Nearly every day someone will ask me "what is your most important prep?". This is a trick question. The answer they are seeking is a definite one wherein I hold up a piece of equipment or a weapon or something I have constructed myself that solves multiple prepping issues and I smile into the camera and say "this whatsamajigger is the only tool You need to survive ! It filters and purifies water, cuts through lead and produces cheeseburgers on demand! " (That would be really cool to make one though).
Unfortunately I live in a world where shit happens. Also unfortunately, it is NEVER the "same shit, different day" situation we all love to quote. It's different shit every day.
Due to this lack of understanding between humans and nature what is my most important prep on Monday may not necessarily be my most important prep on Tuesday … or even Monday night for that matter. At least … not if you are looking at physical equipment such as bags, flashlights, knives, guns, etc.
So here are MY most important preps, in NO particular order of importance.
Knowledge of my regional surroundings
Knowledge of basic survival
A logical, balanced approach to problem solving
A clear and well practiced plan
A strong family support structure
Every day, at every moment no matter where I am at or what I am doing (as from when sleeping of course) I try to remain keenly aware of my surroundings. A strange noise, smell, or even a lack of there could be a tip-off that something is out of whack. When I am away from my home I am acutely aware of those around me, acting just to a GPS that is constantly recalculating its route I am always looking for the next escape lane or emergency exit.
I am forever watching those around me looking for tell tale signs of trouble such as clothing that is out of season, bulges under jackets or shirts, eyes darting back and forth to security or police, heads dropping down and faces turning away when they see you looking at them. As an ex-cop you become quite attuned to these giveaways and I use them to my advantage, skirting potential danger at every possible chance. Overt signs of trouble such as arguments or large groups of people beginning to gather are easy to avoid when seen from a distance, but can you tell if you are in the middle of one when it is forming? I can and I avoid them like the plague.
At restaurants my family knows which seat is mine, its the one facing the door. Trouble is much easier to avoid if you see it coming.
Knowledge of My Regional Surroundings
Do you know which roads flood in heavy rains around your house and town? Do you know which roads will be clogged with traffic in an emergency? How many railroad crossings are between you and your BOL? How many bridges? Is your route to your BOL hampered by anything controlled electrically such as a draw bridge? Pay Toll?
When contemplating what is important to know about your region consider that you have NO idea where you will be when you need to react to an emergency event. You can spend most of your time on high probability scenarios using commonly visited locations for your planning, but you do need to devote a small portion of your time mapping your entire region. This could be invaluable knowledge.
Knowledge of Basic Survival
In a pinch I could survive 3-5 days in any weather that is common to my region with only the stuff I carry in my car. If my entire family were with me it would be MUCH harder, but we are capable. Thankfully with basic survival knowledge and a very small amount of prepacked gear I can turn 3-5 days of potential survival into a much longer span of time. Basic first aid procedures are a necessity as is fire building and shelter building. Food is not wholly important for short term survival but anything past a few days becomes exponentially harder without food, especially with small children. I have water in my car at all times and the ability to filter and purify it as well. Unfortunately this will only last so long. To complement these basic skills I have my knowledge of basic land navigation and night land navigation (I suggest EVERYONE learn these skills) as well as knowledge of long range signaling using light, mirrors, smoke, flags, etc.
A Logical, Balanced Approach to Problem Solving
When things go wrong do you look to point the finger? Are you the type of person that needs to know who made the mistake? No need to speak up, just honestly ask yourself those questions before reading further.
I used to be that guy. I used to be the guy that immediately looked for the person responsible for the mistakes or the problems. Today I see it on twitter every single day. People constantly talking about who did this and who did that. This is all fine and well for politics and daily news media, but it will not serve you well in times of great need.
When a problem occurs try to get in the habit of immediately finding the solution, blame can be assigned at a later time and place. Think logically about your situation and try not to react with your gut instinct without speed is of the essence. Yes, sometimes you do not have time to sit and ponder, it happens. All of the other times, however, you should use careful consideration for problem solving. If you use a specific resource to correct a problem is it going to create a future problem? Is fixing an issue in one way going to alienate a member of your group or your family? Should you use all of your meds and first aid supplies to save your daughter's chihuahua or let her be mad at you and cry for a while in order to save supplies?
Sometimes the answers are clear, sometimes they are not.
A Clear and Well-Practiced Plan
Knowing what to do is much better than having an idea of ??what to do. Understanding the problem at hand and how it relates to your particular plan is much better than "winging it" in an emergency. Planning to head to your BOL in case of emergency is VERY different than knowing every single route on the way to your BOL and which routes are available given the type and severity of the emergency in question. Even knowing WHEN you will be bugging out is much more efficient that just knowing that you will be bugging out. It is true that even the most well laid plans can fail, but that's why preppers make backup plans, and backups to their backup plans. Being prepared is a lesson in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Just having a plan and some backups is not enough. You need to practice your plan. Professional athletes KNOW how to play their specific sports and they KNOW their basic responsibilities, but without practice they can not become and stay proficient, so increasing the likelihood of a mistake. For the sports star, that means a lost game. For the prepper, it could mean a lost life. Practice your plans.
A Strong Family Support Structure
I am the goofball in my family. My kids joke all the time that my wife runs the show and I am kinda like the comic relief in their life. I am the jokester, the one that gets laughed at and picked on. I am the clumsy one, the silly one and the one that does not make the rules or run the roost.
I am also the last one to speak if there is a problem. My family knows that when I say certain key phrases that it is time to be quiet and take action. There are no questions asked, no begging for 5 more minutes and no lagging behind. When dad gets serious and utters a key phrase, everyone snaps to attention and follows orders.
When I have a book signing or need to work on prepping related projects my family dives in with full vigor. "All hands on deck" is the way we attack a problem or a project not only to get it done faster but also because everyone needs to know how all of these things are done in case someone is unable to do their part.
Our family works this way because they understand the importance of prepping. It is not a doomsday scenario that they are worried about. My 10 year old son is not watching CNN every night looking for clues of a coming cataclysm and my 12 year old daughter is not ignoring her friends and "boys" because her dad has "Chicken Little" syndrome. We all live very normal lives with very neat, well stocked closets and Go-Bags. We drive to the family homestead in Michigan several times a year and make a game of who knows where we are at any given time or location. We practice with firearms and my kids are aware of the world around them, but they do not fear it and they certainly do not feel like they are not a part of it.
All of these things combine to form my most important preps. Without them it does not matter what tools I have or how cool my bug out vehicle looks. Without these things it does not matter if I carry an arsenal of weapons or a pocketknife. Without these tools a prepper could very easily become a very trendy, well equipped corpse in a very short amount of time.