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A Guide To Disaster Preparedness — Coronavirus Edition: Basic Supplies

A few months back, I wrote two guides to disaster preparedness. They were meant as general references, assuming you may someday face a natural disaster or acute emergency. To many readers, they probably seemed abstract since there was no imminent danger at the time. But here we are, in the midst of a global emergency. In general, you want to prepare before an emergency situation arises, but that ship has already sailed. Just the same, there is still a lot the can still be done.

We will be publishing the full Coronavirus Survival Guide over the next few days covering a comprehensive range of topics including:

Coronavirus Survival Guide – Basic Supplies

Coronavirus Survival Guide- Time Management

Coronavirus Survival Guide – Money

Coronavirus Survival Guide – Final Thoughts

The original guides were not COVID-19 proof, but are still packed with relevant content:

A Guide To Disaster Preparedness — Part One

A Guide To Disaster Preparedness — Part Two

Disclaimer: This series is only a guide. Nothing posted here is gospel, it is only a basis for further research. Take everything posted with a grain of salt. Feel free to personalize any advice to your own unique circumstances and neither the author nor CleanTechnica take any responsibility for any omissions, oversights, or errors.

The most important thing you can do in any emergency is to not panic. Panic is a result of fear and uncertainty and often causes you to make rash and poorly thought out decisions, making it ultimately counterproductive. It is far more productive to build a good game plan, then implement it, which is why this guide was written. Also, this virus can make our own mortality come to the forefront, even if it’s not virus related. This is something worth exploring but not panicking about.

Since coronavirus is spread from person to person, social distancing and hand washing are the best defenses currently available. The idea behind these strategies is to flatten the curve, stretching out the amount of time over which a population gets infected to minimize the number of cases the medical system is treating at any point in time. Better yet, these practices can keep a large percentage of the population from gettin infected in the first place.

We all hope a vaccine is developed quickly, but that might take months or several years. We should not assume a drug treatment will ever come along, as antibiotics work great for treating bacterial infections, but antivirals are far less effective.

Social distancing best practices are covered almost everywhere but you can also add to them by leaving the house as infrequently as possible and minimizing human contact when possible. When you do have to do things minimize the number of times you do them, buy extra groceries per trip, picking up prescriptions early, keeping flu mediation on hand before you get the flu and so forth are all great ideas. This particular virus has a very high infection rate and if your chances are [unknown] percent each time you go out, by going out less number of times you lower your risk of infection as your multiplying [unknown percent] by a smaller number of contacts.

When you buy items it may be wise to not start using them immediately. You can always leave non perishable items in your hallway for a day or two (or longer) before putting them away (then washing your hands immediately), thus giving any virus present a chance to decompose before items are put into circulation. It is unclear at this time if fridges, freezers, or microwaves will kill the virus.


It is recommended you have two weeks of food on hand in case you come down with the virus. That translates to three meals per day times 14 days, for a total of 42 meals per person in the home. In a power outage, you would want meals that need no energy to cook, however large scale power outages are unlikely as a result of the current pandemic. It is possible, so it’s a good idea to have at least some of your meals as canned food or other food that does not require heat, blending, or electricity.

You might consider meal replacements such as Soylent which have come on the scene in the last few years, they are space efficient, require little preparation, and are easy to consume if you get ill and unable to prepare anything elaborate. They are still full of nutrients and enough calories to get you through the day. They also don’t typically require refrigeration if unopened or unmixed, a concern if power is affected.

Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

It is also a good idea to have something with electrolytes on hand if you catch the virus. Pedialyte or equivalents or even “sports drinks” which contain electrolyte, though they can be high in sugar. It is also worth considering the perennial favorites of people with colds like chicken soup, whose effectiveness is debatable but is often a comfort food.

Don’t forget about your pets when stocking up on food and other necessities. They can often tell when you’re distraught so it’s a good idea to be extra reassuring to them and they will return the favor.


Don’t hoard toilet paper. Its is pointless as coronavirus does not cause excessive diarrhea. People are simply following the leader, various news sources reported people were hoarding it so viewers decided that was the smart thing to do themselves and voila, a bank run on one of the least important supplies in the current situation. What good is having years or decades of toilet paper on hand when you have only a few weeks of food? This is a manifestation of the bandwagon effect and communal reinforcement.

Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

If it will make you feel better, if you happen to run out you can use rags and old cut up clothing, then run them through the washing machine. It might seem gross, but it is exactly what you do with your underwear. This method has been used for generations by countless parents who use cloth diapers for their kids. You can also minimize the amount you use per bathroom visit, experiment a bit to see how much you can conserve.

Alternately, you can consider purchasing a bidet, they have probably been selling at higher volumes than normal, but have more availability than needlessly hoarded toilet paper. Using a bidet will help save virgin forests. If you have a handheld shower head, it can be used in place of a bidet in a crunch. Finally, the movie Demolition Man has the ultimate solution, the three sea shells.

You may already have other toiletries on hand but its worth having enough for a few months, which would not cost much. A few extra packages of body wash/bar soap, razor blades, shave gel, shampoo, conditioner, skin lotion, toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss and so on is a good idea. Take an inventory of all the products everyone in your household uses. Most people don’t realize what rate they use their supplies at, but take your best guess and stock up accordingly.

Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

It’s worth thinking about what things are actually essentials and what other are simply nice to have. Things like aftershave can often be skipped, soap can be used in place of shave gel, bar soap can be used instead of body wash, lotion and razor blades can be stretched or avoided altogether. Deodorant and toothpaste can also be skipped if you have no other choice, and so forth. So if you can’t get something, think about alternative solutions. Also, you might have hidden or forgotten supplies in the back of cupboards, behind other products, or travel sized bottles in your suitcases that could be used in a pinch. You can also shower less frequently since you’re not going out as much. This cuts your water bills and reduces use of supplies, but still try to be considerate of others, while balancing hygiene reductions against the issues it can cause.

Cleaning supplies

Since the best way to not get infected is clean hands, 70% isopropyl alcohol has been flying off shelves around the world. If you can’t get any right now, you can improvise. Dish soap can be used as hand soap. It’s worth stocking up on things like a few extra dish scrubbers, cleaning supplies for the kitchen and bathroom, dishwasher detergent, dish soap, vinegar, and so on.

As you’re stocking up on necessities, shop for sales if your local stores are not cleaned out already. If they are, they will get restocked, as there is no actual shortage of consumables at this point. The reason shelves are bare is that consumers moved their future demand to today. Because of this, there will be a glut of surplus in the future, though exactly when depends on many factors. Finally, be considerate of everyone else, don’t buy years and years worth of everything, you don’t need that much.

Medical supplies

Single use dust masks are in short supply, but their efficacy is in doubt. They obviously work for medical professionals who see many patients in close proximity (no social distancing) and also see confirmed virus shedding patients but most of us won’t be working in doctors offices or hospitals and we should be practicing social distancing.

The real risk is in picking up the virus from others or from surfaces. So mindfulness is called for. Note everything you touch and keep in mind where your hands are at all times when outside the home and ensure they don’t touch your face (including your eyes, where masks can’t protect you) until after you use appropriate hand sanitizer or properly washed them for 20 seconds.

The worst is when you have an itch but are nowhere near hand washing facilities. Be wary of touching doors in public restrooms when leaving, having just washed your hands you may be recontaminating them if not everyone before you washed properly. Many places have handicapped automatic door openers, push the button with your elbow.

As hand sanitizer is hard to come by right now, don’t kick yourself if you have none, just be extra cautious what you do with your hands. Again, practice mindfulness.

Make sure you have sufficient quantities of any prescription and over-the-counter medications you are currently taking. Some medications are time controlled, you can only get so many tablets per week or month which could make stocking up difficult but consult your pharmacy and see if they can make any accommodations.

You want to have on hand a first aid kit, pain killers, standard flu medication, and if you don’t have a thermometer one per household may be a good idea to purchase (but not a necessity). Fever is a key early indicator for coronavirus. Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and Acetaminophen are useful to have on hand assuming no allergies to either and they can be combined if absolutely necessary as they treat different types of pain. We don’t know yet which types are most effective for coronavirus.

Some people who contract coronavirus experience no symptoms and don’t realize they have it while others experience everything from minor symptoms up to severe symptoms. If you believe you have contracted the virus, contact your local heath authority and request instructions. If you are experiencing severe symptoms go to your local emergency room. If possible call ahead to warn them you may have coronavirus, as they might have extra procedures in place you are not aware of.

You may also have to isolate from people in your own home if someone does come down with coronavirus. Instead of providing a link to the best practices to try and keep everyone else from catching it, which will change as our understanding increases, I highly recommend googling this if necessary and read the newest information about it.

Avoid alternative health treatments as none have been proven and there is no evidence they are effective against this new disease. Medication works by affecting a target in the body, whether that target is chemical or molecular or structural or biological or replacing something missing. You cannot guess with any accuracy what will or will not work on something you don’t understand. You can only come up with a hypothesis and attempt to disprove it. Notice how I don’t say attempt to prove it, confirmation bias, gaslighting, motivated reasoning and a whole host of other fallacies work together to convince us to accept nonsense.

There is an old adage, there is no such thing as alternative medicine, medication either works or it does not. Belief in supplements is no substitute for actual treatment for a possibly deadly medical emergency.

Other Supplies

It is a good idea to have a full tank of gas, in case there are regional fuel delivery issues. Though if you’re not going out much you should use very little fuel. An EV charged at home is also an advantage: your charger is not likely going to be handled by countless strangers and you can fill the “tank” without going anywhere.

It is not likely there will be large scale power, water, cell, TV, or internet outages. While it is possible, many utilities can be maintained by skeleton crews and most utilities in rational countries have already developed coronavirus contingency plans. Having said that, if one of the power lines connected to your house breaks or a cell tower in your neighborhood goes down, or animals chew your service cables, (power, internet etc) service may be interrupted. Reference the preparedness and mitigation strategies outlined in Part One and Part Two.

Most cell phones can share their internet connection to other wireless devices such as tablets, laptops, or other phones. Its data limit is likely to be much lower than your home internet service, but it is an option to consider if absolutely necessary. As a result of the pandemic, your phone provider may have increased your data cap or removed it entirely, so it is worth looking into this ahead of time, just in case. Some desktop computers now have WiFi built into them that can utilize your phone’s data. It’s worth checking to see if this is an options as your computer might have the capability even though you never realized it. USB connectivity can sometimes be used for streaming internet from your phone. It can be complicated to set up but do try it if it becomes necessary.

Charge any power banks and rechargeable batteries in case you need them, but only charge lithium products above 80% for short period of time, as storage at high charge levels shortens the life of lithium ion batteries.

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Written By

I've had an interest in renewable energy and EVs since the days of deep cycle lead acid conversions and repurposed drive motors (and $10/watt solar panels). How things have changed. Also I have an interest in systems thinking (or first principles as some call it), digging into how things work from the ground up. Did you know that 97% of all Wikipedia articles link to Philosophy? A very small percentage link to Pragmatism. And in order to put my money where my mouth is I own one Tesla share.   A link to all my articles


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