Author of Be Ready for Anything and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course
When a disaster strikes unexpectedly, there’s nearly always some kind of monkey wrench that causes your well-thought-out prepper plans to work less effectively than expected. When describing the situation, the person says sheepishly, “Normally we wouldn’t have had X circumstance going on when it happened, and our preps would have worked just fine.”
Or, in the eloquent words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone’s got a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.”
That’s just the thing. There is nearly always going to be a variable that doesn’t fall neatly into your imagined scenario. Disasters are complex events. Your ability to roll with that is the truest test of your preps and indeed, your overall level of preparedness. It is more valid than any number of planned practice runs.
Don’t get me wrong. Planned practice runs are great and are a valuable technique to enhance your level of preparedness. But be honest – you nearly always do a little something extra to prepare for a practice run. Perhaps you make an extra trip to the store. Maybe you just got a brand new prep that you want to test out, inspiring the practice run that is a perfect scenario for the use of that prep.
But…disasters do not wait for the perfect time and circumstances. They don’t always indicate their arrival and allow enough time for a trip to the store. (At least not a trip to the store during which everyone else in your geographic vicinity is competing for the same supplies.)
Realizing this can take your preparedness to the next level.
Here’s an example that happened to us one weekend.
On Friday, I spent the afternoon canning. I did a huge batch of tomatoes, and anyone who has ever canned tomatoes can tell you exactly how messy that was. My poor white kitchen looked like a crime scene. I made dinner and stacked the pots, pans, and dishes in the sink. I had a huge mess in the kitchen. I had a load of dirty laundry humming along in the washing machine as I began to tackle the chaos.
Then, I turned on the faucet and nothing came out.
Not a drop.
My well pump had finally given up the ghost.
And my kitchen was a disaster area. And soapy, wet laundry sat in my washer.
On the first day of our family emergency, we went through nearly triple our allotted amount of water, just to get things to the condition in which we could abide by our plan. Fortunately, I had quite a bit of water stored, but it wasn’t going to last nearly as long as I had expected with the giant dent I put in the supply on Day 1.
I pulled out my notebook and began to jot down the things we learned with this unexpected drill and reported it to some prepper folks that I hang out with. One friend said that I normally wouldn’t start out with tomato guts all over the counters and a sink full of dirty dishes and a soapy load of clothes in the washing machine. Initially, I agreed, since this isn’t the usual state of my home.
But then, I thought about it.
There’s nearly always some weird variable.
A few years ago when the Derecho hit the Washington DC area, a local friend there told me it had been laundry day. She had put off doing laundry because the family had been busy, and they had piles and piles of dirty clothes.
The fact that they hardly anything clean left to wear had been the motivating factor in her sorting the large piles of laundry on the kitchen floor as she began to conquer the mountain.
And then the power went out. It went out for days. And there they were with all of that dirty laundry, a load in the washer, a load in the dryer, and hardly a thing to wear. They ended up hanging the stuff in the dryer, hand washing to complete the stuff in the washer, and wearing the same stuff for the next few days during a horrible heat wave with no power.
A friend of mine bugged out of the city during the first Covid lockdown and experienced a monsoon, overwhelming fog, an ice storm, a power outage (no fuel), and a blizzard. All in one trip.
The lesson here?
When a disaster hits your house, you will probably have some variable too. Very few of us are in a constant state of readiness. Life just doesn’t work like that.
We have busy weeks during which we may skip laundry day. We have messy kitchens because we just did a huge project. We have times when our house is messy and disorganized, or when we are waiting for the next paycheck before hitting the grocery store for some staples that are running low. We use up all the BBQ’s propane during a weekend cookout. We discover the kids have been quietly snacking on some of the no-cook goodies we thought were secretly stashed away, but discover it only when we go to pull that food out to feed the family during a power outage.
There’s really never a perfect time.
There’s rarely a warning that comes at a time when we have enough in our bank account to grab anything we’re running short of, and also aligns with our ability to get to the store before everyone else that wants to pick up those vital items.
So, you have to make the best of it. You have to be ready to accept the fact that you’ll find that somewhere in your plans was a gap. You’ll learn that you had prepped for a neat, perfect scenario but that life handed you an asymmetrical mess with a pile of dirty laundry in the kitchen.
That’s when you’ll discover how prepared you really are. That is when you will truly be able to test your adaptability, which is the true key to surviving any crisis.
Tips to enhance your state of readiness
There are some things we can do to be at the top of our game. Keep in mind that in an emergency, things won’t align perfectly, but by having the following in place you can start out in a better position.
- Have plans A, B, C, and beyond. Never rely on just one plan. Always have several ideas in the back of your head so that you can effortlessly move on to the next plan, should Plan A be proven ineffective. (Here’s the most comprehensive preparedness primer around to help you plan for a wide variety of variables.)
- Always have a fully loaded pantry. Never let your supplies reach the point where you need to run to the store to face an emergency. Build a pantry unique to your family, and consider stocking some emergency food buckets for a back-up to your pantry.
- Keep your home tidy and clean. Okay, life happens, so you can’t always have your home in perfect condition. However, if you keep it relatively clean and tidy, you reduce your chances of starting out during a disaster with tomatoes on your ceiling. Keep your laundry pile to a minimum, your dishes washed, and your floors clean. Trust me, it’s way harder to do that without running water and electricity.
- Keep your supplies organized. If your home is clutter-free and your supplies have a place, then it’s going to be far easier to lay hands on what you need in the midst of a disaster. I’ll never forget our first power outage after we’d begun prepping. I had all of the back-up lighting, as well as extra batteries, but I hadn’t put them in the same place, or even taken them out of their packages. There I was, rummaging around in the dark, looking for the batteries for my flashlight and trying to open that evil plastic package without cutting off my thumb. This PDF book can help you get organized once and for all and this PDF book can help you get ready for a power outage.
Emergencies are rarely conveniently timed.
When a disaster strikes, you’ll probably find that the timing really could have been better. Don’t beat yourself up about it or start to feel unsuccessful in your endeavors. Emergencies are rarely conveniently timed. Consider this a test of your adaptability.
And when you get through it, congratulate yourself. It’s your ability to roll with the variables that makes you a true prepper.
Did you ever face an emergency with less than ideal timing?
What was the variable that threw a wrench in your perfect prepper plans? Please share your story in the comments and let us know what you learned.
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, gun-toting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company. She lives in the mountains of Virginia with her family. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
You make some very valid points. SHTF situations “happen” and we just have to deal with them.
When two of our granddaughters were visiting this summer, strong storms two days in a row hit our area. The water was off briefly and the electric was off for a couple days.
We had stored water, so that was not an immediate concern. We didn’t want the kids to be scared at night. My husband brought in a bunch of solar lights from outside and put some in all the rooms. They thought it was an adventure – camping out in the house.
They must have thought it was SUCH an adventure!
Do you remember when the grid failed on the Eastern Seaboard? Massive power outage all along the east coast?
When it happened, I had just put my kid sister’s wedding cake in my carefully preheated oven!!!!! Cake tins went in …. count to five …. all the power goes out. Everywhere.
I agree with you. When disaster strikes, it’s when Mom is sick in bed with the flu, or the kitchen is a mess from canning tomatoes, or someone has just gone into labour or it’s the day *before* you were planning to restock the meat in the pantry/fix the broken generator/fill the water cistern ….
I do remember that. I lived in Ontario at the time and had to leave work and pick up my children early. What happened with the cake?
I remember that I was young and I remember it being a fun time to just hang out after work. I didn’t have kids to feed and worry about so things were much simpler… Power was back on after a few hours…
Good points Daisy. Just the kick I needed to get organized. I have, however, stopped letting the gas in my car get down past 1/2 in case we need the extra gas for our generator. Small steps, I guess. Got to go now and clean my house!
Winnie, I did the same because of the risk of forest fires here. Can you imagine needing to evacuate and running out of gas, or not having enough gas to get away from danger?
50 gallons of stabilized & rotated gas in an out building, (mower, genset, etc), and 50% in the vehicles is “empty”. Not to mention the usual BOB, and critical docs scanned onto an encrypted USB drive.
Daisy – this is a great article – and all too true! What was the outcome of your water issue, and how long were you without water?
Hi Mary! Thank you. We were without for only 2 days, but our well is pretty low. We are going to have to be very careful until the rainy season hits.
Daisy,,,, good timing, well in perspective to the unexpected. My husband likes to soak his white t’s in a bucket of bleach water before washing. So, they build up in the guest bathtub until he gets enough. Well, they really built up. So, on my one day to get the house cleaned, I decided to help him out. I filled the tub with bleach water and added the shirts. When I checked on them later, they had soaked up all the water. I turned on the tap to get some extra room for agitation. The smell was strong, so I shut the door and started something else to give it some time to fill. You guessed it…. an hour later, I remembered and found an inch of water out of the bathroom, through the house and into my pantry. I scrambled to get as much up and out of the way, got the wet dry vac going, and tried to deal. Big lesson learned. Fortunately, the only loss was a few cardboard boxes and 10 boxes of on sale pasta that didn’t get put on a shelf. I did cook all the pasta for the pigs…. they loved it.
Thank goodness, it was not worse. BIG lesson learned
Oh, what a mess!!!! I’ve had one of those forgotten bathtub messes too and it’s not pretty.
Hurricane anyone? BOTH times hurricanes came through my area the male of the house was in the State Emergency Command center during the brunt of the storm. First storm took down huge limb in maple out back that hit the back corner of the house, while I stood there, paralyzed and watched it fall. So much for “leaping into action in the face of an emergency”. I was lucky, it fell on the opposite end of the porch I was standing on and did little damage to anything but my ego and a few roof shingles.
Second hurricane took out a tree across the road that took down power lines. Now I am in trouble because I have no power for the sump pump and my furnace is in the basement, in peril of water damage. Male partner had set me up (both times) with generator for just such an occasion. He even started it (both times) to make sure it would turn over easily for me. I race down the the building holding the generator and pull and pull and pull the cord to start it up and SAVE THE DAY!!! Ahhh…my back hurts, my arm hurts, my eyes are tearing and my whole body is wet because the generator is under cover but I am not as I pull the cord. Nooooo, I scream into the rainy sky. As I look down, I see I have not turned the generator switch to the “on” position. DOH!! Once turned “on” it starts on the first pull and I race inside to plug the sump pump into the trouble light lead cord hung above it (so I have light…he really thought ahead and left the light on) through ankle deep water, ruining my favorite sneakers and saving the furnace.
And what did I take from these experiences? I am NOT a “jump up and away from emergency” type of person; I am a sit there and hope it doesn’t hit me type of person….I need to adjust how I deal with situations to reflect that.
AND just because you own it doesn’t mean you know how to use it. Write it down, tape it in plain sight and read it before trying to do it. (And yes, I feel really really stupid for not turning it ON before pulling the cord….but I just plain forgot that needed to be done in the heat of the situation)
Because these were predicted storms, I had water in the tub to flush the toilet, laundry caught up to date and the dishwasher run. (So I totally don’t get the mess that Long Island residents found themselves in…they had a WEEK to prepare) And I used the generator to heat up leftovers in the microwave for dinner both nights. (oh, I had extra gas for the generator too)
You learned something very valuable and unlike most people, you are actually applying it. You have made accommodations for the way your mind works under pressure and that will help see you through an emergency. Nice!
Daisy, I live in Texas, where we are currently having storms that give us historic rainfall totals. Sheltering in place is not as likely as being evacuated. I found that there are now clear, waterproof backpacks available online at both Wal-Mart and Amazon. I ordered one from Wal-Mart and when it arrives I’m going to load it up with my vacuum sealed important documents, my underwear and socks, meds and other must have items. It will be right near the front door. Nothing worse than a soggy BOB!
The elevator went out and I live on the 6th floor. I had to climb all 6 with 4 bags of groceries. I learned getting into shape is part of prepping too.
Ouch! Not one bit fun but you’re absolutely right about that lesson!
No back up well pump? What happened to one is none and two is one? What did you end up doing? I’m looking at solar well pumps to back up mine right now as it’s always been a concern
Amazon – 12/24 vdc submersible ranch pump
– enough 1/2″ potable water PEX to get from the current pump in the well to your attic
– stainless hose clamps
– 250 w solar rig with 12 volt output & charge regulator
MilSurp – search for 200 gal potable water bladder
Buy some marine or other deep cycle batteries. I found some used but good fork truck batteries local. Hook the bits together with the bladder in your overhead. Consider the weight & distribute it well using boards/plywood, etc. I built an insulated frame around it. Get a plumber or someone who knows what they’re doing to “tee” the pex into you existing plumbing.
Voila! water at the taps.
I went further and put check valves and limit switches in so it can’t over fill, or flow back into the well if the pump check valve fails. Your option to investigate further.
I find that with care the 200 gallons will last a few days, quick showers included.
Saves running the genset just to get water…
You are so right that things never go as planned!
Last year we had to evacuate because of one of the wild fires in California. It all started on my son in laws birthday. We were having a big family dinner for him. The kitchen was basically destroyed with all the extra cooking and baking pans from his cake.
We were listening to the radio to keep up with the news. Dinner went great, but by the time we were ready for dessert the news had announced the second town away from us just went to advisory to evacuate.
At the time, my husband was working at a different fire as a water tender. My oldest daughter, her husband (birthday boy) and their one year old lived on our property with us. I also have five other children in the house.
A quick side note is about 3 weeks prior I was very concerned that if we ever had to evacuate I didn’t want to split the family up. I had already made contingency plans of where we all could go “just in case. ”
The fire was still a distance away, but where we were going was on the other side of it. One main highway, but only the one.
I felt a little like chicken little when I made the decision to evacuate. Living on a homestead meant we had far more animals than could be transported in one shot.
I had each kid pile their bins of stuff on the dining room table. Made sure we had their special toys, blankets and whatnot. Then they started loading up the various cars. We also had to load up our four milk goats along with feed and hay.
By now it was 11 o’clock at night. The cats were loaded in the cars. When we went back for the dogs the power went out. That was the first time thru the whole thing I didn’t feel like an idiot for jumping the gun.
We got to our destination just fine. I was even able to return the next morning to care for the animals. Someone already had. As my daughter and I were leaving our little town went to mandatory evacuation. During the next 14 days I had time to think about some things…
Have a place to go to confirmed. The more of you there are, the harder it will be to stay together. In our case we arrived after midnight.
Even if you feel like an idiot listen to your inner voice. The absolute worst is you’ll laugh at yourself later if you were wrong.
If you have to leave animals behind post a sign where they all are. We almost lost our rabbits because they weren’t with the other field animals. Volunteers can only help if they know.
Lists made ahead of time keep you on track. There were only two things I worried about that I hadn’t grabbed. One was on the list, but it was the computer with the family photos on it. That’s my husband’s department. I saw it and then moved on.
Your brain doesn’t function at full capacity during an emergency. Remember how my husband wasn’t there? Duh!!!
Make sure all of the dog leashes live in one spot. Another duh moment but haystring works in a pinch.
Have your garden on battery timers.
After 14 days we were able to return home. I’d had visions of how bad the kitchen was going to be in the summer heat, no power and food left out on the dirty dishes. Who knew flies could produce that many maggots! Ugh!!!
We were lucky. All the animals were taken care of. God bless volunteers!! We lost all of our garden and most of our young fruit trees because there was no one to water. But the house was still standing.
One last thing to note, it takes twenty times longer to put everything away.
Thank you for that great post! Wow, what an experience. I’m so glad everything was okay for you!
Daisy, A “survival guru” I knocked heads with on a gun website kept making his pronouncements as all there were mesmerized by his infinite wisdom and knowledge at every post he made. Unfortunately, one day he dropped dead due to his bad health. Now what is going to happen to all that stuff he stockpiled, and who is going to benefit from any of it. I have seen this before. Gurus completely neglect their health, while all the while espousing their wisdom upon us.
Life never runs according to plans… NEVER. Something unexpected always happens. Usually just a minor blip sometimes more… Have a plan but don’t get so attached to a plan that a change becomes a danger…. Thanks Daisy for speaking truth…
Yes yes yes ! I was canning my strawberry jam and the power and water went out. The storms came through so fast. I had put off the cleaning and the wet washing was still in the machine as I wanted to get the jam finished . Power was up pretty quickly. Water was off for a good while . The bottled water was gone from the supermarkets within three hours state wide. My bench water filter was filled and I had water put away but not near enough. I had more water on my list for this week’s payday preps. I had enough to get us through and share some but like you cleaning up the mess used so much extra water . I had to wait awhile after the storms to get my hands on more water to put away but it’s all there. I’ve dropped some at my parents that they said they didn’t want so I asked them to store it for me . As I don’t want to have to go out in a storm to deliver them water. I will say it’s like Murphys law the more messy disordered my house is the more chance a disaster happens. Another day, I’d just brought your book and was taking out all my food to make my full pantry list and we got evacuated as a fire was lit and hit bush so quickly. Trying to get the kids dressed whilst stepping over the food over the floor wasn’t ideal but we did have our bags already packed.