Estimated reading time: 23 minutes
Sometimes the Best Escape is No Escape.
We’ve all heard of bugging-out, but there are times when staying put and hunkering down or “bugging in” makes more sense. Bugging in means staying home but keeping a low profile. You don’t go out, you don’t shop, you don’t interact with outsiders and you stay alert… sound familiar?
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What Causes a Bug-In?
Catastrophic Manmade Disasters
- Economic and Societal Collapse
- Civil Unrest
- Civil War
- Total War
- Emerging Cyber-Terrorism
- Nuclear Incidents
Catastrophic Natural Disasters
And while there are other natural disasters from tornadoes to floods, some disasters like a wildfire could require an evacuation regardless of someone’s desire to stay home. It’s unfortunate, but if a wildfire is heading for your house, you have no choice but to abandon ship.
But most disasters affect an area with only the side effects of the actual event rather than the full force of the disaster. A tsunami may ravage coastal areas but inland areas can be without power or in the case of the Fukushima reactor incident, people can be severely threatened for hundreds of miles from radiation exposure.
People bug-in for two fundamental reasons. They either have nowhere else to go or their current location is safer than anywhere else. And to be clear, when people actually do “bug out,” it doesn’t always mean they are escaping to a remote log cabin in the mountains or a buried compound in the desert.
Some bug outs are as simple as staying with a relative or friend who lives in an area unaffected by the disaster. But even the kindness of others can be a challenge. And in the end, there’s still no place like home.
The mixed blessing of the current pandemic is that it has acquainted us with at least some of the realities of bugging-in. It’s a scenario where there are few of the options we have come to expect with everyday living. Things like going to the movies, a concert, large get-togethers with family and friends, even going to church, weddings, funerals, school, and work.
In a violent disaster like a civil war or nuclear incident even essential services like grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations may be a thing of the past. It’s also quite possible that hospitals and doctors will be overwhelmed. Some parts of the world have seen that with COVID-19, people everywhere are delaying routine medical care and often treating non-life threatening injuries at home rather than sitting in a hospital waiting room for hours.
And then there’s the question of civil unrest. When society gets upended, incidents of crime and violence increase. Home defense becomes a heightened priority in addition to some common sense precautions to stay safe and secure. Quite often that means staying home and not going out.
What it all gets down to is an increased need for self-reliance and intelligent preparations. If a scenario unfolds where the everyday things we take for granted are no longer available, we’ll only have what we have. Maybe that’s why so many people have a closet filled with toilet paper these days.
The Big Question: Duration?
Changes to our lifestyles happen all the time due to natural disasters. Many of us have experienced a day or two without electric power. Some of us have had to evacuate for a week or two because of a hurricane, flooding, or wildfires. Most of us are lucky enough to return to normal relatively soon after a certain amount of clean up.
But some disasters can have long-term consequences. The current pandemic is certainly a dramatic example, and while many are growing more and more impatient, the continuing outbreaks around the world force us to face the reality of how the duration of any disaster can push us to the limit.
Those limits can be even more severely tested if the duration extends beyond years and a changed lifestyle becomes a new lifestyle. The result is a need for a strategy that goes beyond the tactics of checklists and stockpiling and defines a mindset focused on sustainability and self-reliance.
It’s why simple skills like gardening and food storage along with the knowledge needed to find and purify water, treat medical emergencies and effectively improvise solutions is so important. At a time when you have to do everything yourself, it’s important to know how to actually do it.
We’ll go into detail on these needs, and it will help you anticipate some of the things you might not think about and some of the ways to solve the challenges of a radical and sudden change in lifestyle. Some are obvious and others a bit unexpected. If the disaster results in massive power outages, the challenges grow. The same is true if cell phone services are compromised or medical assistance is unavailable. And then there’s always that question of food and water.
Some of these areas vary depending on your location. People living in the desert southwest have fewer concerns with heat in winter while people in the Great Lakes states are well aware of winter’s challenges. Pure, natural water sources are easier to find in rural areas than in a city. The result is that the decisions you make need to address local challenges, and you need to consider alternatives that will make you as self-reliant as possible.
We’ll offer links to more information on all of these subjects. Most have checklists of items you should acquire. We’ll cover the basics, but checklists always have to be balanced with the viability of the threat and your personal feelings about preparedness.
In a wilderness survival situation, you probably won’t survive the night in winter without a fire. Many people have learned that living in a home without heat in winter can eventually lead to the same result. If you live in an area with cold and bitter winters, it’s worth thinking about alternative ways to heat your home. Otherwise bugging-in is not an option.
- Wood heat is an obvious choice, ideally with a wood burning stove rather than an inefficient fireplace, but it assumes access to a steady and ready source of firewood.
- Whole house heating is also possible with a large wood burning furnace that can heat multiple rooms, but the wood supply continues to be a critical success factor.
- Pellet stoves have started to emerge as a heating option, but they can usually only heat smaller spaces like a couple of rooms and in winter could require 40 pounds of pellets over a 24-hour day. That can mean storing up to 3 tons of pellets to get through an average winter. That’s not so hard if it’s your primary source of heat, but as a backup that’s a lot of pellets in storage “just in case.”
- There are passive solar solutions that include floor tiles in sunrooms that store heat from the day and release it through the night. They help but may not keep you warm enough as a primary source of heat.
- There are also rooftop hot water heaters that are a viable hot water solution because even the largest solar array could struggle to power a conventional water heater.
- Improvised heating solutions using everyday items like tea candles and rubbing alcohol can help heat a room to get through a few nights. That’s not a long term solution, but if you live in an area where cold nights are rare, improvised solutions may be all you need.
To put it bluntly, we are addicted to electricity. We depend on it to such a degree that our lives feel upended without it. The good news is that long-term power outages are actually rare, but then so are global pandemics. It makes sense to think about options for self-reliant power generation both short-term and long term.
- Something as simple as a car battery or two can provide a small amount of electric power in an emergency. You’ll need an AC inverter, but wet-cell batteries are the first step towards storing and using home-generated electricity.
- Solar power is the sustainable source of choice for many people looking for a self-reliant power system. It will involve some lifestyle changes including the use of low wattage lights and appliances and new habits related to power conservation and even rationing. The size of any solar array is up to the individual, but if you think you have enough power in a setup, try living for a week with that setup as your only source of power. The result may encourage you to increase the size of your array of take new conservation measures.
- Wind power is another option and is often used in company with solar power. The batteries needed to store any self-generated power are the same for solar or wind, but a lot depends on the frequency of prevailing winds in your location and local codes. Windmills of any size can be noisy and municipalities sometimes ban or limit their use, so check first.
- There are hydro-power solutions for people who live close to a creek or river with a current. The output is relatively small, but it’s steady and doesn’t depend on daylight and ever-changing winds. High and low water can be a factor, but if you live next to a creek or river, it’s worth thinking about as another possibility.
- Gas powered generators are also a possibility, but they assume a steady and reliable source of gas. Generators powered by gas may be a risky alternative if gas supplies become limited. Stockpiling gas is an option, but make sure it’s stored in a remote and safe location. Not many of us would sleep well if we had 100 gallons of gas in the garage.
A society without electricity is going to be severely challenged and in actual fact, many disasters don’t result in a long-term power outage. Unfortunately, many parts of the world report regular and intermittent power outages especially in areas where civil unrest or war occur, so it’s worth thinking about.
We can’t survive 3 days without water. If the power is out, well pumps don’t work. City water towers only need gravity to create water pressure, but they are constantly refilled with electrically powered pumps.
Worldwide, the availability of clean, fresh drinking water is becoming a growing challenge, and areas hit by disasters of any kind are often the ones that demonstrate the worst case scenario. Even in the U.S., cities like Flint, Michigan are still struggling to provide the local population with clean, pure drinking water.
- Knowing how to filter and purify water and the tools to do it are a critical survival consideration in any circumstance.
- Knowing the location of natural water sources like ponds, lakes, rivers and creeks and having the containers to collect it is a necessary first step.
- Understanding how to store water over the long-term is critical to keeping a low profile.
- Having the equipment to gather rain water and store it can keep you at home inside or at least in your back yard.
- Snow and ice in winter are excellent water sources and fresh snow offers one of the purest natural water sources whether you’re looking for water in the city or out in the country.
- A Ram pump is an option for anyone living close to a spring, creek or river. It uses the current of the river to pump water through a pipe to a drum or tank where the water slowly collects.
- Reusing and upcycling grey water allows you to conserve and stretch your water supplies.
- The ability to test stored water, especially if it has been stored for a long time, is important to prevent water borne illnesses.
Stockpiling is an obvious solution, but it needs to be done with a bit of planning. The most critical consideration beyond shelf-life is balanced nutrition. Many long-term food items deliver calories from carbohydrates with a narrow nutritional range.
There’s also the potential challenge of no electricity to power refrigerators or freezers so foods with high nutritional values like fresh fruits, vegetables, and fresh or frozen meats may be in short supply or highly seasonal if from a garden.
- Stockpiling food is a good idea but over time, things start to run out.
- The best solution long-term is the “grubstake” approach. Our pioneer ancestors didn’t have the convenience of prepared packaged goods but instead packed staple food items that allowed them to make the things they needed. Things like whole grains that preserve well and can be ground to flour; flour in specially sealed bags, salt, sugar, baking soda, rice…the list goes on.
- The knowledge and equipment to preserve foods through canning, drying, dehydrating, smoking and other food preservation techniques is critical to maintaining and sustaining a food supply.
- If you have any land around your home, you should immediately think about how you can create a vegetable garden.
- If you live in an apartment building, you can use buckets, pots, and planters to provide some level of food to at least supplement your food supplies.
- Stored seeds are a good idea. It’s wise to have some seeds in storage along with some basic gardening tools. Gardens are simple and any effort will yield some results.
- Animal Husbandry – This gets a little complicated but some people are very comfortable raising chickens for their eggs and as a meat source. Rabbits aren’t for the squeamish and some people who have raised them will quickly advise you not to name them or grow too fond of an animal you’re raising to eat.
- You don’t need a farm to raise animals. Some people have actually used their garages as a chicken coop and built rabbit cages in the smallest backyards. If you have an acre or more, all the better. Most of the food you would feed them can be wild-foraged or grown in your garden and in a worst case scenario; this may be your only steady source of animal protein.
- Larger livestock like pigs and cattle may be more than most people can handle. It’s not just about having the acreage to locate them but the amount of food you need to find to feed them. In a time when you’re having a hard time finding food for yourself you may be overwhelmed if you have to find large quantities of food to feed large animals.
- Wild Foraging – Foods that you find growing wild can be a good way to supplement your diet. Better yet, they fall in the category of fresh fruits and vegetables, but be forewarned. Many wild plants are toxic and even poisonous especially wild mushrooms. Take the time to learn about wild plants and foraging before you start to treat every plant you encounter like produce at a grocery store.
- You can wild forage for food anywhere. There are just as many wild plants growing in a city as you might find in the country if you know where and how to look.
- Dandelions may be one of the best examples and every part of the plant is edible and the nutrient profile is on a par with kale and spinach. Here again, it may only be a supplement to other foods, but when resources are limited you have to keep an open mind to all opportunities.
- There are excellent books on the subject of wild foraging, and much has been written about foraging for food in the city and the country. They’re worth buying and keeping.
Hunting and Fishing
This is another example where an open mind opens up possibilities.
A lot of things live in and around water, and cultures around the world have survived and thrived on lakes, rivers and on the shores of oceans. They’ve also used hunting as a standard way to keep protein in their diet, but how and where you hunt depends largely on your location.
- Fishing is easy and any fish caught is a potential food source. The only caution is the quality of the water where the fish is caught. Regardless of the species, if a fish has been caught from a clean water source unpolluted by sewage, chemicals or heavy metals–it’s good to eat.
- How you fish is up to you. Most use a fishing pole but nets, traps and spearing are other options. There are laws surrounding these approaches but they may be relaxed during a time of disaster… maybe.
- And it’s not just about fish. Add crayfish, fresh water clams, and even frogs and turtles to the list. When there’s not food on the table, they’re worth thinking about and many cultures have created cuisine around these humble food sources. Ever heard of Crawfish Etouffee?
- Hunting is more of a challenge. Especially if you’re not an experienced hunter. But hunting isn’t always about firearms. Simple hunting weapons like slingshots, nets, snares or a bow and arrow or crossbow can put some meat on the table.
- And it’s not always about hunting big game. Some families can live on the venison from a deer for the winter, but it’s more likely your prey will be smaller, especially if you’re trying to stay local and keep a low profile. Most people would prefer to think about wild ducks, pheasants, wild turkeys, and rabbits. Others have not hesitated when hunting squirrels, possum, and other species of birds. It all depends of the severity of the situation. When someone’s family is close to starving, a squirrel becomes more of an option.
Freezing and Refrigeration
Don’t assume that every disaster automatically means the power is out. This is another example where the current pandemic demonstrates a point. The one thing to think about if the power remains is the importance of a dedicated, stand-alone freezer.
If you hunt or fish on a regular basis it’s the best way to preserve and store fish and game. The same goes for vegetables from your garden or foods you buy from the store.
- If the power is out you need to look at creative options for freezing and refrigeration. A root cellar is one approach, but an unheated and attached back porch may demonstrate a consistent temperature in winter that approaches the 34 to 40 degree F. readings in a conventional refrigerator. Freezing is pretty much out of the question, although an unheated garage in winter is an option at least for a few months.
- Unfortunately, alternative electric power options like solar and wind power are often overwhelmed by the power needs of a refrigerator or freezer. Large solar arrays could manage the load, but even they experience significant draw downs when a refrigerator or freezer is connected.
- The best approach is to think about food items that can be preserved or have long shelf-lives. Even canned goods fall in that category. In the grand scheme of things, we can survive without the relative luxury of refrigerators and freezers. Our pioneer ancestors did it, and so can we.
Much of what’s written about survival after disasters seems to focus on the needs of adults. In fact, a lot of it seems to assume that the only survivors will be physically fit men in their 30s.
Anyone with children has a different set of preparations to make in addition to figuring out how to explain to them why everything is so different or why they can’t even go outside and play with their friends.
- Think about foods that kids like that also satisfy their nutritional needs. That means any food stockpile has to have a focus on the kids, and some candy with a good shelf life would help.
- Make sure you have kid doses of medicines and kid size medical equipment and supplies.
- Think about some games or books that will keep them entertained and maybe relieve their stress.
- Keep them involved in your day to day activities so they have time with you and feel part of things.
Traditional Food Preservation
This is all about having the tools and the knowledge to preserve, can, dry, dehydrate, smoke and store food. Store-bought foods are packaged and processed to have long shelf-lives, but any food we acquire from hunting, fishing, gardening, or foraging will have to be preserved in some way if we don’t eat it real soon.
- Canning jars and lids across various sizes are worth thinking about. There was a severe shortage of canning supplies at the outset of the Coronavirus pandemic and that trend would no doubt follow any future disaster.
- A pressure cooker or at least a large pot for processing canned foods is a necessary piece of equipment along with the knowledge of how to approach canning and preserving food in jars.
- Canning utensils like jar tongs, canning funnel and other canning tools.
- Certain ingredients are critical to canning and preserving including salt, vinegar, mustard seed, and flavorings like dill, coriander and black peppercorns, especially if you’re using fermentation to preserve foods. They’re all inexpensive and have very long shelf-lives.
- A vacuum sealer and bags to limit the amount of oxygen or moisture that can reach foods that are dehydrated, smoked, refrigerated or frozen.
Cooking without power can be a bit of an adventure, but many of us do it all the time. If you have a kettle grill, you know the drill. But there are other cooking techniques worth knowing and some simple solutions for someone who has only a patio on a 14th story apartment as an outdoor cooking solution.
- Cooking outdoors is the best option. A charcoal grill is the safest and easiest, and even if you don’t have charcoal, any wood can give you coals and fire for cooking.
- However! Cooking outdoors is a bad way to keep a low profile. There are some options for cooking indoors that are safe, especially if you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove.
- An open fire is the traditional option, but a dedicated cooking grate or tripod to support pots and pans makes things much simpler.
- You’ll also need tools with added length and long handles to make stirring and turning food easier over an open fire, whether it’s outside or in a fireplace.
It’s not just about a first aid kit although that’s a good place to start. If medical services are compromised, you may have to do some things you’re not used to doing. Consider the possibilities of what could happen to you or someone else that would require your own efforts to heal or cure.
And it’s not just about supplies like bandages and antiseptics but equipment like tourniquets, splints, blood pressure cuffs, thermometers, and anything else you would need to assess someone’s physical condition.
- Expedition level first aid kits are a good one-step solution to stocking a broad range of medical supplies and equipment for a medical emergency.
- A decent stockpile of over-the-counter medications is a good idea. Think in terms of pain relievers, decongestants, treatments for allergic reactions like Benadryl, activated charcoal for poisoning, anti-inflammatory medicines like Ibuprofen, and topical treatments for burns, insect bites, and skin irritations. Don’t forget treatments for eye care as well.
- If you depend on prescription pharmaceuticals for a condition, try to at least acquire a 90-day supply. There also the option of ordering a larger supply through an online Canadian pharmacy. Many pharmacies will also ship prescriptions for delivery depending on the extent of the disaster.
- Look into online medical care. The recent pandemic has brought this to the forefront, and after a disaster it may be the only way to get professional medical advice.
- Have a good supply of first aid books on hand and maybe consider a first aid class at a local community college.
Communicating in a disaster is always a challenge. Cell phones may not work following a disaster, although your land line may still be functioning. If both fail, you need to think of alternative methods of communication like HAM radio, CB radio, even walkie-talkies. There’s also the possibility that the Internet will still be functioning but it’s wise to have alternatives.
- Old communication devices like CB’s, walkie-talkies and even some HAM radio setups are easy to find and inexpensive on eBay or Craigslist if purchased as “used.” It might be worth buying some of them and storing them “just in case.”
- If your land line is inactive, you might want to restore it with at least basic services. It may be more reliable than cell phones following a disaster and even if out of service, you can call and reach 911 if the line is still intact.
- The Internet was designed to survive total thermonuclear war. You may not have broadband access, but if you have a standard phone line plug in, a traditional land line might give you limited Internet access.
Laundry and General Cleaning
If there’s anything in life that’s predictable, it’s laundry and dishes. The supplies are inexpensive, and you can order in bulk on Amazon. Store some extra cleaning and laundry supplies.
- Think of what you use to do laundry and buy some extra. That would include detergent and bleach. Bleach in particular is inexpensive, and you can buy it in bulk.
- You may be doing laundry by hand, so think about the supplies you’ll need like a washboard, wash tub, a laundry bar of soap, clotheslines, and clothes pins. If you don’t want to go outside, laundry in the house is a great humidifier especially if you’re using dry, wood heat to heat your home.
- You can still do the dishes in your sink even if the water is not working but you’ll need dish soap. Buy some in bulk. It’s cheap.
- If you’re without power there are push powered vacuums. Most of the other cleaning supplies you might have but think about storing some extra cleanser and vinegar for clean ups.
One thing all disasters have in common is that they’re messy. Stock up on the everyday things you use to stay clean.
This covers a range from toilet paper to feminine pads to toothpaste. You can buy pre-packaged personal care kits designed for travel and simply store them but you may have to buy paper products separately. And don’t forget the hair clippers.
- Buy toilet paper and paper towels in bulk. Set them aside in storage. You’ll always have a backup supply even for everyday use.
- Feminine products can also be bought in bulk. It’s something many people forget to stockpile.
- Pre-packed personal care kits including everything from razors to toothbrushes, combs and brushes. Some of these items can also be purchased at the dollar store. If you’re bugging in you probably already have them on hand. but a long duration takes its toll.
- Buy things like shampoo and moisturizers in bulk. Maybe buy some hand sanitizer in bulk while you’re at it.
This is a highly personal decision, but the standard recommendation for anyone considering firearms is at least a rifle and a handgun. That’s up to you.
- Think about firearms for home defense. What could realistically happen and what would you need to defend yourself and your family?
- Think about hunting if you live in an area where wild game is present. Chances are you already have what you need for hunting, but firearms for hunting are sometimes different than defensive weapons, so do your homework.
- Learn about your firearms. If this is a new area for you, some basic training is worth considering.
- You can bulletproof your home to varying degrees. Some people do it if they live in an area where hunting is frequent to protect from errant shots. Others choose to do this because their neighborhood has infrequent but occasional gunfire. It’s an extreme step but worth thinking about.
- Stay inside your home. That’s what bugging-in is all about. Whenever you’re out and about you’re exposed and in a desperate and critical situation following a disaster you want to limit your exposure to increase dangers.
You can have a stockpile like a warehouse and home defense like an arsenal, but without fundamental knowledge of basic skills related to self-reliance, first aid, and general survival skills. you’re at a significant disadvantage.
Here’s a link to a list of recommended reading that’s worth buying and keeping for future use.
Is This Realistic?
Yes. It’s happening now and it can happen again for a variety of reasons. Preparedness is no more extreme than having a little extra money in the bank for an emergency or carrying a spare tire in your trunk. Things happen and it’s a good idea to be ready.
How ready you choose to be depends on your personal level of concern and the odds of a disaster affecting you. If today has taught us anything, it’s that we can never be certain, and the peace of mind that comes from preparing for the worst will help us appreciate life at its best.
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