Reader Case Study: Making Your Family More Self Reliant

Family Preparedness

I recently received an email from a reader with an inspiring and educational story about how he helps prepare his family. I thought it would make a great case study in applying the preparedness mindset to everyday life.

We live in upstate New York and just North of us are a series of 3 poorly maintained dams that have been in the news from time to time due to neglect and mismanagement problems. Most of us who live on the downhill side of these dams are always waiting for one to spring a leak in a big way. Since they are all in a row along the same river if the top one goes the others don’t stand a chance. Neither do those of us who live in the probable path.

Great work! Bill has looked around at his environment and assessed threats that are likely to affect him and his family. He can now plan how to mitigate these and prepare more effectively.

We have had bug out bags ready and stored in our front hall closet, right near the front door, for years now. We use PVC waterproof packs made for canoe and rafting trips. I make sure the gear is rotated several times a year with respect to seasons and since we have 3 kids, I need to make sure clothes still fit. I also stick in some playing cards and a book or 2 for each of us.

Bill has done a good job here helping his family prepare. He has:

  • Packed bug out bags for all members
  • He periodically checks and updates each kit for seasonal changes and growing kids
  • He has packed items to make an evacuation less traumatizing for his kids
  • He has packed the survival gear in a waterproof container to protect everything from the elements

At this point Bill shares a very personal anecdote of his preparedness journey with us as well as shares some practical tips for choosing and archiving important documents.

But what takes work and thought are the important documents and family photos that we would not want to lose. Call me a sentimental fool (my kids leave out the sentimental part) but childhood memories are important to me and can never be replaced. I looked into keeping family photo albums and important documents with a relative but decided against it. I also looked into a safety deposit box in a bank but that was expensive. The cheapest one I found was over $40.00 a month.

The solution I settled on was scanning each page of photos from all of the albums into our computer than burning them onto C.D.’s and flash drives and keeping a copy in each of the bug out packs. It was very time consuming and frustrating because I am not an expert at this. It really was in the truest sense of the word, a labor of love. We must have 6 thick photo albums made up of years of vacations, birthday parties, Halloween photos and much more. We even caught my son’s very first unassisted steps! I’d hate to lose this stuff. In addition to the photos, I have been writing letters to each of my children since months before they were even born.

I wrote about boring things mostly. How the garden was doing and what we planted. What the weather was like or what we were doing at work. But I also wrote about how we both looked forward to meeting them for the first time and hearing their first words. How we wanted to go hiking and canoeing with them, and how much we hoped they quickly found a job. (I think I’m funny). Before I even knew their gender, I did know I was going to cherish them everyday, and I have. I still do, even though my oldest son who just turned 15 is now 6 feet tall already.

So, after I figured out the technical details on how to scan things onto my PC, then burn them onto C.D.’s, the work started in earnest. Several long days it took me to do this and more than a little trial and error, with the emphasis on error. Still, I doggedly persevered. I scanned about 200 pages with photos on each page. Then I opened and scanned each letter I have written over the years.

Bill has put a lot of effort in to keep his family’s memories together. If things go badly and the dams he mentioned above break or there is another disaster his family can evacuate to safety knowing they will have their history and important memories with them. The story of how Bill writes letters to his children and wants to preserve these for them until they are old enough to appreciate them was particularly impactful for me. We often think of survival as a checklist of gear to buy or skills to master. I think this anecdote really shows the human side of surviving that is often overlooked. If a disaster does occur having these tidbits of their former lives will provide great strength and morale to Bill’s family.

On top of that I scanned things like health, life, homeowners and car insurance policies. Some of these need to be updated a few times a year, so I scanned them individually so when I need to put a more recent document in I didn’t have to scan 6 other things as well. I also included:
Health care proxies
Property surveys
Paperwork dealing with the purchase of the house
Birth certificates
Social security cards
Marriage license
Professional certificates
Medical documentation
Blood types
Recent family photos to assist searching for separated members

Bill has moved on to the practical stuff to archive here, things that will help his family rebuild in the aftermath of a disaster. He has a great tip in there as well of scanning documents that tend to be refreshed periodically as individual items that can be updated in a modular fashion, rather than having to re-scan the whole list just to update one page. This is practical advice from someone who has done the task themself. Thanks Bill, once again your efforts are an inspiration.

But even the most well stocked bags are not much good unless you have a plan your family knows about and maybe even practices. That is a critical part of being prepared. Anyone can throw some stuff in a bag but to be really ready you all need to be on the same page and know what to do and when to do it. That will make or break your survival sometimes. Knowing what skills your family members have and being able to rely on them to do what was agreed on ahead of time is a huge part of preparedness, at least to my way of thinking. It’s also the hard part. Not everyone will see your point of view or agree on the need to plan ahead. I face that all the time with my wife, but after a few tough situations over the years we have come to trust and rely on each other. That is also when you realize you have a great relationship that needs to be cherished and never taken for granted. Ever.

Bill has wisely looked beyond just buying a bunch of survival gear to get prepared. He recognizes the importance of having a simple, realistic plan to follow if disaster strikes. He has also involved his wife in the decision making process and gotten her buy in to the plan. Having the commitment of all the adults in your Bug Out Party is so critical as it allows you to work as a team. As Bill points out this can be a challenge if your spouse is not on the same page as you. Luckily he was able to persevere and gotten her on board.

It is a wonderful thing to have neighbors who look out for each other. Super Storm Sandy tore up our property and ripped over 10 large trees down, some on our roof. We bought a 650 gallon food grade water cistern years ago and had fresh water to share. Some shared gasoline (which was almost non existent) but just having someone to knock on your door to see how you were was a real blessing.

Preparing is great, but it is also vital to communicate your plans with family, friends and neighbors. I thought my neighbors would think me nuts for telling them our plans and suggesting they make plans of their own, but no one did. They were great and offered suggestions.

Bill is once again showing how a proactive mindset pays off in survival situations. In this anecdote he:

  1. Demonstrates the usefulness of proactively preparing his home by setting up a cistern. This can apply to many things, from upgrading your home like Bill did to going out and learning some additional survival skills. The quick win that will help you survive is adopting a PROACTIVE mindset rather than a REACTIVE one. Look around you right now, what can you change, adapt, or develop to make yourself better prepared?
  2. Bill talks about his relationships with his neighbors and how they looked out for each other in the recovery after Super Storm Sandy. If you have good relationships with the people around you, it can act as a force multiplier in your recovery or survival efforts. In this case Bill was able to share some of his water. Ask yourself, if there were a disaster in your area what would you be able to offer your community? Food? Firewood? Knowledge? Try to become an expert in something and you will have the ability to help others and in turn barter your skill/resource/advantage for whatever you need.

I hope this was of use to some folks. We had to learn most of the lessons the hard way, but learn we did. Not to share our lessons with others would be wrong. Be well my friends.

-Bill in New York.

Thanks for being so generous with your experiences and knowledge, Bill!

So, what can we take away from this case study?

  1. The fact that you read this blog is a strong indication that you already have a proactive mindset. If not, adapt to it as quickly as possible. Being proactive instead of reactive is one of the most fundamental aspects of survival. If you have to rely on yourself to survive waiting for things to happen will not get you very far.
  2. Help your family with prepping by doing things for them if need be. This may mean building bug out bags for everyone, scanning documents, and more as Bill has done.
  3. …But you can’t do it all yourself. Things like making your family’s Bug Out Plan simply cannot be done in a vacuum. Involve your spouse as early as you can. If you simply are not on the same page as far as the importance of preparedness consider doing as much as you can for them and then demonstrate the utility of your actions and how it helps the family.
  4. Involve your kids as well, teaching them skills will pay dividends for the rest of their lives. Additionally educating them about preparedness will make it less scary if you ever do need to actually rely on these skills as we mentioned in our article, Bugging Out With Kids.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate with your family. Let them know why you are preparing in addition to how to survive. Don’t get distant and do everything in isolation, show them that your actions come from the heart.

Reader Case Study Conclusion

I hope this case study was useful to you and gave you some ideas to help you along your preparedness journey. A big thank you again to Bill and his family for being so open and honest about the challenges and experiences they have faced so far.

If you have a story about your own path to preparedness or self-sufficiency please let us know in the Comments Section below or email Chris directly at

Always remember, chance favors the well prepared.


Chris Ruiz

My name is Chris and I created this site to help ordinary people prepare for the uncertainties of the modern day world. I believe that a well-prepared society is the best safeguard against any natural or manmade disaster.

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