How to answer the door ATSHTF

For those not in the know, ATSHTF is a common acronym for After The Sh** Hits The Fan. In other words, all hell has broken loose and it doesn’t look like order is going to be restored any time soon. Desperate times make for desperate people. Odds are fair to middlin’ you might end up with someone knocking on your door at some point. They may be just looking for help. On the other hand though, they might be looking to take all you have…including your life.

In my day job, I knock on a lot of doors. I’ve become fairly adept at discerning whether there is someone home or not, well before the door is answered. One thing I’ve found is if the door has a peephole, people tend to use it. That’s kind of a no brainer, right? It is easy to notice too, if you’re paying attention. Stare at the peephole and you’ll notice you can see a point of light through it. Suddenly that light goes dark for a moment. Bingo, someone’s home. Heck, if you’re watching close, you can even see if folks are walking around inside the home through your side of the peephole.

Think about this though. Let’s say we’re living in a world without the rule of law and I’m a bad guy. If there’s a knock at the door, who’s the likely person to answer it? Probably the man of the house or whomever else is in charge. The occupants certainly aren’t going to send a young child to see who’s there in this situation. So, I’m the “mutant zombie biker” type of dude. I knock on the door and wait for that peephole to go dark. As soon as it does, I send a shotgun blast into the door. I’ve just gained access to the home as well as taken out someone who would be one of my primary targets, all in one fell swoop.

So, what’s a survivalist to do?

For starters, don’t go near the door. Use a window from an adjacent room to see outside. If you have the manpower to accomplish it, get folks checking all sides of the home from the inside to see if someone is trying to sneak around back. If it appears the person or people on the front porch are alone, send someone out from the back of the house to approach them from the side. I’d recommend that person be armed and expect your visitors to be armed as well. Proceed with caution.

The other alternative would be to answer the door verbally but from a safe location within the home. By safe location, I mean where you are protected to a large degree from incoming fire, just in case.

Hidden Storage

As many of my readers here know, I write The Frugal Prepper column in Survivalist Magazine. I just sent off my latest entry, called DIY Hidden Storage. It will see print later this year. Today, I thought I’d give you all a sneak peek at some of the things discussed in the article.

When it comes to securing your stuff, there are a few ways to go about it. First, you can use a good safe. This is an excellent option for keeping valuables secure. But the good ones are rather expensive and are certainly heavy and cumbersome. Once you have it in place, you really don’t want to move it again. Plus, those who want to find your good stuff, once they see the safe, will figure out quickly that is where the goodies must be.

The second option is to set up caches outside the home. You can use PVC pipe to fashion such caches. Seal them up right, bury them, and hope you don’t forget where you put them. Again, not an inherently bad idea but there’s a fair amount of work involved in not only setting up the cache but accessing it later.

The third option is to hide the goodies in your home. There are several ready-made items available to purchase that will do well to hide your goodies. Hollowed out books, shaving cream cans that open on the bottom, even clocks with a shelf inside for a handgun.

All are great ideas and will probably serve you well. But, let’s look at a few DIY approaches to hidden storage. With just a few common hand tools and a bit of work, there are several places in the average home where items may be hidden and are all but impossible to find.

If your home has a crawl space or unfinished basement, go down there and look up. Odds are pretty good you’ll see a large PVC pipe for waste coming from your bathroom. A casual observer probably wouldn’t think twice if they glanced up and saw one extra pipe. This pipe is extremely cheap and can be purchased at any hardware store.

For non-metallic items, you can hide them inside power outlets. Turn off the juice to the outlet at the breaker or fuse box. Take off the cover, then unscrew and take out the outlet box itself. Most are located close enough to the floor that you can just drop your treasure into the space in the wall and still be able to reach it. Replace the outlet box and cover.

Removing the kick plate at the bottom of your kitchen cabinets will expose empty space you can use for storage. Use Velcro or magnets to reattach the kick plate so you can have easy access to your stuff.

Flat items, such as paper currency, can be hidden inside picture frames. Remove the back of the frame as though you were going to change the picture in the frame. Tape the bills to the inside of this back plate and replace.

Entire books have been written about the art of hiding items in plain sight. And the true professionals have read them all. Thankfully though, most of us would be much more concerned about the burglar spending about eight minutes in the home rather than a team of pros spending hours on end doing an intensive, down to the studs, search.

Learning from The Walking Dead

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a fan of The Walking Dead show on AMC. For the most part, I’m rather sick of zombies as the fiction market is absolutely flooded with the undead. But, the zombies in The Walking Dead are almost secondary to the overall story. I’m finding the show focuses much more on the interpersonal relationships of people thrown together by circumstance.

In a scene from a recent episode, three of the main characters, the “good guys” as it were, meet up with two strangers in an abandoned town. The two strangers, while seemingly somewhat polite and cordial, are obviously very interested in learning where our heroes are living. In the course of a very short conversation, the strangers are able to determine the heroes are staying at a farm near the town. Without any overt threats, they make it known they expect to be taken to this farm, ostensibly to be fed and such.

If you pay close attention to this scene and watch the body language as well as listen to the words that are spoken, you’ll notice several subtle clues as to the strangers’ true intent. While it is of course natural for such a conversation to be very tense, given the overall circumstances, Rick (the de facto leader of the good guys) is able to pick up on the body language and take appropriate action.

Should there come to pass a total societal collapse, this type of situation will no doubt be played out again and again. Members of one group meet members of another and quick decisions must be made by each about the other. Friend or foe? Good intentions or ill will?

On the one hand, your group could take the “kill ’em all, let God sort them out” approach. Doing so may indeed reduce your risk of later betrayal. However, on the other hand, let’s say one of the members of this other group is or was a surgeon and you have injured people back at camp?

If I were a betting man, I’d say the odds of your group meeting folks just like yourselves are far better than meeting people who mean you harm from the get go. But desperation changes people too so keep that in mind. A well-to-do businessman who never uttered a cross word in his adult life may turn into a homicidal maniac when it comes to providing food for his family.

The best advice I can give is, like Rick did, pay very close attention to body language and word selection. Remember, upwards of 90% of communication is nonverbal. This is why there is often confusion and misinterpretation when using email and chat for communication online. In all seriousness, the guy or gal who invents a font that is universally recognized as sarcastic will be a billionaire.

The point today is this — learn to really pay attention to the subtle clues people give out when they communicate. Learn to “read” people. It just may save your life someday.

News story illustrates need for emergency kits in vehicles

A man and woman, missing for three days, were found and rescued on Wednesday, February 15, in Placer County, California. They had been out sightseeing in their car when they drove down an unplowed remote road and got stuck. They survived for three days, subsisting on Girl Scout cookies, peanuts, and melted snow.

You can read the full news story here.

Stories like this read almost like a list of what NOT to do.

1) While they had a cell phone, the battery was almost dead and they had no car charger for it. The man had to hike several miles in snow a couple feet deep to find a strong enough signal to call for help. What would they have done if the phone had completely died? Always have a car charger for your cell phone in your vehicle, just in case.

2) They had no food, water, or presumably other supplies in the car. If they’d had even a basic emergency kit, they’d have been much better off. The story says they would run the car every thirty minutes to warm up. What would have happened if the car ran out of gas? Emergency blankets, even old comforters, would have served them well to help keep warm.

3) They had told no one where they were going or when they were likely to return. The story mentions searchers were looking in the wrong area. Had the couple just told a family member they were heading out to see the sights in even a general area, they may have been found much quicker.

Use stories like this to illustrate to friends and family the need for even just a basic emergency kit in every vehicle, as well as the need to follow basic precautions. Thankfully, despite the many errors in planning and judgment, this story turned out ok. That may not be the case for the next folks in a similar situation.

Keeping Preps Quiet

The story has been making the rounds on various online survival forums all weekend. David Sarti, “The Hillbilly Prepper” from NatGeo’s new series, Doomsday Preppers, has had his firearms confiscated. This is apparently due to his physician reporting Sarti as being suicidal. Here is just one of many stories about the situation.

This is the pic of him as shown on the NatGeo site devoted to this show.

Now, much has been made in those aforementioned online forums about how Sarti’s appearance on Doomsday Preppers directly led to the trouble he’s having right now. Honestly, I can’t say truthfully if that’s the case or not. I don’t know the timeline of events. Some of the more conspiracy minded people say that perhaps Sarti was set up from the get go and the entire show is really about exposing preppers as whack jobs and calling attention to them so the “authorities” can deal with them properly. I can’t say I buy into that particular line of reasoning but hey, stranger things have happened in the course of history, I guess.

I do know this though. Going on TV and broadcasting to the nation your location as well as a guided tour of your preps is an extremely bad idea. Over the last couple years, I’ve been approached by several casting agencies about appearing on either that show or similar ones. Without exception, I’ve told them in no uncertain terms that while I’d certainly welcome the opportunity to help educate folks about disaster readiness, I have no interest in having my home, my family, my retreat, my preps on television. Really, that’s just common sense, isn’t it?

Folks, I’m all about education here. I want to spread the word far and wide to get people better prepared for anything that might come their way. But going on a show like that is just inviting trouble.

Prepping is common sense. Keeping your mouth shut about what you have, what you’ve done with regards to being prepared, is as well.

Light Sticks in the Get Home Bag

Next time you’re near a dollar store, swing in and pick up a few light sticks. You can usually find them in or near the toy aisle. While they won’t produce quite as much light as their more robust military spec counterparts, they are still very useful.

Even the cheap ones produce a good amount of light, usually enough to read by if need be. They work fairly well for guiding your way around camp, whether that site is complete with a nice tent and port-a-potty or a debris hut in the middle of nowhere. While of course you can’t turn them off, at such a cheap price you can afford to let them go all night long.

They are also very useful in signaling for help at night. Tie the light stick to a length of paracord and twirl it in circles in front of you. The glowing circle can be seen for quite a ways and is considerably larger than a flashlight beam.

Light sticks weigh next to nothing so even if you have several in your get home bag, you’ll never feel them weighing you down. You can sometimes get more than one use out of them too. The glow won’t be nearly as bright the next time around but if you shake them up, they’ll activate again for a bit.

A side benefit is they’ll keep kids entertained for hours!

Prepping Going Mainstream — Is This A Good Thing?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple years, you’ve no doubt noticed prepping has become much more commonplace. The CDC late last year began their Zombie Apocalypse campaign to increase awareness. Books on top of books about survival are selling like hot cakes. Heck, even Chevy got into it with an ad running during the Super Bowl.

While I’m all for educating folks about disaster readiness, I do sometimes wonder if all this increased media focus is a good thing. Back during the run up to Y2K, thousands of people got into the prepping mindset and bought tons of equipment, freeze-dried food, and bottled water. Then, when nothing happened, their interest died. I know several long-time survivalists who made a killing buying up all those goodies from the people who just wanted to get rid of the stuff they didn’t think they needed anymore.

Is the same thing going to happen again at the end of this year? I really don’t know how many people out there truly believe the end of the world is going to happen December 21st. I certainly don’t. But I have to believe there is a large percentage of people out there who are buying up the survival manuals and stocking up on toilet paper now who are going to falter with their preps when nothing major happens at the appointed hour.

My own philosophy about prepping goes something like this. If you are prepared for an end of the world scenario, then you are almost certainly prepared for an event that falls short. By that, I mean if you are truly ready to survive, say, an EMP burst that takes our country back to medieval technology in a heartbeat, then you are probably well prepared to handle a two day power outage due to an ice storm.

With that said though, there are so many potential threats that could be totally life-changing to our society today. EMP, solar flares, New Madrid fault, Yellowstone caldera, nuclear launches, the list goes on. To my way of thinking, it is folly to believe nothing major will ever happen. Might not be in my lifetime, might not happen in my eventual grandchildren’s lifetimes. But history has shown nothing lasts forever, right?

My sincerest hope when it comes to all the media hype about prepping is that at least some of the people who catch the bug now keep with it in the months and years to come, should such time be given to us. Like I’ve said, it is just common sense.

Contagion — Review

I’d been wanting to see this movie since it was first announced and finally got the chance over the weekend. It did not disappoint.

The film follows a large number of various characters as the story develops over many weeks concerning a worldwide pandemic, from the first inklings all the way through the development of a vaccine. While the movie primarily focuses on the efforts of various agencies such as the CDC, there are a couple of story lines that illustrate the viewpoint of the private citizen.

Matt Damon plays Mitch Emhoff, who is married to Beth, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. She has been in Hong Kong on business and arrives back home with what she believes is a mild cold. Soon though, the illness worsens significantly and Mitch takes her to the hospital. It doesn’t take long before she dies from the illness. Mitch comes home to find his young stepson, Clark, has also died from the same disease. Mitch is found to be immune after a lengthy forced isolation. He attempts to flee Minnesota with his daughter but they are turned back at the Wisconsin border.

As all of this is playing out, Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and his staff at the Center for Disease Control are working feverishly to determine the source of the illness that is beginning to spread outward from several cities. He sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minneapolis to investigate “Ground Zero,” interviewing Mitch and several other people connected to Beth. She manages to back trace her movements to Hong Kong, where the same disease has taken root.

At several points in the story, the efforts by the CDC and others to educate the public about the disease are hampered by a particular blogger named Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law). He believes there is one or more conspiracies involved, especially as to the development of a vaccine. At almost every turn, he is telling the public to not believe what they’re being told.

The disease rages across the world, infecting one in every twelve people and killing one out of every four infected. Food supplies become scarce, though interestingly the power stays on everywhere? There are mass riots over food and medicine. Many people isolate themselves from anyone else, fearing infection.

While the movie doesn’t end quite as dark as perhaps it could have, it does well with illustrating what I feel is a fairly “true-to-life” depiction of how society would degrade during a pandemic. I became particularly interested in the Alan Krumwiede character. He seemed to be a pastiche of many, many conspiracy theorists active online today. The idea that thousands and thousands of people could be duped into believing anything they read online is, of course, very real and we see it every day.

All in all, I really liked this movie. I found it very thought provoking. If you have family or friends who are sort of “on the fence” about prepping, ask them to watch this movie and see if it helps sway them.

Uses for baking soda

A while back, we discussed various uses for vinegar, illustrating why it should be included in your preps. Today we’ll do the same thing with baking soda.

Many if not most people probably have a box of baking soda in the fridge to help reduce odors. That’s great but there are dozens of other uses for it.

Fire retardant — dump it on small grease fires in the kitchen to smother the flames. Never use water to douse grease fires.

Antacid — mix 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in a half glass of water and drink.

Bad breath — gargle the heartburn mix to freshen breath.

Pain and itch reliever — make a paste with water and baking soda and apply to sunburn, rashes, or insect bites to reduce pain and irritation. Adding a couple tablespoons to a baby’s bath will help with diaper rash as well.

Washing dishes — add a spoonful of baking soda to your dish water to help with scrubbing dishes.

Toothpaste — while it may not taste minty fresh, you can use it in place of toothpaste.

Baking powder substitute — if you run out of baking powder, mix together one part baking soda, one part cornstarch, and two parts cream of tartar.

Cleaning a chicken — when scalding the bird, add a teaspoon of baking soda to the boiling water. The feathers will come off easier and the flesh will be white.

Modeling clay — give the kids something to play with. Mix two cups baking soda, one cup cornstarch, and 1 1/4 cups water.

Reduce odors — sprinkle in shoes, coolers, anywhere else you want to eliminate odors. Sprinkle some on your hands when washing them after cleaning fish or some other smelly task.

Any other uses come to mind?

Using knives for self-defense

While I’m far from an experienced, well trained knife fighter, there are a few things I can share with those who carry a blade for self-defense reasons.

First, if you find yourself having to use a knife for self-defense, that means at some point immediately prior to the confrontation, you screwed something up. Perhaps you weren’t paying close enough attention to your surroundings and ended up cornered. Whatever the case may be, you are now in a very bad situation. By its very nature, knife combat requires you to get in close to your opponent. Generally speaking, this is exactly where you don’t want to be, given almost any other option.

Never, ever throw your knife at your opponent. Unless you really, truly know what you’re doing, you’re going to miss. No two ways about it. Throwing your knife at your opponent is about as sensible as taking your knife and tossing it in the complete opposite direction. This isn’t Hollywood, don’t think you’ll get lucky with the throw. If you’re using the knife for defense, odds are that is your ONLY weapon, right? Why throw it away?

If your knife has a lanyard on the handle, do not loop it around your wrist during a knife fight. If you thrust the blade into the body of your opponent, it may stick there. The body’s natural reaction is to turn away from the pain. When that happens, if the lanyard is around your wrist, you’ll probably get pulled off balance. That particular bit of advice was given to me by one of my closest friends who was a former British intelligence operative.

If you fight with a knife, you are going to get cut. No way around it, just accept that fact. It is all just a matter of degree.

Much has been written about the recommended size of a fighting knife. Smarter men than I have produced scores of books and magazine articles about it. In my opinion, the length of the blade has to meet two requirements. First, it has to be short enough to be handled comfortably. Second, it has to be long enough to do the job. You aren’t going to do much damage to your opponent with a little 3″ folding knife. If they’re wearing a jacket and carrying the typical layer of fat common among most folks today, three inches isn’t going to get through to much of anything vital. However, if you plan to pull out a bowie knife large enough to make Crocodile Dundee proud, you better know what you’re doing with it. Wide, sweeping slashes sure look good on TV but they aren’t much good in real life.

Fighting with a knife is an absolute last resort. But it is still better than giving up.