4 Organic Ways To Prepare For A Zombie Apocalypse (And Other End Of Days Disasters)

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March 27, 2017
disaster preppers

Everyone hopes that disaster will never happen, but hope isn't a plan. How can you prepare for the worst without wasting your time, money, and resources?

While many prepper to-do lists emphasize the importance of going off-gridgrowing and preserving your own food, and other forms of self-reliance, in my experience, being truly prepared for disaster doesn’t mean going it alone.  (Though if you want to know how to keep your veggies crisp after the lights go out forever, here’s how to turn your old fridge into a root cellar).

(On just a quarter-acre of land, you can produce fresh, organic food for a family of four—year-round. Rodale's The Backyard Homestead shows you how; get your copy today.)

I'm a physicist and geophysicist specializing in disasters—tsunami, earthquakes, asteroid impacts. I’m also an emergency response volunteer, and I can tell you that real-life disaster preparedness comes down to thinking more big-picture and holistically about what lies ahead.

Here are the four things that could make the difference for you and your family when disaster strikes. 

community garden
Hero Images/getty
Know Your Neighbors

The most important part of an emergency plan is to simply talk to the people around you. Talking will help you think in advance about your plans, but it will also build connection. In times of disaster, your community is who you will help and who will support you. The stronger your community is now, the greater your collective resilience will be when you need it.

Organizing neighborhood watches or asking police or fire departments to run community trainings on disaster preparedness is important to develop skills. But informal connections are just as important!

Starting a community garden or organizing social events—throwing block parties or hosting neighborhood BBQs—helps build personal bonds. By sheer proximity, your neighbors and coworkers will likely be the first responders in case of a catastrophe. In return, you’re more likely to notice who is missing and may need help. The better you know each other, the stronger your bonds will be and the more you’ll be able to support each other.

So go on: Throw a party, and invite your neighbors.

It could save your life.

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Willoughby Owen/getty
Think Locally, Act Locally

Everywhere has disasters, but not every disaster can happen everywhere. While fires are universal and illness can spread anywhere humans interact, many disasters are more geographically constrained. Different disasters require different types of preparation, so the first step in preparing is understanding your local hazards.

Hurricanes, form over warmer oceans and quickly fall apart as they head inland. While primarily a problem on the east coast of the United States, a rare typhoon makes landfall in the west. Blizzards are similarly confined, only burying the northern states in snow (although lack of familiarity and infrastructure can make even a light dusting catastrophic in the southern states).

Earthquakes mostly happen along tectonic boundaries, the places where the rigid plates that make up the surface of our planet come together, pull apart, or slide past each other. Places where the plates slide past each other — transform boundaries like the famous San Andreas Fault in California — have shallow earthquakes relatively frequently with shaking localized to a city. Places where the plates come together—convergent boundaries like the Cascadia Subduction Zone in the Pacific Northwest—have deep earthquakes less frequently, but create severe shaking over a wide region that could impact multiple states.

Even places that were almost tectonic boundaries can spawn earthquakes. The New Madrid Seismic Zone in the Mississippi Valley marks a rift where the continental plate once almost pulled apart.

The rifting stopped before tearing the plate and forming a new tectonic boundary, but it marks a weak point that can produce an earthquake.

But earthquakes can happen far from tectonic boundaries, too. Hawaii is is one of the furthest places from a tectonic boundary, but movement of magma within its volcanoes can send shivers through the islands.

Modern mining practices can also trigger earthquakes, most notably in Oklahoma where fracking—injecting liquid to fracture rock—has led to a dramatic increase in seismic activity.  

Floods are even more tricky. It’s easy to think of floods as only a coastal problem when storm surges drives water inland, or sea level rise slowly encroaches by a few inches a year. But the fertile flat lands adjacent to meandering rivers are actually called “floodplains” because they’re built up by sediments deposited by flooding rivers. Heavy rainfalls can cause localized flooding; this can be particularly dangerous in deserts where ravines abruptly transform into raging rivers.

Check with your city government, state geological survey, and the United States Geological Survey for information on what types of disasters are most likely in your region.

go bag items
Personalize Your Go Bag

It’s an often-repeated mantra in disaster management that every $1 in prevention is equal to $10 saved in recovery. The same concept holds true for even a little time making plans now will disproportionately reduce your stress if the worst ever happens.

Make a plan of how to contact your family, including an out-of-area contact who can be the check-in point during larger disasters like storms, wildfire, or earthquakes that disrupt a larger region. Know where you’ll meet and how you’ll get there if your home is inaccessible.

Customizing your emergency kit is a great way to be more ecologically responsible in your plans. Pre-built kits follow rigid checklists that don’t necessary reflect the needs of you and your family and the disasters you are most likely to experience. Use the checklists as a guide, but think carefully about which parts apply to you, what your family needs to survive the first frantic days of a disaster, and which disasters you’re most likely to experience.

Instead of buying an entire emergency kit from scratch, look around what you already have at home. It’s important to have a grab-and-go bag pre-packed so that you can flee from a fire on a moment’s notice, but for other disasters you may have more lead-time. (In addition to first aid basics, check out this list of 19 home cures that really work, a lot of common pantry items can do double-duty in a disaster!)

For sheltering in place, try making a list of what items you could repurpose—camping tarps also work for emergency shelter; easy-prepare emergency food can be a frequently-rotated part of your usual pantry.

Write the list down as part of your emergency plan now while you’re thinking clearly instead of trusting you’ll remember the details under the stress of a real disaster.

home landscaping
Design Disaster-Resistant Landscapes

Natural catastrophes are inevitable, but they don’t need to be devastating. For many types of disasters, planning for them in advance can mitigate how much harm the do.

The United Nations created an online video game as part of their International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. Stop Disasters! is a city-building simulator, but on perpetual disaster mode. You, the emergency manager, have a limited budget and set objectives to protect your fictional community. It’s a great way to learn about how the choices we make about how we build have very real impacts on how our communities will be weather a disaster.

You can put those lessons into place in your own backyard or community. Something as simple as how we use land can change how we feel the impact from disasters. Places that flood frequently can be used for parklands and agriculture, while areas with a high chance of landslides can be zoned for warehouse storage to reduce the number of people at risk. Sand dunes, swamps, or mangrove forests absorb storm-driven waves and erosion, sheltering inland communities from the worst impacts. Similarly, trees with deep roots can anchor unstable slopes in danger of sliding. Conversely, clearing land can create barriers that halt the spread of fires.

We can also change how we construct buildings in order to resist the types of disasters we expect. Strong seismic codes are essential in earthquake country, but are less important in the interior of the United States. Buildings with basements or interior rooms can serve as shelters during tornado warnings, an architectural feature far more important in Tornado Alley than along the coasts.

Talk to you local governments about how they’re incorporating hazard information into their community plans and land use zoning.