Thursday, December 31, 2009

Survival Attitude

I’m going to tell you three stories that illustrate what today’s post is all about. See if you can figure it out before I reveal the secret.

First story — Forty-nine-year-old Theo spent 3 days lost in the Michigan woods. The weather was nasty and the rain thoroughly soaked him.  At night, his clothes froze. Theo was not a smoker, so he carried no matches or lighter to start a fire.  He didn’t intend to stay overnight in the woods, so he had no supplies with him, and his only food consisted of rabbits that he caught and killed by hand and ate raw.

Next story — Two young women were lost for 4 days in the rugged wilderness area of Yellowstone National Park.  They found some small bird eggs in a nest and ate them.  “The eggs were warm, so they weren’t too bad,” one of the girls later commented.  There were grasshoppers and ants in the area, and the girls said they considered eating them, but they were rescued before they had the chance.

Final story — Seventy-nine year old Francis was lost for 4 days on the rugged slopes of a 4,000-foot mountain in Oregon. She kept herself going by eating wild berries, sleeping on a bed made of ferns, and using survival techniques she learned years ago. When she was rescued, she apologized for the huckleberry stains on her hands, and shooed away photographers as she was carried to safety.

Okay, so what’s this all about? You might be thinking this is about surviving in the backcountry by finding and eating wild foods. But we’re not talking about food — we’re talking about survival. And survival is really about overcoming the odds, reaching down deep inside ourselves and going beyond what is normally required of us.  It’s about attitude.  These stories are about people who adjusted their attitudes and overcame their fears and food prejudices and they managed to live for several days in conditions of hardship.  They all had an attitude about surviving, and it was that attitude that pulled them through.

It is no secret that 90% of survival is psychological, and only 10% is really about the rest of it.  This is easily proven by the countless stories of people who have stunned the experts by living through situations that defied all the rules of logic.  People survive extremes of heat, cold, dehydration, starvation and all forms of misery for only one reason — they are unwilling to accept defeat.

On the other hand, there are countless other stories of people who gave up and died when they should have survived.  Without sufficient will to live, they just didn’t rise to a fighting stance, look adversity in the eye and defiantly spit.  They gave up.

Survival is an individual thing.  The old saying holds true — whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right. On the extreme negative side, there is a condition of psychological dysfunction in which people become exceedingly depressed and simply give up, or they may fall victim to full-blown panic.

In urban survival situations, we often see folks sitting around waiting for someone else to come along and save them. They have an attitude of entitlement, an expectation that the some government agency is supposed to make sure they live through the crisis. They cease to function in pursuit of their own survival. When that happens, the death toll rises.

So it isn’t always the food, water, shelter, warmth or any of the other physical aspects of survival that make the difference— sometimes it’s the attitude.

The question is, “What is the proper survival attitude?”  The simplest answer is that it’s a fighting attitude.  If you’re not willing to fight for yourself, you might not survive.  Somewhere, down deep inside, you must find a controlled level of hostility toward the situation, a burning anger, a righteous indignation. Identify the enemy, no matter what it is, and then fight for your life against every threat. Never give up. Never!

No matter how you choose to define the attitude, control it. It’s a defiance, not a wild rage.  Clench your fist, grit your teeth and hiss, “I ain’t going down!” Then let that attitude motivate you to appropriate action. No matter what happens, you must always believe that you are going to survive.

Your attitude needs to involve four spheres of influence — yourself, the situation, others in the group, and your possessions.
  • About yourself: Your attitude must be one of confidence.  It’s normal to feel a certain level of apprehension or even fear. Courage is nothing more than pressing on in spite of fear, and continuing to work toward a positive solution.  Do not allow your fears to grow to the point that you think you’re not going to survive.  You are in control of your own thoughts, and if you need to shout out loud to yourself that you’re going to make it, go ahead.  In fact, the steady sound of your own voice speaking with firm resolve may help calm you.  Use only positive affirmations when having these little discussions with yourself.  Say things like, “Okay, I know I can get a fire started.”  Don’t use negatives in any form, such as, “If I don’t get a fire started, I’m going to freeze.”  The brain and the body respond without prejudice to both positive and negative mental inputs, so focus on only the positive.
  • Regarding the situation: You must deal with reality.  Develop a clear and realistic assessment of the situation — where you are, what the weather is doing, your physical condition (illness or injuries), and the condition of everyone in the group.  Make a mental note of every asset, every item of equipment right down to your shoelaces, your survival knowledge and the skills of every person in the group.
  • Concerning others: Your attitude must be one of cooperation and compassion. Some may react negatively to the situation. Deal with them in a manner that inspires confidence and a willingness to pitch in and help solve survival problems.  The most unlikely individual might rise to a leadership role. Be prepared that this individual might not be you.  This is no time for office politics — be a good leader or a good follower, whichever position you find yourself in. But always bring a positive influence to the group. If you think you know something that the leader needs to consider, take him or her aside and discuss it calmly and in private in a non-confrontational and non-condescending manner, so there is no appearance of mutiny.
  • Finally, about your possessions: Your attitude must be one of careful and protective use of every resource, so as not to lose, waste or ruin anything.  In a group survival situation, there is no such thing as a personal possession, because your knife or your compass might be the instrument that is used to save the whole group.  That doesn’t mean you freely give your knife to some club-fisted oaf so he can ruin it. Retain physical possession, but the benefit belongs to the group.
Survival is all about attitude. Whether you’re a 79 year-old woman who is lost in the mountains, a group of hunting buddies trapped by a severe storm, a young family that is suddenly stranded in the backcountry by a landslide that closes the trail, staying alive is a process that begins in the brain.

Once your attitude is right, you will be more successful as you work through each challenge. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Let's Talk Terrorism

In light of recent events, it's time to talk about terrorism. Juval Aviv was the Israeli Agent upon whom the movie Munich was based. He was Golda Meir's bodyguard — she appointed him to track down and bring to justice the Palestinian terrorists who took the Israeli athletes hostage and killed them during the Munich Olympic Games. Needless to say, he understands terrorists.

Here is a report that contains a little of what he has to say about America’s approach to handling the issue of terrorism, both on a national scale and as individual citizens.  

So, what can America do to protect itself? From an intelligence perspective, Aviv says the U.S. needs to stop relying on satellites and technology for intelligence. We need to, instead, follow Israel's, Ireland 's and England 's hands-on examples of human intelligence, both from an infiltration perspective as well as to trust 'aware' citizens to help. We need to engage and educate ourselves as citizens; however, our U. S. government continues to treat us, its citizens, 'like babies'. Our government thinks we
'can't handle the truth' and are concerned that we'll panic if we understand the realities of terrorism. Aviv says this is a deadly mistake.

Aviv recently created/executed a security test for the U.S. Congress, by placing an empty briefcase in five well-traveled spots in five major cities. The results? Not one person called 911 or sought a policeman to check it out. In fact, in Chicago, someone tried to steal the briefcase!

In comparison, Aviv says that citizens of Israel are so well 'trained' that an unattended bag or package would be reported in seconds by citizen(s) who know to publicly shout, 'Unattended Bag!' The area would be quickly & calmly cleared by the citizens themselves. But, unfortunately, America hasn't been yet 'hurt enough' by terrorism for their government to fully understand the need to educate its citizens or for the government to understand that it's their citizens who are, inevitably, the best first-line of defense against terrorism.

Aviv also was concerned about the high number of children here in America who were in preschool and kindergarten after 9/11, who were 'lost' without parents being able to pick them up, and about our schools that had no plan in place to best care for the students until parents could get there. (In New York City, this was days, in some cases!)

He stresses the importance of having a plan, that's agreed upon within your family, to respond to in the event of a terrorist emergency. He urges parents to contact their children's schools and demand that the schools, too, develop plans of actions, as they do in Israel ..

Does your family know what to do if you can't contact one another by phone? Where would you gather in an emergency? He says we should all have a plan that is easy enough for even our youngest children to remember and follow.

Aviv says that the U. S. government has in force a plan that, in the event of another terrorist attack, will immediately cut-off EVERYONE's ability to use cell phones, blackberries, etc., as this is the preferred communication source used by terrorists and is often the way that their bombs are detonated.

How will you communicate with your loved ones in the event you cannot speak? You need to have a plan.

Avoid Abduction

I received the following bit of information about a technique that is apparently being used to kidnap women at shopping malls or other locations having large parking lots. Let me pass it along to you with all due caution about dealing with strangers, no matter how nice and helpful they seem at the time. 

"About a month ago there was a woman standing by the mall entrance passing out flyers to all the women going in. The woman had written the flyer herself to tell about an experience she had, so that she might warn other women.  The previous day, this woman had finished shopping, went out to her car and discovered that she had a flat. She got the jack out of the trunk and began to change the flat. A nice man dressed in a business suit and carrying a briefcase walked up to her and said, 'I noticed you're changing a flat tire. Would you like me to take care of it for you?'  The woman was grateful for his offer and accepted his help. They chatted amiably while the man changed the flat, and then put the flat tire and the jack in the trunk, shut it and dusted his hands off.  The woman thanked him profusely, and as she was about to get in her car, the man told her that he left his car around on the other side of the mall, and asked if she would mind giving him a lift to his car.  She was a little surprised and she asked him why his car was on other side. He explained that he had seen an old friend in the mall that he hadn't seen for some time and they had a bite to eat, visited for a while, and he got turned around in the mall and left through the wrong exit, and now he was running late. The woman hated to tell him 'no' because he had just rescued her from having to change her flat tire all by herself, but she felt uneasy . (Trust that gut feeling!) Then she remembered seeing the man put his briefcase in her trunk before shutting it and before he asked her for a ride to his car.  She told him that she'd be happy to drive him around to his car, but she just remembered one last thing she needed to buy (Smart woman!!)  She said she would only be a few minutes; he could sit down in her car and wait for her; she would be as quick as she could be. She hurried into the mall, and told a security guard what had happened, the guard came out to her car with her, but the man had left. They opened the trunk, took out his locked briefcase and took it down to the police station. The police opened it (ostensibly to look for ID so they could return it to the man). What they found was rope, duct tape, and knives. When the police checked her 'flat' tire, there was nothing wrong with it; the air had simply been let out.  It was obvious what the man's intention was, and obvious that he had carefully thought it out in advance. The woman was blessed to have escaped harm. How much worse it would have been if she had children with her and had them wait in the car while the man fixed the tire, or if she had a baby strapped into a car seat? Or if she'd gone against her judgment and given him a lift?"

Monday, December 28, 2009

Use Your Brain

It's tempting, in this day of high-tech gadgets, to switch off our brains and let the electronics do our thinking for us. An example — this past weekend, a Nevada couple followed the onboard GPS in their SUV as it lead them into trouble. They were traveling across the desert of eastern Oregon, letting the GPS direct their route, and they ended up getting stranded in deep snow on a remote forest service road.

Make no mistake about it, I am an advocate of GPS and other technology that can (I said CAN) make life easier and safer. But it is unwise to mindlessly follow a digital voice as it tells us where to go. The GPS has no idea of conditions on the ground — in this case that a huge winter storm had dropped 18 inches of snow that would block the route it was telling the couple to take.

GPS has no way of knowing if a rockslide has closed a highway, or if there is flooding, or a tornado, or a forest fire, or a chemical spill from a wrecked 18-wheeler. That little device, as awesome as it is, can only do so much. The rest is left up to us to figure out.

That's why we need to maintain (oh-oh, here they come, my favorite two words) situational awareness. That means:
  • keeping our eyes and ears open to what's happening around us 
  • listening to weather reports
  • calling ahead to get the latest info about route closures
  • watching the sky
  • watching for deteriorating road conditions
  • and then using common sense in our decision making
As it turned out, this couple finally made it home after an unexpected 3-day delay with their vehicle stuck in the snow. After 2-1/2 days, the couple was able to make a connection with their cell phone, and a deputy sheriff found the couple and used a winch to pull their 4-wheel-drive Toyota Sequoia out of the snow. According to the deputy, the couple was well-equipped for winter travel, carrying water, food and warm clothes.

During winter travel, equipment to add to the list includes a shovel, chains, a winch, and devices that can call for help (such as a personal locator beacon or SPOT Satellite Messenger).

No matter how much equipment you carry, there is no substitute for using your brain to make decisions about whether or not to proceed down a snow-covered forest road in the middle of nowhere. Don't let some digital voice coming from a little black box lead you into trouble.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Save Your Life

There is a piece of equipment that can save your life. Stick with me for a minute, and I'll tell you how.

Tonight, a huge portion of the midwest, from the Canadian border to Texas, is struggling to recover from fierce winter storms that have stranded hundreds of motorists in white-out conditions and blizzard-driven snow drifts. In the midst of the holiday season, traffic is heavy as friends and family members travel to get together, placing more people than usual at risk. Even if you're an experienced winter driver, it is so easy to become blinded by the snow, slide off the road, or plow into a drift and get stuck.

The trouble is that most travelers are not prepared to spend hours or even days in their vehicles awaiting rescue. No — most folks think they're always going to be able to make the trip without incident, so they don't bother to take a sleeping bag, food, water, and other necessary items for winter survival. When they get stranded, they run the vehicle engine so they can operate the heater to stay warm. Before  long, they're out of gas, and now they can't move even if the snowplows come along and clear a path.

If you think I'm kidding, just read this report from the Associated Press — "It's really been horrible," Wichita County Sheriff David Duke said. "Although we live in north Texas and get a lot of cold weather, we weren't prepared for the significant amount of snow that we've received. Only two of the sheriff department's vehicles have four-wheel drive, so rescuers used their own pickups and the heavy 5-ton brush trucks normally used to fight fires to get to motorists, many of whom ran out of gas while they were stuck in traffic stalled by the storm." This is serious business, and people die right in their vehicles — not always from accidents, but also from hypothermia.

So, what's the miracle piece of equipment that can save your life? It's an adapter to allow you to plug in your cell phone to a 12-volt DC outlet in your vehicle. If you become stranded and have to call for help, you don't want the cell phone battery to die in the middle of your communication. By plugging into the vehicle's cigarette lighter, you can keep the phone alive so you don't lose the connection with rescue teams.  Even if you don't know exactly where you are, they have the ability to track you to your location if the connection is still active.

So if you don't already have an adapter in your vehicle, get one and carry it always. It could make all the difference in the world.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Be Prepared Always

The past few days have delivered evidence of why it is a good idea to be prepared always for the situation to run amok.

First to England, where hundreds of travelers were trapped on the underground train when the weather caused a mechanical breakdown of the system. There they sat, no food, no water, no heat or air conditioning, and no idea how long they would be stranded like that.

Next we go to the airports along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. where thousands of travelers were trapped by winter weather and cancellation of flights. Not only that, but ground transportation was halted by blizzard conditions that strangled all routes of travel. There people sat, waiting for Mother Nature to give them a break.

And let's not forget about airline passengers being held like prisoners on airplanes for several hours while their planes sit on the ground unable to fly. In December 2006, lightning storms and a tornado warning closed down the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, stranding passengers on some planes for as long as 9 hours. In February 2007, a winter storm led JetBlue Airways to leave airplanes full of passengers sitting on the tarmac at Kennedy International Airport for nearly 11 hours. From January to June of this year, more than 600 incidents like this kept passengers stranded on airplanes for more than 3 hours without the ability to disembark.  

Out of all this there will be thousands of individual stories about having to endure miserable conditions, living like so many cattle that had been herded into tight quarters and left to stand or sit or lie down on a cold, hard floor and await some future that they had no control over.

Keep in mind that being stranded applies to subways, bus travel, trains, and even your own personal vehicle. The weather can (and does) almost instantly shut down all forms of transportation. When that happens, wherever you happen to be, that's where you'll going to have to live for a while. Might be at your office, at the mall, stuck in traffic, or the places already mentioned. 

As always, there are lessons to be learned from the suffering of others. There are only so many rational things you can do — among which I offer the following:
  • Never leave home wearing clothing that cannot serve as adequate shelter and insulation in the worst possible weather conditions for the season and location. A pocketable rain poncho is worth its weight in gold (even at present inflated gold prices) when you're exposed to wet weather.  In addition, wear clothes that will keep you warm if you end up sleeping on the floor at an airport. 
  • Always wear shoes that are comfortable enough for you to walk 5 miles, and sturdy enough to protect against damage to your feet from cold, wet, rocky or muddy conditions. 
  • Always carry some kind of emergency food such as granola bars.
  • Always carry a water bottle, and keep it refilled when you encounter drinking fountains. NOTE: See prior posts about contamination problems with municipal water, and act accordingly. 
  • Keep your cell phone charged so you can call for help, or to notify friends and loved ones about your predicament. During the emergency, limit use of the phone to only the most essential calls, to preserve battery power. 
  • Carry along with you some form of low-tech entertainment — playing cards, a cribbage board, a book to read — to keep you from going nuts during the delay. By engaging other stranded folks in a game, or lending them a spare book, you will be doing a kindness for others. 
  • Check your attitude at the door. Becoming impatient and cranky will not speed the resolution to the problem. Sharing a calm demeanor with everyone around you will undoubtedly help. This is when a good sense of humor, an abundance of tolerance, and a willingness to help others will be like gold. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Personal Responsibility

One of the funniest, yet ironically tragic, video clips that circulated on the Internet some years ago showed two well-dressed business people entering the lobby of a modern building. They stepped onto an escalator to catch a ride to the next level up. Midway between floors, the escalator suddenly stopped, as if someone had pulled the plug. At first, mild irritation showed on the faces of the two who were riding the escalator. That was soon replaced by foot tapping, finger thrumming and repeated glances at wristwatches as the frustration built. Then came the shouts for help. The man yelled into the empty echo of the vacant lobby, “Hey, someone help us. We’re stuck here.” The woman joined in the effort to vocally summon help. But there they stood, tapping their feet, thrumming their fingers, helplessly waiting for someone to come along and lift them the rest of the way to their destination. As time went on and the escalator failed to start again, and no one came to assist them, their shouts for help became more and more demanding, but neither was willing to simply pick up their feet and walk to the next level.

It was hilarious as a political video clip aimed at pointing fingers at one of the parties. But beyond the humor it was tragic because it perfectly displayed a condition that is all too real in today’s world where, when we get stuck, we expect someone to come along and bail us out. We expect it! We’re entitled to it — at least that’s the concept that’s promoted by organizations (including the government) that profit from keeping people dependent.

The truth is that if I can keep you dependent on me to solve your problems, then I can either tap into your wallet directly or into the government’s wallet (which is really your wallet) to keep me in the lucrative “rescue” business. I won’t even start to go into the vast variety of “entitlement/rescue” operations that are at work in our society, each selling the fable that you are incapable of making it on your own without their help. But just look around and you’ll be amazed at how helpless these organizations want you to feel, so you’ll be intensely grateful to them for saving you from everything; never mind the fact that what they’re really accomplishing is the destruction of the human spirit of independence and self-reliance.

Now, I’m not saying that some people don’t sometimes legitimately need outside help. What I am saying is that, to the degree that we are capable, we need to be willing to walk up the escalator on our own when the thing breaks down, rather than just stand there and scream for somebody to come and carry us the rest of the way. 

My message here isn’t about what you “deserve” or what you’re “entitled” to in life. It’s about how to take personal responsibility for your own welfare and then reach out and help the next person. It’s about reclaiming your human spirit, discovering what you are capable of, and not waiting around for someone to come along and convince you to remain incompetent, impotent, unqualified, powerless, helpless. It’s about the eternal truth that was spoken by a great American president who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you … ask what you can do for your country.” And the beginning of that is to ask what you can do for yourself.

Doing what you can for yourself does not mean that you isolate yourself from the rest of society, become a loner, a recluse, a stubborn person who wouldn’t accept help from someone else if his life depended on it. I’ve known people like that — they get in a jam, you show up to lend a hand and they wave you off as if you’re some kind of irritating gnat. They’re grumpy, bitter, and resistant to any offers of assistance. Well, that’s not what I’m talking about when I say that we all need become responsible for our own welfare.

Actually, it’s just the opposite. Taking personal responsibility extends to how you interact with the community around you. Assuming you live in a free and safe society, you benefit greatly by the strength of that society — it helps keep you safe and offers a type of communal strength that is not available when you’re on your own, having to come up with your own water supply for every drink you take, your own food supply for every bite you eat, constantly having to watch your back lest the Barbarians ambush you to steal everything you’ve got. So, recognizing that the community, the neighborhood, or even just the family provides a lot of comfort and security, you own something in return. If you go off the deep end and isolate yourself, turning your back on everyone else, you violate the core concept of personal responsibility. Because you are personally responsible to contribute to the community.

Don’t misunderstand the concept of personal responsibility and self-reliance. Part of your responsibility is to be willing to help yourself to the degree possible. And don’t shortchange yourself here — don’t set such minimal standards with low goals and ideals that it takes no effort to reach them. Do what you can for yourself, and then look around and see whom else you might be able to help. That’s what it means to take personal responsibility.

If you think you are incapable, consider the true story about Rudy Garcia-Tolson. Born with multiple physical problems, including a club foot, deformed hands, a cleft lip and palate, by the time Rudy was five years old he had already endured 15 surgeries. At that young age, he was forced to face the choice of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair or amputation of both legs and then trying to learn to walk on prosthetic legs. Rudy, at a time when most kids never make a decision more daunting than choosing between Frosted Flakes or Fruit Loops, chose to have his legs amputated.

Of course his parents and doctors were involved in the decision, but they were his legs, and ultimately it was his choice to make. It’s called taking personal responsibility.

So, what did Rudy do, now that both legs had been sawed off through the knee? He began swimming, then running, then cycling. By age 15, he had won a Paralympics Games gold medal. In 2007, he broke his own world record … twice. He competes in triathlons (swimming, cycling and running), was the first bilateral amputee to complete an Ironman 70.3 triathlon, and has set a goal to complete the grueling Ironman World Championship Triathlon in Hawaii.

During his early life, Rudy was honored with the Arete Courage in Sports Award, the Spirit of de Vinci Award, and many others. He was chosen to carry an Olympic torch, and People Magazine named him among 20 teens who will change the world.

And it all started with what most people would consider a disability (read: inability). Rudy, however, doesn’t dwell on inability; he thinks in terms of ability. What he can do, not what he cannot. What he has left, not what he lost. “I don’t ever really think about the fact that I’m an amputee,” Rudy says.

I call that heroic personal responsibility. 

Boil Order

Somewhere around the country, nearly every day, there's a boil order issued by health departments in communities that are having problems with the water supply. So, what's a boil order? It's an advisory that is announced, usually over local radio or TV stations, 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 equipment failure in the water delivery system.

Advice accompanying a boil order usually says to boil all drinking water for 3 minutes. The word boil mean a rolling boil, with vigorous bubbling. And this should be done to all water that will be use in any part of food preparation — diluting soups, juice concentrates, rehydrating mashed potatoes, mixing gravy, making ice cubes etc., 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. Rather than boiling the dishwashing water, you can treat it chemically 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, to give it time to kill the organisms. Be aware that not all organisms will be killed by chlorine, giardia being one example. Iodine is better at inactivating giardia cysts than chlorine, but iodine causes health problems for some people. Effectiveness of chemicals at disinfecting water is heavily dependent on 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 boiled 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.

To survive a boil order with the least amount of hassle or risk, place in your emergency storage a few days' supply of paper plates, plastic utensils and cups, and at least a week's worth of bottled drinking water. Use large zip baggies to serve as mixing bowls and storage containers for leftovers. That minimizes the amount of dish washing that needs to be done.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Urban Water Problems

Following up on the previous post about bugs in the water supply, you might be interested to know that there have been some HUGE problems with urban water supplies, resulting in hundreds of thousands of illnesses. One example is Milwaukee, Wisconsin back in the spring of 1993 when 403,000 residents became ill and more than 100 died of cryptosporidium contamination.

I only bring this up to reinforce your understanding that the city water supply is not necessarily clean and reliable, just because the water has passed through a complex system designed to make it fit to drink. Knowing this, we have installed a compact filter system on our faucet at home, and all water that is to be used for food preparation or drinking is taken from that filter.

An alternative is to buy bottled water, but I am not entirely confident that the bottler of that water can guarantee purity any more than the city water utility can. Accidents can happen. Equipment can fail. And contaminated water can sneak through the system. So we prefer to filter our own at home.

There are various causes for a community water supply to suffer damage, allowing contaminants into the water lines. This can happen during an earthquake, a severe winter freeze, a flood, a water treatment equipment failure, a sewage treatment equipment failure, or when excavation equipment accidentally breaches a pipeline. And that doesn't even take into consideration an intentional attack on the water supply by terrorists.

So it's a good idea to have your own home water filtration system. One of the best systems is reverse osmosis, but these units are expensive and take up a lot of space under the sink. We used to own a reverse osmosis filtration system, but now we rely on a simple accessory filter that fits on the faucet. Even something this compact and simple will suffice to keep out the bad stuff, because it is rated to eliminate giardia and cryptosporidium. That is the standard to look for in filtration.

Tomorrow we'll talk about boil orders, what that means and how to handle it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bugs in the Water

If you travel the world, it is normal to believe that you should take some precautions about drinking the water. But most folks assume that, in this country, if you stay in a hotel the water should be safe to drink.

This morning, a luxury hotel in Miami, Florida was forced to relocate about 300 guests after one guest died and two others became ill from drinking water contaminated with Legionella bacteria. The culprit? According to an initial investigation, the hotel had installed a powerful water filter that removed the chlorine from the city water supply, and that allowed the growth of the bacteria.

What can you do to protect yourself from bacteria in the water supply? You have only a couple of options:

  • Boil water you intend to use for drinking. This is not a simple solution in a hotel room. 
  • Chemically treat the water, using water purification tablets available at a sporting goods store. This procedure requires a certain amount of time to pass before you can consume the water. 
  • Filter the drinking water with a compact backpacker's filter that is capable of removing bacteria and cysts. Weird as this sounds, it might be a viable solution to the problem. 
  • Purchase bottled water. This gets expensive, but might work for you. 
One problem to be aware of is that the hotel and restaurants uses the local water supply to make ice cubes. if the liquid water is contaminated, the frozen water will pose the same risk. You can avoid this hazard by ordering your drinks without ice cubes. 

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Be Careful Who You Listen To

A couple days ago, I was listening to a nationally syndicated radio talk show that was hosted by a fellow who gives investment advice to callers. One listener called in with a question about investing in gold, and that set off the host. His opinion was that gold, as he put it, "sucks" as an investment, and he went on to explain his way of thinking. He wrapped it all up by saying that people who invest in gold are the same ones who went nuts about Y2K and filled their basements with food storage, water, and a generator. And then, as if to strut in the pride of his wisdom, he proclaimed that he didn't own a generator and never would. It was a public slap in the face to all those who take steps toward personal emergency preparedness. And it was such a foolish statement to make, because I can almost guarantee that the radio station he works for has a backup generator so they can stay on the air when there is a power outage.

Now, I am not an investment advisor, so I can't, with any authority, tell people whether or not gold is the right investment vehicle for them. But I am a survival advisor with a lifetime of experience and training, and I am fully capable of helping people understand how to survive in urban or wilderness crisis. And I'm here to tell you that you need to be careful who you listen to about these matter. That guy on the radio was, to put it mildly, ignorant of the facts when it comes to matters of survival.

Maybe he has never experienced an ice storm that rips down the power lines and leaves entire regions without electricity for a week or more. Maybe he has never suffered a flood that contaminates the water supply; or an earthquake that destroys roads and buildings, eliminating any chance of going to a store for food. Maybe he's never passed through a personal economic crisis that left him eating from his supply of stored food until he could get back on his feet.

Bully for him, if he's never needed to use a personal emergency preparedness plan to help him through struggles in his own life. But it's both foolish and dangerous to promote the idea that those of us who take steps to mitigate a crisis in the future are "nut jobs." That is, in essence, what he was saying.

By taking personal responsibility for your own emergency preparedness, you take the pressure off of federal, state and local relief organizations that will come along later (who knows how much later) to help victims. If you can take care of yourself, and perhaps a few others in the neighborhood, you are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The most patriotic and compassionate thing we can all do is become more self-reliant, but not just to benefit ourselves. We need to do this with an attitude that we will reach out and use what we have to help others in need.

Someday, that radio host might find himself in a position to need someone to help him. When that time comes, I hope someone does, and maybe that will open his eyes and help shift his attitude.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fixed-Blade Knife/Saw

Not every knife manufacturer gets it the way SOG does. I mean, there are so many knives on the market that look fantastic, but in a survival situation the last thing you need is an empty promise delivered by a pretty face that just can't do the job. We get enough of that in politics.

SOG gets the job done. The company started building knives in the spirit of the Special Forces of the VietNam era — hence the name SOG (go ahead, look it up, the history lesson will be fun). From the beginning, quality and function took precedence over looking pretty. But to a true outdoor enthusiast, there is nothing prettier than superior function.

One of SOGs recent innovations is the Fusion Revolver - SEAL, and I have to admit that this puppy has won my heart. What I want in a survival knife is something hefty enough to do the dirty jobs without whimpering. That means a blade with plain and serrated edges for cutting and slicing, and a spine that is hefty enough to allow me to beat on it when splitting kindling. But the Fusion Revolver takes it one step farther with the addition of a powerful double-tooth saw that allows clean and effortless cutting of branches as thick as my forearm for building shelters or other camp projects.

This is not a folding knife in the traditional sense, but at the same time it is a totally folding knife. The survival saw and knife blade are on opposite ends of a single length of 440A stainless steel that pivots to allow the blades to revolve through the handle to deliver whichever one you need. A positive lock in the hand grip prevents the blade from moving until you are ready to change to the other blade. Then it takes just a couple of seconds to swap from knife to saw and back again. Nothing could be easier.

Overall length is 10 inches, with each blade measuring 4.75 inches. Total weight is 6 ounces. Retail price is $40. Check it out at

Trapped Hunters

More than two dozen hunters are, right at this moment, trapped by 2 to 3 feet of freshly fallen snow in the mountains of Arizona, according to reports from the Coconino County sheriff's office. The huge storm dumped that much snow in one day, trapping 25 to 30 elk hunters in the high country near Flagstaff.

Searchers on snowmobiles, cross-country skis, and snowshoes are in the process of checking popular camps, trying to find the survivors and get them out before they run completely out of food, water and fuel for heating. With those supplies dwindling, rescuers are trying to get to those in greatest need first.

Some of the trapped hunters were able to use their cell phones to call for help, triggering the rescue attempts. Not all of the folks who are trapped are rugged hunters — some are children and elderly folks, according to reports.

How can you prevent such an event from happening to you?
  • Always at the top of the list is the process called Situational Awareness. Be aware of what the weather patterns are doing and what the near-term and long-term forecast is. Before and during the trip, check weather forecasts by radio, TV, newspaper, and the Internet. Carry a battery-powered NOAA weather radio with you, so you can keep up to date and listen for weather warnings.
  • But don't let it end there — keep your eyes on the sky, watching cloud formation and movement. Forecasters will not be aware of weather activities in your locale until someone calls them to report it. Your eyes and your understanding of how to read the weather are the most important forecasting tools right where you are. 
  • If there is a change in temperature, barometric pressure, cloud formation and direction of cloud movement, take the initiative to cancel your plans and get out of danger. Don't wait around until it's too late. 
  • Be prepared with at least twice as much supplies as you think you'll need, because you never know when something will happen that will strand you for longer than you expected to be there. 
  • Leave detailed instruction with friends and family members back home, letting them know exactly where you will be and how long you will be there. Then, do not change your plans without notifying those folks about the changes. 
  • Always have winter-grade clothing and sleeping bags in your vehicle at this time of year. 
  • Carry signaling devices — mirror, whistle, colorful fabric panels, personal locator beacon or SPOT, radio, 
  • Carry a GPS, not only to keep yourself from getting lost, but also so you can tell rescuers exactly where you are, if you are able to contact them by phone or radio.
  • And, of course, carry redundant methods of starting a fire. 

Fire Starters

Starting a fire is not always easy. When you're down to your final match, or trying to conserve the juice left in your Bic lighter, you can't afford failure. This is when you need to use an accelerant, to make sure the tinder ignites and burns long enough and hot enough to ignite the kindling.

There are accelerants in nature, such as pitchwood or fresh evergreen sap. But depending on your situation, those might not be available. In urban survival situations, you probably have several accelerants to choose from in your medicine cabinet, pantry, or first aid kit.

Here is an alphabetical list of excellent accelerants that I have personally tested. These items are normally disguised as common household products, but if you apply a small amount to a cotton ball or to a bit of wadded toilet paper or paper towel, you’ll have a powerful fire booster.

  • Alcohol swab — Quickly takes a spark and turns it into an inferno. Only the alcohol burns, leaving the swab material untouched. This can be ignited from a spark without using any paper as a base. 
  • Carmex — A small amount smeared on paper ignites easily and turns the paper into a long-burning candle. 
  • Chapstick — This product, when applied to a piece of paper, extends the combustion time of the paper by a factor of about five. This is important because it multiplies the power of the flame to ignite tinder, kindling, and fuel wood. 
  • Deodorant — Smear deodorant on a patch of paper, and it will burn much longer than the untreated paper alone would. 
  • Hair oil — A few drops of hair oil on paper will burn like a wick dipped in lamp oil, consuming the oil rather than the wick, keeping the fire alive for an extended period of time. 
  • Hand sanitizer — If you have hand sanitizer that contains alcohol, it's almost as good as napalm. This stuff will burst into flame directly from a spark, and doesn’t even need a paper base for it to start burning. 
  • Insect repellant — A bit of liquid insect repellant on paper makes a very volatile accelerant that bursts into flame quickly after striking a spark on the paper base. 
  • Neosporin — Not all accelerants burst into flame quickly. Some act as a combustion extender. Neosporin is one of these. It takes a bit of effort to ignite, but when it does it burns steadily to sustain the flame for a long time. 
  • Petroleum jelly (Vaseline) – This is one of my favorites. It is cheap, easy to obtain, and is an excellent accelerant that burns long and hot. 
  • Snack chips — Here's a surprise for some people, and it might make you think twice about eating these things. I’ve used potato chips, Fritos, Doritos, Cheetos, and white-label varieties of all of these. They all burn like an oil field on fire. The trick is to prop them up vertically over the toilet paper, strike your spark into the paper, and as the flame rises the chips will turn into a torch. 
  • Zinc oxide (the white stuff surfers put on their nose to prevent sunburn). This material burns slowly and steadily, extending the combustion period of the paper it is smeared on.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    My Favorite Folding Knife

    Multi-tasking is a good thing, at least when it comes to survival tools. I like tools that can do more than one thing, as long as each task is performed well. But that can only happen when the tool is not compromised by poor design, shoddy workmanship and low-quality materials.

    Keeping all that in mind, I was happy to find a multi-tasking folding knife that lives up to high standards. It's the SL Pro 2 made by Toollogic ( In one compact package that weighs just 4.2 ounces, I now have a sturdily-built, razor-sharp, 3-inch 50/50 serrated/plain blade that is protected from accidental folding by a very positive locking mechanism. But that's just the beginning. Three other functions include a bright LED flashlight that conveniently shines directly on the spot where the knife is working (or it can be removed and used independently), a magnesium alloy fire starter that works in conjunction with a striking surface on the knife blade, and a loud signal whistle built into the knife handle.  Additional features include a stainless steel pocket clip and a lanyard hole.

    The blade is designed for easy one-handed opening and closing, using either hand (a boon for those who are ambidextrous). The bright LED turns on with the twist of the light barrel, and a tug on the light dislodges the unit from the knife handle and reveals the fire striker on the opposite end. My test of the fire striker satisfied me that, by using proper technique and good tinder, it is a simple matter to start a fire with just one attempt. The signal whistle is shrill and loud with just a puff of breath on the aft end of the knife handle.

    The SL Pro 2 answers a multitude of needs, is easy to use, and the materials and workmanship are first rate.  For a suggested retail price of $52.50 this is an affordable way to equip yourself to meet a variety of situations. This has become my favorite folding knife for obvious reasons.

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Passive Self Defense

    The worst predators are in civilization. Two-legged predators aren't just looking for their next meal, the way a bear or cougar is … they're looking for a victim. Might be a robbery, a rape, or a murder. This is what makes civilization (and I use that term guardedly) so much more dangerous than the wilderness.

    Surviving civilization requires constant situational awareness. All that term means is that you are aware of the situation — what's going on around you — and you make decisions according to what is happening. This is the best form of passive self-defense. It's taking stock of the situation, and then taking steps to avoid trouble.

    Let's say, for example, that you're a woman coming out of a grocery store and walking alone to your vehicle in the parking lot. So let's analyze the situation:
    • Are there lots of other people around, or is the parking lot pretty deserted?
    • Study the scene. Who is lurking between where you are and where your vehicle is located?
    • Is anyone parked adjacent to your vehicle?
    • Is it a van, and is it parked on the left side of your vehicle?
    • Is it possible there are people in or near the van?

    The reason I bring this scenario up is because one of the favorite methods used by kidnappers and rapists is to park a van adjacent to the driver's side of a woman's vehicle, knowing that when she comes out of the store she will automatically try to enter her vehicle on that side. Suddenly, the van side door slides open, the woman is grabbed and pulled into the van, and it disappears into the flow of traffic. The abduction takes mere seconds, and because the vehicles create a visual blockade, chances are nobody else will even notice what happened.

    These low-lifes want to work quickly and quietly. They don't want someone screaming for help or putting up a struggle. They want to grab and run, so they set up the ambush to enable just that. If you keep your eyes open and be ready to scream and run and make a big fuss, you'll be a less desirable target. And they'll be watching to see if you're paying attention to the surroundings. Making eye contact and looking strong and determined will sometimes deter an attack.

    How does the kidnapper know the car belongs to a woman alone? These vermin are patient. They stalk their prey. They lay low in the parking lot watching people come and go. When they see a woman drive in, park her car and go into the store, they pull up next to the driver's side and wait.

    More than once, my wife has faced this scenario — she exited the store, saw a van parked next to her car with the sliding cargo door facing her driver's side door, and had a bad feeling about it. So, what did she do?
    • Instead of approaching her car on the driver's side, she kept her eyes open
    • she analyzed every movement of people
    • she approached her car and walked around to the passenger side
    • got in
    • locked the doors
    • then crawled across to the driver's position and drove away 
    Another option is to go back inside the store and request that someone escort you to your car. This is especially important at night, if you're alone. Do not be overcome by embarrassment. Be bold enough to ask for help. It is a life-saving strategy.

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Another True Story

    'Tis the season. And every year about this time, true stories of survival situations crop up. This one is about the Keith and Jennifer Lee family on a Christmas tree hunt in the high elevations of the Oregon mountains. With their Forest Service tree permit in hand, they drove an all-wheel-drive Subaru to the Siskiyou Mountains in search of the perfect silver tip fir. After cutting the tree and lashing it to the top of the car, they headed home. Unfortunately, they didn't make it.

    Rounding a corner on the lonely mountain road, they suddenly plunged into deep snow and the car sank "like it was in quicksand," according to Jennifer. For the next three days and two nights, the couple worked to free the car, by placing rocks beneath the tires and then trying to rock the car out of the snow in reverse. That didn't work as intended, but rather it moved the car closer to the edge of the cliff.

    As Keith worked on a fresh solution, Jennifer prayed and thought about how it would impact their children and other family members if they never made it home alive. During the day, it was warm enough. At night the couple huddled under blankets and ran the car engine for 15 minutes each hour to use the heater. They had plenty of drinking water and blankets, but no food. There was no cell coverage where they were, so their cell phone was useless. And even though they knew they were going high in the mountains where the snow can get deep, Keith had failed to bring tire chains.

    Back home, a close friend named Sophie Smith was watching the Lee children and the dog. When the Lees failed to return home to pick up the children by the next morning, she called the police. Unfortunately, nobody knew exactly where Keith and Jennifer had gone to hunt for their Christmas tree. The only clue the searchers had was the fact that the year before, the Lees had gone up into the Siskiyous to get their tree. That's about like saying someone went to Los Angeles to buy food. It's not much of a clue. The Siskiyous are huge and empty and rugged. Needle in a haystack.

    Nevertheless, a search was begun using a helicopter, snowmobiles, and ATVs. But the search turned up no sign of the stranded couple.

    Finally, on the third day, Keith shifted his strategy by placing the rocks differently under the tires. Luckily, the car moved far enough that they were able to drive out of the snow. As they were traveling home, they heard on the radio that a search was underway for them. They called 911 to report that they were safe, then phoned Sophie Smith to let the kids know.

    A happy ending, but it could easily have been so terribly different. As we analyze this case, it's easy to see what was done right and what was not. Topping the NOT list is the fact that the Lees failed to let anyone at home (or at the forest service office, or the sheriff office) know exactly where they were going. That alone could have resulted in an early rescue when they didn't come home as expected.

    Another item on the NOT list is failure to take self-rescue equipment like tire chains, when the expectation is that there is likely to be snow up at the elevation where they were going. Or how about a shovel, or a winch?

    Another NOT is failure to have sufficient survival supplies in the car. A tent and cold-weather sleeping bags would have been so much better than huddling under a blanket inside the car and wasting fuel to run the engine for heat.

    How about the failure to take effective signaling devices such as a PLB (personal locator beacon) or SPOT Satellite Messenger that can call in the rescuers immediately to their exact GPS coordinates? Or what about building a signal fire with a dense smoke column to attract attention from miles away?

    So what did they do right? For one, they didn't give up and quit trying. Keith was willing to keep working on a solution and trying different approaches. I've got to hand it to him for that. And Jennifer kept praying. I'm a believer that God helps those who ask, so bless her for her faith.

    As a side note, a year ago, the Lees got lost in the mountains while hunting for a Christmas tree. So we're starting to see a pattern here that is not very good. My suggestion is that Keith and Jennifer get a PLB or a SPOT for Christmas, and start leaving a flight plan with friends and family before venturing into the mountains again. Oh yeah, and stock up the car with appropriate supplies and equipment.

    Merry Christmas to the Lee family. You already got your present.

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    Food Poisoning

    When disaster strikes, grocery stores might not be open or stocked with food. That's why it's so important to have your own emergency food storage system. In an earlier post, I mentioned storing up food supplies in your home, and also talked about marking each container of food with the date of purchase so you can use the oldest stuff first and constantly keep the supply fresh. The older it gets, the more likely it is to spoil, so you need to keep an eye on the condition of the supply.

    With all foods, it's a good idea to do a "sniff test" when the container is first opened, even if that item came directly from the grocery store (because you have no idea how long it has been on their shelves). If the food smells bad, get rid of it. Don't take a chance on eating marginal food. With canned goods, a telltale sign that the food has gone bad is that the can will bloat as the putrid gas inside expands.

    If you see a can like this (even if it isn't this bad, but has a little bit of expansion), get rid of it and then closely inspect all the rest of the supply of similar items. A good can will have a slightly depressed lid, not one that is lifted at all. If you can press down on the lid and make the can "talk" to you, don't use it. The lid should be tight as a drum, but make no drumming sound.

    Food that comes from bulging or rusted cans is  considered to be unsafe for consumption.

    One of the things that might cause food to spoil in a can is if the metal has been dented. If the dent occurs along a seam in the side, or where the lid and the side of the can join, a breach might take place that will allow air to enter and mix with the contents. When that happens, microorganisms can grow, potentially resulting in botulism.

    If you fail to not notice that the can was damaged, and if you fail to notice that the food smells "funny" when you open the can, you might still notice a strange flavor when you put it in your mouth. Unless it's something like a jalepeno pepper, the food shouldn't bite back. If it does, or if it tastes weird in any way, spit it out and then get rid of the rest.

    Food poisoning derived from canned goods is generally caused by bacteria that can knock you down in a hurry with nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea,  that will leave you weak and dehydrated. In the U.S. alone, the DCD estimates that food poisoning causes about 76-million illnesses each year, putting 325,000 in the hospital, and causing 5,000 deaths.