Friday, February 28, 2014

SHTFriday: Your Apocalypse Arsenal (pt.1)

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
The prepper Holy Trinity is often pithily described as "Beans, Bullets, and Band-Aids."  Put more prosaically, these break down to:
  • Food, Shelter, & Water;
  • Hunting/Fishing, Security, and Self-Defense;
  • Health, Well-Being, and First Aid. 
While all of these are important -- your gun won't keep you warm at night, or staunch your wounds -- it is an important tool (perhaps the most important tool) for keeping yourself alive and protected. With the proper gun, you can get food (hunting), make shelter (animal hides), and prevent your other resources from being taken away by people bigger, stronger, and more numerous than yourself. 

However, this begs the question:  Which guns for the apocalypse? After all, those of us on blue collar budgets aren't made of money, and so no matter how much we'd like our answer to be "All of them, and ten times the ammunition besides," we can't do that. We need to prioritize our purchases based upon the disaster(s) for which we are preparing.

This article, then, is the first of a series wherein I take a sample disaster or desired quality and make suggestions on what to buy, and give you my reasoning behind those suggestions. I am certain that readers will find some of my suggestions questionable (guns are a bit like sports and politics in that regard); I invite such disagreement in the comment section, below.

This image is here specifically to forestall the inevitable "Your gun sucks and you're holding it wrong" comments. 

Absolute Utility

  • 12 or 20 gauge pump shotgun with interchangeable barrels (one of them scoped)
  • .22 caliber revolver

If you aren't sure for what you're prepping, or you simply desire to be prepared for as many possibilities as possible within the smallest budget, this is for you. Both of these firearms are deliberately not semi-automatic; my definition of utility encompasses both ruggedness and low percentage of malfunction -- manual actions mean fewer moving parts, which means a reduced chance of breakage or malfunction*. Another aspect of utility is "making your ammunition count", and by slowing down your rate of fire you limit the possibility of wasting your shots in an adrenaline rush. Finally, shotguns are cheap (new ones may be bought for under $300; used ones for sometimes far less), and while new .22 revolvers can be expensive (in excess of $500), they have been around for 100+ years, so the odds of finding one at a pawn shop or garage sale are excellent.
* I am told by a friend that I am subscribing to the "Revolver Fallacy" here, and that revolvers are in fact more complicated than semi-autos and that they break about as often. Additionally, when they break, they often require the attention of a gunsmith, while an SA is often user fixable. 
Since my revolver has never broken or malfunctioned, this is outside my area of expertise. In this, as in all things, I urge you to consider what I write to be my opinion and not absolute fact; investigate and come to your own conclusions. I am here to provoke thought and discussion, not proclaim holy writ. 

The shotgun is the ultimate Swiss Army Knife of firearms:  with the right shells, and the right barrels, you can do anything with it.
  • With an 18.5" barrel and 00 buck shot, it's an excellent home defense weapon.
  • With a 26"+ barrel and birdshot, it's great for subsistence hunting at range. 
  • With longer barrel, an optic, and deer slugs, it's a potent 100 yard rifle. (I recommend getting a barrel with an scope mount already attached, so that you can change out the barrel without having to re-zero your scope every time.)
The shotgun has downsides, of course. It is heavy, has impressive recoil, has limited ammunition capacity, and that ammunition is heavy and bulky. It can also be outperformed by other types of firearms (rifles shoot further; pistols fire faster), but it's an excellent jack of all trades weapon. Unfortunately, it's very much not a "grab your weapon and run off to live in the woods" kind of thing, but if you are operating from a base with a steady supply of ammo, it's superb.

Speaking of ammunition, while buckshot and deer slugs can be expensive (around 70 cents a round for 00 bucks, and over a dollar each for slugs), birdshot -- often called "game loads" or "sporting loads" -- is remarkably affordable, with a box of 100 averaging between $25 and $30 at most sporting goods stores and Walmart. In addition, many online outlets (Sportsman's Guide, Cheaper than Dirt, Lucky Gunner, etc) often sell bulk packages of 00 at a discount, so it's often worth it to get a case of 250 shells at once.
Disclaimer: I participate in the Lucky Gunner "Lucky Affiliates" program. Any purchases made using this link, or the sidebar advertisement, directly benefit me.
There is an ongoing debate among gun owners over whether or not 20 gauge is as effective as 12 gauge for many applications. As I do not own nor have I shot a 20 gauge, I do not feel qualified to discuss the merits of each. What I do feel comfortable telling you is this:
  • A 12 gauge, by virtue of having a larger shell, is going hit harder and go further. 
    • It is also going to kick more, be heavier, and have larger, heavier, more expensive shells. 
  • A 20 gauge will kick less, be lighter, and have smaller, lighter, less expensive shells. 
    • It is also going to have reduced punch and range. 
  • I wouldn't want to be hit with either, frankly. 
    • In most instances, the differences in range or punch won't matter. 
  • Smaller people (children, some women and teens) might be unable to fire a 12 gauge but able to use a 20 gauge. 
    • Therefore, knowing who is going to shoot this weapon, and your budget for ammo, will likely be a greater influence on your decision than any differences between ballistics. 

Complementing the shotgun is a .22 caliber revolver. While not ideal for self-defense, it has many good features as well:
  • Ammunition is light and (usually) plentiful.
  • A revolver, unlike a semi-auto, will accept .22 Short, .22 Long, and .22 Long Rifle. 
    • I am told that newer revolvers come with warnings not to mix ammunition. While I cannot testify to this, not having seen it myself, it is worth mentioning that you should always, always, check the owner's manual for such things. 
    • Important Note:  Do NOT use a .22 Magnum (also called .22 WMR) in any firearm not chambered for it, and do not use .22 Short/Long/Long Rifle in any .22 WMR firearm! Doing so will likely damage your gun and possibly injure you!
  • It can be used to harvest small game (like rabbits and squirrels) when a shotgun would be too much.
  • Its report can be used to deter pests without wasting a more valuable shotgun shell.
  • Recoil is small enough that it can be effectively used off-hand, in case you cannot set down your shotgun without losing or damaging it.
  • Low recoil also allows a quicker target re-acquisition. 
  • In a pinch, it can be used for close-in self-defense. While the threat is not likely to be eliminated with those shots, nothing likes to be shot at, and making them flinch will buy you time to bring your shotgun to bear. 
The downsides to a .22 are minimal, but they do exist: the round is anemic in comparison to most other types of ammunition, and reloading a revolver is slow. Speaking of reloading, .22 cartridges are rimfire, and rimfires cannot be reloaded at home the way centerfire cartridges can. 

The only time I would ever recommend a .22 semi-auto pistol over a revolver for this specific scenario would be if you have already gone through the process of becoming licensed to own a suppressor (what the media calls "silencers") and have a pistol with a threaded barrel to accept said suppressor. In that case, having a quiet firearm more than makes up for the increased chance of malfunction. 

That said, I would still suggest you own a revolver in addition to the suppressed semi-auto pistol. Revolvers only require the gun and ammunition; pistols also require magazines to function. While magazines make the firearm easier to load, they are an additional expense and weight.

In conclusion, I would like to offer the following:  what I present is A solution, not THE solution. For example, a case could be made for a light rifle and a heavier pistol, and I expect (and welcome!) remarks to that effect in the comments field below.

Next week: a different scenario!

Thursday, February 27, 2014


One of the Facebook comments I got on my first real post (Death and Burial) was from a woman who read it and concluded that she had nothing to offer towards surviving a crisis, so she would just take herself out of the game if a crisis ever occurred. Not being a big fan of suicide, I asked why she felt useless and her response was along the lines of, "All my skills are in the arts. The only thing I might offer is the ability to make ink and paper." Someone else jumped in and offered her a place at his table any time, because making ink and paper is the first step to keeping records and making maps. She'd never thought of
herself as useful until someone pointed out that she was.

I write this because I need to point out that nobody who is willing to help is worthless. You may have to dig a bit, but you can find something that they (or you) can do to make life better. A lot of the prepper/survivalist blogs and websites out there assume that the only people worth having around are Marines and Navy SEALs, fresh out of the service. I don't believe that, and there's no reason for you to believe it either. The end of the world as we know it is not the actual end of the world. The folks who came before us weren't all strapping young men in the prime of their lives. The pioneers in America (and Australia, New Zealand, an all of the other places people have moved to), as well as the indigenous peoples they met, came in all shapes, ages, genders, and sizes.

I've been what used to be called a survivalist for most of my life. I grew up camping most weekends every summer - Mom still talks about changing our diapers in a tent. I went through Cub Scouts and would have done the Boy Scouts as well, but we moved into an area that didn't have a Troop (and still doesn't). My teenage years were spent hunting, hiking, and generally exploring the woods and hills we had moved into. By the time I joined the Army, there wasn't much about living in the field that they could teach me. Fast forward a few years and I have a family and here comes Y2K. I put up with all of the ridicule my extended family could heap on me before and after that non-event, but I kept on planning and preparing. Through my research, I came to the conclusion that nobody who is not evil is completely worthless.
Even the developmentally impaired (we just called them retarded back then) kids I chaperoned at a summer camp as a teen had something to offer. I became friends with one of them, and he could outwork me any day and never complained. It took a while to teach him how to aim, but he could shot-put a 60 pound hay bale into a loft door 20 feet off the ground. Non-stop. For hours.

I have two friends with a bad backs due to car accidents and a few falls after that. Neither can walk far without pain pills, but one loves to fish. He ties his own flies and knows more about the habits of the local fish than I ever will. The other is a shade-tree mechanic who has worked on motorcycles for years and is a born trader.

Then there's the beer-guzzling redneck side of my family. They're overweight and a bit lazy, but those boys live to hunt. They grew up running a trap line for spending money (raccoon and muskrat are worth about $20 apiece). There's not many pieces of their trucks, motorcycles, and ATV's they haven't repaired, replaced, or upgraded over the years either.

There aren't many recent immigrants in my area, but if I run into to any, I know that they will have experience living in conditions drastically different from what is "normal" life for me.

Everybody either has a talent or hobby that can be used, or they can be taught a skill that will make them more useful to a group trying to ride out a storm. 
  • Got a teenager that wandered in, all bummed out because her cell phone doesn't work anymore and her iPod is dead? Hand her a needle and some thread and show her how to mend clothing. If you're working, you will tear up your clothes.
  • How about that pre-teen boy who's upset because he had to leave his Pokemon/Magic/Yu-Gi-Oh cards at home? If he can play those games, there's nothing wrong with his color vision. Get him into the garden tending plants or teach him what plants are edible and send him out foraging with others.
  • The office worker who spent his weekends playing golf with the boss? He's got a well-developed ability to determine range - match him up with one of your hunters as a spotter.
  • Twenty-something "musician" who's never held a job for more than two weeks in his life? He's going to learn to sing for his supper and provide entertainment around the fire at night - life can't be serious all of the time or you'll go insane. He also is likely to have limited experience in a wide variety of fields; explore them and put them to use.

There will be more work in a crisis than people, so nobody is worthless. There are jobs that most people never think about. This doesn't mean that those jobs are unneeded, just that they are below the threshold of most peoples' notice. Someone will have to wash the dishes. Someone is going to have to clean up behind the animals. Someone is going to be in charge of keeping an eye on the children. If you think that you have nothing to offer, you need to think some more. Learning a new skill now will be a lot easier than waiting until after you need it, so keep reading our little blog - something may spark an interest.

Post Script:
There are some in this world that you don't want around you, or that you will at least have to keep a sharp eye on:
  • Anyone who will take what he has not earned. Looting is not scavenging.
  • Any adult who cannot control their temper, given the circumstances.
  • Any adult who refuses to work.
  • Anyone you can't trust to keep a promise or vow.
  • Anyone who abuses themselves or others. 
However, they are still not worthless, since they can always be used as a bad example.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The First 72 Hours: Hygiene & Security

Part 3 of a continuing series on prepping for a disaster, with an emphasis on how and where to start while on a Blue Collar budget.


Since the disaster I am most likely to face is an earth
quake, this is what I am planning around. Your prepping plans need to consider your local conditions and change them accordingly.

Let's say that the ‘Big One’ hits your area. Everyone is home safe and your EDC, GHB and CSK equipment worked as planned.

Let’s look a bit at what should be in our ‘Get Home’ supplies:
  • Hand sanitizer. I work around contractors, builders and their employees (truly the unwashed masses), so I wash my hands multiple times and use sanitizer when I can’t get to a sink. It also makes a dandy fire starter. I think I found this at Walgreen’s.
  • Toilet paper, pocket pack tissues or baby wipes. Do you need a diagram?
  • Soap. I found this in the local health food store. A little goes a long way. 
So you are home and someone uses the toilet and things don’t move down like they should. What is your plan for dealing with human waste? Your plan should include items for short-term and long-term waste disposal.

Short Term (Less than 72 hours)

If you can find a toilet that has not backed up, line the toilet with a heavy duty trash bag and use that. If all toilets are backed up, use a 5 gallon pail with the center of the lid cut out, lined with a bag. To help control odors, kitty litter or a 1-to-10 chlorine bleach to water mix can be added. Bleach is one of the most effective sanitizers and is an item most people have on hand. Remove the bags when ½ to ¾ full, seal tightly and store away from direct sunlight in a cool, dry place.

Do not pour bodily waste into storm drains, creeks or into any body of water! You or someone downstream may be using that as a source of drinking water soon.

Long Term (More than 72 hours)

If after 72 hours conditions haven’t improved and evacuation is not an option due to:
  • Bad roads or directions to shelter in place;
  • Limited mobility or family obligations;
  • Being at your ‘Round Up’ or Rally location;
... then other, more permanent solutions are needed.

Latrines and other methods

This is only an option to those with access to open areas at least 200’ to 300’ from any camp, buildings, food storage area, springs, wells and water pipes. I am not going to detail how to build large latrines or pit toilets (those plans are all over YouTube and the Internet), and I hope not to be required to do any of those ever again.

Apartment and city dwellers may have to continue with small scale waste disposal methods. My small scale waste disposal method is a biological treatment method like this pet waste disposal system with super digester powder. Solid waste goes in, the enzymes and bacteria are added along with a small amount of water, and the solids are dissolved and absorbed into the soil. This requires soil that drains fairly well to work as advertised. If you have flower beds or the ground digs easily, this might work for you. Certain cities don’t allow what is actually a doggie septic tank, so check first. This works best in warm climates, so cold areas may be out of luck.

A larger version (for up to 6 people) uses a 5 to 15 gallon metal pail with 4 rows of ¼” holes spaced 2” apart drilled around the pail, starting 1” up from the bottom.

  • Paper waste cannot be used in this system, as it will clog the drainage holes! Paper or wipes need to be collected in a separate container and buried or burned.
  • Hand washing needs to be a priority! More people get sick and die around the world from bad water and poor food handling than get shot, so keep on top of washing utensils, bowls and food preparation areas. 


This is going to be even less exciting than hygiene, but keeping the people in your house safe in a disaster is possibly more important. Evelyn Hively is doing a wonderful series starting here, and be sure to follow along through the other parts!

Part of being prepared for earthquakes is the bracing of furniture, cabinets, closets and objects hanging on walls. There are specialty suppliers of strapping and hold-downs for all items in your house like (this), many of which can be duplicated on the cheap:
  • Old web or leather belts can be used to keep tall cabinets and dressers from falling. Cut the belt into 12” long pieces and screw one end to the top back edge of the cabinet and the other end into the wall. 
  • Screws in the wall must hit studs and have to be construction grade, not black drywall screws!
  • Velcro strips attached to stereos and other boxy items on shelves will hold them in place. This will work for many TV’s, but pedestal Flat Screens need extra care. See these Quake Hold pages for how they do it and modify from there.
  • Glassware and other trinkets can be secured with Museum Wax and Putty, also from Quake Hold. I don’t have any better suggestion than to use the best!
  • Kitchen drawers can be retro-fitted with child safety catches similar to these, from many suppliers. 
  • Cabinets, hutches and other furniture with 2 opposing swinging doors can be secured with these
  • Pictures need to be secured to walls with closed end hooks, or secured around the wall hook and hanging wire with tie wire or zip ties. 
  • Nothing should be mounted to the walls above beds, desks or other areas where people of limited mobility will be!
The State of California has several very short PDF files on Emergency Preparedness located at the bottom of this page. Look over all of this information, adapt it to your situation and remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

Next week: How Are We Doing? A recap of my progress, on a Blue Collar Prepping budget.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"How do I convince my girlfriend I'm not crazy?"

That was the gist of a message I received over the weekend.  A buddy of mine (a right proper redneck) was trying to explain to his girlfriend (a delightful woman, but far more "city" than he) why he preps, and why he has learned the skills he has, and continues to seek out new skills.  That, in conjunction with Erin's question on the BCP Facebook group (you're not a member?  Why not?) about "What we prep for," made this seem rather timely.

First off, as a "Don't," unless your significant other has a pretty solid sense of humor, don't reply with "Zombies" when you're asked why you prep.  It's a great answer, if you can follow it with the truism that "If you're prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse, a hurricane is just a storm" with a straight and honest delivery.  Otherwise, you just look as nuts as she thinks you already are.

As to the "Do," first, ask what their concerns are with your prep work.  When you know why they're concerned, it's far easier to address it.

As a general direction, explain the "why" of what you do, calmly and without any evangelism.  If your preps surround natural disasters, especially ones common to your area, remind them of that, and point out how useful these things are when the disaster hits.  If you're already prepared for hurricanes in Florida, or tornadoes in Oklahoma, or heavy snows, sub-freezing temperatures, and lack of power in northern latitudes, it's far easier to handle when those things inevitably arrive.

If you prep for other things, explain those as well.  In my industry, layoffs and work slowdowns are a very real thing.  My wife and I discussed this reality, and have some preps laid in to cover that eventuality.  Thankfully, I haven't been out of work in almost a year, and not extended out of work in over two, but it's still out there.

You can also involve your other half in your preps.  Find out what their concerns are, and prep towards those as well.  Go over the preps for your concerns with them.  You'd be surprised what a second set of eyes sees, and a different way of thinking comes up with.

If they're concerned about the budget, and what this is all costing, well, that's why you're here, right?  And why you should direct them here.  Right after you sit down and have a conversation about the budget, and what and where your prep money is coming from and going to.

We managed to show my friend's girlfriend that he's not crazy (at least, not with regards to this) by doing exactly this.  He explained his concerns to her, relating them to her lifestyle and some of her concerns, showed her that the costs in both time and money were quite minimal, and managed to score points by showing her she was important to him in the process.

A new prepper is born, and better relationships through prepping!  A win all around.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Security: It's Everyone's (!) Job, Part 3

Zone 3: Area of Operations

Wrapping up my take on security, we're ending this series by talking about security within your tribe's environment (look for a future post from Chaplain Tim going over what we mean by Tribe) and the surrounding areas. There's two parts to this one: the first part is how you interact in the area with your tribe, and the second is the actual tribal area itself.

One of the immediate things that I need to point out is that as a woman, being cautious in your interactions is crucial, even among your own tribe. If there are only a few women in your group and a lot of single men, you will end being coveted - which usually causes some serious drama.

If one of the folks in your group is causing you trouble and your instincts are screaming you're in danger, LISTEN TO YOUR INSTINCTS. Put distance between you and the offending party. If they won't leave you alone, loudly announce in front of as many people as possible that they are to leave you alone or you will treat them as a hostile threat and will respond in any means needed to end that threat.

Buddy System

Always have a partner with you - be it your significant other or another person whom you know you can trust - with you at all times when you are going to be gone more than a few minutes (if even that) from your home area. The buddy system means that you've got immediate backup, and you're backup for your buddy. If you can't find your buddy, ask yourself:  is it really something that you have to get done at that moment in time?

Personal defense

Do you have it ironed out as to what weapons you will be carrying? If they are knives and pistols, do you know where and how are they being carried? If you are leaving your home, even if you're still in the tribal area, you really should be armed. If things collapse to the point of lawlessness and you've seen no signs of anything resembling a recovering governing body, you can expect for there to be a lot of warlords and rival groups that will be actively seeking to attack and take over areas of resources.

Know your Area of Operations (AO). Sometimes it's easy to forget, and some people never realize, that "preparing" means more than buying stuff: it also means learning stuff and doing stuff. If you end up "bugging in" (the only realistic option for a lot of people, even if not the preferred option) during disaster (or in minor, less-than-SHTF situations), you'll probably still need to exit your home from time to time to find food or barter for one thing or another. And even if not, it would behoove you to understand the broader security environment.

What do I mean by this? Two things 

One: If you're bottled up at home, you have no concept of how things are going outside, and if the situation deteriorates to the point that you need to get out of dodge, you won't know it. When you know your AO, you'll know what amount of traffic is normal, how often you normally hear sirens, which neighbors cause trouble, which ones are noisy, which ones are gossips. Knowing all that gives you a feel for the rhythm of normal life (or the “new normal” after SHTF) and when things change you'll be forewarned.

Two: If you do need to get out of dodge, you'll know where to go and where to avoid on your way out. Think it's as simple as picking a route out of town on the map? Think again. By knowing your AO, you'll know not only the best routes under normal conditions, but alternate routes to get you around roadblocks, riots, disaster areas, and so on.

Now, I (and others) can give you advice on security all day long, but we can only give you ideas and information to help you build a foundation to work from.  There's a saying that "no plan survives first contact with the enemy."  Knowing all of your options for security will help keep a good chunk of the panic at bay.  Sadly, you won't know how well your security measures are going to work until SHTF, but you should know, thoroughly, all your options on courses of action.  There is no quick reference handbook for this.

Next week's article will be an easy one, with links back to other prepper sites who have solid info on how to turn security principles into practice. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

SHTFriday: Zones of Assessment - What's Around You

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the theory behind Zones of Assessment and discussed what I have as my Every Day Carry equipment. In Part 2, I did a show-and-tell with my Get Home Bag and detailed the difference between "immediate access" and "extended access".  In this final article in the series, I will discuss Zone 3 and what that means.

Zone 3 is different from the others because not only does it contain items which are not in your possession, but also includes things which are not objects at all. It is the most abstract and theoretical of zones, and because of that this post will be short on pictures and long on theory. 

To reiterate:
  • Zone One: Every Day Carry (what you can access immediately)
  • Zone Two: Car Kit/ Get Home Bag/ Bug Out Bag  (what you can access within a few steps)
  • Zone Three: What you can get from the environment  (requires thought, analysis, and relationships)


Let's start with the tangible assets first. When you go out to eat, do you observe where the restrooms are? When you go to a movie, are you aware of the location of the emergency exits?  If not, then I refer you to Evelyn's post about personal security, specifically situational awareness. If so, excellent; you are already thinking about Zone 3, and how to use the resources of your environment around you. From there, it is a simple matter of being more observant and thinking about what you have seen:
  • Do you know where the fire alarm is? That is an easy way to summon help if you do not have a cell phone. 
  • How about fire hoses/extinguishers/axes? Not only are these useful for their intended purposes, but the first two can be used as improvised weapons. An extinguisher discharge may be used to conceal movement; a length of hose can immobilize an attacker; an axe can turn obstacles into doors. 
  • Where can you get water, in case you need to flush chemicals out of someone's eyes, or to wet a shemagh to keep from inhaling smoke?  Bathrooms and kitchens, obviously, but what about spigots on the outside of buildings?  (An excellent reason to own a sillcock key.) How about those fill-your-own soda fountains found in most fast food establishments? Nearly all of them have a "Press this button to get only water" function.
  • First aid kits should be obvious, but many of them in retail establishments are hidden from sight to prevent customer pilferage. How about coin-operated vending machines found in bathrooms? Sanitary pads are designed to absorb blood, and tampons are often perfectly sized for plugging bullet holes in people. In the men's room, you can often find condoms -- waterproof, stretchy latex can be used to make water carriers, or tie off a wound, or make field-expedient gloves for handling biohazardous materials. 
In short, half of Zone 3 is a combination of Sherlock and MacGuyver: What do you see, and how can you use it? 

Of course, observation and analysis is a skill that requires practice, and so the best way to improve that skill is to use it. A favorite game of mine is to ask myself, "What would I do if X situation occurred?"  Not only does this keep me in practice, but the more times I go over something in my mind, the less likely I am to freeze if it ever happens in reality. This is the same reason the military performs Immediate Action Drills: to make the actions ingrained to the point that they are performed without thinking, and therefore without hesitation.


The other half of Zone 3 is not as concrete as the first, as it consists of "What non-physical resources can you access?"

Information, of course, is always useful. Acquiring skills and gaining useful knowledge is powerful, as that weighs nothing and is constantly with you.  Ah, but if it's always with you, then that makes it Every Day Carry and therefore Zone 1, doesn't it? So the question becomes "What knowledge do you have around you that is not under your immediate control?"
  • Television, radio, and the internet are likely tops on everyone's list. While you can (and should) always have access to these items through a smartphone, laptop, or car entertainment system, the fact remains that simply having a means to access the media doesn't always mean you can get to it. Cell towers can go down, the internet can become overloaded, the electrical grid can fail. That is why these factors are Zone 3 -- you cannot control them. 
  • The biggest intangible resource, however, is other people. You cannot be expected to know everything and cope with every situation -- we cannot all be omnicompetent Special Forces types, and even those folks work in teams to watch each other's backs. People -- specifically, people whom you trust and who are skilled in areas you are deficient, and vice versa -- are amazing force multipliers. Not only can they know things that you do not, but they can also:
    • Watch your back
    • Cover your retreat
    • Hand you ammunition
    • Drag you to safety
    • Perform first aid on you 
    • etc
  • Similarly, pets such as dogs make excellent companions for similar reasons, although they require more effort to maintain and their skills are more physical. Still, I would rather have a loyal (and trained) dog by my side in an emergency situation than have someone I could not trust. 
  • Speaking of force multiplication, organizations are more effective than groups of people. While a great many preppers, myself included, are firm believers in OPSEC (Operational Security), it can be just as dangerous to trust no one as it is to trust the wrong people. As always, good judgement must be utilized in finding a group of like-minded individuals in whom you can trust and confide, as the greater the number of people in a group, the sooner you approach Dunbar's Number and social cohesion begins to break down. In other words, find the smallest group of people that suits your needs and stick with that. My personal philosophy is "Squad good; platoon okay; company bad", but the actual numbers are of course variable between preppers and their situations. 

This concludes my Zones of Assessment series. As you can see, it's not just about gear -- it's also about knowledge and trusting other people. Incidentally, those two reasons are why I started this blog with Evelyn, Loki, David and Tim in the first place. 

And so in closing, I leave you with this final thought:  "Stay alert; trust your buddies; keep your gear handy."

Thursday, February 20, 2014


trust  (trŭst)n.
1. Firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing. 
1. reliance on and confidence in the truth, worth, reliability, etc, of a person or thing; faith. 

"Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot." Proverbs 25:19 (NLT)

Yes, I know that not everyone out there is Judeo-Christian, but I have to start somewhere and Proverbs is mainly a collection of accumulated wisdom.

We all deal with trust in our daily lives, consciously or not. Every time you read or watch the news, you are making decisions on how much you trust the source. When you drive down the street, you trust that people will stop at the red lights. Mistrust is as useful as trust in most situations - you may be able to trust someone to be/do evil as well as good, so I will refer to them both as just "trust". 

All of us have been screwed over at some time in our lives and the more often that happens, the harder it becomes to trust anything again. Likewise, after trusting someone for a period of time it becomes harder to imagine that they might betray your trust and it hurts more than if it was a stranger. Children trust everyone until they figure out that they're not safe doing so. Older people tend to be less trusting than the young; they've had more experience at being betrayed so it may take longer to earn their trust. Knowing that something can happen is the first step to being prepared for it if it does happen.

Trust comes in a wide variety of forms and levels of importance. I may trust my neighbor to borrow my lawnmower for a day, but wouldn't trust him with my credit cards. The specifics will vary from society to society, but there are levels of trust involved in all human interactions: 
  • Trust in your team. I'm basically a loner, but I have friends that I can call on to get bigger jobs done. I literally trust them with my life and the lives of my family and they have the same trust in me. This is not something that comes quickly - it takes years to get to this level of trust.
  • Trust inside a family or "tribe" (I need to do a post on that one word alone) is of paramount importance. You need to be able to trust the people you're living with as much as they need to be able to trust you. We all need to sleep sometime, and you'll sleep better knowing that you can trust the people who are sleeping around you.
  • Trust in a small community or population of others around you is important because no one person can provide for all of his/her needs. There will be a need to communicate and trade with others in the event of a drawn-out crisis. Get to know the people around where you are or plan to be, establish communication at least and start on building trust with the ones you can. Believe me, after living in one small town for 10 years, I was still the "new guy". It takes time-more in some parts of the world than in others.
  • Trust in government. OK, when you get done laughing, we'll continue. Remember what I said about mistrust being as good as trust? Yeah, you can trust that someone is going to try to govern and that they will mess it up. Trusting that they'll be a bunch of "more equal" pigs gives you a base from which to build your interaction with or avoidance of them. This is human nature; some people just naturally think they are destined to govern.
  • Trust in whatever it is that you choose to worship. If you believe in a higher being, your trust in that will be a comfort in times of trouble. Human history has plenty of stories of people who got through really nasty things by having faith and trust in their God. It also has plenty of stories of people doing really nasty things based on their faith and trust in their God.

Trust is something that is built between people and groups. Trust, like respect, is earned and not given. Under normal conditions, basic trust can be built rapidly or even be assumed. When things are a bit more dire it will probably not be safe to trust people you don't know. The exchange of honest information and gifts has always been one of the ways to build trust. A person who honors his vows and oaths will be more deserving of your trust, and time spent around others will show you how they treat people and will give you clues about how far to trust them. 

This cuts both ways - the longer people have to watch you, the more they will be judging your trustworthiness. Showing that you have no evil intent is the basis of good trust - being a complete ass is a good way to build mistrust. Actions are more important than words when it comes to building trust (politicians come to mind). When life starts to get harder and the results of choices start to have larger impacts, trust will be harder to come by. Would you trust a stranger with the location and size of your food cache? How about a family member with a drug addiction? Would you trust a strange man to give your daughter a ride home?

As things start continue to fall apart, barter will make a comeback (another post topic) and there has to be a certain level of trust involved between traders. Say George has eggs that he wants to trade Sam for whiskey. George has to trust that Sam hasn't watered down the whiskey and Sam has to trust that George isn't giving him month-old eggs.  Having a reputation is inevitable once you start dealing with others, and being trustworthy will lead to more opportunities for trade. People who are not trusted may not be allowed to trade, or at the least will be offered less for their goods.

Trust can rarely be forced, so we invented contracts to provide an "or else" to trust in. Humans have had a variety of systems of contract enforcement through the ages, from the King's Court to tribal councils. However, having an impartial mediator that both sides trust is the hard part to acquire. I know people hate the term "social contract", but that's what most people run their lives by - a standard expectation of behavior for polite society. The "or else" clause in a social contract is usually shunning, banishment, or violence. Play nice or the other kids won't play with you any more, and might just kick your ass for good measure. 

Work on building trust within your own group and then start to branch out. Now is the time to get this part of your preparations in order (like all of the others), before you need it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The First 72 Hours: Shelter & Energy

Part 2 of a continuing series on prepping for a disaster, with an emphasis on how and where to start while on a Blue Collar budget.


Since the disaster I am most likely to face is an earthquake, this is what I am planning around. Your prepping plans need to consider your local conditions and change them accordingly.

Buildings will be damaged depending upon how close to the epicenter or fault line they are located, how they are constructed, and how solid the soil is under their foundations. Most of the major damage that the 1989 San Francisco earthquake caused was to structures built on fill land (swampy) and not solid bedrock.

You should be prepared to turn off your gas and water if there is obvious damage to gas or water lines. If there is no obvious gas smell and the structure is stable, your best option is to shelter in place. I do not recommend using any utilities if there has been structural damage, like partial collapse of walls or roof, foundation damage, or house movement off the foundation, until the local emergency services or fire department inspects the structure.

Staying where you are requires some pre-planning and possibly busting our BCP budget. Items that you should already have in your house for disaster preparedness are:

  • smoke detectors (one in each room)
  • carbon monoxide detector
  • fire extinguisher (ABC rating)
  • flashlights (at least one per person)
  • batteries (enough for 2 complete changes for each person)
  • First Aid supplies:
    • Band-Aids
    • antiseptic wipes
    • eye wash
    • anti-biotic cream
    • sun screen
    • dust masks
    • nitrile gloves
    • any medicines that your family needs. 
  • blankets and/or sleeping bags
  • jackets and rain gear
  • 2 complete changes of clothes for each person
  • and, of course,  your prepping supplies! 

If you don’t have all of these items now, get them. Right now.

Items you should be looking to purchase are:

  • 2 mil plastic sheeting and duct tape (to cover the possibly broken windows and cover the doors to prevent dust from entering and heat escaping)
  • utility turn off wrench
  • small pry bar
  • hammer
  • screw driver set (flat head and Phillips)
  • nails & screws 
  • LED or CREE flashlights
  • 2x the number of batteries you have on hand (brand name only) 
  • blue plastic tarps
  • several rolls of duct tape (it fixes almost anything)
If your budget allows, look into buying a tent big enough for the number of people in your group to sleep in. Look on Craig’s List, want ads,  and if you have a college close by, see if there is an Outdoor/Hiking club to purchase surplus gear from cash-strapped students. In Northen California we rarely freeze or get much rain or snow (<200’ altitude here), so the tent only needs to be waterproof. There is no way I can tell you how to improvise a shelter here, and if it comes to that you should look into evacuating and sheltering with friends or family outside the disaster zone. More on this in the upcoming Security post.


Here is another potential BCP budget buster: cooking after a disaster. Ideally, your house is okay, your water seems to be okay, and the power company says the electricity will only be out overnight. Worst case, the power won’t be back for 2-5 days, minimum. How do you cook or stay warm in the winter?

In the short term, you can eat your stash of supplies that don’t need cooking - crackers, peanut butter, canned tuna or chicken and the like. In the long term, however, you could have a few very interesting meals! Unless you own a generator (I don’t), your freezer or refrigerator is going to warm up in as little as one or as many as three days. Generators large enough to run a refrigerator can cost $800 and up. For me, this means everything will start to go bad and be unusable very quickly, so I plan on having a cookout. Invite your neighbors and share the bounty. If you have met them before, great. If you haven't, why not? You don't know who has needed skills until you make the effort.

Apartment dwellers, I’m not leaving you out. You will have to be a bit more creative with disposing of your fridge full of food by having a small charcoal grill to use OUTSIDE, well away from windows and doors. The rest of us will have to do the same on whatever we have on hand for grilling.

If you do not have cooking equipment other than your stove in the kitchen, I have made very good buys from garage sales and Craig’s List on camping supplies. I am the owner of a 3 burner Coleman liquid fuel (adaptable to propane) stove purchased at a garage sale for $40. It looks like new and works perfectly. Other options would be to use your existing grill or purchase new, smaller propane camping stoves ($80-$100 and up). My personal preference is for liquid fuel, since those stoves will run on unleaded gasoline as well as stove fuel. Another option is the BioLite stove which has a thermocouple to generate power from the heat of the fire! However you choose to cook, make sure that your fuel is stored away from your food, any heat source, or anything that could fall and bury it.


If everything is the same as previously stated, you can shelter in place in your storage room by blocking the door and window with double layers of plastic and duct tape. If the weather is not too bad, huddling together with each other under the blankets or in the sleeping bags will keep everyone warm. If it is too cold, like the month of January here (it actually was as low as 28* F), extra steps are needed to stay warm.

At no time should you use a charcoal grill, propane heater or similar item to heat your shelter-in-place room! People die every year doing that. If necessary, and with proper care, candles can be used as an emergency heat source to raise the temperature of your room several degrees. Search for ‘tea lights/ emergency heat,’ or see this article. Be careful! Candles are an open flame and could catch surrounding items on fire.

Power for cell phones, laptops, GPS devices and radios is another potential BCP budget buster. In the short term, you should have car charger adapters for cell phones & GPS devices and rechargeable battery packs with a USB outlet for quickie recharges. If you can afford it, solar charging panels with rechargeable batteries are recommended. A two battery charger can cost as little as $24.95 plus batteries, to as much as $250 (or more) for a charger that recharges 2 items directly. A radio of some kind is a requirement, whether battery or hand crank. The C Crane company makes bullet-proof versions of both.

This is enough food for thought for now, so check your funds, spend them wisely and remember, Some Is Always Better Than None.

Next Week: Security & Hygiene

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Firebuilding When the Weather Sucks

There's a theory in survival called the Rule of Three. Basically, you can live three minutes without air, three hours exposed without shelter and heat, three days without water, and three weeks without food. Today, we'll look at part of the three hours exposed.

Last Friday, Scott gave a pretty good breakdown of how to make a fire.  If you haven't read it yet, do so, as it gives a lot of background that we're going to build on.

Miserable weather (rain, snow and the like) complicates firebuilding, when you need that fire the most.  However, they don't always make it impossible to start a fire, it just takes a little more than on a warm clear day.

  1. First, when the weather sucks, plan ahead and start gathering materials early.  You don't want to be scrounging for materials and trying to get your fire to start when you're already cold and your hands are going numb. 
  2. Dry tinder/kindling is vital.  I keep a pill bottle in my manbag at all times with enough material to get several fires going.
  3. Wood that is damp (not wet, but possibly rained on) can be made to burn far easier if it is split open.  The outside will be wet, but the inner wood is very likely dry enough to burn readily.
  4. Another source for drier wood is under some sort of cover.  Look for fallen wood underneath a tree  or bush (also, pine needles that have fallen and are sheltered under a tree can be wonderful for starting a fire), sagebrush from the bottom or interior of the plant, etc. The natural cover will leave your wood far more burnable than exposed wood.
  5. Consider, if you have the room, keeping a small amount of wood in your Car Survival Kit, if it's appropriate.  It's almost cheating, but chance favors the prepared.
  6. Elevate your fire.  Use a pair of logs to lift the beginnings of your fire off the ground.  This not only keeps your fire dry and above the damp ground, it also gives it additional air, which fires need to burn.  DO NOT use rocks for this purpose.  Water that has soaked into rocks can turn to steam in the pores of the stone and cause it to shatter or explode.  This is potentially very hazardous, and can layer yet another concern onto a survival situation that doesn't need any more concerns.
  7. Smaller fires are far easier to tend, consume dramatically less fuel, and if there's something to reflect heat back at you, can warm almost as well as a big bonfire.

There you have it.  Seven tips for making a fire when you need it the most.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Security: It's Everyone's (!) Job, Part 2

Zone 2: The Home

In my first article on security, I talked about keeping yourself from being visibly female in a SHTF situation, and therefore becoming a target. In this second article, I'll be talking about security for the second area of direct responsibility: the home.

This area can be broken down into three sub-areas: the exterior, the structure, and a highly secure area of last resort like a master bedroom or tornado shelter. For this article and the next, I need to make it clear that my source is my fiancé , who is a former Marine rifleman and who has served on embassy duty in Iraq and Brazil

1) Exterior

The first zone to consider, especially for those of you in rural or suburban areas, is the exterior. Now, this doesn't mean the walls, windows, and doors; it means the outside. Think of how close an intruder could get to your abode before you see him. How close before you hear him? If he does get close, how will you know?
  • If you have the luxury, clear out enough space on your land to give you good visibility, especially on likely avenues of approach
  • Those avenues which you can't see should be blocked or alarmed (with motion-activated lights, trip flares, or even tripwires with empty cans). 
  • Your landscaping can channel intruders toward where they can be seen or heard. Bougainvillea is an excellent example of a plant that grows thick and fast and can make an impenetrable wall, or a guide that pushes intruders where you want them; find a plant that grows well in your climate that does the same. 
  • Motion-activated lights or alarms around the outside of your house are a no-brainer.
Now, if you live in an apartment in the city, things are a little different. There's little you can do to modify the surrounding area. But you can still pay attention to the area and where threats are most likely to come from, or your escape routes. And if the S truly HTF, you'll have a little more latitude to modify your environment. 

2) Structure

Now, let's assume the bad guy does get to your house.  How hard is it for him to get in?
  • Do you routinely check doors and windows to make sure they're locked? 
  • Are they alarmed? 
  • Are the locks good ones? (Lock-picking isn't some ancient secret known only to the monks of the Letmein Temple in Tibet.) 
  • Are the doors and windows good ones? 
If you have money, of course, you can buy only the best of everything - all your windows are bulletproof, the walls have 1/2-inch AR500 steel plates embedded in them, and you're as safe as it gets in a house. The rest of us have to use a little ingenuity and common sense and do the parts that matter most and hope it's good enough:

  • Get good locks. 
  • Reinforce the door at weak points, like hinges and latches. (This is a good and affordable kit). 
  • Make sure the interior doors are good ones too, not hollow-core worthless things. 
  • Remember that if the door stops them, they might try the wall. 
  • Do what you can with what you have.

[A note on dogs. They count as both exterior and structure security, since they can let you know when someone's coming and also help stop them. Get a dog that's good for at least one of those.]

3) Secure Area

So, despite your best efforts, the bad guy(s) got in. And the dog is outside barking his head off, or shot, or cowering under the bed. Now you may want to clear your house, find the bad guy, and stop him yourself, but for most people in most situations I heartily recommend against it. Highly-trained and highly-skilled people who go bump in the night for a living know enough to know that clearing a structure against an armed opponent is one of the most dangerous things they do, and they work in teams; you'll be by yourself.

At this point you, your spouse, and your children should retreat to the most secure area you have. This might be your master bedroom, or it might be a tornado shelter.

  • It needs to have a phone in it to call the cops (if the phone system and the police force are still functional) or a radio to call your neighbor (you did go over contingency plans and mutual support arrangements with your neighbors, didn't you?).
  • It needs to have weapons and ammunition in it to stop that bad guy if you have to. 
  • It needs to have a place for your spouse and children to hide if, in that last moment, there's shooting. 
  • If it's someplace hidden, it needs to have at least a little food and water in case you're in there a while.

One final thing: the bad guys may decide to just barricade you into your own house or room. Once you've confirmed the coast is clear, take the axe or large crowbar you've placed into your safe room and start making yourself an escape route. A tool like this is a crucial prep for debris clearing in many situations: earthquake, tornado, or someone deciding to block you in - and it makes a great melee weapon should the need arise.

This series will conclude in Part 3 with Security for the Near Environment. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Guest Post: Fire Building Basics

by Scott Bascom

Editor's Note:  Due to allergies, Erin Palette suffers from frequent, often crippling, headaches. When this happens she isn't good for much, sometimes for 24 hours after the fact. One such happened yesterday and she is still feeling wrung-out. Because of this, she is posting a guest article.

So, you want to eat food that's been cooked.

Things have collapsed, and you have trouble finding fuel to run a camp stove. UN troops are roaming the streets, and zombies are picking them off one by one. Or perhaps you just want to go out and camp, and you figure that your Chef Boyardee is better warmed up than not. Or it's late at night, you are cold, and you would like to warm up. You are in the middle of nowhere.


Fire is important and useful.

So many people think about the potential uses of all sorts of gizmos come the end of the world. But a lot of people forget that you have to know how to use them.

One of the most basic tools that humanity has developed, and has kept in its toolbox over the years, has been fire. It gets things warm, it fends off the dark, and it makes a dandy way to smoke meat (assuming you have some). It has immense psychological value, and can save your life in a survival situation.

A Few Terms

  • Kindling: The stuff you light with a match - paper, twigs, dollar bills, underwear (cotton burns well, and if it takes that to start a fire to keep you alive...)
  • Tinder: The stuff that the kindling lights on fire - slightly larger pieces of fuel. It is an in-between stage; too large to start with a match (or striker, or lighter, etc.) on its own, but too small to provide really useful heat on its own.
  • Firewood: Larger things - really, anything large enough to provide usable heat. The kind of things that a lot of people think of as what goes in a fire. Important, but you have to get the other things in there first.
  • Fuel: Anything that burns. This includes you, if you are not careful enough. Or your hair, your clothing, the prairie grass around you, the pine needles in the forest, and a lot of other things you may not intend to...
  • Igniter: Anything from a match to a road flare, it just has to catch things on fire. My preferred option is either a zippo, or flint and steel, but anything that produces flame (or enough heat) will do. Sparks will do in a pinch. You can start a fire with a motorcycle battery, or a watch lens focusing the sun - it just has to produce enough heat.
  • Fire pit: Where the fire takes place. Does not have to be a pit, but it is best to mark off where the fire stops. You can make one by placing stones in a circle, or by cutting the top layer of grass out of the ground using a shovel or a knife. When the fire is done, you can replace the grass, effectively leaving little to no trace.

How to Build a Fire

First-  Determine what you are going to use the fire for. A small cooking fire is a lot different than a signal fire that you want to be seen at 10,000 feet. And a small fire to provide light may be a lot easier to fuel, but it requires an area to provide the light for, while you sleep and/or camp.

Second- Find an area appropriate to the fire you are going to build. A large, bright, visible fire requires you to have a wide area around it to view it from, as well as not being under any trees (you don't want them to catch fire!) A small camp fire may only need a few feet around it cleared to be safe, but will require more attention to keep lit.

Third- Clear the area of items you don't want to be burned and make a fire pit. A good rule of thumb on this is to go with five times the area of the fire pit. If your fire pit is a foot across, clear five feet in any direction from it of anything that you don't want burned. It is a bad place to leave your hair spray, for example.

Some of what you clear will become fuel for the fire. Put this in the middle, in preparation for it to be burned. You will sort out the pieces later.

Fourth- Gather fuel. It does not have to be wood, but wood is the most common fuel for this sort of thing. You don't want to run out part way through, and have to go forage for more, if there is an emergency about. Kindling, tinder, and firewood should be gathered at about this step. Dry is better, but not essential. Damp is bad, but a good fire will dry it out so that you can use it. Dry kindling is essential, and there is no real way around that.

Fifth- Build the fire. Sort the pieces you have acquired (including the ones you found while clearing the area) into tinder, kindling, and firewood.

Place a larger piece of fuel (usually a log) in the middle of your fire pit. Roll it to off-center. Place the kindling near it, using it to form a shell to protect against things like the wind. Put the smallest kindling first, and larger pieces on top of that, forming a tent leaning against the log, allowing space to get a match (or whatever you use) in to light it. Remember to use small dry pieces of kindling, because even if your tinder is wet, you can often use kindling to (somewhat) dry it out. Place the tinder nearby, with a couple pieces of the smaller tinder on the tent, ready to catch fire as soon and the kindling is caught.

Sixth- Light that sucker. Get your match, Zippo, flint and steel, whatever igniter you have, and apply heat. Get the flame or sparks to the center of the tent, and catch the smallest pieces of kindling on fire. Protect it from wind using your hands, and blow gently to help the flame along.

Seventh- Feed it. Starting with tinder, add bigger pieces of fuel to the fire until you are up to however big you wanted to get. Remember that a flame requires air, so try to place things such that air can flow between the pieces of wood as they burn. If oxygen cannot get underneath the wood on that flame, you are not getting complete combustion. Go ahead and roll things around, and keep a stick you like to poke the fire with and stir things up. Having a stick on hand to tend the flame can save quite a bit of trouble.

Remember- Practice this. Build a small fire in your back yard (assuming the codes in your municipality allow that), or go camp and build a small fire a couple times out in the woods. Do it enough that you know what to do without having to resort to half a can of lighter fluid, and then go do it some again. You want to do it when it is not an emergency, so when it is, you know what to do, and you actually have some of that oh-so-warm food.

Lastly- Put the dang thing out. Use water, or dirt if that's not available, or anything else non-flammable that you can get to smother the remaining embers of that flame. Cover the embers and coals, and make sure you don't see any smoke. Do whatever you must to make sure that fire is dead, and then place your bare hands where the fire once was to make certain it's not hot.  I don't care if it is the end of the world, anything you burn down should not be on accident.

Be safe, have fun, and remember that you don't have to spend a hundred dollars on some fancy gadget to have a fire. A bit of practice, and you can be burning things like an old pro - because by then,you will be.

Links for thought food.

I have a lot of sites that I read over and quite a few are the normal "ammo and bug out bag" type, but one of my favorite site is Homestead Survival.  Awesome site with DIY projects and even posts with free kindle titles.  And before you start moaning about not having a kindle, the kindle app for tablet and phone is FREE.

They throw articles all the time on things many of us may not have thought of yet.  Like these so-called emergency pre-prepared foods.  I can't have most if not any of those anyways due to food allergies (and yes, I'll be sharing info on my preps working around a grain, corn and dairy allergy with you guys.)

This article, 5 Food Storage Lies To Watch Out For, I'm sharing with you as food for thought.  You can't be too careful with your preps.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Death and Burial - Part 2 (Mind)

Part 1 may be found here

One of the other aspects of death and burial is the “how” behind it all. How can you tell if someone is dead? How can you tell how long someone has been dead? How do you handle a dead body? These and other questions may seem morbid or grotesque, but the answers may be relevant in a post-SHTF world.

Death is usually determined as when the brain stops functioning, or at least when the heart stops pumping blood to the brain - which leads to brain-death rather quickly, within two to six minutes. Determining brain death requires the use (and interpretation) of an electroencephalogram (EEG). I don't think many of us own an EEG and carry it around with us. In the various medical training I've received over the years (mostly advanced first aid and first responder training) they taught a few quick methods of determining whether a person was dead and therefore beyond the need of aid, freeing you to provide aid to those that could still benefit from it.

How can you tell if someone is dead?
Lack of signs of breathing is not a sign of death anymore. In earlier times it was common to check for breath by holding a mirror to a person's mouth and looking for the mirror to fog up. With the advent of CPR, a person who has stopped breathing can sometimes be "brought back". The statistics I've seen put the success rate for CPR in the 10-20% range. In “normal” times, that's only fair odds, but in a SHTF situation with no advanced/enhanced medical aid around it may all you have. CPR training is cheap or free and I strongly recommend that everyone get it.
Lack of a pulse is not always a sign of death, especially if it is a radial (taken at the wrist) pulse. Freezing and injuries can stop blood flow to the extremities, so they are not a viable place to check for a pulse. Always check at the throat (carotid pulse) if you're looking for signs of life.

Presence of a heartbeat doesn't always mean life, either. Both my father and father-in-law have pacemakers that will keep their hearts pumping for quite some time after they are brain dead. Until the heart muscle starts to decay or the blood starts to coagulate, that electrical pulse will keep it beating. Think of the high school experiment with frog legs and electricity. 

Decapitation or massive loss of brain tissue is a clear indicator that the person is dead, as is the onset of livor mortis, algor mortis and rigor mortis. 

How can you tell how long someone has been dead?
Livor mortis is the pooling of blood in the part of the body closest to the ground, and begins as soon as the heart stops beating. Gravity will pull the blood to the lowest point, causing the skin on the rest of the body to lose color and the low points to be “stained” a purplish-red by the pooling blood. The blood is “unfixed” or able to move for a few hours after death but then gels or coagulates and will no longer move.

Algor mortis is the cooling of the body after death, also referred to as “assuming room temperature”. Depending on the temperature of the environment, the rate of cooling can vary drastically.

Rigor mortis is the stiffening of the muscles once blood flow ceases. Rigor mortis has stages that it progresses through, and can give you an idea of how long someone has been dead. Be aware that small children and infants may not show signs of rigor mortis due to their smaller muscle mass and less developed skeletons.
  • The first stage begins at the moment of death - all of the muscles relax due to the absence of control by the nervous system. The anal sphincter will relax (allowing the contents of the bowels to seep out) as will the muscles around the urethra (allowing the contents of the bladder to leak out). 
  • The second stage (two to four hours after death) is the stiffening of the muscles in the body. The muscles of the face and neck generally stiffen first, followed by the extremities, and lastly the internal muscles of the body. Since the eyelids and face are the first to stiffen, we have developed the tradition of closing the eyes of the dead as soon as we're sure they're dead. Placing coins on the eyes of the dead is an old ritual that kept the eyelids closed with the side benefit of providing the soul of the deceased with the toll to pay Charon for the ferry ride to the afterlife (he charged two coins - it didn't matter what the coins were). 
  • The third stage (24 - 72 hours after death) is the releasing of the stiffness in the same order as it began as the muscle tissue starts to break down. The stiffness of corpses in modern funerals is caused by the embalming fluids used in preparing the body for burial. 

How do you handle a dead body?
Generally, unless they died of a contagious disease, you'll want to put on a pair of gloves and depending on how advanced the decay process is and a mask to minimize the odors. Friends who work for a coroner's office keep a jar of Vick's VapoRub in their vehicle. They rub a bit along their upper lip or swab it inside their nostrils to counter the smells they're going to encounter when they have to do a pick up. Some of the stories they've told me are disquieting, to put it mildly.

If they did die of a contagious disease, you'll want to take precautions to prevent the spread of that disease. Depending on the disease the precautions can range from rubber gloves and a dust mask (pneumonia or an STD) to full a haz-mat suit and respirator (plague or revived smallpox). If there is any doubt, err on the side of caution. In case of wide-spread outbreak of a highly contagious disease, burning the bodies may be the best way of disposing of them. Taking care of yourself is more important than being respectful of the dead. Decontamination is a complicated subject and may be covered at a later date.

If it is a friend or loved one's body, you may want to bathe the body and dress it for burial as soon as you can. Plugging the body's openings is a common tradition- remember that the bowels and bladder are going to leak. As the body starts to decay pressure will build up in the internal organs that will push everything out, but this takes days unless the temperatures are very warm. Perforations in the abdomen (think bullet holes) will allow the gasses created by the decay process to escape without building up pressure. Placing absorbent pads under the body to catch leakage is a common hospital practice. Wrap them in a sheet or shroud and set them aside while you're preparing the grave or tomb. If it is the body of a stranger or enemy you may not want to go to as much trouble or spend as much time in disposing of them. Rolling them onto a tarp or litter and transporting them to a grave/tomb may be all you'll want or need to do.

When you're done handling the body, wash up as best you can. Soap and water is the bare minimum; a full bath or shower will be better at removing anything that may compromise your own health.

I would suggest leaving some form of ID on any corpse that you bury for future reference, but anything of value on a stranger or enemy should be given to a living person who can get use of it. Family and friends should have made it clear ahead of time how they want their worldly possessions distributed upon their death, and if they haven't then leave that up to the next-of-kin.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The First 72 hours: Water & Food

The Next Big Thing for your area is overdue and you want to get ready, but you think family or economics will keep you from preparing? Living in an apartment, condo, or house in the city is not a reason to ignore planning for you or your family's safety.

As I am currently rebuilding my preps, I will be following these recommendations as well as writing about them every week. I will also list how much it costs to do, because I am on a Blue Collar Prepping budget.

Your plan should list your goals for 24-72 hours, 3-14 days and then multiples of 14 days as your budget allows. Write the plan down, put it on your tablet, on your phone and your home computer, but have printed hard copies as your back-up.

There will be a bibliography of the books I have read and use, with excerpts noted to the best of my ability.

The topics to be covered were outlined in my last post, so let's get started.


You need water to survive and with the power off, water mains and sewer lines damaged, do you trust what comes out of the faucet? The answer is a qualified YES. The chance of contamination is low for the first hour after an earthquake (my planned-for disaster), so fill up your bathtub and any containers (with screw lids) you can to supplement your stored water. Save this for your last resort supply. 

How much water do you need to store? 2 gallons per person, per day is the recommended minimum for health, cooking and cleaning. So, you need 12 gals of water for 3 people, per day, stored safely. Walmart* has 5-6 gallon soft/collapsible or hard side water containers for as little as $9 (soft) to $12 (hard). Spend what you can, when you can. Remember that I mentioned recycling? If you have to, use 1 gallon screw-top milk or juice containers to start. Cleaned with soap and rinsed, filled, set in the sun (to remove flavors) and then refilled, you will be fine. Remember, Some Is Always Better Than None. So if you don’t see a movie this month, give up one lunch out, and don’t buy a half-caff Mochajavafrappachino or two this week, you could have $20-$30 to spend!


As I’ve said, this is a project that I’m doing right now for myself, so take all of this as a guide, not Gospel. Tailor it to your situation financially, storage-wise and disaster-wise.

The food you are eating now should be the core of what is purchased for your emergency supply, but in another condition. Whether this is dry, dehydrated or freeze-dried is entirely budget defined. To get the most from your blue collar budget, you should be shopping at the local dollar store, food outlet, ethnic markets, and if you can afford the membership, Costco or Sam’s Club. Start with buying 2 extra cans of the core foods you regularly buy when you shop and put those aside. Start purchasing extra packages of rice, flour, pasta, beans (dry and canned), lentils, couscous and whole grains. Don’t forget oatmeal, tea, coffee, brown and white sugar, dry soup and your favorite seasonings and spices. Also put away canned tuna, chicken, dried and canned fruit and other family picks. Don’t forget hard candy! 

As you purchase these supplies, use a permanent marker to mark them with date of purchase and type (in case of label damage) to prevent spoilage. These items will be rotated into your kitchen, used up and re-supplied as you go. Canned goods will store well if placed off concrete floors, away from moisture and temperature extremes. Bagged goods that might get crushed need to be stored in other containers like 5 gallon plastic pails with snap down lids, or metal trash cans if space allows. Try to get discarded restaurant food storage pails, purchase food storage pails and specialty food storage bags. At the least, double-bag your items in white kitchen bags, duct tape them closed and mark what is inside before placing in your cans. If you find restaurant pails, try not to use sliced pickle or garlic cans! Remember, start with what you have, do what you can, and Some Is Always Better Than None.

Next week: Shelter and Energy

* Walmart will be used for much of my shopping, since it gives me more bang for my buck. Many items stocked there come from China. Get over your geo-political sensitivities; I don’t like a government who murdered 30-50 MILLION of their people either. However, I am not willing to die nor let those I care about die for a political statement. After our families are safe and homes secure we can have that trendy coffee and compare notes. Until that time, let’s stay alive.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The CSK, or Car Survival Kit (part 1)

In a conversation last week after Erin's post about her Get Home Bag, I was asked if I had something similar.  The answer:  "Not really.  Kind of."  Erin asked to see it, so I figured I'd share with everybody.

My environs are a bit different from the rest of the crew here, with the exception somewhat of the good Chaplain.  Whereas the others spend their days in a concrete wilderness*, I'm as likely to be out of cell signal as I am to be on pavement. Walking home is a bit less of an option, and in many situations, staying with your vehicle is a better plan.  (Note to self: expand on this some other time.)

With that in mind, let's break down my gear.

This is the main guts of it.  The most important stuff is in one bag, so I can grab it and go, if I have to leave the truck.

The little orange pocket you see?  This is what it holds.  Two ponchos, two mylar space blankets, a pair of chemical hand warmer packs, a whistle (with an LED light, a passable compass, a thermometer, and a signalling mirror) and a fire bar.

The contents of the main pocket, clockwise, from upper left: A Seychelle water filtration bottle and spare filter, an emergency tent, six 1200 calorie food bars, a Sterno stove and fuel can, a bag of sports drink mixes (electrolytes, baby!), a pair of cut-resistant gloves, utensils, a dynamo-powered flashlight and radio, dust masks, an LED headlamp and battery, glow sticks, and SPF 50 sunblock, because Uncle Loki tans like a lobster.

The water bottle and filter.  Claims to be good for 200 gallons per filter, using a 2 micron carbon and iodine filter combination. Should keep most water I'll find in the sticks from killing me.

My first aid kit (and the knife I forgot to include in the big picture).

Included in the first aid kit:
  • Tape
  • Small medical scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Small lockback folding knife
  • 2 rolls of 4" gauze
  • Antacids
  • Ibuprofin
  • 5 3x3 gauze pads
  • Baby wipes
  • a 5x7 dressing
  • dental floss
  • various small band-aids
  • 5 hemostatic gauze pads
  • matches
  • antiseptic wipes
  • alcohol prep pads 
Somewhere in the past couple years, my triangle bandages have ended up "not in this bag."  I need to add some more.  I tend to keep them around in lieu of fancy new-fangled tourniquet kits. They're somewhere between cheap and free, and I was taught old-school, when they were all we had.  While the CAT and SOF-T are excellent pieces of gear, I have a tendency to fall back on what I know.  In addition, triangles are great for general bandaging, splinting, slings, and a whole host of other roles.

The whole bag rolls in at about 9 pounds, plus I have a box of freeze-dried food in the truck that puts on another 3-ish.

This comes in SUBSTANTIALLY lighter than Erin's GHB.  There's a reason for that.  This is the grab-and-go part of my kit.  You'll notice, with the exception of the knife, there are virtually no tools in this bag.  There are no weapons in this bag, except the knife. I'm not carrying toiletries, or much by way of firemaking gear.

There's a reason for that.  Those things are carried either in my tactical manbag (Call it Zone 1.5, in Erin's Zones) or in my truck itself, be it in the cab or in the toolbox.  Next week, I'll break open the toolbox, and show you the far less portable parts of a Car Survival Kit.


* Erin adds:  Hey now!  I live in a rural suburb, thank you very much!  I have miles of woods in my back yard. My wilderness is only partly concrete. :P

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