Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Crisis Management

No matter what kind of crisis you're facing — whether it's a natural disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake, flood, tornado, etc.; or whether it's a hazardous materials spill, fire in your house, or terrorist attack — there are some general principles to follow that will help get you out alive. You need to know what to do first, and then what to do next. It's all about setting priorities.

What to do first?
  • Assess the situation — Determine what is most critical to your survival. Until you do that, you will be unable to decide on a course of action that is appropriate for the crisis at hand.
What to do next?
  • Make sure you take care of your own survival needs first. That may sound selfish, but think about it — in the safety briefing on commercial airplanes, there’s a reason why they tell parents to put the oxygen mask on themselves before fitting on to their children. Because if you aren’t alive, you can’t save anyone else.
  • Medical needs come first. You can take care of food, water and shelter later. Take care of emergency medical situations immediately. In order for you to be able to do this, you should become trained in emergency medical techniques. Check with your local fire department for information about how you can obtain this training in your area. They won’t train you, but they can probably point you in the right direction so you can get the training you need.
  • Locate your loved ones and let them know what your plan for survival is. If members of the family are separated from each other when the crisis happens, you should activate your pre-arranged rendezvous plan. This is why it’s important for everyone in the family to know what to do and where to go in the event of a disaster. School children will likely be kept at the school under the direction of the school’s disaster plan. If you know that, you’ll know where to go to find them. If you don’t have that figured out in advance, you’ll be in a state of anxiety, wondering where the children are and if they’re okay.
  • Gather everyone to a safe place. If you can shelter in place at your home, you’ll have basic supplies to work with. If you need to evacuate, grab your evacuation kits and get moving. Of course, all of this assumes that you have prepared your home with emergency food, water, medical and other supplies in advance. And it also assumes that you have an evacuation kit already prepared. When the crisis hits, it’s too late to be making these preparations.
  • Let distant members of your family know what your situation is, so they won’t worry, or so they can send help, or so they can plan on your arrival if you’re evacuating to their house. Normal communication lines may be down, but if you have access to HAM radio you might be able to get a message out via radio contact with a distant HAM operator and then a phone patch to your extended family members. I suggest everyone become licensed to operate a HAM radio, and buy at least a basic VHF radio that will allow you to contact other operators even when there’s no electricity or phone service available.

Friday, November 8, 2013


The human body’s dependence on water is so powerful that it takes only a few days without water intake for you to die.

If you’re exerting yourself, or the ambient temperature is high, it takes only a matter of hours before you begin to experience the effects of dehydration. The symptoms come slowly, quietly, and unless you’re paying attention you won’t notice what’s happening.

Your blood thickens, and the blood volume is actually reduced. Your pulse speeds up, as your heart is forced to work harder to move enough blood through your body. You become exhausted. Your mind ceases to function well, and you begin to make errors in judgment that can, in a survival situation, lead to injury or death. But even without any big mistakes, death comes soon enough, unless you can find a good source of water and drink your fill.

A somewhat loose method of determining the level of dehydration can be done by monitoring the quantity and color of your urine. The more dehydrated you become, the less urine you produce. Along with that, the color of the urine becomes more yellow as dehydration becomes worse. Ideally, it should be clear to very light yellow. One caution though — if you’re taking vitamin B, supplements, the color of urine will be artificially dark yellow, even if you’re not dehydrated. Other than that, just pay attention, and if your pee gets dark yellow, know that dehydration is getting severe.

Don’t wait until you feel thirsty before you drink, and keep drinking even though your thirst has been satisfied. It may be hard to believe, but thirst is a poor trigger for drinking water. This is especially true during colder winter months. So drink regardless of your thirst. Avoid alcohol consumption, because that actually promotes dehydration. Drinking pure water is always the best solution to the problem of dehydration.

Along with drinking more water, slow your pace to prevent sweating. Move slowly, take frequent breaks, lay low during the heat of the day. Adjust your clothing and your workload to help reduce the amount you are perspiring.

Dehydration is not solely a wilderness survival problem. You can die from dehydration in your own home or on the streets of your city, if there is insufficient water to drink. A natural disaster that disables a city water supply during the heat of summer can plunge thousands of people into an urban survival situation all at once. A terrorist attack against a water supply can do the same thing. So it's a good idea to stock up on a supply of drinking water for those possible emergency situations. And keep a supply of water in your vehicles as well.

Paying attention to these strategies will help you avoid becoming a victim of dehydration.

Fire and Ice

The most difficult time to build a fire is when the ground is wet or covered with snow. Of course, that's also the time when you probably need a fire the most.

To build a fire under those conditions, the first thing you need is a suitable firebase — a place for the fire to live. Trying to build the fire on wet or snowy ground is a recipe for disaster. You need to build up a suitable base or the fire will self-extinguish.

The problem with wet or snowy ground is that, as the fire heats up, the air around the fire rises. This pulls the moisture up out of the ground beneath the firebase, and causes the fire to struggle for life.

To create a firebase when no dry ground can be found, create a platform of stones or green logs laid close together. In the case of logs, you can keep the fire from burning down into the base by covering the logs with a layer of soil that you have dug up from the driest spot you can find.

The best place for your fire is where it will be protected from excessive wind and precipitation. Before building the base, look up to make sure the fire won't be extinguished by snow falling from the limbs of overhanging trees.

These are the kind of conditions when you must use the driest tinder and well-prepared kindling in order to give your fire the best chance. Then you need an abundant supply of dry fuel wood to keep the fire going through the night.

When you think of tinder, think of a bird nest. In fact, if you can find one, a dry bird nest will make excellent tinder. Otherwise, use dry grasses that you might be able to locate beneath the shelter of a downed log or an overhanging tree. Form the grasses into a tight bundle. If you're on the move, create several tinder bundles whenever you find the right kind of materials, and tuck them away in your pack or pockets for use when you need to build your next fire.

Kindling is the next step up from tinder, and should be the diameter of a matchstick on up to the size of a pencil. It can be made from the small dry twigs you find tucked among tree branches, or from shattered bits of the trunk of a downed tree that has been broken by a storm. If you're working with large kindling, use a sharp knife to shave "fuzz sticks" that will enable to wood to catch fire more easily. Prepare a lot of kindling, because you will need to feed this into the birthing blaze continually until you build up enough heat and coals to ignite the fuel wood, which is the next stage.

Now for the fuel wood. This should range from the diameter of your finger on up to the thickness of your wrist. Larger fuel wood should be split or shattered, if possible. A long piece of fuel wood can be gradually fed into the fire as the end of it is consumed. Collect double the fuel wood that you expect to use during the night. If the wood is damp, position it close enough to the fire that it can dry out, but not so close that it will combust.

Begin by laying the tinder bundle on the fire platform. Then stack kindling loosely over the tinder, leaving plenty of open space for air to move through the blaze.

Kneel by the firebase and pull your jacket down around yourself as you huddle over the tinder and kindling, forming a windbreak of your body and coat. Before striking the match, feel what's happening around you to make sure you have formed a wind-proof environment.

When you're ready, strike the match (if that's what you're using to ignite the fire) and hold it at a diagonal angle with the flame at the bottom. This will allow the flame to stabilize and begin to gain strength as it burns up the length of the matchstick. When the flame is strong, move it to the tinder bundle. Then arrange kindling over the tinder to take advantage of the growing blaze.

If you do everything right, you'll have a good fire that can help you survive the night, dry your clothes, purify drinking water, cook your food, and signal for rescuers.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Getting lost in the wilderness is, unfortunately, a pretty frequent survival situation. If you do a Google search for “lost hiker” you’ll be surprised how many hits you get.

One of the recent ones involves sixty-two-year-old Alyof Krost, who went missing during a hike with a group of 20 people being led by two guides on the Pinnacle Trail at Lake Arrowhead in California.

Now you wouldn’t think you could get lost if you were surrounded by 20 people and two guides, but here’s what happened.

At some point during the hike, Krost became fatigued and stopped to rest on the side of the trail. The back guide, who was bringing up the rear, was also starting to feel sick, so he stayed behind with Krost while the front guide continued to lead the rest of the group along the trail.

Krost eventually regained enough energy to resume the hike and left the sick guide behind as he continued up the trail to join the rest of the group that had gone on ahead.

After a while, the back guide felt well enough to continue up the trail, and he eventually caught up to the main group. That’s when he discovered that Krost never reunited with them.

Fearing for the lost hiker, the entire group turned around and hiked back down the trail to search for Krost. But they never found him.

Search and rescue teams were called in, and they combed the area for several days on the ground and from the air, using tracking dogs, heat-sensing night-vision devices, and more than a hundred searchers. Still nothing.

Whatever happened to Alyof Krost is still a mystery. But there are simple strategies that can help prevent something like this from happening to you.
  • Never hike alone. While Krost was following this rule in the beginning, there came a point when he left the rear guide and took off on his own to try to catch up with the rest of the hiking group. If he had stayed with the guide, things would have turned out differently.
  • Don’t leave the trail for any reason. If you become injured or sick or just turned around and unsure of which way to go, stay near the trail, because that is where searchers will begin looking.
  • Make yourself as visible and audible as possible, using colorful clothing or equipment or a signal mirror to show your location to searchers, and make noise with a signal whistle or other noise-making device to attract attention.
  • Stay put. Don’t wander around searching for a way to rescue yourself. The rescue team will begin the search at your last known position, then expand the search outward from that point. If you’re wandering around, you might travel outside their search perimeter. So just sit down and wait for them to find you.
In the case of Krost, this trail is very popular. If he had simply stayed put on the trail, he would be home with his family today. As it is, the mystery of his whereabouts continues.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Evacuation Plan

When disaster hits, you have two choices — shelter in place (stay put), or evacuate.

There are very good reasons to shelter in place if you can, but there are times when evacuation is the best alternative. When that time comes, your prepared evacuation plan should allow you to answer the following questions:
  • Why do you want to evacuate? What are the circumstances that make it unwise or undesirable to shelter in place, (which means stay right where you are)? There are times when it’s preferable to stay put, as long as your primary shelter (your home) isn’t in imminent danger. If you can shelter in place, you are in familiar territory, you have all you daily supplies with you, and you don’t put yourself at risk of not making it to your planned evacuation destination. However, if your house is no longer a viable shelter, or is in the path of an oncoming disaster, you must evacuate.
  • Where are you going to go? Different circumstances will call for different evacuation plans, and you should have destinations in mind that cover different scenarios. For example, if a hurricane is coming and you live along the coastline that is about to be hit, you need a destination far enough inland that you will be safe from the storm surge and flooding, as well as from the wind damage. But if the disaster is a massive wildfire inland, you probably don’t want to head in that direction — perhaps opting to follow the coastline to a destination opposite the direction of the fire’s progress.
  • How are you going to get there? You need different contingency plans that will work when the roads are open and when none of the roads are open. An earthquake can effective shut down roadways, so if you’re trying to evacuate in a car you might not make it. Likewise, when everyone is trying to get out of town at the same time, highways become gridlocked. What alternate form of transportation can you use under those conditions? 
  • What route are you going to take? Rather than gathering with all the rest of the crowd trying to get out of town on a main road, consider alternate routes that might be more open to the free flow of traffic. 
  • When are you going to evacuate? My advice is to not wait until the official evacuation order is issued. That’s when everybody hits the road at the same time, and the traffic locks up fast. You don’t want to get stuck in traffic when a disaster is approaching. Take the initiative and get out ahead of the crowd. Monitor radio and TV broadcasts to stay up on the latest information. If it looks like conditions are becoming more dangerous, pack up and leave early.
  • What are you going to take with you? You don’t want to end up in a refugee camp having to borrow somebody else’s toothbrush. And you don’t want to be totally dependent on someone else to supply all your necessities. Prepare an evacuation bag that has all the essentials in it, and stow it someplace where you can grab it on a moment’s notice, toss it in your car (or strap it on you back), and go.
Spend some time creating your evacuation plan, along with contingency plans in case Plan A doesn’t work out. This can be a life-saving exercise for you and your family.