Keeping preps a secret

A term that is often bandied about online in the various survival forums is “opsec.” This is military shorthand for Operations Security. (See sidebar below) Generally, as it relates to prepping, it refers to the idea of keeping your emergency preparations a secret from those outside your immediate family. The concern is that folks who know what you have may decide to take it from you in a crisis. Or if not outright steal it, they may become a burden on you by bugging you for assistance.

I’m of two minds on this. While I fully understand the need for some degree of secrecy, I also firmly believe in “spreading the word” about prepping and encouraging friends, neighbors, and family members to stock up on necessary supplies and such. When you do so, it is kind of assumed that you’ve already begun your own prepping.

Sure, many of us have heard the old, “Well, when a disaster hits, I know where I’m going!” from people who are referring to your home/retreat. And sadly, a fair number of people who say that would really follow through on it. I’d encourage you to decide NOW how you will handle that situation, should it come to pass.

Obviously, it isn’t the best idea in the world to lay out all your preps for folks to see. Don’t stack cases of canned goods in your living room, for example, then have people over for dinner. Keep things stored away, out of sight and out of mind. Don’t hand over complete inventory lists to casual friends, just to show off what you’ve accomplished.

But, don’t be afraid to broach the topic of prepping to friends and neighbors because you’re afraid they’ll figure out what you have and try to steal it. Put it this way, if you care enough about these folks to encourage them to make preparations, then you should have at least a modicum of trust in them to begin with, right?

Sidebar: If you are currently serving or formerly served in the military, first, thank you for service and second, please feel free to use all the military jargon you wish. However, if you’re not a veteran but still insist on using military speak like this in an effort to be cool, it is about as cool as buying a tricked out 4X4 with a stellar sound system, then cranking the soundtrack from Dirty Dancing as you cruise around town. Stop it.

Mental illness and long-term disasters

Depending upon which study you read, experts estimate that anywhere from 15% to 30% of the US population suffers from some form of mental illness. Granted, a lot depends on exactly how you define the term. But nevertheless, I think it is safe to say that there are a LOT of people out there right now who depend on various medications to keep them stable.

Obviously, as has been discussed repeatedly in past blog entries here, it is important to have stocked up on ALL prescription medications in the event of an emergency. Running out of heart meds or insulin when you’re stranded at home for several days isn’t a good situation.

It is also important to not forget any psychiatric medications any family members might be taking. Stress is often a trigger for many mental illnesses, therefore the symptoms of which are going to be exacerbated by a crisis.

While it is a stereotype that those who suffer from mental illnesses are all a bunch of raving nutters, think about how difficult it would be to handle a loved family member who is suffering not only severe depression or anxiety but possibly medication withdrawal on top of it?

I read a book recently called The Compound by S.A. Bodeen. My review of it is found here. In the book, a family is hunkered down in a hardened survival retreat for several years. I’m not giving anything away when I say that as the story progresses, it becomes evident the father is suffering from a rather severe mental break. A pretty frightening scenario, actually. What do you do in an extended crisis when one of your family members literally loses their mind?

If you or a family member currently suffers from some form of mental illness, speak with the doctor or counselor about home treatment options should medications become unavailable for a period of time. Learn what you can do to help mitigate the symptoms until order is reestablished.

Personal hygiene kits

They say cleanliness is next to godliness. I don’t know if that’s really true or not but I do know the ability to keep reasonably clean during a bug out is important. Not only is it a great morale boost to feel “human” again, keeping clean reduces potential illnesses and infections.

Consider adding a personal hygiene kit to your evacuation supplies and bug out bags.

Soap: A small bar of soap that is suitable for both hair and body.

Toothbrush and toothpaste: The travel size for each is fine.

Towel: All references to Douglas Adams aside, a towel has many uses, from drying you off to water filtration. Consider having a small washcloth as well as a larger hand towel.

Comb and/or brush: While being able to sport a great hairstyle isn’t all that important during a crisis, these are useful for getting rid of tangles as well as checking for ticks in the scalp.

Hand sanitizer: If your water supply is severely limited, this will help keep your hands clean for eating and other tasks. Plus, many of them have a high enough alcohol content to be used to help get a fire going in a pinch.

Toilet paper: Take out the cardboard tube and smash the roll flat for easier packing.

Baby wipes: These are great for cleaning up when water is scarce. Pick up a travel size container for your kit.

Pack it all into a small kit, one for each bug out bag.

Expedient wilderness shelters

Being able to get out of the elements is critical for survival in the wilderness. If you find yourself lost and determine you’ll need to spend at least one night in the bush, your first step should be to build a shelter. The type of shelter will depend at least partially on the weather conditions.

As long as you have a roof over your head, you should be relatively fine during the warmer months. A makeshift tent can be fashioned by stringing paracord between two trees, then draping an emergency blanket or tarp across the paracord. Stretch out the sides and weigh them down at the bottom with logs or rocks to keep them in place.

Another old favorite is the lean to. Find a sturdy branch four or five feet in length. Suspend it from the ground about three or four feet up either by nestling in the crooks of branches of nearby trees or driving forked sticks into the ground. Next, take longer branches and lean them on one side of the cross beam, making the shelter six or seven feet deep. Weave smaller branches in between the larger ones, adding leaves and debris on top of them. You could also lay an emergency blanket across the larger branches, then pile on the leaves and such as insulation. But, if you only have one emergency blanket, use it to wrap yourself in. Build your fire near the open end of the shelter and use a stack of logs on the far side of the fire to reflect heat back toward you.

In desert areas, you can take a tarp or emergency blanket and extend it out from your vehicle or even a small bush to create a shaded area out of the sun. If possible, avoid traveling during the day. Use that time to rest and then travel at night when it is cooler.

Weekly Assignment: Food storage plans

Food is, of course, a primary need and one you should plan to fulfill during both short and long-term emergencies. But, how do you know if you have enough? This week, I want you to take a good, hard look at your food storage. How many days could you realistically feed your family on what you have in storage RIGHT NOW? No more last minute runs to the grocery store. No wild game harvested. No fish caught. Just what is on your shelves at this moment.

Six months?

One month?

A week?

A few days?

If your answer is anything less than a few weeks, it is well past time to get moving. Figure out two weeks of menus, concentrating on those foods that store well and require little to no preparation. Start acquiring those foods a little at a time, every trip to the store. Once you have those two weeks accounted for, work towards a month. Keep adding to your food storage, little by little. It will add up quickly.

Don’t ever think you have “enough.” This is a lifestyle, not a goal to be reached. Keep adding, keep rotating, and you’ll be surprised how much you can accumulate in a short period of time.

When in a survival situation, STOP

There is an acronym that illustrates very well what you should do if you find yourself lost in the woods or in a survival situation. STOP stands for:

S — Stop, don’t panic. If possible, sit down and take some deep breaths. Recognize that while you might be in a bad situation, undoubtedly it could be worse. Panic leads to poor decision making, which will not make your situation any better.

T — Think about your situation. What are your immediate needs? Will anyone realize you aren’t where you are supposed to be? How long until someone realizes you’re likely lost?

O — Observe your situation. How did you get to where you are now? Look around and really open your eyes to see your environment. Did you make a simple mistake that can be corrected?

P — Plan your next moves. Prioritize your needs and how you will meet them. Do you have access to potable water? Can you erect a simple shelter? Do you need medical attention and, if so, is it something you can handle yourself for the time being? Do you have a way to communicate with those who may be searching for you? While in almost all situations it is advisable to stay put, if your individual circumstance is such that your present location is untenable, decide which direction in which to start traveling.

If you’ve been following my blog here for any length of time and actually taken action on some of my suggestions, hopefully you’ll have at least a small survival kit with you. Having just a small measure of survival supplies on hand will not only increase your chances of survival but give you enough peace of mind to relax and know you can make it out of your predicament.

Choosing a survival knife

A knife is probably the most important tool to have in a survival situation. With it, you can build shelters, cut firewood, and craft together just about any other tool you’ll need. But, when you’re shopping for a quality knife, how do you separate the quality from the crap? You can’t always just rely on price because I’ve seen some pretty expensive, neato-keen looking pieces of garbage and I’ve also seen fairly cheap knives of good quality.

First, look at the material. You want good quality steel alloy, like 440C. Next, look at the construction. The tang should go all the way through the handle. If it doesn’t, pass. This provides strength to the knife. Without that full tang, the blade is apt to just snap right off the handle.

Personally, I’m not real fond of serrated blades, even half serrated ones. I realize the serrations allow you to saw through limbs and such but they are all but impossible to sharpen in the field without using specialized equipment. To each their own on that score. Regardless, you want to be able to keep that knife SHARP. A dull knife is more apt to lead to injury due to the increased force you’ll be using to get it to cut.

The handle should fit comfortably in your hand and have some type of traction to keep it from slipping. A smooth handle is going to pop right out of your wet, muddy hand when you’re in the field. Also remember, you may end up using this knife a LOT and you’ll want it to be comfortable to hold and use.

You don’t need, or want, a “Rambo” knife that has a 14″ blade on it. They are just too difficult to use effectively in most situations. Six to eight inches or so should be enough to serve your needs. Also, hollow handle knives are a neat idea but remember what I said about wanting a full tang.

The sheath should be protective of the knife and comfortable to wear. If it has a pocket for a small sharpening stone or other supplies, all the better.

You don’t need to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on a knife but, on the other hand, don’t be too cheap either. You want quality and that’s gonna cost you a bit. Remember, your life may depend on this tool. And if you treat it right and take care of it, the knife should last for a good, long time.

Vehicle maintenance

Many if not most of us rely on some form of vehicle not only for day to day transportation but to allow us to bug out if need be. However, despite the important role vehicles play in our preps, we often neglect routine maintenance of them. How bad would it suck to try and bug out during a disaster and have your brakes go metal to metal?

Whether you have a brand-spankin’-new car fresh off the lot or a ten year old beater, you need to be diligent about oil changes, brakes, tires, and other simple maintenance jobs. Oil changes are the easiest way to keep your car or truck running in good condition. Personally, while I am fully capable of doing oil changes myself, it saves me time in the long run to spend a few bucks and have it done for me.

Check your tire pressure regularly and watch the tread depth. When they start getting thin, get them changed before it becomes a safety issue, especially if you live where it gets icy and snowy in winter.

Pay attention to the sounds your vehicle makes and when you hear something “off,” check it out or have it looked at by a trusted mechanic. With every vehicle I’ve owned, I always buy the repair manual for it. I don’t know a lot about engines and such but if I have the book in front of me, I can handle most repairs myself.

If you treat your vehicle well, it will return the favor. Neglect it too long and it will lead to bad things happening, probably at the worst possible time.

Power outages

A couple days ago, a fierce storm moved through our area. It knocked out power to something like 23,000 people. Most of them had power restored later that day. A few, however, are still waiting. I know of one couple who lost power Monday morning and aren’t expecting to have their service back on until maybe tomorrow night sometime, more likely Friday morning.

They managed to get most of their frozen meat moved into a friend’s freezer but they lost the entire contents of their refrigerator as well as most of their freezer. Daytime temps have been around 90 or so, with high humidity. At night, it got down to about 70 or so, still with a lot of mugginess. Not great sleeping weather at the best of times, let alone without so much as a fan moving air around. Plus, they are on a well and the pump doesn’t run without power. So, no running water on top of everything else.

Yeah, um, that’s not the best time to go out looking for a generator, what with half the county in the same boat.

Are YOU prepared to go a few days without power? What would you do with your chilled and frozen food? How could you stay cool? Would your water still run from the tap if the electricity was off?

We’ve not seen the last of the big thunderstorms for the season, not by a long shot. And it seems as though the storms are not only getting more frequent but they are getting more intense.

Generators are a great tool to have, if you can afford them and take the time to learn how to safely operate them. You don’t necessarily need a whole house generator either, though obviously that would be nice. Sit down and think about what appliances you would NEED to keep running. Fridge and freezer probably top that list. Water pump as well if you’re on a well. Toss in a laptop for communication and entertainment and maybe a few fans to keep it from getting so stifling hot. Allow a bit of cushion in terms of power needs as you’d rather have more power than you need than less. Watch the sales and pick one up when you can. You’ll be glad you did.

Weekly assignment: Caches

As we discussed some time ago, caches are a way to spread out your survival supplies, rather than keeping them all in one place. If you plan to have to travel a considerable distance between work and home, or home and your retreat, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to place a cache or two along your intended route. They allow you to resupply on the run.

Your assignment this week is to delve further into the topic of caching. Make a list of items you feel would be good to have for your situation. Remember, caches are meant to be buried or otherwise hidden untouched for a LONG time.

Where could you put a cache? It needs to be someplace where you could easily access it if need be, but not somewhere it would likely be accidentally discovered.

Also, as I mentioned in an earlier post on this topic, consider using a storage unit as a cache site, especially if you already rent one for other purposes.