Avoiding government-run emergency shelters

One of the primary reasons I feel folks should prep for disasters is so they can avoid resorting to staying in government-run emergency shelters. This isn’t because of any conspiracy theories or anything like that. Rather, I think it is just common sense.

As we saw during and after Hurricane Katrina, many of those in charge of local governments quickly become overwhelmed during major disasters. While many of the stories to come out of the Superdome were later found to be exaggerations, even outright lies, the fact remains that folks staying there went through hell. The Superdome just wasn’t designed for that purpose and it failed miserably because of that.

Government emergency shelters are often ad hoc set ups in gymnasiums or other large semi-public buildings. The food is minimal, the water pressure questionable with so many using the facilities. At best, you’ll get a cot with a thin blanket. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you’re coming in with absolutely nothing, these are all luxuries to be had.

But, the whole point of prepping is to be able to rely on yourself, rather than needing to stick your hand out for assistance. The more people there are who prep and can handle things on their own, the more supplies and assistance government agencies are able to give to those who truly need it. To me, it isn’t that government agencies don’t want to help, it is they get spread so thin their help is minimal at best.

In other words, be part of the solution, not the problem. The better prepared you are, the less likely you are to need help from someone else.

Power Outage Test Run — Unplug the Microwave

A little over a week ago, our microwave crapped out on us. It was bound to happen soon as we’d noticed it wasn’t working as well as it had been.

Rather than just going out to replace it immediately, we’re shopping around to look for the best deal. We’re also taking the opportunity to use this as something of a test run for a lengthy power outage.

Like many if not most families in America, we’d come to rely on our nuke machine quite a bit. Very few meals were prepared without using it for something. Going without the microwave has been quite a change to our lifestyle. Here are some of the things we’ve learned thus far.

1) We’d forgotten just how good pan-fried bacon is. This is something that won’t change once we do replace the microwave.

2) The number of pots and pans needed to prepare a meal has increased dramatically, especially where leftovers are concerned. Used to be, if we wanted to have some leftover soup, we’d just slop it into bowls and nuke it. Now, we have to go back to using the pot on the stove to heat it up, then dole it out. Another pot gets used for heating up veggies, a frying pan for bacon to add to the soup, and suddenly there’s a ton of dishes to wash just from lunch.

3) “Quick” meals aren’t all that easy if we want something hot to eat. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing aside from needing to do a bit more planning ahead of time.

4) Even with the microwave completely gone from the kitchen for a few days now, we still find ourselves glancing over there to check the time. Old habits and all that….

Give it a shot this week yourself. Unplug the microwave just for a few days. See how much you’ve come to rely upon it. Recognize how much the loss of it will impact you during an extended power outage.

Garden plans

I know it is barely the end of January but now is the time to start planning the garden for this year. The seed catalogs are rolling in and I have a feeling orders are going to fill up quick this year. More and more people are turning to variations of the old “Victory Gardens” to help combat the poor economy.

Whenever possible, buy heirloom seeds. These are seeds where, once you’ve harvested the plant, the seeds from it can be replanted and will grow “true.”

Look back at the garden from last year. What grew well and what didn’t? What changes can you make this year to be more successful? Do your homework and figure out what plants grow best in your area.

We’re going to try potatoes again this year. Last year’s crop was…ok…but we’re hoping to improve it this year. Personally, I love mashed taters and Yukon Golds are some of the best around for that.

In our family, my wife is the one with the serious green thumb. She could take a stick, put in some soil, and it’ll have green buds on it in a week. I’m much more just grunt labor — she points, I dig holes. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have any input on what we plant. Every year, we go through seed catalogs together and figure out what we want to try in the coming year.

If you live in an urban area and have little space for a full garden, look into container gardening. While not necessarily ideal, something is better than nothing. Many areas now have community gardens where you can plant your crops side-by-side with others in your neighborhood. If you don’t have that available to you yet, maybe look into starting one.

I don’t care where you live, there’s always a way to get at least a couple plants going.

Using Codes for Efficient Communication

When a crisis is imminent or disaster has struck, effective and efficient communication is critical. You don’t want to waste precious time explaining over and over what’s going on. You want and need for that person to take action immediately, right?

Consider setting up code words or phrases that can serve as shorthand in an emergency. The idea being if you call or text the other person with just that code word or phrase, they immediately take a predetermined action without question or comment.

The words you use should of course be things you’d likely not use in everyday conversation so as to avoid confusion. They should also be short and concise, as well as easy to remember. While many kids today probably can hit darn near 100 words per minute with texting, many adults, especially those of us blessed with larger fingers, have a harder time with it.

You don’t need a ton of different code words either. Just a couple different ones should suffice. Here are some examples.

Code Red — Come home immediately, if not sooner. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just get your butt home as quickly as humanly possible.

Monkey Nose — Danger imminent, find safe shelter asap. (Once they’ve done so, they can call for more information.)

5×5 — All ok here, waiting for more information.

The goal is to transmit the message and have the person take appropriate action without needing to explain further. Think about when you’re caring for small children. When you holler STOP, you want the action or behavior to cease immediately, often because there is a danger present, such as they don’t realize they are too close to a road. The same principle applies here. If you send a Code Red text to your spouse, you don’t want a phone call asking you what’s going on. You need them on the road back home right away.

In today’s society, we often have a tendency to over-communicate. We want ALL of the information and we want it immediately. Using codes like these goes against that mindset. Thus, it can be difficult to just blindly follow instructions. Doing so requires a great deal of trust. One would hope, though, that whomever you share these codes with has already proven worthy of that trust.

Surgical tubing in the survival kit

The other night, I was reading through a new-to-me survival manual. Even after thirty years of this stuff, I still don’t know everything and I’m just intelligent enough to know that. That being the case, I’m always on the lookout for new tips and tricks, not only for my own use but to share with my readers here and elsewhere.

In this particular book, the author mentions keeping several feet of surgical tubing in his survival kit. This was a new one on me so it caught my attention. Then I started thinking about it and immediately came up with several different ways it could be used.

–Many of us probably had slingshots as kids (and many still have them today). Where I grew up, there were two basic models. The first was made from a Y shaped branch and sometimes used strips cut out of a bicycle inner tube. The other we always called a “wrist rocket.” This was a store-bought slingshot usually made of metal but with a plastic handle. Instead of strips of rubber, it came with surgical tubing. So, in a pinch, if you had this tubing in your kit, you could fashion together a makeshift slingshot that would carry a decent wallop.

–One of the ways to procure water in the wild is to make a solar still. There are a few different types but the basic principle is to dig a pit and place a can or other container in the center. Line the pit with green vegetation, then cover it with a plastic sheet. Place a rock in the center of the plastic sheet, so it dips down over the container. As moisture evaporates from the vegetation, it condenses on the plastic sheet, rolling down to drip into the container. If you have surgical tubing, you could run it from the container to outside the pit, allowing you to suck the water out without having to remove the plastic sheet.

–While tourniquets are generally frowned upon by medical professionals, there are certainly times when you have no other option. Surgical tubing must work pretty well in this regard as millions of intravenous drug users can’t be wrong, right?

–In a pinch, you could use it to lash items to your body or your pack, if you’ve run out of other cordage.

Even several feet of surgical tubing weighs next to nothing and can be rolled up into a fairly small package. Checking some prices online, it is also pretty cheap. The average price appears to be a buck a foot in lengths of ten feet. If you have need of something like a fifty-foot roll, you’re looking at thirty bucks or so.

I’ll be acquiring some soon for my kits.

Reluctant Family Members Revisited

About a year ago, I wrote a post here on the blog about Dealing with Uninterested Family Members. This topic comes up on a regular basis on all manner of online forums as well as via email from my readers. So, I thought we might revisit the topic a bit today.

When we begin talking to loved ones about the importance of being prepared, often the problem is “too much, too fast.” We start conversations about prepping by bringing up EMP when we should be starting with being stranded in a car for a few hours. Rather than going directly to total societal collapse, we should begin with power outages due to ice storms.

Many of us are very passionate about disaster readiness and we get confused, even upset, when our loved ones don’t share that passion. Rather than back it down a couple notches, our tendency is to force the issue further, which only serves to put the person on the defensive, solving nothing. We want so very much for that person to “see the light” because we care about them and want them to be safe. Yet they don’t see it that way and think we’re just being paranoid.

For those of you who have raised children, think back to conversations like this.

Mom: Please be careful driving home today, the roads will probably be slick.
Son: Don’t worry about it, Mom, I’ll be fine.
Mom: I’m serious, please take it slow tonight.
Son: I know, I know, jeez.
Mom: Don’t give me that attitude! I’ve been driving for thirty years, I know what I’m talking about.
Son: Mom, relax! I’ll be fine, the roads probably won’t be that bad at all.
Mom: Oh, now you can predict the weather?
Son: I never said that!
Mom: Don’t talk back to me, mister!
Son: What is your problem?
Mom: My problem is the roads are going to be icy and you won’t listen to me! And there are sex killers around every corner, just waiting to snatch up my little boy!
Son: …
Mom: [thinking to herself] Did I really just say that last part out loud?

Sound at least somewhat familiar? Now imagine the same conversation but instead of talking about driving in bad weather, it starts out with the idea of having a get home bag in the trunk.

The best advice I can give is to start with the small steps, like a get home bag, and let the other person guide the conversation from there. Most folks don’t like to think too much about how bad it *could* get if something major were to happen. They get uncomfortable discussing it. So, at least in the beginning, avoid that part of prepping. Just concentrate on the basics. Let them get comfortable with the idea of having a vehicle emergency kit, then branch out from there. I realize an argument could be made that we might not have enough time for these reluctant people to get fully on board before TSHTF. I counter that by saying you gotta teach ’em to walk before they can run and if you go too hard and too fast, they’ll give up before the race even starts.

Touching Base When Flying Solo

Last week, a friend of mine mentioned an incident that thankfully didn’t come to a tragic end. She lives alone on a large homestead. As she was going about her morning chores, she slipped on a very small patch of ice. She fell and struck her head on something hard enough to cause her to see stars. Luckily she remained conscious, rather than lying out in the -20′ wind chill for who knows how long. She has no neighbors close by so had she been incapacitated by her fall, she’d not have likely been discovered for quite some time.

If you live alone, please consider setting up some sort of regular communication with a friend, neighbor, or loved one. Nothing elaborate is necessary. Just agree that you’ll call one another at least once a day during a certain time frame, such as mornings around 9am. A quick phone call to touch base and confirm all is well with each other. During stretches of bad weather, maybe twice a day, once in the morning and once at dinner time.

It is important with this communication agreement that there be tacit permission to either come over in person or call the local authorities (law enforcement and/or rescue squad) if you are unable to reach the person by phone after a reasonable amount of time. The whole point of this is to do what you can to make sure each other is safe. If you are the one who is injured and needing help, you don’t want the person to hem and haw, wondering if they should call the rescue squad, right?

If you have neighbors who live alone, please check in with them on a regular basis. If nothing else, it can be lonely flying solo and they’ll probably appreciate the chance to pass a few words with a fellow human being.

Staying warm when stranded

If one were to rank in order of likelihood all the various types of emergencies and disasters one may encounter, being stranded in a vehicle during the winter would rank close to the top. Most often, these aren’t situations where you’ll need to rely on several days worth of food and water. Instead, you just need to stay put and stay warm until help arrives.

The first line of defense against the elements is your vehicle. If at all possible, stay in it until help arrives. Put on your flashers so you’ll be easier to spot. Open a window an inch or two so as to provide fresh air. If the engine will start, be sure your tailpipe is clear of snow and debris and run the heater for about ten minutes every hour. Doing so will provide heat and also conserve fuel if you feel you might be there for more than a couple hours.

Emergency BlanketAs much as possible, you want to conserve your natural body heat. Cold is not a “thing.” Rather, cold is the absence of something else, namely heat. We feel cold when our body heat is being sapped from us. So, work to trap as much of that heat as possible. This is how an emergency blanket (sometimes called a space blanket, due to it’s development arising out of the space program) works. First, the blanket’s reflective side bounces your body heat back at you. Second, it prevents the outside air from seeping into you. Wrap the emergency blanket around you and it won’t take long before you feel the effects.

If you don’t have an emergency blanket, at least keep a couple of regular blankets in the vehicle for this purpose. While they won’t work quite as well, often they’ll suffice.

Obviously if you’re out and about during the winter, you should be dressed appropriately. You should also consider having extra hats and gloves in your car, just in case you forget or lose your regular ones.

If you have multiple people in the vehicle, bundle up together under the blankets. If you ever “parked” with a date when you were a teen, you know how warm it can get inside a car with just body heat alone, even in winter. I’m not suggesting that necking in a stranded car in the middle of a blizzard is a great idea though. But I guess there are worse ways to spend your time.

There are many different kinds of chemical hand and foot warmers available. These are very simple to use. Simply take them out of the plastic package and shake them up a bit. As air mixes with the powders inside, they begin to heat. While they don’t last forever, in my experience they’ll work well for at least a few hours.

Make sure you have an emergency blanket and other means of keeping yourself warm in your car just in case you end up stranded.

Disaster Readiness Community Events

I’m in the early stages of partnering with my county’s Emergency Management Coordinator to play some sort of emergency preparedness community event later this spring or early summer. Because its me and I tend to think big with this sort of thing, I’m envisioning a gymnasium filled with people, all learning the skills and information vital for successfully mitigating a disaster.

I’m still brainstorming ideas but here are a few things I came up with to feature at the event.

–Ask around to the various assisted living facilities to see if anyone there would like to do a presentation on caring for the elderly and infirm during/after an emergency.

–Ask the county animal control officer to do a session on disaster readiness for pets. I know she’s interested in doing this as she and I have talked about it before.

–Talk to the local scout troop about not only volunteering to help with set up and such but to do sessions on cooking without power and things like that. One of the scout leaders is the father of my son’s best friend and I know him fairly well. I know he’d be interested in helping out.

–Ask local EMS departments to do a session on basic first aid, concentrating on the types of injuries common to disasters.

–Maybe see if a local fire department would do something on home safety, such as demonstrating the proper use of a fire extinguisher. While we all know the importance of having extinguishers, few people have ever actually used one. I know the county also has a “smoke house” they use for child education and I’m sure they’d be willing to set it up for this event.

–I’m sure the local ham radio club would be interested in doing something for the event.

–Other topics to cover would include assembling get home bags and vehicle emergency kits, food storage, waste disposal when there’s no running water, etc.

–Solicit local businesses for door prizes. While we could perhaps also do raffles to raise money for this or that organization I’d like to keep this event as low budget as possible for attendees. However with that said, we’ll also probably ask local restaurants about having food and soft drinks available for purchase. Maybe the scouts would be interested in selling hot dogs, hamburgers, and such?

If there were an event like this in your community, what information or topics would you really like to see?

Free disaster readiness classes online

FEMA offers many courses online through their Independent Study Program. You can find a complete list of courses here:

FEMA Independent Study Program course list

You download the course materials and study at your own pace. You can then take an exam online and a passing grade nets you a certificate of completion.

Say what you want about FEMA but I think they did a pretty good job with this particular project. There are TONS of courses and they are all free. Everything from dealing with animals during disasters to handling hazardous materials are covered. One very interesting feature is you can also learn exactly how emergency management is supposed to be run, what should happen and what shouldn’t. This knowledge allows you to fully understand the role of emergency management, rather than go by Hollywood and action novels.

As you go through the course list, just click on ones that interest you to read the full description and other information. Some courses will entail nothing more than reading through the downloaded material while others have interactive sessions online. You’ll also no doubt notice there are several courses that are geared more just for FEMA employees, such as Travel Rules and Regulations. But really, the majority of the classes are of potential interest to all preppers.

In all my spare time (HA!), I’m slowly working my way through some of the courses. The certificates you receive for passing the courses don’t really have much value. But it is the information you’ll learn that is important.