What if The Shoe Were on The Other Foot and You Were The Safe Haven?

safe-havenWith a ton of family in town this past week (especially over the weekend) I got to thinking what if the shoe were on the other foot? That is, what if we had to be the safe haven for family and friends who had to evacuate? Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy are prime examples. In this case, it’s not that the disaster has hit you specifically so it’s not like your electricity, food, or water resources have been affected but housing could very well be. Of course we would help out as much as we could, but with so many people in town and at our house I got to thinking about how much of a logistical problem this could turn into if things were a bit different.

Obviously, these people came with their own clothes, toiletries, money, and so on. But, what if they hadn’t, and all they had were the clothes on their back? That would be a significant burden for sure. Since they’re family and likely close friends you would do everything you could to care for them within a bit of reason, but you can’t do it all. Surely some of your preps would come in handy, from stored food to extra toothbrushes and, no doubt, the 400+ rolls of toilet paper in the garage. 🙂

Anyway, a problem I can see cropping up is what happens if not only family and close friends show up but maybe they unexpectedly bring their friends or even some neighbors? You know, the people they bar-b-que with every Sunday for the past 20 years. Now we’re talking about a LOT of people, some of which you may not even know and now you may be expected to care for them for an indefinite amount of time. That would get old very fast… even if it were just family and friends.

I can hear you saying they should get a hotel, stay in the local FEMA camp, or whatever. But, what if so many people have evacuated to your area and there simply isn’t anywhere else to go? I think places like Houston had this problem during Katrina. The point ist hat you may very well be stuck with them, like it or not. I can tell you that even after just a few days I was ready for everyone to go back from where they came and these were all of my wife’s family and close friends!

Regardless of where they should stay or for how long, there’s also another problem once you’ve taken everybody in, and that’s how do you logistically deal with all of them? Instead of just your normal family you may now have four or five times that many people at your home. We had dozens of people here for days on end and, fortunately, quite a few of them had other places to go. Still, it was a mad house. We had people staying everywhere, from in bedrooms and on couches to blow-up mattresses (a few of which were borrowed). We used every blanket and comforter in the house, not to mention towels I didn’t even know we had.

And you know the best part?…

The washing machine went belly-up just as most people arrived!! So, off to the local laundromat and the laundry keeps piling up along with dishes, dishes, and more dishes… and that’s even with using a ton of paper plates, cups, utensils and so on. The water heater never stopped and I’m pretty sure we started our own soup kitchen. Well, it wasn’t that bad. 🙂 Many friends and neighbors did bring meals, which was a blessing.

So, the moral of the story is to contemplate what you would do if you had to be the safe haven for literally dozens of people? Where would they sleep? What about privacy? How would you feed them? What about bathroom and shower schedules (yeah, it could get that bad)? If they stay for longer than a day or two, how would others be expected to help out? What if they don’t? How about quiet time when the kids need to go to sleep because they have school the next day?

Perhaps the biggest questions are: would you be open to allowing this situation? Would your spouse? How many people could you house if you had to? And, what would you do if you had to turn people away (maybe even friends or family)? Could you?

And the most important question of all…

When have they officially overstayed their welcome and now it’s time for them to move on?

5 Skills Every Prepper Should Learn

fiveI happened upon a link to a post at SurvivalPreparednessBlog.com with a very similar title (I “borrowed heavily” for this post) and began reading because, after all, who doesn’t like lists?

To summarize, the list included 10 skills: stick welding, small engine repair, how to fish, how to butcher animals, learn to trap, gunsmithing, basic carpentry, auto repair, ham radio, hunting, advanced first aid.

I looked at the list and thought, “ok, I understand, sort of” but it’s not what I would consider skills that everyone should learn. After all, I can’t think of a time I’ve ever needed to stick weld anything, after all, I’m pretty sure that’s why they invented duct tape. 😉 Most of the rest of the list is understandable and would also be good skills to have.

For this post I’m thinking about 5 skills that preppers should learn. Of course, this is just my humble opinion. Take from it what you will…

  1. Basic wound care – I think we tend to underestimate how critical proper wound care is to our health given that we not only have the proper supplies to care for wounds but the knowledgeable personnel to help us we we need more than just a bandage. The same can be said for the fact that we live in fairly sanitary conditions with proper waste disposal and clean water. When these things either disappear or become compromised then the possibility for disease from a simple cut increase substantially. Just knowing how to properly clean and dress a wound is good knowledge. Likewise, supplementing that with knowing how to pack a deep wound, understanding when (and when not to) close a wound, what an infected would looks like, and more could mean the difference between life and death. These are important “basic” skills to have and should not be underestimated. There are any number of ways to learn these skills, including watching various videos I have in the Video Vault, buy some first aid books, read medical references I keep in my Guide to the Net pages, etc.
  2. The ability to shoot a firearm – Your ability to protect not only yourself but your family as well cannot be emphasized enough. We can talk all we want about alternatives to firearms and home security precautions but nothing beats a firearm in the hands of a well-trained and confident individual when it comes to stopping bad guys from doing bad things. The keys to firearms are many, including the experience that only comes from training (repetition is what it’s all about), familiarity (with your weapon, how to operate it without looking, how to load it, clear jams, etc), and confidence (to do what needs to be done should the need ever arise). Of course, firearms provide for more than just protection. Look for local training resources; the NRA is a good starting point.
  3. How to make a fire – I was never a boyscout and I never had interest in learning survival basics such as these (which I now regret) but I can’t think of anything more basic yet so crucial to general human survival than fire. I know it doesn’t tend to play much of an obvious role in our lives in modern society but I would suspect that it will be front-and-center in any significant emergency situation. Remember that fire fulfills many critical functions, including making food safe to eat, water safe to drink, and warding off predators to name a few. In fact, I consider it so critical that I’m going to see Jerry Ward of OzarkMountainPreparedness.com in March to learn firecraft skills for a day. Come join me if you’re anywhere near Arkansas. If not, watch videos and start practicing while you have the the opportunity to do so without a true NEED for fire. And, of course, do it safely.
  4. Food preservation techniques – Considering that refrigeration may be a thing of the past in any significant emergency situation, then a basic root cellar may be all we can muster with regards to extending the longevity of foods in their natural state; we need to do better. Fortunately, we’ve known how to make foods last a long time and that’s utilizing various food preservation methods, including canning, drying, pickling, smoking, and fermenting to name the most recognized options. If you haven’t tried any yet, pick one and run with it! Get a few books on the subject and try it. I thoroughly enjoy dehydrating. Maybe canning or smoking meats is what gets you hooked. I don’t know. But I do know that these skills will last a lifetime.
  5. How to cook with basic ingredients – I grew up in what I would consider the “microwave” generation. If you needed to know how long something should cooking in the microwave I could tell you down to a few seconds! Yeah, I’m no longer proud of it and I’m beginning to realize how important it is to be able to make foods from scratch. After all, there could quickly come a time when you have to make any number of foods from just what you have stored in your pantry or that which you can procure from the wild. For example, there’s a reason why wheat is suggested to be stored in such large quantities and that’s because it is used as the basis to make many foods. Rice could be used in a similar way. There are plenty of other examples, such as if you had no idea that refried beans are made from pinto beans simply by pureeing them then maybe you would be enjoying your tenth bowl of pinto bean soup instead of burritos. Or, if you didn’t know that you can make evaporated milk from powdered milk simply by reducing the water used to reconstitute it then you may be enjoying really watered-down potato soup. 😉

I hope these few examples make it clear why a bit of knowledge and skill will prove invaluable. I’m not saying I have any of the aforementioned down pat whatsoever, far from it. But I do recognize how crucial these skills can be to survival and are something that our ancestors just knew how to do.

So, what would you add that I did not? What’s so important to you and your survival?

Review of Thermos Stainless King 16-Ounce Food Jar

I’m a fan of vacuum thermos jars and have always stuck with larger (1 quart or more) Stanley brand jars. This particular Thermos brand food jar is simply a smaller option that seemed like a better idea for our bug out bags or short term emergency because it takes up less space and is lighter-weight. At 16 ounces (one-half a quart) it is really a one meal per person (at least per adult) food jar.

According to the Amazon product page: “The stainless king food jar has thermax double wall vacuum insulation for maximum temperature retention, hot or cold. The unbreakable stainless steel interior and exterior keeps the food jar cool to the touch with hot liquids and sweat proof with cold liquids. Wide mouth is easy to fill, serve from and clean: lid doubles as a compact and insulated serving bowl. Full-size telescoping stainless steel spoon included.”

When looking for a food jar such as this one, double-walled vacuum insulation is the way to go. This design can keep foods hot (or cold) for several hours. In fact, one of the best reasons to have a few of these thermos jars is for the fact that you can heat up food to a boil and then transfer it directly to the thermos to finish cooking over the course of a few hours or even overnight. This fact alone is the single most important reason to have these vacuum jars around. Just think about how much fuel you can save if all you have to do is heat up the food and NOT finish cooking it! This is the beauty of thermal-heat retention cooking at its best.

Though most thermos jars that are meant for food are wide-mouth jars, just ensure that they are wide-mouth as it makes eating from and cleaning out quite a bit easier. There are also “classic” vacuum jars that are not wide-mouth and are not necessarily meant for food, just liquids. Since this unit has an all stainless steel interior, it’s easy to clean, won’t rust, smell funny, etc.

Of course, the food jar is designed so that you won’t burn yourself when holding the jar (due to the vacuum insulation) which is obviously a good idea. This food jar also includes a fold-able spoon that fits conveniently atop the screw on lid, which is a nice plus. And, last, you could use the snap on lid as a small bowl if you like but I just tend to eat from the thermos itself.

To test this one, I decided to heat up two servings of oatmeal (just to a boil) and then let it finish cooking for a few hours in the thermos. As it’s smaller than I’m used to, I found that two servings didn’t quite fit but I got most of it inside and screwed on the lid with no problem. I should point out you need to be a little careful with foods that expand a great deal (rice and dehydrated foods come to mind) so be sure to leave a little head-space for meals that expect to expand while cooking. The best thing to do is to simply experiment a few times and you’ll get the hang of it.

That said, this Thermos brand food jar is something that I expect to last for many years on end is a perfect addition to your short term emergency preps or bug out bags.

Body Armor for Dummies

Source
Source

Here’s a nice article on Body Armor for Dummies that really explains what you ought to know if you’re new them, like me:

“No doubt, the vast majority of you are aware of the fact that our federal government seems intent on violating our inalienable right to self-defense, among others. It is entirely possible that we will cross the line where “from my cold, dead hands” ceases to be a metaphor. Body armor is a necessity for those who wish to initiate or survive being a party to a two-way range. The discussion following is intended to be a simple primer on body armor for those less familiar with the actual product and guide you in selecting proper armor for yourself. Generally, body armor is made from three materials: Kevlar, ceramic, and steel. The various levels of commonly available protection range from level IIA-IVA and are rated by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The NIJ standard rates armor by its ability to stop certain rounds (generally of a standard grain and ft/s) from penetrating the armor…”

Read the full article here

The Probability Spectrum of Disasters

rainbowThe probability spectrum of disasters isn’t anything new but it does bear being reminded of from time to time. In fact, I did not come up with the idea on my own. I’m sure I’ve seen it elsewhere before but the first time I remember hearing of it was from Jack Spirko of TheSurvivalPodcast.com and more recently in this SurvivalistBoards thread.

What is it?

It is simply the act of thinking and planning about emergency situations given the likelihood of them occurring to you. This makes perfect sense to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read on forums or other blogs posts where somebody–usually a prepping newcomer but it could be anyone–talk about a singular threat that they’re sure is going to happen and that everything they want to know is how to prepare for that one event. The threat of an EMP is a prime example.

While I understand how this can happen to someone, it’s completely illogical to think this way. For one, if you’re prepared for life in general then you will most likely be prepared for any disaster that you can deal with and two, preparing for a singular threat is probably not the disaster that’s going to happen to you… it’s just math.

Instead, the best way to prepare yourself and your family is to use the probability matrix, sphere, hierarchy, or whatever you prefer to call it. The thinking is that you should prepare yourself for personal disasters first, local disasters second, regional third, and nationwide (or even worldwide) last. At least, that’s the way I see it.

Still not convinced?

Ask yourself this: does it make more sense to prepare yourself for a job loss (a personal disaster) or pandemic (national disaster)? If you look at the likelihood of these two very distinct scenarios happening to you, I think it’s safe to assume that a job loss is more likely and, therefore, should be prepared for first. Well, that’s the idea, anyway.

Fortunately, many disasters have very common needs, such as water, food, shelter, heating, etc. Sure, some have very specific needs such as an EMP needing appropriate shielding for your gear or a pandemic maybe requiring quality face masks or sheltering in place. But, if you prepare for life in general then you should be fairly well prepared for most anything and, equally important, if you choose to focus on more likely disasters first then you’ll have given yourself the best possible chance for overcoming it.

Here’s the spectrum as I see it and some examples…

  • Personal disasters are the most likely statistically and affect nobody besides you and your family (not even the neighbors). Examples include job loss, injury (requiring serious medical attention or inability to work), home fire, robbery, chronic illness. Prepare for these possibilities first because they’re most likely.
  • Local disasters could be anything that affects your neighborhood or maybe even a city. Perhaps it’s a boil water order or maybe a tornado that wipes out a town (e.g., tornado that hit Greensburg, Kansas a few years ago).
  • Regional disasters are what most people think of when we discuss disasters. These could affect a wide range of people and often result in the declaration of a Presidential Disaster Order. Examples include a hurricane (e.g., Hurricane Sandy) or the winter blizzard that affected the northeast for weeks on end several years ago. They affect a wide range of people.
  • National disasters (or worldwide) are statistically least likely to occur to YOU (in your lifetime) but that doesn’t mean they can’t happen. Examples include a pandemic (e.g., 1918 Spanish flu or the Bubonic Plague that devastated Europe in the Middle Ages) or even the possibility of an EMP from a rouge nation or perhaps the sun. These are the least likely events to occur.

I’m not saying you can’t or should not prepare for a pandemic or EMP, not at all. Just don’t choose to start there if you’re not ready for the more likely scenarios. And, like I said earlier, many of your needs will overlap. Food storage will always be useful if you can’t buy groceries for a few weeks due to a job loss or an EMP wipes out the grid and semi-trucks aren’t hauling goods for months on end.

Hope that helps you get your priorities in order!

An Often Missed Prep: Your Home Inventory

inventory-listOne area of preparedness that I don’t think we preppers take as seriously as we should is inventorying our household possessions for an emergency situation. I’m not talking about organizing your supplies (I’ve written about that in the past here). This post is purely about “what happens if it’s all lost and now I need to file an insurance claim?”

It’s a seemingly simple act, no doubt. List everything you own or, at least, everything of significant value. This should include, furniture, electronics, prepping equipment (of course!), jewelry, dishes, firearms, precious metals, books and dvds, clothing, yard and garden tools… you get the idea. I also recognize that there may be some things you don’t want to list so it’s entirely up to you what you include.

The problem occurs when you go to file a claim and your insurance agent wants you to PROVE IT. Can you? Do you have receipts, a record, pictures, video recordings, etc?

There are actually quite a few tools you can use to better inventory your stuff and I’ve tried plenty of them, from Excel files to online databases to writing it down, pictures, video, and I can’t remember what else.

What have I found that works the best for me and didn’t cost an arm and a leg? I actually do two things.

Action 1

The first thing is to list in some fashion (I like spreadsheets) the more expensive things we own, including those items mentioned at the start, furniture, appliances, firearms, etc. I won’t bother to list each and every DVD we own but, rather, simply estimate the number and combined cost. It’s just not worth the effort. The same can be said for lumping things like kitchen dishes together… I just estimate. However, taking a moment to list our couch that cost a few paychecks is worth it to me. The same can be said for the television, stereo equipment, etc. It is quite possible to go overboard when listing what you own and spend way too much time here. That’s not the point. Hit the major things, lump what you can together, and leave the rest to the video tape (discussed later).

What to include?

Usually the more details the better. They like to see make, model, serial number (if available), date purchased, and cost. Receipts are greatly appreciated. One thing I’m told they like to do to you is to give you the actual cash value of your possessions which deducts deprecation and, therefore, gives you less money. What you WANT is replacement value coverage which attempts to give you the money needed to replace what you’ve lost in today’s dollars. The moral of this story is to CHECK YOUR POLICY for what type of coverage you have and accept nothing less than replacement value. Regardless, you could be very surprised at how much stuff you actually own. Therefore, ensure your coverage is actually enough to replace everything you own!

Action 2

The second thing I do (about once a year) is to take my video camera and go room-by-room briefly narrating what inside as best as I can because we’re always bringing in new items and even discarding old possessions. The more up-to-date this video is the better off you’ll be if/when you need to deal with your insurance company. You don’t need to get fancy here. Just do a good pan of each room, open drawers and cupboards, and mention important specifics as you deem necessary. You know the old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” then a video has got to be worth ten thousand. If you can’t do a video then take plenty of pictures.

Additional Steps

Once you have everything chronicled in multiple ways, it’s best to get this information off-site. After all, the whole point is to have something to fall back on in the event of a catastrophic situation. Send this information to a trusted family or friend or perhaps a bank box is a good choice. Even if you choose to keep this information in a fire safe on your property, please choose to make a copy and send it somewhere else as you never know what could happen to your primary list/video if on site.

And, remember to occasionally update your information. Write it on your schedule, such as when you replace your smoke alarm batteries or at each New Year or whatever works for you. You don’t have to completely re-do everything; even a short five minute video update of your possessions is better than nothing. Of course, be sure to date each tape so you know when it was last done.

Hungry Mouths Consume A LOT!

hungry-mouthsI was helping my mother-in-law the other day bring up some canned food from her food storage so she could make spaghetti for various friends that needed a bit of help. Cooking meals for other people is, in fact, something my in-laws do quite a bit in part because they enjoy doing so as well as being one of their ways of doing charitable work.

Anyway, by then time I was done I had brought up a dozen 28-ounce cans of spaghetti sauce. This was almost an entire row of cans from her Harvest food storage racks! And the sad part is that it was for a single meal. Granted, there were at least a handful of families that benefited but I couldn’t help but ponder “what if we had to feed these people three meals a day, every day?” Obviously, our food storage wouldn’t last long at all.

For those that have seen the recent Hobbit movie I found myself cringing when the Dwarves showed up to the Hobbit’s house unexpectedly and ate him out of house-and-home the whole time thinking “yup, that’s exactly what happens!”

While I’m not worried about feeding people I don’t even know, close family and friends would be people that are very likely to show up TEOTWAWKI+1 with their hands out and mouths open. And, while I’ve written about this topic in the past it’s always been from a standpoint of a moral obligation to do so, not purely from a logistical “can I do it?” standpoint.

You see, the “can I do it” standpoint has little to do with whether I should be helping people that otherwise could do so but choose not to; Rather, it’s simply asking whether I, according to my expectations of the disaster, can feed people who need help… in this case, most likely family and friends?

I would say that in all but the most devastating of scenarios I could do so. Should I? Well, I’ve often heard people comment on forums and other blogs that they would have no problem shutting the door on anyone that didn’t show up with a U-Haul of food and equipment. To me, that’s just not being either realistic or a good human being.

After all, I would think I would have a hard time willfully surviving if all of my family and friends had perished. Maybe a honest-to-goodness civilization-altering scenario would change my mind, I don’t know.

Back to the point of the post, I was shocked at how much food had disappeared from my mother-in-laws food storage for one simple meal. If this was food saved for just my family, for example, we could have had enough for several dinners (maybe a week’s worth) rather than just one meal. Multiply this scenario out over a few weeks and what you thought was enough to last your family for months was quickly depleted.

So, we’re back to square one: do I or don’t I share my preps? Honestly, I flip-flop almost every time I think about the topic. It’s a tough call either way. I truly hope you make the right one.

A Simple Prep Saved The Day Today (I’m So Proud of Myself!)

I thought I would quickly mention that even the smallest of prepping acts can pay off. I’m referring to the fact that my wife locked her keys in the car while at her office (about a 45 minute drive one way) which would have required me to either drive down there to unlock the car or pay someone to do so… can you say “bye bye $100 or a few hours of my time?”

Fortunately, I’m such a wonderful husband that I had the foresight to include a spare key in her day planner for just such an occasion. Of course, if she had locked her day planner in the car as well then it wasn’t so much of a great plan… will have to fix that too… argh!

Taking Your Preps to the Next Level With the P.A.C.E. Concept

A while ago I read this article from Survivalttp.com that got me to thinking about how robust my emergency preparedness plans really are. And, after a short deliberation, I concluded that they really are not as robust as they can be. Granted, we’re better off than most American families, but not yet good enough in some areas and perhaps woefully inadequate in others.

The P.A.C.E. acronym stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingent, and Emergency. I think it has origins in the military–maybe special forces–but I’m not sure about that. Regardless, I feel it’s a great way to look at your emergency preparation plans. The idea is simply this (definitions taken from Survivalttp article):

  • Primary – The normal or expected method or means used to achieve the objective
  • Alternate – A fully satisfactory means or method of achieving the objective
  • Contingent– A workable means or method of achieving the objective
  • Emergency – A brute force means or method of achieving the objective

As preppers, we understand the need for a backup plan. For example, if the power goes out we pick up a flashlight and set out lanterns. If the heat goes out we start up the wood stove or propane space heater. If the stores are out of food we’re eating from food storage. Certainly, the list can go on. But, even as preppers, perhaps we don’t take this quite far enough.

Let’s look at a simple example: adequate area lighting when the power goes out. I would suspect your primary means of area lighting will be lanterns of some sort, be they battery-operated, liquid-fueled, or propane. If those go out or fail then your last resort is probably candles, right? That’s my plan, anyway. While there are other forms of light that I keep around, suchas flashlights and patio solar lights, that I can use if need be, the very specific need is adequate area lighting… not just any form of lighting that I might have.

If I apply the P.A.C.E. concept to area lighting, for example, I’m really only fulfilling two of the four requirements and, honestly, probably the contingent and emergency aspects. I’ve never really fulfilled the primary or alternate aspects at all.

The question, therefore, is: what other options do we have? Well, for starters, a small solar setup with DC lighting might be a good start and if I worked it properly could be my primary means of indoor area lighting. As I already have a basic solar setup I could easily connect a set of RV lights or string lights to illuminate a room, I just need to buy them. There are other DC lighting options that I could explore so long as I have a basic renewable power source.

What about an alternate option? I’m not so sure about this one. If I were desperate I could consider my current supplies (lanterns and candles) as alternate and contingent aspects and then I could throw in something like a hand-crank light or cyalume light sticks as emergency options, but I consider this as “cheating” a bit. I really need to come up with a better alternate option and I don’t honestly have one.

That’s just one example. Here’s another: fire in a bug out situation, an area I actually feel like I have covered well. The original article gave their own suggestions, but I might consider the following:

  • Primary – butane/bic lighter
  • Alternate – waterproof matches
  • Contingent – magnesium/ferrous rod
  • Emergency – fresnel lens

The concept sounds easy enough to follow, right?

Well, think about all of the aspects that emergency preparedness entails:

  • shelter
  • water (storage, procurement, treatment)
  • food (storage, procurement, cooking)
  • personal safety/security
  • area heating/cooling
  • area/tactial lighting
  • communications (receiving information and among group)
  • home security/defense
  • personal defense (weapons, martial arts, etc)
  • hygiene
  • sanitation
  • first aid
  • chronic medical concerns
  • alternative health options
  • entertainment
  • financials
  • and more

…now, multiply this by what may be covered for when you’re at home, in the car, on foot, at work, and the P.A.C.E. concept can seem overwhelming! No doubt I’m not even close to being as prepared as I thought I was. 😉

But, to be thorough we need to think this way. We need to take our preps to the next level and the P.A.C.E. concept can help get us there. So, the next time you consider your preparations, decide exactly how and where said preps fit into your P.A.C.E. system and what other preps you have (or need) will fill the rest of the plan. Heck, make a list and write it down. That’s probably the easiest way to decide where any holes might be.

EDIT: I’ve created a one page worksheet [PDF File] you can use to get started with this concept. It’s easy to create your own too and rename the categories as you see fit. Right-click on the link to download it.