How it Could Happen
America’s grid runs without a hitch—most of the time. Exhibit A: the 2003 North-east blackout, when glitchy software and overgrown trees knocked out the eastern seaboard. “We’re running as near to capacity as often as possible, and that leaves no room for abnormal events,” says Daniel Baker, Ph.D., who led a grid review by the National Academy of Sciences. The report found one nasty gremlin: geomagnetic storms—featuring plasma balls hurled from the sun—which could knock out power to 130 million people. The next wave of storms is expected in 2012 or 2013.
How to Survive
“We’re not all a bunch of 20-year-old Navy Seals,” says Cody Lundin. “You want to keep your strategy as simple as possible.” Generators are impractical—they can break down and gulp gas, which may be difficult to buy. Water is far more critical. Map the location of sources like ponds, streams, or even city fountains in advance. Set buckets on the roof or windowsill to catch rainwater, then use the tub and a drained water heater to store the surplus. Boil or use bleach to treat water if possible (two to four drops per quart; soak 30 minutes; if it doesn’t smell like chlorine, repeat). Try the Solar Water Disinfection (SODIS) method if not: Fill clean two-liter bottles and expose them to a full sun’s UV light for at least six hours. Cloudy? Go two days. For food, skip fancy freeze-dried meals and stock cheap canned goods, which can be eaten without heating. Keep a two-burner propane camping stove, which can last months on one tank. If seasonal temperatures pose a problem, think of your house as a series of microclimates. Sleep in the sunniest, south-facing room in the winter, and cover windows with blankets at night to trap warmth. In hot regions, sleep in the shadiest, lowest room in the house and hang space blankets in windows to block the sun’s radiant energy. Remember, a blackout will wreak havoc on ATMs and make noncash transactions impossible. Keep cash on hand for emergencies and stockpile tradable goods like batteries, candles, or even extra food. “My one pound of rice is more important than your gold bullion if you’re hungry,” Lundin says. (!!) In truly dire circumstances, the survivalist suggests you try pest control. Cities abound with easy-to-catch protein. Lundin’s weapons of choice: Victor brand rodent traps.
The Expert: Cody Lundin ||| Author, Survival Guru
If disaster strikes an urban area, Lundin will reach for his grab-and-run kit. Here’s what he’s packing.
+THE ESSENTIALS: Think like a backpacker because a backpacker can exist anywhere short of the moon. Pack a sweater or two, light coat, rain gear, thermal underwear. You can always get rid of what you don’t need on the street or trade it. Add good footwear—in an urban situation, there’s gonna be glass, twisted metal, bodies.
+ID & CASH: You don’t want some bozo holding you up at a Gestapo-like checkpoint. Bring a picture ID and $200 to $300 in twenties. Money can buy stuff or grease someone’s palms. Anything goes in a crisis.
+ODDS & ENDS: Pack a sleeping bag, ground pad, and two flashlights with extra batteries. Most people will also need direct flame, like strike-anywhere matches and a lighter. Then a cutting edge. For some that’s a Swiss Army knife, for others, a Billy Bob Rambo knife.
+FOOD & WATER: Throw in water containers, a means of disinfection, and a decent mechanical filter. You’ll have weirdo pathogens from poop, but also pesticides and chemicals. Have a pot with a tight-fitting lid and freeze-dried backpacker food. You don’t want to fart around with rice and lentils as the bullets are flying.