Foreword-When Disaster Strikes


By James Wesley, Rawles


There are few books that summarize what families need to do to be truly ready for disasters. Certainly, there are good books in print about first aid, food storage, outdoor survival, the martial arts, and amateur radio. But there are precious few that succinctly summarize numerous topics in terms that are understandable to a layman. You are holding one in your hands now, and I hope that you appreciate its significance. It could literally mean the difference between life and death for you and your loved ones.

            We live in an increasingly fragile society. As was evidenced by the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear power disaster in Japan in March of 2011, unexpected chains of events can have a profound effect on modern, technological societies.  

            We are now dependent upon power grids and telecommunication networks for nearly every aspect of our lives. Chains of supply for food and fuel span thousands of miles and are dependent on power grids, telecommunications systems, and computerized “just in time” inventory-control systems. The majority of our petrochemicals come from thousands of miles away—mostly from the war-torn Middle East. It doesn’t take much to disrupt any of that, and when the disruption starts, things come unraveled very rapidly. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was clear evidence of that unraveling.

            Hurricane Katrina was also evidence that governments are incapable of providing relief in disaster situations. In SurvivalBlog, this is what I call “YOYO” time—“You’re on your own!” When Disaster Strikes does an admirable job of teaching you how to get through YOYO time, whether it is just twenty-four hours, or if it persists for many months.

            Any number of events can disrupt the fragile web that holds modern societies together. These include earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, naturally occurring plagues, cyber attacks, terrorist nuclear, biological, or chemical attacks, economic spasms, and solar flares. These each have unique characteristics, and highlight specific vulnerabilities in a society where hardly anything gets accomplished without Internet access.

            Further exacerbating our predicament, modern societies have an increasingly stratified division of labor. In the early twentieth century, fully 30 percent of American families were employed at full-time farming, ranching, or fishing. But in the early twenty-first century, just 2 percent of the population feeds the other 98 percent. Think about the implications of that. If we were to experience a repeat of the Great Depression in today’s world, how many people would go hungry, and what would the crime rate be?

            For a moment, try to take on the viewpoint of an actuarial accountant—someone that estimates risks for an insurance company. Is it any wonder that insurance is so expensive these days, and that there are entire categories of risks that the insurance companies cannot or will not insure? Those risks are simply too great for them to insure at an affordable price.

            It is for those uninsurable risks where you come in. Prepared individuals size up the potential threats and take active measures to ensure the health and safety of themselves and their family members. Steps as simple as buying a compact water filter and laying in a several-months’ supply of food can make a tremendous difference between being a survivor, and being an actuarial statistic. 

            Matthew Stein is one of the people that has the gift of seeing “the big picture.” He is also grounded in the commonsense reality of a fully experienced outdoorsman. Some of this knowledge is old-fashioned, and some of it is high-tech. Mat wisely picks and chooses between old and new, depending on the circumstances. I’d estimate that Mat has spent more time camping out and scrambling around in the granite of the High Sierras than many people have spent commuting to work in their cars. That represents a huge number of hours, and a lot of hard lessons learned. When Disaster Strikes encapsulates a lot of those valuable lessons, and will help you avoid some costly mistakes.

            Whether it is using a home-made rocket stove or tuning a Grundig shortwave receiver, Mat really knows his stuff. More importantly, he knows how to distinguish essentials from nonessentials. After all, few of us have a millionaire’s budget, so it is crucial to establish a priority for making preparedness purchases and getting training.

            As I’ve written elsewhere, the modern world is full of pundits, poseurs, and mall ninjas. Preparedness is not just about accumulating a pile of “neat stuff.” You need practical skills, and those come only with study, training, and practice. Any armchair survivalist with a credit card can buy a set of stylish camouflage fatigues and an “M4gery” carbine encrusted with umpteen accessories. Style points should not be mistaken for genuine skills and practicality. What is between your ears is much more important than the gear that is stacked up in your garage.

            When Disaster Strikes is a key part of gaining the knowledge requisite to survive disasters. Read it, formulate a plan tailored to your family’s particular needs, and then put your plans into action. Someday, you may be very glad that you did.

            We live in an uncertain world. With his writings, Matthew Stein takes away some of that uncertainty. And for that, I’m truly grateful.

—James Wesley, Rawles

(Jim Rawles is the editor of