Category Archives: Disaster planning

Food Stores – Recipes For Resilience

Storing food is an ancient human habit, taking advantage of a surplus to get your tribe through leaner times. The range of storage methods available to us today are considerable, yet fewer people than ever take advantage of them. The most popular strategy seems to be stocking up on frozen ready meals, then zapping them in the microwave. No actual cooking involved.

Is this resilient? Of course not.

In an emergency, the mains electricity may fail. After a few days, your freezer stores will be turning into a waste disposal problem. There could be extreme weather outside which forces you to stay at home.  An injury, or contact with a contagious disease, might mean you are stuck in your home for medical reasons.  You need a back up.

Tinned and dried foods keep well, even in challenging places such as your loft or shed. Only store what you’re prepared to eat. These stores will need to be rotated as they go out of date. Your survival recipes should be planned to incorporate any other food which might turn up – garden produce, a delivery of rations, a community food share.


a box of emergency food supplies

This 32 litre stack box fits under an average bed and contains enough supplies to last one person for a fortnight. Porridge for breakfast, pan bread if you’ve no oven, a selection of stews and curries. I haven’t calculated the calorie intake, or added up grams of carbohydrates, just worked out a sensible meal plan covering all the food types.

A fortnight’s worth of emergency supplies can be a valuable asset to a household. Using a selection of your normal foods, as pictured, you have a back up when you run out of tomato ketchup, milk, beans, coffee. You can restock as these foods come on offer!

These stores are tailored to my preferences; what would you keep? Do you have special dietary needs?

Remember that, in some emergencies, you may not have mains services. Stick to recipes which can be achieved on a camping stove (have you got one?), or even an open fire. Learn about Dutch ovens, understand the principles of cooking and how you can use ingredients inventively.

My book ‘Recipes for Resilience – Common Sense Cooking for the 21st Century‘ has full details of this food store, plus over 100 recipes and seasonal gardening tips for growing your own vegetables with minimum effort.
Sensible preparations mean you’re never caught out.  The essence of an emergency is the unexpected, and panic buying can be dangerous!

 

Can you make jam?

The second edition of ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ is due to hit the shelves in a couple of months. The draft Personal Resilience Assessment, currently free to download here, has been updated and is included in this print copy.

In the Handbook, I present practical resilience as a course. You can work out your current basic level with the assessment and improve this using the Handbook. Unlike sustainability, practical resilience can be measured.

The assessment isn’t just another list of ‘100 things you can do to save the planet’. It’s a professionally constructed set of questions, chosen from thousands of options and tested for over a decade. Safely sharing our team’s abilities in practical resilience was a challenge.

The tasks described are all designed to lead on to higher levels. Take the innocent-looking question from the Practical Skills section – ‘Can you make jam?’

Preserving surplus fruit is a valuable skill, and one which the resilient individual should certainly possess. So much for the basic level, and you can stop there.

empty shelves 1 mar 18

Do you – or your neighbours – have food stores kept in a freezer? After two days without electricity, these will transform into a waste disposal problem. You can salvage frozen fruit by turning it into jam, if you know how. If you’re in the habit of making jam, you’re likely to have spare sugar, empty jars and the right equipment.

Follow the Resilience Plan into higher levels and you realise that a strategy to deal with this rotting food could be important, if normal services are severely disrupted. The Local Strategies chapter touches on this, but you would have to think about it yourself, preferably in advance of any need.

Firstly, take photos. Contact your insurance providers if you can. Then preserve as much food as possible before it goes off – how long have you got? Double bag the rest and bin it outside. Make sure cats and rats can’t tear the bags open. Keep enough deep plastic or wooden stack boxes with lids to hold the whole contents of your freezer in case there isn’t room in your bin.

Suppose you don’t have an outside space for rubbish? This is where established relationships with other people in your area come in handy. If you’d paid attention to the Handbook, you’d be part of a local group and can discuss this problem with people in the same situation. Maybe someone will come up with a plan. Perhaps you could contact the nearest recycling plant, arrange to gather up the food waste yourselves and bring it over, if there’s a car trailer available.

So, can you make jam?

 

‘Recipes for Resilience – Common Sense Cooking for the 21st Century’ goes into more detail around food – growing, storage and preparation. Find out how to improve your personal food security in cheap and achievable ways. There’s a recipe for making raspberry jam from frozen fruit.

The first edition of ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ is still available here.

Don’t delay – buy today!

Travelling in extreme weather

The best strategy is to stay in. Check forecasts with a reputable source if the news predicts difficult conditions. Consider whether your journey is really necessary. If you’re travelling to an event, contact the organisers and make sure it’s going ahead. Do you need to go out for supplies, or could you last out on stores? Can you arrange a video call instead of a visit?

It’s not always possible to avoid having to travel. You may already be a long way from home. Using a credit card responsibly allows you spare borrowing capacity. It might be better to book into a hotel for the night and continue your journey in daylight. The extreme weather event may have passed over by then.

The metrological services can predict storms with some accuracy these days, but they can move faster, or be more violent, than expected. If you’re driving in high winds, try to use main roads, where there is less chance of falling branches. Look out for side gusts, especially on exposed parts of the road. Your vehicle can be blown off course, other traffic may be pushed into your path, or debris may fly across the road. Take care when overtaking, keep both hands on the wheel and concentrate at all times. You are not safe.

Storms are often accompanied by heavy rain. A wet road surface is slippery. Stay a good distance behind the car in front, and reduce your speed. Investing in good tyres with a deep tread helps protect you from aquaplaning. You shouldn’t attempt to drive through flood water. Even if it looks shallow, you can’t see what’s under the surface.

Hail can fall with such violence that it could break your side or rear car windows, which are not as strong as the windscreen. Try to pull over during a severe hailstorm, if it’s safe to do so.

Fog can descend rapidly and unexpectedly. It’s hard to gauge your speed when the sides of the road are obscured, so check your speedometer regularly. You should be driving slowly, and once more leaving yourself a lot of room. Keep headlights dipped, or they will just reflect off the fog bank. Only use your fog lights when you’re having difficulty seeing the tail lights of a vehicle in front of you. Turn them off when visibility improves, as they are a distraction to other drivers.

In winter, both storms and fog can be accompanied by ice or snow. These create very dangerous driving conditions. If you are caught out at night with a long way to go, you should definitely consider heading for a hotel or service area. A car park with facilities is going to be more comfortable than being trapped in a snowdrift.

snow on main road in Glastonbury March 2018

Freezing weather may cause patches of black ice, and snow can quickly turn to ice on a road surface. Be very careful when using your brakes in such conditions. Stay alert for potential hazards so that you can reduce speed carefully. Sudden braking may cause you to skid. The advice here is to steer gently into a skid – if the rear of your car is moving to the right, steer to the right. Braking hard will make things worse.

A thick layer of frozen rain on a window
A thick layer of frozen rain on a window

Pedestrians can face many dangers as well. Apart from the hazards posed by drivers losing control of their vehicles, you are more vulnerable to wind-blown debris when on foot. Keep away from the sheltered side of high walls and trees where possible. If they fall, it will be in this direction.

You are unlikely to be out on foot while the storm is raging, but once the rain has stopped you might venture to walk the dog or go to the shops. Don’t try to walk through flood water, especially if it’s moving. Remember one cubic metre of water weighs a ton – as much as a small car – so a hand’s depth can easily sweep you off your feet and carry you into the nearby river.

Go slowly on ice, and concentrate, to avoid falls. Don’t turn your head to talk to companions, and stop walking if you need to consult your phone. Using a back-pack for shopping keeps your hands free for better balance. If you’re walking in a remote or rural area during freezing conditions, it’s a good idea to let someone know where you are going. Remember to tell them when you get back, or reach your destination.

 

‘Recipes for Resilience – common sense cooking for the 21st century’ contains lots of advice about keeping a good food store.  Forget the sacks of rice which you’ll never manage to eat and keep a box handy of the things you actually use!

Then make a cake, load up a film and sit out the bad weather!

 

 

 

 

 

Quarantine

“To separate and restrict the movements of well persons who may have been exposed to a communicable disease, to see if they become ill”

Quarantined people were often allowed to remain in their homes. It’s a long time since there was a need for this to be taken seriously. The last time this procedure was used in Britain was during the flu epidemic of 1918. More recently, in 1972, during a smallpox outbreak in Yugoslavia, their government had to impose martial law to enforce a rigorous quarantine, in association with the World Health Organisation.

The word ‘quarantine’ comes from the Italian ‘quaranta giorni’ meaning 40 days. While the Black Death raged in Europe, incoming ships had to stand off from coastal cities for this period before they were allowed to land people or cargo. After 37 days, one is either dead of the plague, or free of infection. Quarantine periods for other diseases, such as cholera, were shorter.

‘Isolation’ is a more serious form of quarantine. It involves the separation of people who are actually ill from the rest of the population, usually in a facility with medical staff. Historically, it was mainly applied to lepers, hence these facilities were often termed ‘lazarets’. It’s also used where people can’t be trusted to obey the rules of self-quarantine, as in the famous case of ‘Typhoid Mary’.

An entire community can be isolated by a ‘cordon sanitaire’. The village of Eyam, in Derbyshire, saved their neighbours from the plague in 1665 using this strategy. The reverse can be applied, where a community isolates themselves from potentially infectious people. This is called ‘protective sequestration’.

These tactics were often used in Britain. Villages traded and communicated with each other through ‘wheat stones’. At a convenient halfway point, goods were placed on a large stone, or slab, to be collected. Often, there was a cup-shaped depression in the slab, filled with vinegar, to disinfect money. Place names, such as the ‘Slab House Inn’ near Wells still recall these practices.

 

The Resilience Handbook has advice about emergency isolation in your own home.  At least if you are in quarantine, you can expect mains services to continue.  Other emergencies can be even more challenging.  

Keep a distance of two meters from people who bring you supplies.  If you don’t have a face mask, a scarf over your nose and mouth will protect them from germs if you cough or sneeze.  A bottle of vinegar, or some other disinfectant, is essential and a large stash of pound coins might come in handy!

Recipes for Resilience – common sense cooking for the 21st century‘ has more detailed advice about the fortnight’s supply of food which you might need in any emergency, but which is particularly relevant now.

Brexit and the Resilience Garden

Many people in Britain are growing their own vegetables for the first time. In a country which currently only produces 60% of its food supplies, that’s always a good move. It’s taken the uncertainties of Brexit to bring this home.

Emergency planning is the same motive that inspired me to create the Resilience Garden over a decade ago. I feel for those people out there at the beginning of their journey; the frustrations they will face and the triumphs they’ll enjoy!

allotment with resilience garden soil

There’s a lot to learn about resilience gardening. so much that I had to write another book about it. Here’s a selection of top tips from ‘Recipes for Resilience‘ :-

  • It’s all about soil. Look after it, feed it, don’t tread on it. Use raised beds, keep to paths.
  • A planting chart on your wall saves having to leaf through books or websites with muddy hands.
  • If you don’t have an outside tap, fill a bucket with clean water ready to rinse your hands. You’ll need them clean and dry to handle seeds.
  • Look after your tools; give them a wipe and put them away at the end of each session.
  • If you’re using stakes, cover the ends with padding so they don’t poke you in the eye. It’s hard to see them from above!
  • Collect old buckets and basins. Placed strategically around the garden, they will harvest rainwater for you, saving a trip from the tap. Make sure wildlife can escape from the water, and watch out for slugs moving in underneath.
  • You have to squish slugs and snails. Sorry. Once hedgehogs and thrushes would have done the job for you, and if you poison your pesky molluscs this day will be so much further away.
  • You also have to thin out vegetables like carrots. Steel yourself to compost those little baby plants! Avoid this trauma by becoming an expert at sowing thinly.
  • Cultivating vegetables is a compromise between what you like to eat and what the garden wants to grow. Allowing the garden to win gives you much less work. Leeks are just as useful as onions.

Do not dig up your potatoes to see if they are growing!

Happy gardening!

Spring flowers in the Resilience Garden

Recipes for Resilience‘ covers the whole growing year, with gardening tips, seasonal recipes and historical background.  I’m excited to announce that the book is now available through Amazon and other regular outlets!

Meanwhile, I’m having to change publisher for the Resilience Handbook as well – if you want one of the limited first edition copies, order now!

How to be realistic about storing food for Brexit

Listen to my interview with Sam Mitchell of the Collapse Chronicles here, where I describe the concepts and history behind ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’

It’s very likely that nothing untoward will happen in the UK just after the 29th of March.  If it did, however, such a range of disasters have been forecast that you could hardly say you hadn’t been warned.

From the point of view of community resilience planning, the Brexit scare is a useful dress rehearsal.  With extreme weather, increasing global conflict and resource collapse, we’re bound to be ambushed by difficult situations in the near future.  Emergencies don’t normally book a calendar slot.

The possible effects of Brexit problems are centered around resource transport and distribution.  As I’ve pointed out in ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’, this system is far from resilient and needs steady progress in local sourcing to improve.  The abundance of single use plastic packaging is directly related to the way we move food around.

It’s unlikely that utilities will be affected, unless fuel shortages result.   Your freezer food stores should be safe in the Brexit scenario though I recommend using dried and canned food for your emergency stores as a rule.  A couple of days without power, and your freezer stock has turned into a waste disposal problem!

Store ingredients, not ready meals.  There may be some fresh food growing nearby, preferably in your own garden.  A random selection of rations may turn up.  Work out what’s useful to help combine a range of foods into a good meal.  I find gravy granules worth keeping, for example.

a box of emergency food supplies

Above is the demonstration box of 14 days stored food; the waterproof plastic container fits under most beds.  I wrote a blog post about this back in 2016 while researching for my next book ‘Recipes for Resilience’.  Below is a picture of the Resilience Garden, regularly described on this website.

Resilience gardening is designed to be low cost, in both time and money.  Replacing hand to mouth living with a combination of storage and forage allows you to ride out short localised problems without having to risk going panic buying.

If you don’t have a garden, get some potted herbs and practise keeping these alive.

Always keep food which you eat in normal life.  Even tins go out of date, so you’ll have to rotate an effective store.  Buy canned food with no added salt; in a different sort of emergency, you may need the water.

During a prolonged resource shortage, your neighbours may run out of food before you do.  There is a great deal to be said for establishing community food gardens in your area.  Paying attention to this can lead to a whole new local economy, as at Todmorden, Lancashire.  The Aquaponic centre and the Incredible Edible Farm, pictured below, came from grass-roots initiatives.

The fish tank and vegetable bed in the Todmorden aquagarden

 

Incredible Farm Todmorden

I hope that the Brexit palaver will focus people’s attention on the fragility of a system dependent on imported food.  Buying local is more than just a slogan – it’s a survival strategy.

Buy ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ here while you still can – and look out for ‘Recipes for Resilience’, which has all the instructions you need to get started on the path to food security.

Damage Limitation

Certain seagulls, who lay single eggs on cliff faces, prefer larger eggs to smaller. This can be observed by providing gulls with false eggs to nurture. They will reject their own egg in favour of one so large that the bird looks ridiculous trying to cover it.

There wasn’t any need to programme an upper limit into this genetically controlled behaviour. There were other limits on the size of egg likely to be laid, and no other birds of that size used this precarious habitat.

Humans are social creatures. Alone, we are poorly equipped for survival compared to other animals. Small family groups are also vulnerable, due to the long periods of child care required. In general, the larger the group, the better. Genetically controlled behaviour leads humans to feel more comfortable as part of a large group; other limiting factors controlled group size.

Most isolated humans would feel impelled to join a group, the larger the better. Advertisers, religions and political parties exploit this impulse to the hilt. Join our label, be part of our congregation, follow our leader!

Such unfeasibly large groups must sever their relationship with the land which supports them, such that other instincts like resource conflict seem irrelevant. These instincts do not go away, however, but simmer deep in the subconscious, informing behaviours which seem incomprehensible on the surface.

Competition for territory comes mainly from members of your own species, who require exactly the same resources as you. An expanding tribe would eventually encounter the borders of another group. Conflict might ensue, each group against the ‘other’.

In modern times, this was played out in destructive wars between nations. Now that it is far too dangerous to fully indulge this, different ways of identifying the ‘other’ are employed by primitive instincts trying to surface. In the absence of clear group markers, this leads to confused behaviours.

These instincts, around the potential of resource scarcity and the need to defend a ‘territory’ which cannot be defined, need to be brought into the open and dealt with honestly. We have indeed exceeded the carrying capacity of the entire planet, by a good long way, and urgently need to manage ourselves down from that while we can still prop up the process with non-renewable resources.

There’s no point looking at Science for answers. Science put the solution on the table back in the Sixties – efficient, cheap family planning. If we’d prioritised resilience over economic growth in the Seventies, Britain would be in far less trouble now. We may even have achieved the Age of Leisure as depicted in old science fiction novels, instead of having to work harder than medieval peasants.

However, it’s better to cry over split milk than to try and put it back in the bottle. Although it’s past time for an easy answer, there is a way forward. Start at ground level, resist the allure of labels, and consider what you couldn’t do without. Food, water and electricity are a good start.

Grow a resilient, sustainable civilisation underneath the worn out ways; the old will fall away like a broken eggshell as the new emerges.

I’ve done my bit by writing ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’….now you need to read it!

Basic Emergency Planning

Most emergencies you’re likely to encounter are simple domestic ones.  If you lock yourself out, you’ll need a locksmith. Here’s some simple precautions to take, and a few things to try first.

Sometimes things may get more serious.  Suppose you’re snowed in and can’t get to work? Take a look at this guide to your legal position – as both an employee and an employer.  Is your area at risk from flooding? What should you do?

Hebden Bridge floods

Do you know how to turn your utilities off safely? You can protect your home better if you understand these basic principles.

If your area is hit by an emergency, you will either be evacuated or isolated from one or more mains services.   There’s a whole section in the Resilience Handbook about coping with both situations, but here’s some quick tips:-

Keep a camping stove and a portable heater; if you don’t have room for the latter, some hot water bottles at least.  A large flask is also useful.  Have a store of food and water – its size depends on how much suitable space you have.

a box of emergency food supplies

In the UK, the National Health Service and the Government websites will be used for emergency announcements; you could bookmark them.  Announcements can also be made on local radio – it’s a challenge to list all the local radio stations in the UK, but Wikipedia have had a go!

If you’re evacuated, you’ll need a grab bag;  keep this ready packed and check it once every few months.  American preppers are always good for practical survival tips; here’s instructions for assembling a first aid kit.

On the subject of medicines – always take your medications and a copy of the prescription with you in an evacuation!  You may expect to be gone for only a couple of hours, but these situations have a habit of escalating; pack for at least one night away.

There are many ways you can contribute to forming a resilient society, but keeping a grab bag ready is only a small chore.  There may not be much time to escape a flood, so people who are ready to go are really helpful.  If you’ve packed some useful things to share – a deck of cards, some sweets, a spare torch – things can go much better during the long wait at the evacuation centre.

And, if there’s never an emergency….take your grab bag out on a camping adventure and see how it works for real!

 

Snow in the Shire!

Although Somerset escaped the blizzards from the East at the start of last week, we were nailed by the storm front coming up from the South for the weekend.  Thursday morning, a light but relentless snow began to drift around the lanes.  By early afternoon, there was a state of emergency declared in the county and most roads were impassable as the winds rose and the snow piled high.

The starlings huddled in their bare tree like frozen clumps of leaf, then were obscured from view entirely as dark came early.  I can’t imagine how they made it back to their reedy homes in the marshlands.  Late in the night, a freezing rain fell, which covered the fluffy snowdrifts with a layer of sharp-edged ice.  This weather was out to get you.

A layer of frozen rain on the window next morning
A layer of frozen rain on the window next morning

Our parish was quite lightly affected – we have no main roads or other major transport links to look after.  The few vehicles that braved our lane were in the service of utility maintenance.  Apart from some low gas pressure, our supplies remained intact.  Many other areas lost power or water.

The tractor cleared our lane quite early on Friday

 

The tractor cleared our lane quite early on Friday, but the main road was barely functional.  My intrepid young lodgers walked the four miles into Glastonbury town, where the situation was about the same.  The tyre tracks were in danger of freezing into black ice at any point; temperatures took a sharp dive after sunset.

snow in Glastonbury 2018

The River Brue was frozen.

frozen river march 2018

School was most definitely out!

school snow march 18

Everything seemed to just freeze in place for the day on Friday; there was a major incident declared for the county.  People dealt well with not going out, allowing service providers and those who’d been caught away from home priority in using the roads.

There wasn’t any point in making strenuous efforts to clear the snow away.   There’s nearly twelve hours of sunlight a day at this time of year.  Once the maverick weather had blown over, natural solar power would do the trick, and so it proved on Saturday.  The kids had hardly time to borrow a sledge before the snow was all gone!

It’s been seven years since our corner of the Shire had anything more than a light dusting of snow.  On Sunday, I was reminded of one of the reasons I wrote the Resilience Handbook.

empty shelves 1 mar 18

This is a typical supermarket in Mid-Somerset, two days after the emergency was over.  There’s no fresh food at all (except a tray of celeriac, which no-one knows how to cook).  Will this remind Glastonbury Town Council that allotments have their uses after all?  This snowfall occurred in March, on the edge of Spring.  It could have been a whole different story if it was in December.

 

Local emergency responders will always have to prioritise those in greatest need during an emergency, focusing their efforts where life is in danger. There will be times when individuals and communities are affected by an emergency but are not in any immediate danger and will have to look after themselves and each other for a period until any necessary external assistance can be provided.”

from the Strategic National Framework on Community Resilience (Cabinet Office March 2011) 

Back to normal next week with a bit of luck….the seed swap and the freecycle day were both cancelled, and I’ve missed the potato days now.  Luckily I can pay a visit to the organisers, at the Walled Garden in nearby East Pennard to see what exotic varieties they have left!

Why do you need the Resilience Handbook?

The answer is in the subtitle – ‘How to survive in the 21st century’.

Even in a quiet little island like Britain, there are more episodes of ferocious weather now than we were used to in the last century. Flooding is a growing problem. What can you do about it?

Read the Emergency Planning section of the book, keep it handy to consult if you suddenly have to evacuate your house. It’ll tell you what to do, remind you to turn off your utilities, how to pack a grab bag.

Contents of a typical grab bag
Contents of a typical grab bag

You may not be directly affected by flooding, but the damage to the economy is shared by all. What can you do to help the long-term situation?

Rain comes from the sky, but flooding happens on land. Meetings of experts discuss useful management strategies, but the people responsible for the land have to implement them, Most of these are farmers, already struggling to make a living.

If they were able to sell to you, the consumer, without having to be routed through a supermarket chain…they’d have more money. Enough, perhaps, to consider engaging with flood relief; to invest in growing willow, in reforesting the hillsides.

Learn to make willow fencing!
Learn to make willow fencing!

The Resilience Handbook outlines a number of practical steps you can take to support community resilience at every level. It’s a call to action, not an invitation to more debate. Read through it, then keep it to hand as a reference book. Much of what it says won’t be clear to you until you begin to fulfill the set tasks.

Ignore the sneering quitters who tell you your personal buying choices mean nothing in the bigger picture. Supermarkets didn’t spring out of thin air. They evolved as a response to these choices. You can choose to return to a more resilient, locally based economy. Both processes are achieved one piece of shopping at a time.

It’s not just about food and its effect on the landscape. Every time you wash your clothes carefully, so that they last longer, you’re doing your bit for a sustainable community. Less waste means less landfill space. A culture where clothes are respected and cared for encourages a market for quality products. Well made clothes can be repaired or altered by local businesses, not thrown away.

local craft shop
Shops like this often take in sewing jobs

Every little helps, as they say. With the Resilience Handbook you can keep track of your efforts, see how tiny changes lead to bigger ones, learn what really is important and know that you’re doing as much as you can to secure it.