Bugging In: What Does it Take to Stay Put

Reader Contribution by Kyle Ferlemann
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I wrote this blog before the Covid-19 outbreak and I thought it may be prudent to post it now. Given the current “stay put” orders going out and the run on toilet paper and pasta, it will be hard to “store supplies ahead of time”, but there are some other aspects of the article that are useful. When I wrote this “social distancing” was considered an extreme measure. Now it is a daily reality.

If I can offer any thoughts on our current situation, they would be this. We will survive Covid-19. When we come out of this on the other side our view of the world will be changed in some ways, but unchanged in others. Community and family will still be important, we will wash our hands more often and more thoroughly, and practical preparedness will be a new habit. The real question is what will we have learned from this experience and what will do differently because of it.

Good luck and God speed.  

Bugging In

We all know and recognize the benefits of community involvement and engagement, so it may seem strange to dedicate any time to thinking about self-imposed social separation from our community. The reality is that there are some situations where it is prudent to limit direct human contact outside of the household. This is often referred to as “Bugging In”.

Bugging in comes with its own special set of considerations and difficulties. It is important to carefully examine your reasons for wanting to bug in, what you hope to accomplish, and the methods you plan to use to meet those goals.  

The mistake that is often made in planning to “Bug In” is to confuse social distancing with isolation. These are two completely different concepts. When we examine the reasons and requirements for social distancing, they will rarely if ever, include the requirement of not communicating. Just the opposite is true. When we are disengaged from the rhythm of regular social interaction, alternate means of communication become all the more important.

Some Important Distinctions: The methods we are discussing here are not for nuclear, biological, or chemical situations. When an event is so bad that you need to find an air tight shelter for habitation, you should evacuate the area as soon as you have the opportunity to do so, and well before the environment becomes toxic. Those extremes are the least likely, but also the most dangerous. This book is addressing situations that are more likely to happen, but are also less likely to represent an immediate environmental threat. 

The other distinction is that social distancing is a methodology that can have varying degrees of intensity. It will often begin as simply avoiding social gatherings or crowds, and then progress to completely avoiding any human contact, like not attending church or school. “Bugging In” means to completely sequester yourself and household from any direct contact with other humans (or in some cases animals). It is this extreme that we are addressing.

There are Two Reasons for Bugging In

Every aspect of Bugging In has to do with a situation where you must stay away from other people and you either can’t get away, or there is no place else to go. This will require that you either avoid physical confrontation or diminish the risk of disease transmission. Aspects of communication (at a safe distance) should be enhanced rather than curtailed.  

Avoid Physical Confrontation: Social distancing for the purposes of physical security involves the conscious choice to refrain from engaging in your regular social activities in order to avoid agitated or aggressive people. A situation that was so bad that you have to Bug In would involve civil disorder involving violence or a significant disruption of the Rule of Law. The situation would have to be so bad that you could not leave the house without encountering the threat of violence.

How you defend your home is up to you. Avoid conflict if at all possible. If you feel you must defend yourself, make sure you are legal and in the right. Remember that others may be acting out of fear rather than malice. Sharing some supplies may be a better option that direct refusal or fighting. The situation will dictate your decisions. Be slow to anger and slower to decide to do harm, even when you are threatened with it. If you find that you must act in self-defense, always be quick and never be cruel. You have the right to defend yourself, your loved ones, and your property; you do not have the right to punish. If you punish you will be judged for your actions. It may be in your own heart, in a court of law, or by your maker, but you will be judged.   

Diminish Disease Transmission: Social distancing for the purposes of avoiding disease transmission involves the conscious choice to refrain from engaging in your regular social activities in order to avoid contact with infectious diseases; either from contaminated items or contagious people. A situation that was so bad that you have to Bug In would involve an aggressive and virulent viral threat with a high transmission and mortality rate.

To put this in perspective, in 2010 influenza made over 45 million people sick in the United States. That is just over 13.6% of the total population of the country. The 2010 “flu season” caused in over 61,000 deaths due to the virus or complications of the virus, like pneumonia, resulting a 0.13 mortality rate. That is not to say that the annual influenza outbreak is not serious, only that it would take a very virulent disease to cause you to need to go beyond proper hygiene or prudent social distancing and engage in full-fledged Bug In.     

Requirements and Impacts of Bugging In

Home isolation is an extreme measure to take because it involves separation from work, school, shops, and services. What you have is all that you will have. Unlike evacuation (Bugging out) where you are moving to shelter and resources, Bugging in will separate you from resources. You will want your plans to reflect this reality. You will need not only food and water, but also items to replace the services you would normally receive during medical and fire emergencies.

  • Food and water: Your pantry should be well rounded with a healthy concentration of staples so you have what you need to prepare your food. Both water distribution and electrical services may be interrupted. This means that regardless of your collection method, you may need to be able to boil or distill your water without electricity. 
  • Fire extinguishers: When fire response is delayed or unavailable you will want to be able to deal with fires quickly. Every local fire department has and holds classes on how to properly a fire extinguisher. Take the class, get the skill, keep up to date extinguishers, and be ready to protect your home from fire if you have to.  
  • Medical supplies: Your regular emergency kit will have most of what you need. A few additions will be helpful. For civil unrest situations the main concerns will be to set broken bones, stop bleeding, and prevent wound infection. These skills, and lists of the supplies to treat these kinds of wounds, are available through the Red Cross. You may not be able to get emergency medical treatment so you will need to learn how to treat injuries to stabilize the wounded.

In the case of pandemics, you will want to be able to diagnose and treat the general symptoms common to most viral diseases.  You will want to have several thermometers as these are really important for determining the presence and severity of fevers.  There are over the counter medications that will be very helpful.  Zinc lozenges are effective in helping to lessen the severity of respiratory viral infection (colds and flu). Hydration will be very important if someone does become ill. Keep anti-diarrhea medicine and electrolytes in the house. The electrolyte does not need to be over the counter medicine. Many sports drinks have electrolytes in them. Read the label and find one that works for you. A healthy selection of pain relievers and fever reducers is also a prudent addition.

One last addition that you will want is plenty of hand lotion. If you are washing your hands correctly and often, you should be washing the oil right out of your skin. If your hands are not chapped, you are not washing your hands enough! Dry skin can split and bleed. This provides a path into your body for an infectious disease. Hydrating the skin will help keep your hands from becoming dry and splitting. Don’t skimp in this area. Get a quality moisturizer used for working hands. The working hands products are better and less expensive than cosmetic products. 

  • Cleaning Supplies: Because prevention is the key to not getting sick you will want to have plenty of cleaning supplies in your home. Disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, soap, and other cleaning supplies will be your first line of defense against an infectious disease.

Psychological Well-being During Self Imposed Separation

Communication: The difference between safe and healthy separation and dangerous isolation is communication. When you are in a situation involving rapid changes and developing threats, you will need to stay informed.  Lack of information in times of stress can be a source of serious anxiety. This anxiety will lead people to guess at the things they do not know. These guesses can be very wrong and result in decisions that are not in the household’s best interest. You will want to ensure you have reliable and even redundant methods of communication.

Cell phones and computers will be the best source of information and communication in the beginning of a disaster situation, but they are not durable systems. Plan for them to stop working at some point, but use them to their best advantage until they do. Keep a weather radio and shortwave receiver to listen to the latest news. Keep citizens band (CB) or HAM radio handy for communicating with the community and beyond. If you can, keep extras of any of these that you plan to use. These “emergency” radios will be the most dependable methods of getting information and communicating locally. Remember to have batteries or plan for alternate power sources. Plan for the eventuality of losing power during the emergency.

As a cautionary note. When using any radio communication, make sure you can confirm information through at least one other credible source. Multiple sources of confirmation from different areas is better still. This will help you avoid rumors repeated within local circles. Rumors, mis-information, and even dis-information can spread quickly. In the history of disasters, there has been more than one recorded case where wishful thinking was reported as fact that lead hopeful souls into bad situations. Even broadcast news can inadvertently repeat incorrect information. In the rush to get the story out, reports that are correct may not be complete.

Consider the source of your information. An example of this is local, eye witness weather reports are often more accurate than national weather models. Get confirmation on everything you can, even when you receive information from sources you trust. In the end, the responsibility for every decision you make will be yours alone.

Entertainment: You will want to pass the time without getting “cabin fever”. Games, cards, and books are a must for bugging in. This will do more than just pass the time. Books will help you keep your mind off of constant worries and games will allow you to interact with your family. This will reassure your children and give you an opportunity to introduce and address serious subjects. They will be listening to everything you say, but the game will give them a point of focus that will give them time to process what you are saying. 

Education: Take advantage of the time you have to learn new skills. This could be general education like sharing a language, learning to use the stars for navigation, or how to cook stew. It can also be something specific and important to the situation you are in, like learning how to use and maintain equipment, care of animals, or anything else that is important to your family’s wellbeing. This will pass on skills within the household, build bonds, and help pass the time in a constructive manner.  

Positive Routine: Regardless of the situation, a Bug In requires discipline and awareness. Keeping a general schedule for sleeping, meals, education, chores, and family time will help maintain a rhythm that will offer stability and purpose to the household. This should not be a rigid or stressful schedule. Remember that the schedule is to keep people focused and relaxed, not stressed or anxious.

You can create a schedule that offers some elements of choice. Instead of saying you must get up at 7AM, set the rule for “up by 8AM.” This makes a choice rather than a rule. Set meal times by gathering at a certain time to start food preparation as a group activity, then eat when the meal is ready. This brings the household together for a common activity. Everyone has a job and everyone shares in the reward of the completed task.

To keep everyone active, assigned chores to be completed each day. This could be watering plants, caring for animals, times for study, checking the serviceability of equipment, or writing out the weather report for the next three days. These activities will provide a purpose and a rhythm to potentially long days of waiting. Keeping everyone’s mind active and alert will have absolute benefits.  

Remember to leave time for personal down time. People will need some quiet, “alone time” for personal decompression. Down time should be very loosely scheduled and allowed throughout the day as long as other chores and activities get done. Some folks may need more alone time than others, but don’t let members of the household become emotionally isolated.      

What to do if Someone in the Family Becomes Ill

When someone in the family becomes ill, measures must be taken to make sure that those who get sick are cared for and that those who care for the ill do not get sick themselves. Here are some ideas that will help you make your plans.

Designate a Quarantine Room: Whomever is ill would remain in this room until they are well and non-contagious. This second part is the hardest. Whomever was ill will want to get out of the room as soon as they can. A computer with internet access and a movie streaming service will help in this but the reality may be books and rest. Whatever entertainment is used by the ill should not be shared with others in the house. Even when they are feeling better, they may still be contagious. The ill must stay in the room long enough to no longer be contagious. Any care giver that enters the room should wear a mask and wash their hands before entering and upon leaving the room. The use of nitrile gloves is preferable if you have enough of them.

Control What Comes Out of the Quarantine Room: Any trash from the quarantine room should be bagged and taken directly out of the house to the trash. Any clothing or bedding from the room should be taken directly to the washing machine and washed in the “sanitize” or hottest water setting. All dishes used should be washed in soapy hot water or placed in the dish washer and set to “sanitize”. The “sanitize” feature is common on washing machines and dishwashers. If you have it, use it. If you don’t have an appliance with that feature, consider designating a large soup pot as a boiling pot to sanitize any dishes.  

Keep a Record of the Illness: Keep a log of when the person became ill and the progression of their illness. These records could save their life if the illness becomes serious and the person is taken to the hospital. This information will help the doctors determine the onset, symptoms, and severity of the illness. At a minimum the following information should be recorded:

  • The onset and initial severity of the illness,
  • Fever and spikes in temperature, Record the temperature & time
  • Sweats and chills – duration, time, and date
  • Diarrhea – how often, time and date
  • Vomiting – how often, time and date
  • Delirium, Confusion, Loss of Consciences – time, date, duration
  • Medication, dosage and time
  • Number and times of meals. Food prepared vs food eaten. Lack of, or change in, appetite.

Bottom Line

There is much about our modern world that we cannot control, but we can control our fear. We can control our knowledge and habits. We can be informed, aware, and prepared to deal with or avoid the threats that may arise. We cannot stop these threats, but with knowledge, determination, and cooperation within the household, we can survive them.    

Bugging in is a serious undertaking that requires careful planning and disciplined management. There is a good chance that no new supplies will be able to come into the home, so what you stock will be what you have for the duration. The hardest part of a Bug In will be maintaining a schedule that provides a steady routine for the day. When you cannot interact directly with the rest of the world, make time to interact with those in the household. Games, shared activities, a schedule of chores, and a purpose for the day will go a long way to making the time pass while maintaining positive attitudes and awareness. 

Post things that you have done to keep yourself and family from getting cabin fever in the comments section below.  Sharing positive and constructive ideas is a great way to stay connected and helping others.

For more details on practical preparedness check out – Disaster Response SMARTBook 3 – Disaster Preparedness, 2nd Edition

Kyle is also a speaker for the Mother Earth News Fair Online. Learn more and register to see his workshop video today.

His latest book, Practical Preparedness, was published in June 2020 and is available in our online Grit Store.


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