The skill of improvising

I’ve always felt that proficiency in improvising, or “MacGuyvering,” is a key element of prepping. Being able to look at a common object and imagining all sorts of alternate uses is a great way to practice this skill.

Take, for example, an ordinary spring clothespin.

Naturally, you can always use them to hang your hand-washed clothes to dry. You could also use them to suspend a tarp or sheet to close off an area of a room for privacy.

What else?

Well, a clothespin makes a great trigger for an electrical powered alert system. Wrap copper wire around each of the jaws of the clothespin. The wires then go to the alert device and on to the power source. Place a piece of plastic or other non-conductive material in the jaws, interrupting the circuit. Tie your trip line to that piece of plastic and affix the clothespin to a board or something to keep it in place. Someone trips the line, which pulls the plastic, and completes the electrical circuit.

I suppose in a pinch, the wood of the clothespin is dry enough to be used as kindling too.

Headphones / ear buds from an mp3 player? Great for lashing together limbs in an improvised shelter. String a few of them together and you might have enough to use for fishing line. Not great, I’ll grant you, but better than nothing.

Look around you right now. Pick up a random object and think about it for a bit. How many different ways could you use it, or parts from it?

FEMA Camps

Every Wednesday, I do what I call “Ask Me Wednesday” over on my Facebook page. Basically, I encourage my FB friends to post any questions they may have that are related to prepping or survival. If I can’t answer it off the top of my head, I’ll see what I can dig up through some research. It has gotten to the point where some of my friends will also post their answers, which is cool.

Today, a question was posed as to my thoughts about alleged FEMA camps. I posted a quick reply on Facebook but thought I’d address the topic a bit more here.

For those not in the know, the subject of FEMA camps comes up fairly regularly in online survival discussions. The idea is that FEMA or some other government agency has constructed several large internment camps throughout the United States. These camps are to be used for imprisonment and/or “re-education” of potentially difficult citizens if/when a major catastrophe strikes. Some folks go so far as to say the catastrophe has been planned ahead of time. Supposedly there are massive piles of plastic coffins to allow for quick burial of bodies. Trains have been set up to transport people from all areas of the continental U.S. to these various camps.

Ok, so that’s the basic theory. Here’s my take on it.

First, I find it almost impossible to believe such a massive undertaking could take place without at least a few folks involved spilling the beans. Building such massive camps would involve thousands of workers.

Second, one of the key elements often mentioned is the high security with these camps. Armed guards constantly on patrol, that sort of thing. Yet, for all the technology and manpower supposedly present, some guy manages to snap photos and upload them to his website, talk about them at length, and nothing happens to him?

And the photos you see on those websites? Quite often, they’ve been found to actually be train repair yards, National Guard bases, even locations from overseas.

I’ve been around for a while now and I have yet to have a single, credible person tell me a believable story about FEMA camps.

But, I will say this. If there were such camps, I can only hope FEMA is indeed in charge of them. After the colossal screw up with their response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I’m not overly worried about their capabilities to pull off an internment camp.

Cash in the Bug Out Bag

Something that is occasionally overlooked when assembling bug out bags is the need for cash. Remember, it need not be a complete end of the world calamity for you to end up having to rely on your bug out bag for at least the short-term.

For anything up to a total collapse, cash is likely to still be king. If the power is out, many places won’t take credit/debit cards. If you’re a motel owner and you have two people in front of you, one with a Discover card and the other with $50 in cash, you’re going to go with the cash every time.

If the power is still running, a few singles and some quarters can get you some quick calories from a snack machine. Hell, you might even run across a true rarity — a working payphone.

How much cash should you have in your bug out bag? Well, in all seriousness, the more the better. Make sure you have a little bit of everything, from twenties down to quarters. I’d say twenties are probably the largest bill you want to carry as you don’t want to end up in a situation where all you have is a fifty and the other guy doesn’t have change.

Here’s my recommendation for cash in the bug out bag, if you can swing it.

$100.00 in twenties
$50.00 in tens
$30.00 in fives
$20.00 in singles
$10.00 in quarters

That gives you $210.00 total. Plenty of cash to get you a decent motel room for a night or two, plus perhaps a couple cheap meals or a ride out of town.

My suggestion is to include in your bug out bag a pouch, commonly called a neck safe. This is a small cloth bag you wear around your neck and under your shirt. Put most of your cash in there to keep it safe when you’re traveling. Keep a bit of cash in your pocket for easy access.

The roll of quarters serves two purposes. It can get you a bit of food and it can also be inside your fist, should you need a bit of…reinforcement.

The Importance of Proper Storage

So, last night, my wife went to get a new sack of flour out of storage. There were three 5 pound sacks in a sealed five-gallon plastic pail.

Found bugs all over all three sacks. Lovely.

We had bought these sacks toward the beginning of this year when they were on sale. Thankfully, those three sacks were the only things in that particular bucket so the loss was minimal.

Why did we get bugs? Thinking back, we missed a step in the storage process. For grains like flour, you should freeze them for a few days before storing them. Freezing them will kill off any mites or other bugs that may have worked their way into the sacks.

After they’ve been frozen, put them into the buckets and secure the lids. Some folks go a step further and fill the buckets with nitrogen and/or add oxygen absorbers before sealing them up. We might end up going that route. We’re going to check our other storage over the weekend and see how things are holding up.

I’m just thankful we found the problem now, rather than when we truly needed the flour.

I cannot stress enough the importance of inspecting your food storage from time to time. Make mistakes now before they really matter.

Books for Barter?

A question came through in one of my Yahoo Groups today concerning storing books for future use in barter transactions. While on the surface it doesn’t sound like a bad idea, I do have some thoughts about it.

First, let’s say there was some sort of major regional or even national catastrophe. One large enough that would result in folks relying on barter to get what they need. One of the key components of whether an item would be useful as barter is the expected rarity of the item. For example, we would expect food to be high on the value list, right? Fuel would probably be another one.

Books though, I have to wonder how scarce they’d be. I mean, most homes have at least a couple bookcases full of paperbacks and such, right? Libraries would be another source for finding reading material. Also, statistics have shown for years that less and less people read for entertainment. Sure, ebooks are obviously the new big thing and some of the people who devour them now might turn back to physical books when their reader dies.

There is this too — most of the avid readers I know already have a TON of books in their homes. They aren’t necessarily stored for barter purposes but just because many readers don’t like to get rid of their books. Heck, I have books in literally every single room of my home.

Another consideration is the type of book being stored. I would guess that practical information, like books on homesteading skills and wilderness survival, would fetch a higher “price” than a 15 year old Grisham novel.

I’m not saying that considering books for barter use is a bad idea. But I’d think hard about storing several cases of them in place of storing things like salt, matches, sewing needles and more practical things.

Property Lines After TSHTF

Our topic today was something that was brought up on my Facebook page earlier by one of my FB friends. I’ll quote part of her post:

Somebody made a good point to me though; if shtf, titles and property lines are not going to matter.

With all due respect, I beg to differ. I think property owners will be increasingly more vigilant about their boundaries after any sort of catastrophic event. Let’s say you own a couple dozen acres out in the sticks. Today, if you learn someone is hunting on your land without your permission, you might call your local sheriff’s office or maybe the DNR. After TSHTF, that wayward hunter will be seen as taking food from the mouths of your family members and the county sheriff won’t be available. Odds are pretty good that more than one trespassing hunter will end up at the wrong end of a rifle.

Even today, there is a ton of public land out there and many hunters use BLM acreage every year. I have to believe though that while that land is publicly accessible now, after TSHTF you’re going to see people squatting on that land here and there. They’ll consider certain areas of the forest “theirs” and will go to great lengths to discourage visitors. They’ll work out their own property lines as they see fit.

The best advice I can give, aside from acquiring your own land soon, is to do what many hunters do today. Work out an agreement with the land owner where you are given permission to hunt their land, perhaps in exchange for part of the bounty. Better to give up part of a deer in barter than end up with lead clogging up your innards.

Plan and Practice Multiple Bug Out Routes

Should there come a time when you’ll need to bug out from home or work, you can be assured that good ol’ Murphy is sure to show up.

That relatively straight route from work to home will be in gridlock.

Side streets will be packed with people trying to get around the bumper to bumper traffic.

Delays caused by weather or road construction will be plentiful.

Always, ALWAYS have multiple routes planned, just in case. Know which small residential streets will get you around likely bottlenecks. Know which farm lanes will get you from one highway to another in a pinch.

Be aware of where road construction is happening and how it affects your planned routes.

If you have to cross any bridges to get to where you’re going, make double darn sure you know of several different places you can cross the river, even if they take you a few miles or more out of your way.

Have current maps of the area in your bug out bag and KNOW HOW TO READ THEM!

Bear in mind too that you may end up on foot for at least part of your journey. While walking is much slower than a vehicle, being on foot does give you a few more options. You aren’t confined to pavement, for starters. In many areas, being on foot allows you to take a much straighter path from points A to B.

It is absolutely critical that you not only plan these different routes but practice them regularly. Get to know different landmarks and realize they may look very different at night or from summer to winter. Being on foot will change your perspective a bit too and this can make things look a little different. You may not realize this if you don’t take the time to get out of the car and actually walk around.

Don’t overestimate your travel time either. The average person can probably cover 1-2 miles an hour on foot. There are a lot of factors that come into play, of course — fitness level, weight of bug out bag, terrain, proper footwear or lack thereof, just to name a few. But, 1-2mph is probably average. So, if you work 20 miles from home, you’re looking at 10-20 hours of actual travel. Add in breaks for rest and it is easily a two day trek. Figure in delays due to having to take detours for any number of reasons and you’re looking at maybe 3-4 days. Plan accordingly.

Arguments For and Against a Rural Retreat

I think many if not most of us long for a rural retreat, if you don’t have one already. Say, 50+ acres with a year round stream or pond, lots of cleared land for extensive gardening, maybe even a secure bunker on site. The reality though is most of us probably can’t afford all that, even with real estate prices the way they are right now.

There are some drawbacks to such a rural location too. For starters, if the S were to truly HTF, could a family of four or five truly secure 50+ acres? Related to that point, there is the problem of securing the buildings today if you don’t live there full-time. A good friend of my wife has a “vacation home,” several hours from where she lives. Nothing fancy, just a small house with a pole barn and a bit of acreage. The property is fairly remote, though there are a couple of neighbors within a mile or two. In the last year, the garage was burned down by an arsonist and the house has been broken into a few times. Local law enforcement is finally, after much cajoling, working to catch the offenders.

If you set up a rural retreat and stockpile it, you’ll have to consider measures to secure your goodies. Consider things like strong doors and locks as well as remote camera systems that allow you to observe the property when you’re not there. One handy gadget you may want to purchase is a remote alarm that calls your cell phone or any other number you program if it detects movement in the home. You can then notify the local authorities as well as view the action live via surveillance camera.

Of course, the pros usually outweigh the cons when it comes to a rural retreat. If you can set it up to be completely off-grid, you don’t have to worry about interruptions in power and such. You have the means to provide for your own needs for food and water. You’re well away from cities and all the chaos that may happen in them.

In many areas, once you get out of the city or town limits, you are not beholden to municipal ordinances that dictate such things as when you can or cannot burn brush or how many dogs you can own.

Plus, moving to a rural retreat just appeals immensely to the independent nature of most preppers and survivalists.

Just remember though, the further you are from any town, the further you are from help if that were to become necessary.

Conspiracy Theories — Do Your Homework!

I’ve talked before about conspiracy theories. It seems as though it might be time to revisit that topic again. I’ll never quite understand why so many preppers and survivalists cling to conspiracy theories. I mean, sure, I love reading about them. I find them interesting and entertaining. Buy why is it that a group of people who typically refuse to believe anything they read or see in the mainstream media will instead just swallow, hook, line and sinker, anything they read or see on a fringe website?

Case in point, H.R. 6566 – `Mass Fatality Planning and Religious
Considerations Act’

Several of the fringe websites have reported about this bill, saying it was recently passed and that it details the procedures for mass body disposal. That, coupled with the recent reports of several government agencies buying huge amounts of ammunition, was enough to put many bloggers into a frenzy.

The thing is though, the bill hasn’t passed. It was just introduced at the end of September. It is sponsored by a lone member of Congress, a Democrat from California. Odds are pretty good this bill will never leave committee. Yet, bloggers around the country are acting like it is the end of the world.

You can read the entire text of the bill here. The reading might take you five minutes at best.

My point is this. Any time you read or hear about some outlandish conspiracy theory, do your own homework instead of just jumping on the bandwagon. Just because someone has a blog or website, that doesn’t mean they really know what they are talking about. I mean, you do realize there are folks out there right now who vehemently believe the Earth is flat, right? Yep and the scary thing is, their vote counts just as much as yours and mine….

If you tell me a damaged nuclear reactor in Japan is about to make the entire Northern Hemisphere a radioactive wasteland, I’m going to ask you to back up that claim with some verifiable facts. If your first source is a guy who says the earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan was man-made and intentional, yeah you’ve lost me as a convert right there. Don’t try to use one conspiracy theory to prove another.

Do your own research. Don’t take anything told to you at face value.

The movie Contagion made this point rather well, I thought. If you’ve not seen it yet, what follows is a spoiler.

In the movie, there is a blogger who helps break the story of the pandemic. Because of this, his site becomes very popular and he has tens of thousands of readers who follow every word as the pandemic rages across the country. At one point, there is news of a “miracle cure” of sorts and the blogger posts video of himself sick and taking this medicine. Within a short time, he’s made a miraculous recovery and people swarm stores trying to buy the cure.

Turns out though that the blogger had never been sick. He’d been paid a tidy sum by the manufacturer to dupe his fans into buying the product. Folks from across the country bought the story without thinking twice.

Do you really think that could never happen in real life?

Neighborhood Skill Sets Assessment

I’ve talked a lot, here and elsewhere, about the need to avoid what I call Lone Wolf Syndrome. While going it alone might be ok for the short-term, when we talk about major disasters, we should be planning for group survival.

To that end, think about your neighbors for a bit. What skills do they possess that could be of benefit to the neighborhood as a whole? There’s Joe a few houses over who always seems to get a deer, even if everyone else gets skunked. And Barb, the retired physician a street over. Chuck from down the block who is always working on repairing engines in his garage. Martha next door, whose gardens are the envy of the neighborhood.

Think about it like this. Even if they aren’t preppers right now, they may have skills that will make them valuable during and after a major crisis.

Make out a wish list of skill sets you feel would be welcome in a survival group. See how many of those slots you can fill with those who live around you.

Like it or not, your neighbors are likely to be the ones who you’ll need to gather around you after a disaster. Sure, we all have neighbors we really don’t care for, whose demeanor and attitude set our teeth on edge. So be it. It might be a trade off if the guy who likes to call the police because your radio is too loud is also the same guy who is going to be the first one to notice a stranger in the area.