Prepping in Depth: A Layered Strategy for Getting Home After Disaster

Editors Note: This article has been generously contributed by Randy Wilson.

Prepping comes in many forms. Few break down where prepping falls in terms of surviving.   Speaking in terms many former military can understand, individual preps are a means for achieving a way, being prepped, to achieve the ends, surviving.

What does all this military-ish gibberish mean? It means that ‘being prepped’ is not the end-state of the operation. It’s just a way of achieving the real end state, surviving. If prepping is just another way, then should we not consider alternate ways to ensure the ends are achieved?

Today, I’ll present a twist on the standard ‘prepper’s basement’ concept for surviving a TEOTWAWKI situation.

Survival does not mean staying in your own home, bugging out to an alternate location, or being on foot in a disaster. Surviving is keeping you and yours alive. That’s it. Some might say that merely surviving isn’t enough. I agree with that. Achieving the end (survival) is merely the first step to creating a new normal that includes food, security, and community. No one wants to live in a “Road Warrior” environment. If that’s the end of the rainbow, count me out.

We all want the many of the same things. Easy access to nutritious foods, fresh milk, quality medical care, electricity, high-speed internet, and cheap ammo come to my mind when I think of the things I really want for my family. At the end of the world, most if not all of these things will be unobtainable. But these are wants. What I need, is for my family to survive whatever event befalls us.

To achieve this end, I must think through more than just lists of materials to stock up on. Materials change from day-to-day. To succeed in ensuring the survival of my family, I need to take an honest look at exactly how I intend to do that. Having a basement full of food and weapons is just not enough. Realistically, I’ll only be able to stay in my home for so long before events dictate I relocate my family.

There are very few truly inaccessible locations anymore. If, like the majority of Americans today, you live in an urban or suburban environment, relocation when an event happens, will require having a very alert ear to the ground, as well as a lot of luck. The chances that a major event will occur while you are at work are pretty good. Once something happens, all the high-speed avenues of egress from work to home will likely be impossibly congested, forcing thousands if not millions onto surface streets, and eventually out of their cars.

After a disaster, traffic congestion will likely prevent you from getting anywhere quickly if at all.
After a disaster, traffic congestion will likely prevent you from getting anywhere quickly if at all.

Once on foot, any thoughts of bugging-out are likely gone. Your primary mode of transportation is now lost, and you have an extended hike just to get back to square 1, your home. Personally, once I’m able to get out of my office building, I have a 30 mile hike to get home. Then throw in issues surrounding recovering your wife from work, and your children from school, and the opportunity to get the jump on the exodus from the cities is long gone. Just getting your people home could be a multi-day operation.

Like many suburban and urban folks, my company has an absolute ban on firearms at work. Discovery of a firearm will get any of my co-workers arrested and fired. There are no known exceptions. What this does to me, is limit my ability to be ‘most prepared’ for 12-hours of each day. If something happened between departing and arriving at home, I’d be stranded with only a sub-3” blade to protect myself with. But what if there was a way to mitigate that risk?

Step 1: The get-home cache

If something happened while at work, I would be stranded 30-miles from home, unarmed, and forced to hoof it through some inhospitable areas to get to the relative safety of my home. I would be forced to depart work with a mil-spec style 3-day pack with a knife, flashlight, and as much survival food and water as I can carry from the disaster buckets work issued to each group.

Thirty miles at an average speed of three miles per hour puts me on the road for 10 hours, assuming I can maintain that pace without stopping. Realistically, the average person can’t be expected to cover that distance in a single shot. Blisters, chaffing, sprains, and general fatigue will force breaks, and could push the time of travel much higher than ten hours.

I am the first line of defense for my family. Trying to be honest about myself, and the situation the region would be in, I have thought a lot about getting home after disaster. I came to the realization that the primary and expected avenue of approach to the house will be unbelievably congested with city dwellers and work-commuters trying to get away or home, and likely in complete gridlock. That means I’d be stuck walking through and around thousands of anxious, nervous, scared, and angry people unarmed. All I’d have to defend myself is my natural paranoia, and a small folding blade knife.

This triggered a thought about establishing a get-home cache between work and home. I have a very good friend who lives on an alternate route (same distance, but on surface streets through some seedy neighborhoods. His place is situated about 10 miles from work, and 20+ from home. At that 3 mph, this would put me at his doorstep roughly 3 hours after an event. I’d have had an opportunity to get a feel for the fallout from the event, and have a decent idea whether I can or should overtly gear up, or stay more covert with a concealed carry.

The concept has me assembling a box of hiking type supplies in his garage, and a loot box buried in his backyard. The general idea is to get his approval, but not have him know where the buried box is located. This gives him some deniability, as well as increasing the security of the box.

Small stoves like this Esbit can disinfect water or heat food on the go.


The hiking supply box would contain:

The idea here is to focus on a simple, cheap ‘enhanced get home bag’ of the stuff I can’t exactly carry into work, but keep it suitably light to not reduce travel speeds. Just the things I might need to make it for 24-48 hours if things got shizzy fast, and I was forced to leave the roads and go overland. The items are intended to augment or improve the somewhat Spartan EDC carried daily.

The buried loot box would contain the items the military or 3-letter agencies might rough my friend up for if they found it during a search…

  • Hand gun
  • Shotgun or compact rifle
  • Ammunition + magazines
  • Tactical vest

The problem with this idea is the unsecured firearms and ammunition. Storing an Ed Brown or Les Baer 1911 in the ground at a friends house to presumably sit undisturbed for many years would be ridiculous. This thinking led me to the idea of procuring a cheap used HiPower 9mm and a cheap shotgun, Nagant, or SKS as cheap ‘get-home’ tools.

I understand that these are generally considered sub-standard prepping items for most situations, but before everyone goes off the rails about the idea of even handling a HiPower, think about the intent here. This is a cache intended to get me home, not to defend my home. Putting expensive firearms in a container in the ground is a losing game. Exposure and discovery put any residential located cache at risk. The benefit to un-boxing a cheap set of firearms on an otherwise unarmed trip home outweighs the risks if it means getting home safely to protect my own.

Buried caches along your route allow for resupply when other means aren't available.
Buried caches along your route allow for resupply when other means aren’t available.

Once I get home, I can upgrade my personal gear, and begin the potentially challenging process of recovering my wife from work, and the kids from school or daycare.

Could I make it home without gearing up and arming myself? Maybe. Without knowing what the true fallout could be, I’d be taking a risk assuming I’ll be fine trekking home from work unarmed. I don’t believe I can take that risk with a family to think about. With a viable get-home stash along the route, I would have the option to arm or not arm as the situation dictated. I’d also have a place to hold up for a few hours rest and refit before finishing the trek.

Step 2: the bug-in cache

I’ve read hundreds of articles and a few books on prepping. None of the articles discussed the opportunity presented by creating a bug-in cache. What is a bug-in cache? Simply put, this is a cache of critical items you’ve already collected, hidden outside and away from the home. The idea behind the bug-in cache is to provide the home team with backups to the critical items you’ve already prepped.

What happens when governmental forces go house by house, collecting all food, firearms, and ammunition? Having an undisclosed, hidden cache of weapons, ammunition, food, water, tents, candles, etc… could be the difference between staying independent (free?) and moving to a 4-letter refugee camp to keep your children alive.

I can’t say what is right for you to stock in a bug-in cache. Only you can say what is most important to you and yours, but here are a few items I’d strongly consider caching.

  • Weapons
  • Ammunition
  • Dehydrated food
  • Water, water bottles, filtration gear
  • Currencies: gold, silver, silver coins,
  • Excess hiking gear, clothing, boots

Whether your home is raided by good-bad guys, or bad-bad guys, the bottom line is that the items you spent so much time and money to amass are likely gone. Maybe your home is gone too. You managed to get your family out of the situation alive, but you have nothing but the clothing on your back. Having a covert survival cache nearby can support either a return to the home, or a full-on bug-out.

Step 3: The bug-out cache

I firmly believe that every urban or suburban family will at some point be forced from their homes in a TEOTWAWKI event. The hordes of starving/angry/desperate people will eventually migrate to your quiet little enclave in the ‘burbs.

If you are forced to bug out, make sure you have a plan and maps if you have to go across country.
If you are forced to bug out, make sure you have a plan and maps if you have to go across country.

Once you’ve made the decision to bug-out, where are you going? Vacation house? Cottage hideaway? Your friend or family’s place? Roughing it on the open road? Whatever it is, you had better have a plan. Maps (don’t mark up the map with routes and destinations…that’s OPSEC) are a must. Route reconnaissance is critical to everyone knowing the way. Whether by foot or automobile, after a few days on the move, you will likely want or need a resupply.

We all assume that we’ll load up the family truckster and blast our way down to the bug-out location. Reality I believe will be far different. What happens when you run out of gas, the car dies or is stolen, or the police/military are blocking egress routes? You’ll be hoofing it like thousands of others. All but the strongest will be force to leave those ammo cans full of XM855 in the truckster, along with containers of food, tools, and likely firearms. A person can’t reasonably carry more than two long-guns along with their pack full of bug-out gear. It’s just too heavy, bulky, and cumbersome. Items must be prioritized, and some will have to be left behind. Even if you are Rambo incarnate, your team, the wife, and kids are not. Carrying everything you want to the bug-out location is unrealistic. Knowing everyone’s limitations will be crucial.

Wherever your bug-out destination is, having a cache of materials to start with will be critical for survival. I occasionally read about folks having fully stocked hunting cabins in the woods. This sounds great to me. It also sounds great to the starving family that beat you to it. Showing up at your new refuge to find someone has already been through it, or is still in it means that the preps you diligently laid on for your family are either diminished, or depleted. Having a hidden cache, away from the structure, is critical to rebuilding once you’ve gained positive control of the structure.

Conclusion: By establishing a system of preps in-depth, every prepper can build redundancy into the system, account for calamity and extenuating circumstances, and better provide for their family when a regional or national level event occurs.

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  1. Fortunately my family live close enough to work and school that we can return with just EDC and without the get-home cache, but the bug-in cache is a spectacular idea for us and one I intend to use.

    I never once considered the government coming in and confiscating food. Firearms, sure, but not food and water. Having that second stockpile to get you through an immediate emergency is just good planning. I wish I didn’t live on a rock-filled former swamp because some small tunnels and cache sites on my property would be a major boon. As is, I’ll have to find a remote site close to the house for a bug-in cache.

    The gridlock associated with escaping the cities is a major reason I want to homestead and already be at my well-stocked remote retreat. Thank you for these new insights.

    1. I think a cache at your home location makes a lot of sense, but I hesitate to bury anything on my property because I know they are already using metal detectors to search property of “survivalists” in the news for this exact reason. The downside to burying it anywhere else is not knowing what is going on if anything with that property. You could show up one day and see that it has been converted to a housing complex.

      1. You hit it on the head, Pat. It was not my intent to imply there was some quick easy solution as to where you hide your cache. One must always consider how the enemy (whoever that is) would conduct a search. Think like the enemy. Where would you look first if you were trying to discover a hidden cache? Where would you look last?

        Personally, I think it would be dangerous to “look like a prepper.” That doesn’t just mean what you wear. It also applies to your home, and how your preps are stored.

        Would you consider burying decoy caches in some/all of the likeliest places? Its unclear how determined searchers would be, and how they would respond to decoys, but a handful of nails will certainly trigger a metal detector.

        Just some thoughts.

  2. I enjoy these types of post for several reasons, but mainly
    they keep the old brain fired up. While reading the article and the comments I
    try to imagine the situations and the obstacles needed to be overcome.

    To be honest with the author (and not trying to
    sound abrasive) there is no way in heck I would ever work for a company or in
    an area where they have “an absolute ban on firearms at work. Discovery of a
    firearm will get any of my co-workers arrested and fired”, I don’t care what or
    who they think they are, NO JOB is worth giving up your ability to protect
    yourself. In fact several of my co-workers and of course myself CC. The only
    time I remove it is when entering a School, period; the rest of the time what
    they don’t know is not my problem.

    Like the author I have a 30+ mile hike to get
    home, interesting enough I’m in a time of my life with no family or relatives
    (close by) to gather, so it would be just me and my best friend Blue (Black
    Lab). I’m never more than 100 feet from my “bag” of supplies I have gathered
    for the trip home and the dog pack; he carries his own dang food (HAHAHA). So stocking
    up for the trip home is a no brainer for me. BUT I like the idea of building a
    second “stash” just in case and storing it in an isolated location. It’s
    amazing how much stuff you can cram into a 4’ chunk of 6” dia PVC pipe.

    I really really like the idea of the “bug-in”
    cache. I happen to live in a place that literally have hundreds of acers
    around. I’m thinking of those plastic 55 gallon barrels with removable lids
    that can be sealed and stored underground for a long long time. Like the author
    I believe that your sluverment is more dangerous at getting to the preps that
    the Zombies.

    As far as bugging out, nope, maybe for a cpl of
    days if a wildfire is heading this way, but in my situation it’s here or
    nowhere for this old fart. OPSEC is the key, but as long as we keep talking on
    the blog, a lot of that is lost, WAVE “HI” to the NSA that’s monitoring everything
    on here. Oh well.

    I do like this author’s idea of layered preps for most
    people, very nice job of presenting it.

    NRP

    1. There aren’t too many companies that would let you carry a firearm into work NRP. Most have policies against firearms on property even legally concealed carry. They have a right to keep that off their property because it is private property.

      Now, can they arrest you? I don’t know about that unless there is a law saying you are prohibited from carrying in that place. I know government agencies, banks and schools obviously have such a limitation, but regular businesses can only kick you off the premises as far as I know. They could fire you possibly, but arresting?

      1. Some jurisdictions state private property (schools, hospitals, churches) are considered illegal to carry legal fire arms and will result in an arrest. Others can trump up charges if another crime has taken place or if people claim they feel “threatened”. It all depends on the competency of the police officer or the county/district attorney’s agenda when it comes to the second amendment.

        http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/business-man-arrested-loitering-carrying-legal-gun/nbySS/

  3. The only thing that troubles me about this plan is that I wonder if your wife knows she is to shelter in place until you arrive. What if, for her own well being, she can’t? What if the kids can’t? How long are they to wait?

    What if (God forbid) something happens to you and you’re not coming? What if any help whatsoever is not coming? Will they know how to rely on themselves?

    How can they communicate? What if home is not an option? Can they leave signs for each other so they can follow each others’ trail?

    It wouldn’t even have to be a full-on situation, all I’m saying is that they need to know how to find each other, and also to know when they’ve got your blessing to break the rules and live.

    1. That is the problem with a “plan” there are so many, read
      (thousand) of variables it is imposable to actually have a plan. Yes-No ?????

      Honestly the first priority is CYA, than you’re Family, for
      without you there is NO FAMILY, right? Sorry all but it’s the hard core truth.
      If Mom/Hubby/Dad is unable to “make it” are you tough enough to take care of the rest? Are you good enough of a person to walk away and find what is left of your family to do it?

      Hard questions to answer, but we all sit here and pound a
      keyboard, but when the SHIT REALLY HITS THE FAN and you have to walk away from a loved one to save another, can you do that? Talk about prepping???
      Everyone needs to think about losing someone they love and to figure out how they would react. Sorry, but the cold hard truth.
      God bless us all, and I’m a Buddhist, HAHAHA

      NRP

      1. It is critical that a family plan is established. Every member of the team must understand their responsibilities under the plan. Contingencies must be developed that account for likely and unlikely issues that may occur.

        What does your 12 YO do when his/her school locks down and won’t let the kids leave? How long will the school staff hold the kids before bailing to take care of their own?

        I beleive all schools have some sort of ‘shelter in place’ plan, but what will happen at sunset when the police haven’t come to bail administrators out? Would you tell your daughter to wait for the right moment, bust a window, breakout and run for home? What about your 8 YO?

        Would the school just release them without you being there? You don’t want to think that, but we must be realistic. They will be running on fear and adrenaline, then thoughts of their own families will get educators and administrators thinking about their own bail out plan.

        At a minimum, escape routes must be defined to prevent missing your jail breaker when you are on your way to rescue them.

  4. I hear the “I would never work for a place that wouldn’t let me carry a gun to work” dialog. However, my wife and I work at our kids’ school. It’s in a gun hating state. We live across the border in a very gun friendly state. TONS of advantages to being in the same locations as my entire family even without the ability to carry a firearm. We have a ten mile plus walk home through rural territory. That’s with two kids under ten. Not the best scenario, but better than retrieving the wife and kids from two locations both different from my own. Every scenario has pro’s and con’s. You work with what you have and improve what you can.

  5. My kids are grown but not married. I have discussed bugging out to my daughter who lives in Baltimore. One of the things we discussed was setting up a cache of supplies away from her house that would help her continue the journey one she got out of the city proper. A couple of places we came up with are
    1. Renting a small storage space just outside of the city that she could get to in a day of walking.
    2. Renting a private garage or “storage space” in some ones’ house/business
    3. Small spider hole cache along a public highway in some of the green space that is part of the highway property.
    4. My personal favorite….A cemetery plot with the vault installed. This could be human or a pet cemetery.
    We have also looked at where she could get supplies at locations that were less likely to be looted / disturbed
    Now if I can just get my other daughter to think about how she is getting out of Philadelphia………

    1. A hidden cache is a great idea Mike, but I worry about locations that I can’t check on regularly or that might see a lot of foot traffic. The cemetery plot idea sounds creative, but I am sure there are cheaper options. Still it would be pretty cool walking into your vault after SHTF and into a room stocked with weapons, food and supplies. Walking out fully armed with a new outfit. Sounds like something out of a movie…

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