Saturday, March 29, 2014

Disaster Preparation

When disasters hit, it’s common for store shelves to get stripped bare in a real hurry. Sometimes, the transportation system is hit so hard that highways are closed, and trucks may not be able to deliver supplies to refill the store shelves.

Eventually FEMA or some other relief agency might show up, but that might take days or even weeks. Depending on where you live, you could be on your own for a long, long time, leaving you wondering where your next meal is going to come from.

Well, that’s what I want to talk about right now. How can you avoid being in such a vulnerable position that you have to depend on someone else to provide the basic needs for your survival?

It comes down to this — if you’re wise, you’ll take responsibility for your own welfare. This might sound harsh, and I don’t mean it that way, but I just want to keep things real — when a disaster hits, you’re either part of the problem, or you’re part of the solution. There’s no middle ground.

If you’re prepared to take care of your own needs, that takes pressure off the relief agencies, and allows them to help someone else. That means you’re part of the solution. If you fail to be prepared to take care of your own needs, then you become part of the problem that the relief agencies need to solve.

One of your basic needs is food. When the store shelves are stripped bare, and the trucks aren’t able to resupply the stores, you’ll be out of luck unless you’ve prepared in advance.

You should have at least a 3-week supply of food in your house or apartment, so you don’t need to depend on the store. That’s a 3-week supply of food to make meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s 21 breakfasts, 21 lunches, and 21 dinners for each member of your family. You need to plan what you would feed your family, and have that much emergency food supply stored in your residence.

The best emergency supply of food consists of what your family normally eats. Don’t fall into the trap of buying bulk dehydrated or freeze dried foods that nobody in the family has ever eaten before, and nobody even knows how to prepare. Simply stock up on extra cans, bottles, and packages of the foods you normally eat. Mark with the date of purchase, and rotate these packages of food into your everyday meals, then replace with fresh ones each time you go to the store. That way, nothing ever gets too old, and you have a sort of mini-store right at your house.

Figure out how to cook if the power is out, and how you will store foods if there is no functioning refrigerator or freezer. One hint is to prepare only enough food for the meal, with no leftovers that need to be refrigerated or frozen. It’s all about planning and preparation.

One final word on this topic — don’t stop with just food. Have on hand enough water for drinking and food preparation. Also, toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, medications, and other supplies that you use on a daily basis. Think of all the things you need to keep yourself going, and then imagine you can’t go to the store to buy any of it. That’s the first step in making your plan. Then go out and buy enough of those items so you wouldn’t be left wanting if the stores were suddenly unavailable. Start with a 3-week supply, and build from there.

Disasters strike suddenly. The key to riding it out is to be prepared.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cotton Ball Fire Starter

You’ve probably heard it on TV — Fire is Life.

Well, in a survival situation, having a fire is way better than not having one. So let’s talk about how to make sure you are successful when you try to start a fire.

One of the easiest ways to guarantee success is to have some kind of Super Fire Starter. The function of a Super Fire Starter is to catch the spark from your flint and steel set, or catch the flame from your lighter, and then create a hot, long-lasting blaze that will ignite the kindling and then the fuel wood so you can have a good campfire.

You can go out and spend your money to buy fire starters from a sporting goods store, or you can make them yourself. I’m going to tell you how to make your own at home, and the cost is next to nothing.

It’s simple. Light a candle and drip some melted wax into a cotton ball. Before the wax cools and solidifies, press the cotton ball and wax together until you end up with a waxy pellet about the size of a large marble.

Make several, and stow them in a zip-lock baggie. Stuff this in your pocket along with your lighter or striker whenever you go hiking or camping, hunting or fishing.

You might ask why not use just a plain cotton ball? Well, you can do that. A regular cotton ball catches a spark very well and leaps into a vigorous flame. But without the wax, it burns out very quickly. The waxed cotton ball behaves similar to a candle. When a candle burns, the wax provides the primary fuel for the flame, while the wick burns very slowly and lasts a long time. It’s the same thing with a waxed cotton ball — the wax fuels the flame and it burns for a long time, so the cotton ball itself doesn’t get consumed too quickly.

I did a test to compare the burn time of a plain cotton ball against the burn time of a waxed cotton ball. The regular cotton ball caught fire and burned briskly right off the bat, but it wasn’t long before the size of the ball got smaller and smaller, and the fire went out after 1 minute and 3 seconds.

The waxed cotton ball caught fire a little more gently at first, because the fuzziness of the ball was hidden by the wax coating. But as the wax ignited, the flame was at least twice as vigorous as the plain cotton ball. And it continued to burn with the same intensity right up until the end. The waxed cotton ball stayed ignited for a full 5 minutes 42 seconds.

Out in the woods on a cold, dark, perhaps rainy night, you need all the fire-starting power you can get, because it’s tough getting a campfire started under those conditions. I recommend having a few waxed cotton balls tucked into your pocket, alongside your lighter. They’re cheap, easy to make, and they just might be a lifesaver.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Shoes You Choose

ShoesModern society has created some ridiculous footwear — especially dress shoes that people who work in an office environment wear to work. Not only to work, but also to church, to social gatherings, out on a date, and sometimes just to drive around town.

I suspect the problem stems from the misbegotten belief that “clothes make the man” (or the woman).

I’m all for dressing appropriately for social activities, including going to work. But when it comes to footwear, the fashion industry has gone to extremes to give us shoes that are all form and no function. This is especially true for women. But men also wear dress shoes that aren’t much good anywhere except in an office.

Imagine a situation in which you’re at work when some kind of disaster strikes — a massive power outage, an earthquake, flood, or violent storm. Let’s say the disaster shuts down the flow of traffic — subways aren’t running, public transportation isn’t operating, traffic lights fail and the roads become gridlocked. And you end up having to walk home or to a shelter. A lot of folks wear shoes that will betray them in an emergency like that.

I believe in what I call 5-mile shoes. These are shoes that are built strong enough and comfortable enough to allow you to walk 5 miles without foot problems.

Why 5 miles? Because in an emergency situation you should be able to walk at least 5 miles without your feet complaining. It might take that much distance to get you out of the danger zone, especially if there's a hazmat (nuclear, radiological, biological, chemical) incident and traffic is so snarled that walking is your only option. If your shoes aren’t up to the task, they don’t belong on your feet.

In an emergency, your feet might be your only means of transportation. Put the wrong shoes on them and they’ll fail quickly, leaving your stranded.

If you must wear inappropriate footwear for they place you work, I recommend that you carry a pair of 5-mile shoes in your vehicle and have a pair stashed away somewhere at your place of employment. In fact, here’s a better idea, leave your work shoes at work, and travel to and from work in your 5-mile shoes. That way, if something happens on the way to or from work, you’re prepared to walk.

A few years ago, New York City and the region around there was hit by a massive and long-lasting power outage. When the electricity went off, elevators stopped working, all the traffic signals shut down, the subways ceased to operate, and transportation basically came to a halt. Millions of people were trapped in the city, with no viable way to get home unless they walked. Most of them were wearing shoes fit only for a torture chamber.

Did you ever run out of gas, or have some other type of automotive breakdown some distance from home? These days, motorists are reluctant to stop and pick up a hitchhiker, because there are too many crazies out there. So if you break down, you’re probably going to have to hoof it. If you’re wearing the wrong shoes, you’ll regret it.

My recommendation is to examine your footwear, try it out and see how well you do on a 5-mile walk. Then make adjustments to your shoe collection. Fortunately, there are some semi-dress shoes that will pass the 5-mile test. Soft soles with some traction (not smooth leather that gets slippery when wet) and cushioned insoles are a must. Flexible material that needs no break-in is a benefit. For the ladies, low heels (I know they’re not cute, but you know I’m right).

Your choice of footwear is as much a survival issue as any other item of clothing. When something happens and the times are tough, your ability to walk or hike might be a lifesaver. Make sure you’re prepared.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Surviving Domestic Terrorism

Did you know that the terrorist organization Al Qaeda has its own magazine? Well, they do, and the most recent edition has an article calling on American jihadists to detonate car bombs and suicide vests in major U.S. cities.

Your best chance of surviving a terrorist attack is to understand the tactics used by jihadists. And this article is very open about the strategies to be used. The good news is that this tells us how to avoid becoming a victim. So let’s examine the tactics and see what we can learn.

Specifically, the article urges jihadists to target heavily populated events. That could include major sporting events, political rallies, concerts, or any other activity that attracts large numbers of people into relative confined spaces such as stadiums, shopping malls, or other gathering places.

The plan is to target large numbers of people, not necessarily the buildings. It takes a lot of explosive to bring down a building, but a small amount can do a lot of damage to soft targets like people.

Jihadists are advised to disguise themselves so they fit in with the crowd. You won’t see them wearing their traditional clothing and beards. They might be wearing extra layers of clothing to make them appear fat, because they think most American’s are fat, and because that is also a good way to conceal a suicide vest.

During periods of celebration, jihadists are instructed to disguise themselves and join in the festivities, wearing clothing appropriate for the occasion.

So, how can we use this knowledge to help us avoid becoming a victim? This is kind of a Bad News / Good News thing.

The bad news is that, if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, there’s not a thing in the world you can do to avoid either being injured or killed by the explosive shock wave or the shrapnel created by a bomb blast. You can’t outrun it, and you can’t duck fast enough once there’s been an explosion. When the detonation happens, everything is pure luck at that point.

The good news is that you can avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time, if you’re willing to make some changes in your life patterns.

The best strategy is to simply not be in a target zone at the wrong time. That sounds easy on paper, but it takes planning, effort and some sacrifice to keep yourself out of potentially dangerous situations. It means you have to be thoughtful about the places you go and the activities you engage in.

Avoid unusually large crowds, especially during holiday celebrations. Avoid major sporting events, and political rallies. Take a lesson from what happens in Israel when there are bomb attacks. Restaurants, theaters, and shopping mall food courts during peak hours are all likely times and places for a terrorist to strike.

If you use mass transit, find alternative ways to get where you’re going. Busses, subways and trains are especially vulnerable, because it’s like shooting fish in a barrel — you’re trapped in a crowded space, and you’re an easy target. Remember, a jihadist is hoping to take out the greatest number of people possible with a single blast.

So the number one rule is to avoid being in large crowds. That might mean you have to give up some of the activities you want to do. But if that’s what it takes to stay safe in a world where holy war has been declared against you just because you’re an American, it’s probably worth the sacrifice. It’s a decision you have to make.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Survival Quiz

What Would You Do?

I have a little multiple-choice survival quiz for you.

Here’s the scenario — Your hike has taken you far from camp, and now the sun has set. As the blackness of night deepens, you can see the faint glow of the campfire perhaps a mile distant. You imagine your buddies sitting around the cheerful fire, and you’re tempted to hike through the night to reach camp. But the terrain is steep and brushy, and in the darkness you can see no clear trail to follow. What do you do?

For this survival quiz, you have four choices to choose from:
  1. Start yelling for help, hoping maybe your buddies will hear you and they can come and rescue you. 
  2. Keep hiking toward the distant glow of the campfire, figuring you will eventually get there if you just keep going.
  3. Clear a spot and make a temporary camp, hunker down, start your own fire and wait until morning to continue.
  4. Run as fast as you can toward camp, so you’ll get there before your buddies put the fire out for the night. 

So, what’s the right answer?

Is it 1 — Start yelling and hoping your buddies will hear you and come rescue you? No, it isn’t. Actually, your voice won’t carry a mile, so they’ll never hear you. You would just wear yourself out screaming into the night.

Is it 2 — Keep hiking through the night toward your distant camp? Although this is the most tempting option for most people, this is not the right answer either, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

The correct answer is 3. Clear a spot and hunker down until morning.

Unless you’re involved in a tactical military operation, night movement across difficult terrain should be avoided. Traveling on foot at night is a recipe for disaster, because it is so easy to end up taking a stumble or running into something in the dark that leaves you injured. One night, while out in the desert chasing jackrabbits, I actually walked right off a cliff that I never even saw. It was a total surprise to me when I found myself in midair and falling. Fortunately, I came out of that alive and uninjured, but it could have been much worse.

Even if you don't end up injured, you will probably get lost. The guiding glow of that distant campfire may suddenly disappear as you descend into a canyon, or dense foliage comes between you and the fire, or because your buddies put the fire out. That would leave you disoriented about the direction to camp, and perhaps in a tough spot on the terrain. So don’t try hiking through the night to reach your camp.

The best plan is to stop at the nearest suitable place and prepare an emergency overnight bivouac. Clear a spot on the ground and build a safe fire (one that isn't going to ignite nearby foliage) to provide visibility, warmth, psychological comfort and a signal to anyone who might be searching for you.

If possible, take a compass bearing to that distant glow of the fire at the camp where your friends are. But if you don’t have a compass, at least make an arrow on the ground by using some sticks or rocks to point toward the distant camp. Or just scratch an arrow into the soil, so you can use that as a directional reference in the morning when there is no glow from the distant campfire.

Now, hunker down for the night and plan to continue your hike in daylight. Do whatever you can to shelter yourself from the elements (wind, rain, snow, dew), and keep yourself dry. This is where having an emergency blanket in your pocket can really save your bacon.

And not to leave out Choice 4 from our quiz — running on a trail after dark is almost as bad as running with scissors. It’s a good way to get injured.

So, how did you do with your quiz? Doing little “what if” exercises like this might seem silly, but it helps develop critical thinking. And if you’re ever stuck in a survival situation, being able to make the right choices can save your life.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Survival Communication

walkie talkie
Let’s talk about two-way radios that you might be able to use to get yourself out of a survival situation.

Why not just use cell phones instead of radios? Cell phones are great, and should be carried as a means of communication. But they require cellular tower coverage, and you might be out of range of a cell tower. Radios don’t require anything like a cell tower, so they’re useful if you’re way back somewhere off the grid, or perhaps during a disaster when the grid is down.

Unless you want to be come a HAM radio operator, you’re pretty well restricted to two types of handheld 2-way radios. One is called FRS, which stands for Family Radio Service. The other is called GMRS, which stands for General Mobile Radio Service. There’s a significant difference between these two. But you can buy radios that combine the frequencies for both services in one unit.

In fact, I use a 22-channel dual band radio that covers both the FRS band and GMRS band. FCC regulations allow use of FRS frequencies (channels 8-14) without a license, but for use of the higher power of the GMRS frequencies (1–7, and 15–22) a license is required. There is no test to get a license, you just have to be 18 or older and send in a form and pay an $85 fee. The license is good for 5 years, and one license holder in the family covers all members of the family, even aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws.

FRS radios are limited to 1/2-watt of transmit power, and the range is advertised to be about 2 miles. Realistically, it's good for up to about a mile, but you know what they say — your mileage may vary.

These are "line of sight" radios, so they won't transmit or receive through massive buildings or through mountains, etc. You pretty much have to have a clear and unobstructed shot at the other radio in order to make contact at maximum range.

GMRS allows transmit power from 1 to 5 watts, and that translates into longer range and stronger signals. Still, for maximum range and best performance, you want a clear path between your radio and the other one you want to contact. Advertised range for GMRS can be as high as up to 35 miles, but everything depends on the surrounding conditions.

The latest generation of radios offers some pretty good features that are worth getting. For use after dark, a radio with a backlight is nice. A VOX system allows you to activate the transmit mode simply by speaking, without having to push any buttons. This is a good feature for hands-free operation if you wear a headset. If you're going to use it during water activities, look for a waterproof unit, or get a dedicated waterproof bag to keep it in. And use a lanyard to keep the radio from slipping out of your hands and going overboard.

From a survival standpoint, the ability to reach out and talk with someone is critically important if you get lost or injured. If you’re hiking or camping with someone else who has a two-way radio, make sure you’re both tuned to the same frequency. That way, if one of you gets in trouble, you can call for help.

This is Rich Johnson — Out!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Food Poisoning

According to the Centers for Disease Control, food poisoning causes approximately 76 million illnesses, puts about 325,000 people in the hospital, and it kills more than 5,000 people each year.

And that’s under normal conditions when there’s electricity to operate a refrigerator. Imagine how bad it could get during a disaster when the power is out and refrigerators aren’t operating!

The reason I mention refrigerators is because the best way to prevent food poisoning is to control the temperature of the food. If you keep food out of the danger zone, which is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, harmful bacteria won’t grow. But all it takes is about 2 hours in the danger zone, and the bacteria can become dangerous.

So here’s a rule to live by — If you have any doubt about the safety of food, throw it out. Replacing food is far less expensive than a trip to the hospital.

I mentioned disasters, but camping is another scenario where food poisoning can become an issue. If you’re taking pre-cooked food to your campsite, you must keep it out of the danger zone. Either keep it hotter than 140 degrees — which is a hard thing to do on the way to the campground — or keep it cooler than 40 degrees.

To help your camp cooler be more efficient, try these tricks:
  • Pre-chill the cooler for several hours before packing cold food inside.
  • Don’t put warm, or even room-temperature, food into the cooler. Pre-chill the food, or freeze it, before putting it into the cooler.
  • While traveling, keep the cooler out of direct sunlight. To help with that, hide it under a blanket or sleeping bag to insulate it from the sunshine.
  • Keep the cooler lid closed. If you need to get something out of the cooler, do it quickly and grab everything you need all at once.
Another step to prevent food poisoning is to keep everything clean.
  • After using the camp cooler, wash it thoroughly to remove all food residue. Do that again before using it the next time you go camping.
  • While in camp, wash utensils, plates, drinkware and cookware after each use.
  • And keep your hands clean by using a good camp soap before preparing meals. This is especially important if you touch pets, change dirty diapers, go to the bathroom, or anything else that is dirty. Good camp hygiene is one of the best ways to prevent illness.
  • And finally, cook your food thoroughly. By bringing the internal temperature up to a safe level, you can destroy harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer to make sure the inside of the food is hot enough. When you reheat leftovers, the meat has to be at least 165 degrees F on the inside, to be safe. Chicken and turkey should be at least 185 degrees F on the inside.
If you follow these recommendations, chances are you’ll be able to enjoy your meals and avoid food poisoning.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Shelter vs. Insulation

Protecting your body from the elements is all about shelter and insulation.

Since your clothing is your primary shelter when you're outdoors, and it's your first line of defense against the elements, let’s take a look at the difference between shelter and insulation when it applies to what you’re wearing.

There is a subtle difference between shelter and insulation, and when you're concerned with keeping yourself protected from cold weather, that difference is very important.

The purpose of insulation is to eliminate the negative effects of the climate insofar as heat and cold are concerned. Insulation might provide some shelter. But a material that provides only shelter is not necessarily good insulation. That might sound confusing, so let me explain.

A sheet of plastic might shelter you from the rain or turn the wind, but it won't do much to keep heat and cold from transferring. On the other hand, if your shelter and insulation strategies are good, you will be protected from the rain or wind, and thermal transfer will be cut to a minimum.

Generally speaking, several materials are used in combination with each other to achieve a good shelter and insulation factors. Some materials offer certain characteristics that are missing in others, so you need to think in terms of what quality can be derived from the materials at hand, and how they can be used to compliment each other.

Think about your house — the roof shingles do the job of providing shelter from the rain, and a different material (like spun fiberglass that looks like cotton candy) does the job of insulation. Together, they do the job of keeping the inside of the house safe and comfortable

Well, the same concept applies to your clothing. Think of your clothing as a walk-around shelter system that consists of a variety of elements that work together to keep you safe. You want material that will keep the moisture (like rain and snow) out, yet will at the same time allow moisture from inside (like perspiration) to escape. You want a material that will turn the wind away, and will radiate your body heat back at you. And, you need insulation to hold your body warmth close to you and prevent outside cold from penetrating.

Take a look at the photo above. Dressing in layers is the best method to get the benefits of both shelter and insulation. The outer layer protects agains moisture and wind coming through from outside, but allows condensation to move out into the atmosphere. Inner layers, if they're made of the right materials, trap body warmth, but don't soak up and hold moisture.

Having the ability to open the layers to allow ventilation is important, especially when you're working hard in a survival situation.

If you can arrange for that combination of qualities in your clothing, you will be dressed for survival.