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Harmful Preparedness Myths and Theories From the Basic To Nuclear

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: February 16, 2021
Harmful Preparedness Myths and Theories From the Basic To Nuclear

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Here recently I have found myself getting more annoyed at some of the preparedness myths and downright lies I see being perpetuated by media, movies, and some fellow preppers that should know better.

Some of this can be blamed on ignorance but some of the perpetuations of myths is intentional and people know exactly what they are doing and don’t care if they cause harm. The motives are the classic ones, money, recognition, and creating drama.

I want to debunk some of the ones that have recently got my dander up. In the case of individuals, I am not going to name individual people.

The purpose of this article is not to be a smarty pants or point fingers to boost Backdoor Survival. I was inspired to write this because I think that these myths have the potential to be deadly or very harmful during a long emergency. There are a lot of beginner preppers out there that rely on reading up to learn how to do things. The people and mainstream tv and media services that perpetuate these myths talk a very convincing talk. I can see how people would believe some of these things quite easily.

You are basically guaranteed to not survive if you don’t have a group

Ok, I understand that there is power in numbers. It is easier for a group to watch out for one another and take care of each other when they are sick or injured. More people to perform work and defense definitely has a lot of advantages. What gets me is the people that tell others they are going to die if they don’t. They don’t say that their chances are higher or anything reasonable like that. Nope, they simply make a definitive statement that death is imminent.

It is not that simple. There are plenty of people that have survived horrible long events and wars without groups. Was it harder? Yes. Did some of them go nuts or become less civilized. Absolutely.

Some also went on to lead good lives and interact with society afterward despite everything.

A lot of the groups I see that are already formed have members that are far too spread out to be able to get together quickly and help each other. Your group is ideally those that are within a reasonable distance from you.

Telling people they are going to die is not helpful. What is helpful is offering advice on preparedness and learning skills and even teaching those that are lone wolves or just prepping with a spouse or their spouse and a few kids.

I feed a family of 7 on $500 per month and I don’t garden or farm heavily or I am a single person and live on a $25 per week food budget.

Unless you are eating rice, beans, and cheap vitamins, there is no way you are doing that. I see people making these claims and my hoax radar goes up in seconds. If you read an article that has tasty meal plans that include a good balance of foods and a decent amount of meat, but the writer claims they feed people for $100 per month per person, you have stumbled on a fraud.

Anyone that tries to replicate their recipes is quickly going to be well over the budget they set forth. The exception, of course, is someone that raises a lot of their own food. The reality is there are costs to doing this as well. Spending a mere $500 at the grocery store per month for a large family might be feasible if you farm a lot but for the average person, it is not happening.

Folks please stop writing these articles folks or creating Twitter accounts about a fictional budget. Not only is it a lie, it can make other people that are just starting out with prepping and frugality feel like they are failures at smart shopping when they are far from it.

If you are interested in reasonable yet healthy meals on a budget, check out my friend Daisy Luther’s bestselling book “The Prepper’s Pantry” or take a look at articles online that offer budget recipes.

All you need is a box of MREs and an AR-15

First of all, I have to ask someone if they realize that a box of MREs is 12 meals. The MREs you can buy now days contain an average of around 1300 calories so that box of MREs might last a single person maybe a week if a little is saved from each one per day to take you through that last day.

I suppose the plan after that is that someone is going to use their AR to take other people’s supplies or maybe they just think someone is going to offer them food for their defensive skills. Regardless, this is a ridiculous myth to perpetuate and if you say it in any decent prepping group or forum, you are going to not come out looking so good.

If someone starts robbing people, most of them are not going to last long before they get taken out. A few will last longer than others. Maybe even a few will be successful bandit leaders but that will be a very rare outcome.

To be honest, I have run into these types in real life and in some cases, the same people with this attitude practically threw up when I was teaching them how to butcher a chicken.

I’m coming to your house if SHTF

One of my earliest and more popular articles for Backdoor Survival was on this topic. It is not a good survival plan to think that others are going to take care of you. The responses in the comments to my article indicated that a lot of people had some pretty nasty plans for anyone that didn’t take the hint that they were not welcome if they showed up without anything to contribute.

During a real disaster, there is a good chance that you are not going to be able to make it to some of the homes of those that are more prepared as well. Heck, a lot of people that say this are not physically capable of walking even a few miles without needing a big break.

Also, it is just plain rude to invite yourself to someone’s place anyway.

Preppers live in bunkers and bunkers are the safest place to be if SHTF

There is a Backdoor Survival article written by Gaye that describes all the ways that bunkers can kill you. Most preppers don’t have the resources or land to build a major bunker and even if they do, they have other things they want to spend their money on to be prepared for a long emergency.

Sometimes bunkers have the effect of causing people to not want to leave even if they should. If you have an outfitted bunker it is tempting to stay in place until it is too late to get out. Nuclear incidents are a perfect example. Sure you may want to stay inside until the major fallout is passed but after that, the best choice is likely going to be to head out into an area that is not contaminated.

The mainstream media loves to do articles on millionaire preppers and developers that specialize in bunkers. I don’t see them doing many posts on people like my husband and me that built a house and do what we can to be prepared or people that live in apartments or rent that have a good supply of food, water filtration devices, and other useful preps for hard times.

Nuclear Myths

I am going to get on my soapbox a little more for this section. I am really appalled at how much false information has been put out there about nuclear preparedness due to the popular HBO mini-series Chernobyl. I am going to link to the video that I posted in my nuclear preparedness post where one of the first doctors on the scene at Chernobyl fact checks some major scenes in the series so you can watch the video.

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Thank you Vanity Fair for producing some good journalism and debunking so much of the harmful myths that are being repeated via various news outlets and magazines that have produced articles on the HBO series.

If someone is going to take on such a serious historical disaster, I think they owe it to the public to do their research and not change important facts. Chernobyl was horrible enough without adding extra gore and terror and perpetuating harmful myths about nuclear radiation.

Babies will absorb radiation in the womb and the mother will survive.

While nuclear radiation can harm a fetus, the fetus does not absorb all of the radiation from the mother.

Being exposed to nuclear radiation will make you start bleeding within minutes

Even if you are working at a reactor that has an issue and get enough radiation to get sick, bleeding is not going to happen for weeks. Bleeding through the skin happens when your bone marrow has failed. That takes time.

Radiation sickness makes you blue, red, and basically look like something from a zombie movie.

As the lady in the video says, the scene that shows this is something an artist probably came up with. While burns and blistering can be part of it, the way it is portrayed in the Chernobyl series is very misleading. Here is a link to info on radiation sickness from the Mayo Clinic if you would like more information.

You can get radiation sickness by being exposed to someone that has it.

I cannot believe that the directors of this series are so irresponsible as to say this in modern times. This myth was believed by the public back when Chernobyl occurred and it caused thousands of children to be turned away from their relative’s homes because they were believed to be contaminated, dirty, and capable of giving off radiation to others.

You cannot get radiation poisoning from someone that has been evacuated from a nuclear exclusion zone. Yes low levels of radiation could be detected on clothing but after a shower and changing clothes, even that is not going to be an issue and it certainly wouldn’t be enough to even begin to give anyone radiation poisoning.

I am going to be able to grow a lot of my food fast post-collapse

While I think it is smart to have some seeds put back for hard times, it is dangerous to overestimate how much food you can grow and how fast you can do it. For starters, there is a growing season in most places. If SHTF in the winter, you are not going to be able to start growing a lot of food outside. If you are lucky maybe you can do some container gardening inside or get some plants started so they are ahead of the game when temperatures start to climb in the Spring.

Crop failures happen all the time to farmers too. If you have never grown anything, you are going to face a learning curve during a long emergency. Matt and I have 1600 grapevines, a herd of sheep, and some chickens, and it is challenging even during good times. We also didn’t just start out doing all that at once. It took time and learning and making mistakes. Heck, we still make mistakes and we are at the mercy of the weather.

It is best to have a good supply of food put back along with some seeds. If at all possible you should have some insecticides and fungicides put back as well so that you can have some protection from crop failures for a few seasons.

If you do want to grow a lot of your own food, you need to learn how to do it now and get started so that you are as close to your goals as possible post-collapse.

Butchering is really hard for some people too. Here is a link to my post on getting over being grossed out.

It is not worth it to put back food that doesn’t have a 10-25 year shelf life in case of a long emergency.

Sometimes I do posts on things and people obsess over shelf life. While I feel like shelf life is an important thing to consider, I do not think it is wise to dedicate all your food stash to foods that have very long shelf lives. You are missing out on some good deals and some great tasting variety if you do this and probably spending a lot more on packaging than you need to.

Think about your prepper food stash as short term midterm and long term foods and rotate your food supplies so that you don’t waste food. We like to keep peanut butter as a staple but we know that after a few years it is not going to be fit to eat. Canned meats have varying shelf lives. Canned hams like DAK have a longer shelf life than chicken but that doesn’t mean I am just going to put back ham.

All I need is beans, rice, bullets, and band-aids.

All those things are great but they are far from enough. You need a variety of food. Also, this expression completely ignores the fact that water is your first line of survival. If you cannot provide yourself and your family with clean drinking water, the rest won’t matter sooner rather than later. You also need a diet that provides a good balance of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals if you want to stay healthy. This is very important considering you will need to do more labor and the fact that medical care may be either hard to come by or even nonexistent.

Band-aids are nice to have but you need a really good medical kit that includes antibiotic ointment and antibiotics if at all possible as well as medications like anti-diarrhea tablets and over the counter pain killers, blood stop powder, and more.

I am going to be able to make it based on my homeopathic medicine and essential oil knowledge.

I get the impression that some maybe dedicating a lot of time to the fascinating world of natural medicine. I like natural medicine but it doesn’t compare to modern antibiotics. Also one needs to consider if someone is actually going to trust you enough and often enough to give you what you need in exchange for “cures”, tinctures, etc.

A lot of preppers have books and are brushing up on this stuff too and even getting out and identifying plants or foraging. While your knowledge will help you, it is not enough alone. It is cool and pleasant to fool around with essential oils and the world of apothecary but please make sure you are taking care to prepare in other areas and learn other skills.

Also please get some good medical books and study them. I recommend “The Survival Medicine Handbook” and “Alton’s Guide To Antibiotics and Infectious Disease”.

Bugging out is always the way to go. I am going to live in the woods for months with just a bugout bag.

Even if you are in exceptionally good shape and have a lot of wilderness skills, you can only carry so much food in your bugout bag. I wrote an article on good foods to put in your bug out bag that can help you get as many days in your bag as possible but even if you go all out and buy freeze-dried everything, after about 2 weeks you are probably going to need to have another reliable source. If you can manage to fish or hunt some that can help extend your food supply but that is not something you want to rely on.

Hunting and fishing are harder than they look and during hard times, a lot of other folks are going to have the same idea. Areas, where game may seem plentiful now, may get hunted or fished out pretty fast. Also, keep in mind that streams and rivers may already be polluted enough that you want to watch how much you eat from them. Even those that seem pristine now may get much more contaminated during hard times.

If two people are bugging out together they may be able to carry substantially more food because some gear can be shared. For example, you don’t need two stoves to cook on or two tents. Reducing gear really starts to add up. If you can cut 10 lbs off, all of a sudden you might just be able to stay out twice as long if you are careful and buy lightweight yet calorie-dense foods.

You can just walk out with 30-50 lbs on your back without any practice or experience beforehand.

I speak from personal experience that getting fit takes time and any extra weight that you have on you be it from a backpack or from being overweight yourself is going to have a big impact on how far you can walk and for how long.

When I was in my mid-20s I weighed 20 lbs more than I do now and was huffing and puffing to walk up the mountain road to where we were building the house. It took me a year of really working hard outside to get into good shape even at that age and I had to cut out all the garbage foods.

I used to drink out of creeks and rivers as a kid. I drink spring water all the time and don’t get sick so water filters are not always needed.

When I first started doing water filter tests and reviews, Matt and I watched a Youtube video of someone reviewing just to see how they went about their review. It was shocking when the person just went to a park and hung the bag up, filtered some water, didn’t really taste it, and then told everyone he never really uses one because he just drinks out of creeks.

While some people are more sensitive to what is in water than others, it is not safe for anyone to drink groundwater without filtering. It is not worth the risk. During an emergency, a lot of water supplies will become much dirtier and it will happen fast.

Total self-reliance is feasible.

I have an article on the myth of self-reliance that can explain this concept in greater detail but I will sum it up here too.

I have never met anyone in the preparedness or homesteading community that was 100% self-reliant. Also, it is very clear if one reads historical accounts that even those that raised a lot of their food and did a lot for themselves, still relied on trade and inputs for some things.

The pioneers were not refining sugar all over the place and growing their own coffee. They found the records from my great-great-great Grandpa Cathy’s store in the 1800s and they were bringing in all kinds of goods.

What people did do was produce an excess of some things that they could trade or sell and get cash to get the things they needed and wanted that were either not worth their time to produce or not even possible for them to produce even if they wanted to.

Trying to be as self-reliant as possible is one thing. Trying to be 100% self-reliant is a good way to make yourself feel like a failure and to stretch yourself so thin that you don’t have time to do anything well. I know because I have been there. We tried to do too many different things when we started out homesteading.

Thanks for bearing with me through this post. I really felt some of these myths needed to be gone over.

What preparedness myths do you think are harmful? What would you add to my list? I will try to update this post occasionally as I find more alarming misinformation.

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9 Responses to “Harmful Preparedness Myths and Theories From the Basic To Nuclear”

  1. Good article! As a life long gardener, one of my pet peeves is when people say, “When things get bad I guess I’ll plant a garden.” Seriously??? Suppose a disaster happens in Sept. You can’t plant until next April or May, and only then if you have viable seeds. Do you know how to store seeds for long life? Do you have good soil? How about adequate irrigation? Can you identify a good bug from a bad one? Or a weed from something you actually planted? Do you know which plants have the most calories and the highest nutrition? Let’s face it most Americans are so removed from their food source that they don’t know if broccoli is a root crop or a tree fruit and certainly don’t know when it grows! I’m sure doctors feel the same way about people who think they will be able to handle their own medical care, or mechanics and auto repair, or ,electricians and home wiring. The list of things I can’t do is long, but at least I can admit it, and don’t stake my survival on being able to figure it out just after the nick of time.

  2. This is a timely article, especially in consideration of current world events we have no control over, except the peace of mind we have from the skills we know, implement and continue to acquire for daily practice and in the event of some type of disaster, whether it be natural or human caused. There is a print magazine I have read for years that recently featured an article on this very subject. The author of the article suggested several ways in how to deal with people who consider us paranoid weirdo’s, because we are prepared for the many negative events that often occur in our lives. Personally, I think it is weird not to know how to grow a garden or even a small patio tomato plant. Anyway, those events included natural disasters, job loss or what I would consider just being a good steward of your community. You can define your community. Mine is my wife, three dogs and a couple of neighbors. I also count the may four legged and winged creatures on our property as neighbors. I’m still on the fence about snakes, but I’m getting better. Happy New Year Everyone.

  3. probably the most prevalent myth – even among prepared preppers – I’ll buy/”salvage” more to flush out my supplies if it looks like it’s necessary …
    a VERY good chance the store shelves will be empty well before the actual SHTF hits – if it’s not a natural disaster “wham bam” >>>> most other SHTFs are drawn out affairs that are well telegraphed to the observent – time to buy out not only the local stores but the entire supply chain – empty shelves might pre-emp riots well before the actual SHTF itself …..


  4. Samantha, your ‘rant’ is so spot on! It’s exactly why I quit following many ‘prepper’ blogs and websites and now follow ‘homesteading’ type sites. ‘Homesteaders’ are ‘preppers; out of necessity, it is their way of life. They aren’t all about the latest/greatest/coolest gear. I got tired of the ‘gloom and doom’ attitudes. I really only follow this blog, Organic Prepper, and Survival Mom, as far as ‘prepper’ blogs. I want and appreciate useful information.

  5. The emails I can’t stand are the ones that are all about guns. Of course protection may require a gun of some kind but it’s all that they dwell on. Makes me wonder about the militias out there that Daisy at Organic Prepper warned us all about.
    I am a 66 yr old woman who is alone and am at my bugout site. I have maybe 6 months of food, several water filters and a river and various creeks nearby. And yes I own 2 shotguns and a bunch of other stuff but there is more that I need. Don’t be fooled by the ads, emails and “survival articles” that make you think you have to buy this or that at high dollar prices. There are tons of things that you may need that you can buy at one of the Dollar stores and for the price you can buy more than one so you have a backup. Thrift shops are great too and full of surprises. I would rather not be alone but have family that thinks I’m nuts. I don’t know if I will end up having everything that I will need but I intend to come close. I read an article this past weekend that basically said that if you are alone you probably won’t make it but if you are a woman alone it is impossible. We’ll just see!

  6. There’s more disinformation than information out there. Between outright lies, conspiracies, hatred for government, military and law enforcement all of which have little to nothing to do with preparedness and teach no tangible skills the preparedness internet has become boring. There are more political discussions and very little actual doing.

  7. I am basically homebound and alone all day so I read your blog and watch prepper videos. It’s amazing to see these people (amateurs) get in front of their phone (camera) and talk about things they know hardly anything about. They want to give the impression they know everything about everything they’re talking about. I wish I could remember the content of what this one person was talking about but I was so taken aback and thought “he’s going to kill someone with this misinformation”. I just hope people use their common sense or do their own research before jumping on a band wagon that has a wheel missing. Great post today and keep up the good work.

  8. This is such a sensible article. An example of what you are talking about is a friend who is “ready” because he has a container of sealed seeds so he is all set to garden and provide his own food. Never grew so much as a radish. Has no clue about any thing but is “ready”. I get the distinct impression he has the attitude he is entitled to whatever he can “find” so he isn’t worried. Plus don’tcha know that is never going to happen anyway. Again, very good article.

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