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Product photography by Jay Wiseman
Illustrations by Judson Bryan
This article was originally published in Issue 1 of our magazine.
Well, it happened, and life has caught you flat-footed. You meant to plan for an emergency, but you always found reasons to spend your time and money on other things. A disaster of significant proportions has hit — think hurricane or flood — and you only have one store between you and your home. You have $100 cash in your pocket and only a few thin options to consider.
Sound plausible? Consider this scenario as an exercise, and apply the lessons to your circumstances. Maybe you live atop a deep-water well and next door to a dry goods warehouse, but being mentally prepared to adjust to circumstances beyond your control is critical for survival. So, for this exercise, consider the majority of your conveniences gone, and your route home leaves you one option to consider: a quick load-out at a commonly found shopping venue. The challenge is to equip yourself as best as you can if only one of the three following options were available. You have $100 dollars (plus a few bucks in change to cover tax) and 30 minutes.
You are shopping for yourself, your spouse, and two children. Assume you have some non-perishable foodstuffs at home, but will lose water and power. No, you don’t have a generator, and your stove and oven are also electric. You will be eating, drinking, sleeping, and washing without any modern devices. So, what are your priorities? First should be clean water. You need it to sustain life, prepare food, and keep yourself clean. Second, you will want to consider how you might communicate with the outside world. I recently spoke to a mid-60s couple who spent almost a month without power after Hurricane Sandy. “Having a radio to keep up with what was going on around us was critical. It gave us an idea of where we could go to get help or supplies, and simply knowing that others were out there dealing with the same problems, some much worse, was, mentally, very stabilizing.”
Finally, you’ll want to keep yourself fed and your hygiene maintained as best as possible. We’ll presume the basic household is equipped with pots, pans, cups, toothbrushes, soap, and warm clothing. We’ll consider the Wal-Mart trip (see below) as close to ideal and adjust from there, but you have to get in and get out with a crowd of like-minded shoppers. Let’s also assume your vehicle is functional and getting the supplies back to your home is possible. We can further presume that the vehicle can be used to charge some, but not all, portable electronic devices, but we’ll presume there is no cell phone service.
Water: Half a gallon per day (times 5 days) per person (times 4) equals 10 gallons, plus 2 additional gallons for cooking and hygiene. This implies a low volume of activity and relatively moderate temperatures. Err on the side of more water, if possible. Wal-Mart sells water in 2.5-gallon containers.
Price: $1.11 per gallon
Food: Each person will have different pantry contents at home. Presume you are shopping to supplement or continue after current supplies run out. Focus on calorie-dense items that require minimal preparation and no refrigeration. I purchased a variety of generic dry-roasted peanuts, canned tuna, canned beans and meat, oatmeal, and five apples. I threw in a box of Pop-Tarts as a motivational treat for the kids.
Hand-Crank Flashlight: No battery burn, nearly infinite use. Great idea. Couldn’t find one. Purchased an inexpensive Energizer headlamp.
Hand-Crank Radio: Your link to the outside. Couldn’t find one. Purchased a battery-powered weather radio and batteries that would also work in the headlamp.
Baby Wipes, TP, & Garbage Bags: To conserve water, you will want to stay clean in as dry a manner as possible. Wipes and hand sanitizers can both keep you clean and in a better state of mind. A clean face and clean teeth change one’s outlook significantly. I picked up a two tubs of baby wipes, a four-pack of toilet paper to supplement what might already be at home, along with some extra kitchen-sized garbage bags for makeshift bucket toilets.
Water Purification Tabs: For when the bottled water runs out.
Price: (three-pack) $2
Price: (five-pack) $4.97
Candles: To save batteries. Found medium-sized votive candles for $0.50 each times six.
First Aid Kit: For general scrapes and cuts.
GRAND TOTAL: $104.01
Note: Prices are rounded to include tax.
Notes: Very good selection at better-than-expected prices relative to Wal-Mart. The only item not available in some form at Walgreens compared to the Wal-Mart list was water purification tablets. In my haste to meet the 30-minute deadline, I forgot to buy a lighter, but perhaps the one in the car or something at home will spark up our survival party.
Water: Same 12-gallon requirement. Largest container was a 1-gallon jug. Listed at 2 gallons for $2.
Food: Narrower variety of foods, but adequate, given the requirement of protein and calorie-dense products that did not require refrigeration or preparation. I caught a good sale on mixed nuts, spam, trail mix, chili, baked beans, and canned tuna.
Total: (two-tub pack) $6.58
Hand-Crank LED Flashlight: Walgreens had one.
Hand-Crank Radio: Still no luck with finding one of these, but I did find a small Sony AM/FM radio.
AA Batteries (four-pack)
First Aid Kit
Candles: Large on-sale bag of unscented votive (probably 30!).
Tall Kitchen Trash Bags
GRAND TOTAL: $100.02
Notes: A convenience store is the least desirable option. Selection is severely limited. There are no shopping carts, so the simple logistics of getting $100 of product to the counter is a process. Having waited until late in the evening to hit the 7-Eleven, I enlisted the help of several curious, half-sober, but fully tattooed patrons who found it uniquely charming to be part of a magazine story. They had some entertaining but impractical advice on emergency preparedness and survival techniques. I used the experience as an opportunity to develop a rapport with the locals in the event we passed one another on the street several days into the scenario. Ultimately, there were items from my list that simply did not exist, and others were much more expensive. Here is the breakdown:
Water: Twelve gallons at $2.36 per gallon. Water was available in 1-gallon jugs, but it was almost two-and-a-half times as expensive. It was cold, however.
Food: My options and choices would make a nutritionist cringe. Luckily, almost nothing in 7-Eleven is perishable in the short run, except for perhaps the taquitos on the rotating warmer. So, I skipped them and loaded up on Clif Bars, Keebler long-sleeved cracker packs, chunky canned chili, beef jerky (7-Eleven has very reasonably priced jerky), mixed nuts, dill pickles, SpaghettiOs, and trail mix.
Baby Wipes: I had to buy a diaper kit that contained one diaper and six baby wipes to get the baby wipes.
Hand-Crank Flashlight: Unavailable, as well as any flashlight.
Hand-Crank Radio: No radios of any kind.
Candles: Pack of 24 Navajo birthday candles.
Tall Kitchen Trash Bags
First Aid Kit: Unavailable
AA Batteries (four-pack): I later questioned this purchase, since I had no radio nor flashlight. We’ll use them for something. Price: $4.99
Random Purchase: Fire-starting log. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
GRAND TOTAL: $101.38
So, what have we learned? Having a plan is vital, even if it only involves buying stuff on the way home. Know what you will need and where to get it. Make convenience stores your last resort, and carry enough cash on you to get the job done. You may encounter rationing of some sort, several days into an emergency event, so plan on having currency to participate in, or work around, the limitations. Ultimately, your success and comfort will have more to do with what you have done prior to the event and how you have prepared your home, rather than what you can grab in a few minutes, so think ahead and prepare reasonably.
Len Waldron is an Eagle Scout and served as a U.S. Army infantry officer. His habits and practices regarding emergency preparedness were significantly impacted by his work in rural recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina, where he witnessed firsthand the mental and physical problems encountered by those caught without a plan.