Monday, October 31, 2011

Winter Storm Survival

More than 3 million people on the East Coast were hit with power outages as an early winter storm blasted through the region. Connecticut Governor Dannel Mallory said a record number of residents of his state were without electricity and could be for a week. "Ir you are without power, you should expect to be without power for a prolonged period of time," he stated.

The snowstorm dumped more than 2 feet of snow in some places, snarling air traffic and highway travel throughout the New England states. The combination of heavy, wet snow and trees that still carried their leaves resulted in downed power lines as trees shed their limbs or fell over altogether. In Pennsylvania, a man was killed with a snow-burdened tree fell on his home while he was asleep in his recliner. Another man was electrocuted when he stopped to observe police and fire fighters working on downed power lines.

From all this, we can learn a lesson or two.

  • Don't rely on the calendar to tell you when winter will arrive. The weather can get out of its normal routine. 
  • Always be prepared to have to stay overnight (or longer) in your vehicle, if weather traps you away from home. Have what you need to survive in the car. 
  • Prepare your home so you can live comfortably without electrical power or the municipal water supply. You need water and food stored up for emergencies. You need alternate cooking and heating methods that are safe to use in your house. And you need warm clothes so you can stay comfortable as the house chills. 
  • Have what you need at home so you can live without going to the store for a couple weeks. How's your toilet paper supply?
  • If you see downed power lines, do not stop to gawk, and don't get out of your vehicle if power lines fall on it. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Shameless Self Promotion

I might as well take advantage of my own blog to promote a book I wrote that is hot off the press. It's called The Castle Gate. It's a Christian gift book that is written after the fashion of C.S. Lewis' style. There's a story within a story, and it's left to the reader to interpret the meaning found along the way.

This is an excellent book to give as Christmas gifts to those you love. Read the story first yourself, and you will find it will be especially appropriate for special people in your life.

Go to to find out more about The Castle Gate.

Blizzard Survival Bag

You never know when an emergency situation is going to happen. That's why, as we approach the coming winter, it's a good idea to be thinking about ways to protect ourselves if there is a sudden absence of the things that normally keep us alive and well.

A winter storm can knock out electrical power to our homes. Or we might be out in the mountains stalking a perfect Christmas tree when we become stranded. Both scenarios happen ever year — many times, to many people, all across the country. At a time like that, it's good to have ways to stay dry and warm.

A product that has recently come to my attention appears to meet some of those needs. It's called a Blizzard Survival Bag. My good friends at LifeView Outdoors ( sent me some information about this product. It's made in the UK, but available for $39.95 in the U.S.

This is an emergency survival bivvy featuring Reflexcell technology. It's made of a triple layer of windproof and waterproof material designed with cellular construction and metallic coating to reflect back toward you your own body heat and reduce the risk of hypothermia. A network of elastic bands keep the bag close to your body, reducing cold spaces within the bag. According to the manufacturer, it's intended for extreme cold weather down to -40º F. The bag is used by the military, civilian first responders, disaster relief organizations, and everyday outdoor enthusiasts.

I haven't had a chance to personally test and evaluate this product yet, because I just found out about it. But I wanted to pass along this information so you can do your own research. After I have an opportunity to do some field testing, I'll report back on how it performed. If any of you have experience with the Blizzard Survival Bag, post your comments and tell us what you think of it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Once upon a time, there was a telephone advertisement that said, "Reach out and touch someone." It was clever and catchy, but it was also good survival advice.

Fast forward to yesterday in Ercis, Turkey, where a 7.2 magnitude earthquake knocked down nearly 2,300 buildings, killing hundreds, injuring more than a thousand, and trapping a guy named Yalcin Akay (among hundreds of others). But what was so special about Yalcin Akay was that he reached out and touched someone, just like the ad said to do.

In his case, the someone he reached out and touched was the police department emergency operator. Trapped in a collapsed building, Akay used his cell phone to call for help. He knew where he was and had a clear understanding of the conditions around him. So he gave directions to the police and they were able to find him and save his life.

Others who were pulled from the rubble of buildings all over the city were found by luck. In my opinion, it's better not to rely too heavily on luck when your life is on the line. Having a cell phone with a charged battery can be a lifesaver.

Just ask Yalcin Akay next time you see him.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Favorite Fire Starter

When I want a fire, I want a fire. I don't want to mess around with wimpy igniters that just don't do the job. So I'm pretty picky about the kind of fire starters I carry. One of the best I've found is the Swedish FireSteel from a company called Light My Fire (

This is a striker-type fire starter. It doesn't make flames, it makes sparks. Getting flames depends entirely upon me to have good tinder available to catch the sparks. But even with the best tinder, if there are no sparks, there will be no flames. And that's what I like about this fire starter. It makes some of the most powerful sparks of any striker I've tried — and I've tried a lot of different ones.

The Swedish Fire Steel comes with a small lanyard that keeps the "flint" and the "steel" together so you don't lose one of the critical components. And the lanyard is just long enough to enable you to work your magic with the flint against the steel to create a shower of 5,500º F. sparks.

The one in the photo is an older model with the earlier style of steel. Has worked just fine for me for several years. But the company has recently come out with their second generation version 2.0 that features a different kind of steel. Still works like a charm. The company claims the striker will last for 3,000 to 12,000 strikes. One of the amazing things is that it works equally well wet or dry.

So now that you know my favorite fire starter, you can buy one for about $13 from REI, and they're available at lots of sporting goods stores. Prices vary. Personally, I wouldn't be too interested in a cheap imitation. I want to know I can get a fire going quickly when I need one.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Personal Preparation Trumps Everything

When the fertilizer flies through the fan, it's too late to grab an umbrella. Unless you're prepared in advance, you're just going to have to wear the consequences of your neglect.

The same goes for survival situations. It doesn't matter whether it takes place a hundred miles back in the wilderness or in downtown metropolis, it's all the same. When the chips are down, nothing trumps personal preparedness. If you know what to do and either have the right equipment with you or know how to improvise, you'll probably make it out alive. If you fail those criteria, you're going to have to rely on luck.

If you're lucky, someone will stumble across your path and rescue you. It does happen. I've reported before on people lost or stranded who were saved because a hunter or hiker accidentally found the hapless victims. But I wouldn't count on it. It's a long shot to expect a stranger to find you in the vastness of the wilderness.

In an urban survival situation, where masses of people are in trouble all at the same time, you can't expect others to sacrifice their own families or themselves to come to your aid. Thankfully, there are folks who will do that, but by allowing yourself to be a victim you place your rescuers at risk. If you do that because you have neglected to prepare to handle emergencies yourself, then shame on you. You are part of the problem when you could easily have been part of the solution.

Personal preparation encompasses every aspect of life, including where you choose to live.  If you choose to live in a little apartment in downtown metropolis, surrounded by mega-millions of unprepared people, you might have very little ability to grow your own food, or a place to store an emergency supply of necessities. I'm not condemning anyone who lives like that, but it's a choice, whether or not you're willing to admit it. If you think you're "stuck" in those conditions because that's where your job is, then you're willing to allow your job to make the decision for you. It takes guts to break out of the herd, but it can be done.

If you really are concerned about emergency preparedness, start analyzing your life. Ask yourself:

  • If the global economy suddenly went in the tank and money had absolutely no value, what would I do?
  • If there was a total loss of public services — transportation, communication, food supply, water supply, utilities, police, fire and medical services — what would I do?
  • If a massive ice storm paralyzed my city for a month, and there was no electricity because all the power lines were down, what would I do?
  • If I became hopelessly lost while hiking, a storm was blowing in and night was coming on, what would I do?
  • If there was a biological attack by terrorists against my city, what would I do?
  • If the municipal water supply became contaminated and warnings were issued about not using the water, what would I do?
  • If a virulent pandemic spread across the country and I was quarantined for 6 months to my house, with no possibility to go outside, what would I do?
  • If my car slid off a remote snow-covered road while I was miles back in the forested mountains hunting for a Christmas tree, what would I do?
  • If a cougar or bear wandered into my fishing camp, what would I do?
  • If my family members were spread all over town the day a massive earthquake shattered everything, what would I do?
Be thoughtful about every different scenario you can come up with. Analyze your situation, your experience level, your equipment, your skills. Start bolstering where you need to. Make the hard decisions about where you live. 

Do you have everything you need to go on living for an extended period of time (at least 6 months) without having to depend on stores or restaurants or public services to keep you alive?

If you expect the government or some relief agency to save you from disaster, you're not really fit for survival. I'm not saying you deserve to die, but I wouldn't want you on my team if you're not willing to take personal responsibility for your own welfare. 

Don't wait until the stink flies toward you at a hundred miles an hour before looking for the umbrella. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Escape A Submerged Vehicle

To safely escape a vehicle that has gone underwater takes quick planning and a cool head. If you panic, you probably won't survive.

As soon as you realize that the vehicle is in deep water and is going to sink, get your seatbelt off and try to open the door and get out. For this to succeed, you must open the door before the water level gets higher than a few inches on the outside of the door. Otherwise, the pressure of the water against the door will not allow you to open it. If you try to shove the door open, but can't, don't waste your energy on that avenue of escape.

The next best thing is to open the window and climb out before the water level reaches the glass. If you cannot open the window, break the glass and crawl out. The window glass will shatter into small fragments, so don't worry about impaling yourself. The best way to shatter the window is to use a heavy piece of metal (hammer, wrench, etc.) or a special spring-loaded glass-breaking punch. The punch takes almost no effort to break the window and you can find them available online for about $10.

If you are unable to escape before water reaches the level of the windows and begins to pour inside, you'll have to wait. Don't panic. You must allow the flow of water coming in through the windows to fill the interior enough to slow the flow and let you escape. The interior of the vehicle will need to be almost completely filled with water before you can get out. This is the most difficult time to remain calm, but it is vital that you do so. If other people are in the vehicle, do your best to calm everyone and tell them what to do.
  • Get seatbelts off 
  • Work to get windows or doors open 
  • Wait until the vehicle fills with water 
  • Talk about who will go first, second, third, etc. 
  • Follow the air pocket and breathe 
Take deep breaths of air as the vehicle fills, pressing your face up against the headliner to get the last of the air before escaping. The vehicle will probably sink nose-down because of the weight of the engine, and that might produce an air pocket in the back where you can breathe while you work out your survival plan.

When the vehicle is full of water, you might be able to shove the doors open because the pressure will be equal on both sides of the door. Depending on the physical size of the occupants, that might be the only way out. If you can get the doors open while you're still breathing from the air pocket, so much the better.

When you're ready to go, take a last deep breath and hold it. Keep your eyes open so you can see your escape route. Then go.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Plane Crash

I just received word that a close friend of ours was killed in the crash of a light aircraft into the waters of Chesapeake Bay. Actually, she survived the the crash with only minor injury. She and her son, the pilot, were able to get out of the plane together, but they were about 3 miles offshore and had to swim as the plane sank from beneath them.

Our good friend Mary was so excited to take this ride in her son's airplane. Everything went well as they flew above the Chesapeake to an island. Suddenly, the engine died and they were forced to land in the water.

Surviving a plane crash is miracle enough, but then to die in the attempt to swim ashore is a tragedy. Mary and her son swam for more than an hour and a half  toward a distant shoreline. She was 78 years old, and for her to swim for so long was another miracle.

Finally, exhausted, she told her son that she just couldn't go on any longer. She drowned, leaving him to swim on through the darkness of early evening until he crawled ashore in a swamp and made his way to a house to call for help.

The whole thing leaves me asking how the outcome might have been different. What if they had be able to use the radio to send a mayday to the Coast Guard before hitting the water? What if they had flotation cushions or life vests on the plane? What if a boat had spotted them going down? What if…

There are lessons to be learned from every incident such as this.
  • When a plane flies over water, it should be equipped the way a boat would be — with personal flotation devices for each passenger. 
  • We should anticipate that something might go wrong and we will have to swim or hike to find help.
  • We should wear the kind of clothing that would be appropriate for that challenge — sturdy walking shoes, long sleeve, long pants. 
  • We should know how to use the radio to transmit a distress message.
  • We should know how to remain afloat indefinitely without wearing ourselves out by swimming.
  • We should have signal flares and other equipment onboard and know how and when to use them. 
Our good friend Mary died in a tragic accident, and I am not in a position to judge what went wrong or what might have been done differently. But it does give me reason to pause and consider ways to mitigate the risks if I ever find myself in a similar situation.