Monday, December 10, 2012

One Survived — One Didn't

Paula Lane and her boyfriend Roderick Clifton decided to go on an off-roading trip through the Sierra Nevada Mountains — then they got stuck in the snow.

This is how so many survival stories begin. It all starts with an innocent venture into the backcountry, with total intention to make just a short trip of it and get back before nightfall.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. This is one of those cases. 
The trip started on November 29th, but didn't end for Paula until  7 days later when she was discovered, still alive, by her own brother as she wandered near a highway.
During her recovery from frostbite and hypothermia, she was able to tell her story. After the vehicle became stuck in the snow, Roderick Clifton decided to hike out of the area to look for help. When he never returned, Paula Lane wrapped herself in blankets to stay warm, then headed out on foot to try to reach a road. During her 7-day ordeal, the report says she slept in hollowed-out trees and ate snow and tomatoes (which she must have carried with her from the vehicle) to stay alive. 
 The official search and rescue effort was called off by authorities after they found no trace of the couple. But her family refused to give up the search. Her brother took off into the wilderness, looking for the lost pair, and eventually found Paula wandering alongside the highway. He took her to a medical facility where she was treated for frostbite and severe hypothermia. 
So, what can we learn from all this? 
  • To help searchers find you quickly when you become stranded, always file a trip plan with friends and family members, saying where you're going and when to expect you back. Then stick to the plan. If you don't show up on time, at least the search can be conducted in the right place. 
  • Be prepared to stay longer than expected. Take shelter and sleeping bags, even if you don't plan on staying overnight. Have redundant methods of starting a fire, and carry enough food and water to keep you going for a week or more. 
  • Take communication devices such as cell phones, or 2-way radio. The ultimate way to call for help when you're in a life-threatening situation is to use a personal locator beacon (PLB) or a SPOT Satellite Messenger (
  • Rather than wander away from the vehicle, risking becoming lost, and having to face the elements without shelter, stick with the vehicle and get to work on signal techniques that might attract someone's attention. A smoky fire by day, a bright blaze by night. Use every strategy to make yourself seen and heard. 
  • The reason to stay with the vehicle is because it offers shelter from the elements, and it's easier for searchers to spot from the air or from a distance. Finding a single person wandering in the forest is a long-shot. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ammunition Fire Survival

Have you ever wondered what happens to ammunition that is stored in a house or garage when the place catches fire?

Or what about the danger of dropping a box or case of live ammunition? Can it blow up? Or can individual rounds go off and kill somebody?

Good questions. And for those of us who are reloaders, hunters or keep ammunition around the house for self defense, it's the kind of question that deserves to be answered.

When I served on a volunteer fire department years ago, I entered a burning house where it was reported that there was a large quantity of live ammunition stored. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned. But that was back before the kind of testing you about to see in this video was performed.

So sit back and watch this excellent demonstration of how safe sporting ammunition really is. Click on the link below.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Winter Survival

There’s nothing quite like buckling into a set of snowshoes and hiking across a pristine meadow of crystal-white, hearing only the soft crunch as the snow gives way beneath your feet.

It’s magical. The forest is flocked like a Christmas tree lot in the high-rent district of the city, but there is no city here — only the silence of wilderness. The stream is decked out with soft mounds of snow on every rock above the waterline, and along the edges are diamond chandeliers of ice dangling from every overhang. Imagine the prettiest Christmas card you ever saw — this is even better.

But all this beauty and adventure can come at a price. Winter, for all its stunning glory, can be a cruel schoolmaster, always ready to teach harsh lessons about suffering and survival. Macho attitudes swiftly wither as the windchill strips the life out of those who fail to understand that Mother Nature takes no prisoners during this season. My advice — go prepared or don’t go at all.

Preparation begins with knowledge, then grows through experience and the development of expertise in the use of relevant skills. But there’s good news, and the first part of the good news is that preparation is half the fun. The rest of the good news is that we live at a time when there is excellent winter camping equipment available at a reasonable cost. So being prepared is neither difficult nor expensive.

But even when you’re prepared, winter is a tough season for survival. You need to take care not to get into trouble, but if it happens, you need to know how to get yourself out.

Let’s take a look at a possible scenario. You leave your vehicle, intending to hike around on snowshoe for a couple of hours. The day is clear and beautiful, and you're lured on and on through the forest until you're a couple miles from your vehicle. Suddenly, the ground gives way beneath you and you realize, too late, that you're standing on a snow bridge across a stream. The next thing you know, you're hip deep in frigid water.

Another possibility — While out hiking, you are overtaken by a sudden snowstorm that blows up out of nowhere, obliterating your tracks and blinding your visibility. Suddenly, you’re lost.

Or — Your hiking buddy takes a spill and breaks his leg, a long way from the vehicle. Or perhaps you are overtaken by darkness, having lost awareness of the time and the fact that in the winter sudden nightfall seems to come in the middle of the afternoon.

These things happen every winter, and one of two outcomes will be the result — the people involve in the incident either come away with survival stories to tell, or they die. I have personally known people in both categories.

Regardless of what happens that causes you to have to survive in a winter environment, the most important things you need to do are to establish a shelter to protect yourself from the elements (wind, wet, cold), take care of any injuries, and then do everything possible to alert people that you need help.

Here are some fundamental rules that will help keep you out of trouble to begin with, or help get you out of trouble if you end up stranded in the snow.
  • Never travel alone. I know, one of the best things about winter hiking is the solitude. But think of it this way — you’re going to be seeing a lot of fantastic scenery and wildlife, and it is always more fun to share those experiences. Hike silent, if you want to enjoy the quiet, but always have a hiking partner.
  • Stay dry. Don’t sweat. Don’t brush up against the snow.
  • Stay Warm. Don’t sit on, lie down on or touch cold objects. Stay out of the wind.
  • Carry communication gear. It might be a cell phone, an FRS (Family Radio Service) radio, a GMRS (General mobile Radio Service) radio. Remember the limitations of the equipment — the cell phone may or may not work where you go hiking. FRS is good for about two miles and the more powerful GMRS signal will carry perhaps five miles (line of sight), but in both cases you need to have someone on the other end and within range who is monitoring the same frequency. It’s not very difficult to get an amateur radio operator’s license these days, and having a handheld HAM radio along for the hike might just save your cookies.
  • Carry signaling equipment with you at all times. This includes a signal whistle, a mirror, methods of starting signal fires, lightweight colored cloth panels. All of that stuff is cheap. If you don’t care about cheap and just want to be able to call for help to save your life, carry a personal locator beacon (PLB). Activate and maintain your signaling efforts as soon as you realize that you are in a survival situation.
  • Always leave a “flight plan” with trusted friends or relatives, detailing where you're going and when you intend to return. Then stick to your plan.
  • Always be prepared to spend an unplanned night or more in the woods. Carry an emergency shelter, a Space blanket, a pocket poncho, a bivvy bag and fire-making equipment with you.
  • Know how to construct a variety of expedient shelters. Snow caves can be a challenge to make (and stay dry at the same time), unless the depth and consistency of the snow are just right. Consider a tree pit shelter, in which you seek out a large tree with overhanging branches that have kept snow from collecting around the trunk. Dig out what snow is around the trunk, pile it over the branches, perhaps using your pocket poncho to help enclose the roof, and use that as a nearly ready-made natural shelter. Lacking trees, dig a trench and cover it (leaving one end open for an entrance) with your pocket poncho with snow piled along the edges to hold the “roof” taut across the trench. The snow trench is easy to build and will get you out of the wind.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Survive a Rip Current

Ocean waves and currents can trap you, dragging you out to sea. Three family members died as they attempted to save their dog that was swept out to sea while chasing a stick playfully tossed into the surf. 

The 16-year-old boy was the first to race into the ocean to try to save his dog from the high surf. The father, seeing the danger his son was in as he fought through 8 to 10-foot waves, went in after him. The boy managed to struggle back to the beach, but when he realized that his dad was still out in the surf looking for him, both he and his mother went into the water to try to save the man.

The waves and currents were too strong for them. Rescuers were able to retrive the mother's body, but it was too late. Eventually, the father's body washed up on shore. As I write this, the Coast Guard is still searching for the teenager.

Ironically, the dog managed to get back to shore on his own.

There is something to be learned from all this. Water on the move is powerful. It doesn't take much current to overpower a swimmer. Even a very powerful swimmer cannot fight a current very long. Eventually, exhaustion sets in, and then you're at the whim of the ocean, and you're too weak to save yourself.

Rip currents are caused by the water that has rushed ashore as waves, turning around and heading back out to sea. The worst rip currents happen when an offshore sandbar is breached, leaving a funnel for the receding water to channel through. When that happens, the outgoing current becomes extremely strong, sweeping anyone caught in it straight out to sea, away from the shoreline.

If you're ever caught in a rip current, the best way to survive is to simply relax and allow the current to carry you out. This sounds counterintuitive, because the farther you get from the beach, the more you start to fear that you're going to be carried to the middle of the ocean. The natural tendency is to start swimming as hard as possible against the current, trying to make it back to shore.


All that will get you is exhausted. You won't be able to make headway against the current. You'll end up drowning, after you've worn yourself out and can't swim anymore.

Allow the current to carry you. Eventually it will weaken, as it gets farther from shore, and you'll stop drifting out. That's when it's time to start swimming. But rather than trying to swim directly back to shore, where you'll just meet the outrushing rip current again, swim parallel to the shoreline until you reach a spot where the rip current is no longer present. Then turn toward shore. Try to pick a spot where the waves aren't going to dash you onto rocks as you make your approach.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Survive a Solar Storm

It sounds like science fiction, but it's actually science fact. A solar storm is predicted to wipe out society as we know it. 

Tom Bogdan, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, and American physicist (and co-founder of the string theory) Dr. Michio Kaku are both very concerned about the impact of a solar storm on civilization. 

If their prediction comes true, life will change dramatically as the power grid goes offline, taking communication and transportation with it.

For more information about this predicted event, link to

Thursday, November 22, 2012


For those who believe Mother Nature is warm and fuzzy, I have some troubling news to share. She’s a killer.

Well, maybe that’s a little harsh. But nature plays by some very strict rules, with severe consequences for violators. Play by the rules, and everything’s fine. But keep in mind that the real outdoors is no soft and cuddly Disney movie.

Every season has its challenges, but the cold-weather months are among the most daunting and dangerous. The trouble is that human beings are warm-blooded, and we have to take measures to protect our soft, warm flesh from the chilly elements. To neglect this is to sacrifice our flesh to frostbite.


Flesh exposed to extreme cold will freeze, and the result is frostbite. Depending upon conditions, this can sometimes happen very quickly — like in a matter of minutes. For example, you grasp a frozen bit of metal with a bare hand, or worse yet, you splash some intensely cold gasoline (which won’t freeze until far below zero) on your hands or feet while refueling a vehicle — instant severe frostbite injury.

Slower frostbite sneaks up on you over a span of time during which your raw skin is exposed to the cold elements, or circulation is restricted to your hands and feet due to boots and gloves that are too tight.

Under normal slow-frostbite conditions, the initial process isn’t particularly painful. Other than mild tingling, you might not even notice, because the flesh becomes numb as it freezes. And because you can’t feel it happening to yourself, it's important to be vigilant to guard against the onset of frostbite. If you're with friends, watch each other for signs of freezing tissue. If you're alone, use a signal mirror or other reflective surface to do the best you can to detect the telltale signs of frostbite. Check hands and feet to make sure they still have warmth and feeling.

So what does frostbite look like and feel like?

As skin freezes, the affected spot loses sensation and turns gray/white or yellow/white in color. The flesh becomes stiff, resilient, crispy to the touch. Mildly frostbitten flesh still yields under moderate pressure, but as the freezing deepens, the flesh becomes solid and wooden feeling.

Frostbite is most likely to happen to exposed flesh where the wind and cold have direct access to the skin (cheeks, nose, chin, forehead, ears, etc.). Also vulnerable are hands and feet, where circulation is restricted by tight clothing and is relatively distant from the warmth of the body core.

How Serious Is It?

Mild frostbite, if caught and treated early, does not pose a serious health threat. But it can be painful during recover. If the freezing is allowed to deepen, the flesh may be terminally damaged, resulting in eventual loss. Gangrene in injured flesh, leading to eventual amputation, is not uncommon among expedition climbers who suffer extreme frostbite and can’t get treatment soon enough. But you don’t have to be an expedition mountaineer to fall victim. All you have to do is fail to prevent frostbite, then neglect immediate treatment.


The first line of defense is your clothing, protecting the flesh from exposure to the cold and wind. Dress in layers, with a breathable wind/waterproof shell covering effective insulation layers. A neoprene face mask, full coverage headgear to protect the neck and ears, adequate footgear and mittens will go a long way toward fending off the surface damage caused by bitter cold. Keep boots and socks dry and loose enough to permit the free flow of blood circulating to your toes. Mittens are more effective than gloves because they don’t isolate fingers and they’re roomy enough to not restrict blood flow.

Next, eat high energy foods and warm drinks often during the times of peak exposure. Stay away from alcohol, because it not only numbs the brain and results in poor judgement, but it also causes the circulatory system to dilate, which can speed you on your way to an even bigger problem — hypothermia.

Check your skin often, inspecting for telltale spots. Check your buddy. Check fingers and toes.

To increase circulation, wriggle your face, move fingers and toes, mildly exercise those areas most vulnerable. Periodically, hold a warm hand over cheeks, nose, ears, etc., to share the warmth. If your hands are affected, pull off your gloves and insert hands under bare armpits. If your buddy has cold feet, you may have to take shelter, pull off his boots and hold his chilled feet against your warm stomach. This is where you learn who your true friends are.

Get out of the cold as soon as possible. Then get out of cold clothing and into something warmer. Frozen boots are like an icebox, and feet will just get colder if you leave them inside. Start working on creating a warmer environment.


When it comes to treatment of deeply frozen flesh, you should get to a medical facility as quickly as possible. If a seriously frozen area is thawed and then allowed to freeze again, extreme damage will result. Treatment of profound frostbite is best left to professionals. In cases of solidly frozen feet or hands, do not attempt to remove boots or gloves. Just transport the victim to an emergency medical facility as fast and safely as you can.

But if the injury is only mild and you can’t get real medical help in a reasonable amount of time, the recommended procedure is to immerse the frostbitten area in warm (not hot) water. A temperature between 102 and 105 is generally safe. Expect some excruciating pain, as the flesh thaws. After thawing, take all precautions to ensure against re-freezing that part of the body. It will be vulnerable, so you must be careful.


• Do — Periodically check yourself and your buddy for frostbite

• Do — Eat and drink hot stuff

• Do — Stay dry

• Do — Use gentle warming techniques to thaw mild frostbite

• Do — Prevent re-freezing of the injured area


• Don’t — Rub the injured area with snow (very dangerous)

• Don’t — Drink alcohol

• Don’t — Smoke

• Don’t — Attempt to thaw a deeply frozen injury. Transport the victim as quickly as safely possible to a medical facility.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Day Hike Syndrome Strikes Again

mountains, lost, day hike syndrome
The outdoors is big and hostile when you're out there overnight but didn't plan to be.
Two men out for a day of snowboarding on the slopes of Mount Rainier didn't make it back.

At least they didn't make it back when they intended. Derek Tyndall and Thomas Dale (20 and 21 years old respectively) became disoriented (aka lost) in a snowstorm while descending from Camp Muir. Unable to find their way, they used their cell phones to called for help.

The search began, and more than two dozen people hit the snow-covered mountain to assist in the rescue operation. Eventually, the rescue crew was able to make visual contact from about a half mile away, but were unable to reach the stranded men before nightfall. Then the weather got worse, forcing rescue crews off the mountain.

Tyndall and Dale reported via cell phone that they were cold but otherwise unhurt. As night approached, they dug a snow cave for shelter, but reportedly had no overnight gear with them.

There is so much to learn from an incident such as this one. The surprising thing to me is how often it is repeated. This whole scenario falls into what I call Day Hike Syndrome — which, in my opinion, is one of the greatest dangers when you trek off into the outdoors.

Day Hike Syndrome is that misaligned mental attitude in which people think nothing can go wrong because:
  • I'm only going for a short hike (ski, snowmobile ride, canoe ride, hunt, day of fishing, mountain bike ride, afternoon of snowboarding…you name it), and I'll be back before nightfall. 
  • I've done this before and nothing bad happened. 
  • I'll be with friends who are experienced 
  • yadda-yadda-yadda…plug in any excuse you can think of 
These are nothing more than lame attempts at rationalization about why you fail to carry overnight gear. It all stems from the misbegotten belief that you will surely be able to make it back home (or to your vehicle) without getting trapped outdoors overnight.

The problem is that you can't see the future. You can guess at it and place your bet, but trust me, the future can outguess you and deal you a losing hand. It can be even a slight injury that slows you down enough that you can't make it out before dark. It can be the sudden onset of unexpected weather. It can be that you simply take the wrong fork of a trail and lose your way.

Regardless of what causes it, you end up staying longer in the outdoors than you planned. All because you failed to plan for the eventuality that you would be spending the night (maybe several) out there. And then you end up in a survival situation with search and rescue teams risking their own lives to come and save yours.

So, what's the solution? Every time you take off for a "one day" trip into the outdoors, for whatever reason, take the kind of equipment that would be appropriate for an overnight stay in the wilds in your location and season.
  • Emergency shelter 
  • Fire starting equipment 
  • Water purification system 
  • Extra high-energy food 
  • Overnight clothing (I'm not talking about pajamas here) 
  • Flashlight 
  • Signaling devices (cell phone, mirror, whistle, PLB, SPOT) 

Never take anything for granted in the outdoors. It only takes a minor mistake to end up staying longer out there than planned.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Death By Mushroom

It happens every year — people kill themselves by eating toxic wild mushrooms.

The news this morning is about two people dying and four others getting sick after eating some soup made with wild mushrooms. There was no foul play suspected in this case (like trying to poison your rich uncle to speed your access to his will), because one of those who became sick was the one who prepared the soup, and ate it as well.

These folks were in north/central California, but this can be a problem anywhere mushrooms grow. There's something about those capped fungi that seems to attract a culinary interest.

I have to admit that I also like to gather some select wild edible mushrooms in their season and add them to the dinner table. BUT (and this is a huge BUT) I never bring home a mushroom I don't know for certain is edible. And some deadly varieties counterfeit themselves as tame, so utmost care is required.

It's the same story for any wild edible plant. There are more than 100,000 edible varieties in the world. Seems like a lot to choose from. But then consider that there are more than 300,000 total varieties and it becomes clear that the ratio of edible vs non-edible (sometimes toxic) is not in your favor if you like to graze indiscriminately.

So I issue this caution — before putting any wild plant or fungus in your mouth, know what you're eating. Know it absolutely, not just with a hunch that it is edible. There are some very close cousins in the plant world where a deadly poisonous one is almost identical to a perfectly edible one. You have to know how to read the labels. Study books on the subject, but even more important is to go into the field with experienced people who can teach you how to identify plants the right way.

It's like going to the grocery story to pick up a can of soup. Imagine if all the labels had been removed from every can in the store — or that they were all written in Chinese characters that you don't know how to read. You might be lucky enough to actually find the soup…but you have a greater chance of finding something else. Just because it comes in a can doesn't make it edible.

In the plant world, it's the same concept. Just because it's green, or just because it produces a pretty berry, or just because it grows alongside perfectly edible plants is no guarantee. You must know how to read the labels of plant identification. That is a technical aspect of outdoor survival, but one that is fascinating and fun to pursue.

While you're at it, learn about wild medicinal plants and "otherwise useful" plants that produce resources that can be used for making cordage or tools. Study the ethnobotany of indigenous peoples who lived (or perhaps still live) in your region.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fighting To Survive

Long after the storm has passed, the fight for survival goes on. 

This is the nature of urban survival after a natural disaster. It doesn't matter whether it was a hurricane, a tornado, an earthquake, a flood, a wildfire … the aftermath is always worse than the event that caused the human suffering. The ground only shakes for a few minutes, but the chaos that follows goes on and on.

The East Coast is feeling that now. Weeks after the big storm passed through, leaving millions without power, without homes, without normal lives, the struggle continues. Residents live in cold, dark apartments or homes. Neighborhoods no longer have operational grocery stores or gas stations or laundramats or pharmacies. Some residents are afraid to leave their apartments or home after dark, so they feel trapped.

Many of the people are not prepared to take care of themselves, so they wait for the government and for utility crews and for the rebuilding of their communities. In the meanwhile, they sit and suffer the loss of services they have become accustomed to having around them, easily within reach.

One resident on Coney Island said, "It's very hard. There are no stores here anymore. There's nothing. We can't even come out of our apartments at night. We need a curfew on Coney Island."

A woman who set up a relief center to help neighbors said, "A lot of us are fighting for our lives. A lot of people are desperate. They don't know where they are getting their next meal. We are fighting among ourselves here because we are tired, and we are frustrated."

Out of all this suffering and desperation come some lessons for us. The problem is that we tend to think disasters happen only to other people, so we get complacent and fail to prepare for the day when our own world runs amok. We need to stop thinking that way, and start taking steps right now to prepare.
  • The first three letters of the word PREPARE are PRE — that means "ahead of time." We must prepare before the need arrives. When chaos strikes, the opportunity to prepare is past. 
  • Those people who don't know where their next meal is coming from were not prepared to live without an active grocery store nearby. We need to stock up on essentials like food, medications, toiletries and other things we use on a daily basis, so we could comfortably live a month or more without going to the store. 
  • The same goes for water. Store bottles and jugs of drinking water under the bed or in a closet so you don't have to suffer dehydration when suddenly the water supply is either cut off or contaminated. 
  • Have a backup cooking method available. This can be a simple camp stove and fuel canisters sufficient to keep you going for a month or more. 
  • Have backup illumination methods — candles, lanterns, flashlights. 
  • Make sure your medications are up to date and you have enough on hand that you can do without the pharmacy for a month or more. 
  • Toilet paper — what are you going to do after you unfurl the last square off the roll? Take the hint — stock up. 
  • Soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, all the things you consume daily — stock up on these items. 
  • Have a manual can opener so you can get into the food supply even if the power is out. 

The point is that we need to examine the way we live, decide what we need on a daily basis, and stock up on those items. If you are prepared, you can rest a little easier knowing that even if a disaster hits you can survive comfortably on the supplies you have set aside for just such an event.

It's the old story of the ant and the grasshopper. The grasshopper didn't concern himself with preparation, because he just refused to believe winter would come. 

But winter does come, and it's only a matter of time before it comes calling on us.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Dealing With a Boil Order

Somewhere around the country, nearly every day, there's a boil order issued by health departments in communities that are having problems with the water supply.

Right now, many municipalities that were affected by the flooding associated with Hurricane Sandy are under boil order. In New Jersey alone, 12 communities have issued advisories.

So, what's a boil order? It's an advisory that is announced, usually over local radio or TV stations, telling residents that they need to boil their drinking water to prevent illness.

The illness may be caused by any number of bacteria, virus, or other living organisms that find their way into the public water supply. The causes of contamination can be a natural disaster such as flood, earthquake, landslide, etc. Or it can result from such things as a broken water line, broken sewage lines that permit intermingling of sewage with the community water supply, or equipment failure in the water delivery system.

Advice accompanying a boil order usually says to boil all drinking water for 1 minute. The word boil mean maintaining the water at a rolling boil, with vigorous bubbling for the entire minute. And this should be done to all water that will be use in any part of food preparation — diluting soups, juice concentrates, rehydrating mashed potatoes, mixing gravy, making ice cubes etc., not just for the water you drink.

Another consideration is that the water you use to wash dishes needs to be clean, or else you risk contaminating the dishes. Rather than boiling the dishwashing water, you can treat it chemically by using a mixture of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach per 5 gallons of water. Let it stand for at least 30 minutes before using, to give it time to kill the organisms. Be aware that not all organisms will be killed by chlorine, giardia being one example. Iodine is better at inactivating giardia cysts than chlorine, but iodine causes health problems for some people. Effectiveness of chemicals at disinfecting water is heavily dependent on water temperature, pH level, and clarity. The colder and cloudier the water, the longer it takes for the chemicals to be effective.

Water used for bathing doesn't usually need to be boiled first, but the water used for washing and rinsing hands and face should be sanitized before use. And be careful not to allow contaminated water near open wounds or rashes.

To survive a boil order with the least amount of hassle or risk, place in your emergency storage a few days' supply of paper plates, plastic utensils and cups, and at least a week's worth of bottled drinking water. Use large zip baggies to serve as mixing bowls and storage containers for leftovers. That minimizes the amount of dish washing that needs to be done.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Post Crisis Stress Syndrome

The storm is gone — the crisis continues.

This is nothing surprising. It happens after every disaster. Survivors who are grateful to be alive in the immediate aftermath of the disaster become frustrated and self-centered as the abnormal situation is prolonged.

An example is what's happening right now in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. In New Jersey, more than 80% of gas stations are unable to sell gasoline because they are either out of fuel or there is no electricity to operate the pumps. Customers are lined up, shouting at each other and at the business owner. State troopers are deployed to quell the situation. It happens every time. No one should be surprised.

As the power outages persist throughout the entire Northeast, with 20 stated affected, people can't get the supplies they want or need. Transportation is difficult at best, and nonexistent in some places. Communication systems have failed, with cell towers disabled and landlines out of service. There's no power to operate residential furnaces, and the weather is cold and wet.

People who have home generators are out of fuel, and the gas stations (as noted above) are out of action. Barry Levin of Cliffside Park, standing in line at an Exxon station, said, "I'll wait here all night. I need this for my family."

Kevin Beyer, president of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association said, "I have gas in the ground but no power. For many others they're facing the opposite problem, with power but no gasoline." He estimated it could take until the end of next week to have all the stations up and running again.

Part of the problem is the government. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took steps to waive regulations that make it hard for stations to buy fuel from out-of-state suppliers. "When shortages threaten after natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, fuel buyers need to venture farther from state borders to ensure that their customers get the gasoline and diesel they need," state treasurer Andres Sidamon-Eristoff said.

All I have to add to that is, "duh!" Regulations strangle business, and one of the best time to see that clearly is in the aftermath of a disaster.

And it isn't only gasoline. Commodities that help people through a disaster are in short supply, and people are frustrated because they can't find what they need. A manager at a Lowe's store in Orange, New York said, "You see the worst in people at a time like this. We're trying to be there for them, but they get angry when they can't get batteries or flashlights."

Utility crews are also being abused by residents who are frustrated by how long it's taking to restore power. Angry calls are flooding the utility offices, and there are occasional confrontations on the street where crews are working.

The lesson for us — prepare ahead of time. When a disaster hits, expect to do without some services and commodities. Suck it up and tough it out and quit whining.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Disaster — The Sobering Truth

The storm is over, but the disaster is just beginning.

A disaster is measured by the number of people it affects. If an event such as a hurricane hits an unpopulated area, it's not a disaster, even though it might bring flooding and knock down trees. If there's no one affected, it's not a disaster.

Hurricane Sandy is a genuine disaster, affecting tens of millions of people across a span of the country encompassing 20 states. Upwards of 9 million households without electrical power. Homes flooded. Public transportation systems disabled. Emergency services stretched to the limit. Contaminated water flowing through the streets, surrounding homes.

After the storm wound down from hurricane strength and the storm surge stopped rushing in from the sea, what was left behind is what constitutes the real disaster. It's the same with earthquakes — the earth shakes for a little while, then stops; and if it has impacted a populated area, then the disaster begins.

So, what are the concerns now that the storm itself is over?
  • Power outages over a huge area, leaving millions of homes without electricity to operate furnaces in the chilly weather. This places residents at risk of hypothermia as they endure the cold, wet aftermath of the storm in homes that can't be heated. 
  • Food spoilage due to the power outages leaving refrigerators and freezers dead. Many people don't have a sufficient amount of non-perishable foods stored in their homes, so food shortage will be an issue as grocery stores have been stripped of inventory and unable to be resupplied. 
  • Water contamination, with sewage mixed with flood waters. Not only sewage, but also chemical pollutants such as fuel, oil, pesticides, and bio-hazards. If residents are not able to purify drinking water, dehydration will be a problem. Most people don't store enough bottled water in their homes to keep them going for more than a short time. It will be a long time before municipal water supplies can be restored. In the meantime, widespread boil orders will be in place. But without power, people won't be able to boil their water to purify it. 
  • Transportation routes have been torn up by the flooding, with many roads literally ripped to shreds. Other roads are covered by downed trees or other debris. Powerlines are down across many roads, rendering them impassable until utility crews can clear the hazard. That means resupply of goods to the affected areas will be slow in coming. There won't be fuel for cars, food in stores, pharmaceuticals in drug stores, or much of anything else that people need on a day-to-day basis. What will you do when the toilet paper runs out? 
  • Families will be financially wiped out. Businesses will die. In tough economic times, the last thing the country needs is a disaster that will push small families and businesses over the fiscal cliff. This will result in increased unemployment, loss of goods and services in the marketplace. This will be one of the long-term impacts of the storm that turn a meteorological event into a genuine disaster. 
  • Homes and buildings will have to be torn down because of being inundated by water. Homes in coastal communities were flooded with saltwater, which will result in destruction of the electrical circuits that will begin to corrode almost immediately. But all flooded home will suffer damage that will require tearing down interior walls, ripping out flooring, replacing appliances and furniture. Many buildings will have to be condemned because their foundations have been undercut by the flood. 
  • Cars and trucks that have been through the flood will become rusted junk, not fit for restoration. 
I could go on — the list is long. The worst part is that all of these things are going to persist for a long time. None of this can be cleaned up in a few days, putting life back together the way it was before the storm.

So what's the good news? The good news is that this is America, a nation built on a foundation of personal liberty, a country filled with people who take responsibility for their own welfare and reach out to their neighbors to help ease the burden of those less fortunate. At least we used to be that kind of country. The good news is that disasters come along every once in a while that put us to the test again, so we can prove we're still that kind of nation.

Just because the storm has ended doesn't mean the disaster is over. In fact, it's just beginning. It's time to pull up our boots and get to work putting it all back together for those who have lost so much.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fire & Flood

It seems counterintuitive, but a runaway fire destroyed more than 50 homes that were inundated by floodwaters.

How does that happen?

The report about this particular fire doesn't specify the cause, but there are several possibilities.
  • During the power outage caused by Hurricane Sandy, residents might have been using candles or lanterns to light their homes, and one of those might have gotten knocked over and started the fire. 
  • Sparking powerlines might have ignited the fire where the power entered the house. 
  • And exploding transformer might have caused the blaze.
  • Downed powerlines falling on roof of a house might be the culprit. 
  • A fuel spill or leak resulting from the massive storm could be involved. 
There's only so much you can do to mitigate the dangers when a storm blows into town. You can't stop power transformers from exploding or powerlines from being blown down. But you can make sure you aren't the cause of the fire by taking some precautions.
  • If you use candles for illumination, set them on a plate that has water in it. If the candle is knocked over, it will simply be extinguished. 
  • Clear away combustible materials from the area where emergency candles, oil lamps or lanterns are being used. Oil lamps, by the way, are risky. If they smash to the floor, the spilled oil will ignite and you'll have a major problem on hands. Camp lanterns are a better choice. 
  • Clear tree limbs (perhaps entire trees) away from powerlines. 
  • If instructed to do so, turn off the electrical main switch to your house to prevent electrical fires. Also turn off the natural gas or propane supply. 
  • Don't use a barbecue or hibachi for cooking indoors. Not only is that a fire hazard, but it is also a sure way to kill yourself by asphyxiation or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Who Do You Trust?

What are you supposed to do when you receive conflicting orders (or recommendations) from government officials during a disaster?

A clear example is the conflict between New Jersey Governor Chris Cristy and the Mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

During the approach of Hurricane Sandy, the governor issued a mandatory evacuation order. But that order was reportedly countermanded by the mayor of Atlantic City when he told citizens they could stay put and take shelter in the city's emergency shelters.

The result of this mixed message was that a lot of people decided to stay in the city, and then a search and rescue operation needed to be launched to go in and save the victims of the storm who were trapped by the high winds and flooding.

So, what are you to do when you are give conflicting messages from officials during a disaster?

My opinion: You are ultimately responsible for your own welfare. Don't try to shift responsibility off onto some government agency or official. Consider their "direction" for what it is — their best guess, based on information they're receiving from their sources.

When it comes to evacuation, it's up to you to decide whether to stay or go, based on the best information you have available. You must learn to assess the situation accurately, determine the risks, prioritize your list of possible actions, and then live with the consequences.

Don't just become a mindless robot that is ordered around by government officials or agencies. In the case of New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy, that would leave you wondering whom to believe and trust.

In the end, you're the one you have to trust.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Too Late To Run

There comes a time when it's too late to run.

You decided not to evacuate, and now you're up to your eyeballs in alligators, trying to figure out how to survive.

That's the case for literally millions of Americans along the eastern seaboard and inland all the way to the Great Lakes, as the monster storm named Sandy has made landfall and is working her way into the interior.

How do you evacuate 60 million people from an area a quarter the size of the United States? It's impossible. Some few will have made it out of harm's way, but the vast majority is caught in a weather trap and struggling to stay alive.

So, what do you do now?

There is no simple answer, because conditions vary by location. Along the seacoast, storm surge is the major problem, as seawater rushes ashore like a wind-blown tsunami, flooding everything for miles inland. Major cities are without public transportation, as subways and rapid transit systems have been shut down, stranding millions of residents right where they stand.

But 100 miles inland the problem will be flooding of another nature, as incessant rainfall swells rivers to overflowing. The sodden ground will no longer support root systems, and trees will blow over onto houses and cars and roadways, tearing down powerlines and leaving millions with no electricity.

Farther west and north, the cold front mixing with the warm, moisture-laden air of the tropical storm will dump feet of snow, strangling transportation corridors, tearing branches out of trees, destroying powerlines.

It's almost too late for preparation. The first three letters of that word (pre) mean that steps should be taken in advance. By the time the storm arrives, the time for preparation is over.

Now it's hunker-down time. All you can do now is try to keep up with the immediate demands of the situation — filling sandbags and piling them around the perimeter of your home; moving valuables upstairs or into the attic; trying to prepare food with no electricity; tarping over the broken windows; comforting each other and vowing to prepare better next time … if you manage to come out of this one alive.

But there are steps you can take during a hurricane or major storm to give you the best possible chance. Here are some suggestions:
  • Monitor radio and TV news reports about the storm and developing situations 
  • Keep the doors and windows shut and shuttered (or covered with plywood panels). It's a myth that you should open windows to equalize interior and outside air pressure. 
  • Stay inside the house and away from windows and glass doors that might shatter and injure you with shrapnel. Keep curtains and blinds closed, as they can slow the shower of glass if a window is broken. 
  • Move to an interior room, close and block the door. Entire homes can be blown apart by hurricane-force winds, and an interior room is the safest place as outside walls and the roof collapse. 
  • If you're in a high-rise, avoid elevators. If the power goes off, you can become stranded inside an elevator car between floors. 
  • Stay warm and dry, to avoid hypothermia. 
  • If instructed to do so, turn off the electricity and propane or natural gas supply to your house. 
  • If the power goes off, keep refrigerator and freezer doors shut as much as possible, to maintain the cold and preserve the food as long as possible. 
  • Collect as much freshwater as you can in tubs, pots, bottles, etc. Conserve your potable water supply, not using it for flushing the toilet. During a flood, there's a lot of water around, but it will quickly become contaminated with sewage, fuel, pesticides, and biological hazards, rending it unsafe. 
  • As the storm abates, do not go outside or think that the storm is over. The backside of a hurricane is just as violent as the frontside, and it will come after a brief lull as the eye of the storm passes through. 
  • Wait for the "all clear" from the weather radio or news station.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Prepare For a Hurricane

If you happen to be in the forecast path of a hurricane, preparation is the key to survival.
Keep your eyes and ears tuned to weather updates. The fortunate thing about hurricanes (if there is anything fortunate) is that you get several days of notification before they make landfall. That is critical time when you should be preparing yourself and your home.
  • If you’re going to evacuate, do so early. Don’t wait for the official evacuation order, because then you’ll be stuck in gridlock as everyone tries to get out of the area at once. Plan ahead where you’re going to go and how you’re going to get there. Make arrangements with friends or relatives outside the evac zone, so you’ll have a place to go. Take your 72-hour kit when you go.
  • In any event, prepare your place for long-term survival “in place.” (non-evacuation). Stock up on nonperishable foods, prescription medications, and hygiene essentials.
  • Cover windows with plywood, using wood screws instead of nails (they’re easier to remove later), firmly anchored into exterior walls.
  • Lash down (or stow indoors) anything from your yard that might become a flying projectile in the high winds of the storm.
  • Assess which trees might be blown down onto your house. Trim limbs that seem vulnerable, or remove the tree altogether. If the tree remains, avoid taking shelter in rooms of the house that might be impacted if the tree is blown over.
  • Know how and where to turn off the electricity, water, and gas supply to the house. Keep the appropriate tools handy to accomplish this task.
  • While the faucets are still delivering water, fill tubs, sinks and buckets to set aside an emergency supply to see you through the crisis in the event that the water supply is cut off or contaminated.
  • If you aren’t going to evacuate, take shelter in an interior room away from windows. Take a battery-operated radio and some extra batteries, so you can listen to news updates about the storm.
  • If you are going to use candles for emergency illumination, place them on a dish filled with water. This is a fire safety issue.
  • Move valuables to the highest level in the house, to help prevent water damage from flooding.
  • If you are forced into the attic by rising floodwaters, it’s a good idea to have an axe or chainsaw in the attic. That will give you a chance to cut your way out onto the roof as the storm surge flood rises, blocking exits below.
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking the storm is over just because the weather suddenly becomes calm. Remain in shelter until after the eye passes, the storm renews its fury, and then gradually moves away.

Hurricane Survival

This morning’s news is all about Hurricane Sandy.
If you stand back and look at this thing via satellite, it become obvious that this is actually a system of storms linked together like cars on a train, and meteorologists are starting to call it “a perfect storm.”
Maybe you remember the movie or read the book, but a “perfect storm” is one in which a series of storms join forces to create one monster storm that literally rips everything apart. It’s kind of like a rogue wave, formed by the coming together of several waves, each adding their power to create a mammoth wave that can sink ships. Only this time, the ship is the East Coast. 
Weather forecasters are predicting (and I’m quoting here) high seas, rip currents, and beach erosion. They’re saying heavy rain, flooding, and storm surge will put the land underwater. High winds will knock down trees on houses, vehicles and roadways, causing catastrophic property damage and clogging roads.
Powerlines will be ripped down, leaving millions without power — an estimated 60 to 80 million along the mid-Atlantic states on up to Maine and for hundreds of miles inland, if the worst case scenario plays out. There will be immediate and long-term transportation disruptions, leaving residents stuck wherever they happen to be when the storm hits.
And it’s going to last for a long duration — possibly weeks.
Stay tuned — I’ll tell you how to prepare to survive such an event.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How To Survive A Zombie Attack (Spoof)

You’ve heard the old saying, “You are what you eat.” Well, when it comes to zombies, the new saying is “You are what has eaten you.” 

So to keep from being eaten by a zombie and becoming one of the walking dead yourself, here’s a proven survival strategy: 

  • A little-known fact about zombies is that they don’t like organic broccoli (zombies hate organic foods) or Aesclepias Speciosa, a variety of milk weed found throughout the Rocky Mountains and other parts of the country. 
  • Evidence collected by the Zombie Research Center indicates that even just the smell of cooked organic broccoli will turn a zombie’s stomach. And, trust me, you don't want to see what's been in a zombie's stomach. 
  • The white sap of the young Asclepias milkweed causes zombies to begin to disintegrate on the spot, leaving behind what looks a lot like seagull poop. If you are seeing a lot of seagull poop in your area, and you don't live near a seashore, suspect zombie activity.
  • So, the best passive method of preventing zombies from attacking you and gnawing off your face is to eat organic broccoli for every meal (small amounts will do, and the broccoli farmers will thank you), and for dessert munch on some boiled young pods from the Aesclepias Speciosa milkweed plant. 
Following this strategy will make you into an unappetizing meal for zombies.