We often talk about fictional apocalypses here at io9, but what if the collapse of civilization actually happens in your lifetime? Here are some things you can start doing right now to make sure you're ready to ride it out.
Learn To Make Fire.
In a post-apocalyptic scenario, you have to account for both short and long-term survival. Fire will be absolutely necessary in the short term. Have you ever watched one of those seasons of Survivor where one of the tribes can't figure out how to build a fire, and they don't win the flint for days and days? They can't cook their food or boil their water, and they fade fast, growing weak and ineffective until the producers take pity and slip them a Zippo when no one's looking. If you can't build a fire, you'll die. Learn to build fires in a variety of conditions, with a wide range of materials. Can you build one without dried grass? Can you build one when you're freezing cold and your hands won't stop shaking? Learn how, and practice it regularly. Of course, it never hurts to hedge your bets, and keep a supply of waterproof matches handy.
Build a Team.
I know you like to envision yourself as this awesome lone wolf bad-ass making your way through the wastelands with no one to depend on but your trusty shotgun, but the fact is you'll need friends after the apocalypse. It could be as simple as someone to stand guard so you aren't mugged or eaten by starving feral dogs while you sleep. You're going to need help, and you're going to want people you trust. You need to assemble your team long before the apocalypse happens. Make a list of friends and family who live nearby, then decide who you want with you. People with useful skills go to the top of the list (nunchuk skills don't count, but bow-hunting does). People with lots of children go to the bottom. Then make a plan and get your team in on it – if things go down suddenly, you won't all be in the same place, and there will likely be no way to communicate. Your plan should be simple, like: Step 1, get somewhere safe and wait out the worst of it; Step 2. Meet at the statue of Thomas Jefferson in Jefferson Square downtown, or better yet, your Uncle Jim's ranch 40 miles outside of town. Don't underestimate the benefits of having a plan – aside from its actual effectiveness, it gives you a goal to focus on, and that's been shown to be a factor is disaster survival.
Get a Gun. Learn to Use It.
I'm not a big fan of guns myself, but the reality is, any apocalypse is either going to caused by, or inevitably lead to resource shortages. Whether it's water, gasoline, food, or plague vaccines, there will be haves and have-nots. Some percentage of the have-nots are going to try to get what they need by force, and if you can't defend yourself, you're going to lose what you have (you're doing all this planning so you'll be a have, remember). There's another vital use for guns in a post-apocalyptic world, of course – hunting. We're all going to revert to hunter/gatherers for a little while at least. For this reason, a hunting rifle is a good idea. That's not a good weapon for close-quarters urban protection, however. For that, a shotgun is often the weapon of choice. Good thing you have a team.
FEMA recommends one gallon of water per person per day, plus food. How many days can you possibly plan for? It really depends on your space and your plans. Do you have a shelter at your team's meeting place with a larger stockpile? Then a few weeks of water should be enough to get you through. You can never store enough drinking water, but obviously if you live in a 12th floor apartment, there's a limit. Don't forget a set of sturdy clothes and boots, a can opener, hand crank radios and flashlights, batteries, gasoline, and a fire extinguisher. Disaster survival experts offer a few other suggestions you might not expect: beer and cigarettes (they'll be the primary currency post-apocalypse), 3 mil. plastic bags (also known as contractor bags), duct tape (combine with contractor bags for water-resistant shelter or rain-water conduits), plus a few books and card games (you and your fellow survivors will eventually drive each other crazy without distractions).
Learn a Marketable Skill.
Once you've made it through the first few weeks, you'll eventually want to connect with other survivors, whether you're with your team or not. Any group trying to survive with limited resources is not going to accept new members unless they offer a net gain of some kind. No one's going to be impressed by your level 70 character in World of Warcraft, your discerning taste in wine or your extensive knowledge of 60s British Invasion bands (or your magnificent blogging skills, for that matter). Here are some suggested avocations to learn so you have something to offer the nascent post-apocalyptic society: small engine repair; emergency medical training; agriculture (emphasis on durable, high-yield crops); hunting/fishing; construction/carpentry; rigging/sailing (not so good in Kansas, but could be clutch in San Diego or Chicago). If all else fails, work out – no one's likely to turn down a strong back or a durable pair of legs.
"Not Your Ordinary Survival Checklist." Popular Mechanics, Oct. 2009.