Thursday, December 19, 2013

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Millions of Americans are stricken to some degree by a silent killer every year. What I’m talking about is carbon monoxide, a common by-product of the combustion process.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that strikes without warning. It’s virtually undetectable by human senses. You can’t smell it, you can’t see it, you can’t taste it. It accumulates in enclosed spaces, often while the victims are asleep and a stove or heater is still burning. But you can become a victim while you’re wide awake. That’s because, as carbon monoxide accumulates in your body, it prevents the hemoglobin in blood from delivering oxygen to the cells. Shortage of oxygen to the cells gradually weakens the body and eventually results in unconsciousness. By the time the victim realizes there is a problem, he or she may be too weak to open a door or window, or move outside to fresh air. And as the process continues to deny oxygen to the cells, the victim dies.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning range from a slight headache to nausea, weakness, vomiting, drowsiness and heart palpitations. Eventually the victim may fall into a coma and die. Those with pre-existing respiratory or cardiac conditions are at greatest risk.

Statistics indicate that between 5000 and 10,000 people die annually as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Nearly 200,000 experience non-fatal CO-induced heart attacks, and about 25-million victims undergo some level of illness that is actually caused by CO poisoning, but misdiagnosed as flu, motion sickness, or food poisoning.

To help prevent excessive exposure to this lethal gas, a quality carbon monoxide detector is an important piece of safety equipment. Monitors should be placed about midway between the floor and ceiling, where it will most effectively detect the presence of the dangerous gas as it circulates freely in the air.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can originate in many places. At home it might be a faulty furnace or fireplace. When traveling or camping, it might be leaky vehicle exhaust system, poorly operating camp appliances, or the exhaust from a portable power generator.

During cold winter weather, some folks are tempted to heat their homes by using a barbecue or hibachi indoors, but this is exceedingly dangerous. The only combustion appliances that should be used indoors are those that are designed for indoor operation and are properly vented. A gas furnace is a good example. And even then, you should have the furnace tested by technicians to make sure the combustion process isn’t spewing out carbon monoxide.

This stuff is a sneaky killer that takes down a lot of people every year. Make sure you aren’t one of the victims. Have your appliances checked, and use a carbon monoxide alarm.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Keep Bears Out of Camp

Did you know there are about a half-million bears in the Lower 48?

Surveys taken from 35 states indicate that the population of black bears is either stable or increasing. Small populations of grizzly bears live in some parts of the country. And, not surprisingly, the kind of places bear populations thrive happen to be the same kind of places people tend to go camping.

Nobody wants to have a bear wander into camp and tear everything apart while looking for a quick meal. That is, after all, what the bear is hunting for — food. And to a bear, garbage is the same as food.

So that leads us to a few rules for keeping bears out of our campsite.
  • Don't leave food lying around camp, because it will attract bears. That goes not only for human food, but for pet food and livestock feed as well. 
  • Store double-wrapped and tightly sealed food in your vehicle trunk. if the vehicle is not available, place food in a backpack or other container and suspend it from a tree limb at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet away from the trunk. 
  • Be strict about maintaining your tent and sleeping bag as Zero-Food-Zones. That means you never take food (not even midnight snacks) into your tent. And never sleep in the clothes you wore while cooking. 
  • Keep a clean camp, to eliminate odors that attract small animals like raccoons, which in turn attract big animals like bears. Don't cook smelly or greasy foods, such as bacon. Maintain the cooking and food storage area at least 100 yards from your campsite (preferable downwind). If you barbecue dinner, wash the grill immediately after use. For that matter, wash all the dishes immediately after use. 
  • Store garbage, fish parts and meat waste in double-sealed plastic bags that are placed in bear-proof trash containers 9where available), or containers with tight-fitting lids. Keep the containers well away from camp, and suspended from a bear wire or tree limb. 
  • Pack everything out in double plastic bags. Do not bury or burn garbage — bears will be attracted to the residual odor.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dress For Survival

Your clothing is your first line of defense against the elements in the outdoors, or even in an urban survival situation. So here are the rules about dressing for survival.
  • Dress long. That means long sleeves and long pants. No matter what time of year it is, in a survival situation, the last thing you want is to expose yourself to harm. Exposed skin can be harmed by sunburn, bug bites, scratches and scrapes, and contact with toxic properties of some plants (poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac). Those injuries can easily lead to infection. Obviously, bare skin leaves you vulnerable to the cold, wet and wind, all of which lead to hypothermia.
  • Choose the right fabrics. Cotton feels soft and comfy but it absorbs moisture and holds it against the skin, which promotes hypothermia. Wool or synthetics are a better choice, because they are less absorbent and they wick dampness away from the skin, keeping you dry and helping retain a proper body temperature.
  • Dress in layers. Think of your clothing as a system, not just an item. Ideally, you have an undergarment that wicks moisture away, allowing skin to remain dry and comfortable. The next layer is insulation that is meant to trap and hold air at body temperature. The outer layer is a shell, designed to turn the wind and repel precipitation while allowing body moisture to pass through from the inside and escape to the atmosphere. By using the layer system, you can make adjustments as conditions change. You don’t have to wear everything at once. If you don’t need it, take it off, tie it around your waist or stuff in a pack until needed. There are pros and cons to pullover tops vs. clothing with buttons or zippers. Pullovers retain maximum warmth, but don’t open for ventilation. Buttons and zippers can break or foul, but offer ventilation options.
  • Wear a brimmed hat. Keeping your head, neck, ears and face covered with shade is an advantage when the sun is strong. On a cold, rainy day, you don’t want water running down the back of your neck. So, a brimmed hat is excellent in all conditions. An alternative to a full-brimmed hat is to tuck a handkerchief up under the back of a ball cap and let it drape (Legionnaire style) over your neck and ears to protect against the sun, wind and rain.
  • Sturdy shoes or boots. You need honest to goodness trail shoes or boots that offer protection against stone bruises, twisted ankles, and such. Sandals are fine for the beach, but not for the trail. Going barefoot, even around camp, is just asking for an injury. 
  • Pockets are good. Cargo pants and shirts with pockets are especially versatile. In pockets, I carry fire-starting equipment, a folding knife, a signal mirror and whistle, a map and compass, some food, a lightweight poncho.
  • Never discard any article of clothing, even if you don't think you need it. Down the line, you might find that item useful for something other than its original intended purpose.
Pay attention to how you dress for survival in the outdoors. Your clothing is your first line of defense against the elements, so think of it as your portable shelter.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Water Storage

Let’s pretend that, all of a sudden, the municipal water supply you normally rely on fails.

It could happen because of severe winter weather that freezes pipes, or maybe an ice storm that tears down power lines and leaves the city's water pumps out of action. Or maybe an earthquake that breaks up the water supply lines. Or a huge storm like Hurricane Sandy that contaminates the water supply for days and weeks on end.

No matter what causes the water system to fail, the fact is that you can’t live very long without water. And if the city can’t deliver it to you, where are you going to get enough to live on?

And that raises this question: How much water do you think you consume each day? Under normal conditions, the average American consumes approximately 150 gallons of water per day. So if the water supply is suddenly cut off, ask yourself where you’re going to come up with 150 gallons of water every day so you can go on living as if nothing had happened.

If you live in a family of four, the amount of water the family consumes is about 600 gallons per day. Most of that water is wasted — 30 gallons per bath, 3-5 gallons per flush of the toilet, lots more that goes down the drain while washing hands and brushing teeth. But it adds up.

Now here’s the good news — Under absolute survival conditions, the amount of water you actually need to keep yourself alive is only about 1 to 2 gallons per day. The amount varies depending on the climate and your work load. I'm talking about water for drinking and cooking, not for washing anything (dishes, your body, etc.).

But the question still remains, where are you going to come up with a couple gallons of water per person per day?

As part of your emergency preparedness, you should focus on that amount for your water supply. The best strategy is to have a sufficient supply of drinkable water on hand so you are somewhat self sufficient.

There are a couple of reasons you want to already have it stowed away where you live. Water is heavy. It weighs nearly 8.5 pounds per gallon. You don’t want to have to run around with a bucket hoping to find a few gallons of water you can use. Not only does that leave you vulnerable to having to use water of questionable purity, but in an emergency situation you’ll be competing with everyone else for the limited and precious water supply.

It’s better to have your own stash of pure water, so you don’t have to worry about fighting so hard to survive. The best solution for most of us is to store water in heavy-duty 5 to 6-gallon containers. Companies like Coleman and Reliant make these and they’re sold in sporting goods stores. Containers that are cubical in shape stack nicely alongside and on top of each other. Since they hold only 5 gallons, they're fairly easy to move even when full. They’re dark blue, so they keep sunlight from degrading the water. And they’re tough enough that they won’t break easily.

I recommend getting as many of these containers as you can fit in your allotted space. Tuck them away in a closet, or under a bed, or in the corner of the garage. Fill them with fresh water right out of the tap, so it’s already been through the municipal water treatment system, and then add a dose of Stabilized Oxygen solution. It only takes a few drops to sanitize each gallon of water (follow product guidelines), and there is no taste or toxic chemicals to deal with. It will keep your water supply sanitary for more than 5 years, so it’s ideal for long-term storage. Stabilized Oxygen is available online from several sources.

You can survive a long time without food, but you need a constant water supply every day, so this is a very important component in emergency planning and preparation.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Power Generators

As winter approaches, we can assume there will be power outages in some parts of the country.

One way to survive a power outage is to use a portable power generator to supply electricity to a few things that you don’t want to do without — like the refrigerator, for example — or a small space heater, or some lights.

Two questions that naturally arise when discussing portable power generators are — number 1, what’s portable; and number 2, how much power is enough?

To answer the first question, let me say that what’s portable to me might not be portable to my wife. So that’s a question only you can answer for yourself.

With a few exceptions, heavier generators produce more power than lighter-weight unit. And the simple truth is that no matter how lightweight and portable the smaller units are, if they don’t generate sufficient power to meet your needs, they won’t work for you.

How Much Power?

So, how much power is enough? There are two ways to arrive at an answer to that question because there are two different types of electrical loads. The simplest is a running (resistive) load for things like light bulbs, toaster, coffee maker, radio, etc. But appliances that involve an electric motor or compressor (refrigerators, for example) impose what is called a starting load that can nearly double the resistive load. For example, a fan with a 1/8-horsepower electric motor draws 300 watts while running, but to get the fan started requires 500 watts.

To figure out how much generator power you need, add up the “running loads” of all the appliances you intend to operate at the same time. Then do the same thing with the “starting loads” for appliances that fall into that category. Now it becomes a juggling act. With a small generator, you might discover that it is necessary to turn off some appliances in order to operate others.

Many appliances are rated in amps, but generators are rated in watts. To convert amps to watts, multiply the volts times the amps. For example, if the appliance draws 10 amps, multiply that times 120 volts and you come up with 1200 watts. The important thing to remember is that the combined wattage of all the appliances you are operating at any given time needs to be lower than the generator’s rated output. Keep in mind that generators are rated with two levels of output — Maximum Output and Rated Output. You want to be working at or below the Rated Output level. Max Output is a number that represents the absolute peak power that the unit is capable of delivering, but it is not a level that can be sustained over a long period of time.

To help decide how much power output you need from your portable generator, consider these typical wattage requirements for a variety of 120-volt appliances.
  • Hair drier: 800 to 1700 watts
  • Electric skillet: 1500 watts
  • Microwave oven: 800 to 1500 watts
  • Radio: 50 to 200 watts
  • Color TV: 350 watts
  • Ceramic heater: 1500 watts
  • Toaster: 1100 to 1750 watts
  • Coffee maker: 850 to 1750 watts
  • Laptop computer: 250 watts
  • Fan: 75 to 300 watts
  • Lights: whatever is listed on the bulb (i.e. 60 watts)

It’s easy to see that a small 50-pound, thousand-watt portable generator won’t even be able to run a simple space heater or toast your bread. So if you’re thinking of getting a generator as part of your urban survival strategy, make sure you get one that will supply enough power for your needs.