California is often mocked by preppers for its liberal politics, strict gun control laws, and high property prices. Still, there are plenty of California preppers who live there by choice or necessity. The state does in fact have some socioeconomic factors that need to be considered, but there are also very serious potential for natural disasters.
In this article we’ll do a deep dive into California as a state for prepping. What should residents consider? What challenges do they face? Are there opportunities to be had that aren’t present in other states?
NOTE: Do you live in California? You know your state, so let us know in the comments section how this article can be improved. What did we miss? What did we get right?
California Overview – Prepper’s Perspective
Densely populated, California is the most populous state in the US, while only being the 3rd largest by area at approximately 163,696 square miles. Situated along the Pacific Ocean it borders Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and the Mexican State of Baja California. California’s economy is so big that its internal politics manage to shape the conversation of the greater American political sphere. Consequently, California has more influence over the world than many countries do.
The greater Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area are the nations 2nd and 5th most populous urban regions. Los Angeles County is the nations most populous county. Nearly a state unto itself, San Bernadino is the largest county by area. As it was once the focus of a major gold rush that helped populate the state, it is now known as the “Golden State.” While the gold rush is long over, other economic booms have managed to be located in California.
For instance, California is also home to the Silicon Valley Tech Empire’s like Alphabet (Google), Apple, and Meta (Facebook). This significantly impacts the state’s economic contributions to the world. With a gross state product of $3.3 trillion. This makes California the largest sub-national economy in the world. If it were a country, California would have the 5th largest economy in the world. For perspective, California and France have roughly the same size economy.
While endowed with much material wealth, that is not the only riches California keeps within its borders. The state is well known for its many natural wonders. Locations like Yosemite National Park, Napa Valley Wineries, and Sequoia National Park are just some of the places that California offers to the traveller or resident.
California has a relatively pleasant climate with a long growing season. Most of the state has a Mediterranean climate with the California Current creating a cool microclimate along the coast. This causes the coastal area of San Fransisco and Los Angeles to be amongst the coolest of all major metropolitan areas in the US. However, due to its sheer size of the state, the climate ranges from polar to subtropical.
There is a major disparity in precipitation in the state. The northern section of the state receives more rainfall than the Southern area. This plays into many of the disasters that befall the state as lack of rain sets the conditions for wildfires. The lack of rainfall in many agricultural areas places a large economic strain for many of the residents. However, in the wetter areas of the state, mudslides and flash floods are common.
Despite the hospitable coasts and ample rainfall, California primarily known for its vast desert area’s. Death Valley is widely regarded as the hottest location in the world. The hottest it has ever been recorded was 134 °F (56.7 °C) in 1913. Even though temperatures like this are exceptional for Death Valley, triple digits are not. This creates a hot, dry environment that is perfect for heat exhaustion and fires.
While many envision beaches, deserts, and sunny skies, California is a very diverse place with many climates. The high mountains, including the Sierra Nevada, have an alpine climate. These towering peaks bring with them the challenges and opportunities that any other alpine location offers. In order to be prepared to bug out in the Golden State, the prepper must be ready to traverse any and all areas.
Food and Water
Water use in California is driven by the environment, agriculture, and municipal demands. Agriculture accounts for approximately 40% of California’s water consumption. This water goes to irrigate more than 9 million acres of cropland. If this weren’t already demanding enough on the water table, cattle in California drink approximately 205 million gallons per day. There are contentious fights surrounding water usage and water availability.
Despite the water challenges, California produces 90% of American wines and 90% of American avocados. This allows California to enjoy a hefty revenue being injected into its economy each year. Further, this state is the primary supplier of almonds to the rest of the country. Almonds alone account for $5.1 billion in revenue each year. Yet, the almond industry is heavily dependent on rain that frequently does not appear in the Golden State.
If California is known for anything among prepping circles, it’s known for its politics. California is a solidly blue state. Not only does it lean hard to the political left, it proudly had the 6th highest percentage of Democratic votes during the 2020 presidential election. Democrats often have the majority in both houses of the state legislature giving them complete control over the political scene of the state. Therefore, where many states follow national trends and marching orders from their political party, California issues them.
Nearly a country unto itself, California has a population of over 39 million people. This makes it America’s most populous state. While that is a fascinating fact by itself, the ethnic breakdown is even more interesting. Many of the states across America have the majority of the residents coming from the same ethic and cultural background. California is the exception that its ethic breakdown is very divided.
Hispanics are in the majority with 39.3%. Whites make up 36.6% putting them in a close second place. Due to its large coastline that faces many Asian countries with a large immigrant population, Asians make up 14.5%. The last ethnic block are blacks who make up the remaining 5.5%. With such a diverse population, the politics can be a tumultuous as different cultural views vie for power.
California is a slightly younger state with a median age of 36. California offers an equitable split between the genders. 50.3% of the population is female leaving the remaining 49.6% of the population to be male. There is also a diversity of thought and religious belief in the state. Sixty-three percent of Californians associate with Christian beliefs leaving the other 37% a kaleidoscope of philosophies and thought.
Despite the common perception of California being a lawless state, you only have a 1 in 227 chance of becoming the victim of a violent crime there. Violent crime includes murder, rape, robbery, and assault for which California is actually below the national average. Further, California has a lower national average murder rate of 0.06 per 100 people. They also only have a 0.34 per 1000 people rate of rape. When considering violent crime, California is actually very low.
Despite this, California destroys their would be safe image with robbery and assault. Their robbery and assault rates are well above the national average. With a 1.13 per 1000 rate for robbery and 2.87 per 1000 rate for assault, California is a place that can be dangerous if you wander into the wrong places. However, for the vast majority of the state, it is more than friendly to live in.
Due to the rising cost of living, it is not surprising to learn that being robbed is almost an eventuality. You have a 1 in 47 chance of becoming the victim of a property crime, where property crimes include burglaries, theft, and motor vehicle theft. California has nearly twice the national average motor vehicle thefts, with a rate of 4.26 vehicles per 1000 stolen compared to the national rate of 2.45 per 1000. With high immigration, skyrocketing cost of living, and an overextended police force, high property crime rates are simply inevitable. Therefore, having your belongings properly secured is a must in California.
California Natural Disasters
If a prepper is looking for a challenge, they need look no further than the Golden State. California sports one of the most extensive list of potential natural disasters that any state has. Some of this is merely a function of size, but some of the dangers that threaten California are truly unique. While many states have to contend with wildfires, floods, earthquakes, civil unrest, extreme weather, and landslides, what makes California different is that they have to be ready for them all. This places a heavy burden on the government, residents, and the emergency personnel.
While wildfires are incredibly damaging, they are not the primary disaster that afflicts California. The media regularly reports on the dangers of wildfires, but that is mainly due to the hype around climate change as a driver of wildfires. While fires can devastate portions of the state, there is a significant infrastructure to prevent and combat them. So long as the prepper hardens their home appropriately and stays on top of whats happening, wildfires are of little concern.
Twenty percent of the state’s population lives under the constant threat of flash floods. Given the state’s coastline and proclivity for extreme weather, flash floods are a concern that is rarely talked about, but frequently contended with. Further, there is very little infrastructure in place to effectively deal with flash floods. Fires can be contained and controlled, but floods are much more difficult to manage once they begin.
Along with the extreme rain and floods come landslides. Landslide can be exceptionally deadly. They often occur with little warning and destroy everything in their path when they occur. While they are rare in the rest of the country, landslides are a common phenomenon in California. A prepper can do many things to be ready for a disaster, but the only thing that can be done to protect against landslide is to purchase property that isn’t under threat from it.
While rare, one of the most devastating threats that California lives under is from earthquakes. Major earthquakes can devastate entire cities, displace thousands, and cause rippling affects across the world. California has hundreds of potentially dangerous fault lines and has seen major earthquakes as recently as 1989 and 1994. The prevailing wisdom of many scientist, public officials, and disaster preparedness professionals, is that the next major earthquake is not a matter of if, but when.
Other phenomena on the list include severe storms, extreme heat and cold and even volcanoes. While these all play a factor in living in the state and being prepared, they are not as devastating as the aforementioned events. Extreme temperatures and weather can be deadly, but it is often the secondary effects that prove deadly.
This is just a short list of the many natural disasters California has had to deal with over the years.
1) 1906 San Francisco Earthquake – On April 18th a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck California. It damaged over 80% of San Francisco. Approximately 250,000 people were left homeless and roughly 3,000 people were killed. The destruction of the water mains made it so that firefighters couldn’t put out the large number of fires that spread through the rubble in the aftermath as well.
2) 1964 Christmas Flood – After heavy rainfall, much of Northern California experienced flooding. By the time the floodwaters had receded 19 people were dead, 4000 cows had drowned, and approximately $100 million in damage had been done.
2) Loma Prieta Earthquake (1989) – On October 17, 1989, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck San Francisco, causing the collapse of the Cypress Freeway. This was a double-decker freeway, and those on the lower level were squashed within their cars as the upper level fell upon them. In total, 63 people died, 3757 were injured, and roughly 12,000 were displaced.
3) 1991 Oakland Hills Fire – Killing 25 and injuring 150, this was a small grass fire that quickly grew into an uncontrollable monster whipped into fury by 70mph winds.
4) The 2015 Valley Fire – During September of this year California once more went up in flames. A wildfire spread throughout Sonoma, Lake County, and Napa, destroying 76,000 acres, 1300 homes, and killing four.
Unlike most other states, earthquakes, fires, and floods all seem to plague California. There is another issue that seems to plague the state – riots. Civil unrest in California is common and there are too many riots to cover here, but following are two well-known examples.
1) The Watts Riots (1964) – A man was beaten by police officers, and six days of burning and looting followed. By the end of the rioting, 34 had been killed and thousands arrested.
2) The Los Angeles Riots (1992) – After the acquittal of four police officers caught on camera beating a black man, LA exploded into chaos with arson, muggings, mob beatings, and widespread looting rocking the city.
California Prepping Strategies
California presents many challenges when it comes to prepping. Earthquake, landslide, flash flood, and fire risks can be mitigated through proper preparation of your home. In the event a bug out situation presents itself, there are ample routes to take to pristine wilderness and safety. The main task for California preppers is to build a robust intelligence system that keeps them informed and to make sure that their vehicle and home is ready for the next challenge that comes their way.
As we noted, living in California means living with the risk of a serious earthquake that could threaten the lives of Californians. Know how to prepare for one, hardening your home, and being prepared to live without services for an extended period should one strike is critical to your personal preparedness.
Preppers can also make use of early warning systems to help the seek shelter in time. Berkeley developed a phone app called MyShake that can be downloaded to your phone to notify you of a “ShakeAlert” and increased seismic activity in general. It is designed to serve California, Oregon, and Washington.
Harden Your Home
Harden your home against the inevitable encounter with a wildfire. This may only apply to certain portions of the state, but for them it could mean the difference between life and death. Fires spread quickly and are often aided by high winds and storms.
When disasters strike, there is little time to react in a meaningful way. Therefore, making sure that you harden the interior and exterior of your home from being consumed in the fire is crucial. Follow the state’s guidelines for landscaping and fire suppression. To ignore it could mean tragedy during the next fire season.
Have a 90-Day Supply
Major disruptions like prolonged civil unrest and earthquakes can not only affect the prepper, but the community at large. This means that regular supply chains will be disrupted at best, rendered inert at worst. It behooves Californians to maintain a 90-day supply of any and all goods they may need.
Start by building our your food pantry and supplement it with bulk survival food. Within a 90-day window either normalcy will resume or there will be ample time to leave the area. In either case, having a robust supply will ensure the prepper has time to make an informed decision.
Buy the Right Property
One of the best things you can do for bugging in is to simply purchase the right piece of property at the outset. Find a home that is not susceptible to flooding or fires and is located away from fault lines. During a disaster, one of the greatest assets you can have is a well-purchased, well-built, well-resourced home. This requires foresight and planning as it is far too late for this when disaster strikes. When looking to move into your next place, consider what it would be like to spend 90 days there and what in the local area would cause that to happen.
Have Multiple Routes
Someone looking to bug out in California will have many places they can escape to. With a robust public land infrastructure, California offers many different options for bugging out to national parks. Understanding those options and having multiple routes can add the needed flexibility for anyone that needs to get out of town quickly.
Having a planned bug out location is crucial. All preppers in any state should begin their bug out plans with a paper map of their state. Nothing is better for all-purpose use than the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer.
I would also recommend getting a GPS that can work when cell towers are down. Have routes that take you on escape routes in multiple different directions so that you are not caught trying to figure it out when something happens.
Watch the Weather
This may seem like a simple tip, but thats because it is. It is extremely easy to do and it can save your life. Staying on top of the weather will let you know if there are high winds that can move fires across the landscape, heavy rains that could result in a flood or landslide, or other malady that could be coming your way.
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A weather radio is an excellent, low-tech way to stay on top of the information in real time. As the weather changes and dangers appear, the weather radio broadcast will announce it.
Further Reading for California Preppers
This article just scratches the surface of what California preppers need to know. The following links could held educate you more on prepping in the state.
California Survival – A survival school covering disaster preparedness to wilderness survival.
WilderSkills – Survival school that is tailored especially for kids.
Coyne Survival Skills – Survival school that teaches combatives, wilderness survival, and disaster preparedness.
North California Preppers – A Facebook group dedicated to prepping in North California.
Northern California Prepping Group – Active Facebook group with information and networking in North California.
PrepperNet – Prepper group that meets in Glendale, California.
California Department of Emergency Services – Resources on how to prepare for the next disaster in California.
California Environmental Protection Agency – Resources on wildfire response and recovery.