Thinking About Pandemic – Part 1

A few days ago, I came across an article on a new strain of flu in China that’s causing a stir among epidemiologists for its potential to cause a pandemic. It’s apparently pretty virulent – 33% mortality – and seems to be transmissible person-to-person.

I personally consider pandemic to be the most likely of all the classic “Doomsday Preppers” tag-line scenarios: you know, those little blurbs the TV producers make the preppers say, like “I’m preparing for a coronal mass ejection,” or “I’m prepping for the Yellowstone supervolcano.” In my opinion, pandemic is only a matter of when, not if. Human history is rife with plagues and pestilence, and thinking that we’ve beaten that somehow just because we have antibiotics and modern medicine is foolish. We’re only just barely holding our own against the bugs at this point, and I think we’re due for a big event.

The pandemic that I’m basing my preps on is the 1918-1919 outbreak of Spanish Flu, which culled 3- 6% of the world’s population – possibly even more deadly than the Black Death in medieval Europe. It had three factors that made it especially nasty:

  • Speed – In an age when it took almost a week to cross the Atlantic in a boat, and days to cross the country by train, this virus spread from Kansas to New York in a week. That means symptoms came on very quickly and victims were infectious right away.
  • Virulence – Most influenzas kill the very young and very old by compromising their immune systems so much that opportunistic secondary infections result in pneumonia; the Spanish flu differed in that most of the victims were healthy young adults who were killed when their overstimulated immune systems destroyed their lungs.
  • Mortality – I tend to think that any bug likely to cause a pandemic would need to have a mortality rate significantly higher than the typical seasonal flu, which is about 0.1%. The Spanish flu had a mortality approaching 20%.

With the Spanish Flu as a model, what can the self-reliance community do to prepare for the inevitable? That was the thrust of a discussion my prep group had the other night, and while we came up with a few ideas, we also identified plenty of weak spots. It was a pretty good discussion, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of what we talked about.

First, a warning: I’m not a doctor. I’m not offering any medical advice here, and anything you do or do not do with this information is completely at your own risk. Be sure to read my disclaimer before continuing.

We all agreed that with pandemics, as with so many other aspects of life, that the best way to win the fight is to avoid it in the first place. That makes prevention the backbone of pandemic preps. Common sense prevails here – proper hand washing, good nutrition, and avoiding places with sick people are all good first steps. Some people opt for vaccination, but I don’t like the idea – there are way too many preservatives and adjuvants that go into vaccines for my comfort, and besides, the only time I ever seem to get seasonal flu is when I’ve had the vaccine. My strategy has been to make sure I’m getting adequate Vitamin D – there are conflicting studies about the efficacy of Vitamin D in preventing viral respiratory infections, but there’s enough anecdotal evidence to convince me to take it during the dark months.

At some point, though, it’s likely that simply going out in public will represent an unacceptable risk. The goobermint really only has two things it can do in reaction to a pandemic: mass vaccination and quarantine. Given the fascist tendencies of the federal government (if you think fascism is too strong a word for what our government does, look it up), I think the former is far more likely to be tried first, and I bet it fails. If a new strain pops up that’s not covered by the current vaccine, there’s no way to produce enough in time to do any good. So, the sheople will be convinced to line up for the current shot, the vaccine manufacturers will rake in the dough, and the goobermint will get to look like it’s doing something, if only briefly.

Eventually, the powers that be will realize that vaccination is doing nothing, and they’ll have to resort to their other bullet – quarantine. There will be a lot of wailing and moaning about it, but in truth it’s the only way to stem the spread of a pandemic. The trouble is, with the time wasted on vaccinations and the delays caused by behind-the-scenes focus-grouping on the political impact of imposing a national or regional quarantine, followed by the showy public debates held strictly for political cover once the decision has been made, when the quarantines finally go into effect, it might be pretty late in the game.

So, if we acknowledge that the prepper’s main line of defense against a pandemic is sheltering in place, then it comes down to two questions: when do I pull the trigger on a bug-in? And how long do I keep my family isolated? For the former, I think waiting until the government imposes a quarantine is too late. To be ahead of the curve, I’m personally planning on locking the gate no later than when the mass vaccinations start, or possibly when the first mentions of quarantines start making it into the media. I’m also trying to round up some sources in the clinical field that might be able to give me a heads up on what’s going on in the hospitals, and maybe give me a little extra lead time.

As daunting as it is to consider the logistics of sheltering in place – nobody enters or leaves the property, there’s no commute to work, no trips to the grocery store, and no visits to the grandparents -thinking about how long to keep that up complicates things even further. A lot is dependent on extenuating circumstances, like running out of some vital supply. At a rough guess, I can’t see any quarantine lasting less than two weeks, and I can see it going a lot longer. In 1918, the pandemic came in two waves, but the second was far deadlier; those who didn’t get it in the milder first wave (and therefore had no immunity) felt clear to go about normal life again in a couple of weeks, only to contract a mutated and deadlier form of the virus. I’d likely err on the side of staying isolated for quite a few days after the worst appears to be over. So my minimum for planning purposes is 30 days.

Optimally, I’d like to practice sheltering in place, to see if we have what we need to survive for at least two weeks. Realistically, that’s hard to do – we have to carry on with real life, and a practice two-week bug-in just doesn’t seem practical. A “bug-in weekend” is doable, but I don’t think it’ll reveal much about our preparedness level. So I’m left with war-gaming an extended bug-in based on what I know about my family’s needs, habits, and personalities, plus past performance on micro-SHTF events.

With all that in mind, I’ve developed a list of actions I need to take right away, to have the best shot at being able to shelter in place for a month, should it come to that:

  1. Food Stores – I need to go through our food stores and make sure we’re in good shape. A one-month bug-in shouldn’t mean having to dip into our real long-term stores, like wheat and beans. A lot of our stores are canned goods and staples that keep well, and those will probably be the things we depend on in a bug-in. But looking over the shelves, I see some empty spots, and they need to be filled ASAP.
  2. Stock the Freezer – At this point, our freezer seems to have more frost on the shelves than food. I want to make sure we have an ample supply of meats stored up. Roaster chickens are on sale this week for $0.95 a pound, so $12 can set us up for couple of meals. Ground beef, some steaks, some roasts, a couple of different cuts of pork – stock the freezer like so and we’ll be sitting a lot better than we would be staring a month of pasta and canned green beans in the face.
  3. Fuel Preps – We’re pretty well stocked at this point – the oil tank was recently filled, the woodshed is stocked, and the gas cans are all topped off. Still, we’ll need to keep our current fuel state in mind before locking down. I’d imagine that the very last trip out prior to locking down will be to get a few extra cans of gas and to top off the vehicle tanks, and depending on the level of fuel oil, we may need to call for a delivery. That also speaks to the need to be ahead of a government-imposed quarantine – once that hits, the oil man won’t be rolling for a while. Better to let that one last person on property while you can.
  4. Prep the Kids – Sadly, my kids are kind of used to my unusual outlook on life. They usually take all my self-reliance activities in stride, and to some degree, I think it gives them a sense of security knowing the old man is standing watch over them. But I suspect that this will feel a little different to them, and I’ll need to manage that to prevent freak-outs.
  5. Prepare for the Worst – Despite my best efforts at keeping the bugs at bay, somebody might get sick. It may be the pandemic disease, or a simple cold, or any one of the zillion things that can go wrong with the human body in any given 30-day period . Regardless of the ailment, a pandemic situation would be the worst of all possible times to need to take a trip to the hospital unless absolutely necessary. I need to make sure the family first aid kit is well stocked, and I need to have a really good handle on what kind of home treatments might actually help a pandemic flu victim, and make sure I have the necessary supplies to prevent or at least delay a trip to the hospital.

I’m going to focus on that last point in greater detail in Part 2 of this series. It’s actually an action item I took from our prep meeting – to look at what sorts of things can be done to prep for treating flu victims at home. You may recall that I’ve had some experience treating four simultaneous flu cases, and even though they were mild, I learned a lot. I’m also delving into the literature to see what has worked in the past – after all, 1918 medicine was pretty primitive by modern standards, and as deadly as that outbreak was, people still pulled through without the benefit of antibiotics, MRIs, respiratory therapy, and the like. So there’s probably a lot to be learned from that example, which is another reason it’s my model pandemic for planning purposes.


  1. Br0therH@rold

    Sweet writeup Mr. P, thought-provoking. Lots to chew on, but off the top of my head, another thing to consider for self-imposed quarantine are other vectors for infection. E.g. the mailman, UPS delivery. You can’t leave the mail in the box for 30 days, or they start taking it back. You’d need a process for accepting and decon’ing anything inbound to the property. It’s not so much contact with the person delivering the item, but the item itself. Studies show influenza can live on paper surfaces for up to 12 hours, and 2 days on hard surfaces. Maybe it’s a matter of leaving items outside overnight before accepting them, and possibly up to 2 days if there’s a hard-surface item inside that could be contaminated.

    It’s minor details and trivial vectors that prove that nature always finds a way.

    1. APB

      Good point – last thing I need is an infected postman delivering a dose of bugs via junk mail.

      Back in 2001, when the anthrax attacks started, we took steps to minimize the amount of mail getting delivered to our house. We signed up for a bill paying service, which had all our bills sent to South Dakota for scanning and processing, and we’d pay online. Pain in the ass, that, and as soon as the anthrax scare died down, we switched back. Now that online bills are more commonplace and the technology is better, I’d opt for paperless billing, but Mrs. P. won’t hear of it. She’s old school, and likes paper bills, paper checks, and no online frippery.

      We don’t really get that much mail that matters, so we can reduce our risks by wearing PPE up to the mailbox (gloves and mask) along with paper burn bag and a plastic container. Throw junk right into the bag without opening, and open bills right there. Envelopes and inserts go into the bag and then burned, and the guts go into the plastic container for decontamination by a method to be determined later. Or, just take a picture of the bill and then trash it along with everything else. If you’re careful about aseptic procedure, nothing should get into the house. Hell, you could even wear a Tyvek bunny suit to keep your clothes clean.

      Then again, if it gets that bad, how long will mail and parcel deliveries last? Good thought experiment, though.


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