Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Survive a Wildfire

A wildfire is unlike other disasters because it creates it own engine — wind.

The hotter and more widespread the inferno, the more wind it self-generates. That wind fans the flames like the bellows in a blacksmith's forge until a raging firestorm consumes everything in its path. Then the wind blows embers into the sky, carrying the eager coals to combustible fuel, and the fire clones itself in a new place.

Even though hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, and tsunamis create massive damage, they tend to come and go in a relatively short period of time. But a wildfire can hang on for weeks or even months (remember Yellowstone), defying all human efforts to suppress it until there is virtually nothing left to burn. In the worst cases, firefighters can exhaust themselves, struggling against impossible odds, eventually having to wait for rain or snow to come to their aid.

An uncontrolled wildfire is truly a monstrous type of catastrophe with an appetite that will not be sated until the last combustible fragment is consumed.

If you're ever caught up in a wildfire, there are certain things you can do to survive.
  • Get out of the area early. Don't wait for an official evacuation order, because by then the escape routes might be clogged with fleeing evacuees.
  • Unless the fire is upwind of your position, head upwind because the fire will run downwind. 
  • If the fire is upwind of your position, choose an escape route that will take you directly away from the advancing fire. If the fire is small and localized, you may be able to make an end-run around it and get upwind. But if there is a lengthy and active fire line burning, move directly away. 
  • Try not to get uphill of the flames, because fire burns rapidly up a slope. If anything, try to get to a lower elevation, as long as that takes you farther from the fire. 
During your evacuation, if you are trapped in your car:
  • Roll up the windows and close the vents. Drive slowly with headlights on so others can see you through the smoke. 
  • If you must stop, park well away from trees, brush or other combustible objects. 
  • If the fire overtakes you, get down on the floor and cover up with a blanket or coat to protect against the intense heat.
  • Stay in the vehicle until the fire passes. Fuel tanks rarely explode from the heat of a wildfire. 
If trapped in your home:
  • Move to an interior room that has no walls or windows directly in contact with the outside of the house. 
  • Close doors, but leave them unlocked so rescuers can enter and search for survivors. 
  • Don't leave the relative protection of the house or vehicle and try to run away on foot, because you will probably be overcome with heat and smoke. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Guns For Survival

Survival guns can be used four ways:
  • As an audible signaling device
  • Fire starting
  • Providing meat 
  • Self-defense
The trick is to choose the right firearm for the right job. Let's take a quick peek at the different uses for guns, and consider what would serve best for each scenario.


When an audible signal is what you need, louder is better. The sharp report of a big-bore rifle or large caliber handgun carries farther than the puny “pifth” of a .22-caliber. Shots fired in groups of three are  recognized as a distress signal. Don't fire into the air — The sound will be just as loud if you fire into the trunk of a tree, and nobody will have to dodge gravity-propelled rounds as they fall back to earth. Don't waste ammo firing signal shots unless you're sure there's someone within earshot to hear the signal.  

Fire Starting 

It’s possible to use ammunition as a means of starting a fire. Carefully pry the projectile off the cartridge and collect the gunpowder. Use the powder as an accelerant for tinder when igniting a fire. Larger ammunition contains more gunpowder. There is controversy about the effectiveness of this technique. My personal belief is that anything (within reason) that will help get the fire started should be used. Sacrificing a round of ammo in the interest of ensuring that your fire is successful is a worthwhile gamble. The fire is an effective signaling device and will do a lot of other things to promote your survival.

Food Gathering 

You can’t always count on a survival situation happening in big game country. If you find yourself stranded at a time or place where there’s nothing bigger than squirrels or small birds to subsist on, a big-bore rifle will be less useful from the standpoint of food gathering than a small shotgun or a .22 would be. When possible, match your “survival gun” to the area and season. If you’re going into bear country, a large-caliber handgun would be comforting to have along. You might have the first two rounds loaded with snake shot, so you can still use the pistol to bring down small game, and the rest of the loads could serve self-defense duty or drop larger game.


Unfortunately, the streets of the inner city are not the only place where psycho nut-cases do their nefarious deeds these days. It’s possible to run into a crackpot tending his weeds in the woods and find yourself in a tough situation. I’m not going to tell you what to do about that, but it doesn’t hurt to have this scenario figured out in advance and be prepared.

A different scenario includes the possibility of an encounter with an aggressive bear or mountain lion. If you’re facing the wrath of a large predator, and it comes down to shooting the beast to save yourself, you want the biggest and most powerful slug you can send his way. At ranges beyond 15 yards, a shoulder-fired long gun (be it shotgun or rifle) will greatly improve accuracy, but in close quarters, a handgun might be easier to manage.

Our conclusions? In some cases we need a high-powered rifle. Big ammunition is handy because of the amount of gunpowder it contains and the knock-down power of the projectile. But at other times, a shotgun or small-caliber weapon would be preferable. So, what is the ideal survival gun? All of the above.

The trouble is that you can’t carry all of the above into a survival situation. In fact, any equipment you’re hauling around should be as lightweight and compact as possible, because every pound you have to carry drains your energy. But at the same time, the equipment needs to be able to do the job.

Obviously, no perfect firearm exists for every survival situation. We each have our personal preferences when it comes to manufacturer, style of firearm, and caliber — and that's fine. But in real life, what inevitably happens is that the survival situation finds you with whatever gun you happen to be carrying (if you're lucky enough to have one at all), and then it is up to you to know how to use it to your best advantage.

In the end, it isn’t the gun the counts, it’s what you can do with it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Guns Becoming Scarce

Either folks are starting to pay attention and get prepared, or they're nervous about what's coming politically that might impact their ability to buy guns and ammo. The result is that firearm manufacturers are feeling the pressure of a market that is rapidly heating up.  An example of what's happening can be seen in the recent statement issued by Ruger that they are suspending all new orders for firearms, because they can't keep up with demand. Here's their official statement: 

March 21, 2012 
Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. (NYSE: RGR), announced today that for the first quarter 2012, the Company has received orders for more than one million units. Therefore, the Company has temporarily suspended the acceptance of new orders.

Chief Executive Officer Michael O. Fifer made the following comments:
The Company's Retailer Programs that were offered from January 1, 2012 through February 29, 2012 were very successful and generated significant orders from retailers to independent wholesale distributors for Ruger firearms.
Year-to-date, the independent wholesale distributors placed orders with the Company for more than one million Ruger firearms.
Despite the Company's continuing successful efforts to increase production rates, the incoming order rate exceeds our capacity to rapidly fulfill these orders. Consequently, the Company has temporarily suspended the acceptance of new orders.
The Company expects to resume the normal acceptance of orders by the end of May 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

To Light A Fire

More than 100 years ago, Jack London wrote what I consider to be an epic short story about cold-weather survival called To Build A Fire. The venue is Yukon territory, and it's the dead of winter when the sun doesn't show itself over the southern horizon even at mid-day. And it's cold — 75 degrees below zero, cold enough that spit will freeze in mid-air before it even hits the snow. Cold enough to kill a man in a matter of a few hours, if he is not careful.

In this story, the man is not careful enough. I won't say any more, because I don't want to spoil your reading of this tale of the far north. But suffice it to say that the ability to build a fire and keep it going is a primary theme.

You need three things in order to get a fire going.
  • Dry tinder
  • Dry kindling
  • A reliable method to create a spark or flame
To keep the fire going for any length of time, you also need a supply of dry fuel. Assuming you're in the backcountry somewhere, the fuel will likely be wood, but you might also find other fuel sources such as aged and dry animal dung, garbage from civilization (cardboard, fabric, plastic, rubber, oil, etc.).

Before you get started, you might need to create a dry platform on which to build the fire, especially if the ground is damp or otherwise won't support a fire (snow). A firebase can be constructed of stone, green logs (these won't burn very much because most of the heat rises away from them), or even a bed of dry soil laid over a wooden platform. That last technique works well if you must elevate the firebase for one reason or another (above the snow, a swamp, on a floating raft, etc.).

Let's go back and examine the basics. First tinder. Natural tinder materials should be dust-dry, hair-fine, and birdnest-tight so it can catch and hold a spark, turning it into a lively flame that will live long enough to ignite the kindling. I've used dry grasses, shredded bark, and dry moss for tinder with great success. I've also used abandoned bird nests and have raided the bedding materials from squirrel nests. Be creative when searching for tinder, especially in wet weather when you can't just walk out in the woods and find dry stuff waiting for you to collect it. Look underneath and inside of protected places. A bit of pocket lint, a cotton ball, a shred of tissue paper can be used as tinder, but it's best if you have a great wad of tinder to make sure it  can hold the fire long enough to ignite the kindling.

Kindling must be bone dry and the diameter of pencil leads on up to the size of the whole pencil. In other words, you're looking for tiny twigs that snap crisply when bent. Look up the trunk a ways for these. Even in a rain storm, the canopy might protect them enough to keep them dry. But they must be old, dead twigs, not live branches. In a forest, you don't want to pick up anything off the ground, because it will be damp from absorbing ground moisture. Deserts are dry enough that you can work with combustible materials right off the ground. If you can split the the kindling lengthwise, so much the better. Splits create more flame-catching surface, and tiny slivers are especially productive. If you can't split the wood with a knife or axe, try shattering it with a hammer stone about the size of a softball.

Collect enough fuel to keep the fire going for a couple hours to begin with. If it looks like you'll be stuck in one place overnight, spend some time gathering twice as much wood as you think you'll need for the night. Lay it close enough to the fire that the warmth can dry the fuel, but not so close that it will ignite.

If rain or snow is in the forecast, either move the fire under cover or create some kind of canopy overhead to protect the fire. Make sure the firebase is high enough above surrounding ground that rainwater won't drain into it and kill the flames.

The difference between life and death is sometimes measured by your ability to start a fire. Pay attention to the basics, and practice building a fire under simulated survival conditions as often as possible. That way, when the real thing comes along, you'll be prepared.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hypothermia — How Do You Lose Body Warmth?

Hypothermia moves quickly against the unprotected and unprepared, and it is not just a cold-weather problem. It can happen in mild temperatures, if conditions are right. Succumbing to hypothermia is sometimes referred to as dying of exposure. It's the chilling of the body's core, the gradual extinguishing of the inner fire that keeps you alive.

During the process, the victim passes through a series of physiological and mental stages that diminish his ability to survive unless the process is stopped and then reversed. If the situation goes too far, it may become impossible to reverse the decline toward coma and death. Obviously, it's better to prevent hypothermia than to have to treat the problem in the field.

To prevent hypothermia, we need to understand the many ways we lose body warmth. It isn't only about falling through the ice or getting caught out in a snowstorm. It's a lot of little things that can drain the warmth of your life away from you.
  1. Conduction — Body warmth is conducted away by direct contact with an object that is colder than your body temperature. Through conduction, your warmth is attracted to the colder object. The rule is to never touch anything cold with bare skin. And don't remain in contact with cold objects very long even if you are protected by clothing. Sitting on a cold rock, for example, will eventually drain away warmth even through the clothing that gets compressed between your warm body and the cold stone.
  2. Convection — This is air movement that blows away from you the thin layer of warm air that surrounds your body as a result of your body's natural radiation of warmth. Even a slight breeze will displace that warm layer of air and replace it with cooler air that will then pull warmth from your body. The rule is to protect yourself from the wind. Wear clothing that traps a layer of "dead" air close to your body. That's the purpose of the air-trapping "loft" of an insulating layer. 
  3. Evaporation — One of the most certain factors in hypothermia is becoming wet.  It doesn't really matter whether the dampness comes as a result of a soaking rain, melting snow, falling through the ice, or excessive perspiration.  The point is, you're wet, and that's all that counts.  Staying dry should be among the highest priorities, and that means paying attention to your own level of perspiration.  The rule is, don't work yourself into a sweat, and the way you dress can help reduce excess perspiration. NOTE: in hot weather, evaporation works in your favor to cool your body, helping to prevent heat-related injury. 
  4. Radiation — Radiant heat is what you feel from a fire. As a product of metabolism, your body has its own inner fire that naturally radiates warmth. There's nothing you can do to stop that type of energy drain as long as you're alive. The key to survival is to control the loss of radiant heat by using methods that trap it and direct it back toward you. An example is the use of an emergency blanket that has shiny foil on one side to reflect the warmth back toward you. Some articles of clothing are manufactured with reflective materials inside for this purpose. 
  5. Respiration — As long as you're breathing (specifically exhaling), you're losing body warmth into the atmosphere. And when you inhale, you draw in cool air that absorbs warmth from the depths of your lungs, only to be exhaled and carry that warmth with it. In severe cold weather, you can help reduce this threat by inhaling warm air that is trapped inside your jacket. You could exhale it back inside, to preserve that warmth. The only complication is that there is moisture in your exhaled air, and you don't want to trap that moisture in your clothing or you'll soon have problems with #3, evaporation. 
  6. Elimination — Often overlooked is the fact that when you eliminate waste as a result of digestion, it carries with it some warmth from inside your body. Not much you can do about that. 
Oh, yes, and while on the subject of hypothermia, recognize that dehydration and exhaustion both contribute to hypothermia. So, keep yourself hydrated  (especially challenging during cool weather when you don't naturally feel thirsty), and monitor your energy expenditure to make sure you don't get exhausted.  Eat high-calorie foods to keep the inner fires of metabolism burning. Intake warm drinks and hot food as often as possible, to add warmth to the core. 

Prepare Your Home For Floods

Floods can happen just about anywhere. If enough rain falls or there’s a sudden warming that melts a lot of snow in a short period of time, even high ground can become inundated for a while.

The most flood prone zones are low-lying areas in the path of, or near, natural drainages such as rivers, lakes, swamps or canyons. Desert arroyos or “washes” are notorious for flash floods. Coastal lands can be flooded by storm surge during tropical storms and hurricanes. Small streams and gullies, creeks and culverts can become awash during a major rain event or sudden snowmelt upslope.

Manmade floods can hit downstream land when a community water storage tank, irrigation canal, levee, dike, or dam fails. And once the water starts flowing, there's not much you can do to stop it, other than pile sandbags around your house and hope for the best.

But, rather than wait for the crisis to hit, and then run around in a furious attempt to save your home, do a little planning in advance.

Analyze your property to discover where the flood waters might possibly come from in a worst case scenario. Then take steps to landscape or “terraform” your yard to mitigate the potential for flood damage.

That might include the creation of "natural" drainages that will channel excess water away from the house and other buildings. And you can landscape with raised flower beds, garden areas, or other features that create attractive and functional berms around the buildings, shaping the land to serve as a barrier against water intrusion.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Compact Flashlight

Every once in a while, I run into a product that deserves to be mentioned, and now is one of those times.

A flashlight is one of the important pieces of equipment that can not only be convenient on a dark and stormy night, but also can save your life. Everyone should have a flashlight beside their bed, so they can find their way out of a dark house (or hotel room) in an emergency. And everyone should carry a flashlight in pocket or purse at all times — because you never know when you'll need one.

The problems with many flashlights is that they're:
  • too bulky
  • too heavy
  • uses exotic batteries that may be hard to find
  • cheaply constructed
  • too costly
But along comes the new miniature Nightfire, made by River Rock Designs (www.riverrocklights.com) that is not too bulky (only 3" long), not too heavy (1 oz including battery), runs on a single AAA battery, is ruggedly built of anodized aluminum alloy, and costs just $30 with the battery included. Shorter than a 30.06 round, and not much fatter (5/8"), the Nightfire can be easily clipped in a pocket for quick and easy access. Entry points are sealed with O-rings for water resistance.

Not only that, but this tiny LED flashlight blasts out 100 lumens — enough to show you the way out of a collapsed building, or to blind an attacker when you shove the working end of the light into his eyes. LEDs are noted for their long life (having no filament to break) and their bright output, as well as low battery draw. Nightfire offers a constant run time of 1 hour on a single battery, so it would be prudent to carry spares.

Good flashlight. Good price. Worth looking into. Next time you're caught in the dark, you'll wish you had something like this.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Government vs Citizen Disaster Response

A year after the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan, lessons are still being learned from that disaster.

To quote from a report by Michael Auslin for FoxNews.com:
"Japan’s government, whether led by the Liberal Democratic Party or the current Democratic Party, has been ineffective for years, consumed with politics and unable to create coherent policies to spur growth or respond to challenges. The disaster clearly showed that in a harsher light than usual."
Then Auslin continued:
"Japan’s citizens have long been admired for their quiet persistence, fortitude, and sense of community—and these traits kept society intact in a region completely devastated by nature. Japan’s military has been quietly professional for decades, caught in a twilight zone of constitutional restrictions and limitations on its experience, yet filled with capable, patriotic soldiers, sailors, and airmen. On the world stage, it showed its ability to respond in force and with great speed."
From this report, I can surmise that Auslin witnessed a citizenry that stepped up to the plate and started taking care of the business of putting their communities back tegether, while the government struggled to keep up.

A few more quotes from the report:
"No government can be fully prepared for a disaster on the scale of Tohoku. Yet the contradictory messages, delayed decision making, lack of transparency, and apparent unwillingness to listen to experts that marked Tokyo’s response revealed a deeply inadequate government structure. The ad hoc nature of Prime Minister Kan’s reactions was ameliorated only by the heroic actions of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, in partnership with the U.S. military, and Japan’s citizens themselves.
"March 11 therefore also provided some stirring examples of success. Above all was the response of the people of Japan. Those affected in Tohoku showed extraordinary fortitude in helping each other and patiently enduring emergency shelters for months. While there was some looting, very little apparently occurred, and order was maintained to a degree largely unimaginable in many other parts of the world."
The report goes on to conclude:
"Japan's longstanding and often dismissed strengths made what could have been an uncontrolled descent into chaos as manageable as possible. Yet its underlying weaknesses remain lurking dangers, revealing the threat to its ability to recover when the next bit disaster occurs."
My question is this: How well do we compare with Japan — culturally, governmentally, organizationally, politically, personally as citizens? That last one is probably most important of all — how do we stack up personally as citizens. Because when it comes right down to it, Michael Auslin is absolutely correct; no government can be fully prepared for a disaster…. It's the citizens who will make all the difference; how fast we recover, or whether we survive at all.

Take an honest look at how citizens respond to disaster in this country. Any looting? Any outbreaks of violence? Do we have a culture of cooperation among people? Or have we fostered an entitlement society that will smash and grab whatever they can get for themselves?

Actually, we have both. But in a big catastrophe, we can't afford to have the latter.

Japan has an exceptional cultural tradition that stood them in good stead during the big disaster. We could learn from that…if we were willing.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Survival Hygiene

In a survival situation, having a method that allows you to wash up is a good thing. Filth attracts disease, so no matter what has placed you in a survival condition, it's important to give due diligence to hygiene.

Years ago, folks just squatted down beside the creek, lathered up and rinsed off, but that wasn’t too good for the fish or anybody else downstream. We know better now, so the best practice is to establish a wash station a couple hundred feet from any water source. 

An expedient washbasin can be made by loosely draping a small tarp, a rain poncho, or even a plastic garbage bag over a ground-level framework of cut branches or stones. If a framework is not available, make a basin by digging a shallow hole and lining it with the plastic. The water can be heated by placing into the basin a few hot rocks that have been warmed by the fire. To avoid a grenade effect, don’t heat rocks taken from an active stream, as the moisture trapped inside might turn to steam and shatter the rock.

It’s amazing how little water it takes for a wilderness spit bath. With a little practice, you can do a satisfactory job with about a quart of water. While standing on a bit of tarp or some leafy ground (to keep your feet from getting muddy), use a wash cloth and soap (if you have it) to bathe yourself from top to toes. The process goes like this:
  • Use a small bit of soap and a rag full of water to wash your hair and face first, then rinse out the cloth in the basin and rinse off those clean areas. Recapture the water from the cloth, wringing it back into the basin. Go easy on the soap or the water in the basin will become too soapy. You can actually do this whole bath with no soap at all and still get fairly clean. 
  • Move down to your neck, shoulders, chest and arms, and repeat the process. 
  • Continue down your body to your waist, washing small areas at a time, and then rinsing. By now, your basin of water is becoming somewhat grungy. 
  • Wash your legs and feet next, then rinse. 
  • Finish up by washing the parts that normally hide beneath your underwear. 
  • When you’re finished, dry off, get dressed and dispose of the sludgy water a comfortable distance from your camp. 
A solar shower makes bath time so much easier than the aforementioned spit bath technique because it delivers a flow of water from a showerhead. There are several versions of solar shower, so do a Google search and find the one you like best. None of them are very expensive, generally costing from $10 to $25 or so. They all consist of a flexible plastic bladder that holds anywhere from a couple gallons to 5 gallons of water. Keep in mind that the larger the capacity, the longer it will take for the sun to heat the water. In nearly all cases, the container is black to aid in the capture of solar radiation to warm the water during the day, if it is laid out where it enjoys full exposure to the sun. A plastic tube is fitted to the bottom of the bag, and a small showerhead is affixed to the end of the tube. 

To take a shower, suspend the bag from an overhead support, such as a tree limb, stand under the bag, open the valve to allow water to flow down the tube and out through the shower head. Wet yourself down and then go through the spit bath procedure described above, opening the showerhead occasionally to rinse off. A solar shower works well if there's strong sunshine during at least part of the day, but without the sun you’re out of luck. 

There is a way that you can enjoy a nice hot shower no matter what the weather is doing. Coleman (www.coleman.com) makes a portable water heater called Hot Water on Demand. It can use a 16.4-ounce propane canister to heat as much as 40 gallons of water. For long-term use, a 20-lb bulk propane tank and a special adapter can be employed. This unit will heat cold water to a temperature of 100º F. in 5 seconds, delivering the hot water through a sink-type faucet or an optional shower head adapter. Water is brought into the unit from a collapsible 5-gallon container, or you can use a garden hose and an adapter for a constant supply of hot water from a water spigot. For safety, there’s an automatic system that shuts down the unit if it tips over or if the water temperature exceeds 160 degrees. The internal water pump is operated by a 6-volt battery that can be recharged from a vehicle cigarette lighter or household outlet.

Yeah, being clean is a good idea. It might sound like a frill in a survival situation, but it will help keep you healthy. There's no need to live like a dirt clod just because there's no functional civilization. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Don't Expect Rescue

A disturbing incident in New Mexico highlights the fact that, when you're in trouble, you can't always count on "the authorities" coming to your rescue. As much as we hope the authorities are on the ball, sometimes they fail big-time. This was one of those times.

Sometime between February 10th and 12th, a 41-year-old woman named Margaret Page, who has a history of mental illness, left her vehicle at a trailhead and hiked into the rugged mountains of New Mexico, carrying a sleeping bag, a bag of pretzels, and her cat. It's a puzzle what she was thinking. With sleeping bag in hand, it's apparent she was intending to stay overnight. But with nothing more to eat than a bag of pretzels…well, that is part of the puzzle.

Family members reported her missing on February 14th, but no action was taken by authorities for more than 3 weeks. Apparently, they sat on their hands. Or they dropped the ball. Or they let it fall through the cracks. Whatever excuse they want to use, it is inexcusable, and a woman could have lost her life because of official fumbling. Our tax dollars at work!

A forest service officer spotted Page's vehicle on February 12th, but didn't pay much attention to it because people routinely leave their vehicles at a trailhead while they go for a hike or short camping trip.

Another forest service officer noticed the vehicle on February 25th, but again took no action and didn't even let anyone else know about it until 10 days later. (What — don't forest service employees talk to each other?)

Ten days later, when the vehicle was finally reported to be still in the same place, members of the Grant County Search and Rescue began the search.

Margaret Page was found the following day. She was malnourished (had lost 25 pounds). She had water to drink from a nearby stream, but there was no food source available to her. Her cat was with her, and had evidently been hunting to keep itself alive.

Sometime during the run-up to her rescue, someone ordered her car towed. That was a surprise to Robert Matulich, a member of the Dona Ana County Search and Rescue team, because crews sometimes obtain clues from vehicle to give search dogs a scent to follow. "It looks to me like somebody dropped the ball on this one," Matulich said. "Why'd they dow the truck? Who towed the truck?"

Failure to communicate. Failure to follow up. Failure to do their job.

Am I being too harsh, expecting forest service employees to use common sense? What are they doing, just walking around counting pine cones? For crying out loud, get your head out where the sun shines, or go find a job where people's lives don't depend on your competence!

Obviously, the lesson for us is that we cannot trust our lives to someone else. Maybe the family members who originally reported Margaret Page missing should have done some follow-up on their own — not leaving it to the authorities to take action.

If you call to report a missing loved-one, and the authorities don't, within a reasonable time, start the ball rolling toward a search effort and keep in touch with you about their progress, it's time to initiate a search on your own.

This incident has left me even more doubtful about the competence of our tax-paid government employees than I was before.

Friday, March 9, 2012

World's Largest Tsunami — Not a Disaster

As a follow-up to my previous post about Disasters, I offer this example about why the world's largest tsunami was not actually a disaster. 

The largest tsunami ever recorded occurred on 9 July 1958 in Lituya Bay, Alaska, resulting from an earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale that shook loose about 40 million cubic yards of dirt and glacier from a mountainside at the head of the Bay. 

When the landslide hit the water, it made an almighty splash, resulting in a huge tsunami wave that quickly spread across the bay. The height of the wave was later determined by scientists locating where the water reached its highest point on the nearby land. It was easy to see how high the wave reached, because the hillsides were denuded of trees. 

This massive tsunami reached a height of 1,720 feet — twice the height of the Eiffel Tower. The Lituya Bay tsunami was labeled a mega-tsunami, and yet is was not a disaster the the most accurate sense because the area was uninhabited. 

As it was, two people died when their fishing boat sank. As catastrophic as that event was for the families of the two who died, it hardly qualifies as a disaster in the common sense, anymore than would an automobile accident that claims two lives. 

Events — even huge ones that rip things apart — are not disasters, in and of themselves. They only become disasters when they impact populations of people. And even then, the magnitude of the disaster depends largely on the preparation of the populace to take care of their own survival needs. 

The biggest disaster, therefore, is an unprepared populace. 

Disaster or Not a Disaster?

What exactly constitutes a disaster? What is it that turns an event such as an earthquake or a tsunami or a meteorite striking earth into a bona fide disaster? And if it is a "real" disaster, how do I take myself out of the equation?

Good questions, all of them.

Let me do a little role play to explain my thoughts on this topic. This will be kind of like playing chess against myself, because I'm going to fill in both sides of the conversation, alternately asking and then answering a series of questions. Okay, here we go.

Is a hurricane a disaster?


Is a tornado a disaster?

            No again.

Is an earthquake a disaster?

            I would say no.

Is a tsunami a disaster?


Is a drought a disaster?

            Why do you keep asking this silly question when the answer is always no?

Okay, how about a wildfire — is that a disaster? Or how about if a large meteor hits the planet…surely that would be a disaster, wouldn’t it?

I give up. You are obviously not paying attention. Hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, droughts, and floods are primarily meteorological events. Earthquakes and tsunamis are geological events. Wildfires…well, I’m not sure exactly how to categorize that one, but it is not a disaster. And a meteor hitting a planet, I’ll call that an astronomical event. Still not a disaster.

You’re nuts! You must have your head in the sand to not recognize all these events as disasters.

Well, let’s examine the meaning of disaster for a minute. All of the above-mentioned events can occur without causing the least bit of inconvenience for people. It’s only when people become involved in these events that it becomes a disaster. So, in my opinion, it isn’t the earthquake or tsunami or flood, etc. that is the disaster. YOU are the disaster, because it’s only when YOU (or other people) become caught up in one of these events that it becomes a disaster. It’s the old, “if a tree falls in the forest” question. If a tsunami hits the coast but there’s nobody there to notice, how do you call that a disaster?

            People are the ingredient that creates a disaster out of a purely natural event.

When the meteorite hit uninhabited Arizona 50,000 years ago (resulting in the world-famous Meteor Crater), it was no disaster because there was nobody there. Now, if a meteorite hits New York City tomorrow…that’s a disaster.

That makes sense.

I can say it another way — Cars don’t kill people…drunk drivers in cars kill people. Without the people (either behind the wheel or in the path of the car), the car can’t kill anybody.

The same concept applies to every sort of event that we commonly call disasters. If nobody’s there, it’s no big deal.

But obviously, in today’s world those types of events often impact populations. And the larger the population, the greater the disaster.  So, how do I take myself out of the equation?

Here’s something to think about — if a flood, wildfire or any of those other things swept through your neighborhood, how would that impact the people living there?

To help answer that question, I have a Big Ten list:
·      Housing
·      Food
·      Water
·      Warmth
·      Clothing
·      Medical supplies
·      Sanitary supplies
·      Communication
·      Transportation
·      Security

There is no doubt the loss of those things would have a dramatic impact on your life.

So, how do I survive such an event?

Personal preparation is the key. Don’t expect FEMA or anybody else to take responsibility for your personal welfare — that’s your job. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Doom From The Sky?

What are the chances that a solar storm could cause devastating damage to Earth? (Sounds almost like a weird science fiction question, doesn't it?)

According to a new estimate published in the journal Space Weather, the chance of us being hit with an "extreme" solar flare sometime in the next 10 years is one chance in eight — about 12%.

Back in 1859, the most powerful solar storm on record wreaked havoc on what little bit of crude electrical infrastructure that existed at that time, lighting telegraph wires on fire and even causing fires in some of the telegraph offices. While residents of the northern climes are accustomed to seeing the "northern lights" during periods of solar activity, this event caused observers in Cuba to report that the night sky "appeared stained with blood." If that kind of event happened today, with our enormous dependence on an electronic infrastructure, the result would be devastating.

More recently, a solar event in March 1989 knocked out the power to millions of people in Quebec for approximately 9 hours. Experts say that a stronger storm could have catastrophic consequences. In 2008, the National Academy of Sciences reported that the United States is not prepared to "cope with the effects of a 'space weather Katrina.'"

The potential for permanent damage to power transformers and other electrical systems could cost upwards of $2 trillion to repair, and take up to 10 years for a full recovery, according to a report by the National Academy of Sciences.

So why bring up this subject now? Because right at the moment, we are in the middle of some exceptional solar storm activity that produced a huge X1 solar flare monster. Flares are classified as (weakest to strongest) B, C, M, and X. Each class has 9 sub classes ranging from 1 to 9. An X1 is not the most powerful, but is still very strong — strong enough to impact our lives on Earth.

What would it look like if a massive solar storm hit us? Well, for one thing it would look dark. It would be lights-out. And it would be quiet, with all communications shut down. Might even promote fuel saving because transportation would come to a halt.

That's all "worst case" of course, but think about what you would do if what the scientists are saying actually comes true. What alternatives would you turn to if there were no electricity in your life?

Just something to ponder…and then make plans for. Because the space scientists are saying it's not a matter of "if" — it's only a matter of "when."

Water for Survival — What's Your Plan?

A couple days ago, I posted six possible solutions for purifying drinking water, asking readers to ponder the right answer. So now let's examine each of those possibilities.

1. Boiling for 5 minutes at sea level and one additional minute for each 1000 feet of elevation.
  • This is the age-old recommendation that goes back to the era of hobnail boots and chamois shirts, but it is no longer the doctrine. First of all, boiling is intended to kill organic contaminants such as bacteria, virus, cysts, fungus, etc in the water, and it doesn't take 5 minutes at sea level to do the job. One minute is sufficient. However, the theory about adding another minute for each 1000 feet of elevation gain adds a safety margin because water boils at a temperature less than 212ºF as altitude increases. 
2. Filtering with a sub-micron ceramic filter system.
  • This is a good start, but there are better systems available today than the old ceramic block technique.  Sawyer (www.sawyer.com) makes what I consider to be the best water filter systems on the market, and they use a hollow fiber membrane that not only far exceeds the capability of ceramic blocks to filter out small stuff, but can also be back-flushed to reboot their ability to keep on filtering for up to a million gallons (company guarantee).
3. Exposure to a UV light source.
  • UV radiation, at certain frequencies, has the ability to disrupt the RNA of organisms, leaving them unable to reproduce. If a "bug" can't reproduce, it can't harm you, even if you ingest it. That's the concept behind UV water treatment. The problem I see with this, as a personal water treatment system, is two-fold — first, the components are fragile; second, the system requires a power source that may or may not be available when you need it most. 
4. Treatment with chlorine or iodine.
  • Chemical purification of water is another age-old technique with a solid track record, but problems persist. These chemicals are toxic — that's how they kill the bad organisms in the water. But they're also toxic to humans, in some degree. How much of that do you want to ingest? Iodine, in particular, is potentially lethal to sensitive individuals who have allergies to this substance. Not only that, but these chemicals have a shelf life, and they work slowly if the water is cold or turbid, so effectiveness is impaired. 
5. Distillation.
  • There is a myth about distillation that it removes all the bad properties from water, leaving it pristine. Not so. Some contaminants can actually be carried through the system and deposited on the far side. Okay, so that's a technicality. But another problem with distillation is that it requires a lot of heat energy and/or time to accomplish in sufficient quantities to keep you alive. 
6. Other.
  • So what else is there? Well, there's pasteurization. Everybody knows boiling kills organisms, but very few are aware that you can kill them at a temperature far below boiling. At 160ºF, 90% of waterborne pathogens will be killed in one minute. Keep the water at that temperature for 5 minutes and you'll achieve a 99% reduction of pathogens. A solar cooker can easily bring water to that temperature, but only if the weather permits the use of the solar appliance. 
I should mention that, of all these techniques, only filtration removes inorganic contaminants. In fact, boiling actually increases the concentration of the inorganic compounds due to water loss. And, it's not always easy to get a fire started often enough to satisfy your needs for drinkable water in a survival situation — especially if you're on the move.

Friday, March 2, 2012

What's Your Plan?

From time to time, I'm going to post a "what's your plan?" segment so we can talk about different types of survival situations. This time, it's about water.

Next to air to breathe, water is probably the most urgently needed resource for long-term survival. Yes, there are other factors that can leap ahead of water for short-term survival — shelter from severe elements, first aid for serious blood loss injury, etc. But beyond that type of immediate need, water rises to the top of the priority list if you hope to survive more than a few days. So, what will you do if your access to drinkable water is interrupted?

Assume that your normal source of drinking water is disabled for an extended period of time — let's say a few weeks — before it can be restored. This could happen in any number of ways, including severe contamination (either accidental or intentional) requiring a total dismantling, scrubbing, and rebuilding of the system; a massive natural disaster such as a major hurricane, earthquake, tsunami; an act of war such as an EMP, or a widespread pandemic that forces everyone (including the folks who work at the water treatment plant) into quarantine.

What is your plan to stay alive when your normal source of potable water is cut off? Do you have a plan? Do you know how to purify water that has been contaminated with organic and/or inorganic pollutants? Do you already own the equipment you'll need to purify and store sufficient drinking water for your needs? If so, have you practiced using it?

To help you work through this issue, here's a little pop quiz: What is the best way to purify water for drinking?

  1. Boiling for 5 minutes at sea level and one additional minute for each 1000 feet of elevation
  2. Filtering with a sub-micron ceramic filter system
  3. Exposure to a UV light source
  4. Treatment with chlorine or iodine
  5. Distillation
  6. Other
I'll let you work on this question, and post your comments. Then I'll examine all six of these possible answers and work toward a conclusion in my next post. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Survive a School Shooting

The tragedy at Chardon High School is another reminder that it's open season for criminals or wackos to bring guns on campus and shoot whomever they want.

I say it's open season because schools have declared themselves to be "off limits" for carrying firearms. That means law-abiding folks have been disarmed and left at the mercy of those who don't care what the law says. The old saying is true: when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.

Pardon me for including the cry-baby "outsider" kids in the category of outlaws, but that's exactly what they area. You won't find me shedding any tears of sympathy for the nut-job students who get it in their head that it's okay to bring guns to school and shoot the place up because they weren't included in the popular peer group, or even because they were bullied. Hell, I was bullied when I was a kid. Any kid who wasn't a bully got bullied by the jerks who were. But back in my day we just took our knocks then sucked it up and toughed it out until we grew up and got strong enough to defend ourselves. Nobody shot anybody, at least I never heard about it happening.

But today, school shootings are, unfortunately, not uncommon. In a report on FoxNews.com by Larry Banaszak, chief of police at Otterbein University, he said, "At a recent FBI training that I attended, the agent commented that more people are killed by gunfire in our schools than by fires or tornados."

I'm not sure about those statistics, but apparently the problem is serious enough that there is training aimed specifically at dealing with this issue.

Then Banaszak went on to describe the shooter-on-campus survival concepts that are now taught at his university: "There are three basic survival responses," he said, "run, hide and barricade, then as a last resort attack the shooter."

That final option is very interesting. It goes like this — the first person who notices that someone has a gun yells GUN, then everyone else in the room starts throwing stuff at the attacker, books, chairs, tables, whatever is handy, aiming for the bad guy's face and eyes. That is intended to cause him to flinch, denying him the opportunity to take aim at anyone in particular.

During that exact moment, occupants of the besieged room rush the gunman, swarming and tackling him. The first few people in the swarm attack the assailant's gun hand, slamming it to the ground. Other swarmers pile on the gunman's body, holding him down while the first ones strip the gun away.

Students at the university are taught  to place belts, t-shirts, etc. around the shooter's throat and into his nose, mouth and eyes to disrupt his ability to breathe and see. Meanwhile, someone is calling the police. The swarmers remain on top of the gunman until police arrive, allowing him to breathe, but nothing else.

This tactic has its critics, but when asked to come up with an alternative, they don't have anything to suggest. You can either sit there like a fish in a barrel and get shot, or you can take action to disarm the intruder. Personally, if I'm going down, at least I'm going down fighting.

Until schools wise up and allow (in fact require) qualified personnel to carry defensive weapons on campus so they can stop a shooter with a well-placed double-tap, that venue will remain safe hunting ground for anyone who decides to stroll into the classroom and start executing helpless targets of opportunity.

At least the swarm concept gives the victims a fighting chance to save themselves. And, by the way, the "attack the shooter" tactic can be used anywhere — a store, a fast food restaurant, etc., not only at school.

I applaud Banaszak and the Otterbein University for taking these steps toward protecting their students.

Prepare For Emergencies

Imagine being a passenger in an airplane when an emergency happens. Right about then, I would hope the pilot had been trained exhaustively in the science of how to handle emergencies.

When I was going through Jump School in the Army, we spent a full day under the direction of Colonel Welch in a class called "malfunctions." The course was designed to educate us new paratroopers about every conceivable thing that could possibly go wrong — with the aircraft, with our parachutes, with other jumpers on the plane or in the air.

What do you do if the plane crashes on takeoff? What do you do if the plane catches fire while on the way to the drop zone? What do you do if the engines fail? What do you do if another jumper collapses before making it to the jump door? What do you do if your parachute gets fouled in any number of ways?

We spent about 8 hours being drilled about all the contingencies, because those were the procedures that would save our lives if an emergency happened.

I'm convinced the same concept should be applied to preparing for survival emergencies right here on the ground. Emergency situations come in all shapes and sizes, but having thought about what you would do under a variety of conditions will place you in a better position to survive.

  • What would you do if your house caught fire while you were in the basement…or in the attic…or in the bathtub? Any room, for that matter. 
  • What would you do if you had a flat tire on a dark and stormy night in a bad neighborhood?
  • What would you do if a tanker truck overturned on the freeway upwind of your home, spilling toxic chemicals into the atmosphere?
  • What would you do if your fishing boat overturned on the lake, dumping you into near-freezing water?
  • What would you do if three men wearing ski masks burst through your door and took your wife and children hostage at gunpoint?
  • What would you do if a man walked up to your car window while you were stopped at a red light and pointed a gun at you, demanding that you open the door?
  • What would you do if your friend suddenly grasped at his chest and collapsed to the floor?
  • What would you do if the power was knocked out permanently by an EMP, destroying even your auxiliary power generator?

Okay, I'll stop. But the point I want to make is that it's prudent to consider every eventuality and, inasmuch as possible, prepare yourself to handle them.

You wouldn't want to be a passenger on an airplane being flown by a pilot who had never practiced what to do when an emergency happens. And the same applies to emergencies that happen right here on solid ground.

One final note — during my jump career, I experienced three malfunctions, all of which had been covered in that famous day of training. With precious little time to spare before hitting the ground, my training kicked in and I was able to handle the situations.

Thank you Colonel Welch!

Grizzly Attack

A grizzly bear has you in his sights — not because you came between a mother and her cubs, but just because you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, what are you going to do?

If you try to run, you're dead meat. You can't outrun a grizzly, and the very act of running will trigger an attack.

Here's a link to a short video that shows exactly what to do. Note that grizzly bears often "bluff charge" just to scare off whatever is irritating them, without following through with a full-blown attack. If you run, it will chase you down and probably maul you — or worse. If you stand your ground and do not "threaten" the bear, it might do what this bear in the video did — go look for a tree to scratch its back.

Anyway, enjoy the video (there's a short commercial before the video starts, so be patient), and hopefully learn from it.