Monday, January 28, 2013

Another Tragic Story That Didn't Have to Happen

A young father and his two sons died after getting lost while hiking a mountain trail in Missouri. And it didn't have to happen.

The victims were 36-year-old David Decareaux and his sons who were 8 and 10 years old respectively. The guys were out for what was intended to be only a day hike, while Decareaux's wife and three other children were staying at a nearby lodge.

With their family dog along for the hike, Decareaux and his boys headed off along a stretch of hiking trail that crossed a sparsely populated region of southeast Missouri. According to reports, Decareaux knew the trail, but apparently took a wrong turn and ended up getting lost while trying to find their way back to the lodge.

A rain storm overtook them, and temperatures dropped from the 60s to the 20s as the day wore on. None of them were dressed for that kind of weather, and when heavy rain started to fall, there were no caves, overhangs or other natural places to seek shelter.

At 7 p.m. that evening, lodge officials called the sheriff's department, because Decareaux and his sons had failed to return as planned. A search was started, with more than 50 volunteers on foot, horseback and in vehicles. Just after midnight, flash flooding in the creeks forced searchers to abandon the mission until daylight.

The next morning, the bodies of Decareaux and his sons were found. The loyal family dog was still beside them … the sole survivor of the ordeal.

It's always a tragedy when something like this happens. And what makes it worse is that it could so easily have been avoided by following one simple principle of outdoor survival. Always be prepared to stay out there longer than you planned.
  • Survival situations never announce themselves in advance. 
  • They sneak up on you unexpected. 
  • The only way to make sure you're not caught unawares is to be prepared to stay outdoors as long as long as it takes for the situation to sort itself out. 
  • If it's bad weather, you must be able to survive it until the storm subsides. 
  • If it's an injury, you must be able to survive until you are well enough to hike out. 
Day Hike Syndrome is a killer — it's when you think you're going on just a short little hike and will be back before dark. When that doesn't work out as planned, you end up with tragic stories like this one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Escape and Evasion — Part 1

In the military, we called it E&E — Escape and Evasion. It was how we were trained to deal with a situation in which we became separated from our team behind enemy lines. But how can that possibly relate to a survival situation in civilian life?

Almost every day, somewhere around the country, innocent people are taken hostage. It happens during home invasions. It happens when banks are robbed. It happens to women who are snatched in the store parking lot. It happens to carjack victims. It happens to children who are kidnapped off the street or out of their yard.

In every case, there is a certain amount of overlap between the military E&E situation and the civilian counterpart. In every case, the victim is separated from friendlies, ends up behind "enemy" lines, and needs to employ escape and evasion techniques.

Make no mistake, it a hostage or kidnap situation, the bad guys are the enemy — every bit as much as in a theater of war. The enemy means to harm or kill you. Or he means to use you as bait to extract ransom from your loved ones. So he not only means to harm you, but your loved ones as well. That makes him an enemy. And once you end up under his control, you are behind enemy lines.

So let's analyze what to do to get out of this predicament. Your goal is to escape from your captors and return to "friendly lines." That sounds easier than it really is. But you either need to take action to free yourself or end up a captive until the enemy decides he's done with you.

In a military operation, the enemy probably has a lot of guys in the area that you need to deal with (avoid, outrun, or kill). A soldier separated from his team behind enemy lines might have to hide out, negotiate rough terrain in bad weather, and cover hundreds of miles to return to friendly forces, all the while surviving off the land.

In a civilian situation, the opposing forces are not nearly so numerous. But that doesn't mean they aren't dangerous…or even deadly. Urban enemies are often lunatics who do unpredictable things. I'd rather face a disciplined enemy soldier whose motives I can understand than a whacked-out urban nut job any day.

In a civilian hostage taking, the enemy is usually interested in something other than body count. It's probably cash, jewelry, or other stuff that can be stolen and peddled to feed his drug habit. In rare cases involving wealthy or otherwise important victims, the enemy is interested in taking you as a hostage to be ransomed.

Here's the deal — if the enemy allows you to see his face, he probably intends to kill you after he gets what he came for. Keep that in mind, because it will help decide your E&E actions. If, on the other hand, he keeps his identity concealed, he might intend to turn you loose when the gig is over.

So, if the bad guys don't take precautions to hide their identity, you might decide that you have little to lose by attempting to escape. If you don't escape, you're probably dead anyway. If you get hurt or killed in your escape attempt, you haven't lost much. Sounds harsh, but it's the truth.

Strategically, the best time to escape is at the very moment of capture. There's a lot of chaos going on right then, and the enemy hasn't had a chance to get organized and herd you into a secure location. That's the moment when you have a decision to make. Do you let yourself be taken? Do you run, hide, or fight?

A lot of this decision depends on who's there with you at the instant you're taken. If you're alone, at least you can figure nobody else you care about is going to get injured if you resist. But if you're in a room full of family members, it's a different story. The enemy will use leverage to gain your cooperation, threatening your loved ones to get you to do what they want.

In Part 2, we'll take up the subject of how to escape and how to evade your enemy. Come on back.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Self-Defense With a Tactical Flashlight

Tactical FlashlightIt used to be that a flashlight was just a portable means of lighting up the night, but not anymore.

Today's tactical flashlights still vaporize the darkness, but in skilled hands they also serve as effective close-quarters defensive weapons.

Take the SureFire E2D for example. This is a compact, dual-output flashlight with self-defense enhancements. It features a virtually indestructible power-regulated LED emitter and a Total Internal Reflection (TIR) lens. The E2D LED's pushbutton tailcap click switch lets you activate the flashlight and select output level: press or click for a 200-lumen high beam (ten times the light of a big two-D-cell flashlight), more than enough to overwhelm an aggressor's night-adapted vision; release or click off and press or click again for a 5-lumen ultra long-runtime low beam that's suitable for navigating around a dark room or parking lot. The Defender's crenellated Strike Bezel® and scalloped tailcap provide further defensive options should the need arise.

To use it in a defensive situation, grip the barrel of the light in your preferred fist, with your thumb positioned over the tailcap switch. Raise your arm and aim the light beam at your attacker's eyes, then hit the switch with your thumb. The bad guy will be momentarily blinded by the brilliant light.

The next step is your choice. You can either take that opportunity to escape, or you can proceed to impact the assailant's face (concentrate on eyes and nose) with the sharply scalloped bezel and/or tailcap. You can do a lot of damage in a hurry, if you think of your fist as a hammer, with the flashlight serving as the hammer head.

This is, unmistakably, close quarters combat — a hand-to-hand situation that requires steady nerves and a focussed approach to the situation. When you're this close to an attacker, you must seize the moment to overwhelm him with unexpected explosive violence. If you do it right, you'll have the element of surprise on your side. And don't stop to examine your work until the enemy is down and out — I mean REALLY out. There's nothing worse than stopping before the job is done, then facing the wrath of an injured enemy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Financial Survival — Let's Talk Money

Yes, this is a survival site that deals primarily with Wilderness, Urban, and Disaster survival. But some might argue that the most universal and critical form of survival right now is financial. So, let's talk money.

We spend our lives, literally, in pursuit of this stuff, as if money actually has intrinsic value that is worth the exchange of our time, talent, energy, and everything else we give in trade for it. The question is why. What good is it?

In pure survival terms, there is almost nothing as worthless as money (unless you're using it to buy your way out of a tight situation). You can't eat it. You can't drink it. You can't wear it. It won't keep you warm and dry unless you burn it.

Money's only function is to serve as a convenient medium of exchange for something else that you want more than the money itself. During normal market situations, you can use money to trade for food or clothing or fuel or whatever else you want. But in a survival situation, when the market is not in normal operation mode, or is entirely unavailable (like in the wilderness), the value of this green paper can approach zero.

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about the "fiscal cliff" facing the U.S. economy. It's tempting for me to launch into a rant about who caused the country's financial mess and why the politicians and bureaucrats now expect you and me to pay for their criminal financial incompetence, but I'll try to put lid on it and deal with a more personal approach to finances.

Let's pretend that the national economy goes into total meltdown, and examine how that might affect us on a personal level. There are a couple ways this can happen. The Fed can keep printing money until runaway inflation makes the currency worthless. That's the old "It'll take a wheelbarrow full of cash to buy a loaf of bread" story. Might sound crazy, but it has happened in other countries, and it could happen here.

Or, the uncertainty of taxes and regulations coming out of D.C. punishes wage-earners, kills business, and unemployment skyrockets. With no jobs, there's no money in your pocket. I know, sounds crazy, but it has happened before and it can happen again. Just look back at our own history to the "hobo" days when unemployment was so bad that able-bodied men rode the rails all over the country trying to find work. Families were torn apart, children were given away or sold to those who could afford to raise them.

Honestly, it doesn't matter what causes the collapse, the outcome is always the same. People go hungry and homeless because they can't afford to buy what they need. Either the money is so worthless that it takes a ton of it to buy stuff, or the stuff to buy is so scarce that it just can't be found.

But let's step back and take a look at what role money actually plays in your survival. I'll say it right up front — money is worthless. You can't eat it, you can't drink it, you can't wear it, blah-blah-blah. I already went through all that. So my question is, why are we so intent on gathering up what's worthless, instead of preparing ourselves with the commodities that we will need when the fertilizer hits the fan?

I don't care if the wealth is green and foldable, or gold and silver, or diamonds and rubies — doesn't matter. If you can't eat it, or wear it, or use in in some functional fashion that will help keep you alive, it's worthless.

What do you normally do with money? The answer — you trade it for something you want or need. That's its only function. Having a pile of it stashed away won't do you a bit of good when the hurricane hits and there's not a sheet of plywood to be found anywhere. Or when the ice storm tears down all the power lines and leaves you freezing in a dark apartment. Or when an earthquake shatters the roads and food delivery trucks can't get through, and grocery stores are stripped to the bone by those who get there first.

What good is your money then?

In an emergency, you don't need money. You need food. You need warm, dry clothing that is appropriate for the conditions. You need drinking water. You need shelter. You might need a supply of prescription medications or first aid equipment. You need a way to protect yourself against human predators. You sure don't need money.

That's when you go over the real fiscal cliff — when you realize that you don't have what you need, no matter how much money you have in your wallet, bank, safe, or stuffed under the mattress.

So, let's get real and get prepared. Stop hoarding money, and start laying away a supply of whatever you need to keep yourself alive. The basic list includes easy-to-prepare foods, drinking water (and filters so you can create more), good walking shoes, adequate outdoor clothing, alternative methods of transportation (fat-tire bicycle), fire-starting equipment, illumination that doesn't need batteries, alternative cooking methods, hygiene supplies, etc.

Develop a plan of action that includes sheltering in place, as well as evacuation if that becomes necessary. Identify like-minded people you could team up with for mutual benefit, and start talking with them about "what if" scenarios.

As a society, we've lived in la-la land way too long. We've become accustomed to being able to run out and buy whatever we want, whenever we want it. We've believed that money was the answer to all our problems — with enough cash, you can buy your way to happiness.

But I predict that the time will come when those with hoards of money will be willing to trade it all for a warm coat and a loaf of bread. And those with the bread and the coat will turn away the wealthy man and tell him to go eat his money.

The wise will prepare themselves. The foolish will go without.