Monday, February 27, 2012

Doomsday Legislation

What some people are calling the "Doomsday Bill" is really House Bill 85 that was recently approved in the Wyoming legislature. Passage of the bill is a first step toward the state creating a task force that would explore methods of handling the needs of the citizens in the event of a national government collapse.

Imagine that — it isn't just the "lunatic fringe" that is talking about national collapse anymore. Now it's state legislatures. State Representative Lorraine Quarberg said, "I don't think there's anyone in this room today that would come up here and say that this country is in good shape, that the world is stable and in good shape — because clearly that is not the case. To put your head in the sand and think that nothing bad is going to happen, and that we have no obligation to the citizens of the state of Wyoming to at least have the discussion, is not healthy."

Maybe there's something to all the concern about a bankrupt economy, fuel prices out of control, draconian regulations, and the TSA fondling grandma and pulling the diapers off of babies at the behest of a federal government run amok. Maybe we really are in trouble in this country. Duh!

Back to the Doomsday Bill. According to reports, the task force would be made up of state lawmakers, the director of the Wyoming Department of Homeland Security, the Wyoming attorney general, the Wyoming National Guard's adjutant general, plus some others.

The plan is that, if there is a collapse of the federal government, the state would be able to issue its own currency, enabling residents to carry on commerce within the state borders. Also, the task force will explore  scenarios under which the state would activate its own military (I'm guessing it would operate under Army National Guard and Air National Guard authority).

My response to all this is an enthusiastic round of applause. It's about time the states start exercising their rights and responsibilities to proactively engage in survival preparation and protection of its citizens.

Of course, I am not a proponent of relying on government at any level (federal, state, or local) to take care of me and my family. As individuals, the buck stops with us. You are responsible for you and yours. I am responsible for me and mine.

When the fertilizer hits the fan, I'm not looking for any level of government to hand be an umbrella.

Still, I have to say, "Way to go Wyoming!" Now, who's next?

Could Black Death Strike Again?

The year was 1348. Merchant ships arriving in Europe and the Mediterranean brought an unexpected cargo — black rats that had smuggled themselves aboard somewhere in the Far East. The rats were host to Oriental rat fleas, and the fleas were host to the Yersinia pestis bacterium. The fleas and their bacterium found new hosts among the human population, spreading their disease that, over the next few years, killed somewhere between 30% and 60% of Europe's population as more than 100 million people perished from what became known as the Black Death.

Small animals such as rats were once common in the population centers of the world. They still are, but eradication efforts in the more civilized areas of the world help keep them under control. Those efforts notwithstanding, places like New York City and other major cities in what is supposed to be a civilized part of the world continue to have a rat problem. On top of that, people have taken to keeping rats as pets. My, how things have changed.

But have things really changed? Could it be possible for another Black Death incident to erupt?

Rats feast on garbage. Humans create garbage. It follows that human activity attracts rats and fosters the growth of rat population. So what if there was an increase in the amount of garbage in our cities? How could that happen, and what would be the result?

I'll leave you to ponder the answers to those questions and segue to a related topic — how to remain safe around small animals in the wilds. You know how it goes — you arrive at a campground, or perhaps just pull over for a rest stop at a popular overlook high in the mountains. The next thing you know, chipmunks, bushy tailed squirrels, and perhaps the occasional raccoon come squeaking toward you looking for a handout. They've become accustomed to people feeding them, so they expect you to do the same.

So, what are my rules in this situation?

  • Don't feed them, even if they look hungry. It's tempting to feed seemingly friendly wildlife, but that accomplishes two negative ends; it makes them dependent, and it encourages them to hang round a human camp, which is dangerous for small critters. 
  • Don't try to touch. A startled or sick animal may scratch or bite you, transmitting disease. The range of diseases you can contract from small animals includes rabies, bubonic plague, hanta virus, among others. 
Small animals are cute, and Hollywood has trained us to believe they're friendly and safe to handle. That is not necessarily true.

Okay, back to the original topic. What would it take to launch another round of Black Death in the major population centers of the world? Not much. A labor strike among sanitation workers would immediately choke the city streets and sidewalks with garbage. We might take those workers for granted, but they are a major link in our survival, as they remove the primary attraction that would bring a riot of rats among us.

That said, are you prepared with a method of eliminating your own garbage in the event of a shutdown of garbage removal service? What about all your neighbors? Are you prepared to evacuate from the epicenter of what would potentially become ground zero for an outbreak of disease?

Maybe it's time to think about how you would keep yourself and your loved ones safe if something like that happened. Because it's only a matter of time.

Monday, February 20, 2012

How to Survive an Avalanche

Surviving an avalanche depends on a combination of situational awareness, equipment, and luck. But we want to take as much of the luck element out of it as possible and increase our chances of survival through the other two factors.

Situational awareness means being aware of the situation (simple, huh?). When you’re in mountainous snow country, it’s important to understand what causes an avalanche, and avoid those conditions. A snowy day in Kansas won’t produce a slide, no matter what conditions exist. But on a steep slope, gravity is always trying to pull the snow downslope, and if you’re in the way when a cornice breaks or a slab of snow slides loose, you’re in trouble.

If you’re caught in an avalanche, the key to survival is to stay on top of the snow. You might get tumbled and tossed on the way to the bottom of the canyon, but you don’t want to end up buried when the snow stops sliding. It’s something like fighting your way to the surface if you were tossed out of the raft on a whitewater trip, and were carried along by the violent current. That’s the same principle for surviving an avalanche.

The biggest threat for avalanche victims is being beneath the surface when the slide stops. Suddenly the snow sets up hard like concrete and you can’t move anything that’s below the surface. And you can’t breathe very long. Suffocation is a real threat. If someone doesn’t locate you almost immediately, you’ll probably die within 15 or 20 minutes. Most victims die because they can’t be located and rescued in time.

One technique for survival is to attempt to “swim” on the sliding snow, to keep yourself on the surface so you can either self-extricate or be spotted and rescued by others. Staying on the surface also allows the trapped individual to be able to breathe.

Swimming is still a good technique, but new developments in technology now raise the survival rate dramatically by employing an old concept — an inflatable avalanche life vest. In fact, just this past weekend, a deadly avalanche in Washington State caught four backcountry skiers and swept them down a chute. Three of the four died, but the one survivor (ESPN Freeskiing editor Megan Michelson) deployed the airbag from her backpack, and she credited that device (and her decision to use it) with saving her life.

With the ABS® TwinBag system (, you have a flotation volume of 170 liters by simply pulling the activation handle. Using this device, the chances of remaining on the surface are considerably increased during the critical phase when the avalanche comes to a stop. In 97% of avalanches in which ABS® TwinBag systems were activated, the airbag was visible on the surface when the avalanche came to a stop, allowing the individual to immediately take self-rescue measures or be rescued by a friend.

Getting out alive sometimes requires a combination of good technique and good equipment. This advance in avalanche survival is something all backcountry skiers and snowboarders or snowshoers should consider carrying.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Truth About Pandemics

What is the truth about the potential for a pandemic caused by something like the H5N1 bird flu virus?

Some folks run around screaming that the sky is falling — while at the same time, others calmly assure the populace that there's nothing much to worry about because this flu is unable to transmit easily from birds to humans. So, what's the truth?

The results of two recent studies indicating how scientists intentionally mutated the H5N1 virus into a form that could cause a deadly human pandemic are being held back from public disclosure by the World Health Organization (WHO) until after experts complete their assessment of the risks. After a high-level meeting of scientists and security officials, an agreement was reached to keep details of the virus mutations secret until further risk analysis has been finished.

Scientists at Erasmus Medical Center and at the University of Wisconsin claim to have discovered that it takes only a few mutation steps to allow H5N1 to bridge the bird-human gulf while retaining all its deadly characteristics. And just how lethal is H5N1? Of the roughly 700 people worldwide who have been infected, half of them died. That's a very high death rate among flu pandemics.

Here's the part where all this starts to look like a Frankenstein movie — Biosecurity experts are sounding alarms that the mutated forms of the virus could escape into the environment, or fall into the "wrong" hands and be used as a bio-weapon to create a pandemic that might exceed the 1918-19 Spanish Flu that killed 40 million people worldwide.

Last December, the U.S. National Science Advisory board for Biosecurity (NSABB) requested that two leading scientific journals, Nature and Science, withhold information about the mutation research for fear that it could be used by bioterrorists to develop a bio-weapon.

These aren't some lunatic conspiracy theorists — these are the top minds in the business. And they're concerned.

So, how concerned should you be? And what can you do about it?

Right now, humans can contract H5N1 through close contact with ducks, chickens and other birds that are carriers for the disease. The problem birds are pretty well confined to Asia right at the moment, but that could easily change to include other parts of the world. When the virus mutates so that it can survive in the upper respiratory tract, it will be able to be transmitted from bird to human and from human to human through the air we breath. Then it's only a matter of time until someone who is infected boards a commercial airline and… well, you know the rest.

In a full-blown pandemic, the safest procedure is tight quarantine for months, while researchers race to develop a vaccine. The problem with mutating virus is that even if a vaccine is developed it will likely be generations behind the latest mutation.

It's not a pretty scenario. If this thing that has been created in the scientific laboratories gets out, be prepared with everything you need (food, water, medical supplies, sanitation items, etc.) to live inside your home without ever opening a door or window for several months. It's total lockdown.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Survival Priorities — Who Do You Save First?

Let's say there's some sort of disaster that strikes the area where you live. Maybe it's a severe earthquake, or a flood. Maybe it's a prolonged power outage caused by an ice storm. Or maybe it's a raging wildfire like the one that had us preparing for evacuation a few years ago.

No matter what the catastrophe is, there should be, in your mind, a plan of action that you'll follow to make sure you do the most important things first. The time to develop that plan of action is not when you're facing the stress of the crisis — it should be figured out in advance. It's the "pre" part of "preparing."

One component of this plan of action is demonstrated by commercial airlines as they present a safety briefing to passengers before each flight. Part of that script shows what to do in the event of sudden loss of cabin pressure. The flight attendant demonstrates that a small door will open overhead and an oxygen mask will drop on a length of plastic tubing. Then they instruct that we're supposed to put the mask on our own face first, before trying to help children or others who are with us.

How harsh is that!? We save ourself before saving our child? What's going on here?

There's a lesson in that process. In an emergency situation, we need to make sure we survive before we try to help others. That sound selfish, perhaps even cowardly, doesn't it? But think about it for a minute. If you don't survive, you can't possibly help your children, your spouse, or anybody else. In fact, if you become incapacitated, you become part of the larger problem, because then somebody else needs to spend their time (possibly putting him- or herself at risk) to help you.

So, the number one priority is to make sure you remain healthy so you can help others. If you have a family, the next step (and this will probably happen simultaneously) is to save them. Think about that oxygen mask — how long does it take to put that thing on your face before you can help fit one on your child's face? Not long. Work fast, but work in the proper order. You first, then your spouse and children, then your friends and neighbors. And dont' forget your animals.

What about self-sacrifice — you know, throwing yourself on a grenade to save someone else? That kind of heroic effort works, but only once. You might find yourself in a situation where you take the bullet, or push your loved one out of the way of an onrushing bus, then take the hit yourself. If you do that, you'll be remembered fondly for your heroism and sacrifice. A job well done, but your game is over.

In a long-term survival incident, you need to stick around in good condition as long as you can so you can be a positive element in working out the problems that lie ahead. That's especially true if you have a family to care for. Nobody on this planet will care for your loved ones the way you do. Nobody else will search day and night through hellish conditions to locate your family members the way you will. So if you don't take care of your own survival, you leave your family on it's own.

Start now to develop a plan of action that covers as many contingencies as you can think of. Go over the plan with your family members, so everybody knows what to do first, then next, then next after that.

On our Special Forces A-Team, we each had special jobs to do on any mission. As we prepared for each mission, we rehearsed over and over again what each team member would do. Then we cross-trained in each other's specialties so that if some team members were lost, whomever survived could carry on the mission.

If every person in the family knows what is supposed to happen in an emergency, there's a better chance for survival.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mountain Lion Attack

Cougars DO attack people, in spite of what the naysayers like to chant. I'm talking about those who grew up watching too many Disney movies and believing that everything in nature is warm and fuzzy. If there's anything fuzzy about it, it's their thinking that's fuzzy.

In fact, just this week, a 6-year-old boy was attacked by a mountain lion while he walked along a trail with his family in the Big Bend National Park in Texas. The cougar was obviously stalking his prey, and attacked the boy from behind. After pouncing on the youngster, the cougar grabbed the boy by the head in his jaws.

The boy's father, whipped out a pocket knife and started stabbing the mountain lion in the chest, causing the cougar to release his grip on the boy's face. Then the animal took off into the brush. The injured boy was taken to the hospital to care for his serious wounds, and received 17 stitches.

Had the father not acted quickly, the mountain lion would undoubtedly killed the boy and dragged his body off into the brush for later consumption. That's the pattern of these big cats. They stalk, they kill their prey, and then they drag away the carcass to eat later.

To survive a cougar attack:
  • Never hike alone — although even this measure is not foolproof. Mountain lions generally will keep their distance from groups of people, but obviously in this case the cougar felt unthreatened and fully capable of taking down the small victim, even though the boy was walking with his parents. 
  • Don't wander around cougar country in the evening or night hours, because that's prime hunting time for these predators. 
  • If you are confronted by a big cat, don't run. That triggers their natural instinct to attack. 
  • Face the animal and never look away. Stand tall and hold your ground. Make yourself appear larger by holding your arms high and waving a jacket. 
  • Make a lot of noise to sound like something the animal doesn't want to mess with. 
  • If an attack ensues, fight for your life with any kind of weapon you can get your hands on — a stick to use as a club, a knife, a backpack, a walking pole, etc. Aim for the animal's eyes and face. 
  • Don't try to play dead, or you might actually end up dead.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How To Get Rescued

Lost in the forested mountains of Oregon, Belinda and Daniel Conne, their 25-year-old son Michael and the family pit bull terrier, survived for six days before being found by search and rescue teams.

The family of three left their Jeep on the side of a remote logging road and hiked into the forest in search of mushrooms. Everything went well until dusk fell and they decided it was time to turn around and head back to the Jeep. Between the three of them, they couldn't agree on which direction they needed to go to return to their vehicle.

It was a textbook case of "day hike" syndrome. They had ventured off into the wilds with no preparation for spending a night (or more) in the woods. No food, no water, no shelter, no way to start a fire, no way to signal for help. Classic.

When they eventually figured out that they were lost, they decided to hole-up for the night in a hollowed out tree beside a primitive forest road that ran alongside a river bank. There, they huddled for warmth. That was on a Sunday. The following Tuesday, when the family didn't return to their trailer, the campsite manager started the process to get a search party dispatched. On Wednesday, the Jeep was found. Inside the Jeep were two small dogs and the family's jackets.

Searchers started tracking a trail of debris — mushroom hunting buckets, pop cans, and some articles of clothing — but they didn't find the family, even though there were lots of people searching on the ground and helicopters were searching from the air.

After the rescue the following Saturday, Daniel Conne said that he had a sinking feeling every day that the family wasn't found. He watched the helicopters flying overhead, but had no way of attracting their attention. "You were right above us," Conne said.

When the family was finally rescued, they were only 200 yards from the nearest search team. "We were actually right near them all three days of the search," one of the team leaders said. "You think people can hear you, but they can't."

The family was within the search area the whole time, but they kept moving, making the search for them more difficult.

The good news is that everyone survived, although they were hospitalized for a time to treat hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration and Michael's sprained foot.

And, of course, for us there are lessons to be learned.
  • Don't fall victim to "day hike" syndrome. Always take emergency provisions with you on even a short foray. You never know what might happen that will cause you to have to stay overnight (and maybe several overnights, as in this case). I don't mean to sound negative, but it's safer to assume that things might go wrong than to assume that everything will go perfectly. 
  • Carry shelter, food, water filter, extra clothing, signal mirror and whistle, and redundant methods for starting a fire. Don't leave this stuff behind in the vehicle. It won't do you any good there. 
  • Leave word with friends and family members, telling them where you're going and when you expect to be back.
  • If you become lost, stop and make shelter early. 
  • Don't keep wandering around, or you make it more difficult for searchers to locate you. 
  • In a clearing or on a ridge, to maximize visibility, establish visible signals (colored panels on the ground or fixed to poles to wave like flags, smoke by day and flame by night). 
  • Use a signal mirror and a signal whistle. Don't assume the helicopter will see you from above or that searchers will hear you. Make yourself visibly obvious, and be noisy. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

First Aid — Cuts & Scrapes

Also known as lacerations and abrasions, cuts and scraps are pretty routine fare around camp. In fact, these are probably the most common outdoor injuries of all, so it's good to have some knowledge and experience related to handling cuts and scrapes. 

Unless the injury is serious enough to result in major bleeding, the biggest threat is contamination that leads to infection and possible blood poisoning.  If the injury is relatively minor, a bit of blood flow from the wound helps flush away bacteria, so don’t be afraid to wash the injury and let it bleed a bit. 

But, don’t let a gusher flow. Blood loss is a major threat to life, and if there is a lot of bleeding it must be stopped immediately. Use direct pressure on the wound to plug the dyke. Other methods include indirect pressure (held against pressure points — see illustration) and elevation of the injury to reduce circulation to the wound. When the bleeding is under control, dress the wound with a sterile compress held in place by bandaging material.

Taking stitches is a pretty daunting task, best left to the pros. Stitches have only three purposes: 
  • to bring the flesh together to help prevent infection
  • to speed healing
  • and to reduce scarring
Under less than ideal conditions, stitching may actually introduce more contamination into the punctures made by the needle and whatever thread material is being used. 

The fastest, easiest and safest field treatment is to use butterfly bandages, instead of needle and thread, to accomplish all of these purposes. 
  • Flush the wound thoroughly with clean water 
  • Use an alcohol wipe to clean the skin adjacent to the injury (being careful not to get it into the wound)
  • Then draw the sides of the cut close together and apply the bandages. Place the bandages close enough together to seal the laceration tightly. 

Those who spend time in the outdoors, away from the instant response time of the local ambulance crew, should take a first aid course. Check with your local fire and ambulance department for information about courses in your area.