Monday, May 30, 2011

Prevent Lyme Disease

When we lived in Wisconsin, it was a daily ritual to perform "tick inspections" on each other and on our kids. Ticks were simply a way of life there, and some would end up crawling up into the scalp area and hiding in the hair. But the inspections had to cover every inch of the body, because ticks are opportunistic and will settle down for a meal just about anywhere.

It wasn't necessary to hike through the woods or across a grassy field to become tick bait. One morning, I got up, took a shower, put on clean clothes, and hopped on my bike to ride the 6 miles to work. My feet never touched the ground from the moment I left the house until I arrived at the office. But when I got there, I felt something crawling up my neck. You guessed it — a tick.

The point is, ticks can hide in your carpet, in your clothes, or just about anywhere you come in contact with Mother Earth. Granted, some parts of the country are more prone to ticks than other locations. But you can find them in all 50 states. And one of the problems with ticks is that they carry disease — Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease are the two most common.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that normally lives in mice, squirrels and other small animals. Ticks pick up the disease from those animals and transfer it to humans. Lyme disease cases usually peak during the spring and summer months. That's when the ticks are active and when people are outside more often.

Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease are:

  • A round, red rash that spreads around the site of the bite
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Sore muscles and joints
  • Fever
Treatment includes the use of oral antibiotics, prescribed by a doctor. So if you suspect that you have Lyme disease, the first thing to do is schedule an appointment with your doctor. According the the National Institutes of Health, most patients can be cured within a few weeks of taking the medication.

If the disease goes untreated, serious health problems can ensue, including:

  • Chronic joint inflammation (sometimes called Lyme arthritis)
  • Neurological problems such as facial palsy and neuropathy
  • Memory loss
  • Heart rhythm irregularities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in mood or sleep habits
To prevent problems with ticks:

  • Avoid walking through bushy areas and tall grasses
  • Use insect repellent that contains 20-to 30-percent DEET
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants. Tuck pants cuffs into your boots or socks, and spray repellent around the boot tops.
  • Light colored clothing allows you to spot ticks more easily when they are crawling on the fabric.
  • Perform tick inspections daily. Check the whole body, from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet. 
  • If you find a tick, remove it as quickly as possible. Use fine-pointed tweezers to grab the tick as close to the mouth parts as possible, where the jaws attach to your skin. Be careful to not squeeze the tick in any manner. Do not try to "back the tick out" by using heat — that only encourages the tick to release the disease into the bite area. If you can't remove the tick yourself, call your doctor. 
The good news is that ticks don't usually spread Lyme disease until they have been attached for at least 36 hours, so if you discover the tick early on, you can probably avoid getting sick.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Surviving an EMP

EMP — what the heck is that? The acronym stands for ElectroMagnetic Pulse and refers to a nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude above a targeted country, sending a powerful burst of electromagnetic energy to destroy the electrical and electronic infrastructure of the nation.

In an EMP attack, the nuclear explosion occurs so high in the atmosphere (25 to 100 miles up) that no physical damage happens at ground level. People aren't killed by the explosion, there is no radioactive fallout, and buildings are not knocked down. Everything looks normal…but nothing that depends on electrical or electronic systems will work. Restoring the systems that are destroyed by the EMP, and thus returning to normalcy might take a year or longer.

If you would like to read an interesting book about what happens in the aftermath of an EMP attack, I suggest One Second After by William R. Forstchen. Although this is a work of fiction, the science is real. The author is a professor of military history and the history of technology, and used proven scientific information as the basis for the story. The foreword to the book was written by Newt Gingrich, and the afterword by a naval captain who is expert on the topic. The book has circulated in the halls of Congress and the Pentagon, and elicited recommendation from those places that every American should read the book to become informed about the potential for this type of attack and how it would impact our daily lives.

Here's a brief rundown of what the experts say would happen after an EMP event:
  • Automobiles with electronic ignition systems stop dead in their tracks, as if they had run out of gas. Older vehicle that have no electronic control systems might still operate, but fuel will be unavailable, because the pumps will not operate at gas stations. And the ethanol-laced gas stored in tanks will go bad from phase separation within a couple months and be unusable over the long term. Loss of the transportation system means that no new supplies can be delivered.
  • Communication systems such as telephone, radio, television and Internet cease to function. With no communication with the outside world, rumors will spread and the populace will panic, following every crackpot who comes along with theories about the end of the world. 
  • Failure of the communication system leads to loss of coordination and cooperation. In the ensuing panic, neighbor will rise up against neighbor, community against community.
  • Electric power generation is disabled, because everything is controlled by computer these days, and the sensitive electronics of every computer will be disabled.
  • Computer controlled backup generators will not operate, and older generators will only run as long as the fuel holds out.
  • With no electricity being delivered to communities, there will be no electricity delivered to businesses, homes, hospitals, etc. 
  • There will be no power for the community water company, so no water for your home.
  • No power for the community water treatment plant, so the sewage system fails.
  • No garbage pickup service, so the garbage will simply pile up and attract vermin. Disease will follow quickly. 
  • The fire department won't be able to operate vehicles or equipment to put out fires.
  • The police will be on foot, at first, but most who work in community services will eventually abandon their posts to take care of their own families. 
  • Stores and pharmacies will almost immediately be emptied of all commodities by those who scramble to grab everything before anyone else can get there. There will be no food, medicines, tools or other supplies left on the shelves.
  • The food supply will run out very quickly — within days — as will the domestic water supply. Those who can will hunt and fish until the local game population is decimated, then will turn to domestic pets as a source of protein. 
  • The drinking of contaminated water by those who are not equipped to purify their own water, will lead to disease and death. 
  • Nursing home personnel have no recourse but to sit by and watch patients die when prescription drugs and other life-saving supplies become unavailable.
  • The dead have to be buried by hand, because grave-digging machinery will not operate. After awhile, the dead will be left unburied because lack of food will so weaken survivors that no one has enough energy to dig the graves. 
  • Criminals band together into armed gangs and roam from house to house and from town to town in search of food. 
The interesting thing about Forstchen's story is that, although no one died from the initial nuclear blast, there was a massive death toll from the loss of services caused by the EMP. Shows just how dependent on modern technology we, as a culture, have become. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Survival Myths

Call them old wives tales or rumors or myths, or simply lies. By any name, they are misinformation, and they can lead to disaster when you're in a survival situation. Listed below are 15 of the most common survival myths, along with a brief explanation about why these persistent theories are wrong. 

1. You can determine direction by looking for moss on the north side of trees. The truth is that moss will grow on every side of a tree if conditions of moisture, temperature and shade are just right.

2. It’s safe to eat whatever you see the animals eat. Nope! Some birds can safely eat poison ivy berries, and some rodents can eat mushrooms that are toxic to humans.

3. You can counteract the effects of frostbite by rubbing the affected area with snow. Exactly wrong. Rubbing frozen flesh with snow will only increase the damage.

4. The most important survival priorities are always shelter, fire, water and food. These four vital survival techniques might be superseded by a higher priority such as a catastrophic injury requiring immediate emergency medical treatment.

5. If you “play dead” a grizzly bear will always leave you alone. Not always. A grizzly is unpredictable and might maul you even though you are doing your best imitation of a corpse.

6. You can safely drink water from an active stream if it is tumbling over rocks enough to become aerated. A tumbling brook might still be infested with giardia and/or cryptosporidium that can cause severe illness. Aeration of the water does not kill these pathogens.

7. It’s a good idea to climb a tree to look for the trail ahead. Although gaining a high vantage point can give you a better view of things ahead, climbing a tree is both exhausting and dangerous and is not worth the energy expenditure, nor the risk of injury.

8. Black bears are not a threat to humans. Black bear attacks on humans, while rare, do happen. It’s a mistake to be complacent about encounters with these powerful predators.

9. Take off your boots before crossing a stream or lake, so they don’t pull you down. The greater risk is that of suffering injury to your feet while crossing a body of water. Keep boots on to protect feet, ‘cause you’ll need them to continue your trek.

10. The best way to dry out wet clothing is to wear it while sitting by the fire. Wet clothing literally sucks the warmth out of your body, so get out of the wet things and cover up with something dry while you dry your clothing by the fire.

11. As long as you can find North, you can navigate to safety. North is meaningless unless you know which direction you must travel to reach safety. Knowing where you are in relation to a safe destination is the only important issue.

12. It’s best to hike through the night to avoid the heat of day. In hot regions, use the morning hours for hiking, from just after daybreak until the heat comes up. Hunker down during the heat of the day, but do not travel through the night or you risk injury or becoming lost.

13. Travel swiftly to get out of the survival situation as quickly as possible. Suffering an injury might be the very thing that leads to your death. Travel cautiously to avoid injury at all cost.

14. The best way to purify water is by boiling. Boiling kills organic contaminants in the water, but does not eliminate non-organic pollutants such as chemicals or heavy metals. In fact, boiling can concentrate these inorganics as the water evaporates.

15. Following a river or stream is the best way to find civilization. Some waterways run their course for hundreds of miles without bumping into civilization, especially in the wilder parts of the world. And following a stream can sometimes be exceedingly difficult and dangerous. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dramatic Rescue - Lessons Learned

Seven weeks after Canadian couple Albert and Rita Chretien drove down the wrong road and got their van stuck in mud miles away from civilization, 56-year-old Rita was discovered by hunters and rescued. Unfortnately, 59-year-old Albert has yet to be found.

The drama unfolded as the Penticton, B.C. couple decided to take a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada on March 19th. They reached Baker City in eastern Oregon safely, where their images were caught by a store surveillance camera. That was the last known sighting of the couple until Rita was discovered by hunters, after the couple made the decision to do some sightseeing and explore back roads in the desert mountains of southern Oregon.

According to a report by Officer Dan Moskaluk of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the couple "got turned around off the main road that they should have been on." The weather in the area had included a lot of rain and snow over the previous month. Moskaluk noted that they weren't prepared for winter weather and that the couple doesn't go camping.

After the van got stuck in the mud, Albert and Rita hunkered down for a couple of days, and then he decided to try to go on foot to find help. That was the last anyone ever saw of Albert Chretien.

Rita stayed with the van and lived on water and small amounts of trail mix they had with them. Over the ensuing 7 weeks, she lost 20 to 30 pounds, according to family members who spoke with the news media afterward.

The search goes on for Albert, covering an area of 3,000 square miles, but up until now nothing has been found.

This kind of story keep popping up with vicious regularity, reminding us of the lessons that should be learned.

  • Even though a long time may go by, and it feels like a waste of time to just sit and do nothing, it is almost always better to stay with the vehicle where you have shelter and at least some supplies to keep you alive until you are rescued. A vehicle is much easier for searchers to spot than a lone individual wandering on the open landscape. 
  • When you're in trouble, get signaling efforts going right away. Smoke by day, a bright fire by night. Use signal mirrors to flash the horizon, hoping someone might see the signal and investigate or call authorities. 
  • Carry electronic devices such as cell phones, and the ability to keep the battery charged up from the vehicle electrical system. 
  • The ultimate rescue device is a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or the SPOT Satellite Messenger (, which will call in the rescue helicopters within a few hours after the system is activated. 
  • Carry sufficient drinking water and food in the vehicle to keep you alive for an extended period. 
  • Carry blankets or sleeping bags in the vehicle, and equipment that gives you the ability to start fires. 
  • File a travel plan with friends and family members, detailing your itinerary. Plan "check in" times with those people, and leave instructions to notify authorities if you don't show up where you're supposed to be. 
  • If you decided to make changes to your itinerary, alert the folks you've left your travel plan with, so they'll know where you've gone and when you expect to be at your destination. That step alone would keep you from suffering through 7 weeks of a survival experiences, as Rita Chretien did. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Idea of the Ultimate Evacuation Vehicle

A personal evacuation plan should take into account the methods of travel and the routes available to you. The plan should include secondary options, in case the first one doesn't work. That goes not only for the route you'll take, but also the transportation methods you'll use — be it four wheels, two wheels, or no wheels at all.

Vehicles such as cars, trucks or RVs might work. Quadrunners, motorcycles and bicycles might be better under some circumstances. Or you might have the opportunity to leave the land behind and head away from trouble on a boat.

There is a reason we live near a coastline. In my opinion, there is no better escape vehicle (vessel) than a sailboat, and I'll tell you why.

In the event of a catastrophe that requires evacuation, a car, truck, SUV or RV might become bogged down in traffic. If you've decided to evacuate, you might make it only a few miles before you end up stuck in gridlock, surrounded by thousands of other people trying to do the same thing. That could leave you miles from all the supplies you would have had at home, and possibly stuck inside the perimeter of the disaster impact area.

The problem might be exacerbated by a power outage that shuts down the gas station's ability to pump fuel — or the lack of fuel altogether. A fuel shortage can be caused by government imposed rationing, a truck strike,  or some aspect of the disaster itself shutting things down. That's when travel by bicycle becomes an option.

Our personal escape involves a sailboat. We've owned a 26-foot trailerable sailboat for more than 15 years and have sailed all over the western states. Twelve years ago, we settled in a coastal community in the Pacific Northwest, and now enjoy what I consider to be the most viable survival conditions possible. The weather here is not a survival issue. It might be overcast or rainy or chilly sometimes, but we don't have hurricanes, tornados, deadly blizzards with sub-zero cold. We have a good growing season, abundant freshwater, hunting and fishing right at our doorstep. But best of all, we have the open coastline and a sailboat.

Yes, we live in a potential earthquake zone, but earthquakes don't affect boats, unless a tsunami is generated. Even though it's a possibility, the statistical chance for a damaging tsunami in our area is less than being hit by a meteorite. During a tsunami, the best place to be in on high ground, but the second best place is on a boat over deep water, because the energy impulse passes beneath the boat totally unnoticed.

In our region, chances are that some type of catastrophic situation would make it prudent to make our exit via sailboat. It could be a chemical/biological/radiological incident caused by either an accident or by terrorists — it could be the chaos generated by economic breakdown — it could be our desire to step out from under excessive government regulation such as martial law — it could be related to a revolution such as it happening all over the Middle East right now. You just never know what's going to happen, but it's good to have the option of dropping out of sight for your own safety. And the sailboat is the best way I've found to do that.

The evacuation would entail casting off the docklines and heading away from the troubled landscape.  There's no chance of getting stuck in traffic. The wind is free, so we don't need to worry about fuel shortage. The boat is well equipped for living aboard, complete with a galley (kitchen), head (bathroom) with a composting toilet, sleeping areas, a dinette, and storage space for everything we need. We keep the boat stocked with food and water, as well as all the supplies to keep us going for a long time.

The ability to leave the chaos behind, sail away and drop anchor in a quiet cove somewhere is reassuring. After all is said and done, it's the almost impossible challenge of trying to meet the needs of a population in crisis that creates the survival problems. After the dust settles from whatever form of disaster has struck, it's the massive populace that generates survival issues that can last for years after the event has subsided — just look at Haiti, for example. The ability to remove yourself from that picture accomplishes two goals — first, it puts you in a safer position; and second, it eases the burden on relief organizations because they won't have to be concerned about taking care of you.

I know that not everyone lives near a coastline. We didn't always live near one ourselves. But after we analyzed what was going on in the world, we took the steps to put ourselves in this position so we would have a better chance of survival. Your mileage may vary. But I encourage you to think about this and figure things out that will best suit your location and your personal situation.