Six Figures Under: What We Learned from Our Quarantine Food Storage Challenge

Stephanie at Six Figures Under has an article about What We Learned from Our Quarantine Food Storage Challenge during the first few months of the pandemic.

After three months of eating from our pantry, freezer, and long-term food storage, our Quarantine Food Storage Challenge is coming to an end.  Today I’m sharing some of what we learned. Hopefully something will be helpful to you as you plan to be more prepared with your own food.

First we’ll cover the three reasons we decided to end our open-ended challenge now. Then I’ll go over lessons we learned and what we plan to do about it!

For those of you who look forward to these updates, this won’t be the end of talking about food storage!  In the coming weeks, I will take the focus off MY food storage and start talking about YOUR food storage (how to get started, what to store, how much to store, how to keep track, how to use it).

As I’ve started reading through hundreds of responses in the 2020 Six Figures Under Reader Survey, I see that many of you are interested in building up your own food storage and would like some guidance.  (If you haven’t shared your thoughts, I would really love if you would take a couple of minutes to complete the survey).

Why we are ending our food storage challenge

When we started our challenge, we weren’t sure how long it would last.  I know some of you will be surprised or disappointed that we’re concluding it now, and I want to explain why we are deciding to go back to grocery shopping.  Essentially it’s because we accomplished what we set out to do. Let me break that down into specifics.

The primary reason we started the challenge was to keep ourselves and others safe by not going to the grocery store during the pandemic.  At the outset of this, there wasn’t a full understanding of how this novel coronavirus was transmitted.  Now that we have a better understanding, we feel like occasional trips to the grocery store are generally safe. Thankfully the outbreak in our area hasn’t been too terrible.

The secondary reason for undertaking a food storage challenge was to give our food storage a test drive.  While we have stored food for years, we really didn’t have a grasp of how much we would really need and what things we would wish we had more of.  We’ve figured a lot of those details out as we have monitored what we have used during the last three months challenge of not grocery shopping.  Now we have a better idea of what and how much we should store for our family.

The third reason for ending our food storage challenge now, rather than continuing the challenge indefinitely, is so we can make the effort to restock and update our food storage.  The future is uncertain in many ways, including potential continued disruptions in the food supply chain, so while we have the ability to stock up, we want to do so. You will see us implementing changes to our food storage in the near future.

What we learned from eating from our food storage challenge

How much food storage our family needs

As I’ve learned about food storage from a “scholarly” perspective, I learned how many pounds of this or that that you need per person for a certain length of time, but I had no idea how that would play out in real life. The suggested amount of 150 lb of wheat per person age 8+ (and half that for kids under 8) for a year supply doesn’t come with a menu or even a recipe book.

I had no idea if this was a low ball or high ball estimate.  I wasn’t sure if that was a “keep us alive” amount or a “life as usual” amount.  That’s about 12.5 lb per person per month.

Our family has 5 people age 8+ and 2 people under age 8 (I’m not including the baby in this count).  With that estimate, we would use 75 lb of wheat in a month.

I would have to say that estimate is nearly spot on.  We ate about 80 lb of wheat per month during our challenge.  Essentially that was just used for bread, pancakes, waffles, and other baked goods.

I’m still working on recording everything in our spreadsheet so we can calculate our own family’s consumption rate and create a customized food storage plan just for us.

What surprised us

If you followed along with our weekly updates during the challenge, you may remember that in the beginning I was having a little panic attack about some essentials that I thought we were low on like yeast, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa, salt, and oil.

In the beginning we had no idea how long the quarantine/lockdown phase would last and what shortages there would be.  We didn’t know how long we would choose to continue our challenge or if at some point it would no longer be our choice.  Either way, I wanted to be prepared, so I purchased some of these staples online.

As it turned out, I haven’t opened the 5 lb bag of yeast.  We have used only about a pound and a half of yeast in the past 3 months.  That is partly due to reducing the yeast in all of our recipes by half (with no problems).

We also haven’t had to open the 5 lb bags of baking soda or baking powder!

Of the 4 gallons of oil that I bought at the beginning of the challenge (knowing that they were essential for all of the baking I would be doing), I still have 3 left.

What we NEED to stock more of

We are probably good on wheat, powdered milk, beans, applesauce, etc, but there are some areas where our food storage is lacking. We’ll use a one-year supply as a measuring stick because that’s how many food storage recommendations are made. Feel free to divide by four if you want to build up to a 3-month supply or divide by two for a 6-month supply.

Salt– Salt is such a simple ingredient, but it’s essential!  It’s literally the cheapest food storage item out there.  And we didn’t have enough stored.  In fact, we were nearly out!  Right at the beginning of the challenge, I bought a few packages of salt from Walmart. Otherwise we would have been completely out!  That’s embarrassing!  For a year supply, it’s recommended that you store 8 lbs per person (that’s 4 regular salt containers per person).

Oil– We used just under 1 gallon of oil per month.  That means we would need roughly 12 gallons for a year supply.  This is one of those things you don’t just buy and tuck away for a disaster. It’s important to rotate through your stored oil or it will eventually go rancid.

Sugar– It’s recommended to store 60 pounds of sugar (in some form) per person for a year’s supply.  We don’t have anywhere near that, so this is definitely an area for us to work on going forward.

Oats– Oats are a major staple for us, but we haven’t stocked up for a while so we were low when the challenge started.  My MIL gave us a 25 lb bag of oats that she had, which is what we’re currently eating.

Rice– We didn’t run out of rice, but we are low and don’t have anywhere near what we would need for a year supply.

Pasta– We generally eat a lot of pasta. It’s fast, easy, and everyone likes it. We had quite a bit on hand at the beginning of our challenge, but we would have run out during the second month if we weren’t being careful with it. Of course, with an abundance of wheat and eggs, we could decide to make our own pasta, but while that would be delicious, it would no longer be fast and easy.

Peanut butter- We typically buy peanut butter for about two months at a time, but we definitely need to store more.  Peanut butter an jelly sandwiches are a staple in this house!  As long as we rotate through what we have, there won’t be a problem with spoilage or waste.

Jam/Jelly– As an important ingredient in PBJs, we need to store more jam!  In the past when we’ve had easy access to free blackberries, we’ve made loads of our own jam.  It’s been a while since we’ve made jam in large quantities, so we’ve been buying it.  We have both blackberries and raspberries growing on our property now, so hopefully we can get back into making our own jam.

Cocoa Powder– We have around 10 lb, but we need more for a long-term supply. And yes, cocoa powder is an essential storage ingredient for us!

What we WANT to stock more of

Some of the things we want to stock more of in our food storage are:

Cheese– Over the next few months, we’re planning to store more cheese.  We’ll keep a reserve in the freezer and rotate through it.  By no means will it be a year supply, but if we need to live strictly off our food storage again we can ration it.  During this challenge we stretched about 5 lb of cheese to last for two and a half months, which, for a family with cheese habits like us, is impressive.

Butter– Butter is our fat of choice when it comes to baking and cooking, but throughout this challenge we had to rely on alternatives like canola oil and shortening because we only had 5 lbs of butter in the freezer at the outset of this challenge.  We actually still have a pound of butter left because we were being careful to ration it. Like cheese, I plan to store more in the freezer.

Raisins– We eat a lot of oatmeal, cream of wheat, and other hot breakfast cereals and raisins are a favorite add-in.  We should definitely store more of them!

Chocolate Chips– For baking and for mom snacks when there isn’t anything else sweet around.

Salsa– We are fortunate to have hens that keep us well stocked up in eggs (at least in the warm months).  We love having salsa to make fried eggs more exciting.

This obviously doesn’t include the normal everyday staples that we’ll be buying when we go back to the store next week like milk, sour cream, tortillas, chicken, ground beef, or pork (if it’s available and not crazy expensive), lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery, strawberries, apples, bananas, and other fresh produce.

Other things we learned during the food storage challenge

Understanding  the practical implications of eating from our food storage has been very valuable and will help so much as we go forward.  But a clearer picture of how long our food storage will actually last isn’t the only good thing that came from this challenge.  Here are a few other things we learned (or re-learned).

Eat all leftovers so nothing is wasted

We’ve always been pretty good about eating leftovers and not letting them go to waste, but during this challenge we were especially conscious of not wasting food.  Our food supply felt more finite that it normally does since we weren’t shopping to replenish it.  That made us more aware of not wasting any food.

Don’t overeat just because something tastes good

Another way to waste food is to overeat.  We don’t usually think of overeating as wasting food, but that’s really what it is. Mike and I were careful to stop eating when we were full instead of continuing to eat just because something was tasty.

Try new things

We took advantage of the extra time during quarantine to experiment and try making and eating new things. A lot of you thought it was funny that I had bever made split pea soup before.  Well now we’ve had it several times and really like it!  We’ve made tortillas from scratch.  We learned a few ways to make cheese.  And now that the older kids can make bread by themselves, we’ve been enjoying delicious homemade bread even though I haven’t made any for the last month!

Whew!  That was a lot!  Thanks for sticking with me!

Like I said, next week I will take the focus off MY food storage and start talking about YOUR food storage.  I’m excited to help you get started on or improve your food storage situation.  Let me know if there’s anything specific you want me to make sure to cover!

The Organic Prepper: What 75 Preppers Learned During the Lockdown

This article from The Organic Prepper complies short takes from seventy-five preppers on what they have learned during this pandemic and lockdown. Some are only a sentence, while others are a full paragraph. Here’s What 75 Preppers Learned During the Lockdown

The lockdown that recently took place due to the pandemic was like a practice run for a bigger SHTF event. Many of our prepper theories played out and were accurate, while others weren’t as realistic as we thought beforehand.

People who weren’t preppers already learned a lot about why they would want to be better prepared in the future, but they weren’t the only ones who learned lessons. These preppers took a moment to answer questions about the lessons they learned during the lockdown. (Here’s an article about the things I learned.)

What did you learn about preparedness during the lockdown?


I learned two main things. First, I was very surprised at how strongly the isolation hit me. I am a person who is “energized” by interacting with other people. I knew that already, but I was shocked at how MUCH it affected me. Second, I got a taste of normalcy bias. I kept trying to see ways in which our situation was still “Normal”. As a school teacher of little ones for thirty years, I was pretty much used to switching into action immediately to deal with a crisis and putting my feelings on the back burner. So, I was shocked that it took me a couple of months to “accept” the changes in our lives and start looking for creative ways to make life work and meet our needs.


I learned it is so important to pay attention to what’s going on and stay ahead of the crowd. My husband and I were able to stock up two weeks before everyone else panicked. I also learned my plan of being stocked up and shopping only for replacements is a great system. For example I have 3 jars of mayo on the shelf, when I open one I put it on the list to purchase next time and replenish. Same with Costco TP. Every time I shop there I grab one package. We didn’t even go through half our stock pile and I was able to leave it for those who really needed it. I also learned to listen to your instincts, inner voice, the spirit, God or whatever you call it. I listened every time and we have made it through very comfortably. Also, look for opportunities to help others prepare. I have gotten several people to prepare seriously because of staying ahead of everyone else. I couldn’t have done what I did with[out] Daisy and her spot on articles. Like I said earlier, they kept me two weeks ahead of the crowd.


That individuals mental state can be intrusive to yours. For me-it preteen having her 1st period.


That things happen really fast. If you act when things happen it is too late. Act now.


That prepping is far more than one type of crisis. Organization of preps is vitally important ( I am still not where I need to be). Having a list of recipes and items needed helps with how and what to shop for. Alternative sources for cooking, cleaning etc. are important.


Being in a lockdown during the spring was great. House was cool and could bake. Once it got hot, there was no baking. Need to learn to bake more via the fire, not just cook.


I had anticipated shortages like food, soap, TP, and PPEs, but I underestimated how short in supply durable consumer goods would be – like the fact that freezers would pretty much become extinct, all gardening supplies, etc. Luckily, I had stockpiled seeds (although this year I brought veggie starts because everything started late this year.) It took until June to get the raised bed kits (industrial area, it’s not safe to grow anything you want to eat in the ground). Canning jars have also become in short supply. I anticipated has shortages, which did not take place – in fact, gas became dirt cheap with nobody able to go anywhere. I did fail to anticipate that the border would be closed for half a year! Living in a border city, I tend to rely on the much cheaper US prices for many things. I really should not have put off dentist and eye appointments, or a haircut! I will get that attended to before the next wave of contamination and lock-downs. I am working now on beefing up food growing and preserving supplies. Desiccants, oxygen absorbers, Mylar bags, food grade buckets, canning lids, canning jars, and food saver bags are all likely to become harder to obtain as food prices rise and more people become aware of how to grow and preserve foods. I am also stocking up on organic fertilizers and indoor growing options. And sprouting seeds – I think I have at least 2 years’ worth of those…

Continue reading at The Organic Prepper by clicking here.



Organic Prepper: Have You Learned These Lessons?

Selco at The Organic Prepper asks Have You Learned These Survival Lessons During the Pandemic?

There are some skills and strategies that survivalists and preppers keep bashing on over and over again as important ones for hard times.
Some of those are good, others are simply wrong, or miscalculated, or let’s say “built” on wrong the foundations for whatever reason.

There is nothing better than learning from your own experiences (other than maybe learning from other folks’ mistakes). We all went (and still going) trough very turbulent times, hard times, so let’s check which of those “strategies” you learned and already experienced, or simply check about those that you did not see yet, but that you might see in the future.

It really can happen anywhere

The core of my writing, teaching courses, and everything else – the core of my survival philosophy is that “it can happen anywhere“.
It is something that you need to adopt as a first step of understanding how the world of survival works, and actually if you cannot adopt words “it can happen anywhere” you’ll never be a survivalist.

Sure, you can call yourself a survivalist, but if you cannot comprehend the fact that “it can happen anywhere” you will never be fully ready.
There are numerous reasons why the S can hit the fan anywhere no matter in what kind of modern country and society you live, and actually there are numerous reasons why the “fall” can be deeper and more painful in more modern societies, but that is a topic for some other article.

The system is fragile.

I think you all by now understood how the system can be fragile in an unexpected situation, and it is true no matter how advanced the system is – it is fragile.

And no, for this particular revelation it is not important at all whether you support the political system that rules, favor a political party or not, or any other personal opinion about the “parts” of the system. Discussing and wasting time about why the system is fragile and why it failed to cope with properly handling the event is simply wasting time. No system is built for huge events, at least it is not built to sustain and cope with largescale events in a way that your lifestyle (freedoms, rights, way of living that you use to, etc.) will stay intact.

A large scale event will affect the system, and depending on the duration and severity of the event, it may do so to the point that the system actually disappears.

The greatest danger when SHTF

Tornadoes, asteroids, dirty bombs, viruses, pandemic, wars… you can not be ready for all of that, and if you concentrate efforts to be ready only for a particular scenario based on a particular danger in that scenario, you’ll very easily fall into the trap of forgetting something extremely important.

Prepping (when it comes to what danger you should prepare for) in your philosophy, should be the simple fact that you are preparing for danger from other people.

In most survival scenarios, other people will be an immediate threat or will become the greatest threat very soon after the event happens.
Yes I know, a tornado does not have anything human in its nature, but if a tornado or serious storm brings the city to halt, it will soon bring a situation where there are more people than resources. Without a system to control it, then those people fighting for resources will become your biggest problem, not the tornado.

So if you are prepping for serious weather only without taking into consideration that actually other people might become a bigger problem than the event, you are doing it wrong.

People carry viruses in a pandemic, weapons in war, hate in a political clash, or they need resources after an economic disaster. Start your prepping for every scenario with the consideration that “other people” will most likely become a problem and threat. At best, simply factor that you will be forced to deal with them, for example through trade, and plan your prepping philosophy from that point.

As I mentioned it is not only the fact that other people may become a threat. It is also the fact that you’ll be forced to interact with people on other levels (trade, negotiations, mutual agreements, alliances…).

It probably will not be a situation where you need to shoot everybody else. You’ll need to interact with those people, to live with those people around you under the new circumstances.

Timing is everything.

Survival could be explained as “being ahead of others”.

Do not mix this with up “looking different than others” which survivalists often think is necessary. It actually can be dangerous to look and act differently than others when the SHTF.

Being ahead of others is about being different, not necessarily looking different.

Timing and “being ahead of others” is not some complicated thing, because if you are into prepping you should already know that you need to keep an ear on the ground all the time and seek information that you can use in your favor before the majority of other folks get it. The run on supplies in America was a perfect example of this…(continues)

The Organic Prepper: What I Learned During the COVID Crisis

Daisy Luther at The Organic Prepper talks about lessons she’s learned during the pandemic – What I Learned During the COVID Crisis.

…Here are the things I’ve learned.

Trust your instincts.

I began writing about this virus back in January when it was announced that the entire city of Wuhan was being locked down and millions of people were under stay at home orders. With that many people under a mandatory lockdown, I was firmly convinced that this had potential global ramifications.

I had come back from Europe to attend a funeral in early January and was supposed to return on January 28th. After doing the research for the article mentioned above, I rescheduled my flight for March 28th and settled in with my youngest daughter at her apartment to help out with the bills. We immediately began stocking up.

A lot of folks at that time said I was crazy – a few here on my website but more so on other sites that republished my work. I’m no stranger to being called crazy – I’m in the preparedness industry and I like guns, so right there, the mainstream media sees me as a lunatic. It no longer bothers me and I was convinced that this was going to be a big deal.

Every day from January 23rd to the present, I’ve spent hours researching as this pandemic has unfolded. I sincerely wish that I had not been correct, but here we are, still in lockdown in many parts of the country.

You can prepare fast if you’re aware before other folks are.

I had sold or donated nearly everything that my daughters didn’t want before I took off on an open-ended trip to Europe last fall. The other items were divided up between my two girls. So while the daughter with whom I stayed still had a few things, like firearms, water filters, etc., the stockpile was pretty much gone.

By the end of January, I was pretty sure that we were going to see mandatory quarantines or lockdowns here and I began stocking up. It’s important to note that at this point, you could still buy anything you wanted or needed. I grabbed some extra masks and gloves but most of my focus was on food and other everyday supplies. By the end of February, I was pretty content with the amount of supplies we had. I had spent as little as possible on “right now food” and focused most of my budget on shelf-stable items like canned goods, pasta, and rice.

For about $600, we accumulated a supply that would see us through a minimum of 3 months without leaving the house. I figured, if it turned out that I had overreacted, my daughter would use the food anyway.

I also started a personal spending freeze at the end of January. If it wasn’t an item we needed to become better prepared, I didn’t spend a dime. I was able to put back a few months’ worth of expenses while still stocking up. It helped that my daughter was living thrifty in a less expensive apartment with utilities included. I was very concerned about things like cash flow and it turns out, this has been a huge problem for a lot of people.

You can’t always have the “ideal” situation.

There were a lot of things about my situation that were less than ideal. But that’s probably true in a lot of cases. You just have to adapt to the reality of your situation instead of endlessly wishing it was different or feeling that it’s hopeless. “Less than ideal” does not mean that all hope is lost.

First, there was the situation of living arrangements. I have a daughter in Canada and a daughter in the US. My older daughter in Canada has been working longer and was better established. My younger daughter, who lives in the US, was new to the workforce and didn’t have a lot of money so I stayed with her to help out financially. Her apartment is in a lower-middle-class residential area of the city where she works. Thankfully, it is a two-bedroom and I only brought with me two suitcases.

Living in an apartment without much of a yard during this kind of event is not something I would have chosen, given time to seek alternatives. But we all know this crept up fast. Moving was not an option. I focused on hardening the apartment with plywood to put up at the windows, tripwires that could be set up quickly if needed, and sturdier locks. We got some quarantine warning signs that we could post if all hell broke loose as a potential deterrent, and I set up spotlights in the front yard. Currently, they face the stairs to the front door, but in a bad situation, they could be turned around to illuminate anyone coming up to the house instead.

I bought more ammo for our firearms and we sat down together to work through potential scenarios. We developed a “fatal funnel” in the front hallway and added “stumbling blocks” in the front hall that could be shoved in front of the door to slow down an advance. (Just cardboard boxes filled with hardcover books – nothing fancy.)

We made friends with the other family who lives in the building while maintaining our OPSEC. It’s always good to have allies and they have a better line of sight from their upper apartment.

Normally, I would have bought loads of organic food and preserved it myself, but early in the crisis, there was still a question of whether or not we’d have power throughout the emergency and there simply wasn’t enough time at this late date. My stockpile is not ideal – lots of storebought canned goods and carbs like pasta and rice – but it’s filling and versatile.  And most of all, it’s what was readily available. I was able to grab cases of canned fruits and vegetables and canned ravioli when it was cheap and abundant.

So while it isn’t our normal diet or even our normal preps, we’re fortunate to have it. We’ve continued to hit the store weekly for foods that are more “normal” but can easily shift to the stockpile if it becomes necessary.

As you can see there are a lot of things that aren’t ideal from a prepper’s point of view, but when disaster strikes, you have to adapt. So if your situation isn’t perfect, don’t just throw your hands up in the air and give up – ADAPT…(continues)

Click here to continue reading at The Organic Prepper.

TIWIKB: Lessons Learned in the Time of Coronavirus

Lessons Learned in the Time of Coronavirus comes from the Things I Wish I Knew Before blog. The article relates some lessons learned in the earlier phase of the pandemic growth in the US.

I’m home with my family this morning, following guidelines for self-isolation and social distancing. It is so surreal, but here are the actionable items that I’ve learned so far from living in the time of coronavirus. Most of us will survive the coronavirus, and this is why these learnings are important to me.

Photo credit:

#1 Respond at the first hint of trouble, not at panic time

Determining what constitutes as “the first hint of trouble” is open to debate, but I will say that I responded somewhere in the middle between “the first hint of trouble” and “panic time.”

I went to Costco two weeks ago and decided to purchase some stocking supplies. It was more crowded than usual and I could see a number of carts filled with an irregular amount of certain supplies. However, it was still a manageable crowd. I should have thought of precautionary preparation when the first case of coronavirus was diagnosed, rather than when I actually did. After all, there’s no downside to acting earlier.

A few days ago, I went back to Costco for some allergy medicine and it was panic time. The parking lot was almost full before the store even opened. The allergy medicine I wanted was out of stock, as were all of the panic items (paper towels, toilet paper, rice, pasta, disinfecting wipes, rubbing alcohol). Shoppers were elbow to elbow (great for our minimum 6ft social distancing requirement) and I am now hearing online reports from our neighbors of the continual crowds at all the local grocery stores.

#2 Always have 3 months worth on hand

Why 3 months worth? Well, I’m not sure that’s the correct number, but basically you want to be self-sufficient for some period in the event that you become isolated (due to say coronavirus, store closures, insufficient stock, or a major disaster renders everything unavailable to you except for your home (don’t forget to pack your emergency bag for when your home isn’t an option either).

Here’s what I should have had 3 months worth of:

  • Food (that we would actually eat – not random cheap stuff for emergencies)
  • Household supplies (paper products, cleaning, and disinfecting supplies)
  • Toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc.)
  • Medications (common OTC items like cold and allergy medicines and prescriptions)
  • Protection supplies (disposable gloves, garbage bags, plastic bags, N95 masks, face masks )

I wasn’t able to get some of these items during the current panic time. What I should have done is just gradually amassed 3 months worth of the above items like a regular consumer in the months/years prior and thereafter, just replenish stress-free any items that dipped below the 3-month threshold.

If you don’t have enough room where you live, stockpile whatever amount is realistically maintainable in your available space. If organized purchasing is not your strong suit, use an inventory list – there are many online options to help…(continues)

Keep reading at Things I Wish I Knew Before by clicking here.

Peak Prosperity: Survival Learnings from a California Fire Evacuee

Today’s survival lesson comes from Peak Prosperity‘s Adam Taggart enumerating some of his lessons learned from mandatory evacuation from California fires.

As I type this, there are over 16 large wildfires currently burning across northern and southern California. Hundreds of thousands of residents have been displaced. Millions are without power.

My hometown of Sebastopol, CA underwent mandatory evacuation at 4am Saturday night. I jumped into the car, along with our life essentials and our pets, joining the 200,000 souls displaced from Sonoma County this weekend.

Even though I write about preparedness for a living, fleeing your home in the dead of night with a raging inferno clearly visible on the horizon drives home certain lessons more effectively than any other means.

I’d like to share those learnings with you, as they’re true for any sort of emergency: natural (fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, blizzard, etc), financial (market crash, currency crisis) or social (revolution, civil unrest, etc).

And I’d like you to be as prepared as possible should one of those happen to you, which is statistically likely.

Your survival, and that of your loved ones, may depend on it.

No Plan Survives First Contact With Reality

As mentioned, I’ve spent years advising readers on the importance of preparation. Emergency preparedness is Step Zero of the guide I’ve written on resilient living — literally the first chapter.

So, yes, I had a pre-designed bug-out plan in place when the evacuation warning was issued. My wife and I had long ago made lists of the essentials we’d take with us if forced to flee on short notice (the Santa Rosa fires of 2017 had reinforced the wisdom of this). Everything on these lists was in an easy-to-grab location.

The only problem was, we were 300 miles away.

Reality Rule #1: You Will Be Caught By Surprise

There are too many variables that accompany an unforeseen disaster to anticipate all of them. Your plan has to retain enough flexibility to adapt to the unforeseen.

In my case, we were down at Parents’ Weekend at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, where my older daughter recently started her freshman year.

As the text alerts warning of the growing fire risk started furiously arriving, we monitored them closely, reluctant to leave the festivities and our time with our daughter. But once the evacuation warning came across, we knew it was serious enough to merit the 6-hour mad dash home to rescue what we could.

The upside of that long drive was that it gave us time to alter our bug-out plan according to the unfolding situation. We decided my wife and younger daughter would go directly to safety; that reduced the lives at risk in the fire zone down to just 1 (mine). And I used the phone to line up neighbors who could grab our stuff should I not be able to make it home in time.

The learning here is: Leave plenty of room in your plan for the unexpected. If its success depends on everything unfolding exactly as you predict, it’s worthless to you.

Reality Rule #2: Things Will Happen Faster Than You’re Ready For

Once an emergency is in full swing, things start happening more quickly than you can process well.

Even if developments are unfolding in the way you’ve anticipated, they come at an uncomfortably fast rate that adrenaline, anxiety and fatigue make even more challenging to deal with.

Just as The Crash Course chapter on Compounding explains how exponential problems unfold too fast to avoid once they become visible, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed or caught off-guard by the pace required to deal with a disaster.

The Kincade fire started at 9:30pm the night before I left Sebastopol for Cal Poly. When I went to bed that night it was a mere 300 acres in size. Two days later it was 25,000 acres. (it’s currently at 66,000 acres).

It went from “nothing to worry about” to “get out NOW!” in less than 48 hours.

Watching who fared well during the evacuation and who didn’t , those who took action early out of a healthy sense of caution had much more success than those who initially brushed off the potential seriousness of the situation.

Here’s how much of a difference timely action made:

The ‘evacuation warning’ advisory became a ‘mandatory evacuation’ order at 4am on Saturday night. My car was ready to go and I was on the road out of town within 5 minutes.

Several friends of mine left home just 45 minutes after I did. By that time, the fleeing traffic made the roads essentially immobile. My friends had to turn back to ride things out in their homes, simply hoping for the best.

So I’m reminded of the old time-management axiom: If you can’t be on time, be early. In a developing crisis, set your tolerance level for uncertainty to “low”. Take defensive measures as soon as you detect the whiff of increasing risk; it’s far more preferable to walk back a premature maneuver than to realize it’s too late to act.

Reality Rule #3: You Will Make Mistakes

Related to Rule #2 above, you’re going to bungle parts of the plan. Stress, uncertainty and fatigue alone pretty much guarantee it.

You’re going to forget things or make some wrong choices.

Case in point: as I was evacuating, the plan was to take a less-traveled back route, in order to reduce the odds of getting stuck in traffic. But, racing in the dark and checking in on the phone with numerous friends and neighbors, muscle memory took over and I found myself headed to the main road of town. Too late to turn back, I sat at the turn on, waiting for someone in the line of cars to let me in.

It then hit me that perhaps no one might. Folks were panicked. Would someone be willing to slow down to let me go ahead of them?

Obviously someone did, or I wouldn’t be typing this. But that mistake put everything else I’d done correctly beforehand in jeopardy.

So, as the decisions start to come fast and furious, your key priority is to ensure that you’re focused on making sure the few really important decisions are made well, and that the balls that get dropped won’t be ones that put your safety at risk.

Forget to pack food for the cat? No big deal, you’ll find something suitable later on. Miss your time window to evacuate, as my friends did? That could cost you your life.

Reality Rule #4: When Stressed, All You Care About Is People & Pets

A good bug-out plan covers preparing to take essential clothes, food & water, medications, key documents, communications & lighting gear, personal protection, and irreplaceable mementos.

But when the stakes escalate, you quickly don’t care about any of those. It’s only living things — people, pets & livestock — that you’re focused on.

The rest, while valuable to have in an evacuation, is ultimately replaceable or non-essential.

I very well might have rolled the dice and stayed down at Cal Poly if it weren’t for the cat. But family is family, no matter how furry. I just couldn’t leave her to face an uncertain fate. And I believe strongly you’ll feel the same about any people or pets in your life — it’s a primal, tribal pull to take care of our own. If you don’t plan for it, it will override whatever other priorities you think you may have.

So prioritize accordingly. Build your primary and contingency plans with the security of people and animals first in mind. If there’s time for the rest, great. But if not, at least you secured what’s most important (by far)…

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