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 (www.mercola.com) 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.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Survive The Predators

There is a correlation between survival in the wilderness and survival in civilization.

If you were camping in grizzly bear country, it wouldn’t be wise to encourage the bears to come into your camp looking for their next meal.

How would that happen?

The rule in camp is that you don’t leave food and garbage lying around in the open, because that will attract predators such as bears.

So, to keep from doing that, all food and garbage needs to be stored in bear-proof containers, or strung up on bear wires high above the ground where the bears can’t get to it. But in any case, you keep the containers or bear wires a good distance away from your camp, so even if the bears find those things at least they won’t be in your camp.

So that’s how it goes in the wilderness. But what’s the correlation between this and survival in the city?

In the city, there are predators. And just as surely as a grizzly bear goes on the prowl looking for its next meal, so do the predators in the city. 

You read about them every day in the headlines. Homes are invaded. Women and children are abducted. People are taken hostage or murdered.

In fact, your chances of becoming involved in that kind of predatory incident in the city are far higher than your chances of being attacked by a grizzly bear. 

Survival in the city is a much bigger problem than survival in the wilderness.So, how do you keep from encouraging the city predators from coming into your camp — your home, your life?

One strategy is to stop advertising. Stop displaying publicly any details about yourself or your family

One of the ways people publicly advertise details about their family is with bumper stickers. You’ve seen them — the cute little window stickers that show stick figures of a dad, mom, children and even the family pet. That immediately tells a predator that there are children who could be abducted and held for ransom — or worse.

Or the bumper sticker proudly proclaiming that you have an honor student that attends a particular school. Or that you are members of a particular country club or fitness center.

If you have parking passes, don’t stick them permanently to the vehicle, but attach them to a bit of card stock that you can place on your dashboard when needed, and then hidden in the glove compartment when not needed.

Another huge problem is social media. People who post their travel plans, vacation photos and comments, or even just idle chatter about the day’s events are, in essence, ringing the dinner bell for the grizzly bear. Don’t use Twitter and Facebook and other such communication technologies to advertise to the world what your plans are.

Keep your personal life private. Use your vehicle for transportation, not as a billboard to advertise details about your life and your family.

In the wilderness, you have to understand the nature of the grizzly and then take the proper steps to stay alive. In civilization, you have to do the same thing with city predators.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Core Essentials For Outdoor Survival

TentIt’s that time of year when people start abandoning their couch and TV and heading outside in search of adventure. It doesn’t matter whether your brand of adventure is hiking or camping or fishing or mountain biking or river kayaking.

No matter what you like to do when you leave civilization behind and head into the backcountry, you should stop and think — "What if something forces me to stay longer than planned? What do I need to survive?" This is a key concept, because you never know when you will unexpectedly end up in an emergency situation that turns into a survival incident.

It’s so easy for that to happen. All it takes is a simple injury, like a twisted ankle, on some remote trail. Or getting turned around and not knowing the way back to camp. Or a sudden storm that strands you a long way from your shelter.

If a trip suddenly becomes a survival situation, there are some basic things to consider. These are core essentials to survival in the outdoors. So here we go. The number one thing to consider is that:

• Exposure to the elements poses a threat to human existence. In a survival situation, maintaining proper body temperature is critical. Shelter from the elements — rain, wind, heat, and cold is vital. Your clothing is the first line of defense when it comes to shelter. Clothing with long sleeves and long pant legs is important in both hot and cold weather, because it helps control body temperature and dehydration. Long clothing also helps prevent sunburn, scrapes, bug bites, and other minor injuries. Every person should have windproof and water resistant clothing (an inexpensive pocket poncho works), as well as insulating layers to help maintain the proper body core temperature.

• Food is important. Even though a healthy individual can survive for a prolonged period of time without eating, the problem with going too long without food is that you literally run out of fuel and can't function efficiently. It might take several weeks to actually die of starvation, but in the meantime you will be operating at a progressively lower level mentally and physically. No matter how long your trip is planned for, take along enough compact, high-calorie emergency food to last a few extra days. It's good insurance.

• Water is absolutely essential to survival. Each person should have a couple quarts of drinkable water every day — and more if there is much exertion or if the ambient temperature is high. Take three-times as much water as you think you need for the outing. For greatest safety, a portable water purification system should be included in your equipment inventory. Filters are available in backpacking stores or from outdoor equipment mail order catalogs. Get one that removes dangerous waterborne microorganisms, such as giardia.

• And finally, Fire — take redundant methods of starting a fire, so you can have one in your jacket, and your pants, and your pack. You don’t want to be without a means of starting a fire, even if you happened to leave your jacket or pack in camp, then wandered away and got lost. Fire can be used as a signaling method, or for cooking food, purifying water, for warming you up and drying wet clothing, and for cheering up a gloomy night.

• Before leaving on your trip, file a flight plan with trusted individuals back home. These are your family members and friends or co-workers. Tell them where you're going, when you'll be back, and any side-trips you have in mind. Include information about who you’re traveling with, what vehicles are being used, and what type of equipment you’re carrying. That way, if you don't show up back home in a reasonable time, a search can be initiated. Don’t alter the plan, unless you call and notify the people back home that you are doing so. This might seem like a lot of trouble, but it is nothing compared to being stranded for several days on your own because the search teams are looking for you in the wrong location.

• Once you’re in camp, don’t just wander away without letting someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return. Discuss your plans with a responsible adult who can organize a search if you don't return at the appointed time.

• Talk with everyone in the group about the rules of conduct in camp. If there are children along, make sure they understand that everyone needs to know where each person is all the time. If someone turns up missing, conduct an immediate search, looking for footprints and calling out to the missing person. If your efforts don’t result in finding the missing person quickly, don't waste any more time before calling for reinforcements. While you’re waiting for the search and rescue team to arrive, continue to search actively. But make sure every person in your party remains in contact with each other. You don’t want searchers getting lost and making the situation worse.

• Prepare each person with knowledge and basic equipment for survival alone in the wilderness. Each person should have an age-appropriate kit that could include some of the following items: a pocket full of emergency rations, a bottle of water, a small first aid kit, a whistle and a signal mirror, a means of starting a fire, an emergency shelter, a knife, and a small flashlight. That might sound like a lot of stuff, but believe it or not, all this can be carried in a small fanny pack or in the pockets of cargo pants.

• Youngsters of responsible age should be taught how to prepare an emergency survival camp, signal for help, use a pocket poncho for shelter, and make their position obvious to searchers through audible and visual signals.

• Get some first aid training, and carry a good kit that you have assembled yourself, so you know what’s in there and what to do with it. The most common injuries are cuts, scrapes, burns, sprains and fractures. You should know how to handle those kinds of medical emergencies. If someone in your group is sensitive to bee stings, you need to know that and be prepared to handle that kind of situation. If someone is diabetic, you need to know that and understand how to handle insulin shock or diabetic coma. Contact your local fire department and ask where you can get emergency medical training. They’ll point you in the right direction.

If everyone in your group is prepared like this, there’s a better chance of a positive outcome if something does go wrong and you end up in a survival situation.

Search & Rescue

Emergency vehiclesRecently, there was a devastating landslide in Washington State that wiped out an entire community.

So far, the search and rescue teams have discovered 41 victims who died. There are still members of the community who are missing. Even though a month has passed since the landslide, the search and recovery effort continues. And it will continue for a long time to come.

When something like this happens, lots of people want to jump in and help in some way. That’s understandable, and it’s admirable that so many folks want to volunteer to lend a hand to relieve the suffering of people who have gone through a disaster.

But timing is everything.

At the moment of the disaster, if you’re a survivor and you can help other people get out alive, that’s great. But when the search and rescue teams arrive, or when the situation evolves into a search and recovery effort, that’s when things change insofar as your ability to help.

And this is what I want to talk about today. What is actually helpful, and what just gets in the way of the search teams?

One of the local officials went on the radio recently to talk about how people who are not part of the official search and recovery effort can help. And while he was thankful for all the volunteers, he also mentioned some things that people do that are not helpful.

Let’s go there first.

An event like this one, a natural disaster that wipes out a large area, is going to take a long time to recover from. Not only was the town wiped out, but the slide closed off a mile of state highway under mud and rocks and trees to a depth of up to 25 feet. The reason they can’t just bulldoze the rubble off the highway is because there might still be victims who are missing buried in that rubble. Clearing the area is going to take time. And until every missing person is found or the search is terminated, and the highway is cleared, the area will remain cordoned off so search teams can do their work.

This tragedy has been all over the news, and there are people who just want to drive up and look at it in person. The local official I mentioned earlier made a plea for people to stay away and let the workers do their jobs. “This isn’t a tourist spot,” he said.

For those who want to volunteer to help out in the wake of a disaster (not only this one, but any disaster), the best advice is to call the Red Cross or the local disaster relief organization and tell them you would like to volunteer to help. They’ll put your name on a list, and they’ll call you when the scene has been secured enough to allow volunteers to come in and help.

It’s nice of people to want to send things to help comfort survivors, but even that can become overwhelming for the relief agencies. The best thing to donate or contribute is money. Give it to the Red Cross or to your church, if they’re organizing a humanitarian relief effort.

Doing things in an organized way helps avoid more chaos in an already chaotic situation.