How to Survive the Apocalypse on $20 and the Stuff in Your Junk Drawer

We know that fear does not motivate us to be prepared. So what does? In my constant quest to find the answer I came across a most unusual event in San Francisco through the Burning Man Project. You've probably heard of the Burning Man Festival, a week-long experimental community convened annually on the Playa of the Black Rock area of the Nevada Desert with a strong emphasis on art. The point is to be creative and make art while building a community in "Black Rock City," and surviving the harsh desert conditions. These are people who know how to build a city in the dust and make it work.

It's that emphasis on survival that has led a fascinating subgroup, known as Burners Without Borders, to seize upon an innovative approach to bridging that huge gap between "I should be prepared" and "I am prepared!" The trick lies in harnessing that strong sense of community, creativity and survival that blossoms once a year in Black Rock City.

San Francisco-based Tom Price is a volunteer organizer with the Burning Man Project who formed "Burners Without Borders" after the experience of responding to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Being on the Gulf Coast six days after Hurricane Katrina, Price said what made an impression on him "was the striking difference in the quality of life, and the ability to deal with it, that was between people who had made some effort at being ready, and people who were not ready. The overwhelming differentiator was that people had [even] just thought about it."

So BWB hosted a disaster prep workshop recently, called "How to Survive the Apocalypse On $20 and the Stuff In Your Junk Drawer." Attendees pay a small fee and leave with the beginnings of a basic emergency kit.

Authorities tell us that we will have another large earthquake in California. No one knows when, but there will be one. Price reminded everyone of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, reading from Rebecca Solnit's book, A Paradise Built in Hell. Shaking. Buildings toppling. Collapsing chimneys. Breaking water mains and gas lines. Fire. Rubble. Speaking to the San Francisco audience, Price warned

We are on a peninsula, and the airports won't be working... It will likely be a minimum of 72 hours before you can get anywhere or anyone can get to you. Even if every relief supply in the world was sitting waiting in trucks, loaded, just to get to where you are, it's going to take three days. And your ability to understand that that's what's going to happen and be able to handle it, and be able to pass the time constructively is gonna make the difference between you being someone like people that we saw in New Orleans, after the storm who were just freaked-out and waiting for someone to take care of them and completely incapable to take care of themselves, and other people that we met who recognized that that help wasn't going to come and had planned a little bit ahead, and so by the time help arrived, were getting by on their own pretty well.

The fee to attend this class included assembling a basic safety kit to help people survive the first 72 hours after a disaster. NERT (Neighborhood Emergency Response Team) handed out an emergency kit checklist for people to consider at home. Tom Price brought his kit to share. What are some of the many things in his backpack? Some, but not all, of this was handed out at the event: a backpack, a tarp, a garbage bag to poop in (and dispose of properly when services begin again), surgical gloves, paper plates/cups -- or camping gear (plates, cups), labeled medicines, space blankets, zip ties, a bag of basic medical supplies (see a Red Cross/NERT checklist), Ziploc bags, a flashlight, a wind-up radio, a can of Sterno (it will burn for 2 1/2 hours), and tin foil (good for a small fire to heat a cup of tea/coffee with the Sterno), a lighter to light the Sterno, a selection of coffee/tea/drinks, energy bars, and a multi-tool.

Tom also has toilet paper in his pack. He has walkie talkies in his kit, set to the same frequency as people he communicates with on the Playa. He reminded everyone that text messaging probably won't work after the big one. He also suggested keeping a Sharpie in your kit to write on the outside of your home, if you have to leave. What should you write? -- where you went, when, and in what condition you were in. Go through your drawers at home and collect the random things you might need: contact lens gear, insect repellant, extra pair of shoe laces, saline, antacid tablets -- whatever you might want. Put a change of clothing that you don't love into your kit. "Fresh drawers can really improve your mood," Price explains. Also, don't forget to eat and drink. You can get cranky and make poor decisions if you are hungry. Much more can be said about what to add to a disaster kit, but this was designed to be a start.

Participants left the Burning Man Project/BWB disaster preparedness workshop with a backpack, camaraderie, and a reinvigorated "can-do" attitude. Maybe we will survive the Apocalypse.

For the next Burners Without Borders disaster preparedness workshop, check:

Special thanks to Polly Stryker for reporting assistance.