Thursday, November 20, 2014

Off The Grid

generatorPeople interested in survival often talk about living "off the grid." That means living without outside support by utility companies, municipal water systems, etc.

Depending on advance preparation, life off the grid would range from living caveman style to living like Little House on The Prairie. If you're doing it voluntarily, that's one thing. But if life off the grid is suddenly forced upon you, that's an entirely different situation.

In an escalating scale of life off the grid conditions, the situation would look like this: No electricity (heating, refrigeration, cooking, lights). No running water. No toilet facilities. No communication devices (radio, TV, phone, computer). No transportation (gas stations unable to pump fuel). No commercially available food supply (stores closed due to no electricity and no transportation). No pharmaceuticals. No hospitals. No police and fire departments.

In a worst-case scenario, after a short time you would be pretty much on your own.

But assuming you're not anticipating a volunteer life off the grid … should you be concerned about any of this?

Well, if we can believe the leader of the National Security Agency (NSA), maybe we all need to start taking a closer look at our own personal preparation for living off the grid. In a recent meeting of the House Intelligence Committee, Admiral Michael Rogers, the director of the NSA and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, told lawmakers that he believes China (and one or two other countries) have the ability to launch a cyber attack that could disable the electric grid in the U.S.

Further, Rogers stated that if the U.S. remains on the defensive, it would be what he called "a losing strategy." He went on to describe the threat as "so real."

Rumors about the disastrous impact of a cyber attack have circulated freely in the past, but never before has such a threat been publicly confirmed by the nation's head of national security.

At the hearing, Rogers confirmed that U.S. adversaries perform electronic "reconnaissance," on a regular basis so they can be in a position to attack the industrial control systems that run everything from chemical facilities to water treatment plants.

This suggests that it's time to take stock of our own personal preparation to survive off the grid. If the country is hit, there will be general chaos at all levels. There won't be anybody coming around to your neighborhood offering to keep you warm, to cook your food, to flush your toilet, or to calm your fears.

It's time to ask yourself the "what if" questions about how you would carry on with your personal survival needs if the grid suddenly ceased to exist.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Survive Kidnapping

The man came out of nowhere, grabbed Carlesha Freeland-Gaither, and dragged her into his car. She'd been kidnapped.

It's the kind of story that happens all too often, sometimes in broad daylight and in public places. Most of the victims are women, sometimes grabbed from a parking lot and dragged into a vehicle adjacent to the victim's car. And most of the time the victim ends up dead.

But this time there was a happy outcome — Carlesha was found alive, and her kidnapper was taken into custody. So we should take a look at what Carlesha did that helped her survive.

A spokesman from the Philadelphia police department reported that Carlesha's fighting spirit was probably what kept her alive. "My understanding is, even after she was in the car and bound, she continued to struggle with this guy."

When authorities located the car used in the abduction, the rear window had been kicked out. Indeed, a witness to the kidnapping told police that Carlesha kicked out some of the car's windows before it sped away. Her glasses and cell phone were found at the site of the abduction, along with a pile of broken auto glass. That gave law enforcement something to look for — a car with the windows broken out. That was a clue that led to her eventual rescue.

There's a survival principle at work here. Fight for your life, and be creative in the ways you can attract attention to your plight. In my book, The Ultimate Survival Manual, I include this piece of advice:

To signal other drivers that you’ve been abducted and are in the trunk of a car, defeat the taillights altogether or use them to send an SOS. To gain access to the taillights, you might have to remove or break through a lightweight panel. Once through the panel you’ll probably be able to see the light operating. Find the wiring harness. Best solution is to cut one of the wires and strip back the insulation so you can alternately make and break contact to make the light flash. Dit, dit, dit, dah, dah, dah, dit, dit, dit for SOS.

Do whatever it takes, but by all means never give up. Fight as if your life depends on it — because it probably does.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola — The Hard Reality

Hasmat SuitOne of the biggest survival issues to come along in nearly a century is the Ebola virus outbreak.

There hasn't been a potentially global threat to survival as serious as this one since the Spanish Flu pandemic that ran from January 1918 to December 1920, and is estimated to have killed up to 100 million people worldwide. That amounted to a death toll claiming up to 5% of the world's population.

Of the Spanish Flu, it has been said that it was "the greatest medical holocaust in history. It may have killed more people than the Black Death. It killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS has killed in 24 years, and more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century."

Some might say that comparing the current Ebola outbreak to the Spanish Flu pandemic is not a fair comparison. So far, only 4,000 ebola patients have died, so the numbers aren't even close. But what, in my estimation, makes it fair to compare these two diseases is the fact that:
  • They are both virus-based, so antibiotics won't work
  • They both originated in primitive locations (the Spanish Flu in rural China, ebola in rural West Africa)
  • They both spread human-to-human, crossing national borders easily via modern transportation
  • They both exhibit extremely high mortality rates — Spanish Flu killed up to 20% of those who were infected — Ebola kills up to 70%. 
  • Both caught the medical community unprepared to properly diagnose or treat the illness.
  • Both begin with flu-like symptoms that are not extremely alarming, but then escalate rapidly into death-dealing complications.
  • Both diseases escalate rapidly, spreading exponentially as carriers transmit the virus to other people. With the Spanish Flu, it was detected by a doctor at Fort Riley Kansas treating a soldier on October 4th. Within a week, over 100 soldiers were sick. Days later, 522 were sick. With the latest Ebola outbreak, it began with a 2-year-old child in December 2013 who is suspected of contracting the virus through contact with an animal. In the 10 months since that time, the disease has spread across West Africa, to Europe, and to the United States. Although there have been only 4,000+ deaths so far, the World Health Organization predicts that within the next two months, there may be as many as 10,000 new Ebola cases PER WEEK. 
The Centers For Disease Control has gone to great lengths to downplay the risks to the public, but here is the official information from the CDC website.
No FDA-approved vaccine or medicine (e.g., antiviral drug) is available for Ebola.
  • Symptoms of Ebola are treated as they appear. The following basic interventions, when used early, can significantly improve the chances of survival:
  • Providing intravenous fluids (IV)and balancing electrolytes (body salts)
  • Maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure
  • Treating other infections if they occur
Experimental vaccines and treatments for Ebola are under development, but they have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness.

Recovery from Ebola depends on good supportive care and the patient’s immune response. People who recover from Ebola infection develop antibodies that last for at least 10 years, possibly longer. It isn't known if people who recover are immune for life or if they can become infected with a different species of Ebola. Some people who have recovered from Ebola have developed long-term complications, such as joint and vision problems.

Already, there are active cases of Ebola being spread to health care workers who were wearing full protective clothing while treating patients. Nevertheless, the CDC insists that Ebola is difficult to catch and can only be contracted through direct contact with bodily fluids. That does not seem to be the case, and I expect that we will see the CDC release more honest information in days to come.

For now, we know that there is no treatment for Ebola. We know that if you become sick with Ebola, you will likely die. There are indication that, contrary to official propaganda, it is easily transmitted from person to person.

All of those realities give me reason enough to say that the Ebola outbreak has to potential to rival the Spanish Flu as a global pandemic.

Survival advice:
  • Avoid personal contact with anyone who exhibits flu-like symptoms; fever, vomiting, diarrhea.
  • When out in public, be careful what you touch. Disease can be left behind by others, and picked up by you. Use hand wipes or wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose or mouth (the easiest entry points for Ebola). 
  • If you have symptoms, call the hospital at once. Let them come and get you — don't go wandering around in public, because you may transmit the disease to others.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Life In A Disaster Zone

Forest fireI recently received a letter that was written by a smoke jumper who is describing conditions of life in an area of Washington State where a disastrous wildfire has turned life upside-down. There are vital lessons to be learned from this information, and I urge everyone to take stock of where you stand in your preparation to survive a disaster. Here's the letter:

Hello All,

We have had many inquires as to how things are going here in the Methow Valley of Washington State in reference to the fires, so I am writing a quick letter to all.

For the last couple of weeks it has been very hot. About 100 degrees every day. Nearly two weeks ago we had an intense lighting storm and multiple fires were started, mostly on public lands. A few days later, VERY strong winds arrived and ultimately all the fires became three large ones, and eventually one large one. The largest in the history of the State of Washington. The fires burned about 200 homes, many outbuildings, vehicles, cattle, horses, etc., and destroyed the electrical distribution system. The fire burned down the valley for a distance of nearly 70 miles, all the way into the Columbia River Valley east of us. We found ourselves without power, telephones, cell phones, or internet service. All the stores and gas stations were closed except for Hanks in Twisp, about 13 miles down the road. It is a large store and the owner had installed back up power years ago.

Needless to say, many people today depend on credit cards and debit cards. Most people do not keep any cash at home. The results were that people could not carry on any transactions.... CASH WAS KING! ....Cars were lined up more than 3 city blocks in Twisp that had the only working gas station. Cash and no out-of-town checks!

It took on the average several hours to get fuel for cars and generators. Gas cans were in high demand! People were trying to borrow cash from those that had it. The local bank was swamped with demands for cash loans and they were working without power. Frustration was everywhere! Not even potable water to drink. People started stealing gas, generators and food.

Several friends lost their homes and I ended up with four additional people living here for the last week. Most only had the clothes they had on their bodies. No identification, drivers licenses, nothing! It is literally a scene from a war zone!

We were very lucky because our portion of the valley is west of where the fires started and the upper of the valley did not burn. Wolf Creek, adjacent to our property, provided water for everything and we had plenty of stored potable water. We also make it a point to have stored fuels, food and cash put away. After a couple of days I pulled the electrical meter from the service and wired our generator into the main panel. We now had well water and things got a lot easier.

Yesterday afternoon, after 8 days, the power was restored with help from throughout the Northwest and the internet was up a couple of hours later. People returned to other places and we found ourselves very tired, but thankful we could offer the support to those less fortunate.

Lessons learned. Be prepared! One never knows what the future will bring. Check your insurance; many had none! We are purchasing a larger generator to keep the house and everything running. By this experience we learned where our weaknesses are and what to do to make life easier for the future if need be.

We are very thank full our blessings, considering many families will have months, maybe years, for their lives to return to normal.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Fire Straws

CampfireWhen it's time to build a fire, the most important component is the tinder. Without it, the attempt to build a fire will fail.

The job of tinder is to catch a spark and turn it into a flame that is vigorous and long-lasting enough to ignite the kindling. Along that same line, the job of kindling is to catch fire and burn hot and long enough to ignite the fuel wood. The process works up from very fine flammable material, to wood that is a little heavier (maybe the thickness of a pencil), and from there to wood that is the size of your wrist or even larger.

But it's the tinder that gets the whole process started, assuming you have a method of igniting the kindling. That can be accomplished by many techniques such as with a spark from a "flint and steel" kit, or from an electrical source such as a battery, or a hot coal created by friction, or the heat of the sun focussed through a "burning glass," or a small flame from matches or a lighter.

But getting back to the importance of tinder — no matter what ignition method you have at hand, unless the tinder is good, the attempt to make fire will fail.

So let's take a look at a homemade tinder packet that is cheap and easy to make, and is utterly reliable even if it gets wet. It's called a Fire Straw, and here's how you make it.

You need the following items:
  • plastic drinking straws
  • cotton balls or dryer lint
  • petroleum jelly
  • scissors
  • a candle
  • pliers
  • toothpick

To make the fire straws, use the scissors to cut the plastic drinking straw(s) into short pieces, preferably about half or one-third their normal length.

Light the candle and hold one end of the straw a few inches above the flame to soften the plastic. But be careful not to ignite or fully melt the plastic. You want it to be soft, but not dripping and not on fire.

Use pliers to crimp the softened end of the plastic straw together to seal it. You might even bend the soft plastic over on itself before crimping to ensure the seal.

Place the cotton balls or dryer lint in a baggie, along with a smear of petroleum jelly, and mash it all together until the cotton or lint is fully impregnated with the jelly.

Pull out a pinch of the cotton (or lint) and roll it into a thin "worm" that will fit down into the open end of the plastic straw.

Use the toothpick to poke the cotton (lint) tightly into the straw. Keep adding more until the straw is full to within about a half-inch of the open end.

Now, hold the unsealed end of the straw above the candle flame to repeat the softening/crimping/sealing process.

The fire straws are now waterproof and prepared for action. When it comes time to build a fire, slit the straw open and pull a bit of the jelly-soaked material out through the slit, leaving the rest of it inside. You might be surprised by how willing this material is to catch a spark and leap into vigorous flame that will then ignite the plastic straw and become a long-lasting ignition source for the kindling.

Put a bunch of these fire straws in your pocket and pack, so you're never without a reliable tinder that can help you build a fire when you need one.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Five Critical Questions

Evacuation Route SignA disaster is looming!

Maybe it's a wildfire that threatens your region, a hurricane, an earthquake, tsunami, pandemic, flood, or perhaps a chemical/biological/nuclear attack. Whatever it is, it's got you thinking seriously about evacuation to a safer area.

But before you decide to evacuate, there are five critical questions that you need to ask yourself. And unless you can come up with the right answers, now's the time to start getting more prepared.

You'll notice that each major question contains sub-questions that are directly related. If you use these questions as prompts, they can help you make your disaster preparedness plans ahead of time, including the issue of potential evacuation.  
1. Why? — Why do you feel the need to evacuate? What makes you think that is the best course of action, given the circumstances? You realize that if you leave your home behind, you also leave behind all of your supplies (except those few things you can carry with you as you flee), and leave yourself exposed to all the unknowns that lie ahead. Are you really ready to do that? Of course, if the threatened disaster is serious enough, maybe you have no choice but the evacuate. If your home has been destroyed (or is in imminent danger of destruction), this whole question answers itself. At that point, I hope you can answer the next few questions correctly.
2. Where? — Where are you going to go? Do you have arrangements made with a friend or relative who lives outside the evacuation zone where you can go and be safe? Have you already prepared a "go-to" spot outside your region that you intend to use for vacations or for just such an event as this? Or are you planning to just wander until you run out of gas or, hopefully, find someplace that looks good? Are you going to throw your fate into the hands of the federal government to come and save you? Are you willing to live in a FEMA camp?
3. How? — How are you going to get there? What will you use for transportation, and what route are you going to take? Do you have alternative routes in mind, in case Plan A is a no-go? Do you have enough fuel to reach your intended destination? Do you have alternate transportation modes, in case the roads are so broken up that you can't drive a regular vehicle? Would you be able to go on foot, and do you know the best paths that can lead you out of the area in any of several different directions?
4. What? — What are you going to take with you? Do you have a "grab and go" kit already packed and ready to sling over your shoulder? Do you have one for every member of your family? Or are you just hoping to share someone else's toothbrush wherever you happen to land? Assuming that you have a bugout bag, when was the last time you went through it to check expiration dates and the general condition of supplies? 

5. And then what? — What is your post-evacuation plan? How will you survive the long-term aftermath of a major disaster if you make the decision to leave everything behind and evacuate to another region?

If you work toward having good answers to all these questions, you'll be more prepared to make what might be a life-or-death decision when a disaster looms.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Survive A Lightning Strike

lightningAlthough lightning can strike at any time of year, even during a snowstorm, summer is the season when it poses the greatest danger for people.
That's because this is the time of year when we're outside hiking, fishing, boating, playing golf and placing ourselves in an environment where  lightning can be a problem. 
Dr. Mercola ( presented an excellent article about lightning strike on his website, and gave permission to share it. 
From 2003 to 2012, nearly 350 people died from being struck by lightning in the US.  Many more are struck by lightning and survive, as only about 10 percent of lighting-strike victims are killed (though many do suffer from serious long-term effects).
Contrary to popular belief, what you do during a lightning strike can make all the difference in the outcome, helping you to survive and potentially suffer only minor injuries.
You might think this will never happen to you, but when you consider that the Earth is struck by more than 100 lightning bolts every second, it doesn't sound so far-fetched, does it? If you live in the US, you have a 1 in 3,000 chance of being struck by lightning in your lifetime. Knowing what to do if it happens can save your life.

How to Survive a Lightning Strike

The illustration above, done by Ted Slampyak for The Art of Manliness, shows the best position to assume if you're caught in a storm. In a nutshell, here's what you should know:
  • Don't lie down: If you lie down, an electrical current passing through the ground from a nearby lightning strike can pass right through your body.
  • Crouch low: Crouch low so you're not the tallest object around, and at the same time keep your feet close together with your heels touching. This will help the electricity to go in one foot and out the other. Crouch as low to the ground as you can.
  • Crouch on the balls of your feet: This way, a minimal surface of your body is touching the ground and, if a lightning strike does come through you off the ground, the current will most likely travel up one leg and down the other,  missing  vital organs like your heart.
  • Cover your ears: Placing your hands over your ears can help minimize hearing loss from the forthcoming (loud) thunder boom.
  • Beware of hair standing on end or skin tingling:  These are signs that a lightning strike is imminent. Get into the crouching position immediately if you feel them (but be aware that lightning may strike without these warnings).

If You Can Make It to Your Car, Go There

Have you ever heard of a Faraday suit or Faraday cage? This is what some electrical linemen wear so they can work on live, high-voltage power lines without being electrocuted.
Named after Michael Faraday, a scientist who invented them in the 1800s, the suit or cage is made of a mesh metal or other conducting material, which allows the electrical current to pass through the conducting material without reaching whatever is inside. It moves the current around you rather than through you.
Your car is actually a Faraday cage, which is why you're safe inside one if lightning strikes (it's not actually the rubber tires that protect you, as often believed, it's the effect of the Faraday cage).
So, if you can make it to your vehicle, do. If not, you'll want to crouch low to the ground on the balls of your feet with your heels touching, but avoid lying on the ground, as described above.

You Can Be Struck by Lightning Even If the Sky Is Blue

According to an analysis by the National Weather Service, in many lightning-strike deaths, the victims were either headed to safety, or just steps away from safety, when the fatal strike occurred, so if you think a storm is approaching, don't wait to seek shelter! Many wait far too long, believing the storm is too far away to be a threat. As reported by National Geographic:
"Most people do not realize that they can be struck by lightning even when the center of a thunderstorm is 10 miles (16 kilometers) away and there are blue skies overhead… If you can hear thunder, you are within 10 miles of a storm—and can be struck by lightning. Seek shelter and avoid situations in which you may be vulnerable."
Furthermore, lightning is not only a concern during a thunderstorm. It can also strike during other weather events, including:
  • Heavy snowstorms
  • Hurricanes
  • Forest fires
  • Volcanic eruptions
Generally speaking, if you know a storm is approaching, don't risk it. Seek shelter immediately. You can also use the 30-30 rule when deciding if you need to take cover. When you see lightning, begin counting until you hear thunder. If the time is 30 seconds or less, it means the storm is within six miles and you should move to safety immediately.  Even after the sun comes out, you should wait at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before heading back outside.

The Worst Places to Go in a Thunderstorm

If you're caught in a thunderstorm, resist the temptation to hide under a tree. Trees are typically the tallest objects around, making them perfect targets for lightning and one of the worst places to seek shelter. If you're near one, the lightning can jump over to you and follow your body on its way to the ground.
Rivaling trees as the worst place to go in a thunderstorm would be going near (or in) any type of water, as water is an efficient conductor of electricity (and if you're swimming, you'll also be the tallest object around). You also can't depend on wooden, vinyl, or metal sheds or structures to protect you, unless they're specifically designed to be lightning-safe (and most are not).
Small shelters common to picnic sites, parks, golf courses, and athletic fields will not typically protect you from lightning because they have no mechanism to conduct the electrical current to the ground (such as plumbing or wiring).
Toward that end, if you're indoors be aware that if lightning strikes, it can travel through electrical and telephone wires, which is why you should avoid contact with electrical appliances, plumbing (don't take a shower, do laundry, wash dishes, or even wash your hands), and landline phones (phone use is a leading cause of indoor lightning injuries).

Where Are You Most Likely to Be Struck by Lightning?

Contrary to popular belief, it's not on the golf course, although it is while you're engaged in leisure activities. According to a National Weather Service analysis, two-thirds of lightning deaths occur in people enjoying outdoor leisure activities. As you might suspect, the deaths spiked during the summer months of June, July, and August, and on Saturdays and Sundays, when people are most likely to be outdoors. Interestingly, golf didn't even make the top 10 list of leisure activities associated with the most lightning deaths (it was #12). The top locations revealed by the analysis were:
  1. Fishing
  2. Camping
  3. Boating
  4. Soccer
  5. Beach
  6. Farming or ranching
  7. Riding a bike, motorcycle, or ATV
  8. Social gathering
  9. Yard work
  10. Walking to/from home

What to Do If You're Struck by Lightning

Most lightning strikes are not fatal, but that doesn't mean they're without consequence. Lightning can injure your nervous system, leading to brain and nerve injuries. It can also lead to cardiac arrest from the electrical shock (and this is typically the cause of death in fatal lightning strikes). Rarely, serious burns may occur. If you're near someone who has been struck by lightning and they become unresponsive, it is safe to help them (there is no risk of being electrocuted if you touch them).
After calling for emergency help, administering CPR, or CCR, may keep them alive until help arrives. Aside from cardiac arrest, a lightning strike can lead to short-term symptoms such as muscle soreness, headache, nausea, upset stomach, confusion, mental slowness or fogginess, dizziness, and balance problems. In the longer term, other symptoms may also emerge, some of which may be delayed, including:
Problems coding new information and accessing old informationDifficulty multitaskingSlower reaction time
DistractibilityIrritability  Inattentiveness or forgetfulness
HeadachesChronic pain from nerve injuryRinging in your ears, dizziness or balance problems
Difficulty sleeping, sometimes sleeping excessively at first and later only two or three hours at a timePersonality changes, self-isolationEmbarrassment because you can't remember people or your responsibilities
Difficulty carrying on a conversationDepression
 In addition to finding a knowledgeable health care provider to treat and help resolve your physical symptoms, the Lightning Strike and Electric Shock Survivors, International (LSESSI) support group can offer you and your family emotional support.