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Household Resilience

The Resilient Household, part 2

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In part 1 of The Resilient Household, we covered five core principles and actions related to ensuring an adequate level of resilience in your household: picture of cistern complex; click to take virtual tour of resilient home

  • Finances
  • Food
  • Water
  • Energy
  • Health

In this follow-up article, we add seven more to make an even dozen:

  • Security and Safety
  • Transportation
  • Communications
  • Neighborhood Self-Reliance
  • Home Maintenance
  • Waste Disposal
  • Future Vision

We've left out "Entertainment"—that's something we modern humans have managed to figure out how to surround ourselves with in abundance. (And anyway, now that we've gotten the last DVD in our collection of Gilligan's Island seasons, we're all set.)

Household Resilience



Household security is a touchy matter. No one goes around telling strangers that they keep a front door key hidden under a big rock next to the azalea bush. And different people will feel strongly one direction or the other about certain issues (like firearms). So what you will get here is a brief summary of some things to ponder, investigate, and act on if you decide the measures are right for your household.

Most people are already taking basic safety and security measures—locking doors and windows, not leaving keys in the ignition of an unattended car, being cautious when strangers ask nosey questions. As the economy has worsened, so has crime, and so has the need for awareness and caution.

Power outages, other disruptions, and difficult situations in general can bring out the best in people—a spirit of cooperation and mutual aid. In some, though, problems amplify their already established tendency to take from those who have, with the possibility of violence as part of the act.

Essential Actions

  • Reassess Locks — When at home, reassess when you should keep doors locked. Also reassess whether ground-floor windows may be a security risk if left unlocked.
  • Practice Fire Prevention/Safety — Do you keep fire extinguishers at strategic locations (like the kitchen)? Do you check them once in a while to make sure they're still charged? Have you worked out egress plans if a fire were to break out in various parts of the house (potentially blocking certain exits)? Have you had a fire drill with your family to see if your theoretical escape plans make sense and are achievable in what may be a dark, smoky environment? If yes, bravo to you!
  • Control Information — In general, we think it's important that those of us who "get" resilience educate and motivate others on the subject. But if a serious disruption occurs, detailed information about your preparations could make you a target in the eyes of those whose normal adherence to societal dictates is easily trumped by the desire for food or items they can sell.

    Be smart about who you discuss what with. Educate others subtly and cautiously, inserting little bits here and there into conversations. Keep in mind the level of trust you feel towards the other individual; the more you know someone, the more open you can be.

Second-Level Actions

  • Consider an Alarm System — Intrusion alarms and alerts come in many types and price ranges these days, all the way from the low end—a system that beeps when a beam is broken—to the high end—a full-house alarm system, with contacts on windows and doors, motion sensors, and the option of 24-hour professional monitoring.
  • Consider a Dog — "Dog" is one of the top factors in dissuading a break-in artist that your home or property is not a target worth trying. We're not suggesting that you get a dog for that purpose alone or that you train a killer dog (the constant alertness and throaty bark is what you need). But it's an option to consider. (And the animal shelter has them for free!)

Third-Level Actions

  • Consider a Camera System — Camera systems can be set up to give you multiple views around your property that can send live images to a monitor or TV screen. Though a good camera system is more expensive than a good intrusion alert system, a well designed combination of the two is the ultimate package, providing tools to help you better monitor your home. That's as far as we'll go on this—the options are far to many and the applications far too specific to the individual situation to say more.
  • Firearms — "Gun" is another top factor that burglars or other evildoers worry about. Guns are a hot-button issue for some people, we know; but you don't need to be a "gun nut" to want the sense of confidence that "big iron" can bring to a life-threatening situation. If you do decide to get a firearm, do some research first, and talk to friends who own guns. Ask them to take you shooting. Some gun stores also have on-site shooting ranges where you can try before you buy.

Once you have a firearm, competence and safety become your main objectives. We cannot stress this enough. Having a gun in the house may be more of a danger than a protection if you do not know what you're doing. So practice regularly, understand gun safety, and develop a foolproof protocol for keeping your firearm(s) out of the hands of children (those that live in your house or those that may be in your house visiting). Any household member who could conceivably handle the firearm at some point should do the work necessary to be a competent, safe shooter.


Automatics are glitzy, but if you want a gun that has the minimum chance of jamming on any given pull of the trigger, get a revolver. If you want fast reload capability ("jam another clip in," like you see in movies), you can get "speed loaders" for revolvers.

Household Resilience



In the US, we're heavily reliant on gasoline and diesel for transportation. A disruption in the flow of oil would have obvious negative impacts, but the point here is to think about long-term transportation strategies that may or may not include oil, and to add some resilience to the contents of your trunk.

Essential Actions

  • Don't Run on Empty — Make a habit of keeping your tank at half-full or above. It's unlikely that a fuel disruption would occur overnight, but using your vehicle's fuel tank as a reserve storage system is only a little more trouble (because you'll have to gas up a little more often) and may provide needed range during an emergency. Storing 5 gallons of treated gas in a shed or garage may be a good choice for you, but remember that gasoline degrades over time.
  • Expand Your Emergency Kit — Many people carry jumper cables, flashlight, road flares or reflective triangles, and maybe even a toolbox in their vehicle. That's a good start, but if you were broken down for a while—let's say without cell phone service—you might also want to have items like a bottle of water, a blanket, a low-cost rain slicker. Keeping a basic first-aid kit in your vehicle is also a good idea. P.S. Do you know how to change a tire, and have you checked the spare lately?

Second-Level Actions

  • Explore Alternate Means of Travel — Figure out what other ways you can get around (besides your personal vehicle). Biking and walking are top choices, since they require no fuel (except food for you, the engine), and add a bonus of getting you in shape. Ride sharing is a way to get things done using less fuel. Mass transit, when available, is another top choice. (Before the 1960s, it was a standard way of getting around!) Understanding all your options before a fuel problem hits will maximize your mobility as others scramble to figure out alternatives.
  • Increase Per-Gallon Travel Capacity — Figure out how to get better gas mileage with your current vehicle. Or consider buying a high-mileage vehicle (40 mpg or better).

Third-Level Actions

  • Telecommute — Reduce your commute's fuel requirements by investigating the possibility of working from home part of the week, or at a nearby telecommuting center. A helpful selling point here will be that you can keep being productive in the event of a transportation disruption—that's a benefit to your employer. Or, if you think there are good opportunities closer to home, consider a job change. (But in this job environment, we don't advise that unless you're reeaaaaally sure.)

Household Resilience



Cell phones and land lines; email and texting and blogging and facebooking; they're all good, but are susceptible to power disruptions. Land lines are the most resilient because they have their graphic representation of emergency radio own low-level power source. Many cell phone towers have backup power that will last for a while, though not forever. Anything related to the internet is highly susceptible to power disruptions.

In a serious, extended emergency, alternative means of communication can be very helpful. There is also the issue of being able to contact people through means other than normal, and that includes access to phone numbers.

Essential Actions

  • Have Multiple Means — In addition to the communications methods above, we list more below. You don't need them all, but having a reasonable mix of devices and services offers resilience since rarely does everything fail simultaneously.
  • Keep Contact List — Keep an up-to-date list (on paper) of important phone numbers in your wallet or purse. (Yes, yes, your cell phone has that, but remember that this is about failures, resilience, and unexpected circumstances.) Your emergency contact list should include family, close friends, neighbors, and numbers for emergency responders in your area. You may keep such a list at home, but if you get stuck away from home, having that list with you might prove helpful.
  • Get a Crank Radio — A "crank radio" can be powered by nothing more than cranking its handle and thus will work indefinitely in an extended emergency to provide you with news related to the emergency. A crank radio that also has battery power is fine, but battery power alone is not reliable enough for a long outage. AM and FM bands are the minimum; weather and police bands are good to have if you can afford a higher-end radio.

Second-Level Actions

  • Use Solar Chargers — A solar charger, either for your cell phone or for rechargeable batteries, is another route to take for keeping your phones and radios up and running.

Third-Level Actions

  • Consider CB Radio — Citizens Band (CB) radios have been around a long time, are still in use, and are relatively affordable. If you're thinking about a CB for emergency purposes, make sure you will be able to power it! Also know what channels to tune to for emergency information, and learn the basic protocol of "CB talk."
  • Consider Satellite Phone — A satellite phone—basically a super cell phone—is an unlikely choice for most people due to the cost.
  • Consider Ham Radio — Ham radio, which is in some ways like a higher-end version of CB, strikes a middle ground—there's more to learn to do it right and ham has higher costs to set up than CB. But you will get much better range than with CB.

Household Resilience



Katrina showed everyone that in a big, prolonged emergency, government responses at all levels get overwhelmed and people are left relying on their own abilities (and those of their neighbors) to deal with problems. Unfortunately, the hyperactive age we live in has made hash of neighbor relations in most cases, and while we may be on reasonably friendly terms with our neighbors, we rarely have the deep, trusting, help-each-other types of relationships that were common a couple of generations ago.

Essential Actions

  • Be Neighborly — You can't just all of a sudden start being a great neighbor—people will think you're up to something! But making the effort to extend those occasional polite hellos into ever-longer, more meaningful conversations is a good approach. Getting to a deep level of friendship may be unlikely, but you'll at least establish an open line of communication, learn about what skills each neighbor possesses, and a sense of how your neighbors each might respond in an emergency.

Second-Level Actions

  • Develop a Neighborhood Emergency Contact List or Phone Tree — Like your personal emergency phone list, a neighborhood phone list that can be shared among neighbors may be useful. Again, though, you'll have to judge whether this is something that people in your neighborhood would think is a good idea. You may want to start with a list of just a few neighbors, and then over time invite others to get in on it.
  • Trade/Share Skills and Tools, Extra Garden Produce, Supplies — Doing simple things like offering a neighbor some excess garden produce or offering to lend a tool when they tell you about a project they're about to undertake will be appreciated (and, hopefully, reciprocated at some point!).

    Neighbors helping neighbors with work around the yard and house is a good way to establish relationships, trust, and a foundation for helping each other during more difficult times. In a "work party" system, people take turns hosting a work day, where one or more projects get done by those who attend. Topping the day off with a potluck dinner allows people a chance to converse and relax together.

Household Resilience



In the go-go years of the last four decades, many of us have become accustomed to hiring specialists to "do" and "fix" around our homes. We're busy, and we don't have the time for many do-it-yourself activities. Getting our hands dirty fixing broken sinks and toilets, replacing broken light switches, or caulking windows and doors may not be our highest priority in life.

As the economy worsens and money gets tighter, that attitude is changing. In an extended disruption, more people may be forced to tackle their own repairs. There is also the issue of applying temporary fixes due to storm damage.

Essential Actions

  • Stock Emergency Supplies — Keep an assortment of tarps, lumber, screws, nails, ropes, and non-powered hand tools around to patch storm-damaged windows, siding, and roofs until they can be repaired properly.
  • Know Your Shutoffs — Know where your main shutoffs are for your water and electric (and natural gas too if you have it). And, of course, know how to use the shutoffs!

Second-Level Actions

  • Take Training — Take a basic home maintenance course if it is offered locally. Check with local colleges, training academies, and organizations.
  • Learn from Books and DVDs — Buy an assortment of basic home repair instruction books or DVDs, or check with the library. One comprehensive book will get you started, and as you get comfortable with that, you may want to get a few specialized books (for plumbing, electrical, etc.). Remember, though, you're not an expert and you're not licensed, so there may be jobs where you still have to contact a professional.

    Remember, you can support Grinning Planet's efforts—which we offer free to everyone—by buying books and DVDs, at no extra cost to you, through this link.

Third-Level Actions

  • Be a Pack-Rat — Many people routinely throw out spare parts—things like that little bag of screws and that bracket you didn't need for the TV stand. A good DIY home repair geek always saves spare parts—and a lot of other weird stuff—knowing that someday, some way, some of those things will get used to solve a problem and save the expense of taking a trip to the hardware store.
  • Have Hand Tools — It may be the age of the leaf blower, self-propelled mower, and vacuum cleaner, but if there were an extended power outage/and or fuel disruption, having a few low-power and no-power implements to maintain/clean your yard and house the old-fashioned way would be helpful.

Household Resilience



Most of us are heavily reliant on regular trash pickups. What would happen if the trucks stopped rolling for a while?

Essential Actions

  • Compost — If you put all your vegetable waste in a compost pile, you've already eliminated one part of the waste disposal problem (and it's what you should be doing as part of your gardening efforts anyway!).
  • Keep Waste Jars for Emergencies — The exception to composting is waste from animal products (meat, milk, etc.). Backyard compost piles do not typically get hot enough to compost them properly. If you have a garbage disposal in your kitchen sink—and the water is still flowing—you can grind the animal waste. For emergency trash-service disruptions (lasting more than a couple weeks) when the water has also failed, keep some old, large jars (with lids) as an emergency place to store animal product waste until service resumes.
  • Be Able to Use Rainwater to Flush Toilet — Being able to flush the toilet is a big deal! If you are on a septic system, you can use collected rainwater to flush when your water isn't working. But if you're on a public sewer system, the chances are that if your water is off, the main sewage pumps won't be working either, and if lots of people start flushing with rainwater, it could cause a mess.
  • Be Prepared to Do Humanure — A good alternative is to set up a makeshift composting toilet. A 5-gallon bucket, an old toilet seat, and a tub of sawdust from a local sawmill provide a simple alternate means of doing your business. Clay kitty litter or shredded brown leaves can also be used as the covering agent. To fully compost humanure takes 1-2 years; then it will be useable for fruit trees and other applications where the humanure does not contact the edible part of the plant. (Recommended reading: The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins)

Getting a 5-gallon bucket that has a tight-sealing lid is an option, though not recommended. Using a lid would keep the smell down when you're not using the toilet, but the bacteria that compost the mix of waste and covering agent without much smell need an aerobic environment. Taking away the oxygen promotes other bacteria that will still break things down, but will do so in a way that smells very unpleasant. So, crack a window, throw half a glass of water in for those friendly bacteria a couple times a week, and let them do their work!

Second-Level Actions

  • Understand Separation and Storage — If there were a significant disruption in trash service, it would be helpful to separate your waste by type—bottles and cans; burnable paper and non-burnable paper; etc. Containers can but put in cardboard boxes or other receptacles, flattened boxes can be stacked in a corner of the garage; burnable paper can be saved for starting fires in the fireplace; you get the idea. One key is to rinse anything that contacted food or beverages—this will keep the smell down, and will keep flies and vermin away from your storage areas. Now, do you keep a few suitable containers around for this type of situation?

Household Resilience



Taking positive, practical actions against the possibility of disrupted central services is a good idea. Here are some other ways to promote a positive, resilient future.

Transition Towns

Transition Towns (or Transition Initiatives) are community-level responses to the threats of peak oil and economic contraction. They are optimistic and positive efforts based on the assumption that a future with less energy can, if we fully apply our collective knowledge and skills, be preferable to the present.

Worldwide, more than 400 Transition Towns are taking stock of their assets and liabilities, developing a vision of a preferred future, and determining how to make the transition. Whether planting gardens and fruit trees, insulating their houses, generating new local businesses, or regaining lost skills for household and community resilience, residents of Transition Towns are choosing action over despair, and optimism over negativity. To learn more, visit the Transition Network or Transition US.

Talking to Others

For many, discussing resilience with friends, neighbors, and relatives falls under much the same taboo as discussing politics and religion. It's true that many people we know prefer not hearing about the possibility of disruption or the need for preparedness.

But that's an individual characteristic, and we can only find out who "just doesn't want to talk about it" by gently probing, and going further with the conversation when the feedback from the other party dictates it.

Establishing dialog with others on matters of resilience not only helps each party improve on their own ideas of how best to be more resilient, the strengthening of relationships helps build your new neighborhood resilience network.

Deep Thought and Positive Visioning

Let's step back—way back—and briefly assess why the world seems to be going in the wrong direction. We have a huge backlog of public-infrastructure maintenance at the same time CEOs and hedge-fund managers get fat paychecks. We are far from achieving global peace, universal prosperity, and general health and happiness. High office holders seem ever more corrupt and incompetent. Most people can tell you more about sports or celebrity gossip than they can about how our government and civilization work.

Many of us do try hard to pursue the goal of electing "better politicians," but we get a sinking feeling that the next round of political promises will be broken yet again, regardless of party; the banksters will continue looting the treasury; corporations' rights will continue to trump human rights; new reasons for war will be found and new wars will be fought, justifiable or not.

That's not what any of us want, so why is that what we're getting more and more of? Repeating the same behavior, hoping for a different result surely has passed its point of usefulness. Most of us will no doubt go on writing letters to editors and voting within the rigged two-party monopoly, but we suggest that in addition, it might be worth attempting a visioning exercise. The action is to create in your mind a new version of our world, reformulated in a way that fosters fairness, true sustainability, peace, and happiness.

Notice we did not suggest coming up with a list of prohibitions or fixes for what's wrong. That's the approach we've all been taking, and it hasn't worked. A new world where the ills of today's world have fallen away can only come about because our heads and hearts have been transformed. To state it more clearly—what if there is no possible techno-fix, political agreement, or free-enterprise solution that can overcome our collective human stubbornness and greed? If that is the case, then we have to fix humanity itself. We're not gods, but we do have the power of thought, and we can project those thoughts out into the ether.

Whether you want to look at this visioning activity as an exercise in mass consciousness or mass prayer, a test of the "100th monkey" hypothesis, or just a practical way to think deeply about how to really solve our problems, the idea is for each of us to communicate our intention to see a better world come into existence by envisioning a better humanity.

Perhaps this will seem silly to some. But it can't hurt anything to spend a few minutes each day coming up with positive visions of how this new utopian world would work, exploring the reasons it would work, and underscoring what has changed in humanity for that world to become a manifest possibility.

Know someone who might like this Household Resilience article? Please forward it to them.

Updated: 01-DEC-2011
(Original: 01-NOV-2010)

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  1. The Resilient Household (Actions 1-5)

  2. Household Resilience (Actions 7-12)

This is Part 2 of a two-part series.

Household Resilience


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