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Seeking Sustainability in Preparedness

January 8, 2019

One of the core precepts behind the formation of the Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha, A-Team, or ODA, is the idea that they are more than just gunslingers. Yes, we have Weapons Sergeants, and like any good WeaponsMan, I’ll be the first to tell you, the rest of the ODA exists to support our efforts (I jest….sort of…maybe….), but there is a reason we have Medical NCOs who are damned near doctors, and Engineer NCOs who can build bridges and buildings as well as blow them up.

That is because, in the original tasking of SF, the core mission of Unconventional Warfare (UW) involved more than just organizing an irregular, paramilitary force, and slaughtering boatloads of commie vermin. Instead, the men who stood up SF understood that, in order to do that, in hostile-controlled territory, meant being able to gain the trust and support of the people, and THAT, in turn, meant getting the women on our side.

One of their conclusions, well borne out by my personal observations, regarding preparedness, is that if you get the women on your side, you’ll get their husbands. If you want to get the women on your side, simply showing up with guns and explosives, and talking about killing commies isn’t going to be adequate. Instead, we have to approach it in a manner that takes THEIR MICE-RC motivations into account.

So, what do the women want? They want healthy kids. They want nutritious food to feed those kids, to keep them healthy. They want dry beds, in a home that keeps the weather—and preferably as much wildlife as possible—outside, where it belongs.

As such, the founders of SF realized something that a lot of modern-day preppers don’t get: It’s really, really, really not all about the guns and ammo. Sure, you need to be able to defend what you do have, but you need to have shit worth defending in the first place.

Even the overused cliché about “Beans, bullets, and band-aids,” is not complete enough. Beans, and corn, and meat, and milk, and other food stuffs…band-aids, and lights that work, and secure, dry, weather-excluding homes, and cleaning supplies, and soap, and clean, potable water…all of them are, despite the fantasies of the “I NEEDZ MOAR GUNZ!” crowd, far more critical to preparedness survival, than having a safe full of guns (says the guy with a safe full of guns…but, in my defense, I also have an independent source of defensible, potable water, off-grid electric lights and power, soap-making capabilities and a recurring source of materials for making it, a humongous garden that could feed five families the size of mine, enough heirloom seeds to plant that garden twice a year for the rest of my life, even if we didn’t practice seed-saving, and a close-knit community of kith-and-kin).

I’m still working on an article on how I built my solar power system, but we’re going to talk today, in brief, about a number of the above ideas and technologies.


One of the recurring themes in preparedness circles is the argument over the nature of any impending disaster. One of the original theories in preparedness of course, is the idea of what was once referred to as a multi-generational collapse. This is a collapse of such magnitude that it will take multiple generations to recover from, if in fact, recovery is even possible.

In recent years, of course, while people still talk about the “remote possibility” of this, it has become equally popular, in many circles, to dismiss the idea of a multigenerational collapse as unrealistic, and urge people to focus on more immediate, “realistic” disasters of short-duration, like hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires.

Without arguing the fact that wildfire, tornado, or earthquake is a far more immediate, and pressing concern for most folks, I WOULD point out that these are pretty simple to mitigate, and there is a well-developed set of basic planning considerations for doing so in all of these, because people have dealt with them for the entire existence of humankind.

Wildfire? 1) Plan and develop your property for fire mitigation. 2) Have an escape plan/bug-out plan in place and rehearsed. 3) Have really good homeowner’s insurance. 4) Pray to whatever deity/ies you believe will help protect your home. 5) Add an additional prayer that the insurance company doesn’t find a way to dick you.

Even in the aftermath of the recent and current out-of-control wildfires in California, people have noticed that, in neighborhoods completely, utterly destroyed by the fires, some houses, even surrounded by burnt-out hulks, have survived unscathed. Now, while it is a popular conspiracy theory to argue that this is because those houses were specifically protected by the fire departments, or that these were actually planned, controlled burns, etc….I would offer the more plausible reason is that some people were smart enough to develop their property—in a wildfire prevalent area—for fire mitigation… that Occam dude sure was smart, wasn’t he (For those readers geeking out over my oversimplified application of Occam’s Razor….I know.)?

When we built our home in an area with tornado threats, my wife was really, really concerned, since she grew up in an area where they simply don’t occur. “Will the type of house we’re building survive a tornado?”

No. Outside of an underground bunker or hobbit house, or a monolithic concrete dome, not very many man-made structures will survive a direct hit by a tornado. That’s a given. But…there are a LOT of trailer houses, all over Oklahoma and Kansas, in the middle of “Tornado Alley,” that have been there since the 1950s and 1960s…

In some ways, planning a tornado mitigation plan is a matter of luck. If your house is in the direct path of the tornado, your house is fucked. Period. Full-Stop. End-of-story…usually.

On the other hand, “we” have become really, really, really good at forecasting tornadoes, spotting them forming, and warning the general public about them, in time for folks to get to shelter. The problem is actually two-fold. 1) People ignore the fucking warnings, because, “it’ll never happen to me, and I really need a pack of cigarettes to ride out this storm!” 2) Nobody builds storm shelters anymore.

When I was a kid, everybody had a storm shelter. Usually, it doubled as a root cellar, but not always. Nowadays, some folks still have a steel safe shelter bolted to the foundation of their house, but most people I know, even in tornado country, no longer bother with storm shelters of any kind.

You want to disaster plan for a tornado? 1) Build a fucking storm shelter. 2) Pay attention to Weather Alerts and when they say “Seek shelter now!” PAY THE FUCK ATTENTION!!! 3) Have really good homeowner’s insurance. 4) Pray to whatever deity/ies you believe will help you protect your house. 5) Add an additional prayer that the insurance company doesn’t figure out a way to dick you.

Earthquake mitigation?

1) Build according to code, for your area. 2) Don’t live in an earthquake-prone area. 3) Pray. (I’ve been in a half-dozen earthquakes, ranging from tremors that I didn’t even recognize until someone pointed out that I’d just experienced it, to picking me up and throwing me off the bed. Earthquakes? Fuck earthquakes.)

What a lot of people forget about earthquakes though, is that, while we generally only think of them along the Pacific Rim of Fire, the strongest earthquake in US history has the New Madrid Fault Line in Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas as the epicenter. It reversed the flow of the Mississippi River, and rang church bells in Boston, Massachusetts! You don’t “prepare” for that. You don’t “mitigate” that. You hope you survive, and then you start rebuilding after.

Worse, there have been a number of earthquakes in recent years, of notable magnitude, in places not historically known for earthquakes, like Okla-fucking-Homa!

So, while preparing for more “immediately likely” emergencies should certainly be a focus, there’s only so much you can do. On the other hand, there is increasing evidence that we need to be prepared for more long-term emergencies and “collapses.” Recently, even the Department of Homeland Security increased their recommendations for preparedness from 72 hours to six weeks or more, mostly because of the threat of EMP and resulting damages to our collapsing electrical power grids and infrastructure.

I—along with a lot of other writers in the preparedness world, of course—would argue that, if you think the lights are going to go out for six weeks, you better expect they’re not coming back on in your lifetime, because of cascading systems failures.

Think about it…


S0, if we’re looking at longer-term emergencies, and the cascading systems failure as a result, turning it—probably—into a multi-generational event, what should we be focusing our preparations on?

I’ll give you a couple hints: 1) You can’t stockpile enough consumables. You cannot possibly store enough candles, or kerosene or diesel or gasoline. You can’t store enough food. You can’t store enough toilet paper (EeGads! The horror!).

While we need to have enough of those consumables to bide us for a while, most people today are limited in their storage space, on hand. How much toilet paper can you stockpile in a one-bedroom apartment? How much food? Yes, there are cute little tricks like stacking five-gallon buckets of rice and wheat under your bed in place of a bed frame, or putting a piece of plywood on top of a bucket, throwing a cloth cover on top, and using it as an end-table, etc….but, realistically, HOW MUCH CAN YOU ACTUALLY STORE?

We need to develop mitigation plans that address the continuance of life, through the duration of the emergency, even if it stops being an emergency, and just becomes “life.” (Which, long time readers know is my view of where we are any-fucking-way.)

We need to be looking at food production. We need to be looking at producing light and heat. We need to be looking at long-term trauma and chronic illness medical care. We need to be looking at educating our children and grandchildren, so they don’t revert to full-scale savagery. We need to look at maintaining—or more accurately, recreating, culture.

We need to stop looking at “survival,” and start looking at “Sustainability.”

Of course, to many, the very word “sustainability” automatically invokes a knee-jerk response, because of the connotations implied by its use by elements on the political Left. That’s fucking dumb.

Let’s look at the actual definition of “sustainable.” My dictionary defines it as “1. able to be maintained at a certain rate or level. 2. able to be upheld or defended.” Even the more “Leftist” definition of it, “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources,” is not inherently wrong, and is actually pretty damned valid, given our context.

Regardless of your stance on environmental issues or “Peak Oil,” etc, in a post-grid environment, you are personally going to have a pretty goddamned limited supply of available resources. You better be able to balance your consumption of those resources, in order to maintain a certain level of cultural survival.

My aforementioned use of solar power for our farm is actually a pretty excellent case-in-point.

We have a 1.5KW panel array, and a 12.6KWh battery bank (since we’re using AGM, sealed lead acid batteries, we’re basically limited to about half that, or 6.3KWh of use, before we need to resort to doing something differently. On that, we manage to run all the lights in our house, a deep freezer, a television and DVD player, two laptops, and charge a variety of cellphones, tablets, flashlight and power tool batteries, and other asundry items. We can generally get three days out of it, with some cloud cover. If we get that many days socked in with fog and rain though, I have to change things up. Usually this involves unplugging the chocked full freezer at night (this is not as bad an idea as you would think. Our freezer stays pretty close to full, and even if I turn it off for 24 hours, everything stays frozen for that long, at least).

The drawback to solar/PV of course is two-fold. 1) On a mass-scale, it is simply not viably realistic. PV panels actually cost more in terms of energy consumed, to produce, than they will themselves produce in a 25-50 year working life, typically. 2) Storage is limited by batteries, and batteries have a relatively short working life, even if well-maintained, although it is typically longer than most people assume. My first battery bank, of the cheapest EverStart deep-discharge Marine/RV batteries from Wal-Mart, lasted 2 ½ years, even though I literally never did any maintenance on them. I never checked them, never added water, nothing. My current batteries are AGM from Duracell. They are maintenance-free, and have an expected working life of 5-7 years. Based on my current practice of tearing apart the battery bank, and checking each individual battery once a month, I expect them to actually go 7-10 years, and possibly longer, if I replace individual batteries as they go bad (which is generally frowned upon by the experts, since you should replace batteries all at the same time, to prevent a bad one from killing the others. That’s why I check them monthly.). So, at any given time, if I have 5-7 years—minimum—of working life in my battery bank, if the grid goes down, I’ve got that long to get my family used to gradually diminishing amenities.

Sure, we have cases upon cases of candles….but how long do candles actually last, in use, and have you ever tried to read by a single candle light? It sucks. What we do have however, are honeybees, meaning our candle supply is sustainable, because it is replenishable.

We have a handful of kerosene oil lamps, and lots of kerosene on hand, at any given time, but…kerosene is a derivative of petroleum production, and regardless of whether Peak Oil is real or not, I don’t own an oil well or a refinery, so they are, inherently unsustainable for me. If I lived near an oilfield or a refinery, that might change my outlook on things.

While we raise small livestock, and a garden, and we preserve the fruits of those labors, and stockpile them, I also have a functioning refrigerator and chest freezer, and thus, time to improve our skills in those areas, even if the grid goes down tomorrow.

Worst case scenario? An EMP actually takes out my solar array as well (which, based on my reading, I don’t think is actually a cause for concern. I don’t THINK we have any runs of wire long enough to support the pulse getting up enough steam to destroy shit in the house)…I have another 1.5KW plus worth of solar panels stored away in a safe place, and while regular automotive batteries aren’t ideal for solar power/storage, they WILL work in a pinch, they just won’t last very long.


One of the big things people do try and stockpile for are medical emergencies and sustained care in austere environments, where hospitals may not be available. This is sensible, but I suspect too many people base these preparations on contemporary first-aid training and medical advice. We need to rethink that, in a post-grid environment. You MIGHT have a doctor in your group, or in your community, but without access to technological diagnosis and treatment machinery, they may not be as useful as many people expect.

In my TC3 and Sustained Care classes, one of the things I really push people to start considering are functional alternatives to the modern standard answers. Guess what? People have survived for a really, really long time, before there were modern hospitals, or even what we think of as “ medical doctors.”

How many compressed gauze dressings can you stockpile? How much clean, non-compressed gauze? How much is it going to take to protect a wound until it can heal? How much antibiotics can you stockpile? What about when that runs out?

These are all things that folks had worked out, long before the advent of modern antibiotics, and—while they were not foolproof, they generally worked. Guess what? Modern medicine, while it generally works, isn’t foolproof either. Hell, according to Johns Hopkins University, after cancer and heart disease, medical error is the third leading cause of death in America! At least 250,000 people a year die because the docs fucked up.

So, absent owning a medical goods manufacturing facility, how do we overcome these issues? We start looking for sustainable solutions: Bandages and bandage material can be made from old bedsheets that have been washed and boiled and cut and sewn into suitable sizes and shapes. It’s not something you need to do today or tomorrow, but it’s probably something to keep in your “What to Do When the Shit Comes Unglued” Notebook. “Entry 10045: Tell the scavenger crews to ignore the cases of Little Debbie snacks, and grab all the cotton bed sheets they can find, anywhere!”

How do we deal with antibiotics? The same way they did before the discovery of penicillin: clean wounds, keep them cleaned, use plant compounds that have antibiotic properties, clean wounds, keep them cleaned, watch for the development of infection, clean wounds, keep them cleaned, be ready to amputate if it looks like sepsis is setting in, clean wounds, keep wounds cleaned…see a pattern at all?


Of course, as I’ve been beating on for several years now, the single most sustainable preparedness thing you can do, starting today, is building the webs of a tight-knit community of family, friends, and neighbors that you can count on, and that know they can count on you. In fact, I wrote a little book about it, that you might have heard me mention in the past: Forging the Hero. I recommend it.

In short, you should focus your emergency preparedness efforts on short-term, immediately likely events. I live in tornado country. I spend a lot of time figuring out how to better harden our farm against the threat of tornadoes. But, at the same time, instead of binge-watching the latest NetFlix shows and movies, maybe you should start thinking about what you can be doing to better prepare yourself for the slide we find ourselves on…and I would argue you have to be willfully obstinate to not recognize it for what it is. It’s not about preparing. It’s about living. It’s about living a life that will still be worthwhile, even if the lights go out while you’re asleep in bed tonight.

The added benefit of building a lifestyle of sustainable preparedness is, in the event of that most-likely emergency (and growing in likelihood for most folks, on a daily basis)…sudden unemployment…you’ve built the single best method for surviving it….a way to keep your family alive and healthy, while you leverage your social network of friends, family, and neighbors, to look for work!

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  1. Diz permalink

    I have been looking forward to you getting into the other parts of self-sufficient living. Lots of bullshit out there; want to hear your take on things.

  2. Pineslayer permalink

    Wildfire is my enemy, so I’m constantly hardening the house and property. Next up, thieves, which segue’s into shelter. Think hidden underground warehouse which could double as shelter in a pinch. Great post, as usual, but how do we get our complacent neighbors to plan for anything other their next vacation? I bet most of us have friends and neighbors that couldn’t last a month with no electricity.

    How do you plan to deal with that? I think that is scarier than Bernie as Prez.

  3. KJE permalink

    As I’ve considered the idea of preparing and even bugging out, the idea of sustainability has always been in the back of my mind. I’ll neber be as efficient as hunting and fishing and living off the land as I would like.

    Even assuming I have a place to bug out to, I’d be faced with the challenge of preparing land for food plots or the like. As in, digging it up by hand and cultivating. That’s assuming I can’t go on some land that a farmer had processed at least the season before and have the harder tilling work already done.

    Does anyone actually own a broadfork?

    I have an advantage that I live in an area where a tornado is about as bad as the weather can get. Along with cold and potentially rains that can flood and cause havoc and damage.

    So maybe sand and sandbags need to be a preparation.

    Thanks for the article. It got me thinking some more!

    At the same time, if I have the advantage of staying at my home, I still have to develop systems for waste disposal, obtaining heating wood, water treatment, hygiene, cleaning clothes and this brings us back at some point to production of my own food sources once my stocks have run out.

    • Waste Disposal: Composting Toilet. Check out “The Humanure Handbook.”

      Obtaining heating wood: Two-Man crosscut saw, Gransfor Bruks Splitting Axe, wedges, and a sawbuck.

      Water Treatment: Berkey filter elements, and five-gallon buckets (because we use rain water catchment, all of our drinking and cooking water gets filtered).

      Hygiene: 1) Showering/bathing daily is an overrated waste of water that leads to reduced resistance to ailments. Washing your hands, face, and genitals, daily, with full-body bathing a couple times a week is sufficient, and we’ve done the whole “heat water on the wood stove, and stand in the living room doing a sponge bath thing.” It works, fine.

      • jbryan314 permalink

        Also, the “dump a water can on your head at the edge of the COP” shower is sufficient as well. Don’t ask how I know. I’ll just say it had been two weeks and it did a world of good.

  4. Hey big man, want to EMP proof those solar panels? There should be a small plastic cover, on the back of each, near the electrical connection point. Pop off the cover and you should find a diode either soldered or press fitted in. Get the numbers off of the diodes and order 2 spares online for each panel. They are pretty cheap. When they come in just twist the leads together in a small bundle, and then run a small bare copper wire from one end of the twist to the other to effectively short them all together. Now you have pretty much mitigated the only EMP weak point on the panel, the diode, and you have spares. If they are soldered in, you might want to invest in a cheap soldering iron. Of course, it is great if you also have a spare charge controller and inverter in a Faraday cage.

  5. KJE asked about a broadfork. Try the Meadow Creature broadfork. I haven’t figured out how to destroy it yet. Anything else is just a waste of money. Unless you are a welder, and can build you own. By the way John, we all know the ODA exists to support the comms guy…….just sayin’.

  6. A Bailey permalink

    I think you hit a very important point that is often overlooked among the prep community: people have lived for a long time without today’s modern amenities. Aside from the visceral horror of trying to do without YouTube or the giant screen directing one’s thoughts and emotions, people ARE capable of adjusting….if they want to. The thing is that it’s hard to disconnect from one’s entire life experience and step, involuntarily, a hundred years into the past. It’s a lot easier if you do it by choice before you have to.

    Agree that we all have to think beyond the immediate excitement of a sudden crash, and aim to comprehend the essentials of a fulfilling life lived without texting, internet, or commercial toilet paper (gasp!). The primary basics of water, food, shelter, and defense haven’t changed for millennia. The difference today is that we’ve had several generations living in the care of hidden servants (mechanization, JIT delivery, public water purification, etc) who handled all our basic needs.

    We just have to grow up and be willing to take on the tasks of self-care like all our ancestors did.

  7. clayton permalink

    Cool post.

    I’m about 20 pages from being finished with FTH. My outlook was already heading in that direction, so it’s a strengthening and reinforcing read. A finishing school of sorts. Great read so far, and researched well.

    You said “I don’t own a refinery.” But, you could in a pinch. Since leaving the service and becoming an engineer, I have found how shockingly simple it is to derive petroleum products from crude oil, especially diesel. ISIS accomplished this with 55 gallon drums and burn pits. We executed “precision air raids” on their “refineries,” which were again up and running within 24 hours. I think the cool kids’ term is “antifragile.” As long as you don’t mind breaking sulfur content regulations, and tinkering with newer engines, diesel can be had by heating the oil to 450* or so, and condensing the vapors. Indeed, who does more is worth more.

    Click to access Petroleum%20Fractionation-Overview.pdf

  8. When the next democrat administration is installed in the white house the epa will kill the wood heat completely . Given the greatest threat is political , sustainability must first be directed that direction also . The new world order and their plan for sustainability will try to kill us and our sustainability . Where our sustainability comes with a big side of independence , theirs comes with mandate for government control through dependence . On the gubmint .

  9. Greg permalink

    Around 2.5 years ago we purchased a hobby farm, around the same time I found your blog. Yes, for the long term, even with no collapse, the nation is in irreversible decline and we will all be trying to do more with less. If I live another 30 years, I expect my lifestyle to be about the same as my grandparents during the depression. I don’t loose sleep over this because they had wonderful fulfilled lives as we all can. Step one, get control of your food supply. Grow and preserve your own and you will improve your health and security. You don’t need to till. Actually no-till farming is all the rage in the sustainabile farming movement. Live in an area that has plenty of the #1 resource – water. I laugh at these preppers that live in the arid western states. No water means no growing crops or livestock. Everything in this blog post is spot on! Think long term and unplug from the Borg now. Now drop and do 30 push ups.

  10. CM Dutch permalink

    I think if people would forgo the survival mentality and instead focus on how to prosper in case of SHITF they would be better prepared. CM Dutch

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mosby: Seeking Sustainability In Preparedness | Western Rifle Shooters Association
  2. John Mosby: Seeking Sustainability in Preparedness – Lower Valley Assembly
  3. Weekend Knowledge Dump- January 18, 2019 | Active Response Training

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