National Geographic’s popular reality show, “Doomsday Preppers,” now on its fourth season, features American individuals and families who are preparing for the “end of the world as we know it.”
The show has a huge international audience, including Filipinos, who are able to relate to the primal fear of natural disasters and calamities, even as it poses the question of how prepared are you to survive when the SHTF (“shit hits the fan,” a popular expression among ‘preppers’).
I was one of those who avidly followed the show in its first season, which I had found entertaining and informative. The individuals featured were an eccentric lot with a few having built underground bunkers (usually a container van or two that’s been buried and reinforced) as their survival retreat. But they were trumped by a Kansas couple who could make real claims about being able to withstand any nuclear attack, living as they were in a decommissioned missile silo.
As a foodie, I favored the episodes that featured preppers focused on food storage and preparation, such as Lisa Bedford also known as the Survival Mom and Kellene Bishop of Preparedness Pro. Later seasons got to be too extreme for my taste, especially the focus on weapons and ammunition.
I had my own little “prepper” thing going, but without the paranoia of my American counterparts. My pantry is filled with canned and bottled goods, grains and pasta, and other foodstuff that can last for months depending on how many people I will feed in case of a disaster. My late mother, a survivor of World War II, would probably scoff at the word “prepping,” and would say I was just preparing for a rainy day which everyone should be doing anyway.
Luckily, I also have a backyard garden and plenty of seeds in case I need to grow all my own food supplies. I have several gallons of water stored, extra gas for cooking, rechargeable lamp, flashlight, candles, and plenty of matches. All in all, I was so confident that I could withstand any disaster.
Last week, Typhoon Glenda shot down all my prepping credibility. The howling winds woke us up in the wee hours of Wednesday morning: the power was already out and our house, though made of stone, somehow absorbed the water and created little pools all over the house.
It was difficult to go back to sleep amid the pounding of the rain, and the whiplash of the wind. My biggest fear was that the wind would break our large glass windows since they faced the storm’s northwesterly direction. Another prepper fail: we didn’t have any tarpaulin in case any window breaks and exposes us to the elements.
In the morning, we saw that although our house sustained no major damage, one of the large agoho trees that flanked our house had split in half, leaving only a few branches standing. The bottlebrush tree that had stood by its side was completely decimated. Still, we were lucky.
The agoho missed our front house window glass by just inches.
Another piece of luck: our homeowners association had the smarts to deploy maintenance men with machetes and chainsaws the day after the storm. Otherwise, we would have been trapped in our house by the large trees trunks and branches that fell right in front of our main gate.
Glenda cut through a wide swath of Luzon, from Albay to Quezon to Cavite and Metro Manila, finally ending in Zambales and Bataan. In just a night and a day, lives were lost, homes and property destroyed, future harvests gone from both land and sea. Old-growth trees were toppled down, even the endemic trees that supposedly could withstand typhoons.
There was no electricity, no water, and of course, no Internet. Stocked food could only serve you so much. After we finished off our water stock in two days, we had to declare defeat and proceeded to the city to await the restoration of normal supplies.
The experts who analyze the featured people in “Doomsday Preppers” show would probably give me a low score for 1) failing to store enough water, for drinking and other uses; 2) lacking a system to replenish the water supply such as a rain catchment, or a water pump with a storage tank; 3) not having a power generator (our neighbor had one but turned it off after a day, perhaps due to lack of gasoline/diesel to run it); and, 4) lacking a “bug-out” plan, that is, a place where you can go as a safe haven in case things don’t turn out so well in your original “bug-in” place.
The thing is, prepping has its limits and even the survival sites delineate the different levels of preparedness. Food-oriented preppers like myself are at the lowest level where we can survive just enough for a few days. To survive a typhoon like Glenda, you have to be at the extreme end – into what they call “living off the grid”.
This means that aside from the minimum requirement of having stored food and a utilitarian farm and garden, you will need to provide and manage your own basic utilities including power, water, and communications.
For an independent power source, you may consider having a generator with stored fuel, solar panels, or wind turbine. For water, a deep well with pump is the safest bet unless you live close to a river or stream whose water can be collected and filtered. Communications are also vital. As the government officials who were trapped in Tacloban during super Typhoon Yolanda found out, cellular phones don’t work when cell towers have toppled down. Only satellite phones will work in this case.
My experience, however, cannot compare with the suffering encountered by Filipinos across seven Philippine regions. Typhoon Glenda at latest report left 54 people dead and more injured, thousands homeless, and rural livelihoods lost with an estimated P5 billion in damages to infrastructure, agriculture, and fisheries.
The fact that “fewer” people died in this storm should not be even considered; the real role model is the zero casualty of Albay province, which undertook pre-emptive evacuation, and disaster training and communications among its people. “Prepping” in other words.