"Wouldn't You Like to Be a Prepper, Too?"

An old prune-juice-based soft drink commercial began running through my head as soon as I fired up my laptop today. With attribution, “I’m a Prepper, he’s a Prepper, she’s a Prepper…wouldn’t you like to be a Prepper too?”
While I was catching up on political news an article by Mona Charen on TownHall put the matter beautifully. The power went out, the wood pile is low and buried in snow, her family is making coffee clumsily in the fireplace, last night they burned an old table, and the kitchen chairs are the backup line of defense. And this is in modern day America in what is clearly an “upscale” neighborhood.
The Editor of Taipan Daily is apologizing because travel conditions prevent most of the employees from making it into work…and the firewalls on their computer system prevent work from being done at home. Protection can be as expensive in unexpected situations as it is to prevent the possible which we hope unlikely, no?
Round Three of the Great Snow Storm of 2010 is headed towards the political and financial bases of our country, and in some areas workers had just barely gotten down to street level before the second onslaught of white stuff. By this time budgets and crews are strained…and it just may be there is a limit to how much sand and salt was stored. That’s the problem: most prepare, at best, for average conditions, and are faced with the storm of the century eventually.
Whiskey & Gunpowder is a respectable financial publication, not a survival blog, so I cringe over how frequently the most useful thing upon which to comment is the necessity to be prepared. Still…why do we fuss with researching stocks, trends, P/E, social conditions, foreign affairs, and political threats to our economic well-being? It would be so easy to buy government savings bonds and sit back and watch the pennies mount up while rewriting old songs. “Green shoots are my heart’s delight…”
The answers are obvious: because we can’t trust anyone else to look after our best interests. Because what is occurring in Greece, Spain, and China has bearing on our financial health. Because at any given time there are winners and losers and he who sits and does nothing has a better chance of being on the bottom of the pile. Our physical well-being is at least as important as the status of our portfolios, collections, and bank balances.
It shocks us, in our post-modern world, to be at the mercy of the elements. Live with it, as humanity has done since the days of the Neanderthal. Snow storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, earth quakes, droughts, and tsunamis are beyond our control.
Some have faith in government and will demand to know why the ten dollar taxi ride to the airport costs a hundred bucks during a vicious snow storm the city is battling futilely: because the drivers willing to face the conditions can charge that. Prospective passengers have a choice: pay up or stay where they are. It is their decision whether to go back to their expensive hotels and costly restaurant meals or chalk it up as a cost of doing business and get out of that Nordic vision of hell. There is no contest in my mind whether to pony up without a blink or risk getting caught in a hotel which may have a generator and sufficient fuel and wonder if the “just in time” inventory will make it to room service.  I have been in Rome when the hotel workers and others were on strike and there was no elevator/room service or even hot water. Horrors, there wasn’t even valet parking.  Chortle…John and I were camping that week because we had a pair of Old English Sheepdogs with us, at 3% of hotel cost, and all we suffered was cold water.

All of our lives being without the necessities of life has been something that happens in third world countries or temporarily to strangers in New Orleans. A trite but true observation is, “That was then, this is now.”  One of the things that “fell through the cracks” of the infamous “social safety net” and absurd regulations to make dirt clean enough to eat (something only Haitians do) is the ability to keep city streets clear and power on when Global Warming dumps five or so feet of white stuff on power lines and closes roads. I haven’t taken time to find out the conjectured reasons a power plant under construction blew up recently, but while that may not be attributable to snow eventually something will give way from the accumulation of weight. Snow is a lot heavier than it looks when falling to the ground so prettily. You will be horrified by how quickly your cozy seventy degree house can fall into the forties.
Some of us only need to be caught once in a situation–however unlikely–to take precautions ever after. It has been sixty years since we had the ice storm of the last century in Brazos County and were confined to the ranch for over a week. All roads to town were closed, power lines were down, Daddy hauled water from our artesian well daily using the tractor, and Mother cooked some pretty good meals in the fireplace. What really saved us was having two big diesel floor furnaces. When we moved to Kansas I already knew the drill: keep the larder and wood pile stacked high and don’t go outside until that stuff melts.
Signature chuckle…now that I count, four times in my life–five, if you count the tornado in Wichita in summer–I have been in situations where only the caution I had learned when I was ten kept my family safe and comfortable for the week it took to get the ravages of nature under reasonable control–and now we’re facing “man-made disasters,” too. On an average every twelve to fifteen years something has threatened to disturb the tenor of my life, and in every situation prior planning has prevented very unpleasant possibilities. In all of them other people died.
I’m kicking myself now because our “new” gas stove (1938 Wedgewood in mint condition!) has not been installed yet because the new kitchen hasn’t gotten that far. Our safety backup to central H/A at present is one big gas wall furnace for the bedroom wing and one fireplace…so it behooves me to go to town today and buy some stovepipe so that the two small wood-burning heaters can be put into service quickly if we lose power. ARE you aware that even your gas appliances may not work if they have electronic ignition? A sensible precaution for those of you in the snow zone, particularly, would be to go turn on one stove burner now and turn it down to simmer…although there was that time in Ft. Sill when the heads of the gas wells froze…The simple and very inexpensive act of being certain you can have gas heat at least in the kitchen may save your lives and will at the very least provide a lot of comfort if you all end up on sleeping bags and comforters scattered in front of the dishwasher, refrigerator, and sink. If you have gas logs light ’em up now, cowboys. They’ll add quite a bit of cheer. At the very least go pull all the circuit breakers and find out which gas appliances work when there is no power. My darling Charles adds that many such things have a thermocouple which must be heated and to pick up one of the long gas “matches” used with fireplaces and grills.
When the chips and the power grid are down you, your mind, and the precautions you have taken are all that stand between you and at least misery–and quite possibly death. Half the year disasters lead to rigor mortis from extreme heat or cold. Your all-electric MacMansion isn’t the refuge you probably thought it was.
Take advantage of your snow days to improve your chances of survival even in the “best” of times. Right now sustainable heat and supplies of food are most urgent, but I wouldn’t take water for granted, either. Go fill the bathtub in the third bathroom and all of the empty milk jugs (SURELY you save those for times of need?) and big pots you have. You can always use the water later for something else–and no, you cannot melt snow efficiently. Mountain climbers and Artic explorers learned long ago that the heat necessary to produce much water is inordinate.
Use this break in your work routine to inventory what you have and monitor consumption. How are you fixed for candles, fire logs, a Coleman lantern and stove (and fuel), matches, and even hot cocoa mix and marshmallows? Have you put off refilling the prescriptions that are low? Whatever your idea of the indispensible is, other than the ability to keep yourself and the hound puppies fed, warm, and watered, do you have it?
I hate to be dreary, far less a bore, but in time the snow will melt and the death toll will be tabulated. Going on past experience, a lot of people will die in the next few days because they went their happy grasshopper ways. Don’t let it happen to any of you, please. If the only way to get to the nearest grocery store is put on your pony skin boots with the Ho Chi Minh treads and pull your child’s sled, please go now. Don’t count yourselves “safe” unless you know that you can survive at least five days without electricity or resupply of anything including reading material. You Shooters are too dear to me not to nag you to do what is sensible even if it isn’t convenient.
Linda Brady Traynham

February 11, 2010

The Daily Reckoning