By Capt. William E. Simpson
Far too often I run across people who feel that their disaster preparedness plans are well in hand only to observe numerous flaws related to what I call ‘high-tech handicaps’.
What is a “hi-tech handicap”? That’s a fair question, so please allow me to detail what I mean by that phrase and how it affects the various aspects of disaster preparedness.
Hi-tech handicaps affect many key aspects of survival, including short-term or long-term survival due to a natural or man-made disaster.
When people ask the question, “What are the things you need to survive?”, it’s amusing to read the answers that are provided by both novice and so-called experts. Almost always you’ll see people put forth detailed lists that include things like; a good knife, a gun, a water bottle or canteen, a sleeping bag, a hat and poncho, matches, sewing kit, a shelter, freeze-dried food, etc…
Very few people will list “a reliable source of pure water” in its proper priority. And the reason for this is that most survival experts are trained and experienced in “short-term” survival, as opposed to long-term sustainable survival.
So let’s explore the biggest hi-tech handicap as it affects the single most important aspect of survival.
It doesn’t matter if we are looking at surviving in the woods for a week, a month or a year, or surviving after some natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, or worse yet, after an earth-directed coronal mass ejection from the sun (“CME”), or a man-caused event such as a nuclear electromagnetic pulse (“EMP”), water is the keystone of survival. Of course, most readers understand there are exceptions, such as in arctic survival where you could freeze to death without proper clothing before the water became a problem, etc.
Generally, healthy people can survive for 20-30 days without a meal, but after 3-days without water, you’re all done!
Most people never think about where they will get their next drink of water due to its ubiquitous nature in modern society; it’s available everywhere in cities. But back before the industrial revolution, thinking about water and dealing with water was a daily concern for most people. People then realized how important water really is, unlike most people today, who take pure water for granted and have never gone without water for a day or two. In fact, in today’s society, there are so many canned and bottled drinks that are largely made of water, many people get most of their required daily water intake from these drinks as opposed to drinking just pure water as it was in the old days.
So what happens when you turn the spigot and no water comes out of the tap? And the local store is devoid of any drinks?
Well, if you cannot find a source of water within about 3 days, you will become what I call a ‘desiccated human’, and that’s not a good thing since all the cellular functions in your body require water… death comes knocking quickly when you have no water.
So where does your water supply come from? The city? A well? Safeway in bottles? All of these sources as well as the vast majority of others require a source of power to pump the water from a well or a reservoir into a treatment facility and then into the pipes that come into your home, or to a water bottling plant where it is bottled or made into a flavored drink. In many cases, it’s well-water that supplies the large beverage companies that make beer. And when the power is out long-term (or permanently as a result of an EMP or a CME) these sources of water will be inaccessible… then what? How will you obtain water for yourself and your family? Too many people don’t want to think about this kind of problem and that is a huge life-threatening mistake! Many people would rather maintain the belief that some government agency or someone else will get it sorted out so they needn’t worry… but is that prudent? Probably not!
We are now living in a world where the worldwide supply of pure freshwater is dwindling, and that is the situation under current optimal conditions. What happens when water sources are under even greater demands as the world population swells, and then a large-scale disaster strikes?
My suggestion to you is don’t find out too late that you have a high-tech handicap when it comes to being able to secure an on-going source of drinking water for yourself and your family. Get set up now with a low-tech water system that will allow you to have the pure water you’ll need when the power fails.
So what about water wells? Very few of us have access to good quality shallow water well as seen in the picture above, where you can easily bucket the water to the top.
Most of us today who have wells probably have something like the modern electric water well as seen in the photo above. And most of these wells use powerful electric pumps to bring water up to the surface from deep below ground, in some cases 100, 200 or even 300 feet and more. Fortunately, most water wells across the United States are less than 300 feet deep.
So the next question is this; when the power goes out, how do you get water from a well that is 100 feet or more down a pipe that is four or six inches in diameter? When there is power available it’s easy for an electric pump to bring water up from very deep. The old-style hand pumps you see in the movies and on some farms and ranches are only capable of bringing water up from very shallow wells, where the static water level is 20-30 feet below ground level. Most water wells have static water levels much deeper, which makes using an old school hand pump impossible.
Some people simply assume that having a generator to power an electric well pump is an answer, but really, it’s not the answer you want in a long-term crisis. Generators have limited life spans, they require maintenance and they can and do break; having just the right part in your own personal inventory is highly unlikely, and this assumes you are skilled enough to facilitate a repair. The other issue is that of fuel; generators use fuel and most people can only afford to stockpile enough fuel for a few months if they are lucky; even a mere 1,000 gallons of diesel costs nearly $5,000.00 at today’s prices! And of course all things electric fail over time, including submersible well pumps.
Solar power is nice, but it can fail for a host of reasons; panels can be damaged by large hail, the associated electronics can fail, and at the end of the line, you are still dependent on an electric pump, which can also fail. In an EMP or CME, each and every part of this solar system is vulnerable to failure, so it’s likely that some/all of the components with be toast after an EMP. And you don’t need to have a nuclear war to have the occurrence of an EMP… a lightning strike can generate powerful EMP nearby to where the lightning hits. A solar event known as a coronal mass ejection (CME) can also cause the failure of part or all of the continental electrical grid, which translates to huge voltage spikes that knock-out electrical devices connected to the grid (plugged into the wall, etc.) just before the whole grid fails, resulting in no electrical power, possibly for years or more (AKA ‘Carrington Event’). So even if you switch over to your handy propane powered generator, the devices that were online during the voltage spike are toasted.
There is good news for those who are willing to listen and take action! There are several low-tech solutions for setting up a long-term source of drinking water.
Available options vary depending upon the situation and locality in which you find yourself during a disaster, regardless of causality. Keep in mind that the absolute worst place to be caught in a disaster is in a city. The panic-stricken demand for supplies by hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people is untenable, especially when it comes to water. Even in localized disasters, where there are resources just outside the region of a disaster, water must be trucked-in and that’s not as easy as it sounds. Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon, so a 5,000-gallon water truck weighs 40,000 pounds, and that’s only enough to supply 2,500 people with drinking water for a single day. So if a disaster response team is supplying water to a small city of 250,000 people, they need to bring in a minimum of 100 water trucks every day! As we begin to see, it’s a logistical nightmare even if everything goes perfectly, including distributing the water to mobs of desperate, sometimes unruly people. The effect of any given disaster is greatly amplified when the population density in a given area is high. Of course, the delivery of any supplies pre-assumes that a disaster area is accessible, which is not the case in many instances. Just recently the city of Toledo, Ohio had its water source contaminated and that required water to be trucked in from nearby cities.
If you are located or live in a rural or remote area when disaster strikes, your situation is superior to people caught in a city, as long as you have a plan and the right equipment already in place.
Bringing the water up from a deep well without electrical power is a real challenge, but there is one company (Storm Pump, LLC) that I found that has designed and developed a robust hand pump suited to the task as a long-term solution. As you can see from the photo above, the pump is constructed of solid stainless steel and is very heavy duty. It’s not cheap, but it costs a lot less than many submersible electric well pumps, and this pump will reliably deliver water when the chips are down and the power is out. There is a lot of info about this unique well pump online at Storm Pump (as of this writing, I have no affiliation with this company).
What about using surface water sources?
The use of any untreated surface water (creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes, etc.) presents some very real and serious health risks if used as a source of drinking water. Even though water may look crystal clear, it could be deadly. There are some creeks that I know of on the West Coast that have very high levels of arsenic as just one example (boiling doesn’t help in some cases). But what may be just as bad or even worse are the bacteria and parasites that are ubiquitous in most surface water sources. Falling prey to a serious case of dysentery during any crisis might be the end of you. Or longer term, having some aggressive parasitic infection chewing your insides can also be a game stopper.
That said, there are low-tech methods for using surface water sources for drinking.
Bio-sand water filter:
As seen in the photo above, a bio-sand water filter is the ultimate low-tech water treatment plant. They can be easily constructed by almost anyone with easily found components and they are very effective. Here is a simplistic video on the functionality of the system.
The very top layer seen in the video of the filter complex is a beneficial layer of bacteria, and this a key part of how this filter system works. The system is described in more detail on this website.
As you can see in the video, water is introduced into the filter matrix, which can be contained in a vertical column using a barrel. Water can be gravity fed into the matrix from a nearby surface source at a slow rate. As the water exits the bottom of the barrel, you can also integrate (not shown) a household water filter housing (with carbon and toxin filters) in series with the water-line going to your storage tank, which will remove dissolved mineral toxins like arsenic as well as organic chemicals, resulting in well-treated drinking water. The resulting water pressure from the vertical column of water standing in the tank is adequate to slowly drive water through the final (ad-on) sophisticated water filter cartridge and into the storage tank. A system like this can treat many thousands of gallons of water. If you choose to use the add-on filter I have suggested, it’s important to have a few cases of spare filters for the final stage (household filter housing) of this filter system. A system like this can carry you through the times when roof-top collected rainwater is inadequate.
Solar water distiller:
Another highly effective low-tech system for producing pure drinking water is with the solar water distiller. These systems can be small enough to carry in a backpack, or large enough to supply a family long-term, such as the large system pictured above. There is more information about solar stills here.
Having a low-tech system in place today might make a huge difference in your ability to survive in the future!
Cheers! Capt. Bill
Capt. William E. Simpson II – USMM
Semper Veritas / Semper Paratus