Pandemic Preparedness

A regional or national pandemic is one of the bigger fears of many preppers. After reading the news stories I posted about yesterday, perhaps this concern has become even more prominent on your radar. While I’d like to think in this day and age of scientific “miracles” we wouldn’t have to worry about something as simple as a flu virus taking down our society, common sense and logic dictates otherwise.

How does prepping for a pandemic differ from other potential emergencies? Well, for starters, you’ll need to plan for limiting your contact with other people as much as possible. Stores, if they are even open, will no doubt be hotbeds for potential infection. Same thing goes for workplaces. You and your family will essentially have to be home bound for potentially several weeks.

Obviously adequate food storage will be critical, as will a good supply of other essential items like meds.

On top of necessary supplies, think a bit on the impact your neighborhood could have during a pandemic. Let’s say half the population gets sick. Half your police force is out of commission. Half the emergency responders, half the fire department. Banks and ATMs will likely be non-functioning, whether you have money in them or not.

The thing about pandemics is they may start out kind of slow but ramp up very quickly. So quick, in fact, that you might not have much time to make runs to the store for more stuff. Once word gets out about a serious virus sweeping the area, people are going to flock to the stores to get food and such. It’ll make Black Friday look like a quiet Sunday afternoon. And each and every one of those people are potential carriers of the illness.

If you had to lock your door today and stay in your home for even three weeks, would you have enough food for your family?

Organizing for FIFO food storage

In order to maintain the proper rotation of your food storage, you must utilize the principle of FIFO or First In, First Out. But, this often poses a dilemma with storage in that you find yourself having to somehow stack new cans at the back of an already mostly filled shelf. When you’re in a hurry, you might end up just shoving the older stuff to the back and placing the new items at the front.

There are a couple different ways to tackle this problem.

If you shop around a bit, you can find plastic racks designed for soda cans. They are set up such that you put new cans on the top of the rack and as you pull cans from the bottom, they roll through the rack. You may find they will fit your canned veggies and fruits rather well. Along these same lines, as mentioned in the Prepper’s Pocket Guide, you can use the cardboard 12 pack containers soda is often sold in for the same purpose. However, I’d suggest using a slim piece of cardboard between the top and bottom rows of cans to ensure the top ones don’t just fall straight down when you remove one of the bottom cans.

Another solution is to build a custom rack yourself. You can find a number of designs online, one of which is found here. That particular one can be made using a minimal amount of woodworking skills.

I’ve seen custom racks as large as store displays, which are great if you have space for such a monster. But few of us do have that sort of free space and have to make do with something smaller.

Remember, however you accomplish it, you must rotate your food storage to get the best bang for your buck.

Escaping from submerged vehicle

There was a story in the local news today about a missing older man who ended up being found in his car, submerged in a lake near a boat launch. Investigators are still piecing together what events led up to the car going into the lake. I do hear stories about this from time to time, usually as a result of the car going off the road in bad weather.

So, how do you escape from a submerged vehicle?

First, try to remain calm. You’ll have several minutes of air in the car with you. As the car is sinking to the bottom, unlatch your seat belt.

The doors won’t open due to the weight of the water against them, so don’t bother struggling with them. You’ll need to exit the vehicle through a window. If you have crank windows, open one of them, allowing the water to come in. However, if you have electric windows, they probably won’t work because of water getting into the electrical system. If that’s the case, you’ll have to break a window open. If you’ve had the foresight to keep an Emergency Hammer in the car, use that to break a window. If not, you’ll have to kick out a window. Don’t try to kick your foot through the window as that could lead to lacerations. Instead, use both feet to push steadily on a window until it breaks.

Water will be rushing in and this will hinder any attempt to climb out right away. Let the water fill the vehicle as you take deep breaths of the remaining air. Once the vehicle is mostly full, you’ll be able to climb through the open window and swim to the surface.

Book Review: Ashfall by Mike Mullin

As promised last week, here’s my review of ASHFALL by Mike Mullin. In the interest of full disclosure, Tanglewood Press sent me a review copy of this book a couple weeks ago upon my request. Occasionally, publishers will send me books at no charge, with the agreement being I will post an honest review here and elsewhere. For a rabid bibliophile like me, it just doesn’t get any better than that!

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, on to the review. ASHFALL is quite simply one of the best books I’ve read this year. I find it difficult to believe this is Mullin’s first novel. It is exceptionally well-written, with none of the issues often seen in a first novel, such as head hopping among characters or inexplicable bouncing between plot points. The characters are flesh and blood and it doesn’t take long at all for the reader to begin to care what happens to them.

Alex is fifteen years old and lives with his family in Iowa. After another all too typical battle of wills between teenage son and frustrated mother (any parent of a teen will truly relate), he’s left home alone while his parents and sister go visit relatives 100 miles away in Illinois. He isn’t able to take much advantage of this “vacation” though as his house is destroyed by debris falling from the sky. Taking refuge with his neighbors, he soon learns a volcano under Yellowstone National Forest has exploded, 900 miles away. Tremendous amounts of ash has been jetted into the sky, where it gently falls like snow for days on end. The weather has become unpredictable aside from the days being cold and the nights colder.

Soon, Alex resolves to travel to his uncle’s farm, where his family had gone. He packs what little supplies he can scrounge and sets out on foot. Alex soon learns life on the road isn’t anything like he could have imagined. What people are left are starving and desperate. Without revealing spoilers, let’s just say Alex has his work cut out for him just to survive day to day on his journey.

Along the way, he meets Darla, a farm girl a couple years his senior. She seems to embody many of the things Alex wishes he were — confident, courageous, and possessing of great survival skills. Alex is a black belt in taekwondo and he does use those skills to his advantage several times. He also shows much more bravery than perhaps he’d have given himself credit for in his previous life.

Together, Alex knows he and Darla can survive anything, but that conviction is truly put to the test time and again.

One of the things I truly loved about this book is the realism. It is quite apparent Mullin did his homework, both with understanding what could happen if/when Yellowstone blows but also how folks interact after a disaster of that magnitude. Sure, there will be tons of people taking advantage of a world without the rule of law but scattered here and there are people trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

I cannot say enough good things about this book. It is truly a wonderful read that kept me up at night, turning pages and wishing I didn’t have to work the next morning. Highly recommended. You can find it on Amazon here or in all major bookstores.

Vehicle Winter Preps

If you haven’t done so already, it is high time to get your vehicle prepped for winter. Oil change, tire rotation, and check all fluid levels. Make sure all your lights work properly so you not only can see at night but are visible to other drivers as well.

Naturally, you should already have your Get Home Bag in your vehicle. A couple blankets and a few chemical hand warmers are great additions. I keep an extra water bottle in my car, keeping it on the floor of the front seat so it melts while I’m driving around. Make sure you leave a couple inches of head space in your water bottles to allow for expansion when they freeze.

In your trunk, be sure you have a jug of antifreeze and a bag of kitty litter. The kitty litter works much better than sand in many cases. A small shovel will help you dig out snow from your tires if you go into a ditch or something. Extra hats and gloves are good ideas too, in case you lose track of your regular ones.

Jumper cables are a necessity in my part of the country. If you’ve never had to jump start a car, get someone to show you how it is done properly.

If you own a cell phone, be sure to buy a car charger for it and keep it in the glove box. This way, if you end up stranded you have the means to charge a low battery.

If you end up stranded in the winter, your first priority is to be safe. Thus, a means of signaling your location is critical. Road flares or strobe lights are very effective. This will help drivers to see you from a ways off. Unless the situation truly demands otherwise, stay with your vehicle. A car or truck is a lot bigger than you and is more easily spotted. If you need to leave the area on foot or by catching a ride with someone, leave a note in the vehicle with your name, the date and time you’re leaving, the direction you’re heading, and how you’re getting there. This will greatly aid searchers.

Stay safe out there this winter!

Acclimating to Winter

Well, winter is finally arriving. We’re looking at our first measurable snowfall tonight. Though it is only going to be a half inch or so, it signals the “official” arrival of winter here. The weekend and next week will bring sub-freezing temperatures as well.

Even for those of us who have lived in the northern parts of the country all our lives, the snow and cold still take a bit of time to get used to. Just like how in spring you’ll see us in short sleeves in 45′ weather, you’ll see us shivering now until our bodies adjust a bit.

During these colder months, many of us tend to stick indoors as much as humanly possible. We only venture outside to go to work, school, or shopping. But, while doing this keeps us more comfortable, it also weakens our systems to a degree. As we age, our bodies get less adept at dealing with temperature variations. Just like anything else with our bodies, we need to “exercise” our systems to keep them running at their peak.

This winter, resolve to spend a bit more time outside than you have in the past. I don’t mean going for leisurely strolls in -20′ weather, that just isn’t wise for most folks. But, rather than just bundling up in front of the heat vent every day, go outside and get your blood pumping. Have snowball fights, build snow shelters, help your neighbors shovel their driveways.

In addition to just being good exercise, remember there may well come a time when you’ll need to hoof it someplace and Mother Nature is a cruel mistress. Odds are it won’t be a glorious sunny day in the middle of June. Get your body used to working in wide temperature variations and all sorts of weather. You just never know when you’ll need to do it “for real.”