How to Keep Children Safe, Part 5: Online and Social Media

twain.littletonpublicschools.net
twain.littletonpublicschools.net

[Editor’s note: This is a 6-part series regarding my views and plenty of common sense on how to keep your children safe in a dangerous world. It is generally geared toward children 12 and under. I hope it helps you.]

This is a topic I’ve had to deal with more and more lately as my kids get older, bolder, and more technically savvy. Sadly, I’m already starting to ask my 10 and 7 year old children how to work various electronics. ;( Very soon I suspect that they will understand how to defeat any “safeguards” I put into place, but until then I’ll continue to try my best to protect them from… themselves.

Now, like I mentioned in a previous “How to Keep Children Safe…” post, it’s about setting expectations. Tell them what is acceptable to you and what is not. For example, “you’re allowed to visit this site and this one too, but NOT others without seeking permission first.” Obviously, this works for a while on younger children but not so well on the older ones. In this case, be as honest with them as you can be. I’m not saying come right out and say there are sometimes people out there who want to molest you or who knows what else, but to say that there are bad people on the Net and they WILL prey upon young children like you if you’re not careful… or however you want to put it. I feel that’s a more honest way to frame your reasoning rather than “because daddy/mommy said so.”

A Few Personal Examples

I recall years ago when my oldest must have been around 6 or so he was playing a computer game and, as kids do, figured out how to get online and play other people and while he was doing that he was chatting with the other person (via keyboard). Shortly thereafter he came downstairs and asked for our phone number. We couldn’t figure out why until we realized that he had gotten into the online gaming aspect of the game he was playing and that the other person wanted to call him. We quickly said no, had our talk, and then I immediately shut down that function of the game. The point here is that you shouldn’t take for granted what your kids can figure out… they’re likely a lot more tech savvy than you realize even at a very young age. Speaking of which…

As another example, my youngest (he must have been 3 or 4 then) has always been very curious about sex. Long story short, he was able to get online, search for the word “sex” and happened upon some very disturbing things. A part of me was proud because he was learning to spell but, needless to say, I immediately installed a kid-safety application on all computers we owned (among others) called K9 Web Protection, which we’ve kept ever since. While there are plenty of other options this one was free and seems to work just fine once you get it setup properly. I don’t recall exactly what wasn’t correct when I first installed it but my wife had asked if I got K9 installed, I said “yes” and figured I was done. She wanted to test it and low-and-behold something didn’t work as expected because it wasn’t filtering adult content. Oops! I eventually fixed the problem but the point is to ensure that your safeguards actually do what you expected.

I’ll tell you, lately my kids have been worse about technology, especially the older one (he’s still only 10). Just a few weeks ago he asked for a Facebook account because one of his friends apparently has one. I said “you’ve got to be kidding me and don’t ask again.” (Apparently Facebook agrees and limits the minimum age to 13.) He’s also wanted a cell phone but wound up with an iPod over Christmas, which is bad enough if you ask me.

So Many Devices, So Little Time

While I’m thinking about it, are you even aware of how many devices can access the internet these days?

Obviously, any computer can, as well as netbooks which are like mini laptops, tablets (e.g., iPad, Nexus, Android, Kindle, Nook), smartphones (e.g., iPhones, Droid, Galaxy), gaming consoles (e.g., Wii, Xbox, Playstation), iPods which are like small versions of iPads, PDA’s (e.g., Blackberry or the “old” Palms), and even some newer home entertainment equipment such as televisions and blu-ray players. I probably missed a few too. That’s not even mentioning how easy it is to get internet access not only at home via wireless routers but at many public places as well.

With respect to children and their interests, every gaming console (and game it seems) WANTS you to be on the internet to play it, to share with friends, compete against others, and so on. In fact, there are some games that won’t even work unless connected to the internet. Yes, folks, it’s the internet or bust where games are concerned so please be fully aware that your children WILL be on the internet and interacting with other people–not just other kids–if they’re playing games of any sort. I guarantee it.

So, what can you do about it all?

Computer Safety

Well, with respect to computers, it starts with setting expectations as mentioned above. We’ve found that limiting computer time helps a lot (they’re only allowed to play on the weekends for an hour each day). For those with younger children, installing an appropriate kid safety application like K9 is a good option. Most all games allow some ability to control graphic content but they often aren’t great. For Windows users you can setup an assortment of Parental Controls that can help for computer-based games but not so much for the internet. These controls can also restrict access to the computer at specific times of the day among other choices. Of course, these controls are setup by user so it might be wise for each child to have their own account that can then have restrictions setup as you like.

Web browsers often have built-in parental controls (e.g., Internet Explorer has a “Content Advisor”) which are a good start. Spend some time fiddling with them or read a tutorial. In addition, search engines can help too. Google, for example, allows you to filter explicit content but that’s easily turned off so don’t rely on it. That said, there are some sites that try to list only child-friends sites, such as KidSites (or do a Google search for “list of kid safe websites”).

Though I’ve never tried them, there are plug-n-play products (usually free software to download and install) that can be used to completely deny internet access unless the USB-enabled device is physically plugged into the computer. Personally, I don’t like this idea at all but maybe it’s right for you.

Apparently, you can also install your own “spyware” of sorts as there are programs that can take snapshots of what your kids have been doing online. Again, not a big fan here so you can do your own Google search if you want something like this. Likewise, K9 allows you to review online activity too but only sites visited and content by category (such as “gaming,” “images,” and a bunch of others); you can then click on each major category and get details of everything viewed but it’s not very user-friendly whatsoever so I rarely use it.

Computer Security

Needless to say, there are an assortment of other problems besides explicit content, including popup ads, viruses, spyware, etc. To combat these problems, have an anti-virus program installed (AVG has a free version which isn’t too bad but there are plenty of others, especially paid options), and perhaps an anti-spyware program (such as Spybot) is a good idea. There are other computer security tools but I’ve found that the aforementioned are usually enough unless you’re surfing virus-heavy places like bit torrent sites. The best option is to stay off these sites and teach your kids to do the same… and explain why.

Again, there’s so much more to be concerned about other than your computer. All of the aforementioned internet-ready devices can be very problematic, even moreso than your computer. And, sadly, their parental controls are either horrific or way overboard. For example, my iPad (and the kids’ iPods) allow you to control an assortment of age-restricted options, which is great, but you know what happens when you turn them on to any degree of limitation? The iPad/iPod will not only disallow use of any application that could be used to access restricted content but will actually completely hide that application from the screen! What does that mean? It means that even if I wanted to put in my passcode to use the Google Chrome app, because it can access the internet for example, I can’t even see the app in order to do so without first removing the Parental Control restrictions which completely subverts the idea of such controls in the first place. In other words, it’s a huge pain in the rear and I’ve since turned off parental controls on my iPad and relied purely on a passcode. There are apps that help but still leave much to be desired if you ask me.

Social Media

Perhaps the most concerning threats are not simple internet access but social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. And, of course, your kids are going to want to be on them… even before you’re ready for that conversation. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to do about this potential problem except to say that it’s in your child’s best interests for you to know what they’re doing and saying on these sites and with whom they are interacting. In other words, stick your nose in their business whether they like it or not!

And, like I discussed previously, it’s more than just well-known social networks. There are online chat rooms, instant messaging services and, more concerning if you ask me, chatting (as well as the ability to talk) while gaming (at least for boys, that is). Granted, most of this may very well be harmless if they’re ONLY conversing with their friends that you know but it’s ever so easy to begin conversing with unknown people at the click of a button.

My best advice here is to teach your children to keep their personal life and information quite, you know, OPSEC. Don’t give out their phone number, house address, email, school name, even a picture to anyone without your approval… ever. With the ever increasing abilities to do things like take pictures and email them via text from all sorts of devices, they need to understand that even that can be harmful for a variety of reasons, including the fact that GPS location data can be embedded into the picture without their knowledge which thereby gives the recipient your exact location, most likely your home address.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, you’re not going to be able to keep your kids safe from everything, even when they’re very young. While you can be proactive with passwords and pass codes, age-restriction settings, kid-safe applications, and more, you need to remember to (1) set boundaries and expectations and (2) adequately explain the dangers and reasons why they are allowed or not allowed to do certain things. And, of course, remember to adjust those boundaries, expectations, and reasons often and as appropriate to your child’s age and ability to understand.

If you have your own suggestions feel free to share them below…

How to Keep Children Safe, Part 4: From Strangers

safe-children-4[Editor’s note: This is a 6-part series regarding my views and plenty of common sense on how to keep your children safe in a dangerous world. It is generally geared toward children 12 and under. I hope it helps you.]

I’m not sure I can think of much in life that’s more disgusting than someone who actually wants to do harm to a child. These are horrible people and, while they’re a very small minority, they do exist and must be protected against. It should also go without saying that the vast, vast majority of people are good and well-meaning and would do everything they can to truly help your child should they need it… but not everyone.

So, what to do?

As always, it starts with talking to your children and doing so more than once. If there’s anything that kid’s need it’s repetition. The more often you explain “stranger danger” the more likely it is they’ll remember what you’ve told them when and if they ever need to rely on that information. Now, I’m not saying talk to them everyday or even each week. Heck, maybe once or twice a year is all that is required. I don’t know what works for you but I would suggest that if you can’t remotely recall the last time you might have said something then soon might be a good time to do so.

Now, ask yourself–better yet, ask your child–“what does a stranger look like”?

They might say something like “a stranger is mean, ugly, scary looking” or something similar. Obviously, the truth is that strangers look just like any normal person but the question we’re really asking is what does a “bad” stranger look like? Well, the answer is that they probably look no different than anyone else and, therefore, looks cannot be relied upon as a good indicator as to who and who is not a “bad” stranger.

Ask your child “who is a stranger”?

They might say something like “a stranger is somebody they don’t know” which is an easy answer but not quite what you’re looking for. Certainly, people like friends and family they know are not strangers. Their teacher and school principal are not strangers. But, what about people like police officers, firefighters, or the neighbor down the street they see but don’t really know? Are they strangers? Yes, they are. Make it perfectly clear precisely who is and who is not a stranger and why.

Ask you child “who can be trusted”?

Specifically state who in your life can and will relied upon to pick up and care for your child should you be unable to do so. Name them: mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, other specific relatives or friends, etc. Try to keep the list short so they can remember it.

Who are “safe” strangers?

Although people such as police officers and firefighters should be considered and taught as “safe” strangers, bad people have been known to impersonate these authority figures so your children need to know how to (1) identify real authority figures and (2) what is expected behavior from these authority figures. For example, teach them that a police officer will be fully dressed as a police officer with the cop car to go with it. And, if they’re not in the expected uniform (such as an off-duty police officer) then your child should request and expect that this police officer will call upon an on-duty officer with patrol car to show up… no exceptions. Likewise, you should teach them what might be acceptable behavior from a police officer. If that means ONLY calling you and then waiting for YOU to show up or if that means allowing the police office to give your child a ride, then tell your child that. Be clear.

Teach them what is acceptable behavior from “trusted” people as well as from “safe” and “all other” strangers

“Trusted” people, remember, are those people that your child knows well and whom are expected to deal with your child should you be unable to do so. Now, explain what is acceptable… are they only allowed to stay with your child until you arrive or can these people pick them up and deal with them as necessary? I would suspect “trusted” people should be expected to fully care for your child but who knows how you feel about it. Like I said above, what are “safe” people allowed to do? Spell it out. And, of course, what are “all other” strangers allowed to do?

Have a “security” word… maybe

It might also make sense to have a security word, a word that is known only to you, your child, and “trusted” individuals. This could be anything but shouldn’t be easily guessed, maybe something like “blueberries” or “sunset” or maybe something really weird if you think your child will remember it. Then, explain to your child that if this person knows that word then they’re ok to go with. Of course, there are some potential problems with this strategy as the aforementioned “bad” people are probably pretty cunning and may be able to either sweet-talk the word out of your child and/or convince your child that the word was “just recently changed” or something like that. Your kid has to be pretty resilient to use this method if you ask me.

How should they react to situations?

First, teach them about things like personal space or, better yet, instill a “safe distance” attitude in them with anyone they do not know (maybe 3-5 feet). Second, teach them what they can and should do if things go wrong and their safety is threatened. Should they kick the bad guy in the knee-caps, scream at the top of their lungs, and run the other way or what? Third, teach them that you will NEVER provide consequences for their actions if they truly felt the need to fend for themselves.

What about specific situations?

There’s a reason why the “bad” people use stories like “help me find my lost puppy” or “mom or dad are sick and I need to take you to see them right away” and that’s because they work. Talk to your kids about these types of situations and teach them it’s ok to say “NO” to adults under some circumstances. Consider role playing as a help.

Be even more proactive

Use sites like Family Watchdog to check for these people. You’d be surprised at how many sexual predators might be nearby, I know I was and still am anytime I decided to look at the site. They should list their address, place of work, convicted crime, and even provide a photo.

It’s not ALL bad!

Like a commenter pointed out in a previous “how to keep you child safe…” post, we have gone a bit overboard with the “stranger danger” talk. In fact, it seems that there are perhaps only a few hundred abductions in the U.S. per year with the vast majority of those being a result of a domestic disagreement (from someone they already know) so the odds of your child being abducted from someone they really don’t know are extremely low. I’m mean REALLY low. That said, I’d rather be safe than sorry and if you spend just a few minutes looking at the aforementioned  Family Watchdog site then you might get a renewed interest in keeping your child safe from the “bad” people.

If you have your own suggestions feel free to share them below…

How to Keep Children Safe, Part 3: At School

safe-children-3[Editor’s note: This is a 6-part series regarding my views and plenty of common sense on how to keep your children safe in a dangerous world. It is generally geared toward children 12 and under. I hope it helps you.]

I always look forward to sending my kids off to school (is that wrong?) because it means a good 8 hours that they’re someone else’s problem! Ok, they’re not THAT bad and, in fact, are actually pretty good kids. Of course, even when they’re at school I occasionally wonder how they’re doing and worry about their safety. Certainly, tragedies like Sandy Hook bring up child safety at schools in the worst way but there’s more to it than that.

In my opinion, it starts with getting to school. If your children are car-riders then there probably isn’t much to worry about as you likely drop them off right at the front door. If, on the other hand, they need to walk or take the bus then there’s more to consider.

If they walk or ride a bike then their age with respect to the route they take needs to be considered. Are there busy streets, bad neighborhoods, narrow alleyways, stray dogs, or mean old ladies houses? Obviously, my parents wouldn’t have trusted me to get myself to school across the nearby very busy street when I was 6 but at age 12 (or whenever it was) that was acceptable. And, of course, ensure you children know how to obey traffic signals if they need to know.

Moreover, does the route your child take involve “hidden” or potentially “dangerous” spots? I’m thinking of places where they might not be highly visible to others such as alleyways or shortcuts that remove them from the “beaten path” if you will. In some cases these routes are preferable but I simply ask that you have a clue as to how and where they travel. Maybe even walk the route once or twice with them to be sure. With all that in mind, it might be a good idea to encourage your child to walk to and from school with a friend or sibling, you know, safety in numbers.

I might also suggest that time of day is a concern, depending on whether or not your children have before and/or after school activities that might require them to travel when it’s dark. Consider adjusting your schedule if you can to ensure they make it there safely or have them check in when they get to where they’re supposed to be. And have a plan for what will you do if they didn’t check in.

Now, what about the bus? Our kids ride the bus and the best part is the bus actually stops in front of our house to get them so they’re not walking to a nearby bus stop. Fortunately, most school districts seem very cognizant of the desire not to have children walk a long distance to get to a bus stop but, again, know how your child gets to the bus stop regardless.

Likewise, it seems that most school districts are pretty good about controlling behavior while on the bus but I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions. What to do if your kid has problems? It always starts with being aware of the problem, from ensuring you know, the bus driver, even the school, if need be. Granted, as the kids get older they will be less likely to tell you if they’re having trouble but it can’t hurt to ask on occasion. How was the bus ride? Who did you sit with? What did you talk about? Any problems I should know about?

What about at school?

Well, bullying situations are a start. Talk to your child about their day. Ask what they did. Probe a bit. Then, if there is a problem, talk to their teacher, counselor, principal, or whomever to help with the situation or at least to keep an eye on it. And, of course, teach your child to stay away from situations where these problems can occur, ensure that they can be seen by an adult as often as possible (such as on the playground), and eventually to stick up for themselves if absolutely necessary.

With respect to their safety from disasters, it’s up to the school to develop those plans but it can’t hurt to (1) know what those plans are and (2) give your child additional “guidance” as you see fit. Sometimes schools are secretive about their emergency preparedness plans due to “security concerns” but if you ask specific questions like “what’s the plan if a tornado is heading this way” then you’re more likely to get an answer. If not, get snotty… but in a concerned parent sort of way. 😉 Because, after all, it’s your kid’s safety that they’re responsible for and you want to know that their plans are adequate and acceptable to meet said responsibility.

As for the extra “guidance,” well, that’s one for you to figure out. I’m not saying you should tell your child to overtly ignore or countermand your school’s plans but if their plans do not meet your expectations then teach your child what those expectations are.

Now, what about the scariest situation we can think of, that being an active shooter? This is a tough one. On the one hand you want to believe that your school will do what they need to do to keep your child safe. Unfortunately, however, history has shown this just isn’t very likely. As such, it’s incumbent upon you to drill into your child’s head precisely how they should react to such a situation. (Personally, I have failed in this respect and need to do this myself.) If that means doing exactly what their teacher says (such as to hunker down in their classroom) or to blatantly ignore them and run at the first chance they get, then do as you see fit.

This might sound like I’m telling you to teach your kids to run regardless of what their teacher says, but that’s not true at all. Sure, there are times where this action might make the most sense but there are also times when it may not. For example, if your child’s classroom really does utilize very solid doors and locking system for this specific purpose then perhaps hunkering down is the best option. On the other hand, if your child is in the playground and such a situation occurs then perhaps the best course of action is to run away as fast as possible? That’s assuming that the playground isn’t completely fenced in, of course.

I should point out that a lockdown order is for far more than just active shooter situations. My brother-in-law (who is a teacher) says that they would only get issued a lockdown order but not be given the details. As such, the reason for lockdown could very well be something like a rabid dog and NOT an active shooter that you think you’re preparing your child for. And, of course, many people cannot recognize what a gun shot actually sounds like, especially children. So, I’m saying be very careful with countermanding teacher’s orders.

Ultimately, you’re responsible for your child’s safety whether or not they’re at school. Teach them how to react and what you expect. Role play, talk about it, or whatever works for you… you’ll never be disappointed that you’ve taught your child to think for themselves but I would imagine that you will forever blame yourself if something tragic did happen, especially if it could possibly have been averted if your child had been taught to obey your expectations and think on their own.

If you have your own suggestions feel free to share them below…

How to Keep Children Safe, Part 2: At Home

safe-children-2[Editor’s note: This is a 6-part series regarding my views and plenty of common sense on how to keep your children safe in a dangerous world. It is generally geared toward children 12 and under. I hope it helps you.]

There’s so much that can be covered here, from fire safety to safety topics by age. Before adding my own opinion, I would encourage you to spend some time reading the references and guides found in the Home and Personal Safety page, especially regarding Fire Safety. In addition, I keep dozens of Child Safety videos on the Home Safety and Security Videos page (links directly to the child safety section) that are good to watch for those with young children.

Now, I won’t attempt to re-hash everything you can and should know or do here (that’s what the above references are for) but I will touch upon a few topics that I feel are important.

Fire Safety

I’ve talked about general fire safety in a variety of ways before so I won’t attempt to discuss everything you could know. Suffice it to say that so long as you’re following good fire safety practices, have appropriate smoke detectors in correct locations, change batteries regularly, and even include fire extinguishers in your plan, then there really isn’t much else that the average person can do in the average suburban home to prevent house fires. That said, because things happen then it’s incumbent upon you to teach your children what they can and should do in the event of a house fire.

That’s where a fire escape plan comes into play. You can search for them online but the basic idea is to diagram the child’s room (have them do it) along with doors and windows and then let them draw how they will escape. I prefer to take it a bit further. Instead of drawing the plan, walk the kids around the house–go room to room–and have THEM tell you how they will get out of each room. I know when we did this my kids got a bit silly about their “escape” plans but when we got serious they understood. We asked questions like “what happens if the fire is between you and the door” or “what will you do if the fire is between you and the window?” Put them in different spots in the room and ask them what they will do.

Also educate them as to how they should escape a room such as to get down low because the smoke is more dangerous than the fire in many cases. Teach them what the smoke alarm sounds like and what it should mean to them. Heck, why not test it late one weekend night to see if they’ll even get out of bed? You might be surprised at how long it takes your kids to wake up… if they even will! What then? Teach them that if there’s a fire they should get out of the house no matter what and where they should wait for you, such as your mailbox or the neighbor’s house.

Then repeat every so often until they’re ready to teach you. 🙂

I should also mention that children playing with matches and lighters are a significant risk as well. I was a prime example. My grandparents smoked cigarettes and when I was young I got hold of one of their lighters and lit the underside of a bed on fire and caused very significant damage to the entire room… let this be a lesson to you: keep your matches and lighters away from curious kids!

Poison Safety

This is an area of home safety that should be fairly easy to prevent with a little foresight. I still remember a time (probably nine years ago now) where I was in the regular habit of cleaning my drains with Drano and my dog was in the habit of jumping into the bathtub to lap water. As you can imagine, we heard a big yelp, my dog had chemical burns on his tongue, I stopped cleaning my drains regularly, and my dog hasn’t jumped into a bathtub since then.

Anyway, that experience opened my eyes to how dangerous such chemicals can be and ever since then I’ve taken to locking up an assortment of dangerous chemicals that could cause my kids harm in an old metal filing cabinet. Granted, I don’t lock up everything like gasoline cans and now that my kids are older they’re more able to understand not to mess with that kind of stuff. But, when they were younger they just didn’t understand.

Now, what if you can’t lock things up? Well, you can put such chemicals up high where they simply cannot reach them. Child locks are another descent option. If you put all of your dangerous chemicals in one central cabinet and then “lock” that cabinet then at least you’ve minimized their ability to access them.

While I’m thinking about it, you should know some common household poisons that you might not have realized are potential poisons to children. Apparently most poisonings involve medicines–that’s why it’s critical you never call medicine “candy”–an assortment of household products as listed in the link, and cosmetics… yes, ladies, your makeup. So, be sure to keep these seeming harmless things (medicines and cosmetics) well away from curious hands.

Water Safety

For some reason water safety has always bothered me. Certainly most concerns regarding water safety are for the youngest children, usually revolving around burns from scalding water and the possibility for drowning in even an inch or two of water. As such, it’s imperative that young children are NEVER left alone in a bathtub, even to go get a towel from the closet.

With regards to scalds, you just need to turn down your water heater temperature. Yes, I know, the shower won’t get as hot and your wife may complain but it’s in your child’s best interests so go do it anyway… and then test to be sure.

There are plenty of other water-related drowning concerns, from Jacuzzi spas to swimming pools, kiddie pools, and even toilets… yes, toilets. Start to look around your house and think about what little hands and little feet MIGHT possible get into and then take steps necessary to help prevent problems. This could include anything from swimming pool gates to Jacuzzi tub tops to toilet seat latches. And, of course, remember to utilize them at all times because it only takes one time for something bad to happen.

Other Concerns

There are, no doubt, a variety of other equally valid concerns, including falls, choking on small items (e.g., tiny batteries, small toys, some foods, etc), suffocation hazards (e.g., plastic wrappers, window blind cords, etc), and anything else you can imagine… reference the aforementioned links for more info.

Obviously, there are so many things to be concerned with and 99.9% of the time kids can have a “brush with death” and come out just fine. Remember, this is all about the 0.01% that we’re trying to prevent.

If you have your own suggestions feel free to share them below…

How to Keep Children Safe, Part 1: Public Places

kres.peachschools.org
kres.peachschools.org

[Editor’s note: This is a 6-part series regarding my views and plenty of common sense on how to keep your children safe in a dangerous world. It is generally geared toward children 12 and under. I hope it helps you.]

This last Saturday we took our kids (along with nieces and nephews who ranged from age 3 to 12) to a local indoor water-park called Coco Key. Because it’s a very busy and public place I got to thinking about what I naturally do to better prepare my children for the experience. While they’re thinking about splashing around and having a blast, I’m thinking about keeping them safe, exits, and strangers! So, I thought I would share a few things that we did and what went through my mind. Obviously, most of this should be common sense for you as a parent but it never hurts to be reminded.

As with anything a good prepper does, it’s starts with planning and prevention. In this case, it’s about laying a good ground-work for your expectations of your children. Sure, you’ve probably given them the same speech a thousand times over but the one time you didn’t they’ll most certainly use that as their excuse for why they didn’t do what you expected.

As such, you should set you expectations beforehand. In our case, it was things like you’re expected to be wither another person at all times, younger kids with an adult, older kids with each other, etc. This is probably something they’ll do naturally but I like to ensure everyone understands. Some might call this the “buddy system” and is a great way to make sure each child feels responsible for the other one.

Though I didn’t bother to do so for this outing, it couldn’t hurt to have the “stranger danger” talk. Looking back, the place was VERY busy with tons of people everywhere so  I probably should have said something to my boys (as well as the other kids) but I didn’t.

We also made sure the kids knew where out meet-up place was (a specific table) so that if they were to get separated then they could come back to that spot. If you have very young children then it’s probably best to teach them not to panic and run around trying to find you but that YOU will find THEM. In other words: STAY PUT! Once they get a bit older then a meet-up spot is a good idea.

It might also be wise to take a quick photo with your smartphone that day so you can describe to others what you kid looks like and, more importantly, what they’re wearing OR dress them in something that really stands out such as that bright orange shirt you bought and thought was so cute that little Jimmy just refuses to wear. 😉

I also made sure they knew that if for some reason nobody arrived at our designated meet-up spot then they can and should got to a specific place to ask the people who worked there for help (and explain uniforms they will be wearing) and NOBODY else… not even if they offered because, while 99.9% of people are probably well-meaning, it’s the 0.01% that you can’t trust. Teach your kids the actions you want them to take.

While I’m thinking about it, I did take a moment in the beginning to point out where the exits were. I know this is something the kids probably glossed over but I feel better that they are (1) aware that there are more exits other than the main entrance that we came through and (2) recognize that if there is a real reason to get out, such as a fire, then they have the permission and expectation to get out on their own rather than to run around looking for me or another adult that was with us.

Although we didn’t have our cell phones on us (because we were swimming) it’s always wise to ensure children know at least one cell phone number that they can relay to an adult so they can contact us if it ever came to that need. Though I’ve never done so myself, I’ve heard of people actually “tagging” their children with something that contains the parent’s cell phone number such as with a luggage tag attached to a belt loop. Maybe this idea would work great for very young children.

What about leashes for your very young kids? I’ve never felt like my children were pets so I can’t say how well they work but I would imagine there’s a stage in life that they might come in handy. By the way, have you ever seen a cat on a leash before? Do a YouTube search for “cat on leash” or “cat on leash goes crazy”… it’s hilarious if you ask me.

Again, proper public safety is about setting the expectations, having the constant conversations even though you’ve done it a thousand times before, and then eventually trusting your kids to do what you expect.

If you have your own suggestions feel free to share them below…

What Would You Do If You Broke Your Arm During a Disaster?

broken-armJust yesterday (in my 90 Day Exercise Routine Update) I mentioned that I had done something funny to my arm (and body) after messing around with my kids earlier in the week. Yeah, I know, I’m getting older and shouldn’t do stuff like that but it got me to thinking what if this were an actual emergency and I had done something much worse and broken my hand or arm instead? Obviously, I wouldn’t be messing around like that in an real disaster but injuries do happen and they can put a real damper on your ability to do things.

It goes without saying that most of have a dominant hand, but I ask you: what would you do if your broke your arm or hand (especially your dominant one) in an emergency? Granted, it doesn’t have to be an arm or hand–I think Suni commented about a broken foot–I’m not sure which would be worse during a disaster scenario, a broken hand or foot.

There are so many things that we’re accustomed to doing with a particular hand or arm that it could end up being much more than an inconvenience. I’m not even taking about simple things like writing a letter or typing up a blog post. I’m talking about things like being able to shoot a firemarm with your off-hand. Have you ever tried? I haven’t and I’m sure it would be pathetic.

And that’s not even considering the multitude of tasks that often require two hands to do, from tying knots to doing darn near anything outdoors… it would suck to be a one-armed bandit. 😉 Sure, in some cases you would just grin-and-bear it, in other cases you could get other people to do the work, and I’m sure you would do your best with your off-hand if you had no other choice. I get all that.

The point here is to try things with your off-hand and show other people how to do stuff, whatever that means to you. If you’re the only one that can (or is expected) to do something, what happens if you simply can’t do it? What if you’re the only person that starts the generator and is likely the ONLY person that can because the pull start is REALLY difficult to use? Yeah, I’m sure that eventually you would get the generator started but should it be that difficult? Likewise, what if you plan is to lug 5-gallon buckets of water in from wherever (remember that water is heavy) and now you’re out of commission and you simply can’t do it? What then?

Needless to say, it doesn’t have to be a serious break, sprains and strains are bad enough to deal with.

I’m sure that most of us are fairly resilient people and you and I will figure it out eventually but I will remind you that being prepared for emergencies means more than having some stuff and knowing how to do things. It also means having contingent plans for as much as we can honestly prepare ourselves for. In part, that includes preparing for yours (and my) inability to do things. I can see that I’ve failed to prepare myself and my family for me being “out of commission.” Yet one more thing to do. 🙂

What Are You Neglecting? (Keep Up With Things That Wear Out)

Preparedness is about a lot of things, from buying stuff to learning new skills and especially about making plans. It’s also very much about keeping up with your stuff and ensuring your equipment and supplies are there and ready when you need them to be. I’m sure I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: preparedness IS a lifestyle and not a weekend hobby. As such, there are always things that wear out, break down, and otherwise need your attention.

For example, just the other day I fully realized that my pocket knife (a CRKT M-21 which I thoroughly enjoy) was getting dull. Now, this wasn’t breaking news. I’ve actually known I needed to sharpen it for quite some time but haven’t bothered in large part because I can’t find my favorite knife sharpener–so much for my organizing skills–and so I’ve put it off until I can magically find my sharpener. Obviously it’s not critical that I sharpen my knife immediately as I have others BUT it is my EDC knife so it makes sense to keep it sharp.

As another example, I went to grab a flashlight that happens to use rechargeable batteries and guess what… it was dim. Again, not a big problem but then I went to replace the batteries and guess what… the kids had ransacked my rechargeable batteries! (Most likely for the Wii controllers and other various shoot em’ up electronics.) Even worse, now I had a bunch of batteries that were NOT charged. Granted, the main purpose of these rechargeable batteries is so that my alkaline batteries do not get used by the kids (they know that) but I still like to keep on top of such things.

Of course, it could be any number of things that are a problem. And, I should say that I have a very broad definition of “wearing out” to include basically anything that is broken and must be replaced, supplies that have been used up, equipment that needs mended, fixed, cleaned, sharpened, charged, or otherwise in need of TLC from me. With that in mind here are a few more examples off the top of my head to consider:

  • Clothes in need of mending
  • Batteries that need charged
  • Firearms that need cleaned
  • Ammo that’s been shot
  • Canned/bulk foods that have been used up
  • Food/water stores in BOB or vehicle kits need rotated
  • Shoes that need new waterproofing
  • Matches that went bad
  • Bleach bottles that need rotated out
  • Filters that needs cleaned/backwashed
  • First aid/medical supplies that have been used up (especially prescription meds)
  • Firewood that’s been used
  • Smoke alarm batteries that should be replaced
  • Knives that need sharpened
  • Any vehicle maintenance (tire pressure, oil changes, etc)
  • Updating computer files (to the cloud, usb drive, etc)

Certainly, there are plenty of other examples if I spend more time thinking about it and you’re welcome to add your own.

The question is why am I having such a problem? I actually use an Excel checklist to keep up with a variety of similar tasks (I wrote an article last week on the Importance of Checklists. It’s not a big undertaking at all as I usually just peruse the list and insert the date that I most recently performed the task. The answer is very simply that I actually need to open the Excel file and look at it for this idea to work! I’ve been a slacker the past few months and it’s showing. Normally, I have a routine to check on various things each month (my checklist file is a start) but since I’ve been out of my routine that’s not happening.

So, I either need to get back to my routine OR change how I do things and I’ve decided that if my plan wasn’t working then I should change it. Therefore, I’m going to search for a new way to not only track my tasks but to remind me that something needs to be done and–hopefully–also track that I’ve completed the task. I suspect that I’ll look for a free iPad app that allows me to insert a task and put a due date on it (maybe I have something that already does it) so that I get a nice occasional popup that says “hey, dummy go do something productive instead of playing bejeweled or solitaire.”

Now, the question for you is: what are you neglecting? I’m sure you’ve got a few things running around in your head. Get them down on paper, in the computer, your favorite iPad app (let me know what you use) and let’s get a better system to make these things happen.

Why Checklists are Critical to Prepping and You

list-organizeA few weeks back I read this post on The Importance of Checklists. It’s a short post about why he realized he needed a checklist (because he forgot an important piece of gear) and a few ideas of what he’ll do in the future. As for me, I’m a checklist kind of guy and have been for as long as I can remember. I just can’t run my life without them!

Why Use Lists?

It still amazes me how some people I know survive life. They seem to be frantic and hectic and running all of the place most of the time. In my opinion, some of this is directly due to poor time management but also due to a lack of organization and proper use of lists. For example, it bothers me A LOT when I cannot find something. I use lists to ensure I know where certain things are. Certainly, I don’t make a list to remember where my nail clippers are but I do use lists to tell me what’s in various emergency supply bins. And, as these supplies tend to grow, I find I rely on my lists more and more.

Additionally, lists are for more than just remember where things are. They’re used to remind us of what we need to buy at the grocery store, supplies to add to your emergency gear, short and long term tasks (such as replacing water in water barrels every year, changing smoke alarm batteries) and also for the once-in-a-lifetime scenarios where we need to remember all the gear we want to take for a bug out scenario. I actually created an Excel-based reThinkIt! Preparedness Tools file that is meant to help you and your family plan precisely what supplies you’ll take if you ever had to bug out. Granted, you can easily make your own lists using pen and paper.

Types of List-Making Options

Of course, checklists can come in many forms, including tried and true pen and paper method, post-it notes, an Excel-based file, note-taking software on smartphones and tablets (there are a variety but I like the basic iPad Reminders app, many people swear by Evernote), online note-taking services (such as notepub.com), iGoogle gadgets (e.g., Stick Note), and probably a few other things I’m not even aware of. Obviously, some of these note-taking options are limited by Internet connections and grid-power, so there are some circumstances where they may not work when you truly need them to. As such, it’s wise to use pen and paper (or printed out lists) in some cases.

The nice thing about many technology-based note taking software is that they are (1) available anywhere you can access the Internet and (2) many services (especially iPhone/iPad) apps like to sync and share data so that it is always readily available no matter what device you’re using.

What I Do

First, it doesn’t really matter what I do but what will work for you… keep that in mind. Anyway, I’m a huge fan of using Excel and have been for a long time. I’ve used Excel for all sorts of purposes, from making shopping lists to bug out checklists and still use it to track my emergency supplies, though, I do print out hard copies whenever I make substantial changes to the Excel lists.

These days I find myself moving away from Excel mostly because I have another option: the iPad. I now find myself using the built-in (I think it’s built-in) Reminders app for tracking things like shopping lists, to-do lists, goals, etc. There are plenty of other apps, some free, others paid that may prove more useful but this one works for me in large part because it’s easy to use and allows me to create separate categories (e.g., “shopping,” “to do,” “long term buys,” etc). I should mention that many people seem to like Evernote (an iPhone/iPad app) but I remember trying it and not liking something about it, just can’t remember what it was.

While I don’t do so (because I don’t own a smartphone) these lists can be easily synced with an iPhone so you always have up-to-date lists; I’m not sure how syncing might work with other smartphones and tablets but I’d imagine somebody has it figured out.

I did occasionally use Google’s Stick Notes gadget (because I use iGoogle to read mail, feeds, watch the weather, etc) and it was ok but I’ve basically stopped using it since obtaining the iPad.

What Are Checklists Critical?

The short answer is that checklists are meant to keep your life from being a frantic mess! Take a moment and think about your life. Are you constantly searching for things, supplies, gear, etc? Do you seemingly forget something each time you head to the grocery store? Do you forget to call people back, change the cat’s litter box, take out the garbage, iron clothes, or pack a lunch?

Yes? Then use lists. They can be post-it notes, paper, apps, or whatever works.

More importantly, however, is that such lists will be there for when you absolutely need them. Perhaps it’s a bug out scenario and you only have 15 minutes to get your stuff and get out (if that long)… will you remember everything you need to take? Maybe not. Perhaps your mind is a steel trap 99.9% of the time but stress and panic can do a lot to wreck havoc on cognitive thinking. There are stories of people being unable to give the simplest of information to emergency responders–such as their street address or even their name–in moments of high stress. Maybe that doesn’t describe you or your family, I don’t know, but if you can utilize a list to ensure you have everything you need then by all means DO SO.

Similarly, even if it’s a shelter-in-place scenario the last thing you want is to be hunting for your emergency flashlights, propane heater, lanterns, and so on. Maybe you know right where this stuff is but perhaps other family members do not. You can use a list to remind them. You can even use a checklist to deal with specific scenarios. For example, if only the power is out then you’ll want to create a list that includes emergency gear to deal with that. Or, if there’s a boil water order (or no water) then another list could be used to determine whatever gear is needed for that situation. Get it?

In my humble opinion, use lists to your advantage… you can’t go wrong.

Google Maps vs. Google Earth for Prepping

[Note: This is a VERY pic-heavy post so I apologize to those with slow Internet connections.]

I’m relatively familiar with Google Maps as it’s my favorite service for driving directions but I had no experience with Google Earth and began to wonder if it would be better in some way for prepping. So, I proceeded to download it here (it’s free) and installed the program. Now, I shouldn’t say that I have NO experience with it as my kids had installed it on another computer quite some time ago, I just never messed with it much until now.

Rather than talking about it, I figured the best way to compare Google Maps with Google Earth was via a comparison. So, I choose a nearby location that I knew fairly well in northland Kansas City, specifically I-29 and Barry Road for those who might know it, which happens to include a variety of businesses, including a popular outdoor mall, a variety of restaurants, a movie theatre, Walmart is nearby, and so on.

I started with a slightly zoomed-in view–you can see the zoom level on the left-hand side of the image where the little person is shown–using Google Maps of the area (click on image for a larger view):

gm1

Upon first glance, I see major roads highlighted in yellow, highways in orange, smaller roads in white, and a few major locations such as the Saint Lukes hospital on the right of the image and the Barry Road Park in the lower left. Besides that, there isn’t much that I can use here. Of course, if I had viewed a different location, I might use a map like this to notice nearby woodlands, lakes, streams, etc but there aren’t any places like that around here.

I then decided to zoom in a bit and this is what showed (click on image for a larger view):

gm2

This view is slightly more useful in that I can now see some major businesses, such as Applebees, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse (mostly restaurants) but not nearly as many businesses as there are in this location, so, I’m a bit perplexed as to what criteria Google uses to label businesses. Anyway, I figured that I needed to zoom in more (click on image for a larger view):

gm3

What happened? Where did everything go? I know I zoomed in as much as I could but I fully expected to see… something! I know full-well there are business right along Barry Road. Anyway, there appears to be an obvious “sweet spot” with the zoom feature to be aware of. In addition, Google Maps doesn’t show every business there is so be aware of that.

I should point out that there are some additional selections you may choose to to your Google Maps (e.g., Traffic, Video, Bicycling, etc) but I didn’t find any of these to be helpful in the moment, most of which didn’t seem to do anything.

So, I choose to move on to Google Earth hoping I would get more out of it…

There appears to be a whole lot you might be able to do with Google Earth but I didn’t bother to mess with it much other than to being zooming in (you see the entire earth for starters) until I got to the same general view of I-29 and Barry Road (click on image for a larger view):

ge1

I purposely left the layers pane (shown on the left) for you to see. As you can see the only selection I choose was to show the Roads. From the above image there isn’t much to write home about. So, I moved on and decided to select every option on the layers menu (click on image for a larger view):

ge2

I know it’s a bit hard to see (clicking for a larger image will help) but now I have a variety of icons to hover over, in particular, because of selecting the Places layer. Most of the other layers didn’t seem to do anything for this view, including the 3D Buildings, Ocean, Weather, Gallery, and Global Awareness layers. The More layer did add some stuff but I really didn’t see much purpose in it. For purposes of prepping it was really just the Roads and Places layers that seemed to show anything I found interesting.

I choose to zoom in a bit more and not only found better images of structures but of cars as well (click on image for a larger view):

ge3

As you can see I kept all of the layers selected but it didn’t seem to do much good here. Again, there seems to be a sweet spot with regards to zoom… not too close, not too far… but just right.

Ultimately, the question is whether Google Maps or Google Earth is better or more useful for prepping or even if they’re useful at all?

I guess it starts with what your purpose is. If you simply want directions such as for a bug out route then obviously Google Maps is the way to go. In fact, Google Maps has some cool features such as the ability to select a walking or bicycling route, which attempts to avoid major highways or busy roadways. I’ve used that feature to plot on-foot bug outs to nearby locations with much success.

In addition, I can say that I would rather use Google Maps as an overview of any location I’m scouting out. I would rather print a Google Map and use that to mark on than a Google Earth image.

Is Google Earth, therefore, worthless?

Not quite. I can see a very strategic use for it, in fact. For example, here’s a view of a nearby lake using Google Maps:

gm4

As you might suspect, it leaves much to be desired as all I can see is the lake and nearby streets. Now, here’s roughly the same view of the lake but using Google Earth:

ge4

If you’ll notice from the above Google Earth map that you can begin to see layout and terrain, trees, etc, but not quite anything useful. So, I zoomed in a bit and even rotated the view so that instead of looking nearly straight down I’m looking at the lake from more of an angle:

ge5

Now I’m starting to see contours. And, if I zoom in even more I get a better look at the terrain (the only problem being is that as I zoomed in more Google Earth wanted to straighten out my view):

ge6

From this view I can see quite a bit. While I’m not going to demonstrate, you can actually use the controls to rotate around a particular spot 360 degrees. You have to do a bit of panning to continue to look at the same spot from different angles but it can certainly be done.

From the above image, I can see quite a bit. If this were where I lived I could use Google Earth to get different views of my area from a birds-eye view and see things I might otherwise have missed.

As such, I can foresee the use of Google Earth as a very good overview of the “battle front” if-you-will of any area you choose, the most likely being your own home and surrounding area. I won’t choose to show you my neighborhood, but if you look at yours you might get a very different view of the lay of the land, intersecting streets, nearby woodlands, and so on that might help you better defend your home, select unexpected bug out routes, find good spots to caches supplies, maybe even find unexpected resources that most people might not realize is there.

Try downloading Google Earth and play with it a bit. You might wind up with a useful prepping tool or, perhaps, just something to pass a few hours with.

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?