Saturday, February 18, 2017

11 Quick Things You Should Know Today

In no particular order...

  1. Monday is President's Day, it is also fee-free day for our National Parks.
  2. Want to see how aligned (or unaligned) your congressperson is with Trump?  Here's a chart.
  3. For coding geeks out there, this HTML reference chart is quite useful.
  4. Feeling overwhelmed by information overload?  Here is a long but interesting read.
  5. Here is some mandatory evacuation expense info from FEMA.
  6. And here is a fascinating "citizen scientist" project from NASA.
  7. Considering a prepping conference?  Here are 15 to choose from.
  8. Did you know that boarder patrol can search your cell phone anytime they want to?  Apparently they can.
  9. Think you can outlast the hunters on the new TV show Hunted?  Here's where you can apply to give it a shot.
  10. Planning a quick trip to visit all of the state capitals in the US?  Here's a map of the fastest route.
  11. Immigration status (or the lack there of) is a huge deal these days.  Although our current system is a convoluted mess, here is a quiz to see if you qualify to stay in the US.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Evacuation Tips from the Oroville Dam Crisis

In the news this week...the Oroville Dam spillway failure (complete timeline here).  With nearly 200,000 people evacuated on the theory that the dam could (best case) create water release problems due to the emergency spillway being damaged or (worst case) the entire dam could completely fail and flood a number of towns downstream, this was a pretty good teachable moment for all of us.

  • Do you live in an area near a dam that could fail?  Threat assessments were a big deal some years back but our infrastructure is still in need of serious repair/rebuilding.  Know what risks are common where you live.
  • Pay attention to warnings.  Whether through reverse 911 calls, door knocking by law enforcement, or evacuation orders given through social media, pay attention to developing conditions via a range of sources (TV news, FB pages, etc).
  • Be prepared to evacuate and do so as soon as possible.  You don't want to be waiting in line for gas, parked on the freeway in the midst of tens of thousands of people all trying to evacuate at the same time, trying to find groceries on store shelves, etc.  Always keep gas in your vehicle and stored on your property, have a BOB ready to go, have multiple places to evacuate to, and stock your vehicle with stored supplies instead of trying to find stuff you need in the stores.
  • Realize you may be on your own and plan accordingly.  It usually takes a while to coordinate a  response and with 200,000 people to take care of, help--ranging from food and water to sleeping accommodations--may take a while to set up. 
Thankfully (so far) the disaster that could have happened didn't.  But each time something like this happens it offers everyone a chance to review what happened, see how people responded, see what worked and what didn't, and offers tips for what to do if you find yourself in such a situation.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

10 Things You Should Do Right This Minute

With all of the political turmoil and uncertainty, who knows what will happen next.  To have a minimum level of preparedness, and in order to respond to whatever happens, do these ten things as soon as possible:
  1. Pack a BOB.  Right now.  Today.  Compartmentalize it so that you will have a number of options at the drop of a hat--bugging out to the wilderness, hopping on a plane and flying overseas, etc.
  2. Get a passport.  It remains to be seen how long a US passport will be in the top ranking of passports but better to be safe than sorry if you need to leave the country in a hurry.
  3. Put aside cash and cash equivalents.  A minimum of $5000 is good.  More is better.  You can put some of this in a bank (unfortunately these funds can be seized so there is that), but always have enough cash on hand to get you far far away from where you currently are.
  4. Focus on your health.  Let's face it, most Americans will drop dead from preventable diseases before any other sort of disaster kills them.  Take control of your health by exercising, eating right, and taking care of your overall health which will put you way ahead of the crowd should the worst (political disaster, natural disaster, etc) happen.
  5. Diversify your income.  Stat.  In these tumultuous financial times, having one source of income (for most people this means earning a paycheck) is a recipe for financial disaster.  Businesses close without warning, industries die overnight...you don't want to be standing there in a daze if your only source of income is here today and gone tomorrow.  By next month you should have earned money from at least a half dozen other sources besides your regular job.
  6. Prepare to Bug In.  Bugging in is optimal for most people in most disasters.  In a well-stocked, well-prepared house, you can hang out for quite a while in relative comfort.
  7. Travel, especially in third-world countries.  Wait, didn't you just tell me to prepare to stay home?  The fact is that political upheaval can force you out of your home--and even out of your country--with very little notice.  By traveling now you will learn the skills you need to survive as a nomad anywhere in the world.
  8. Learn continually.  The more skills you have under your belt the better off you will be.  In a survival situation of any sort--wilderness bug out situation, as a reality TV show contestant, when a natural disaster strikes, etc--the person who has learned hundreds of useful skills has a much greater chance of surviving compared to someone whose only skill is leveling up to the triple digits in Skyrim. 
  9. Make your preps triple-redundant.  So you have one friend you can count on during a disaster?  Try to up that count to three.  If you have only prepared one way to evacuate (by car) consider a couple more alternatives (motorcycle, bicycle).  If your only form of emergency communication is via cell phone, learn something about HAM radio and VoIP.  You get the idea...
  10. Turn down the chatter.  With the barrage of negative social media, "fake news", "alternative facts", and the rest of the crap you are exposed to on a daily basis, you now have to take proactive steps to bring some sanity to your everyday existence.  Try to do more interesting things and participate less in stress-inducing social media platforms. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

50 Survival Uses for Your Smart Phone

While some things make me leery about using a smart phone (example here), they are pretty much an ubiquitous part of life these days.  On the bright side, there are dozens and dozens of ways to use your cell phone in a survival situation...

  1. Make a call to a friend or 911 for help.
  2. To send text messages when cell calls aren't going through.
  3. As a flashlight with the appropriate app.
  4. As a compass with the appropriate app.
  5. To send and receive money.
  6. To pay for things instead of using cash or credit cards.
  7. To take pictures to document car accidents or other incidents.
  8. For directions (using Google maps, etc).
  9. As a tracking device if you are incapacitated. 
  10. To receive Amber alerts and other emergency alerts.
  11. To track disasters happening anywhere in the world.
  12. Hopefully, one day, to listen to FM radio.
  13. For entertainment (watch Netflix, listen to music, play games, etc).
  14. As a repository for your survival books.
  15. To send emergency alerts to friends and family.
  16. To start a fire with your cell battery.
  17. As a place to store your important files and documents.
  18. To follow emergency information sources on social media (example here).
  19. To set off a panic alarm in an emergency.
  20. To put an "ICE--in case of emergency" contact in case you are incapacitated.
  21. As a phone book for all of your contacts.
  22. To learn first aid skills from an app.
  23. As a step-by-step guide for what to do after a car accident.
  24. To access the internet (and, for example, find a shelter after a disaster).
  25. To alert people that you are safe after a disaster.
  26. To identify edible plants in a survival situation.
  27. To check the weather.
  28. To call 911 even if the cell phone doesn't have a service provider.
  29. To create a hot spot for your internet devices.
  30. To provide disaster-related info to researchers (like this earthquake app).
  31. To listen to emergency service providers (fire, EMS, police) in real time.
  32. To take care of all of your travel needs in case you need to evacuate.
  33. To connect with FEMA before, during, and after a disaster.
  34. To find evacuation routes and avoid traffic issues with the appropriate app.
  35. As a radiation alarm with the appropriate app.
  36. To determine if you are too drunk to drive with the appropriate app.
  37. To make money with the appropriate app.
  38. As a signal mirror.
  39. As a flashing signal.
  40. To find the nearest gas station.
  41. To find emergency social service assistance (food banks, shelters, etc).
  42. You can hide emergency cash in your cell phone cover.
  43. As a spying gadget (note this may or may not be legal where you live).
  44. To track and assist the elderly when you can't be with them.
  45. To track and assist family members/children when you aren't with them.
  46. To prevent suicide.
  47. To improve your health and fitness (the top seven causes of death are health-related).
  48. To track the spread of illnesses around the world.
  49. To track (and learn about) medical conditions with the appropriate app.
  50. Even a broken cell phone can be useful during an emergency.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

10 Reminders

In no particular order...

  1. If you are over 65 and like the outdoors and haven't purchased your $10 lifetime National Parks Pass, get one soon as the price is going from $10 to $80 sometime this year.
  2. It is also tax time.  For assistance filing your taxes at no charge (income and age qualifiers) click here.
  3. And as long as we are talking about money, if you haven't pulled your credit report during the past year, you can download it free from the government here.
  4. Sunday is the Super Bowl.  Here are several ways to watch the game for free (as for myself I'll probably be in a sports book cheering on the Patriots).
  5. After all of the Super Bowl parties, you may want to get your diet/health back on track.  Here is one of the better healthy eating plans I've found.
  6. If you are interested in facts (you know, the scientific kind that look like they are being banned left and right these days) check out these "renegade" Twitter feeds.
  7. And if you want to throw your hat into the political ring (because a lot of politicians seem like flaming lunatics these days but I digress...) consider running for office.  Here are the offices you can run for in your area.
  8. Last week I posted on the Daily Insight page an article about how billionaires are prepping for a SHTF scenario.  Here is a rebuttal of sorts about trying to buy your way out of a disaster (hint: it's more about what skills you have than your bank balance).
  9. Speaking of prepping, it looks like the Doomsday Clock is spinning faster and faster.
  10. Finally, if you have a few moments (or several hours) you might pick up some useful survival information from these useful subreddits: survival, preppers, bugout, and survivalist.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

More Tips from Hunted

Last night's episode of Hunted offered several more good tips for those on the run...

  • You can buy a burner phone with cash to keep the investigators from tracing your calls but when they are watching the phone activity of friends and relatives they pretty quickly figure out your new number.
  • Unless you are subpoenaed, you don't need to answer investigator's questions.  Can I come in?  No.  Can I talk to you about X? No.  But people are too nice and let the investigators in and start talking to them and their voice and body language gives away the fact that they are lying about having contact with the hunted people.  Even worse is when the investigators talk to kids who inadvertently spill the beans (this is how one couple got caught when the young daughter told the investigators that her mom has two best friends...which lead them directly to the best friend who wasn't on the run with the mom but was helping out her two friends.  Busted).
  • Speaking of cooperative people, the investigators wanted to stake out a house where they thought one couple would end up at and the neighbor was so helpful he let the investigators set up their cameras in a bedroom that faced the suspect's house.  Never underestimate how "helpful" friends and neighbors will be to investigators.
  • Rental car fleets have GPS trackers built in.  This could have got one of the couples caught but they were brilliant in their idea to have a friend rent the car then list one of the couple as an added driver to mislead investigators.  The investigators followed the rental car around for miles not realizing that the friend was driving just to throw them off the track of the couple who were no where near the rental car.
  • Investigators cracked one guy's email account with ease by guessing the correct answers to the secret questions (favorite sports team?  just check the guy's Facebook page for posts related to sports.  Simple).
  • One couple stayed off the grid by heading off trail in the wilderness for more than nine days.  Good for them.
  • Cell phone calls can be listened in to.
  • Speaking of chatty friends, the investigators hijacked one of the couple's Facebook page and put a "wanted" poster for the couple on their page.  They then used people's responses to determine who their friends were and this made the friends persons of interest.
  • One team thought they would be particularly clever and snail mail letters to friends and family with instructions on how to log into a new email account.  They figured they could communicate with friends and family if emails were written and kept in a draft folder and never sent so they couldn't be tracked.  They didn't know that the USPS takes a photo of every letter sent (called mail cover) and that this information can be sent to investigators as a way to track criminal activity.
  • One set of investigators used a ruse, a common investigative technique.  They told one couple's friend that they were there to help the couple escape so they couldn't be found.  The lady didn't fall for it but the investigator was quite convincing.
  • One team deleted all of their info from their laptops and cell phones.  Unfortunately for them, deleted files stay on the device until they are overwritten so this made their deleted information really easy to find for investigators.
  • Two teams were caught this week simply because they reached out to friends and family for help.  Investigators are continually watching friends and family simply because it's one of the easiest ways to catch those on the run who at some point will need help.  If you really want to not be found, stay completely away from anyone remotely connected to you.

Monday, January 23, 2017

From the New Series Hunted: Some Tips

I was excited to watch the new series Hunted on TV last night.  While I rarely watch TV, if there is something that captures my attention like a show on PBS, or in this case, a show that sounds like it will be survival-related, I am more than happy to give it my full attention.  Fortunately this show wasn't as dumb and contrived as I thought it would be.

The premise of the show is that teams will compete to win $250,000 by being the last hunted team found by a group of crack investigators.  Teams need to stay on the run/hidden from the hunters for 28 days and are given a four state area to disappear in.  So far, so good.  The teams are your standard reality-show cute (although the guy who had multiple felonies then became a lawyer was a nice twist) and the investigators are a collection of former FBI, CIA, etc which lends some credibility.

Mostly what I learned from the show (as I took copious notes much to the amusement of the spouse) was what not to do when you are in the situation of having people trying to track you down.  Here's the high points:

  • Teams are given a 48-hour window of time when they will be told to leave then they are given an hour head start on the hunters which should give them an edge.  So my question is why were the teams featured this evening not even packing their backpacks until after they get the one hour head start?  Shouldn't they have their bug out bags packed and ready to grab at a moment's notice??  This way they could have fully used their hour head start.
  • Speaking of bags, one team of two ladies looked pretty obvious wandering down the road as they carried giant backpacks and hand-carried a huge tent.  Might I suggest ultralight gear?  And then I noticed it was raining so I wonder if their bags/gear was waterproofed or if they will end up with wet gear when they get to where they are going.  
  • And then there was one lady who, after getting the hour head start and then packing her bag, couldn't find her keys which took some precious few minutes away from her head start.  Always put your keys where you can find them!
  • The same lady had another glitch when she couldn't get a hold of her team mate and her team mate was late getting to their meet up point thus using up even more of their hour head start.  Lesson: know your rendezvous spot and be there on time.
  • Immediately the investigators start looking into the team's background, mainly by checking out their social media accounts and creating a behavioral profile of their targets.  Of course things like heights, weight, tattoos, etc. are noted as are the couple's friends and relatives who are linked to them on social media.  One of the investigators added that they can use what they find on social media to "push their (the hunted people's) buttons".  Interesting.
  • The investigators also noted that "just because you delete something on the internet, it doesn't mean it is really deleted and can't be found by investigators".  Good point.  They said that they will investigate every facet of a person's life and it looks like they meant it.
  • Speaking of a person's general description, being "average" is a definite plus when you are being hunted.  On one team, the guy is 6'8" and his girlfriend is a 5'11" beauty queen and model.  Obvious much?  The guy on the other team is very ginger (bright red hair), and another lady has an obvious mole on her face.  This makes them much easier to identify.
  • The investigators pointed out that the hunted couples will have the hardest time leaving their kids behind and will most likely be in contact with them (another way to track the couples via phone calls).
  • One thing that all of the teams did was to call friends and family for help with leaving.  They didn't want to drive their traceable cars so they called friends and family to give them a ride to their camping location, to the bus, to the friend's house, etc.  If people are really being hunted, friends and family will be looked at just as much as these being hunted.  Oddly enough, one of the teams was involved in a hit and run car accident as they were escaping.  Finally, any calls they make to friends or family can be traced so there's that.
  • And then there was the most common ways for the investigators to track the teams steps: ATM use (each team was given $500 for their adventure which they needed to get from an ATM), the video camera feeds from the ATMs (showed what the people looked like), cell phone pinging, red light camera photos, and CCTV cameras along city streets.  Lesson: get as far away from the city as possible, as quickly as possible.
  • One couple went to the parent's house for the first night, another couple went to a KOA campground for the night, and another went to a law school friend's house.  All of these locations are easily traceable so they may want to consider stealth camping.
  • One thing the investigators pounced on was going through the couple's homes.  In their garbage they found receipts, notes, their laptops and tech items, garbage, etc...all of which can be used to trace them.  Their biggest find was a calendar with the month of the hunt ripped off and tossed (but the person who did this didn't know that their writing was easily read from the indentations on the next calendar page just by running a lead pencil over it).  From this page investigators were able to find the street of their friend's address as well as the name of the rental car company they used.  Duh.
  • When one couple suspected they were being watched (their friend saw a car parked across the way and figured it was some kind of surveillance), the guy went to the window and looked out--with the bright house lights on.  This makes the person standing in the window light up like a Christmas tree.  At least turn the lights off before you stand at the window!
  • Another couple--the one carrying the tent--noted that they didn't bring any food or water.  Another duh.
  • By the middle of the show, everyone was pretty paranoid.  One investigator pointed out that stress and paranoia makes people make poor decisions.
  • One couple used wigs to change their appearance.  They were such bad looking wigs that when it was time for the investigators to ask someone if they had seen the couple, he asked if the guy had seen a couple wearing bad wigs.  Lesson: if you are going to do something to change your appearance, don't make yourself even more noticeable than you already are.
  • Finally, at the end of the show, one couple was caught it it was almost too easy for the investigators.  They used an ATM at the bus station (which the investigators were able to access through their bank records complete with a PHOTO of the couple using the ATM) so the investigators went to the bus station and asked the ticket guy if he had sold tickets to the couple (easy to remember as this couple included the 6'8" guy and they were wearing bad wigs).  Of course the ticket guy remembered them and said they got on a bus to Atlanta where the ground team was waiting to capture them.  Boom--one team done.
Overall it was a useful hour of information with some good lessons learned.