I know what some of you are thinking: “I won’t have to scavenge because I already have everything I need.” Maybe, maybe not. Even if you’ve been prepping for years, it’s still possible you forgot a few things. But even if you didn’t, you could still end up in a situation where you need something you never thought you’d need.
What if you have to take in a pregnant woman or a parent with a small child? You may have to go looking for baby formula. What if your mother’s prescription medications are lost or destroyed? You may have to go looking for replacement meds. What if vital equipment is damaged? What if you need parts for your shelter or vehicle? These are just a few possibilities off the top of my head. There are dozens more situations we won’t think of until we’re in them.
The point is, you might have to scavenge for supplies after the SHTF. If someone’s life is on the line, you’ll have no choice. But before I explain how to scavenge after the SHTF, I want to clear up some confusion about the difference between scavenging and looting.
Scavenging is Not Looting
After hurricane Katrina, were the people running down the street with arms full of jewelry and electronics scavenging or looting? I think that’s pretty clear. Looters are not looking for things they need to stay alive; they’re just taking advantage of the situation. Looters know someone is going to miss the stolen items. They know the owner will eventually return and find out what’s missing. For these reasons, looters are no different from common thieves.
Scavengers are a different breed altogether. They search for things they need to live through a disaster, and they only take things that have been discarded or are unlikely to be missed. There could be a situation where you have to take food or medicine that will be missed, but I believe this is justified if someone needs it to live. Taking food or medicine right out of someone else’s hands is another matter.
I know of some legalists who insist that stealing is stealing no matter the circumstances, but morality is not a simple list of do’s and don’ts. Frankly, people who are squeamish about morally gray areas will not do well after the SHTF. Now on to scavenging.
Send a Scout
If you know the area you want to search, it’s a good idea to send a scout with binoculars, a radio, and a gun. Scouts should watch the area for a few hours to make sure no one is living there and that there are no bandits lying in wait. It might sound paranoid, but some people become very dangerous when there are no police to keep them in check. The last thing you want is to get robbed or possibly killed while scavenging for supplies.
The radio is so your scout can stay in touch. If the area is compromised or not worth the trouble, the group’s leader can instruct the scout to return or to check another area. If you lose contact with your scout, you’ll know something is wrong and can send reinforcements. But the reinforcements need to be careful not to wander into a trap. The purpose of the scout’s gun should be obvious.
When surveying the area, the scout needs to note any obstacles that might make the area more trouble than it’s worth. Examples include barbed wire fences, high walls, ditches, streams, and so forth. All these things might make it too difficult or dangerous to lug back supplies.
The scout should also note whether any buildings in question have been damaged by things such as bombs or and earthquake. You don’t want the stairs you’re climbing to collapse or a ceiling to fall on your head while you’re digging through rubble. You and your group will have to weigh the costs versus the benefits and the risks versus the rewards before searching an area.
Make a Plan
Once you’ve decided where to go and what to look for, you’ll have to decide who to send. Never send someone alone. He or she could twist an ankle or something and need help returning to camp. Also, there could be heavy obstacles or supplies that require at least two people to move. And remember, one person is far more likely to be robbed or killed than a group of people. Ideally you would send several people, but that depends on how many you can spare. You don’t want to leave children alone at your camp.
Everyone who goes should bring a sturdy backpack along with several empty bags (cloth, mesh, or even trash bags for light stuff), work gloves, a multitool, a good knife, a flashlight, a gun, a face mask, and goggles. Those last two are in case the location’s air is full of dust, smoke, or toxic chemicals. At least one person in the group should also have a crowbar. And if you need gasoline, don’t forget to bring a siphon and a gas can.
If you have several areas to search, you’ll have to decide the order in which to search them. It’s better to start farther out and work your way back toward camp so you don’t waste energy carrying supplies farther than necessary. But if you know the heaviest items are going to be in a particular place, you might want to go there last. If scavenging your area is going to take several days or weeks, you should get a map and mark the locations you search so you don’t accidentally visit the same place twice.
Where to Look
Pretty much everywhere! Here are some possible targets and what you may find within them.
Automotive Shops – You have a better chance of finding the part you need here than in a department store. It’s true now, and it will be true after the SHTF, too.
Cars – You’ll want to check the glove box, under the seats, and in the trunk for snacks, tools, and other useful items. Parts of the car itself might prove useful, too. The mirrors could be used for signalling, the wiring for cordage, the upholstery for bedding and insulation, the battery for power (if someone in your group is mechanically inclined), and of course the engine parts if you need them for your own vehicle.
Distribution Centers – Most people will hit grocery stores first, so it will be a little longer before the warehouses are picked clean. Even then, there may be a few things that were overlooked. Also check the semi-trailers. You may find non-perishable foods and other supplies.
Dumpsters – It won’t be fun, but you might find some hidden treasures in dumpsters.
Fire stations – You may find food, supplies, and clothing. Plus, the fire engine has a tank with hundreds of gallons of water. It will need to be filtered, though.
Gas Stations – These will probably be picked clean, but you never know.
Government Buildings – Most federal installations have commercial grade solar panels. You may also find backup lighting and emergency supplies.
Grocery Stores – These will probably be picked clean, too, but you may find food in less obvious places such as under shelves and behind displays. Also check the bathrooms, the offices, the stock room, and the loading dock.
Hospitals – Obviously these should have lots of clothes and medical supplies.
Houses – Check everywhere–rooms, garage, basement, attic, backyard, storage sheds, the garden if there is one, etc. The water heater has up to 70 gallons of drinking water. Better yet, look for houses with swimming pools. Also keep an eye out for metal mailboxes which can be converted into woodstoves.
Manufacturing Facilities – They may have fuel, batteries, tools, and first aid supplies.
Marinas – Check abandoned boats. They usually have supplies like emergency rations, communication equipment, fishing equipment, and possibly guns.
Office Buildings – Check break rooms for vending machines and check desks for snacks and small tools. There should be fire extinguishers in most rooms and cleaning supplies in the janitor’s closet.
Pawn Shops If you’re lucky you’ll find weapons, ammo, and other miscellaneous gear.
Pet StoresIf your pets are still okay, a pet store might make it possible for you to keep feeding them without giving up any of your own food. You could also eat it yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend that unless you’re really desperate. There are no FDA regulations on pet food and it could make you sick if you eat too much.
Restaurants – These will probably be empty, but check anyway. There may be a few cans or bags of food that were overlooked. Anything that was in the freezer will have gone bad, though.
Retail Stores – See “Grocery Stores” above. Consider grabbing some non-electric entertainment such as books, cards, board games, sports equipment, etc.
Schools – There’s a lot to be found in schools–tools, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, cleaning supplies, and possibly food in the cafeteria.
Self-storage Facilities – If you have time to pry open all of them, it might be worth it. You probably won’t find any food or perishable items, but there ‘s a chance you’ll find some clothes or useful gear and equipment.