Friday, March 26, 2010

Do Not Cross

David and Kartina Baudek  of Mayer, Arizona loaded their two children into a pickup truck to drive their six-year-old son, Jacob, to a hospital because he was ill. A powerful winter storm was raging as they headed toward Phoenix, 70 miles distant, following a desert road they had traveled many times before. But on this day tributaries of the nearby Agua Fria River had already reached flood stage, and the normally dry dirt road was inundated. 

After crossing one section of flooded road, David decided that it was too dangerous to continue, so he turned the truck around to head back. Before them was a 50-foot-wide wash that was now quickly filling with swift-moving water. The truck made it 40 feet across before it was overwhelmed by the current and carried 20 feet downstream. 

Katrina managed to escape to high ground while David moved the children into the relative safety of the truck's bed. A bystander tossed the end of a rope to David, and another witness called for help. Trapped in the truck bed, David was helpless as the floodwaters rose until they covered the roof of the truck. Rescuers arrived, but were unable to reach David and the children. All they could do was stand by and watch the scene unfold. What was really needed was a helicopter, but the weather was too violent for that. 

For two hours, David fought to hold onto his children and to the end of the rope, while the current raged around them. Finally, losing the battle to stay with the truck, David and the children dove toward the nearest shoreline. By some miracle, the little girl, Desiree, made it to shore, where she was snatched to safety by her mother. David and Jacob were swept into a tree downstream, where the father clung to his son against the mighty force of the water. 

Eventually, David lost his grip on Jacob, and his son was swept away to his death. Remarkably, rescuers were separated from the family by the raging torrent until the next day when the water subsided. 

This is a stark and tragic example of the consequences of underestimating the power of moving water. Here are some startling statistics to remember:
  • As little as 6 inches of fast-moving water can sweep a person off his or her feet.
  • One foot of flowing water can move most vehicles off the road.
  • Most flood-related deaths happen at night and are vehicular. 
  • Small stream floods, and those happening in urban areas, often occur in less than one hour. 
Never attempt to drive across a flooded road. It's impossible to determine the condition of the road surface while it is covered by water, and the pavement might already be ripped away, leaving a hole that will swallow your vehicle. The rule is, if you cannot see the road surface or its line markings, do not drive through the water. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Test — A Challenge

Have you ever wondered whether or not you are prepared to survive a disaster?  Are you up for a little test? If you find your head nodding in the affirmative, then I challenge you to do the following role play as a make-believe survivor. This is as close to the real thing as you will be able to come without actually plunging into a real-life disaster. I hope that will never happen to you, but to be on the safe side, it's a good idea to test your ability to survive.

Let me warn you up front that, if you decide to accept the challenge, life will be inconvenient for a while. Things you had planned for today and tomorrow will be left undone. Sorry about that, but in all fairness, disasters strike without advance warning, so you must enter this challenge in the same way, with no warning. If you're not already prepared, you'll find that out almost immediately. This is a test that will reveal to you the weak spots in your emergency preparation. Trust me, this is a huge favor to you, even though you who accept the challenge will be cussing me before it's over. Suck it up and tough it out. I'm trying to save your life.

Okay, so here's the test. Let's pretend that right now, right this very instant, some kind of catastrophe hits your area. I don't care what it is — a tornado rips up your town, a massive earthquake makes rubble out of your community, a hurricane blows your region to shreds. Miraculously (because I am going to be kind and gentle with this first test), your home is still intact. However, beginning right this very minute, there is:
  • no electricity
  • no community water supply to your house
  • no natural gas
  • no sewer system
  • no telephone
  • no grocery stores
  • no restaurants
  • no gas stations
  • and all the roads are impassable, so you can't leave the area
Okay, that's your scenario. Remember, I've gone easy on you this time, because I didn't factor in that your home or apartment was destroyed. You can still live there in perfect comfort and safety. This is a test of how well you are prepared to survive without outside services. If you are bold enough to take me up on this challenge, you must live for the next 48 hours (again, I am being exceedingly kind and gentle to limit the challenge to such a short time frame) using only those supplies that you already have on your property. But remember that you cannot use any municipally-delivered water, nor anything that uses electricity (this means you have to unplug your refrigerator, freezer, electric stove, microwave, TV, etc.), nor natural gas (no furnace, no gas stove), and you can't use the telephone. You are allowed to use any battery-powered or solar-powered items you have. And you can also use a power generator, if you have one, but are restricted to using only the fuel you have now on your property. 

Sound fair enough? This is Disaster Role Play 101. It gets harder later on when I factor in the total destruction of your home and your vehicles. So for now, kick back and be comfortable and see what you can do with the scenario I've outlined. 

At the end of the challenge, I would like to hear back from you who are courageous enough to actually take me up on this little test. Leave your comments and I will publish those that are appropriate. Let me know how it all went, what you discovered about your existing level of emergency preparedness, and how you creatively solved the challenges of living totally "off the grid" as it were for a short time. Give it your best shot for 48 hours. Make notes about deficiencies that you will correct later. Have fun.

Good luck.  

Friday, March 12, 2010

Predators 1 vs Human 0

Alaska school teacher, 32-year-old Candice Berner was, by all reports, in good physical condition. Although she stood less than 5 feet tall, she was a boxer, a gymnast, and a distance runner.

Yesterday, while she was out for a run along a road near the small village of Chignik Bay on the Alaska Peninsula, something horrible happened.

When authorities found her body, she had been dragged off the road to a spot near the village lagoon. In the snow were imprints of wolf tracks. Alaska State Trooper Colonel Audie Holloway reported that, from the number of tracks around the body, there could possibly have been as many as 4 wolves involved.

I refer you back to my post of February 25, 2010 as a review of how to handle a confrontation with wolves. My condolences to the family of Candice Berner.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Low-buck Home Security System (a little humor)

  • Go to a secondhand store and buy a pair of men's used size 14-16 work boots.
  • Place them on your front porch, along with a copy of Guns & Ammo Magazine.
  • Put a few giant dog dishes next to the boots and magazines.
  • Leave a note on your door that reads:

Big Jake, Duke, Slim, & I went for more ammo and beer. Be back in an hour. Don't mess with the pit bulls - they attacked the mailman this morning and messed him up bad.I don't think Killer took part, but it was hard to tell from all the blood. Anyway, I locked all four of 'em in the house. Better wait outside.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Survive Forest Fire

Every year, wildfires burn thousands of acres, incinerating everything and everyone unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Temperatures can exceed 1000 degrees F. Heaven help you, if you’re trapped in the path of something like that. As the blaze closes in around you, terror is follow by nearly instantaneous death as you inhale super-heated air that literally melts the lungs.

How do you survive a forest fire? Here are rules to help you survive.
  • The first rule is to be somewhere else. That means leave the area; don't wait around to see how things develop. If you can’t follow rule #1, life might become a literal Hell on earth. Fortunately, there are ways to survive Hell on earth — but only if you’re very lucky and do everything exactly right. Wildfires are so powerful, unpredictable and destructive, that even well equipped and trained professional fire fighters die when their luck runs out and they become trapped by an onrushing blaze that overruns their position. 
  • In the game of life, prevention always beats cure. Before leaving home, watch the news, listen to the radio, and check with the Forest Service (or other administrative agency) about the fire hazard. If possible, stay out of areas that are presenting a high fire hazard. 
  • Maintain situational awareness. At all times, be aware of what's going on around you. 
  • Plan escape routes and safe zones where you could take shelter if a fire came roaring through the area. Safe zones include rivers, lakes (get in the water), or large level spots out in the open away from combustible material. Heat rises, so the safest zones are those that are downhill of the fire. 
  • If you are trapped above a fire, get out as fast as you can. Don’t try to save any of your gear. Gear is replaceable, lives are not. 
  • Look for an escape route that leads downhill, but do not follow canyons, chutes or draws, as these act as chimneys that funnel deadly heat up the hill toward you.  
  • If the flames are upon you, seek low ground — in a ditch or the notch in a forest road that will allow the superheated convective current to pass overhead. 
  • Breathe inside your clothing next to your body to protect your respiratory tract so you don’t inhale hot gasses. 
  • If you can find an area that has already burned over, leaving no residual fuel to reignite, that might be a safe place. But the ambient temperature of the scorched earth, rocks and timber will feel like an oven. Watch overhead to avoid snags and standing dead trees that might fall on you. 
  • If you are above the fire, but close enough to a ridge to scramble over before the fire reaches you, you might find safety on the lee side of the mountain. Although a fire will race uphill, it will makes slower progress downhill on the other side of the ridge. Watch for smoke coming from beyond the ridge, because a secondary fire on the lee side of the mountain might be coming uphill toward you.
  • For the best chance of survival, carry what firefighters use — a fire shelter, a domed foil covering to hide under as the fire passes over, as a last resort, when escape is no longer an option. The shelter claims to reflect 95% of radiant heat. It’s fairly compact and lightweight, measuring only 8.5”x5.5”x4” and weighing about 5 pounds in its pack. The cost is around $340 to $400, depending on size (from But when a wall of fire is roaring toward you at 70 miles per hour, sounding like Hell’s freight train, and live embers are raining down like flaming hailstones, 400 bucks might not seem like a lot. Of course, proper training in the shelter’s use is a must. Download “The New Generation Fire Shelter” publication from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group from 

Urban Security

Home invasion and burglary are on the rise. Unless you're dealing with a crackhead or some other type of lunatic, most of these crimes are committed by thugs who don't want to be seen or heard. They tend to operate under the cover of darkness, or during the day when they are sure nobody is at home. To ensure success, they will often case the target house beforehand, trying to figure out the best time and the approach that offers the most concealment. 

Watch for people going door-to-door, because this is a favored method for burglars to determine if someone is home. Call 9-1-1 and report any door-to-door activity in your neighborhood. Also, call to report any unknown or unfamiliar vehicles traveling slowly or parked in your neighborhood. Burglars look for a residence with easy access and low visibility to keep them from being seen when entering through a window or when kicking in the door.

There are steps you can take to make your house less attractive to a burglar.
  • Take a good look at your home and identify vulnerabilities. Stand across the street and think to yourself, "How could I break in?" Look for structural or landscaping designs that visually block the entrances to your home, making it easy for a burglar to approach without being seen.
  • Trim back trees, shrubs, or bushes that are near windows or doors where a burglar could hide.
  • Solid fences provide privacy for everyone, including the person breaking into your house. If you have a fence or are thinking about building one, consider styles such as wrought iron, chain link, or separated board that allows visual access to your property.
  • Some burglars prefer to work in the dark. If you are away from home for an evening, leave a light on inside the house. If you are away for an extended period, make arrangements for your lights to come on periodically (automatic timers, etc.). 
  • Use motion sensor exterior lights to illuminate your porch, sidewalks, and other access routes. Properly placed and functioning lights remove shadows and illuminate the potential suspect.
  • Alarm systems that switch on lights and make loud noise will often frighten away intruders.
Police departments rely on private citizens to act as eyes and ears, so you should call anytime, 24 hours a day 7 days a week, if you see suspicious or criminal activity.  Get to know your neighbors and start a Block Watch program in your neighborhood. Block Watch is a commitment between you and your neighbors to watch out for and report suspicious or criminal activity to the police. The overall goal is for the entire neighborhood to become unattractive to burglars.

Between having an active Block Watch (with signs posted), and making simple changes such as additional lighting, shrub removal and fence design, you can go can go a long way toward making your home and neighborhood safer.

Cold and Booze Don't Mix

Leave it to the Mythbusters to prove a point. This time, the point to be proved was that alcohol and cold weather do not go together well. The myth was about a St. Bernard dog carrying a cask of brandy to rescue stranded mountaineers in the deep snows of the Alps. The questions was whether or not that would be a valid rescue tactic.

To demonstrate the effect of drinking alcohol in a cold environment, Adam and Jaime (the Mythbusters) were placed in a huge freezer, and heat sensing devices were used to measure their body surface temperature at hands and face as they sat there and chilled. Both men also swallowed encapsulated thermometers that sent internal core temperature information to digital readouts. So it was all very scientific.

After cooling their heels in the icebox for a while, their skin temperature had dropped quite a bit and they were starting to feel the beginning stages of frostbite. But even at that point, their internal temperature was holding pretty steady.

That's when they decided to see if drinking some brandy, delivered to them in the most authentic manner by a St. Bernard dog, would make them feel warmer. So in came the dog and down the hatch went the brandy. Adam and Jamie both said they felt warmer as the alcohol went down the pipe into their stomach. And by using the temperature sensing devices they were able to verify that their skin temperature was actually warming by several degrees. Thermal imaging equipment graphically showed how much warmer their skin was after imbibing.

But, the internal thermometer told another story. Their core temperature was actually dropping like a rock. That is exactly the wrong thing to have happen if you intend to survive in a cold environment.

There's a physiological reason for all this. Alcohol acts as a vasodilator to open the blood vessels and allow a greater flow of blood from the core of the body to the surface and extremities. That's why the skin temperature appeared warmer on the thermal imaging display, and why Adam and Jamie felt warmer after drinking the brandy.

The problem with that is the extremities are cold, so when the new warm blood arrives it becomes instantly chilled, and then it returns to the core of the body, carrying the cold with it, thereby lowering the body core temperature.

Of course, that was only part of the problem. The other part was that they guys quickly became drunk and lost their ability to make good decisions. It was funny to watch on TV, as the guys started babbling about stupid things, but in a real outdoor survival situation, it would be anything but funny. In a survival situation, whether urban or wilderness, keeping a clear head and being able to make proper decisions is absolutely imperative. You've heard me say it before, 90% of survival is in your head, and this was a good demonstration of what that means.

Final analysis: Do not drink alcohol to try to stay warm. Use it as a fuel to get a fire started. In the end the Mythbusters concluded that they would have been better off snuggling with the warm and furry St. Bernard than drinking the brandy. Very true.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Disease in the Aftermath

The major earthquake is over in Chile, but the next round of crisis is just getting started — disease. It doesn't take long after normal services like trash removal, the delivery of fresh water, and a functioning sewage system stop working for things to start rotting and breeding disease. That's what's happening in Chile now.

In the aftermath of a catastrophe, not all the debris is inorganic. Whatever is organic starts to decay, attracting insects, rats and other vermin that spread disease. Doctors in Chile are reporting increased incidents of diarrhea from unclean drinking water, as well as a growing number of patients with injuries caused by living around the rubble of broken glass, torn metal, and fractured buildings.

Not only that, but there is garbage (and dead fish in the coastal fishing villages) putrefying in the streets. The need now, according to the mayor of the port city of Talcahuano, is for clean water, an electrical system, and a functioning sewage system. "We need to clean up rotting fish in the streets," he said. "We need chemical toilets, and when it starts raining, people living in tents are going to get wet and sick. All this is going to cause infections."

It wouldn't be so bad if 36 hospitals hadn't been heavily damaged or destroyed. It wouldn't be so bad if the country's military didn't have to be occupied trying to stop the looting of pharmacies that has resulted in massive shortage of medicines that could be used to treat patients. It wouldn't be so bad if all the survivors could get tetanus and hepatitis vaccinations. It wouldn't be so bad if doctors could easily sterilize their instruments and maintain sterile operating and treatment rooms. Unfortunately, it is so bad because all of the things I listed are now the reality.

Lessons for us:
  • Get over your belief that this can't happen here. It can. It will. It's just a matter of time. 
  • Realize that once the initial cause of the catastrophe has ended (the hurricane is over, the tornado has stopped, the earth had quit shaking, whatever), the problems of living with the aftermath are often larger than the original crisis. 
  • Recognize that public services such as ambulance, hospital, police, fire department, water, sewer, electricity, natural gas, communication, transportation, food, and stores of every kind will stop operating.
  • Prepare to take care of all (or as many as possible) of those needs yourself by taking the following steps: 
  • Become trained in first aid.
  • You will need to provide security for yourself and your family.
  • Learn to put out fires in your own house, and have a plan to evacuate to safety.
  • You must be able to provide you own safe drinking water and food.
  • Have an independent means of cooking and staying warm.
  • You need to be able to provide your own alternative shelter if you are forced to evacuate your home. 
  • For communication have two-way radios for members of the family to stay in touch with each other, and an emergency multi-band radio so you can listen to broadcasts to be aware of what's happening.
  • For transportation, it would be a good idea to use bicycles or motorcycles that can easily navigate rough terrain and debris-strewn roads.
  • Create an emergency supply of necessary items that will not be available when the stores have been looted to death, such as toilet paper, sanitation supplies, prescription medications, etc.
The key to survival is preparation. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Predators — Animal & Human

In Chile, the Army is having a tough time keeping a lid on all the violence in the aftermath of the earthquake. For a day or so after the quake, I watched Chile with a bit of admiration for the way the populace remained fairly calm and orderly. Haiti almost immediately descended into violence in the streets, but it took Chile a whole two days. Wow!

So now there is a massive amount of money and time and energy and resources being spent on trying to keep the lid on looting and other acts of violence. That's money and time and energy and resources that could otherwise be used to actually help the victims of the earthquake.

What is it about the nature of some humans that so closely approximates the behavior of predators in the wild kingdom? Why can't people just settle down and help each other through the crisis? Why do they start acting like animals in a feeding frenzy?

Let me make one thing clear — we're not talking about looters stealing bread to feed their families. We're talking about looters breaking into stores to steal TV sets, then burning the store to the ground.

Honestly, what's the point of all that?

There are different kinds of predators in the animal kingdom, and in an encounter with them you must respond appropriately or you'll end up injured or dead. The same goes for human predators.

Let's take a look at bears for a moment. A grizzly bear is very different from a black bear (most of the time). With a grizzly, it does you no good to challenge the bear and try to scare it away by standing your ground and trying to appear bigger than you are. Your only chance (if you can't avoid the bear altogether) is to either kill it outright or play dead and cover up your most tender parts. Best case scenario: you'll get roughed up as the bear paws you and maybe even takes a few bites. You might survive, but there are no guarantees. Worst case: some grizzlies will just tear you apart and eat what it wants of you.

With a black bear, you can often scare it away by banging pots and pans. Usually, all it wants is some free lunch, and you're not likely to be on its menu. With this animal, you can often frighten it away if you look big and intimidating and make a lot of noise.

A cougar will actually stalk you. If you try to run, it will take you down from behind, tear the muscles and ligaments out of your legs so you can't escape. Then it will eat and drag the leftovers away for a midnight snack. But if you face the cougar, stay on your feet and make yourself look really big and dangerous, the cat will often think twice about taking you on. You can scare a cougar away, but only if you stand your ground and make yourself look like a huge threat.

Different animals, different approaches to surviving an encounter. It's the same with human predators. Some are grizzlies, some are black bears and some are cougars. You must be able to assess which is which and then have a plan of action to survive.

Animals don't understand human verbal reasoning, so there might be an advantage when facing a human predator, in that you might be able to talk your way out of the situation by offering to give the thug all your stuff in exchange for your life.

But not always. Some thugs just love violence. Nothing you can say will deter them from their mission to destroy you and take all your stuff by force. To them, it's more fun if you struggle. Kind of like running from a cougar and how that triggers an attack. Some people are that close to being animalistic predators, and if you underestimate their potential for violence, you do so at your own risk.

This is where I mention that you should have a "come to Jesus" conversation with yourself about what you're willing to do to stay alive and protect your loved-ones. I have a close friend who abhors the very thought of using a firearm for personal defense, claiming that it is better to try to make friends than to offer resistance. All I can say is, "That ain't me." And it might not be you … but then again, it might be. Only you can decide where the line is that you won't allow the predator to cross. Or maybe there is no line.

Give it some thought.

Monday, March 1, 2010


In the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Chile, looters are posing a threat to survivors. This is one of the reasons I have said before that it isn't only the shaking of the ground that presents a survival issue, but it's the population. After the earth has stopped moving and the buildings have collapsed and the dust has settled (all of which might take no more than a few minutes), the threat to survivors might continue at the hands of other people, especially if those people in question are desperate and unscrupulous.

Some might argue that, in the face of a survival incident, all the rules come down; that you do whatever it takes to stay alive. That is the kind of mentality that leads to people breaking in private homes and businesses to take whatever they want. It's called looting, theft, robbery, burglary. If you think looting is no big deal, take a look at this little Fox News clip from Chile.

"Rescuers searched for an estimated 60 people trapped inside a new, 15-story apartment building that toppled onto its side in Concepcion. Firefighters were lowering a rescuer deep into the rubble when tear gas fired at looters across the street forced them to pause their efforts."

Looters actually caused a stoppage of rescue efforts. That can cost lives. It turns looters into potential contributors to the loss of life. Out of their selfish stupidity, the looters possibly become unintentional murderers. For what? So they can cart away a TV or cases of cigarettes or booze?

Here's more:

"The sound of chain saws, power drills and sledgehammers mixed with the whoosh of a water cannon fired at looters and the shouts of crowds that found new ways into a four-story supermarket each time police retreated. Some looters threw rocks at armored police vehicles outside the Lider market, which is majority-owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Across the Bio Bio River in the city of San Pedro, looters cleared out a shopping mall. A video store was set ablaze, two automatic teller machines were broken open, a bank was robbed and a supermarket emptied, its floor littered with mashed plums, scattered dog food and smashed liquor bottles.

"They looted everything," said police Sgt. Rene Gutierrez, 46. "Now we're only here to protect the building — what's left of the building."

So what can you do about it? How can you survive the aftermath of a catastrophe?
  • First of all, don't become part of the problem. Make a firm commitment in your life that you won't participate in looting. It is utterly despicable to try to advance your position by taking advantage of others. You don't want to be that kind of person. 
  • Prepare your evacuation kit so you can take what you need when you get out of the heart of the crisis and move to a safe area.
  • If you must leave your home and all your worldly goods behind, the only way you can hope to protect them is to board up the windows, lock the doors and leave. You can replace "stuff" but you can't replace you, so don't lose your life or your health trying to defend items of property. 
  • Be prepared to protect yourself and your loved ones from attacks. You must decide how far you're willing to go to protect yourself and your family. Prepare yourself both physically (however you define that) and emotionally to take the necessary steps.