Once you consider your first need, you must prioritize the remainder. You can survive three weeks without any type of food, but you will not last too much longer than three days if you have no water. Thus, water becomes the next need you must address. Before food, you will likely want to find shelter as well since you will need somewhere relatively safe for the night.
When I started putting together my first survival kit, I just collected whatever weird stuff I could find—like tablets that would protect my thyroid from nuclear fallout. My mindset changed when my first daughter was born. I realized I needed a more practical end-of-the-world plan, with equipment that would be useful for things that might actually happen. Nuclear war is probably not in store for 2018, and if it is, I’ll just open a window. I don’t want to live through that.
If the fire is around you and you can’t escape, you don’t have many options, says Shane Hobel of the Mountain Scout Survival School. If there’s a pool or a pond nearby, jump in and try to wait it out there. Otherwise, if you have time, dig a trench that’s two to three feet deep and long enough for you to lie in. Soak a blanket in water, wrap it around yourself, and lie down in the trench. It’s risky, but at least you’ll have a chance.
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Preparing for an emergency is different for every family. Naturally, buying nutrient-rich foods and having ways to store and purify water is the first step for everyone. After that first step, deciding what type of supplies and gear to focus on is a personal journey depending on your preparedness goals. Think of your emergency supply as an investment in the health and safety of your family during a crisis.
Revealingly, however, many doomsday preppers’ fears are not based on speculative, sci-fi-style catastrophes but on disasters that have already happened. “Watch a documentary about Katrina. Look at something about Sandy, years afterwards. Look at Puerto Rico right now,” Scott Bounds, a member of N.Y.C. Preppers, says. “You have to realize that people are not going to come take care of you. You really have to be able to take care of yourself.”
One of that era's icons remains — a massive underground bunker designed to protect all 535 members of Congress and their aides against nuclear war. Dug into the Allegheny Mountains at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., it once had 75,000 gallons of water, a power system, medical and food services, 30-ton blast doors, art of the last days of Pompeii and a mural of Washington scenery that was capable of changing leaves on the trees, depending on the season.