disaster, but depending on the situation and the possibility of people turning desperate, having the means to defend you and your family readily available when seconds matter may be critical.
If your home runs a high risk of being attacked or the conditions worsen outside that make this a possibility, identify an interior room that is safer from gunfire. Any standard round can typically penetrate the outside walls of most modern construction houses. The walls only offer concealment. Make sure light is not escaping out your windows. Make sure that one person is on watch at any given time. A security system that can work online and has minimal power requirements can aid you in keeping watch if you live alone. If there is a knock at your door, make sure someone in your group is watching the other entrances to your home. A knock on the front door could be a tactic to divert your attention from another entry into your house. Discuss your plan and run a few scenarios with whomever you share your home space with. Will the children hide? What would you do if someone was at one of your windows? What would the other people in the house do once that threat is identified? Even running through a few possible scenarios can equip you with a plan for home defense and keep you safe inside. As part of your preps, you should have already rendered as much of the exterior as possible fire safe. You should already have as part of your prepping a fire plan for the interior that includes fire extinguishers, alarms, fire blankets, maybe even gas masks. Someone with bad intentions won’t think twice about burning you out to grab what they can of your supplies. Also, you should have a solid lock on any electrical box on the exterior of the home. Even though power may go off and on, opening wide your locked doors to check on your breaker box makes you a vulnerable target. As part of your preps, take a look at some of my other blogs about securing your home. Do a 360-degree assessment of the exterior of the house from the perspective of a desperate criminal.
Establish one room or a few connected rooms of your home as the central command of your house. This is particularly important if weather conditions will require you to keep cold or warm in one area of your house. If that is the case, consider closing vents in other rooms and sealing off the rooms you will be in. Even without power, you don’t want your warm room or cold room seeping out to other parts of your home. If the disaster involves radiological or chemical contaminants in the air, you will need to seal off the room completely. This will include vents and fireplaces. If you live in a two-story home, consider taking shifts or making rounds around the top floor, looking out each window. Make sure that there is calm and quiet in every direction of your home. Weather permitting, your better defensible location is on the upper floor. If flooding is a possibility, it is your safest area. Otherwise, a living or dining room that is off the kitchen may be your safest area. If the disaster will have a longer duration or be accompanied by civil unrest, consider using extreme hold duct tape on your windows on the lower floor in X patterns and anchored to the frames. While this will not stop an intruder, it will slow one. A window that is smashed but still hanging in its frame is less likely to be entered than a window that’s not there at all. It also provides you just a little bit more time to implement your home defenses.
Non-perishable foods and water are essential items. We expand on this to include a means to cook food and purify water. If you have a slow cooker or, better yet, a thermal pot, you should immediately start a big batch of food with beans and rice. If the electricity and gas go out, which is highly likely, you will have significantly more challenges cooking basic foods, and your options will decrease. With the assumption that the power will go out, you may want to look critically at what you were saving in your refrigerator and crank the temperature down on your refrigerator. If the doors stay shut, your food will keep for longer, but it will eventually all be going bad around the same time. Consume or cook perishable items before opening your non-perishable food supply. Having a meal on hand when the lights go out will give you an advantage. I know some people bake bread and cookies in the time leading up to a potential power outage. It may seem silly when staring at a disaster, but this warms the house and provides carbohydrates after the power has gone out and if the temperature starts to drop. It’s easy to forget to eat during the first hours of a disaster because your mind is obviously elsewhere, but staying hydrated and full is essential to making good choices and extending your long-term survival.
Also, make sure you have the means to cook and heat water to a temperature sufficient enough to kill bacteria. In the aftermath of a disaster or during a disaster, you don’t want to be dragging your barbeque indoors. That can be deadly, just as an open fire attracting unwanted attention can be equally dangerous. On that point, understand that operating a generator or even small fires may attract unwanted attention. Cooking fragrant foods may attract desperately hungry people. Keep your needs as simple as possible. Live, even in the safety of your own home, as primitively as possible.
With food and water addressed and reviewed, first review your bug out bags and load your vehicle if in a garage. If you are still ahead of the disaster and can safely do so, park your potential bug out vehicle closer to your home or back it into your garage. I have videos on the process of bugging out and what to take, like important documents. Even if you are bugging in, make sure you have a bug out bag. While bugging in is the best option in almost all circumstances, your plan B is that you may have to abandon your home. If a fire is ravaging your apartment complex or a dam has broken, and a wave of water is coming your way, staying in your bug out location may no longer be feasible. Even if you’re confident you can bug in for an extended period, make sure you are ready to leave at a moment’s notice. If your car ends up being just storage for other items, so be it, but you want to make sure you have options available to you.
Assuming you won’t have to bug out, you will need to address ongoing sanitation. If you don’t know how long you will be bugging in, you don’t want to be flushing toilets with water that you may need to drink later to survive. If the municipal water is out, the tank on the back of your toilet contains almost two gallons of clean drinking water too. A typical residential water heater holds between 20 and 100 gallons of drinking water, and you should have the tools and knowledge on how to tap this vital resource before you find yourself needing to in an emergency. If you have an older house and the natural gas goes out, shut it off at the valve. When you shut off main or individual gas valves, you’ll be extinguishing the pilot lights to certain appliances. Many newer appliances have “pilot lightless” electronic ignition systems, but you’ll need to relight the pilot lights if you have older appliances. Most appliances have clear relighting directions on a label near the pilot light or in the instruction manual.
You need to be able to get rid of human waste to maintain your health. Garbage bags and 5-gallon buckets with lids are suitable for this purpose. The waste material can be sealed in a bag with the air lightly pressed out and stored in a larger container for later disposal. The 5-gallon bucket with a trash bag and a pool noodle fitted to the rim is a pretty familiar item for campers, beachgoers, and traveling families, so you may already be familiar with this method of safe and sanitary waste elimination. In more suburban or rural settings, you may want to plan and dig a latrine of at least 2-feet deep after the second week of bugging in. But, again, safety and space are the determinants of whether you go this route. If you do, make sure it is 200 feet from any of your natural water sources.
If you have children, make sure you have games or entertainment. Enlist them as helpers to help organize things and to keep an eye on things. You need to be on a physical maintenance plan, so any extreme workout or diet programs you were on have to stop. You are on an endurance program. If the bug in lasts for weeks or months, however, you need to be sure you can meet the challenges if bugging out becomes your only option. If you have the means to charge devices, keep the radio tuned in for any updates. If the disaster increases in scope and magnitude and mandatory evacuations are ordered, it’s usually best to leave immediately. Evacuation orders are never given lightly, and if your bug out vehicle is packed along with your bags, you can stay ahead of the disaster. Of course, this option is going to depend on the type of disaster. A regional disaster like a flood, fire, earthquake, or hurricane can be traveled out of, and a safer area can be found as you put more distance between the epicenter and you. In a large-scale, grid-down, or SHTF situation, traversing the hundreds or thousands of miles to a safer environment may not be a good choice. Constantly assess your safety staying versus your safety going.
Finally, if you have pets, have a bug-in plan and a bug-out plan. Will a puppy pad be possible? Do you need to move small barking dogs to better sound-insulated rooms? Large barking dogs are a great deterrent even when the house might be empty of people. Should the animal’s food and water be relocated to a safer area? When letting your pet out in the yard isn’t an option for a week or more, you will need to have a plan in place to safely discard their waste, as well.
There are definite advantages to staying put and battening down the hatches. The biggest is that your home has the bulk of your prepping supplies; however, you can’t just assume that since you have all the pieces of the puzzle secured and contained within your walls that you’ll be fine. Just as you have a well-constructed bugout plan, have a well-thought-out bug in plan as well. Then, when you have calculated out a plan, test it before you need it. Put yourself on lockdown for a day and night and part of the next day. Identify any gaps in your plan and work to eliminate them.
As always, please stay safe out there.