Saturday, April 19, 2014

Giardia, Cryptosporidium & Other Bad Stuff

water faucet
Giardia and Cryptosporidium are waterborne organisms that make the water unsafe to drink.

Some people think that giardia and cryptosporidium are only found in rivers and lakes in the wilderness. But the bad news is that the worst outbreaks of these water contaminants in the U.S. happen right in our city water supplies.

One of the most memorable outbreaks was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1993. Over the span of two weeks, more than 400,000 residents became sick, and 104 people died from a cryptosporidium outbreak caused by a malfunctioning city water treatment plant.

When the public water supply is contaminated, and the contamination is discovered, a boil order is usually issued by the community health department. A boil order is an advisory telling residents that they need to boil their drinking water to prevent illness.

The illness may be caused by any number of bacteria, virus, or other living organisms that find their way into the public water supply. The causes of contamination can be a natural disaster such as flood, earthquake, landslide, etc. Or it can result from such things as a broken water line, broken sewage lines that permit intermingling of sewage with the community water supply. Or it could be the result of equipment failure in the water treatment or delivery systems.

A boil order usually advises to boil drinking water for one minute. The word boil mean maintaining the water at a rolling boil, with vigorous bubbling for the entire minute. And this should be done to all water that will be use in any aspect of food preparation such as diluting soups or juice concentrates, rehydrating mashed potatoes, mixing gravy, even making ice cubes. This is not just for the water you drink.

Another consideration is that the water you use to wash dishes needs to be clean, or else you risk contaminating the dishes. To help minimize the amount of dish washing that needs to be done, it’s a good idea to have a few days’ supply of paper plates, plastic utensils and cups in your emergency storage. You can use large zip baggies to serve as mixing bowls and storage containers for leftovers. Throw this stuff away after use, conserving your purified water supply for consumption rather than sanitation.

An alternate method to boiling is to bring the water temperature up to more than 165 degrees F and hold it there for six minutes, effectively pasteurizing the water. Use a cooking thermometer to verify that the water temperature is high enough. Pasteurization is a process that you can even do in a solar cooker on a sunny day.

A good filtration system is an excellent way to remove pathogens from the water. A filter rated at .10 microns will stop giardia, cryptosporidium, and bacteria. For versatility and effectiveness, I recommend the Sawyer 3 Water Filter ( that has a million-gallon guarantee.

Another alternative is to treat water chemically. You can do this by using a mixture of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach per 5 gallons of water. Let it stand for at least 30 minutes before using. But not all organisms will be killed by chlorine, giardia being one example. Iodine is better at inactivating giardia, but iodine causes health problems for some people. Effectiveness of chemical treatment is affected by water temperature, pH level, and clarity. The colder and cloudier the water, the longer it takes for the chemicals to be effective.

Water used for bathing doesn’t usually need to be purified first, but the water used for washing and rinsing hands and face should be sanitized before use. And be careful not to allow contaminated water near open wounds or rashes.

In any survival situation, pure water is a top priority. So make sure you have enough on hand in your emergency supplies to last a couple weeks, and have the ability to purify more water when your supply runs low.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Top Ten Emergency Items

You never know when you’re going to find yourself in a sticky situation, so it’s a good idea to always have some basic emergency equipment close at hand.

There have been many incidents in which people became stranded with their vehicles, so I’ve put together a Top Ten list of things you should carry in your car. These are in no particular order — I recommend you have all of them.

1. Cell phone and charger — Your ability to call for help is what will get you out of your situation faster than anything else. Make sure to carry a cell phone charger that can keep the phone powered up through the vehicle’s battery. You don’t want your cell phone battery to die just when you need to call for help.

2. Emergency blanket — In fact, you might want two blankets of different types. One can be a nice fluffy car blanket that rolls up in a tight little sausage shape, and the other is a pocket-sized Mylar emergency blanket that is reflective on one side and takes up almost no space.

3. Water — Carry a gallon for each person in the vehicle. If you end up stranded for a couple days, you’ll appreciate having this.

4. Food — Have granola bars or other high-calorie snack foods tucked away in the vehicle. The nice thing about trail bars is that they’re compact, they last a long time and they’re not messy. Rotate food items out of the vehicle and into your pantry every six months, and replace with fresh.

5. Fire starting stuff — A fire can be useful for signaling, purifying water, cooking, drying your clothing, keeping you warm, and just keeping you company at night. Have a few methods of fire starting in the vehicle.

6. Medications — If you’re taking medications, carry an emergency supply of them in the vehicle. Some medications, like insulin, might require refrigeration. If so, carry a small ice chest that will preserve the meds for a few days, in case you get stranded. When you go on a trip, bring medications fresh from your house, perhaps in a small duffle bag, so they don’t sit around in the vehicle and get old.

7. Sanitation items — This includes hand sanitizer, toilet paper, perhaps baby wipes, and feminine products that might be needed.

8. First aid kit — Assemble the kit yourself, so you know exactly what’s in there. It wouldn’t hurt to get some basic emergency medical training. Contact your local fire department to find out about available training.

9. Extra clothing — Toss a coat into the vehicle, even if it’s summer and you’re not expecting to stay out late at night. You never know what might happen, and having a jacket, some gloves, a cap, maybe an extra pair of socks will come in handy. For sure have some 5-mile shoes in the vehicle, in case you need to walk to find help.

10. Tools — You want to be able to take care of minor breakdowns. Have a jack, lug wrench, spare tire, and the knowledge of how to use these items. Carry road flares (they make great fire starters, and they also warn other motorists that you’re having a problem). Carry a powerful flashlight and extra batteries. And carry a tarp, in case you need to work on wet or muddy ground.

So there’s my Top Ten emergency items to carry in your vehicle. Feel free to add to the list.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Wild Mushrooms

The toxic Fly Agaric mushroom
The toxic Fly Agaric mushroom
This is the season when wild mushrooms start to poke up out of the ground, and that prompts many people to go hunting for wild edible mushrooms. I enjoy hunting wild edibles, including mushrooms. That might sound like fun, but there’s some significant danger involved in eating wild mushrooms. When I say significant danger, I mean illness or death by poisoning. If you happen to eat a poisonous mushroom, the risk is high because it doesn’t take very much of a bite for the toxins to take effect.

Of course, not every poisonous mushroom is deadly. Some of them just cause a great deal of misery such as gastrointestinal upset, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, heart palpitations, or neurological problems. But the truly deadly ones cause liver damage, respiratory failure, kidney failure, destruction of blood cells, and even the loss of limbs prior to death. Serious symptoms don’t always show up immediately after eating a toxic mushroom. Often the problems don’t emerge until the poison has had a chance to attack the kidneys or liver, which might be days or even weeks later. So this is nothing to play around with.

I want to warn you that there are folklore rules for mushroom hunting that are wrong, and can lead you into danger. For example the erroneous rule that poisonous mushrooms are brightly colored, or that if you put a bit of toxic mushroom on a silver spoon it will turn the silver black. You cannot believe such old wives’ tales, because they are not true.

Another bit of bad advice is that by watching the animals and insects you can tell which mushrooms are safe to eat, because animals and insects won’t touch poisonous mushrooms. Well, that’s not true either. Fungi that are harmless to animals and insects might still be toxic to humans. In fact, the Death Cap mushroom is frequently infested by insect larvae.

There is no taste test for detecting a toxic mushroom. The old myth that poisonous mushrooms taste bad is false. Some of the deadliest mushrooms taste quite good — as reported by lucky survivors who didn’t die after eating them.

Or, how about this myth — poisonous mushrooms have pointed caps, while edible ones have round or flat caps. Totally wrong. The shape has nothing to do with toxins.

And just being able to identify a general species of mushroom is no guarantee, either. There can be both edible and toxic members of some mushroom species. And while cooking may eliminate the toxin from some mushrooms, that doesn’t work for all of them.

So how do you know which mushrooms are safe and which are poisonous? The only safe way to deal with wild mushrooms is to make absolute positive identification. This is one area of wild food gathering in which it is extremely important to know what you’re doing.

There are some good books about mushroom identification. I depend on a book called Mushrooms of North America by Orson K. Miller Jr. It’s filled with color photos and precise descriptions that help determine which mushroom I’ve found.

Books are good, but I also recommend that you link up with a class on mushroom identification. Or you might find a local mushroom hunters club. The study of mushrooms is called mycology, so you might do a search by that name to find a club or group of avid mushroom hunters in your area.

Going into the field with experienced experts is the best way to learn how to enjoy and survive the hunt for wild mushrooms.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Disaster Preparation

When disasters hit, it’s common for store shelves to get stripped bare in a real hurry. Sometimes, the transportation system is hit so hard that highways are closed, and trucks may not be able to deliver supplies to refill the store shelves.

Eventually FEMA or some other relief agency might show up, but that might take days or even weeks. Depending on where you live, you could be on your own for a long, long time, leaving you wondering where your next meal is going to come from.

Well, that’s what I want to talk about right now. How can you avoid being in such a vulnerable position that you have to depend on someone else to provide the basic needs for your survival?

It comes down to this — if you’re wise, you’ll take responsibility for your own welfare. This might sound harsh, and I don’t mean it that way, but I just want to keep things real — when a disaster hits, you’re either part of the problem, or you’re part of the solution. There’s no middle ground.

If you’re prepared to take care of your own needs, that takes pressure off the relief agencies, and allows them to help someone else. That means you’re part of the solution. If you fail to be prepared to take care of your own needs, then you become part of the problem that the relief agencies need to solve.

One of your basic needs is food. When the store shelves are stripped bare, and the trucks aren’t able to resupply the stores, you’ll be out of luck unless you’ve prepared in advance.

You should have at least a 3-week supply of food in your house or apartment, so you don’t need to depend on the store. That’s a 3-week supply of food to make meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s 21 breakfasts, 21 lunches, and 21 dinners for each member of your family. You need to plan what you would feed your family, and have that much emergency food supply stored in your residence.

The best emergency supply of food consists of what your family normally eats. Don’t fall into the trap of buying bulk dehydrated or freeze dried foods that nobody in the family has ever eaten before, and nobody even knows how to prepare. Simply stock up on extra cans, bottles, and packages of the foods you normally eat. Mark with the date of purchase, and rotate these packages of food into your everyday meals, then replace with fresh ones each time you go to the store. That way, nothing ever gets too old, and you have a sort of mini-store right at your house.

Figure out how to cook if the power is out, and how you will store foods if there is no functioning refrigerator or freezer. One hint is to prepare only enough food for the meal, with no leftovers that need to be refrigerated or frozen. It’s all about planning and preparation.

One final word on this topic — don’t stop with just food. Have on hand enough water for drinking and food preparation. Also, toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, medications, and other supplies that you use on a daily basis. Think of all the things you need to keep yourself going, and then imagine you can’t go to the store to buy any of it. That’s the first step in making your plan. Then go out and buy enough of those items so you wouldn’t be left wanting if the stores were suddenly unavailable. Start with a 3-week supply, and build from there.

Disasters strike suddenly. The key to riding it out is to be prepared.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cotton Ball Fire Starter

You’ve probably heard it on TV — Fire is Life.

Well, in a survival situation, having a fire is way better than not having one. So let’s talk about how to make sure you are successful when you try to start a fire.

One of the easiest ways to guarantee success is to have some kind of Super Fire Starter. The function of a Super Fire Starter is to catch the spark from your flint and steel set, or catch the flame from your lighter, and then create a hot, long-lasting blaze that will ignite the kindling and then the fuel wood so you can have a good campfire.

You can go out and spend your money to buy fire starters from a sporting goods store, or you can make them yourself. I’m going to tell you how to make your own at home, and the cost is next to nothing.

It’s simple. Light a candle and drip some melted wax into a cotton ball. Before the wax cools and solidifies, press the cotton ball and wax together until you end up with a waxy pellet about the size of a large marble.

Make several, and stow them in a zip-lock baggie. Stuff this in your pocket along with your lighter or striker whenever you go hiking or camping, hunting or fishing.

You might ask why not use just a plain cotton ball? Well, you can do that. A regular cotton ball catches a spark very well and leaps into a vigorous flame. But without the wax, it burns out very quickly. The waxed cotton ball behaves similar to a candle. When a candle burns, the wax provides the primary fuel for the flame, while the wick burns very slowly and lasts a long time. It’s the same thing with a waxed cotton ball — the wax fuels the flame and it burns for a long time, so the cotton ball itself doesn’t get consumed too quickly.

I did a test to compare the burn time of a plain cotton ball against the burn time of a waxed cotton ball. The regular cotton ball caught fire and burned briskly right off the bat, but it wasn’t long before the size of the ball got smaller and smaller, and the fire went out after 1 minute and 3 seconds.

The waxed cotton ball caught fire a little more gently at first, because the fuzziness of the ball was hidden by the wax coating. But as the wax ignited, the flame was at least twice as vigorous as the plain cotton ball. And it continued to burn with the same intensity right up until the end. The waxed cotton ball stayed ignited for a full 5 minutes 42 seconds.

Out in the woods on a cold, dark, perhaps rainy night, you need all the fire-starting power you can get, because it’s tough getting a campfire started under those conditions. I recommend having a few waxed cotton balls tucked into your pocket, alongside your lighter. They’re cheap, easy to make, and they just might be a lifesaver.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Shoes You Choose

ShoesModern society has created some ridiculous footwear — especially dress shoes that people who work in an office environment wear to work. Not only to work, but also to church, to social gatherings, out on a date, and sometimes just to drive around town.

I suspect the problem stems from the misbegotten belief that “clothes make the man” (or the woman).

I’m all for dressing appropriately for social activities, including going to work. But when it comes to footwear, the fashion industry has gone to extremes to give us shoes that are all form and no function. This is especially true for women. But men also wear dress shoes that aren’t much good anywhere except in an office.

Imagine a situation in which you’re at work when some kind of disaster strikes — a massive power outage, an earthquake, flood, or violent storm. Let’s say the disaster shuts down the flow of traffic — subways aren’t running, public transportation isn’t operating, traffic lights fail and the roads become gridlocked. And you end up having to walk home or to a shelter. A lot of folks wear shoes that will betray them in an emergency like that.

I believe in what I call 5-mile shoes. These are shoes that are built strong enough and comfortable enough to allow you to walk 5 miles without foot problems.

Why 5 miles? Because in an emergency situation you should be able to walk at least 5 miles without your feet complaining. It might take that much distance to get you out of the danger zone, especially if there's a hazmat (nuclear, radiological, biological, chemical) incident and traffic is so snarled that walking is your only option. If your shoes aren’t up to the task, they don’t belong on your feet.

In an emergency, your feet might be your only means of transportation. Put the wrong shoes on them and they’ll fail quickly, leaving your stranded.

If you must wear inappropriate footwear for they place you work, I recommend that you carry a pair of 5-mile shoes in your vehicle and have a pair stashed away somewhere at your place of employment. In fact, here’s a better idea, leave your work shoes at work, and travel to and from work in your 5-mile shoes. That way, if something happens on the way to or from work, you’re prepared to walk.

A few years ago, New York City and the region around there was hit by a massive and long-lasting power outage. When the electricity went off, elevators stopped working, all the traffic signals shut down, the subways ceased to operate, and transportation basically came to a halt. Millions of people were trapped in the city, with no viable way to get home unless they walked. Most of them were wearing shoes fit only for a torture chamber.

Did you ever run out of gas, or have some other type of automotive breakdown some distance from home? These days, motorists are reluctant to stop and pick up a hitchhiker, because there are too many crazies out there. So if you break down, you’re probably going to have to hoof it. If you’re wearing the wrong shoes, you’ll regret it.

My recommendation is to examine your footwear, try it out and see how well you do on a 5-mile walk. Then make adjustments to your shoe collection. Fortunately, there are some semi-dress shoes that will pass the 5-mile test. Soft soles with some traction (not smooth leather that gets slippery when wet) and cushioned insoles are a must. Flexible material that needs no break-in is a benefit. For the ladies, low heels (I know they’re not cute, but you know I’m right).

Your choice of footwear is as much a survival issue as any other item of clothing. When something happens and the times are tough, your ability to walk or hike might be a lifesaver. Make sure you’re prepared.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Surviving Domestic Terrorism

Did you know that the terrorist organization Al Qaeda has its own magazine? Well, they do, and the most recent edition has an article calling on American jihadists to detonate car bombs and suicide vests in major U.S. cities.

Your best chance of surviving a terrorist attack is to understand the tactics used by jihadists. And this article is very open about the strategies to be used. The good news is that this tells us how to avoid becoming a victim. So let’s examine the tactics and see what we can learn.

Specifically, the article urges jihadists to target heavily populated events. That could include major sporting events, political rallies, concerts, or any other activity that attracts large numbers of people into relative confined spaces such as stadiums, shopping malls, or other gathering places.

The plan is to target large numbers of people, not necessarily the buildings. It takes a lot of explosive to bring down a building, but a small amount can do a lot of damage to soft targets like people.

Jihadists are advised to disguise themselves so they fit in with the crowd. You won’t see them wearing their traditional clothing and beards. They might be wearing extra layers of clothing to make them appear fat, because they think most American’s are fat, and because that is also a good way to conceal a suicide vest.

During periods of celebration, jihadists are instructed to disguise themselves and join in the festivities, wearing clothing appropriate for the occasion.

So, how can we use this knowledge to help us avoid becoming a victim? This is kind of a Bad News / Good News thing.

The bad news is that, if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, there’s not a thing in the world you can do to avoid either being injured or killed by the explosive shock wave or the shrapnel created by a bomb blast. You can’t outrun it, and you can’t duck fast enough once there’s been an explosion. When the detonation happens, everything is pure luck at that point.

The good news is that you can avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time, if you’re willing to make some changes in your life patterns.

The best strategy is to simply not be in a target zone at the wrong time. That sounds easy on paper, but it takes planning, effort and some sacrifice to keep yourself out of potentially dangerous situations. It means you have to be thoughtful about the places you go and the activities you engage in.

Avoid unusually large crowds, especially during holiday celebrations. Avoid major sporting events, and political rallies. Take a lesson from what happens in Israel when there are bomb attacks. Restaurants, theaters, and shopping mall food courts during peak hours are all likely times and places for a terrorist to strike.

If you use mass transit, find alternative ways to get where you’re going. Busses, subways and trains are especially vulnerable, because it’s like shooting fish in a barrel — you’re trapped in a crowded space, and you’re an easy target. Remember, a jihadist is hoping to take out the greatest number of people possible with a single blast.

So the number one rule is to avoid being in large crowds. That might mean you have to give up some of the activities you want to do. But if that’s what it takes to stay safe in a world where holy war has been declared against you just because you’re an American, it’s probably worth the sacrifice. It’s a decision you have to make.