The Rule of Threes and why your rules might be different.
I’ll apologize in advance to regular readers. For a lot of people what follows is way too basic. I had more specifics in this post, but that meant it became too long and rambling. So I took them out to use later.
Everybody has heard the “Rule of Threes,” though somehow nobody says it quite the same:
You can live three minutes without air, three hours without shelter (in extreme conditions), three days without water, and three weeks without food.
Nice meme. And it’s one that lots and lots of writers use as a basis for basic preparedness/survival articles. On the other hand, memes can only take you so far.
As RickB so astutely pointed out in the comments on yesterday’s post, the key to being prepared is: “Never let the gurus tell you what to prepare for. Think for yourself.”
So let’s look at the Rule of Threes and how it applies to personal preparedness planning.
Unless we’re scuba divers, or we really do plan to live in an underground bunker, or we have a medical need for an oxygen tank (ADDED: or other aids to breathing), or we live near a chemical hazard that may require gas masks, we can pretty much set air aside as a preparedness priority.
How nice; something really easy to deal with. Just breathe.
Shelter. Supposedly priority two. And if you’re in Alaska in the winter or lowland Arizona in the summer, totally agreed; you’d better have some sort of shelter plans whenever you venture out. Even indoors, one of your top priorities will probably be ensuring that your everyday shelter can stay habitable if the power goes out or the propane stops flowing.
But here in the northwest, with rare exceptions, a person could probably hang around outside for a week without shelter — cold, uncomfortable, but most likely not dead. There are a lot of places where you could probably survive a winter in a well-insulated house without heat if you had to. Not comfortably. But without anybody finding your mouldering bones in the springtime, either.
Still … if you have any reason to anticipate losing the ability to heat or cool your abode, having a backup method becomes a priority, even if the only backups you can afford are pretty limited (right now, mine are a couple of indoor-rated propane heaters with a modest amount of fuel; over time, I’ll improve that).
Bug-out kits should be built on the assumption that we’ll have to carry our own shelter with us — whether that be tent or tarp (with rope or paracord to string it between trees) or something else.
Broadly, shelter also includes something warm to sleep in and a way to keep it dry and off the ground. Also, suitable clothes for the climate and sufficient changes of clothing.
Longer-term preparedness usually assumes we’ll be staying in our own home or another dwelling. So we need to ensure that it can be kept habitable even during a power outage or supply-line disruption. But again, that means something different for each of us. We have to look at our own needs and abilities and plan accordingly.
Water? Yep, three days pretty much applies to us all when it comes to staying alive. Less in the desert, a little more elsewhere, less if we’re exerting ourselves, a little more if we’re sitting under a shade tree.
But as Kent McManigal noted, that doesn’t mean one size fits all when it comes to water-storage needs in our preparedness plans. Desert-dwelling Kent has serious need for storing serious quantities of water, especially considering that even a relatively short-duration power outage could wipe out water availability. Kent, I hope you have several food-grade 55-gallon barrels of water and a hand-operated pump or siphon system for getting it out. Or some equivalent. With care, a swimming pool will do.
On the other hand, my main needs for stored water are 1) a few days supply for vehicle kits (because you never know where you might be stuck or for how long) and 2) sufficient water for me and the dogs should we be stranded in the house for an extended period (e.g. in a flood; and yes, most of the stored water is upstairs). Kent says water filters and purifiers would be nearly useless to him. Here, on the other hand, they’re the big backup plan, more important than huge quantities of stored water. Because within four blocks of my house are a year-round stream, a river, and a small reservoir. Not to mention there’s usually water falling out of the sky.
So again, everybody’s needs are different. Fortunately, as long as civilized amenities are available, water is cheap and easy for nearly everybody.
More on water storage and filters in a future blog.
Food. Once again the Rule of Threes serves us well. Three weeks is roughly about how long we’ll last without food.
But we’d prefer not to last even half a day without it, right?
So while our dietary (and food prepping) needs are all over the map, here we really can lay out some basic preparedess rules — though of course, the moment I lay out mine, commentors will speak up to disagree — which makes the world go ’round.
In my opinion, we should all have, or strive to build up, the following for basic preparedness:
One week’s supply, per person, of light, portable foods that require little or no cooking or mixing. These should be kept in a bug-out bag, but can also be used at home if an emergency (ice storm, summer power outage, etc.) compels us to bug-in.
While it’s okay to include a few sugary items like candy bars or granola bars (which, face it, are candy bars, no matter how they’re marketed), this supply should lean heavily on proteins and fats (e.g. nuts, jerky) and should have plenty of fiber (dried fruits, seeds). Sugar may comfort us and give us a short-term burst of energy, but if we rely on it too much we’ll quickly have sugar crashes that actually leave us with less energy and brain power.
Protein and fats give us better energy. But foods with high fat content don’t last long, so these items should be rotated every six months.
One month’s supply of foods that are as “normal” for us as possible but still don’t demand tons of preparation.
For the most part, this means grocery-store, Costco, or home-canned items: canned beans, rice, canned fruits and vegetables, chili, canned stews or hash, boxed foods like macaroni and cheese (with powdered milk and some form of butter to prep it) or rice/noodle side dishes, pasta and canned sauces for it, etc. Dried beans if you have the means and time to prepare them. A one-month supply can also include tasty freezer items or long-lasting refrigerator items, provided you’ve got some way to keep the cold boxes cold.
And don’t forget the spices and condiments that make the bland foods more palatable. And of course, pots and pans and a reliable heat source. (If your stove is electric or one of those modern gas stoves that — annoyingly — require electricity to operate, you’ll want to have an alternative; there are many to choose from, these days.)
Then, gradually, as you can afford it, acquire at least three months worth of longer-term storage foods. This might include more regular caned goods. It might also include things like: MREs; freeze-dried entrees; #10 cans of dehydrated fruits, veggies, soy proteins, soup bases, cheese powder, milk powder, or whatever else might fit into your family’s budget and diet. Not to mention more dried beans, rice, and pasta.
Of course, your home-canned (or vacuum sealed, or home-retort-pouch items) also play a role in longer-term supplies, as do your veggie garden, fruit trees, chickens, and “meat on the hoof” (as long as you can feed the critters and/or preserve the meat). It’s nice to have some sealed heirloom veggie seeds or bean seeds, just in case. And as long as you can keep the freezer going, its contents are part of a three-month-plus plan, also.
Depending on what you expect and what you can afford, “three-month-plus” could mean up to a two year supply. Or more if you think you need it. But don’t ever feel you have to go out and buy some costly, pre-packaged “year’s supply” (which, when you look at the fine print, may not really be a year’s supply at all) of freeze-dried or dehydrated foods. Buy as you can — and start introducing these foods into your regular meals so you won’t go into shock should you need to begin relying on them.
Of course, this is far from all we need. But these three really simple, undaunting things — shelter, water, and food — are a great beginning. Just this much gives us a small insurance policy against everything from a natural disaster to a span of unemployment.
Do we need more? Of course.
And every preparedness guru on the planet will be glad to tell you how much more you need — though they do tend to neglect two vital things that don’t fall into the stuff-to-buy category: friends and a good attitude.
More to come.