Preparedness Considerations in Rural Environments

Rural Countryside

Regardless of which side you were on, the 2016 presidential election taught us a lot of things about the political and cultural landscape of the United States. Perhaps the most striking reality has come to be the difference between suburban and rural America.

In many respects, the coasts and large cities are one country, while the rural and small-town areas are another, entirely.

Having grown up in rural West Virginia (now living in Staunton Virginia), I’ve seen just how different it is, and how the culture shifts between the two extremes.

But what does this have to do with preparedness?

In this article, I’ll point out some of the distinct benefits to prepping in a rural environment.

The Advantages of Rural Living

There’s no question that rural areas have some major advantages when it comes to disaster preparedness and sustainable or “off the grid” living.

An easy way to see this is by looking at how people fair in large cities when disasters strike. We could look at real life examples, but even without those, common sense tells us several things about this scenario:

  • Cities are natural bottlenecks, with few ways in and few ways out
  • Access to food, water and power is almost entirely centralized
  • Surviving without the continuation of a functional society is incredibly difficult
  • Natural resources are gathered elsewhere and shipped into large cities and suburban areas
  • There are few places to be secluded or protected

Regardless of how you feel about the state of our country, you’ve got to admit that in the context of a disaster that – even temporarily – cripples society’s ability to function, folks in suburban areas are at a major disadvantage.

Living in a rural area generally means you don’t have to worry about these things, at least not to the degree that residents of Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston or any other major metropolitan areas do. In fact, many people who live in these large cities don’t even own their own car, in favor of relying on public transportation or ride services like Uber.

But that begs the question: In a rural area, what are the best practices for being prepared for a society-impacting disaster?

It has to be different than what would be considered smart in the city.

While rural living, in and of itself, is an advantage, let’s look at some of the things you can do to be prepared, if and when the trucks stop and the shelves are empty.

Rural Prepping Tip #1: Have Access to Wooded Areas that are Walking Distance from Your Home

In a situation where you can’t go down to Food Lion and pick up your groceries, the absolute best friend you have is, quite simply, the woods.

My parents still live in WVA on eight acres of land, most of which is lined by thick, wooded forest. It’s not necessarily “remote” but it is dense enough to be the home of a lot of dear, rabbits, squirrel and other wildlife that’s ideal for hunting and providing basic food in a time of crisis.

Our contingency plan is to head back there, if and when we can’t buy food for an extended period of time. Venison burgers are quite filling.

Rural Prepping Tip #2: Keep a Couple Months Worth of Food on Hand

If you live in a rural area, you’ll need to handle food a little differently. And while it will depend on how close you are to grocery stores and retail locations, the general rule is that you’ll be further away from these places than those living in more urban areas.

This means getting to a store in a timely manner is more difficult and less of a viable option. Rural living is more sustainable in the long term, but for the “bread and milk” panic run, it’s a harder sell.

In Staunton, my family and I live in an area that’s somewhere in between urban and rural. As a general rule, we try to keep roughly one to two months of food in our pantry, so that if we couldn’t get to stores, we’d have enough to sustain us for that amount of time.

This impacts not only the amount, but the type of food we store. For example, there are plenty of things you don’t want to stash.

Don’t Stash:

  • Anything wet or perishable
  • Meats, unless frozen
  • Dairy

Do Stash:

  • Snack food
  • Granola bars
  • Peanut butter
  • Frozen goods
  • Bottled water
  • Medicine

Common sense will dictate what you should have a lot of. Anything that doesn’t keep or have a lengthy expiration date isn’t a good stashing candidate.

The other option is to always have a certain number of something on hand. For example, you might keep six jars of peanut butter in the pantry, and every time you take one from the front of the line, add one to the back of the line.

Rural Prepping Tip #3: Know the Major Roads in and Out of your County or Town

Cultures and societies emanate out from larger cities. This means that when society breaks down, these places are the first to descend into chaos. As a consequence, residents of urban communities and cities will “flee” these areas and seek out less chaotic environments, leading them quickly into more rural areas.

This can be good or bad news for you, depending on a number of factors.

And while you can’t know all those factors, you can be aware of how to get in and out of the town or county you’re living in. That way, if there is an influx of potentially disruptive people, you’ll know how they’re going to come in and can make an educated guess about where they might end up.

A quick and simple way to do this is Google maps. For example, punching in my address brings up the following:

Google Maps Example

(View Larger Image)

The image is a little difficult to see but it illustrates that I can make some educated guesses about where people might come from.

Basically we have three main roads:

  • 262 (running east to north west)
  • Route 11 (north east to south west)
  • Interstate 81 (81 north and 81 south)

If you live in a small town, I would advise taking a map like this and finding all the entryways into the town. In my case, the 262 bypass goes around Staunton in an almost perfect circle. That means nearly all the major entryways into our town is going to flow through this road.

Simply circling all the spots where 262 enters Staunton is helpful for identifying where people might come from.

Google Maps Example with Choke Points

All these red circles are major entryways into our relatively small town. If you live out in the county, you would simply identify the perimeter of your county and do the same thing. You might call these “choke points” or “bottle necks” since they represent the places that are most likely to be impassable, if and when there is a rush of traffic coming in.

So what do you do with this information? Practically, there are two things you can do.

#1: Simply be aware of and familiar with these points

While you can’t always do a lot about traffic, you can know where problem areas are and at least have a firm grasp on your options for avoiding them. You should also be generally capable of identifying these spots without a smart phone.

#2: Identify plausible alternatives for getting in and out of your town and avoiding choke points.

There are almost always alternative routes you can take to avoid getting stuck in some kind of traffic bottle neck. If you have to leave, even if you’re in a rural area, it pays to know the roads less traveled. Just for an example, take a look at this zoomed in section of my map:

Google Maps Example with Safe Exits

Those two roads are small – only two lanes each – and are far less traveled or known about. This means that if your area gets rush, these two routes are going to be safer and quieter exit points.

Again, the biggest issue is just knowing where everything is and whether or not people might come from a certain direction.

You may not need or want to leave, but having a good grasp of the entryways will give you an advantage.

Rural Prepping Tip #4: Consider Hunting with a Silencer

Perhaps the single biggest advantage of living in a rural area during a massive crisis or food shortage is your access to wild game and hunting. However, that means you’re not the only person who will seek out that advantage.

Practically speaking, the need for a quiet hunting method depends largely on the context of the situation. In a complete breakdown of society, where 911 is offline and there’s little or no police presence, drawing attention to yourself – and giving away your location – with a gunshot, is a huge mistake.

First, it tells people that you have resources (food, bullets, etc).

Second, it will potentially attract the wrong types of people.

You might be able to handle letting other people hunt on or near your property, perhaps a neighbor or friend that you know personally. However, attracting unknown people introduces a lot of variables into your situation.

If you’re in a situation where emergency services are unavailable, hunting with a silencer is a good idea, if for nothing else to preserve the autonomy of your location.

Rural Prepping Tip #5: Know your Water Situation

Growing up in West Virginia, my parents had well water, not city water, which was less helpful in drought situations (we had a couple major droughts growing up) but would have been far more helpful in a water shortage or if the public utility companies weren’t functioning.

Again, it’s an issue of being aware so you know how to plan and how to approach different problems.

For well folks, brush up on the “Well Owner’s Handbook.”

For public utilities, familiarize yourself with the public supply info.

Rural Prepping Tip #6: Don’t Become Overly Concerned with getting “off the grid”

A lot of prepping centers around living “off the grid,” which means you don’t rely on electricity or any type of public function for daily life. This can be helpful, but I would caution folks to be careful about how much energy, time and money they put into this, especially if they’re already in a rural living situation.

Because while solar panels can be helpful and should be considered (that’s a discussion in and of itself), the grid isn’t really the problem one way or the other.

In fact, the grid can continue to function through a disaster, and you won’t necessarily be better or worse off.

For example, if trucks aren’t shipping food, electricity isn’t going to be as big of a concern. All the effort you put into getting off the grid wouldn’t matter nearly as much. Again, that’s not to say you shouldn’t have that as an option – as much as possible – but the grid isn’t a crutch. It’s a part of life, just like grocery stores and everything else we rely on.

Just make sure you don’t elevate it to an obsession and allow it to draw time, energy and money away from other things that matter just as much, if not more.