Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ignorance Kills

A new report in the aftermath of the deadly tornados that hit Joplin, Missouri (killing 162 residents) indicates that most of the city's population ignored the tornado warning system.

While conducting a survey to assess the effectiveness of the communications and warning system, officials at NOAA discovered that, "The majority of surveyed Joplin residents did not immediately go to shelter upon hearing the initial warning." The report went on to say that they "did not take protective action until processing additional credible confirmation of the threat and its magnitude from a non-routine, extraordinary risk trigger."

In other words, even though they heard the sirens and broadcast warnings, the folks just sat there and waited to find out if it was "real" or not. The report said that, "the vast majority of Joplin residents" didn't respond to the first siren because of an apparent widespread disregard for tornado sirens. "Relationships between false alarms, public complacency, and warning credibility are highly complex," the report said.

Jasper County emergency manager, Keith Stammer, said Joplin is a "weather ready community," and that the city has applied for federal funding for 10,000 weather radios for Joplin households.

My question is why? Why should the taxpayers shell out for 10,000 weather radios when the people just ignore the warnings anyway?

My opinion is that if you don't want to heed the warnings, then you deserve exactly what you get. It's time for people to take personal responsibility for their own welfare. If you want to hear the warnings, buy your own weather radio. That way, if you decide to ignore the warnings, your ignorance hasn't cost the taxpayers anything. Your decision. Your responsibility. Your consequences.

The government has no business holding everyone's hand and trying to save those who are unwilling to save themselves. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him do the backstroke.

Now, with that bit of humor, smile and go do something to take responsibility for yourself.

Friday, September 16, 2011


A lot of folks get themselves stranded in places they never intended to stay. And I'm not talking about a seedy motel on the outskirts of Ozarkville. I'm talking about getting hopelessly stuck in the mud or snow, or suffering a breakdown of the sort that means your ride is over.

When that happens, you have two choices — stay put, or take a hike in search of help. If you've read Getting Out Alive for any time at all, you probably already know that I favor the "stay put" method for several reasons.
  • It's easier for searchers to spot your vehicle than it is for them to spot a person hiking across the countryside. 
  • All your gear is right there in the vehicle.
  • You can use the vehicle either as a stand-alone shelter, or you can part it out and use the pieces to improvise what you need.
  • It's safer to sit in one place than to risk injury or getting lost by wandering off.
  • You conserve energy by staying put, which means you need less water and food to stay alive.
  • You can develop audible and visual signals that will lead rescuers to your camp.
With all that said, I clearly understand the urge to immediately start a self-rescue effort by leaving the cursed vehicle and hiking out for help. In fact, I've been in that very situation myself. Now that I've made that confession, let's talk about what you need to make sure of before you decide to leave your vehicle and go it on your own.
  • You must absolutely know where you are going. It does no good to wander around hoping you'll stumble onto some kind of help.
  • You must know what obstacles lie between where you are now and where you want to go, and know for certain that you can safely overcome those obstacles. This is best accomplished by backtracking the same road or trail you used to get where you are. 
  • If you decide to go, leave a note with the vehicle spelling out who you are, where you are headed, how you're dressed and equipped, your physical condition, and your personal contact information for family/friends.
  • Carry with you a survival kit that includes fire-making equipment, a shelter, signal whistle and mirror, high-calorie food, and a water filter. 
  • Start out fresh in the morning, well fed and hydrated.
  • Pace yourself so you don't sweat or become exhausted.
  • Make camp early in the afternoon while there's still sunlight so you can erect a shelter, gather firewood and get a fire going. 
  • Take particular care of your feet and your footwear. 
  • Stay dry.
  • Don't take foolish chances. If you get injured, you are probably toast.
  • Say your prayers and hope for the best.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Toxic Floodwaters

In the aftermath of the big storms that hit the Northeast in recent weeks, a flood of toxic waters has spread across the land, contaminating private wells and creating a public health crisis.

Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Corbett, said, "We face a public health emergency because sewage treatment plants are underwater and no longer working. Flood water is toxic and polluted. If you don't have to be in it, keep out."

A dozen towns in Vermont are on orders to boil their water, even 12 days after the passage of the storms. Similar precautions are being taken in other states damaged by the storms. The department of health is distributing test kits so private well owners can check for bacteria in their drinking water. Officials warn that if the water smells like gasoline or other petroleum products, other tests will be necessary.

Dr. Henry Chen, Vermont's health commissioner said, "It's clearly one of the biggest concerns after any disaster, including flooding. You have to ask yourself, 'is my water safe?"

In Waterbury, Vermont, the municipal wastewater plant was overwhelmed by the flooding and raw sewage flowed into the nearby river. According to one report, the smell of sewage is strong. On top of that, failed septic systems are a common cause of contamination after many different types of disaster, including floods.

For us, the lessons are clear:

  • Don't fall into the trap of thinking a relief organization is going to rescue you from the problem in just a couple of days. Here we are 12 days after the storm, and the problems persist. 
  • Store a long-term water supply that can remain free of contamination. In addition to bottled water, consider a few 55-gallon plastic barrels and a siphon kit. 
  • Be prepared to filter available water. Boiling won't remove or destroy inorganic contaminants such as solvents and petroleum products. In fact, boiling will concentrate those pollutants in the water. 
  • Have an evacuation plan so you can remove yourself from the disaster area to a safe location until the situation can be stabilized. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Solar SuperStorms

Can something as distant as the sun (averaging somewhere around 93-million miles away) thrust us into a survival situation? Only if you think living in the Dark Ages might be a problem.

I use the term dark ages with a double meaning, because not only would you literally end up living in the dark, but you would also end up living without any of the other conveniences provided by electricity. Kind of like they did back in the thirteenth century.

The problem is called a Solar Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and, as a result of a geomagnetic storm caused by solar flares, it can disrupt the power grid all over the world. Unlike a nuclear EMP attack that would be directed at a region by an enemy, a solar event will take out the whole globe.

So that brings us to today. As I write this, a coronal mass ejection (CME) is headed for earth, because the sun erupted with an X-class solar flare, the most powerful type of sun storm. A CME is a massive cloud of solar plasma that, when it reaches the earth, can knock down the GPS system, disrupt radio signals, and even kill the power grid. That would only be important to you if you happen to use electricity for anything.

Solar EMPs differ from nuclear EMPs in the type of emissions they release. While nuclear attacks emit E1 pulses that are very fast and take out electronics (like the ignition system in your car, computers, etc. as well as the power grid), solar events produce relatively slow E3 pulses that induce large currents that can even take out underground components of the power grid.

A solar storm in 1859 (before there was a power grid) destroyed the telegraph systems in the United States and in Europe. Experts believe that a storm of that magnitude today would disable the entire power grid. Community water supplies would not function. Gas stations would be unable to pump gas. Those on life support would die. Everything is so automated today that there would be instant shutdown of transportation, communication, and every other modern convenience.

In itself, that wouldn't be a problem. The folks back in the 13th century did just fine without electricity. And so could we — at least a few of us. But most people wouldn't have a clue what to do to get water, food, process their waste, stay warm (or cool), and take care of their daily needs.

Unlike a normal power outage that might last a few hours, or even a week or so after a hurricane or ice storm, an EMP would shut down the system for years. That's because of the damage it would do to the large grid transformers for which the U.S. has zero backups and zero production capability. They would have to come from overseas, and with transportation down, that would be a long-term problem. Twelve years is one estimate. So how would you do with a 12-year blackout?

While we're pondering that question, the coronal mass ejection is on its way toward us at a relatively slow 720,000 mph. Scientists are still watching and wondering. Nobody knows exactly what will happen. Even though this is an X-class flare, it's not the biggest one we've seen in the past. But not all the others ejected directly toward the Earth like this one has.

The sun has become very active in the past several months Scientists are saying that the sun has suddenly roused itself from an extended quiet period in its 11-year cycle of activity. This is Solar Cycle 24, and it's expected to peak around 2013.

The thing for us to take away from this discussion is that we need to be considering how we would live for several years without a refrigerator, lights, air conditioning, furnace, stove, phones, computers, TV, radio, automobiles, medicine, store-bought food, water, or the ability to flush a toilet. That's the short list.

Think on it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How to Choose a Sleeping Bag

One of the important items in your evacuation kit should be a quality sleeping bag. I know, I know, why invest in an expensive bag when "real men" can just roll up in an old army blanket and tough it out? I've heard that argument, and I've slept plenty of times in my favorite olive drag wool blanket. 

First of all, not everybody in a survival situation is a "real man." Some are children, some are nursing mothers, others are sick and frail. So all you "real men" out there reading this, just go ahead and wrap up in some juniper bark if you want to. This information is for the rest of the world who might be interested in finding out how to go shopping for a suitable sleeping bag. 

A sleeping bag should be rated for the season and conditions in which it will be used. It makes a difference if you live in Alaska or South Texas. Buy accordingly. 

  • A summer season bag is rated for 35 degrees F and higher. 
  • A 3-season bag will range from 10 to 35 degrees. 
  • A cold weather bag is rated for -10 to +10 degrees. 
  • A winter bag will be rated for -10 degrees F and lower. 
When it comes to temperature rating, keep your personal “thermostat” in mind. Gender affects what temperature bag you’re comfortable sleeping in. Women sleep “colder”, usually requiring a warmer temp rating than a man in the same environment. If possible, search for a bag that is temp rated based on the European Standard, EN13537. This test validates a bag’s construction, specifying what temperature it will keep an average man (Limit Rating) or average woman (Comfort Rating) comfortable.

There are 2 main fill types available in sleeping bags — down and synthetic insulation. 
  • Down is lightweight, packs smaller, offers excellent warmth and is still very breathable. Down bags are more expensive up front, but are durable and offer great long term value. They work well in dryer climates and for excursions where weight or pack size are important. 
  • Synthetic insulation is available in a variety of qualities, weights and pack size. Generally, synthetic fill is heavier than down, but less expensive initially. It also works well in wet, cold conditions, retaining body heat even when damp (whereas down loses insulating properties once wet). Synthetic bags are usually easier to clean than down bags. 
There are 2 basic shapes — rectangular and mummy. 
  • The efficient shape of the mummy cut requires less of your body’s energy to heat excess space. Mummy bags usually include fitted shoulders and a hood, which help to retain heat at critical locations. 
  • Rectangular bags offer a roomy fit, ideal for sleepers who move around a lot during the night. They also offer excellent versatility, allowing couples to create double-wide options, or opening completely for blanket style use. Because of the extra space and wide opening at the top, rectangular bags are less thermally efficient in very cold environments. 
  • Within these 2 shapes, there are variations. Some rectangular bags include a hood, which is usually a looser fit than a mummy hood. There is also a variation of the mummy fit, a semi-rectangular shape, that offers some of the thermal efficiency and weight savings of a mummy bag, with a little more room. 
  • Ensure that you’re getting a bag that fits your height. A good rule is to look for a bag that is 6” longer than your body height. 
  • Also note that many bags are offered in men’s and women’s versions. Generally, women’s bags offer shorter lengths and more proportionate shoulder and hip girths.  
The material your bag is made of can make a big difference. Nylon or polyester ripstop patterns are generally more durable, and good for shell materials. If possible, look for a shell material that has a DWR (durable water repellent) treatment. This does not mean the bag is waterproof, but should help small amounts of water (condensation, for example) bead up and roll off the bag, versus soak through the shell into the insulation. 
  • Some heavier rectangular bags offer a durable cotton blend on the bag’s shell. While these materials generally don’t repel water as well, they do offer a cozy, roomy bag option. 
  • Liner materials should promote breathability, allowing your body moisture to disperse rather than become trapped inside the bag. Some of the most common liner materials are: 
  1. Poly-taffeta – smooth finish and lighter weight. Usually cold to the touch upon first entering a bag, but warm up quickly. 
  2. Pongees and brushed poly-taffeta – while a synthetic blend, they offer a soft feel and warmer entry into the bag than a plain taffeta. 
  3. Cotton blends (poly-cotton, flannel, etc) – softest liner options, warm to the touch and breathable. Generally the heaviest liner options. 
Comfort & convenience features include: 
  • Sleeping pad attachments — A sleeping pad will help insulate the bottom side of your bag, and add cushion. Look for a bag that is compatible with your pad, or has sleeping pad attachment loops. 
  • Zippers and anti-snag treatments – Some bags use a locking zipper slider, which helps hold the zipper in place even if you move around a lot during the night. Many bags also offer dual-sliders, which means there is a zipper pull at both ends. This allows you to open the zipper at the bottom of the bag, for additional venting near your feet. Look for anti-snag treatment on both sides of the main zip. There are many anti-snag techniques in the market, so if possible, test a bag before you purchase it, to ensure you’re comfortable with the ease and speed of the zipper design. 
  • Draft tubes – if you’ll be using your bag in colder temps, look for a bag with a draft tube the full length of the main zipper, and possibly around the neck. Draft tubes are filled with insulation and help to seal locations hat suffer higher heat loss. 
  • Ergonomic footbox – available more often on mummy shapes, an ergonomic design at the bottom of the bag allow a person’s feet to lay in their natural position. 
  • Stash pockets – purely a convenience feature, these pockets help keep valuables easily accessible. 
Storage – most bags should come with a stuff sack or roll straps. If pack size is a concern, look for compression straps to help cinch the bag as small as possible during packing. Some bags also come with a storage sack, which is usually larger and more breathable (mesh or cotton). It’s a good rule to store your sleeping bag less compressed. Long term storage in a looser sack will add to the bag’s longevity. If your bag doesn’t include a stuff or storage sack, you can easily find options in many camping accessory assortments.