Now mind you, I try to keep a low profile at work as far as prepping goes. I've noticed that at this company, a large segment of the employees view preppers, even laid-back ones, as nuts. They don't make any distinction between "someone who is ready to ride out a power outage or hurricane for a few days" and "someone with a plan to be self sufficient in an underground bunker long enough so their ancestors can repopulate the earth when the radiation dies down after WW3."
Over the years, this attitude has lead me to the theory of Low Key Is Better when it comes to introducing someone to prepping. You first have to get them to realize there might be something to prep for, something they think is at least possible, and then explain what they might need to have ready to survive it. Once they are past that hurdle, it's easy to bring up suggestions to expand what they might be able to survive.
Most of the things laid out at the event were pretty ordinary: "Keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen and change the batteries in the smoke detectors", "How to secure your house when you are away on a trip", that kind of thing -- nothing for "real" preppers, but nothing to scare off or discourage people who aren't into prepping, nor anything to draw snickers from folks who have more space allotted to spices than they do to food that can survive a power outage. Then I saw the people who brought in an example of an emergency survival bag.
They advertised what they were showing as a "go bag", and it looked like it weighed in around 80 lbs. Honest to God, I've camped recreationally for a week with less gear than this guy was carrying. While advertised as a "go bag", it looked like he expected to be "going" away and into the woods for quite a while.*
The only things he was light on were food and water: 3 bottles of water, two homemade packages of foodstuffs. Enough to last two, maybe three days on slim rations if you were trapped somewhere. Maybe one day's worth on light rations if you were actively traveling / surviving outdoors. The amounts weren't bad, except being too heavy (actual weight) for a "go bag" and too light (in calories) for an outdoor-themed emergency survival pack.
So what did the guy have in his bag? Spam. Yes, a couple of actual cans of Spam, along with other stuff to go with it and some questionable choices whose shelf life I doubted -- but little that would relate to the things that people attending the expo there might eat. The employees at my company raise an eyebrow questioningly when catered sandwiches are brought in for a business lunch!
A Newbie-Friendly Go Bag
After noticing the demonstrator's lack of explanation on much of his presented supplies, I decided to go over what I saw and come up with some pointers on how to introduce a newbie to prepping to the idea of a "go bag".
First you need to convince them they need a "go bag" to begin with. Most don't think they do. In fact, most will look at you like you are a bit of a loon for suggesting it. The way to get past that is to use something they will understand as an example. What works best for me are house fires (because you see them often on the news, and it's easy to understand that they could happen to anyone), and tornadoes (because they happen where I live, and if one hits the house it's likely gone). Once you've established a reasonable scenario, such as "you wake up to your smoke alarm at 3 am", it's easy to make them understand the benefits of having a go bag.
What is a go bag?Once you establish that need, concentrate on what they would need to survive and be comfortable for 8 – 12 hrs afterwards. Let them picture themselves standing in their bedclothes at 3 am with firemen rushing to put out the flaming structure that used to be their house. They and their family are all safe... but what do they do then?
A "go bag" should be something you can roll out of bed, grab, and run outside with if you wake to your house on fire. A get home bag assumes you still have a "home" to get back to; a go bag assumes anything you didn't take might be lost forever in said fire.
- Call friends or family? With what?
- Drive to a friend's or family member's home? Do they have car keys?
- Rent a hotel room? Oops, the wallet, cash, credit and bank cards are in the house.
At this point you are probably going to be the one putting brakes on, and reminding them that this bag is something they have to carry, in a hurry, from their bedroom out the door. My rule of thumb is if they can't lift it and hold it out at arms length, shoulder level, for at least 30 seconds (1 minute is better), it's too heavy. This is something they want to grab, half-asleep, from the side of the bed and run from the house with.
- vacuum-sealed or ziplock bags containing:
- 1 pair of clothes
- walking shoes
- a printed copy of close contacts
- photocopies of your drivers license and bank info
- spare cell phone and charger
- medication needed for quality of life (prescription meds, allergy meds, birth control, etc)
- spare car keys
- spare credit card and cash
- thumb drive containing copies of all your insurance info, family photos, birth / marriage certificates and financial info.
The Next Step
This is to helping them understand there may be times when emergency services may take a bit to get there. "The sirens went off and the news is advising you to shelter in the basement because a tornado has been sighted." So they did, and it hit the house. Now what?
If they grabbed their go bag they can get dressed, and once they get out of the rubble they can begin putting their life back together. But do they have water? Food? Can they handle even a minor injury if emergency services take a few hours to get to them, much less dig them out?
- Here is where a first aid kit seems like common sense.
- So does three or four bottles of water and some emergency food, but keep it light; it doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be ready packed, not perishable and something they are already used to eating like breakfast / granola bars and trail mix packages. These don't look like "end of the world prepping food", but 5 breakfast bars is nothing for weight and packs around 1000 calories -- that's more than enough to survive a day waiting to be dug out of your basement, yet little enough they won't think twice about carrying them.
- Skip the water purification and filter systems, along with all of the typical prepper outdoor survival stuff unless you are in an area of extreme climate -- and then make it the minimum you'd need for 12 hours outside.
- Weapons? I'd tread cautiously here. If they are the type who normally carries weapons, they will know what they want. If they are not, its no use advising them to carry something they are not familiar with and might get them in trouble if there is active law enforcement nearby. Again, think "house fire", not "EMP strike".
- Knives? See above. A Swiss army knife or multitool is handy, and still legal in most locations (even concealed in a pack).
* This was in a rather densely populated urban area where one city blends into another with just a stretch of suburbs between them.