Dogs and disaster readiness

I am now and have pretty much always been a “dog person.” Dogs are faithful, loving, and dependable. We’re down to one dog right now but at one point not too long ago, we had three. Harley was a purebred keeshond. More fluff than substance, nonetheless he was exceedingly loyal. He was our early alert system as he barked at anything he felt didn’t belong in or near our yard.

We brought Nikita home from the humane society. Near as the vet could tell, she was a purebred husky. Bright blue eyes that glowed red when the light would hit them just right. She was nothing but skin and bones when we got her, but we fixed that up in a hurry. She was the protector of our pack. Huskies don’t really bark, they more “talk.” She rarely ever made noise but I had little doubt that if she felt one of her pack was threatened, she’d make quick work of them.

Tucker is our current mutt. We took him in when a neighbor moved away. We’re not sure of his lineage but figure he probably has at least some golden retriever mixed with chow. He’s a fairly good watchdog and keeps tabs on what goes on outside. He has also shown some very good protective instincts.

Why should you consider adding a dog to your disaster readiness plan?
They are great with pulling sentry duty. Obviously their senses of smell and hearing are vastly more acute than ours and they will sense something amiss earlier than you. Most dogs are protective of their packs and will defend you without hesitation. They provide a much needed stress relief too. There just aren’t many people who won’t feel better after hugging a canine friend.

While you should certainly stockpile kibble and canned dog food, most dogs can hunt on their own to supplement their food needs. Our husky was able to catch squirrels, for example.

Larger dogs can be fitted with specially designed backpacks to help carry supplies during a bug out. Consider purchasing booties for them as well, so their paws don’t get cut on broken glass or other debris in this situation.

Obviously, training is important. Dogs are a responsibility not to be taken lightly. They need to be taught how your home “works.” In some ways, they are like little kids and need to be shown right from wrong. Of course, there is also the financial end of things. Vet bills can easily run into the several hundred dollar range.

Most dog owners have favorite breeds, like german shepherds, goldens, or rotties. For my money though, I’ll take a Heinz 57 mutt over any of them.

Review: Survive! – The Disaster, Crisis and Emergency Handbook by Jerry Ahern

First off, I’ve been a fan of the Aherns for many years. Jerry and Sharon wrote that great series The Survivalist, as well as a bunch of other action/adventure novels. Jerry also made a name for himself with non-fiction, penning countless articles in the firearms press. Based on how successful The Survivalist was, and continues to be, it is of no surprise they took a stab at the survival handbook market.

The book starts out with an excellent overview of the wide range of disasters that could befall us, including those world-changing potential events like the eruption of the Yellowstone caldera. Each disaster is discussed rationally, with the presentation of researched facts rather than alarmist propaganda.

From there, the book goes into the nuts-n-bolts of preparedness. Food, water, communications, medical needs, emergency power, weapons, vehicles, the list goes on. Each category is discussed in great detail, including storage methods and calculating needs. Ahern goes to great lengths in recommending specific items by brand name and even model numbers in some cases. This is both good and bad, in my opinion. It is great to offer specific recommendations to those new to prepping. But, it also makes segments of the book read like a catalog.

The only other real criticism of the book would be that while it is profusely illustrated with hundreds of photos, many of them do little to add value to the book. Seeing a picture of Ahern drinking a glass of water he’s filtered through his Katadyn system doesn’t add much to the discussion.

What I really enjoyed about the book overall is the common sense approach to survival. This book is full of practical advice applicable to just about everyone, rather than being yet another “survival handbook” where the first instruction is to go out and purchase 50 acres of vacant land in the middle of the desert.

This would be a great book to hand off to someone just starting to get interested in disaster readiness. Those of us who have been at this a while will appreciate the gear recommendations and look into the perspective of the folks behind John Thomas Rourke.

Preserving memories

In your evacuation kits, you should already have copies of important paperwork, such as insurance policies, bank account information, and identification cards. Those will be very important to have if you need to hightail it out of your home on a moment’s notice. In the event of a localized disaster like a flood or wildfire, your home could be destroyed and having those documents on hand will greatly speed up your insurance claims.

However, perhaps just as important on a personal level are treasured family photos. These are items that, by their very nature, could never be replaced. While not life critical, their loss will be a burden to you forever.

Take some time now to preserve those memories. There are a few ways you can do this. Probably the easiest way would be to scan them and save the digital images to a thumb drive. Put the thumb drive in a waterproof case and toss it in your evacuation kit. Down the road, should you have lost the originals, you can have copies printed.

Another way would be to just copy the photos and save the prints. Again, put them in a waterproof container. The downside of doing it this way is they will likely get crumpled a bit as you travel, or even bump the bag around in your closet.

It wouldn’t be the worst idea to have duplicates of these photos sent to a trusted friend or family member out of state. Offer to do the same for them, keeping the photos in a safe place should the unthinkable actually come to pass.

Stuff can be replaced — furniture, DVDs, appliances, and clothing. Family photos, once lost, are gone forever. Get on this and do it today.

Weekly assignment — Cooking without power

For any of a number of reasons, you may sometime find yourself needing to prepare a meal for your family and not have the stove top, oven, or even the vaunted microwave to cook the food. While having emergency food that requires little or no preparation is a great idea, sooner or later having a hot meal will be almost a necessity. If nothing else, you should be able to competently boil water, which if you’ve not done this before in the field, takes quite a bit longer than you may realize.

This week, I want you to prepare one full meal without using any kitchen appliances that require electricity or gas. Pulling ingredients from the fridge or freezer is fine. But, no stove, no nuke machine, no blender, no toaster oven…you get the idea.

While the use of a propane or charcoal grill is ok, I’d prefer you use a method you’ve not practiced with before. Either cooking on a campfire, using a hobo stove or buddy burner, even a solar oven. Have fun with this and pretend you’re out in the wilderness with your kids. Let them help if possible.

The idea here is to practice skills you may need during an emergency. Having all the latest and greatest whiz bang gadgets won’t do you much good if you’ve never used them before. Make the mistakes now, rather than when they’ll actually count.

I’d love to hear from some of my readers who take up this challenge this week. What did you cook? How did you prepare it? Did everything go as planned? Leave a comment below.

Applying fiction to the real world

I was in a debate the other day concerning why preppers were so enamored with the new show Falling Skies. Specifically, someone in an online forum wondered why we were discussing the show when it was merely fiction and had no implications on “the real world.” While I understood the point he was making, I felt his concern was misplaced.

We can learn quite a bit from fiction, if we’re paying attention. Do I think we will be invaded by some conquering alien race any time in the immediate future? No, probably not. However, watching (or reading) how writers portray people responding in various situations gives us the opportunity to “war game” in our own heads a bit. How would WE react in that situation? Let’s say it wasn’t an alien race but instead the dreaded “New World Order” troops conspiracy theorists often bring up.

I don’t know how many of my readers here might be aware of this but on at least a few different occasions, the US Federal government has sponsored “think tank” sessions involving sci fi writers. I know one writer personally who has participated in one of these exercises. The basic idea is the high-paid thinkers in the government get together these folks with proven wild imaginations. They present the writers with various “what if” scenarios and let them run wild. How do you think people would react, what would they do, how might they solve these problems? Fiction, being applied toward the real world.

The primary job of fiction is to be entertaining, no doubt about it. But it should also make you think. With survival fiction, perhaps it will get your mind working on how YOU would solve a given problem. Maybe it gets you to think of something you’ve forgotten with your preps.

Much of what we have in the way of technology today was first described in science fiction. First we dream it, then we do it.

Don’t be afraid to dream. You might surprise yourself with what you can imagine.

Prepping on a Budget presentation outline

As promised yesterday, here is the outline I used for my presentation on Prepping on a Budget at the 2011 Survival & Preparedness Conference.

Money is tight for most of us. We’re living paycheck to paycheck, trying to make ends meet. We have very little in the way of extra funds we can put toward preps. Sure, we’d all love to be able to drop a few thousand dollars on #10 cans of dehydrated food every other month but that just isn’t going to happen for most of us.

So, let’s talk about ways we can stretch your dollar and get the most bang for your buck.

First, we’ll start with some general pointers.

–Know what you already have. Do a complete inventory of your pantry, your workshop, every closet, nook, and cranny. If you’re anything like me, you probably have forgotten at least some of the items you’ve already bought.

–Related to that, keep track of what you buy, when you buy it, and how long it should last before going bad. Come up with some sort of system to rotate your food and such on a regular basis.

–Remember, when it comes to purchasing anything, you need to do your homework ahead of time. Learn average prices in your area so you can recognize deals when you come across them. I think all of us have probably been duped at least a few times into buying something we thought was a great deal, only to find it cheaper somewhere else within a day or two.

Clearance bins
Don’t be afraid to check out clearance carts and other in-store displays. You can often find canned goods that are approaching expiration. They will likely last for some time yet and you can always move them up in your rotation if need be.

Haggle
If you’re buying a case or two of an item, it doesn’t hurt to ask a manager if you can get a discount. The worst that could happen is they say no but more often than not, they’ll toss you 10% or more off. Also, talk to the produce manager about buying fruits and veggies that are blemished or slightly out of date. I know one person who has a regular exchange with her local grocery store where she buys the slightly dinged produce for literally pennies on the dollar. What she doesn’t eat or can up for later she feeds to her animals on the homestead.

With many commodities, buying in bulk (Sam’s Club, Costco, etc.) will usually get us the best overall price per unit. However, many of us don’t have the means to buy a pallet of toilet paper at a time. We need to allocate our pennies and dollars across a wider range of purchases every week. Thus, while I encourage you to take advantage of bulk buying if at all possible, we’ll limit our discussion here on smaller quantity purchases.

Food Storage

Naturally, having a stocked pantry is not only a great idea, it can be such a comfort. With a well-stocked larder, we know that we’re set to withstand almost anything, right? The hard part is getting to that point. Food can be expensive and it generally doesn’t last forever. But, we can eat tomorrow at today’s prices so let’s look at ways to get more food for less money.

Store what you eat, eat what you store
The best way to ensure you are regularly rotating your stock, using it before it goes bad, is to actually USE your food pantry as more than just a stockpile for the distant future. Don’t store food you or your family don’t like. If you don’t like brussel sprouts, don’t buy them.

Start small if you need to
Buying just a couple extra cans a week will add up quickly.

Shop the sales
Every week, make sure you get a copy of all the sales ads for your local stores. Make your shopping list based on these sales.

Coupons
Be diligent about cutting and sorting coupons. Use them religiously. Watch your grocery sale ads for opportunities to stack coupons. Stacking refers to using a manufacturer’s coupon on top of an in-store special. If you have a local store that will double or even triple coupons on certain days, do whatever it takes to get there and take advantage of it.

Sign up for store loyalty cards
Many, if not most, grocery stores now have some sort of customer loyalty card. Get one for each store you patronize regularly. These cards will get you better prices on your purchases and are free to obtain.

Learn to preserve food at home
Invest in canning supplies and a good dehydrator. Being able to preserve food at home will be a tremendous help if you come across a great deal on meat or fresh produce. There is little sense in buying a bunch of food that will go bad before you can consume it. Plus, home canned food is much healthier than store bought canned goods.

Foraging and hunting
Take some time now to learn the edible plants in your area. Get out there and actually forage some of these tasty treats. If you have the means to go hunting, I’d encourage you to do so.

Gardening
Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, should have at least some type of garden. If you’re in an apartment, do container gardening. If the your soil isn’t great, try putting in raised beds. Every vegetable you grown and harvest is one less you’ll have to buy in the store.

Cheap but filling foods for long-term storage
Rice
Beans
Pasta
Ramen
Canned tuna
Canned chicken
Canned/bagged soups
Oatmeal
Baking mixes

Gear and other goodies

Oh my, isn’t there just a ton of STUFF you need to stockpile? And all that stuff adds up quickly in terms of cost. There are a few ways you can cut that cost down though.

A few words of caution. As stated earlier, make sure you can recognize a good deal when you see it. Just because an item is priced very cheaply doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good deal. If a given widget goes for $5.00 brand new, buying it used for $4.50 might not be the greatest deal. Also, especially for any kind of equipment, be sure to inspect the item thoroughly before buying it used. That camp stove you find at a rummage sale for $3 isn’t a good deal if it leaks and turns into a propane bomb the first time you use it.

Freecycle
Surf over to www.Freecycle.org and search around for groups near you. The way these groups work is you sign up to join their Yahoo Group. What happens then is you’ll receive emails from people who have stuff they want to give away. If you’re interested in the item posted, you respond back to them by email telling them so. It is up to the poster as to who gets the item so you won’t always be the lucky recipient. But, you can get some great stuff absolutely free using Freecycle. You are also able to post your own used items to get rid of them and make room for your preps. Most groups will also allow you to make a limited number of “Wanted” posts, where you can ask the group members if anyone has a particular item you want or need. Absolutely free to join and use.

Craigslist
Use this with caution. There are so many scams out there, it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, people are on there every day selling and/or giving away some good stuff.

Rummage sales, garage sales, tag sales
Get out there early in the morning for the best selection, but late in the day for the best prices. This is where you can usually find the best deals on tools, camping equipment, and other odds and ends. Don’t be afraid to haggle a bit but don’t lowball them either. Also, if you don’t see something for which you are searching, sometimes it pays to ask. For example, you’re really in need of some camp cooking gear and you see they have a tent and sleeping bag they are selling, ask if they have other camp related stuff they might want to get rid of. Fairly often, they’ll come up with related items that just didn’t make it out to the rummage sale.

Flea markets
Personally, I don’t do well at these but your mileage may vary. In my experience, most of them have turned into just a collection of home based businesses like Avon and Tupperware.

Thrift stores
Some great deals to be had, but pay close attention to prices. Many times, I’ve seen used items for sale priced higher than I could pay for brand new. However, for spare clothing, books, and movies, the prices usually can’t be beat.

Library sales and used bookstores
I’m a voracious reader and maintain an extensive home library. Well over half of my approximately three thousand books were purchased used, often paying far less than half the cover price. Most libraries hold used book sales at least once a year. You can find some incredible deals at these sales as the books are often priced for less than a dollar each. Toward the end of the day, they’ll even do bag sales, where you fill a grocery bag and pay around $3. Used bookstores are another great source, with the prices often being half the cover price or less.

Repurposing

Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.
Improvise, be creative.

Trim the Budget Elsewhere

Eat at home, pack lunches — healthier and cheaper
Bundle services when possible
Little purchases add up quick
Mind your energy consumption

Every dollar you save can be used for preps!

Barter/trade presentation outline

While I was in Dallas last month, I told attendees that I’d be posting the outlines for my presentations here and elsewhere. I realized today that I’d failed to put them up here. Here is the outline I used for my session on Post-Collapse Barter and Trade. Tomorrow, I’ll post the outline for Prepping on a Budget.

After TSHTF, paper money will likely be pretty worthless. As for gold and other valuable metals, well I’m personally not sold on the idea of stockpiling them for future currency. I think that if the world does finally end up turned on its ear, it will be quite some time before people are concerned with more than just filling their bellies and keeping some form of roof over their heads. I think for at least the immediate future after TSHTF, barter and trading will be the most popular forms of currency.

No matter how long we’ve been prepping, each of us will probably forget to have stockpiled some item, or at least enough of it, that will get us through. Hopefully, someone else will have had the foresight to either stockpile it or in some other way be able to provide it…probably for a fee. No man (or woman) is an island and we all likely lack at least a couple of skills we might need at some point down the road. Thus, we’ll need a way to “pay” for someone else to help us out in those areas we lack.

There are essentially two categories for what you might have available to trade or barter – stuff and skills.

Stuff refers to the physical items you have on hand you could trade to someone else for either goods or services.

The key elements in my opinion as to what items to stockpile for future use in barter are:

1) They must be relatively inexpensive now.
2) They must be long lasting and easy to store.
3) They must have inherent use for you, whether you trade them later or not.
4) They must be easy to divide into small quantities.

Some suggestions for stuff to stockpile for use in bartering:

Vices
Tobacco
Alcohol
Hard candy
Coffee / tea

Medical/Hygiene
Toilet paper
Chapstick
Feminine hygiene
Vitamins
Pain relievers
Caffeine pills
Condoms
Yeast infection creams

Consumables
Garden surplus
Honey
Sugar
Powdered milk
Drink mixes
Vegetable oil
Salt
Seeds

Toiletries
Soap
Shampoo
Toothpaste
Toothbrushes
Dental floss

Miscellaneous
Cheap folding knives
Can openers
Butane lighters
Strike anywhere matches
Nails, screws
Hand tools
Cloth, patches
Needles, thread
Safety pins
Socks, underwear

Skills are the services you could provide in exchange for either goods or services. Again, same with stuff, the skills must have inherent value to you and your family.

Medical (including herbal remedies)
Dental
Carpentry
Electrical
Plumbing
Sewing/knitting
Automotive, small engine repair
Home brewer, distillation
Cooking
Leather working, tanning
Welding
Smithing, metal working
Reloading

Obviously, if you have skills to offer, you should have stockpiled the necessary tools and supplies to do the job. Most of the above skills would be well suited for a cottage industry after a collapse.

The key elements to a successful trade either now or later:

1) Both sides should be happy with the result. Ideally, each party will feel they got the better end of the trade.

2) The trade should take place in a safe manner, as best as is possible. Thus, I highly discourage the idea of trading ammunition, just in case the other person feels like returning their “purchase” using some form of quick delivery system. If the other party is a neighbor or friend, obviously that is a less worrisome transaction than someone relatively unknown. In the latter event, perhaps you can work out a neutral location to swap goods.

3) After TSHTF, it is important you don’t “tip your hand” and make it known you have a stockpile of goodies just waiting for someone to decide they want for themselves. Although, with the right system of protection in place, setting up shop as a trading post may indeed be lucrative.

Review — Falling Skies

This past Sunday, a new sci-fi show premiered on TNT called Falling Skies. The basic plot is that aliens have invaded Earth, wiped out much of the population, and enslaved large numbers of children through the use of mechanical “harnesses” attached to their spines. Moderate sized groups of humans have survived the invasion and are trying to stay hidden while planning some form of rebellion.

I like the idea that the show starts 7-8 months after the initial invasion. My favorite post-apocalyptic stories have always taken place AFTER the big disaster, rather than concentrating on the disaster itself. While naturally I’d have liked to see maybe a little bit more about how it all went down, I’m sure that’ll be covered in future episodes. I found it an interesting approach to include the fact that most of the military forces are gone and these “rebel” units are almost all former civilians, rather than combat veterans. Most of the PA fiction out there seems to have at least one “super soldier” who is a veteran of some elite unit and thus capable of beating impossible odds. Here, you have a rag tag group of folks from all walks of life — educators, gang bangers, kids, etc. — all working side by side trying to get by and survive.

Another interesting point brought up was how even after society has for all intents and purposes collapsed, it was still considered “wrong” to kill other human beings, even if they were “bad guys.” Personally, I kind of liked the warlord guy they ended up taking prisoner. Take the time to actually listen to what he says, he makes some interesting points. I especially liked his line about how exhausting it had been to be the leader of a post-apocalyptic gang.

Several people in online discussions have mentioned the fact that the fighters were given better housing. While I understand the point the writers were making, I think they took the wrong approach to make the point. The idea here is that the warriors are treated to more creature comforts, because they need to be at their sharpest. But, it makes little sense to have a group of 300+ people camping in tents out in a field if the idea is to keep it all covert. Several times we were shown the aliens having aerial fighters, thus we would presume some type of “eyes in the sky.” But, on the other hand, it could be difficult to round everyone up if they are scattered throughout dozens of individual homes. Keeping them all in a school or factory makes infinitely more sense to me. Sheltered from both the elements and prying eyes, yet keeping everyone centralized and easy to move at a moment’s notice if the need arises.

While I don’t necessarily question the 100 fighters to 200 civilians ratio, I do wonder about that overall group size. It would seem to me that it would be very hard to keep a group that large together as a cohesive unit. But, I would guess if 300 is the total size, 200 would be needed to do all the cooking, mending, repairing, reloading, and other daily / mundane tasks to keep 100 fighters going. Obviously being constantly on the move, they are needing to scavenge and scrounge their food, rather than having a garden and livestock to help offset the food requirements. 300 people will obviously eat a LOT of food. I do wonder just how long they expected one truck load of food to last the group. A better idea, I think, would have been to send a little larger contingent to the warehouse. The point was made several times that they wouldn’t be coming back to the area, thus leaving whatever might be left behind.

I like the idea of having the professor as the calming force, so to speak, for the Army vet in charge. This group isn’t made up of experienced grunts. Up until the aliens invaded, these were housewives, accountants, and just plain folks. Thus, the professor and the doctor are able to provide a more balanced perspective, perhaps.

Overall, I enjoyed the show and will be tuning in to future episodes. I like Noah Wylie and Will Patton is one of my favorites, so perhaps I’m a little biased from the outset.

Weekly assignment — Skills inventory

Quite often, preppers become overwhelmed when thinking of all the things they don’t yet know how to do. But, they also sometimes overlook the skills they already have or have a tendency to minimize them. So, let’s go through a little hypothetical situation here and see what kind of brainstorming you can do.

Let’s say there has been some sort of societal collapse. You and your family are traveling on foot, with no real destination in mind other than trying to find a place where you can settle down and try to build a life again. You come across a small village that looks promising. Upon speaking with the “powers that be” within the village, you learn there may be room for you and yours, provided you can offer something of value to the village as a whole.

What can you bring to the table? What skills do you possess that would have merit? Sure, you could just provide grunt labor in the fields, but just about anyone could do that. What would make you unique?

Think about it like this. What hobbies have you enjoyed in the past that might have value after a collapse? What skills have you learned at work? Think it all through and you might surprise yourself at all the things you have learned to do over the years.

Let’s say I’m the “human resources recruiter” for the village. Leave comments below to convince me I should let you join the team, as it were.

Father’s Day

In case you’re not keeping track of the calendar, this Sunday is Father’s Day. I hope all the dads out there have a great weekend. Weather permitting, Saturday I’m going to do a bit of fishing with my kids and try to do some other fun things. Sunday, I’ll take my Dad out for lunch. After that, head to my in-laws for a BBQ late in the day.

If possible, spend some quality time with your Dad this weekend. Take him fishing or just for a walk in the woods. Listen to his stories from when he was young. Let him teach you the things you’ve not learned from him yet. Maybe you’re in a position in your life where you can teach him something as well.

One of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain goes something like this. “When I was 15, I thought my father was a complete idiot. When I was 20, I was shocked at how much that old man had learned in five years.”

Growing up, I didn’t always like my Dad but I always loved him. He and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of topics. Whether it was the length of my hair in high school, politics, or how to do certain chores, we didn’t agree. I lost my mother a few years ago and it wasn’t until then that I realized how much I wanted and needed my parents in my life.

How does this relate to disaster readiness? Well, if you’ve ever lost a parent, you know how much of a personal disaster that can be. Do yourself a favor and spend time with them as there will come a day when that decision is made for you.