Be Prepared – Suburban Edition

Evacuation from Hurricane Katrina. Photo:

Evacuation from Hurricane Katrina. Photo:

A few months ago I posted about preparing for storms and power outages. This was instilled in me because (a.) my dad is a safety officer, and (b.) I grew up in a less-developed area where more self-sufficiency was needed. I now live in the suburbs where houses are shoulder-to-shoulder and we all rely on city services. My area was affected by two huge storms in 2003/2004 which woke us all up, and it’s been hard to be complacent since then.

I am not a survivalist, a prepper or a doomer, but I do know that if everyone on the planet lived like me, there would be no planet left. Although I try to reduce my footprint, in reality, I keep my head in the sand most of the time. It’s too hard to accept the consequences personally, especially knowing that everyone else will be “living it up” until the end! I expect I will continue trying to take “the middle path” of reducing my own consumption, and closing my eyes to the depletion of resources world-wide. I am not sure what would set me on a different path.

This weekend I attended a workshop on preparing for emergencies, for suburban folks like myself. It was organized by a Transition Town group who have stepped up their own planning from the personal level to the community level. I wanted to be open to what they had to say.

About half of the day’s content was provided by the Red Cross and the local Emergency Measures Organization. They outlined the basic supplies everyone should have at home. I liked how they took it one step further: if you did these additional things, then you could provide for yourself and be helpful to your neighbours. The EMO ran through the steps taken in preparing for an evacuation. Once again, you can prepare for yourself and your own family, you can learn how to comply with rescue efforts, and you can learn how to be useful to others. I found this inspiring. As a competent and able-bodied person who is not caring for children right now, I would really like to be useful if there were any wide-scale emergencies in my area.

As expected, there was a presentation about the 3 Es – energy, the environment and the economy – and how they are all going to hell in a hand basket. It brought in all the terms I knew I would hear: peak oil, economic collapse, and global warming. Despite living a rather blinkered life, I do know these things are real, affect us now, and will soon affect us more: either gradually or suddenly. I don’t choose to transform my life right this minute because of them, but I certainly understand why people do. I was quite impressed when the presenter said that we can either let these things happen to us “as they will,” or we can “manage our descent” by using resources wisely and building community.

Finally, an intermediate stage was outlined. The key? Every suburban home could become a productive home, and generate some of its own resources, including urban gardening, food preservation, and energy. We could be trained in First Aid and CPR. We could meet our neighbours and check on them. We could learn and share skills such as building, repairing, and sewing. Every one of these things would make us a help and not a hindrance in an emergency.

I don’t see myself ever living off the grid and producing all my own food, and I don’t envision returning to 1950s style suburban neighbourhoods in which everyone supposedly knew and helped everybody else. But the one thing I do like is having information and options to make educated decisions. I will leave off there – I am pondering all these things and seeing where they will take me, whether I will just be a suburbanite who knows how to “talk the talk” or if I could be part of the change I wish to see.

So far I like to hear about the “transition” movement more than the “survivalist” movement. It seems to me that survivalists focus on self-defence and paranoia, while Transition Towns are about skill-sharing and community connectedness. I suppose it depends on your idea of human nature when the worst happens – I think it brings out altruism rather than selfishness, but I’m sure not everyone would agree.

You choose:

Apocalyptic as in The Road Warrior...

Apocalyptic as in The Road Warrior…

or working together as a community? Photo:

For emergency preparation checklists for everyday folks, check:

Be Ready

Your Emergency Preparedness Guide


  1. Here in earthquake land, there are 3’s as well: duck, cover and hold. And there are apps, and websites, for that:
    Thanks for this much more even handed discussion!

  2. I tend to believe both will happen. There will be those who work to hold their community together and those who took no time to plan and will be aggressive and threatening to anyone who has resources they need. For myself, I would like to align myself with those who want to be a part of a community who shares what they can and are there to support each other. It’s one of the characteristics of my current residence, the willingness to share and be there for others.

  3. With all the floods we’ve had in the past few years, preparing for disasters has become a whole lot more real. I really like the idea of every household producing its own food and electricity (solar power is becoming popular over here in Australia) to stop the dependency on big companies and the government.

    • I like the idea, too. I think we’re used to the idea of city dwellers being “takers” and not “givers,” or being clueless about how things are grown and made.

  4. Fiona

    I also can’t “gel” with the full survivalist model but I do take very seriously general precautions like knowing all the neighbours, having an ICE file, having basic supplies ready etc.

    We live on the edge of the suburbs, with National Park nearby. Bushfires (wildfires) are the main emergency we would forsee here, especially on the high temperature days we have had recently.

  5. This is something dear to my heart. But as far as practical implemention, I’m shocking. I have a 10L water bottle. But I have no way to cook without electricity, and not a lot of staples that are shelf stable and don’t need cooking. And as I start to think about electricity/energy, I remember I work for the power company. When the branches take our power in semi-rural areas, I’m at work for 10hrs on a Sunday. So, in some regards, I’m on the front line.

    And I don’t ‘know’ my neighbours, sure, I know some names thanks to Christmas cards, but I go buy an egg or a cup of sugar over borrowing from them. And that’s a shame. But I can’t get over the ‘fear’ of the unknown or rejection, in meeting them properly.

    • I have a barbecue and a small camp stove that use propane, so I could cook outside, weather permitting. Otherwise, no back-up heating or electricity. I know my neighbours’ names but have never had to rely on them for anything.

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