Can we prepare for all the unknown unknowns?
No matter how meticulous you might be at creating your list of lists, how much stuff you’ve squirreled away, or how sharply you’ve honed your survival skills, you can’t prepare for the unknown unknowns. That’s why neighboring matters.
If you get 10 survivalists in a room, you’ll get eleven different opinions on how to build community. In this installment of my Individual Preparedness Plan series, we’ll discuss what should be on top of every person’s preparedness priority list: Neighboring.
In the wake of Sandy’s unwelcome and devastating visit, I’ve noticed a pungent theme of superiority in tweets and posts from some (thankfully not all) “preppers”: “When will sheeple learn” and “We don’t look so crazy now, do we.” Way to go. Pat yourself on the back. This kind of attitude only reinforces the many negative stereotype of preppers being lunatics with a gun and superiority complex.
Please don’t take this as a bash session on fellow preppers. I’m just wondering what our motives are for prepping. We’re all in it for ourselves to some degree. Individualism. Self-reliance. Independence. Preparedness. Back-to-basics. Sustainability. These are all noble pursuits. What about those closest to us – geographically, not on social media sites? That nameless neighbor I wave to when checking my mail. He’s only two doors down. The older couple that I politely say hello to as they walk past while I’m running the neighborhood streets. I don’t know their names or situations.
I often wonder how these nameless folks would respond to a natural disaster or extended SHTF scenario. What makes my middle class neighborhood different from those affected by Hurricane Sandy? Not a thing. Human nature is the same in New Jersey as it is here or in Timbuktu. We all need food, water, shelter, and neighbors… unless you live in an isolated cabin or cave in the hinter-boonies with wild animals as companionship. Then disregard this. For everyone else, your friends in the neighborhood could be your most valuable prep.
Got milk? No. Borrow it from your neighbor across the street. Uh, folks just don’t do that anymore. How about when a tornado rips through your town? Or an ice storm cripples the grid power? In these events, you’re forced to meet your neighbors. Most times, previously unknown faces show up from down the street with a chainsaw to plow through your driveway of fallen trees. It’s what humans do. We’re social animals. Too often we assume the worst about human nature while stocking the wood heater in our bunkers or sitting in our machine gun nests. Discounting and overlooking real relationships with tangible people living close to us will hamstring even those most prepared.
Many hands make light work. I don’t know who gets credit for that wise saying, but it’s true. Friends that you can trust, and can trust you, is more valuable than all the stuff we’re told to pack in our bug out bags, pantries, and gun vaults. Trusted friends are anchors of preparedness. Neighbors can be our wildcard.
Isolation is intentional. So is neighboring. It takes effort. Which means more than pressing the “Like”, “Follow”, or “Friend” button for virtual friends thousands of miles from our computer. It’s not likely that they’ll be available to pull your broken body from the rubble that use to be you home. They know you as an avatar on their screen. Face to face friends are outside your house. They live next door and down the street. They’ll respond first.
Our best hope of surviving catastrophe on a personal, local level is friends and neighbors. Daniel Aldrich, a political scientist living in New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina hit, tells his story and study of response to natural disasters.
He had just moved to New Orleans. Late one August night, there was a knock on the door.
“It was a neighbor who knew that we had no idea of the realities of the Gulf Coast life,” said Aldrich, who is now a political scientist at Purdue University in Indiana. He “knocked on our door very late at night, around midnight on Saturday night, and said, ‘Look, you’ve got small kids — you should really leave.’ “
The knock on the door was to prove prophetic. It changed the course of Aldrich’s research and, in turn, is changing the way many experts now think about disaster preparedness.
Officials in New Orleans that Saturday night had not yet ordered an evacuation, but Aldrich trusted the neighbor who knocked on his door. He bundled his family into a car and drove to Houston.
“Without that information we never would’ve left,” Aldrich said. I think we would’ve been trapped.”
“Really, at the end of the day, the people who will save you, and the people who will help you,” he added, “they’re usually neighbors.”
Family, friends, and neighbors help rebuild and restore order better than large organizations, government or otherwise. The more value-adding neighbors you have, (and not all will be “preppers”) the more hands, legs, minds, and overall resources become available. I sold my pickup truck this year to cover shortages in our family income when Dirt Road Girl could no longer work due to cancer. One of my neighbors gave a standing offer for me to use his spare truck for any hauling duty that might come up. He and his wife have been so supportive to our family in our personal SHTF scenario. From meals, prayers, dog sitting, and just plain old neighborly stuff, they’re not just neighbors, they’re friends now.
How many friends are enough?
Jesus had an intimate social circle of twelve friends and 3 closer than the rest. This number of face-to-face, close friends is about all mere humans can really manage. Any higher and we begin to spread ourselves thin. Keep in mind that this group is your real, trusted friends. See Dunbar’s Number for more thoughts on manageable social group sizing. Dunbar theorizes that 150 is the mean group size for people. Of course, physical proximity to each other would either raise or lower that number. A lot of social grooming is required for this size group to stay intact. I can only count on one hand the number of intimate friendships I have. I think that’s healthy. From there my circle expands to close friends, friends, and acquaintances.
OpSec. What about it?
We live in a global age. I’m shocked, and very thankful, to see people read this blog from countries around the world. Information is at the touch of a finger. Friends, however, are local. What about OpSec (operational security)? I don’t divulge the full scope of my preparedness plans with every person on the street. That’s stupid. I do have a small group of trusted friends that would run to my aid in the event of an emergency. They know I’d do the same for them. We’ve been there, done that. This type of friend is one that knows you, likes you, and loves you – warts and all. They’re not just fans cheering you on safely from the safe stadium seats. They’re on the playing field with us. They know our plans and are a part of our plans.
Building relationships with neighbors is mutually beneficial. The quality of life quotient increases. The neighborhood value rises. Not in monetary value necessarily, but in mutual survivability. Again, many hands make light work. No one person can prepare for the unknown unknowns.
Neighboring has opened doors by just waving. Last week DRG was fetching our trash can from the side of the road. One of our neighbors walked by and struck up a conversation. He brought up concerns about what might bring chaos to our quite little community. He and DRG talked about topics like personal defense, basic preparedness items, and safety in our neighborhood. Practical stuff, not political or conspiracy theory related.
Practical preparation through neighboring
Here are a few not-so-pushy ways to do this stuff. I guess you could canvas door to door. But you don’t want to come across as annoying. If you have an agenda other than being a good neighbor, folks will see through you. Keep it simple neighbor.
- Give. You’ve got carpentry, plumbing, electrical, or computer skills. Offer to help a neighbor. This opens a door for mutual and reciprocal giving.
- Attend community meetings. Local farmers markets, festivals, concerts, school meetings are all attended by neighbors and friends.
- Yard sales. If you’re into bargains, this is old hat for you. Don’t miss this opportunity to connect with people. Plus you’ll likely find useful stuff for your preparations. Two weeks ago I scored a box of candles and mason jars from an older lady two streets down. I let her know where I live when I introduced myself. The transaction went very smoothly and I made a new friend.
- Baking/Smoking/Brewing. DRG makes killer sausage balls. She prepares a few plates every Christmas and delivers trays to neighbors. I share smoked Boston butts with a few as well. My back door neighbor samples my home-brewed beer.
- Ask for help – without being needy. That’s the only ice breaker needed to move from acquaintance to friend sometimes.
- Be a connector. Refer people needing stuff to people with stuff or skills.
- Trade garden produce. One year I had a bumper crop of tomatoes, while my next door neighbor produced more peppers than he could eat or cared to store. We traded throughout the summer.
- Barter network. If there’s a local barter network already established in your town, get involved and add value.
- Join clubs. Hunting, fishing, golf, knitting, or canning. Ask a neighbor to go learn a new skill together.
Hopefully these tips will motivate us to get out of the house, network, and meet folks. Have you met your neighbor? Maybe he/she knows that unknown unknown.
Doing the stuff,