Wednesday, September 19, 2018

National Preparedness Month Day 19--Vehicle Preparedness

Having a vehicle can be critical to your ability to bug out in the event of a disaster.  If you have a vehicle (I say "if" because many people in cities opt not to have one in favor of public transit and Uber), here is how to ensure that it is always ready to go:

  • Always keep your vehicle in good working order.
  • Do regular maintenance on your vehicle both to ensure that it is in good working order and to increase its lifespan (oil changes, air filter changes, topping off fluids, etc).
  • Make sure your registration and proof of insurance is in the glove box.
  • Consider window tinting for your vehicle as well as installing a dash cam.
  • Never let your gas tank drop below half a tank.
  • If you can safely store an extra can or two of gas for your vehicle at home, do so.  Be sure to rotate this fuel regularly.
  • Have good tires on your vehicle.
  • If you live in or travel to areas where there may be snow, have snow tires or tire chains on hand.
  • Always keep water and food in your car (be sure to rotate these items frequently).
  • Keep the following emergency items in your vehicle: first aid kit, flashlight and extra batteries, work gloves, tarp, emergency flares or reflectors, jack, spare tire, FixAFlat, fire extinguisher, jumper cables/jump starter, rain poncho, umbrella, tow straps, rope, fire extinguisher, rags, window breaker/emergency escape tool, basic tools (pliers, wrenches, hammer, screwdrivers, etc), zip ties, duct tape, ice scraper, cell phone charger, mylar blankets, matches, zip loc bags, plastic garbage bags, wet wipes, paper maps, extra cash, down throw, change of clothes and small toiletry kit, battery or hand crank radio, whistle, N95 mask, multipurpose tool, any special supplies (stuff for your dog/kids/infants/etc).
  • If you can legally carry a concealed weapon in your vehicle, have your weapon, holster, and spare magazines/ammo in a secure place in your vehicle.
  • Know how to drive in all weather conditions (if, for example, you don't know how to drive in snow, go practice in a parking lot before hitting the road).  There are also plenty of YouTube videos on this subject.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

National Preparedness Month Day 18--Doing Things the Old Fashioned Way

While society is racing towards the future at break-neck speed, there is something to be said for knowing how to do things "the old fashioned way".  Yes you can buy cheese at the local deli but have you ever made it yourself?  Or made jelly?  Hunted for your afternoon meal and turned the slain animal into a nice stew?

These days people can exist with very few actual skills.  You don't need to know how to fix your car or plumbing, many people have never gone fully off-grid into the wilderness and lived there for days or weeks on end, even being without their cell phone for an hour would send many people into fits without an always-on connection to the world at large.

If you get the opportunity (or if you can make the opportunity), by all means, experiment with doing things the old fashioned way.  Not only is this an interesting, informative way to spend your time, but in the event of something that sends our society back to the dark ages (a war, a massive power outage, a pandemic), you will be prepared for just about anything.

Some things to look into: gardening and canning your own produce, camping, bush craft skills, baking your own bread, fishing, making an item you always buy at the store (ketchup, mayonnaise, etc), knit or sew an outfit, make soap, build something (start with a simple bookshelf and move on from there)...the list of things you can do is pretty long.

Monday, September 17, 2018

National Preparedness Month Day 17--Home Safety

Since your home is your castle, you need to make sure it is a safe place for you and your family, on a daily basis as well as during an emergency.  Consider all of these ways to make your home more safe and secure:

  • Have working smoke detectors in each bedroom and in common areas on each floor (change batteries each spring and fall).
  • Have working carbon monoxide detectors in your home and garage/shop.
  • Have your HVAC system serviced annually.
  • Have your chimney cleaned annually.
  • Make sure all doors and windows can be securely locked.
  • Re-key locks when you move in and if people like roommates or renters have recently moved out.
  • Make sure there are at least two ways to escape from each room of your home during a fire.
  • Have fire extinguishers in your kitchen and garage/shop.
  • Don't leave your garage door opener in your vehicle if the vehicle will be parked outside (thieves will break a window to get it then use it to enter your garage and then your home this way).
  • Always keep your garage door closed unless you are actively using it.
  • Keep all exterior doors locked when you are home unless you are actively using them.
  • Fix all fall hazards in your home (wobbly steps, slippery area rugs, extension cords where people walk, etc).
  • Keep poisons locked up and away from children and pets.
  • Be aware of fire hazards such as candles, space heaters, etc.
  • Fence your property for added security.
  • Install an interior/exterior security system.
  • Shred all documents with personal information on them before tossing them in the garbage.
  • Prepare your home adequately for natural disasters (securing water heaters, bolting your home to its foundation, etc).
  • Keep your blinds and drapes closed especially after dark so people can't see into your home.
  • Make your home look lived in when you are away from home (lights on timers, etc).

Sunday, September 16, 2018

National Preparedness Monday Day 16--Self Defense

Whether you are five or 95 years old, everyone needs to learn self defense.  And while many people automatically think self defense means hand to hand combat or shooting someone, there are a lot more things to learn--and a lot more ways to handle self defense situations--than those two options.

  • The first, and most logical, method of self defense, is to not put yourself into a situation where you need to defend your life or that of a family member.  This could mean hardening your home to prevent intrusion (this topic will be covered later this month), staying away from high crime areas, not hanging out with people who others are gunning for (gang members and drug dealers top this list), not being out alone at night, not becoming intoxicated to the point of stupid in public, etc.
  • Learning how to de-escalate a tense situation is another skill for avoiding the need for self defense.  Walking away from an incident that could evolve into a violent situation, not going back to a domestic violence abuser, not calling out a drunk fool in a bar who is running his mouth at you, not getting into a road rage incident if someone cuts you off in traffic...talking people down or simply walking away can stop a possible violent situation before it even starts.
  • Running away--literally--from someone who is coming after you is not a bad idea.  If a bullied kid is faster than his opponent he has the upper hand when it comes to running.  And while I am all for standing up for yourself in a fair fight, these days every other coward is carrying a gun (yes, even junior high school-age kids) so the possible deadly outcome just isn't worth it.  If you find yourself in an active shooter situation, run if at all possible.  If you can escape a situation that could devolve into violence, leave.  It's that simple.
  • Hiding is another option.  This is an especially useful skill for kids who could be easily overpowered.  This is also a good idea for victims of domestic violence or stalkers as well as people being chased by an active shooter.  If you can't be found, you can't end up in a situation where you need to defend your life.
  • Learning physical self defense skills like karate or krav maga is a good idea for everyone.  Although getting into a hand-to-hand combat situation should be the very last way you defend yourself, having fighting skills to fall back on is a good idea (it's also good exercise).  Even if you are a big strong guy with a penchant for MMA, your opponent could always be stronger and better skilled, but you won't know this until you get your ass handed to you.  Plus the possibility that one wrong move--even being knocked down to the ground--could end up in a brain bleed and death, should put everyone off physical combat unless there is no other option.
  • Less than lethal force options may be considered.  Using pepper spray or Mace which will give you enough time to escape once deployed is an option.  Having a knife or baseball bat is OK but too close to hand-to-hand combat to be a very good option for most people.  Ditto a taser or stun gun--you don't want an assailant close enough to disarm you because then you end up with no other options to protect yourself.
  • Lethal force is a viable option for many people.  Note that this isn't an option for everyone because those who live in countries where gun ownership is restricted would have several problems defending themselves with a firearm.  Ditto keeping firearms in your home if someone in the home is often suicidal or prone to violence; the high likelihood that the firearm would be used for suicide or domestic violence in these situations should preclude having an accessible firearm in these cases.  For everyone else, shooting someone is self defense is a viable option--it keeps the assailant far enough away for them not to become a physical threat to you and has immediate stopping power depending on how accurate your shot is.  If you choose to use a firearm for self defense, know the laws in your area about this backwards and forwards, get trained on the use of your firearm (take both basic advanced firearm self defense classes if at all possible), and practice.  A lot.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

National Preparedness Month Day 15--The Bug In Plan

There are certain situations, namely floods and wildfires, that will force you to bug out.  On the other hand, you also need to create a bug-in plan for situations in which you can stay at home as a way to protect yourself and your family.  Bugging in if at all possible is always a good idea as you have all of your gear and supplies with you and you aren't as vulnerable as being a roaming refugee.

When would bugging in be your optimal choice?  Things like winter snow storms, pandemic outbreaks and the like mean that you don't necessarily need to leave your home and in fact, you may actually be safer at home than out among the public.

The challenge when bugging in may well be...actually staying home.  Years ago, staying on the ranch and not going into town for days or even weeks was not uncommon.  Everything one needed was at home and going into town, especially if the next town was an hour or more down the road, was a major production.  These days most people live in more urban areas where nearly all of their life takes place somewhere other than at home.

Should the need arise to stay home for an extended period of time, for example, if the news tells everyone in your community to shelter in place until the order is lifted, what would you do?  Consider these things when creating a bug-in plan:

  • Do you know your neighbors and can you work cooperatively with them?  During major storms it may be hard for responders to even get to you due to road closures or downed trees for example.  In these situations neighbors often pull together for things such as storm clean up, clearing downed trees, helping elderly neighbors bring in firewood, etc.
  • Do you have everything you need at home so you don't need to risk life and limb to get to a store that will probably be closed anyway?  If you have been doing the steps outlined here for the past two weeks the answer is probably yes.  You need water, food, toilet paper, diapers, and all of the other things that you would usually go to the store for stockpiled at home.
  • How would you keep everyone entertained?  In our 24/7 connected lives, entertainment usually comes from outside the home--cable TV, interacting with people on social media, playing online video games, etc--so you need to plan for things to keep everyone entertained without access to the outside world.  Board games, books, gardening tasks, etc. keep everyone busy and boredom at bay.
  • Can you protect yourself and your family from outside threats?  In a pandemic situation where a deadly and highly contagious virus is spreading rapidly in your area, cutting off all connections with other people until the threat has passed may be your only option.  That means not answering the door and not interacting with others.  In a major snow storm this may mean keeping deep snow off your roof so it doesn't collapse and not going out on the roads which have been closed.  In a TEOTWAWKI event, it may mean protecting your home, your family, and your supplies from looters with deadly force if necessary.
  • Understand the various reasons for (and actions to take) based on why you are bugging in.  If a shelter in place order has been given due to a chemical spill, you may need to bring pets and all family members inside, turn off all HVAC systems, and seal all windows/doors/air vents with duct tape and plastic sheeting.  If you are bugging in due to a tornado approaching, you will want to get all of the family into the basement or interior room, put on helmets if available, and cover yourselves with mattresses or blankets.
  • You will also need a way to receive information from the outside.  This can be through AM/FM radio (battery or solar powered if there is no electricity), TV news, social media, push alerts, HAM radio, etc.  During a disaster the community will be notified through these various methods of communication if you should boil water (or forgo tap water all together), turn off your gas service, when the threat has been neutralized, etc.

Friday, September 14, 2018

National Preparedness Month Day 14--Your Communications Plan

Everyone needs a disaster communications plan.  Include the following things in your plan:

  • All family members should have each other's cell numbers both on their cell phones as well as having these numbers written down and kept in a wallet in case your cell phone goes dead.
  • All family members should likewise have several other ways to reach each other including email addresses, social media user names, and work/school numbers.  Again this info should be on each other's cell phones as well as written down and kept in a wallet.
  • Everyone should know that even if cell phone calls won't go through, often text messages will.
  • Even if the entire family is in the same community, the family should agree on a contact who lives out of the area that can be the person everyone calls to check in with if they can't reach each other.  Sometimes local phone/cell networks will be down in the local area but calls to out of the area will go through.
  • A fun hobby for the family which can turn into a critical method of communications during a disaster is HAM radio.  Consider becoming certified HAM operators as a family and using this old fashioned (but still quite useful) technology as a hobby.
  • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, even Reddit) can be used to share information and messages with the family as well as your extended network of friends and family to keep them updated on your situation.
  • If the family is separated by disaster, they should also check in with Safe & Well as well as Facebook's Crisis Response.
  • Put your entire contact list (this can be typed as a document or downloaded as a .cvs file) on your backup thumb drive and give each family member a copy of this.  I have separate lists, one for business contacts and one for family/friends/other relatives, and ensure that each family member has a recently updated family contact list in case they need to get in contact with anyone in the extended family.
  • Always keep some coins in your EDC.  Sometimes all phone networks may be down but pay phones--if you can find them--may still be in service.
  • For receiving emergency communications from local and national sources, consider carrying a small AM/FM radio in your EDC bag.  Although most cell phones have the capability of receiving AM/FM radio via the phone and not through an app, this capability is often turned off by the cell company.
  • You can ask for help from local first responder agencies in several ways.  You can call 911, in some areas you can text 911 for help, you can also reach out to these agencies through their Facebook/Twitter pages (this should be a last resort as these may not be monitored 24/7 by these agencies).
  • Sign up for emergency alerts to your cell phone.  Some you may already receive (Amber Alerts, emergency weather alerts) and some you need to sign up for (local news stations, NOAA, local emergency management department, etc).
  • Find out if your cell phone can be used like a walkie talkie even if cell phone service is down.
  • If all communications are down, arrange a few meeting places with your family to meet up at.  The first should be in your neighborhood, if that is not accessible, you should have a secondary meet up location in your town, a third option in another state, and a TEOTWAWKI location in another country.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

National Preparedness Month Day 13--Volunteer

The way to learn survival skills and also learn how to function during a disaster is with hands-on training.  Note that this training doesn't often come during an actual disaster (in that case it would be called flying by the seat of your pants), however volunteering in your community will help you learn vital skills which will be useful during a disaster.  If you have the time--whether an hour a month or more--consider one (or more) of these useful volunteer opportunities:

  • Scouts (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts)
  • Red Cross
  • Search and Rescue
  • Ham Radio Club (ARES/RACES)
  • Shooting Club
  • Fire Department (volunteer as an EMT and/or firefighter)
  • Department of Emergency Management
  • Homeless Shelter
  • Food pantry/free meal program
  • Hospital
  • FEMA
  • CERT Team
  • Public Health Department
  • Medical Reserve Corps
  • Public Parks/State Parks/National Parks
  • Non profits (outdoor organizations, etc)
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • ESAR/VHP
  • Citizen Corps
  • Medical Response Teams (Mercy Corps, Doctors Without Borders, etc)
  • Law Enforcement Reserve Program