WTH is EDC? June 25, 2010

Having a well-stocked, rural retreat does no good if you aren't able to get there when it hits the fan.  Of course, most of us can't walk around with all of our gear on our backs every day, either.  What is a prepper to do?  A BOV (bug out vehicle) with a GHB (get home bag) are great.  I have a GHB in my daily driver that I am also outfitting as a BOV.  But what if I am not near my truck?  Maybe I'm in my office, or out in the city conducting business...  Maybe I'm just out to dinner with the wife. 

Things happen, that's why we prepare.  I just put together a small, discrete, EDC (every day carry) kit that I can have with me pretty much anywhere I go.  It won't raise alarm, nor will it make people look at me as if I have three heads. 

So what is it, and how can you build one?  First off, this will work for me.  Your situation is going to be different.  Take what I have done, and use it as a launchpad for your own EDC that will fulfil your needs.

The other day, at Lowe's, I found a durable, nylon/Velcro cell phone pouch that came with a AAA flashlight, a small carabiner, and what seems to be a very strong belt clip.  It was only $5.99, so I picked it up with this project in mind.  How much useful gear can a person get into a cell phone pouch?  You'd be surprised.

I've got my key ring (truck, truck tool box, house, office, and handcuffs), the AAA flashlight, two good size alcohol prep pads, a 2"x2" sterile wound dressing, a small roll of surgical tape, two surgical gloves, five adhesive bandages, a tube of Chap Stick 15 SPF, a small Sharpie marker, a Swiss Army Knife (I recommend only genuine Victorinox or Wegner - don't waste your money on an off brand SAK), and about 6.5 feet of 550 parachute cord.  Everything is intended to be used for a small local emergency, or to aid me until I get additional help or back to my BOV or home.  The only additions I foresee making are including one of the half-sized Bic disposable lighters, and trading out the cheapo flashlight that came with the pouch for a Mag Lite Solitaire which is about the same size, but much better quality.  I will also add a barrier mask for CPR and use a black Sharpie to subdue the logo on the flap. 

Does that little pouch hold all that stuff?  Take a look for yourself...
I can have this with me whether I'm wearing short and a t-shirt, or in my suit at work.  When someone needs a bandage, I'll have one ready and hopefully strike up a conversation about basic preparedness.

I hope all my readers will get inspired to make their own EDC kit.  It can be done very inexpensively, and the time will come when you will be glad you have it.

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Government Sanctioned Prepping? June 20, 2010

This week I came across two documents, both originating with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.  Both also gave the impression that the government (or at least Virginia) is growing in its commitment to developing the preparedness mentality among citizens.

The first item is a report from the University of Virginia entitled Population Behaviors in Dirty Bomb Attack Scenarios: A Survey of the National Capital Region.  The 64-page report details the findings from interviews with nearly 2,700 residents of Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland and Washington, D.C.  The survey asked respondents about their preparations, plans and expected behaviors in the event of one of several dirty bomb scenarios in that area. There are a lot of interesting findings from the report.  One that validates what many of us probably feel about our family and friends who are failing to prep is that "denial and 'not wanting to deal with it' were most likely to keep people from preparing."  I know many that fall into the "ignorance is bliss" line of thought.

A disturbing finding is that about 80% would shelter in place if directed to do so, but fewer than a third have an emergency kit prepared, and only 13% have a kit, a family meeting location and a written plan for an emergency.  I wonder how all those unprepared people plan to survive and thrive.  Waiting on FEMA I would assume...

This was a very interesting report, and I suggest that everyone interested in prepping read it to get an idea of what your friends and neighbors are planning to do in an emergency.  To me it is that much more reason to ensure that my family is not a burden on the system.  It is also further motivation to keep this blog going to spread information and help get more folks prepared to not be burdens.

The second VDEM item I got was the 2010 Emergency Preparedness Survey that they have released to gauge the readiness of the Commonwealth's citizens. I don't know that the results will be statistically valid, because there is no random sampling, it is just anyone who takes the time to complete the survey.  I would think that those who already have an interest in preparedness would be more likely to take the survey, thus skewing the results to reflect a higher than true rate of preparedness.

Among other questions, the survey asks what situations you feel might hit your community, what steps you've taken to prepare, and some demographic data.  If a person was able to answer "yes" to all of the preparations questions, he would be better prepared than 87% of the people in the Washington region survey, but it is only a bare minimum start.  The minimum suggestions from the government are little more than feel-good measures that might be of use in a small scale problem like a brief winter storm or during a heavy rainfall.  The main intent is to keep alive until the government arrives to increase our dependence on them.  I believe that a person should be self-sufficient and dependent on no one but one's self during times of trouble.  Doing so will make each of us stronger and more resilient, as well as better off during the good times.


You Have Car Insurance, Don't You? June 16, 2010

In the three years prior to Y2K, I spent thousands and thousands of dollars (which I didn't have at the time) to prepare for it.  Thanks to the billions and billions of dollars spent by governments and corporations around the world, it was a non-event.  I now try to make my prepping activities a part of my general lifestyle, not to get ready for a specific event.  I budget for supplies, I incorporate my preps into daily life, and the ultimate goal is to have whatever I need If It Hits The Fan, but also that those things that I have done also contribute to my ongoing happiness and success.

"Didn't you learn from Y2K?"  "Why are you wasting your money?"  "You'll never use that stuff!"  "What are you going to do with that much food?"

If you are a prepper, you've heard these same questions and statements.  They often come from friends or family that buy a new car every couple years, take frequent vacations, are always going out to eat, have toys like ATVs, boats, and jet skis, all of it "paid" for with credit.  "I can make the payment, why shouldn't I buy that...?"  They might have enough food in the house to make it until next payday, but Visa is on standby if they don't.  When a disaster hits, whether large-scale affecting everyone, or a very personal one, these people are not ready and must depend on the kindness of others, or more likely, the government (which we know is really us, but they don't see it that way).

I look at people like this in several different ways.  If they are close friends or family whom I love and care about, I have to determine if they are at least open to changing the way they live.  I can't jump right into, "So what are you going to do when the electrical grid collapses due to an electromagnetic pulse attack?"  That will convince them that they've been right all along and I'm paranoid.  Maybe I'll mention that we are working our way out of debt by following Dave Ramsey's principles and I'll offer to lend them a copy of "Total Money Makeover."  Perhaps I'll reminisce about the last time we lost power for 3 days in an ice storm and how cozy we were with our generator running the house and how nice it was not to have to worry about fighting the crowds for a loaf of bread or gallon of milk.  If they are resistant, the best I might be able to do is put away a little extra when I can with the plan of distributing it as charity during a time of need.  I also need to make it clear to them that if disaster strikes, they cannot come here.  We don't have room and we can't provide for them.  If they seem like they might be interested in hearing more, I think it is best to move gradually.  Let them guide the conversation.  Ask them what they did during the last "xyz" situation.  Suggest they listen to The Survival Podcast or read Making the Best of Basics by James Talmage Stevens.  The key is to not scare them off and to let them explore this way of life at their own speed, offering guidance and collaboration when needed.

The next group of people is the casual acquaintance.  Someone I work with or who is a friend of a friend.  I used to talk openly about my preps with any and all who would listen.  I was often met with "I'm coming to your house when it gets bad."  I warned people off with offers of ammunition, one bullet at a time.  As I've matured, I realize how bad that image was to the preparedness movement.  I've also realized that I am not the only one who approached the situation that way.  Nowadays, I just don't bring it up.  If someone reads between the lines, or stumbles upon this blog, and realizes what I do, then they are probably already leaning toward preparedness (if not already actively involved in prepping).  Perhaps that person will soon become a close friend and trusted prepping partner.

The last group of people is the total strangers.  I actually feel pretty good about talking to these folks.  They don't know me, where I live, or where I work, but they are in my community and I'd rather them be able to take care of themselves than depend on the government to help.  That is part of the reason I do this blog... to reach people who have some interest or concern with preparing their families, but don't really know anyone to talk to directly.  I recently chatted with a fellow at Wal-Mart who was buying his 12 year old son a Mossberg 20 gauge shotgun.  He very proudly told me that the boy took two deer last year with a 20 gauge single shot.  If I had a business card showing my blog, along with a couple of other resources, I could have passed it to him.  As it was, I congratulated him on his son's achievement and thanked him for passing on the traditions to a new generation.  I'm hopeful that this blog will serve as an introduction to prepping for many who are not yet ready to dive in head first, but who know things can go bad and have a feeling that they must do something.

Really, to the novice, one way to approach prepping is to ask if they have car insurance.  Some will say that they have the bare minimum because the law requires it.  You probably won't make much headway with that type.  Others will say that they have very high coverage to protect their family's assets in the event they cause an accident.  These are the folks that will get it.  Prepping is another form of insurance, but where you really hope you never have to use your car insurance, prepping can be done in a way to insure your family's assets during disaster or personal crisis, but it can also improve your day-to-day life.  Eat tomorrow on today's dollars.  Grow a garden to lower your food bill and give your family healthy, natural food.  Learn how to build or repair things that you need around the house.  Have guns and fishing gear for recreation or providing food.  Collect Silver Eagles and pre-65 U.S. coins because they are neat, and they store wealth or can be used for barter.  It goes on and on.  Prepping is just another form of insurance, but one that can save your life, not just pay for it.


If It Glows, It Blows June 9, 2010

Although we live in a rural location, I commute an hour each way to work in a major city, Newport News, Virginia.  Newport News is 25 miles long and 4 miles wide, with the James River on the south edge, and the Chesapeake Bay at its end.  What does this have to do with being prepared for disaster?  At the south east end of the city is the Northrup-Grumman Shipyard.  One of only two shipyards in the country where nuclear powered Navy vessels are built and repaired.  The north west end of the city lies within the 10 mile Emergency Planning Zone of the Surry Nuclear Power Station.  Right smack in the middle of town is the Jefferson National Nuclear Accelerator Lab.  My office is in the mid-town, and I drive all over the city throughout the day.

When I got to work this morning, I checked the local news.  Imagine my interest when the first article I read told of the radioactive contamination that was found on the clothing of a shipyard worker who had been working on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.  The second article let me know that yesterday Surry had an electrical system malfunction that shut down one of its nuclear reactors.  I already knew that the quarterly test of the radiological emergency alert sirens in town was planned for today.  At least nothing had gone wrong at the nuclear accelerator labs (that "they" told us about).  Fortunately, neither of these events caused a radiological release and nobody was at risk.  But it raises the question of "what if?"

A terrorist dirty bomb in the heart of the city.  A truck carrying nuclear materials has a wreck on the interstate that breaches the transport containers.  An accident at the power station causes a radioactive cloud to travel fall over the city.  Any number of similar situations could happen.  Is it likely?  Not really.  There are multiple safeguards in place.  But it is not outside the realm of a realistic chance of it taking place.  So the question is, how can I go about my daily life, preparing for something like this, but continuing to thrive if it doesn't happen?

In Desert Storm, I wore Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear.  This was a charcoal lined oversuit and rubber overboots with rubber overgloves and a M17 gas mask and hood on my side at all times for about 5 straight days.  I can't do that waiting for something to happen.  It would clash with my necktie and sport coat, I'd start to stink, and people would think I was a nutjob and I'd get fired.  On top of that, the oversuit is really for chemical agent exposure and would not protect me from radiation.  I'd need a rubber suit.  I guess I could get an old school Civil Defense-era Geiger counter, but it's kind of tough to tote around a big yellow box all day, and again, there is the nutjob factor.  But, there are some important things I can do that will help me stay safe.

Emergency Alert System
In my office, I have a weather alert and EAS radio that will let me know when a radiological emergency is publicized.  The key there is "publicized."  There will be a time lag from when an emergency happens and when it is announced.  That can be life-threatening in certain circumstances.  So I need other options.

NukAlert is a small, discreet key fob that functions as a 24/7 radiation monitor and alarm.  Essentially a 21st century Geiger counter.  It has a 10 year battery life, and the manufacturer offers a very reasonably-priced battery replacement/unit reconditioning.  It is $160 for one, or $145 each for two or more.  I can have one of these with me at all times without anyone else knowing about it.  If the alarm on it goes off, then I know I need to leave the area immediately and tune in to emergency broadcasts.  From my previous postings, you know I hate debt and function on a budget.  This is not budgeted, so i need to plan for it in the very near future.  Hmmm.  A birthday is coming up soon, perhaps a loved one will buy this for me...  I'm just sayin'.  Anyway, once I have this, if it goes off, that means I've been exposed to some level of radiation.  What then?

Potassium Iodide (KI)
Potassium Iodide will prevent your thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodine and can reduce the risk of thyroid cancers and other diseases that might otherwise be caused by exposure to radioactive iodine that could be dispersed in a severe nuclear accident.  These pills are taken one a day until you are able to leave the contaminated environment.  Although they have FDA-mandated expiration dates, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, they do not lose any potency or effectiveness past that date.  They are very stable.  So why not make this very inexpensive long-term investment and keep a pack of them in my truck as a part of my Every Day Carry (EDC)?

I encourage you to shop around for the best price on these, but if you use the links above for either one, please let them know you learned of them from this blog.

With these relatively inexpensive preparations, I can be ready for a nuclear accident or attack and be able to safely and quickly get out of town.  I am fortunate to live far enough away from Newport News that my home will be safe.  For those who live in that city or anywhere else that has nuclear or radiological risks, a wise preparation over and above these might include having a fall-back location such as a relative's house or vacation home.  But that leads into discussions about Bug Out Locations (BOL) and Bug Out Bags (BOB) and how to evacuate.  And those discussions will have to wait for another post.


Five Steps to Freedom June 8, 2010

A huge part of being prepared is minimizing one’s dependence on outside resources. Whether that means waiting for FEMA to come bring a bottle of water and a bag of ice after a hurricane, or not being able to cook dinner tonight because no one went to the supermarket. Here are five simple steps that nearly anyone can take to increase independence from the system. Doing these things can build self-sufficiency, save money, and even help a person have a little fun.

Grow something.

Genetically modified crops, salmonella, out-of-season price increases, trucker strikes. Why would anyone not grow at least some of their own fruits or vegetables? If all you have is a plastic pot in a windowsill, or you have a 10 acre homestead in the country, you can grow some or all of your own produce. Jules Dervaes and his family grow 6,000 pounds a year on their 1/10 acre lot in Pasadena, California.

I just had the first harvest from my first garden. I have a 12’ x 4’ box filled with top soil and horse manure compost. I’ve got cukes, tomatoes, lettuces, carrots, two blackberry bushes, and radishes. The radishes came up first and tasted delicious. A garden that size is manageable for me as I learn about the soil and what works. In future years, I expect that my garden will grow, and its output will increase. I’d encourage the novice to start small. It’s better to have to expand it later than to get overwhelmed and abandon the project.
If a yard is not available for your gardening, look into containers. The Topsy-Turvy , ornamental pots, or just 5 gallon buckets all work great. If that is too much, grow a few herbs on the kitchen window sill in a tray. Right now, boxes of Triscuit crackers have basil seeds in them, ready to plant as a part of their Home Farming promotion.

Whatever steps you take, you’ll add tasty, healthy food to your diet; reduce your tax footprint (even if your state has no food sales tax, you won’t need to use as much fuel going to the store); get some fresh air and exercise; increase your self-sufficiency; and be more prepared for whatever life throws at you. Don’t forget to find some hapless neighbors on whom you can furtively drop off your excess zucchini.

Change your oil.

When I had cars that were built in the 70’s and 80’s I changed my own oil. Routine maintenance was a breeze on those older cars. As cars got more complicated and I got busier, I turned to Jiffy Lube and repair shops. I have recently started changing my own again. It’s really still a simple matter, requiring one time purchases of ramps or jack stands, wheel chocks, a filter wrench, a socket set, and an oil drain pan. From there, you need 5 or 6 quarts of oil and a filter… that’s it. Check your owner’s manual for specifics, then crawl on under and do it. If you’ve never done it before, ask around for someone to show you, or check YouTube for how-to videos.

The first few times, it will be a long project and a pain in the rear, but it will get quicker and easier, and eventually it will be quicker than going to get it done. Plus, it will cost you about a third of what you would pay to get it done. Just be responsible with your used oil and take it to a place that accepts it for recycling. Also, be careful and follow your manual’s instructions so that you stay safe. You don’t want your car dropping down on top of you!

Once again, this is an opportunity to do something for yourself and save some money. It’s also a good skill to have so that you can help out an elderly relative or even make a few bucks on the side doing it for folks who are satisfied being dependent on others.

Get a generator.

Nearly everyone lives in a part of the country that is subject to power loss ranging from several hours to several days or even weeks. Around here, it is usually due to hurricanes or ice storms. Elsewhere it could be from range fires, tornadoes, or any number of other reasons. Not everyone is ready for a giant diesel generator hard wired to the breaker box or a natural gas whole-house unit. If you are not at that point, you really should consider a small, inexpensive genny. For just a few hundred dollars, you can get a unit that will be enough to run a couple extension cords to power the refrigerator and a few lights.

You need to look at the power draw of whatever essentials you want to run. The refrigerator will have a surge draw (when the compressor kicks on) that is higher than its continuous draw. A generator will also have a surge and continuous output. For instance, say your refrigerator has a continuous draw of 1,200 watts and a peak of 2,400. You have three lamps with 60 watt light bulbs (here’s a place where a CFL bulb can really pay off), a color TV with 300 continuous watts and 400 surge, and a window fan with 100 continuous and 150 surge watts. Your inexpensive genny has 3,500 and 4,400 continuous and surge, respectively. You really can’t get full efficiency, so you could watch TV with the lights and fan on, but then, every few hours, turn off the TV and two lights and run the refrigerator for an hour or so to maintain the temperature so you don’t lose your meat and milk.

A generator like this can be had, including shipping, for $479 from Amazon. You could shop around locally at your big box stores, or check Craig’s List and yard sales for someone who bought it for a specific storm, and won’t think ahead to the next one. A poster on a forum I frequent just got a nearly new genny at a yard sale for $100! To keep it in top shape, you’ll need to learn how to do basic annual maintenance, such as oil and spark plug changing. Start it up and run it with a light plugged in once a month for 15 minutes or so. Naturally, you need to have adequate fuel. For a small unit, 10 gallons of gas will run it for most of a day (you probably won’t run it 24 hours unless you are powering some crucial medical equipment or something like that). You can keep six gas cans, each holding five gallons, in a pretty small space. That will get you through three days, a reasonable time frame for many power outages.  You can always store more if you have the space.  When storing fuel, don’t keep it in the house or near an open flame. You’ll also want to treat it with fuel stabilizer. Gas goes bad in just a month or two unless it is treated. Some people swear by Sta-Bil, others by Sea Foam. A friend who is a meticulous researcher has recently turned me on to Startron. I trust his judgment without question, so Startron is my new fuel stabilizer of choice. Twice a year, rotate your fuel in the lawn mower, car, or other engine, and get fresh gas with new treatment.

Finally, be sure to follow instructions when using a generator. It can be lethal to you if the exhaust gets in the house or to a lineman if it is hooked into your home’s power system incorrectly.

Store some food and water.

FEMA tells us to store three days of food and water. The Latter Day Saints (Mormons) encourage their flock to keep a year’s worth. I’ll never say that a year is too much, but three days is definitely not enough. Money is tight, so most folks don’t have the luxury of heading to Sam’s Club or ordering long-term storage foods from Emergency Essentials to fill the pantry in one trip. But, everyone can gradually build up several weeks’ worth of food. Two principles to keep in mind are “First In First Out” (FIFO) and “Store What You Eat, Eat What You Store.”

FIFO means that you rotate your stocks. By having multiples of things you eat on a regular basis, you don’t have to run to the store to immediately replace something and you won’t run out. If you use a few packs or cans of something, but have several more in the pantry, you can wait until it goes on sale before buying again. That keeps you from being at the mercy of whatever the retail price happens to be at the time you need something. Storing what you eat means just that. If your family does not like rice, a 50 pound bag will do you no good when you need it. Similarly, a case of military MRE meals will have a very negative effect on a picky eating child or spouse. If your family likes tuna, pasta, and peanut butter, stock up when you have a coupon or it goes on sale. My pantry has the above, plus pasta sauce, granola bars, oat meal, soup, cereal, crackers, rice, and other items that we eat daily. We wait for sales and use coupons to keep it stocked up.

Water is actually more necessary than food for life. FEMA says one gallon a day per person for drinking and hygiene. That is not nearly enough. I suggest 3-5 gallons per person at a minimum. Water is heavy and bulky, and the containers can have their own issues. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I could be better prepared when it comes to water. We have a couple of cases of bottled water and several 2.5 gallon jugs at any given time. But, we are on a shallow well and have a generator that will run the well pump. Future endeavors will include a rainwater harvesting system and an improvised old fashioned bucket on a rope contraption for the well. For your needs, look at reusing 2 liter soft drink bottles (clean them extremely well), five gallon Aqua-Tainers, or even 55 gallon food-grade barrels if you have the room. Don’t reuse milk jugs because they are fragile and won’t last. I’d also suggest some sort of water filter. You can go as basic as a Britta pitcher or as advanced as a Big Berkey filter system.

If you don’t have a pantry or an extra closet, you will have to be creative with how your plan to keep your new food stores. Look around for unused space. Under the bed is a great place. We have an antique church pew that hides seven or eight cases of water. Consider cutting out a section of sheet rock then nailing in 1x4 shelves to serve as shelves for canned goods. You can hang a simple curtain to cover it. The storage space is only limited by your imagination. Imagine how much better your life will be if you lose your job or disaster strikes your region and you have a month’s food supply already on hand. What about if you just have unexpected dinner guests and haven’t been to the grocery store? You’ll also save money by buying when you want to, not when you need to.

Eliminate debt!

Debt is the biggest disaster that nearly everyone faces each day. Debt prevents success. It tears apart families, and is at the root of our nation’s poor economy. To quote Jack Spirko, “Debt is cancer.”
Debt can be beaten. All it takes is to refuse to be trapped by it any more. We have been really helped by the principles that Dave Ramsey teaches. His seven baby steps are proven methods of beating debt and building wealth. I won’t go into them here, but please look them up. Disasters are a lot easier to take if you have no debt to worry about.

One key in the battle is to make a detailed budget and stick to it. Telling your money where to go each month is so much better than wondering where it went. It is amazing how much money just “disappears” when there is no budget. It’s also great to be able to pay cash for purchases that you plan for. Remember the folks mentioned earlier that bought a generator at a yard sale for $100? The asking price was $300, but it was the end of the day and they had cash on hand for just such an opportunity and the sellers gladly took the money. If these folks had a lot of debt and didn’t budget, they might have been able to get a 25 cent Slinky at the yard sale, but the generator opportunity would have passed them by. I know that when the next power outage happens, they’ll be really grateful.

Using these five simple steps: Grow something, Change your oil, Get a generator, Store some food, and Eliminate debt, you and your family can be well on your way toward self-sufficiency, being prepared for disaster or everyday life, and true Freedom. The longest journey starts with the first step. This will get you going.