Facing Lockdown in an Apartment – Part 2, by J.F.J.
(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
Barricade doors and windows with heavy or bulky furniture. Keep the intruders out of your apartment, but do not trust your barricades to stop bullets. Remember that reinforced doors, boarded-up windows, and bookshelves-turned-barricade are for keeping out intruders; they are not for ballistic cover. Building bullet stops for a safe room is not the focus of this article. Please consult the shooting and ballistic experts for advice on that subject. For our purposes, let us turn to the needs of water, food, and fuel.
Unless facing a water outage because of the failure of the municipal water system, continue to use tap water for as long as possible, using decontamination protocols if needed. For example, suppose that the municipal water supply is still operational, but a broken water main results in a boil order for downstream users. Filter and boil (or use chemical or other purification) the tap water for drinking and food preparation to avoid using your emergency water. In some situations, such as impending storms moving toward one’s town, store extra water beforehand in case of utilities outage. Those who have ever lived on a rural or private water system that has failed because storms knocked out the electricity to the neighborhood pumps know to fill up pitchers and the bathtub with water just in case the system goes down.
Even if the municipal water is out, water trapped in the pipes on the apartment floors above yours (if applicable) may run out of your sink or tub taps because of gravity flow. The same applies if your community uses a water tower to create water pressure. If the municipal water is likely to be out for an extended period of time, one can use the water stored in the hot water heater, but with two caveats: first, apartment hot water heater drains may not be easily accessible to tenants; and second, if no pressure exists in the water lines, gravity can force water from the heater back through the cold water lines of the building. (I have had this experience with a house that sat on piers, placing the water heater about three feet above ground level. I later had a plumber install a cutoff valve to keep the tank full so it would not drain back into the cold water pipes.)
Try the taps to get what water may be available. But what about the water in the toilet tank? Most municipal water piped into apartment buildings and homes in the U.S. comes from one main source and is therefore potable. Some survival books, nonfiction and fiction, discuss using the water from the toilet tank (not the bowl) as a last resort, unless of course the tank is dirty or has an in-tank chemical toilet cleaner. Depending on the condition and cleanliness of the toilet tank, treat this as pond water that should be avoided except in dire emergency after other supplies have been exhausted.
Do not overlook swimming pools, fishing lakes, and decorative ponds as sources of non-potable water for flushing toilets. Do not use these for drinking water because of the pool chemicals; runoff from lawn care fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides; or pathogenic microorganisms. If these are the only remaining sources of water, use appropriate techniques to purify the water before consumption, the same as one in other survival situations. Although purifying or distilling pond water is possible, it requires prior planning for equipment and fuel. For most apartment situations, storing drinking water is a much easier option than purifying ground or surface water.
The primary concern apartment dwellers have about stocking food and water is the lack of storage space. Over the last several years, the messages from FEMA, the Red Cross, and the CDC have changed from telling citizens that help is on the way, to having three days’ of emergency supplies at home, to having supplies for two weeks. Some preppers advocate having three months to a year of food and water. Since apartments often have limited storage, one may well ask where to keep two weeks’ worth of food and water. According to FEMA, the Red Cross, the CDC, and other survival information resources, the average person needs one gallon of water per day, usually divided into two quarts for drinking and two quarts for personal hygiene.
Following these guidelines, a single person living in a one-bedroom apartment must store fourteen gallons of water; a family of three must find space to store forty-two gallons. Although a fifty-five gallon water drum will meet the minimum needs of a family of three, it will not find a convenient location inside many apartments. In addition, should the barrel for some reason leak or become contaminated, the entire water supply is compromised.
It will be much better to break down the water supply into smaller units, such as one-gallon jugs, five- or six-gallon jerry cans, or even five-gallon BPA-free food storage buckets (with snap-on sealing lids, preferably with pour spouts). Those jugs or buckets may be stored in various cabinets or in the bottoms of closets throughout the apartment. If desired, one can purchase cases of half-liter water bottles and stash them in available nooks. Be sure to keep track of the dates when the water was stored and the dates of expiry, so that you can rotate the old stock and keep fresh supplies on hand. In addition, check the containers often for leaks, especially if they are stored in cabinets with pans, utensils, or other gear that might puncture them. It may seem improbable, but it does occur that manufacturing flaws cause containers to leak even when stored safely by themselves. (I once had a sealed gallon jug leak inside a cabinet.) As with any other survival items, inspect and replace water stock on a regular schedule.
Your Stored Food
Food supplies also need inspection, rotation, and replacement. Simply tossing a box of MREs and three cases of ramen noodles in the back of the bedroom closet does not constitute a disaster food plan. Since storage space is limited, store sealed containers, especially normal-sized (not foodservice-sized or number ten) canned goods, not in the pantry with the daily groceries, but in empty spaces under beds, in closets, behind books on shelves, under or inside end or coffee tables (hidden by long tablecloths if you wish), or inside other furniture such as wardrobes, dressers, hope chests, and the like.
To keep insects out of dry goods such as sugar, flour, or pasta, place those foods in sealed plastic containers, jars (be careful of breakage), or even large resealable bags (such one-gallon Ziplocs). Choose emergency foodstuffs according to your family’s tastes, the amount of water it takes to cook or rehydrate the food, the ability to break non-perishables into smaller meal-sized amounts, and the ease of food preparation without normal cooking techniques in case electrical or natural gas utilities are interrupted.
And Your Fuel
Fuel is a daily need that most people take for granted, whether electricity, natural or LP gas, wood, coal, or fuel oil (such as kerosene). Suppose that the electricity goes out because of a storm, a car hitting a power pole upstream from your residence, or even a squirrel blowing a transformer. If you have a gas stove, then you can still cook meals and heat water for cleaning. However, many apartments are all-electric because of the added expense of gas plumbing, individual meters, maintenance, and fire prevention. While a handful of apartments may have gas fireplaces, they are not designed for cooking. Fuel is a particular problem for the apartment dweller because there is limited safe (or allowed, in some complexes) space to store it.
Fuel for lighting includes batteries, lamp oil (paraffin or kerosene), waxes in candles or for home canning, and even cooking fats such as olive oil and butter. Battery lights are safer simply because of the decreased risk of fire associated with candles and oil lamps. However, oil lamps produce heat which will help in winter bug-ins when no electricity is available; in addition, one can heat small canned foods over paraffin lamps, as long as one uses extreme caution. Be sure to have fire extinguishers not only in different places in the apartment, but also with your cache of fuel. Store liquid fuels, such as plastic bottles of lamp oil, according to their instructions, and in larger leak-proof containers, if possible. Candles and improvised fat lamps are best left stationary instead of being carried around the apartment to decrease the risk of fire. They may not provide much light, but they will produce sufficient light for moving around.
Cooking fuels include chafing dish heaters (such as Sterno cans), butane-powered stoves, and propane camp stoves and grills, or tabletop grills. Chafing dish fuel is basically alcohol-saturated jelly that comes in small cans. They are designed to sit on tables under serving pans of cooked foods, so it may take longer to cook with them. Butane stoves designed for indoor use, either single- or double-burner tabletop type (such as those by Iwatani or Gas One), work well for emergency cooking.
Propane camp stoves, such as the Coleman brand that uses the one-pound cylinders of propane, are designed for outdoor use only. Both butane and propane stoves require adequate ventilation, which may not be available in a bug-in lockdown situation. Regardless of the type of emergency cooking fuel you choose, remember to store it safely. Some apartment complexes have leases which forbid storing any type of fuel, especially propane cylinders, in the apartment or in outside storage closets. As previously stated, in an SHTF or WROL situation, people who are trying to survive may not be worried about the details of a rental agreement.
Living in an apartment does not mean that you cannot prepare for disasters, even SHTF situations. Take advantage of the space that you have, storing your emergency water, food, and fuel as safely as possible in otherwise unused space. Fortify your apartment against burglars and intruders. Determine what supplies and methods you can use to protect your family in case of disaster. Surviving disaster is your goal, and that goal is the same whether living in a castle, a house, or even in an apartment.