Thursday, October 28, 2010

When Aid Doesn't Come

Every day, somewhere in the world, there is a disaster that displaces people from their homes and normal lives. When that happens, the victims inevitably hope for outside help to come and rescue them.

Indonesia recently suffered a double whammy as a powerful 7.7 earthquake generated a tsunami that, as of this writing, killed more than 430 and made 20,000 more homeless, and that was followed by a volcanic eruption of Mount Merapi, killing and injuring more folks.

The two events happened hundreds of miles apart, and that had the effect of dividing the relief effort, with part of the aid going to help victims of the volcano and another part heading for ground zero of the tsunami.

Having two disasters going on at the same time makes it difficult to carry out relief efforts, but then when you throw in bad weather, it can become almost impossible to deliver the necessary aid. Near the region of the tsunami, stormy seas and bad weather hampered relief agencies for several days, making it impossible for them to even examine the impact of the tsunami on the populace. That meant that the victims were on their own. And when the weather finally allowed rescuers to arrived, the first thing they had to do was assess the situation so they could determine what needed to be done to save the survivors. That also took time.

I bring this up to illustrate how important it is to NOT rely on outside assistance in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Those who survive the incident (whatever manner of disaster it may be) must be able to fend for themselves for a while, because it is very likely that local emergency relief agencies (hospitals, EMS, etc.) will be disabled or overwhelmed, and outside relief agencies might take a while to arrive.

Here are some things to consider:
  • Become aware of the conditions in your locale that can cause a disaster. If you live near a forest, it might be a forest fire. If you live in an earthquake zone, that might be what causes the disruption. Do an assessment of your area and identify all of the possibilities. 
  • Make an emergency response plan for yourself and your family, including a 72-hour kit, possible escape routes, rendezvous points, hunker-down sites if you are forced to evacuate. 
  • Get as much emergency training as possible, especially emergency medical training. 
  • Conduct practice evacuations during which you give yourself just a few minutes to get your stuff together and head for your alternate hunker-down site. This can take the form of a "hurry up" camping trip that you suddenly throw together with 5-minutes notice. Make it fun, but have a larger purpose in mind. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Disasters often travel in company. Outbreak of disease is a common companion to some event such as a tsunami, volcanic eruption, flood, earthquake, etc. We can see how it all works right now, if we look again toward Haiti.

The earthquake happened way back in January — ten months ago – killing an estimated quarter-million people, injuring another 300,000, and leaving more than a million homeless. Here we are, nearly a year later, and more than a million are still homeless. It will take years, maybe decades, for that society to recover to a condition of normalcy.

In the meantime, many of those homeless are living in refugee camps that become hotbeds of disease. Medical care is simply overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem, and in spite of  the best efforts of relief agencies that are there to help.

Imagine how difficult it is to feed and supply clean drinking water to more than a million refugees. The water is an especially hard problem to solve, with high ambient temperature quickly pushing victims into dehydration. Then add cholera, a waterborne bacterial disease that causes severe watery diarrhea and vomiting that plunge victims rapidly into lethal dehydration.

In one case reported by the Associated Press, a 55-year-old man named Jillie Sanatus was brought by his son to a clinic. Suffering from cholera, he was so badly dehydrated that the doctor had a hard time finding a vein to initiate an IV to restore the man's body fluids. Even after the IV was successfully started, Sanatus died within 10 hours. His son reported that the family had been drinking water from a river running down from the central plateau. That river tested positive for cholera.

But what's a disaster victim to do? The choice is to die of dehydration due to the heat and scarcity of pure water, or get creative and find another water source. The trouble with wild water is that it cannot be trusted, and unless you have a method of purification, you run the risk of ingesting contamination.

Cholera is a major cause of death in the world. An untreated victim can produce 10 liters of diarrheal fluid per day. Called "rice water stool" this watery discharge is loaded with bacteria that, especially in a refugee camp setting, can end up getting into the groundwater or drinking water supply and thereby contaminating other people. Any infected water or any food washed in contaminated water can transmit the disease. Cholera can kill you in a matter of a few days, especially if you are already in a weakened condition due to dehydration, malnutrition, injury, or other disease.

Today, a cholera outbreak is running wild through Haiti. Already, just days after the outbreak began, there have been more than 200 deaths, and more than 2,700 more are sick with the disease. The disease has spread from remote refugee camps to the major city of Port-au-Prince, and health workers are becoming pessimistic about the ability to contain the outbreak. The potential is for the death toll from cholera to dwarf the deadly impact of the earthquake. In the years from 1899 - 1923, a cholera pandemic killed more than 800,000 in India before it migrated to the Middle East, northern Africa, Russia and Europe.

Could it happen in America? It already did, with at least three major outbreaks in the U.S. during the 1800s. From 1866 - 1873, more than 50,000 Americans succumbed. And again during the "fifth pandemic" from 1881 - 1896, while a quarter-million perished in Europe, 50,000 died from the disease in North America. A study of the history of cholera outbreaks is sobering.

While it cannot be said that the earthquake directly caused the cholera outbreak in Haiti, it is obvious that the two are linked. The first disaster set the scene for the second to appear. It is a pattern that can be depended on to repeat again in the future.

So what can we do to protect ourselves from this dread disease?
  • Sanitation is the key to prevention. As long as there is a sanitary system of potable water distribution and sewage disposal, there is little risk. But when a natural or manmade disaster occurs that disrupts these systems or intermingles sewage with the domestic water supply, it is possible for cholera to happen anywhere. 
  • Be prepared to purify all of your drinking, cooking and food/hand-washing water. A quality sub-micron backpacking filter will screen out bacteria. Chlorination, ozone water treatment, UV treatment of the water, or boiling for one minute at a rolling boil will eliminate the risk of cholera. 
  • Be prepared to safely dispose of your own body waste in a sanitary manner. 
  • Do not trust wild water sources, no matter how high up the mountain, nor how pristine the tumbling brook appears. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What Does It All Mean?

Over the past week or so, I posted three little fables that I claim have a lot to do with survival. And I asked you readers to think about the underlying meaning of these tales. Now I'm going to weave these three stories together into a concept that I believe is critical in a survival situation.

First — Two Wolves: One is evil, the other is good. They are in a constant battle with each other. The question is, "Which one lives?" The answer is, "The one you feed."

The wolves represent what's inside of you — your habits, your patience, your hatred, your forgiveness, your ability to be calm in a crisis, your tendency to fly off the handle, your judgment of other people, your ability to keep your thoughts to yourself, your desire for the limelight, your teamwork, your selfishness, your generosity, your compassion … everything about your personality and character traits. The ones you feed are the ones that will live. And in a survival situation, they are the ones that will rise to the surface in the moment of crisis to either pull you through or condemn you. If you're alone in the wilderness, this can be crucial to your survival; but in a public setting like an urban survival situation, it is even more so. When other survivors are involved, your character traits can either help you or get you killed. Which ones will you feed?

Second — The Man and The Snake: In this tale, the man believes the snake when it promises not to bite him if the man will just save the serpent by picking him up and carrying him to a safer location. In the end, the snake bites the man anyway, much to the surprise of the human rescuer.

The snake represents reality. Rattlesnakes bite; it's what they do. Play with fire, you'll get burned — pick up snakes, you'll get bit. Don't expect a fundamental change of nature when dealing with snakes or people. If you're dealing with a person who has fed the evil wolf (in the first tale), then you must absolutely expect that the characteristics of the evil wolf will rise up in a moment of crisis and bare its fangs. To expect otherwise is foolishness. Oh yes, every once in a while, someone will surprise you by becoming a better person. But most of the time, the nature of the individual takes over. And if you happen to be in the company of the evil wolf, expect to be devoured. Don't pick up a snake, no matter what it promises you. And as we approach mid-term elections, I might add, don't vote for a nice smile and a pack of promises … the snake might be charismatic and promise you the world, but the pack of promises is really a pack of lies. Examine the history and nature of the beast.

Third — The Carpenter: Overcome by self-interest, he takes shortcuts and installs cheap materials to cheat his employer. In reality, he only cheats himself, because the house he builds is the house he will have to live in. There's an old saying, "No matter where you go, there you are." Might sound silly at first, but the reality is that you cannot outrun yourself. No matter what situation you find yourself in, you have to deal with yourself. If you are a poor choice of companion, well, that's tough luck because you cannot get away from yourself. Your character is the house you will live in forever. If you take shortcuts and use cheap components in the building of your character, you will have to live with the consequences. In a survival situation, everything gets ramped up — your best and worst qualities will show up loud and clear. Alone in the woods, you have only yourself to deal with. But in an urban survival setting, other survivors might take steps to rid themselves of those who don't play the game well.

My advice:
  • Engage in deep self-examination to discover which wolf you're feeding. Stop feeding every aspect of the evil one. Don't even throw small scraps to that one. Every time you feed it, it becomes more powerful. Feed only the good one. 
  • Learn to be wise and to use discernment about the type of people you are around. Snakes are snakes. Don't fool yourself into believing otherwise. Don't be a snake yourself, or others will be reluctant to help save you. 
  • Your character is the "house" you will live in. Build the best personal character you can. Don't shortchange yourself, because you're going to have to live inside yourself forever. If you have drafty windows, so to speak, change them. Do it now before the storm comes. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Final Thread

The third and final thread to my trio of concepts about survival. Look 'em all over and see what you can learn from these simple little stories that can be critical principles when dealing with survival.

Once upon a time, there was a wealthy man who hired a carpenter to build a house. "Do your best work," the wealthy man said as he handed the carpenter a satchel full of money. "Here is all the money you will need to finish the house."

The carpenter took the satchel and went shopping for cement for the foundation and wood for the walls. As he purchased the materials, the carpenter thought about all that money in the satchel and decided that he would buy cheaper materials and keep the extra money for himself. "That rich old fool will never know the difference," he reasoned to himself. "These building materials will be hidden under the floor and inside the walls, so he'll never see them."

So that's what he did. After work each night, the carpenter took some of the money from the satchel and went out on the town. He played the role of the "big man" and bought drinks for everybody. At the end of the night, he dragged himself home to his rundown apartment and fell into bed, having squandered the extra money he had hoped to keep for himself.

Soon, the house was finished. It looked great from the outside, covered with bright paint. Anyone walking by would think the carpenter was a genius with construction. Nobody would be the wiser about the third-rate wood used to hold up the walls, or the inferior cement poured in the foundation. The carpenter silently patted himself on the back for his cleverness at deceiving the rich old man who hired him. "The old man isn't going to live very long anyway," he thought to himself, "so he'll never even realize that this house isn't going to last. That cheap furnace will fail and the roof will begin to leak in a few years. The floors will start to sag and creak, and wind will come in around the windows where I saved money by not caulking. The paint will peel and fall off because I didn't apply a primer coat. But that old geezer isn't going to live long enough for this to matter."

The day finally came for the carpenter to present the house to his employer. The wealthy man drove up the driveway, looked at the house admiringly, and said to the carpenter, "I have a surprise for you." Then he handed the hired man the keys to the house. "You built this house, so now it is yours to live in."

I'll braid these threads next time, and will explain my reason for including these stories.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Second Thread

Yesterday, I posted a message about Two Wolves. That was the first thread of three that I am going to post, as I braid together a series of concepts that will, in the end, create a unified survival principle.

The fun part is that you get to read these three little stories and think about them for a while. Try to conjure what they have to do with survival.

And so, here is the second thread. This one I take from Aesop.

It was bitterly cold as the farmer climbed the path to the high hills to check on his livestock. A rattlesnake lay across the path, nearly frozen.

“Please,” begged the snake, “take me down where it is warmer. Or I shall surely freeze to death.”

“I don’t think so,” said the Farmer. “I would be a fool to trust you.”

But the snake pleaded. “If you will do this thing, I promise that I will not hurt you.”

Having compassion upon the snake, the farmer picked him up and carried him down into the valley and laid him down upon the ground. As the snake warmed up, he wiggled and stretched. He coiled himself up and struck the farmer.

“Why did you bite me?” cried the farmer. “You gave me your word not to harm me.”

“Ah,” said the snake, “but you knew what I was when you picked me up.”

Now it's your turn. Consider the story of the Two Wolves and this story of the Farmer and the Snake, and see if you can discover the survival principle I'm leading toward. The only clue I'll give right now is that this has absolutely nothing to do with children's stories. It's a very serious concept that can mean the difference between life and death in a survival situation — probably more so in an urban crisis, but under some circumstances also in a wilderness setting. 

The third thread will come soon.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Two Wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

"One is Evil - It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

"The other is Good - It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
And what, you may ask, does that have to do with survival?  I'm going to give you a couple days to ponder this question and see if you can answer it for yourself. I've bumped into a few folks lately for whom, I'm afraid, the answer is a total mystery. And others for whom this little story is like a beam of sunshine finally illuminating a grand truth. 

We'll talk about this again. In the meantime, beware of what you feed. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Getting Out Alive

I call this blog Getting Out Alive because it deals with survival situations of all kinds — both urban and wilderness. The focus is staying alive and well, working out problems that threaten survival, and ultimately getting out alive.

Nothing expresses the concept of getting out alive as well as the situation in the collapsed gold/silver mine in Chile, and the incredible rescue of trapped miners after 69 days below ground. For the first 17 days, nobody on the surface even knew if anyone survived in the lower chamber of the mine after 700,000 pounds of rock collapsed, sealing the only way out.

But on the surface, there was a refusal to give up hope until they knew for certain the fate of the trapped miners. So a fresh bore hole was drilled through the half-mile of ground that lay between the surface and the chamber. It took 17 days before the men on the surface knew that the men below were still alive. During that 2-1/2 weeks, the 33 trapped miners subsisted on what was intended to be a 48-hour emergency supply of food. I have no information about a freshwater supply, but it is not unusual for water to seep into mine shafts, so I assume that was the source of water that kept them alive. The temperature in the mine is reported to be 90 degrees, so heat exhaustion and dehydration would certainly be a concern.

When the small bore hole was finished, 17 days after the collapse, the men trapped below were able to send a message of hope to the surface. They were all still alive. What are the chances!? But they all survived and were in good condition. Some of the men had preexisting medical conditions that required medication that was unavailable. One man was diabetic, another suffered from silicosis of the lungs, requiring antibiotics and other meds that were simply not available to him during his entrapment. But they were all in good condition in spite of these challenges.

A huge rescue effort was put into motion, calling on the talents and skills of miners and engineers and mechanics and medical personnel from all around the world. Three attempts were made to drill a rescue tunnel to the chamber, but the first two failed. Finally, the third option succeeded, and last night the first miner was rescued. As I write this, the rescue operation is still on-going, with more than half of the men now back on the surface. Those who have come up are in remarkably good condition, not really needing any comprehensive medical attention, although they are all taken to a nearby medical facility to be checked out.

Psychologists are concerned that the long period of confinement, much of the time with no cause for hope, might have a lasting effect. Steps were taken to help mitigate panic attacks and claustrophobia during the hour-long ride to the surface in the tight confines of the rescue capsule. Everything possible is being done to help these men regain normalcy, although there is consensus that life will never really be normal for these survivors. Right now, everyone is just thankful to have them coming out of this extreme situation alive. It's the very essence of the name of this blog.

There are lessons for us in this episode.

  • If you believe in God, invite Him to share the experience with you and to carry your load. 
  • Never give up hope. It does no good to wallow in hopelessness, because that will lead you to quit trying. 
  • Try to remain calm. If panic starts to take over your mind, close your eyes and imagine a pleasant scene. I use a beach in Hawaii as my imagined location, with gentle surf rolling ashore and a breeze teasing the palm trees under a perfect blue sky. Your mileage may vary. 
  • Stretch your rations, because you never know how long it's going to take to be rescued.
  • Reduce your energy consumption by resting as much as possible and working only on those projects that have a definite positive impact on your survival. 
  • Positive self-talk, and positive conversations with those around you will help keep yourself and others from descending into a psychological quagmire. Remember, 90% of survival is between your ears, so pay a lot of attention to psychological stability. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Plan

Any combat soldier will tell you that when the fighting breaks out, he automatically falls back on his training to get him through. It's the training that becomes instinctive through countless hours of drills that keeps you alive when the going gets rough. If you have no training, you have nothing to fall back on.

The same goes for a Plan. If you have a survival plan that you have rehearsed and practiced over and over again, chances are your brain will revert to that plan when you need it to save your bacon. If you have no plan, you have nothing to fall back on.

There should be a Primary Plan and at least one Contingency Plan. The primary plan is the one to use when everything goes just right. Contingency plans are the fallback strategies to use when the primary plan fails due to unforeseen circumstances (which are the very essence of a disaster).

In a military sense, when the enemy shows up on your landing zone where friendly choppers are scheduled to pick you up, the primary plan is scrapped and the first contingency clan put into operation. You make radio contact with the chopper and tell them to head for the first alternate landing zone. Notice I mention "first" when I talk about contingency plans such as alternate landing zones. You always need more than one contingency plan, because your first option might also run amok. Then you head for your second option.

In survival planning, you need to outline what you will do, where you will go, and how you will get there (and all that kind of stuff) in a primary plan. Hopefully, when you put that plan into action, it will go well. But as often as not, you need to change something(s) on the run, and that's where contingency planning comes into play. For example, if your primary destination is still viable but your means of getting there is not, then pick a new method or transportation from your contingency plan. The same concept applies to all aspects of the survival plan.

It isn't a plan until you write it down. Until it's on paper, it's only a concept. Once you put it down in writing it becomes a tangible plan that you can run through in your mind and use the eraser to adjust whatever need to be changed. Keep doing that until you think you've got it right. Then build first, second, and third contingency plans that will give you options in case Plan A doesn't work out.

Practice all the plans mentally, and then do simulated run-throughs to make sure you can get from Point A to Point B in the amount of time you have planned. If you never go out and actually follow through on the plan, you won't know if there is some new obstacle in the way that would prevent that plan from working. Maybe a road that you were thinking would be a viable route has been torn out, etc. From time to time, trace your routes in real time so you can be aware of changes.

Share your plan with all family members, so everybody will know where the primary and alternate rendezvous points are when a crisis hits.

With a plan, you have a chance. Without a plan, you're probably not a survivor.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Power Outage

We're heading in the season that brings more storms and colder weather to the country — just the kind of conditions that result in trees losing limbs (or toppling) during high wind or heavy snow load.  When that happens, power lines can be brought down, so it's time to consider what you would do during a power outage.

We'll explore this subject in greater detail as the season progresses, but for now I just want to pass along to you one tip that I received from our local utility company. During a power outage, the crews are out night and day trying to restore power as fast as they can. While you're snuggling in your home, trying to stay warm and safe, those folks are out in the screaming storm, cold, wet, exhausted, and working in dangerous conditions. So we owe it to them to do as much as possible to make their job easier.

One of the things we can do is alert them that power has been restored to our home. We don't have to make a phone call to do this — just leave an exterior light switched on so that when the power is restored the light will come on and let the power crew know that electricity is coming to your house.

For yourself, leave one light switched on inside so you'll know when the power is on again. Of course, if your digital clock on the stove (or elsewhere in the house) starts blinking, you'll know the power is back on.

During a power outage, the utility company recommends that you turn off all appliances and heaters. When power is restored, it takes a little while for everything to stabilize, so the recommendation is to wait 15 minutes after power restoration before turning on electric furnaces or heaters, and major appliances.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Easy To Get Lost — Lucky To Live

Sixty-four-year-old real estate broker Edward Rosenthal set out on what he thought would be an easy day hike in an area of Southern California desert known as Joshua Tree National Park.  He hiked this area on a regular basis, but even though he was familiar with the area he somehow got off the intended trail he thought he knew well. Six days later, a search and rescue team found him — severely dehydrated, but alive.

According to Joshua Tree National Park spokesman Joe Zarki, "He was conscious when the rescuers found him and was talking with them, but he does have some injuries and some exposure issues."  

A San Bernardino County sheriff's helicopter was summoned to evacuate Rosenthal to the High Desert Medical Center, where he was placed in intensive care to recover from severe dehydration. 

Rosenthal's wife, Nicole Kaplan, said her husband didn't have any paper with him so he wrote on his hat, expressing his love to her and their daughter, issuing some advice to business partners, and instructions on what kind of funeral he wanted. "He realized he was lost and could not go any further, so he lied low and wrote on his hat," Kaplan explained. His last journal entry simply said, "Still here."

Rosenthal was luckier than 65-year-old William Ewasko who went missing in the same area last June and was never found. Park spokesman Zarki said that the difference between the two cases was that Rosenthal's footprints showed up, but Ewasko left no track to follow. "We had a good trail to follow coming off the loop trail where (Rosenthal) made a wrong turn. The one in June, we never had a clear idea where that gentleman was."

A couple of lessons can be drawn from this episode. 
  • Never assume just because you have hike an area before without incident that you will always be so fortunate. 
  • Always assume that something might prevent you from finishing your hike in the expected time frame. 
  • Even for a day-hike, go prepared to spend a few days and nights. 
  • If you discover that you are lost, stop and prepare a shelter (in this case to get out of the sun), conserve your energy, and start working on methods of signaling for help. 
  • Rosenthal did the right thing by laying low and conserving his energy and body fluid. To live six days in the heat of that desert in late Summer is no easy feat, and he deserves credit for keeping himself alive until rescuers could find him.