Hurricane Preparedness Week

Welcome, WRVA Listeners

Thursday morning at about 7:30 a.m. (EDT) I'm scheduled to be interviewed on Richmond's Morning News with Jimmy Barrett to talk about hurricane preparedness as we get ready to enter the season.  You can listen in on 1140 AM (it's a 50,000 watt clear channel, so you can pick it up across quite a distance.  You can also find it streaming at www.1140WRVA.com or using the I Heart Radio app on your smart phone.

As an intro to the listeners who may want more information, I thought I'd offer some more details, resources and links for what Jimmy and I will be talking about.

Time To Stock Up, Save Money, And Stick It To The Man

It kind of snuck up on me this year, but this week is Virginia's Sales Tax Holiday for Emergency Preparedness.  Through May 31, Virginian's can save 5% by skipping the sales tax on tarps, flashlights, bungee cords, coolers, batteries, weather and 2-way radios, and other prep items that cost up to $60 each.  The tax holiday also goes for generators and inverters that cost up to $1,000.  For a complete list of tax exempt items, you can follow this link.  For folks in other states, Alabama and Louisiana have similar programs.  Here's a list to all state sales tax holidays.

It's Not All About Hurricane Preparedness

So, how can folks prepare for a hurricane now when we are unlikely to get one until late summer or in to fall?  The first thing is to keep in mind all-hazards planning and disaster commonality.  What other disasters can befall us in Central Virginia?  Tornadoes, Snow and Ice Storms, Derechos, Earthquakes...  all of these, like Hurricanes, can result in long term loss of power, loss of other utilities, injury, blocked roads, home and property damage.  Preparing for one makes us prepared for all. 

Here are some specific things to do on a year-round basis to help stay prepared for whatever Mother Nature sends our way:
  • Hurricane Straps - these are thin metal strips that are screwed (or nailed, but screwed is stronger) that attach rafters and roof trusses to the walls.  They can also attach a second floor to a first and a first to a foundation.  If you are doing new construction, this is a very cheap way to go.  With existing homes, depending on your attic situation, you may be able to retro fit straps to your roof at least.  These can help keep roofs attached and prevent home collapse in heavy hurricane direct hit.  They can also help in a small to moderate tornado.
  • Garage Door Braces - these vertical braces can prevent your garage door from imploding in up to 180 mph wind.  They can also make your garage door a more difficult target for burglaries.
  • Windows - modern, double and triple pane windows are more shatter resistant than old fashioned single panes.  With the energy savings, if you haven't put in new windows, you really ought to.  They'll cut your electric bill, and make your windows a little more sturdy in a storm.  Hurricane or storm shutters are not really common in Central Virginia, but would probably be good to have along the coast.  You can buy expensive, custom made shutters, or simply cut 5/8" plywood to fit and figure out how to attach them (wood screws to the window frame, masonry sinkers, etc...).  The key is to mark which covers go on which windows, and keep the attaching tools and devices where you can easily find them.  Don't wait until the day before a storm hits to try and buy plywood, and once a year or so, go ahead and do a dry run to practice putting them up.
  • Generators - at my home, we average 10-14 days a year without power.  We've gone as long as 8 days at a stretch after last year's derecho wind storm.  Whole house generators are great, but they are expensive.  We have two portable generators so we can rotate use.  We have a transfer switch hard wired into our electrical system by a licensed electrician.  The key with a generator, whether automatic/whole house, or portable, is to know how to safely run it, know how much energy you need at any given time, and maintain it.
    • Safety
      • If you just have a small generator to run a fan, a couple lights, and the refrigerator for a couple hours at a time, extension cords are the way to go.
      • With larger generators, you'll need a licensed electrician to set up a transfer switch that you plug a main cord into and it feeds into your home's electrical system.  You then control which outlets get power through your circuit breaker box.
      • Do Not "backfeed" a cord from the generator directly into an outlet... you can kill a lineman working farther down the line
      • Be sure you have adequate ventilation - don't run a generator in the garage or with the exhaust right under an open window
    • How Big
      • Do you know how much power you need?
      • A generator sales rep might add up all the electrical devices in your home... washer, dryer, refrigerator, microwave, four TV sets, three computers, two window unit air conditioners, three space heaters, 17 laps and overhead lights, hot water tank...  Adding up all of the watts needed to run those items will tell you how big a unit you need, right?  Wrong.  Have you ever run all of those things together at the same time?  Probably not.  Add up a couple of lamps (CFL bulbs use a heck of a lot less power than regular bulbs), TV, one appliance, and a TV.  Maybe add in one space heater OR one window AC unit.  You'll get by on a much smaller generator.  Our 7,500 watt generator easily runs what we need, including a window unit when it was 100 degrees outside.  We ran the fridge for a while, then shut it off to run the well pump and hot water tank.  It's not as convenient as just flipping a switch, but it is a WHOLE lot more economical.
      • You can get a device called a "Killawatt" that will accurately measure your various electrical items.
    • Maintenance
      • The automatic whole house generators kick on for a few minutes every week.  You still need to do or contract for routine maintenance such as oil changes.
      • A portable generator should be run under load (plug in a leaf blower or something) for about 15 minutes every month.  The oil needs to be changed every 25-50 hours of running time.  Be sure you have extra oil and filters on hand for those long-term outages.
      • You can't simply fill a 5 gallon can with gas and leave it in the shed for years.  The gas goes bad.  I keep 12 gas cans filled with treated gas.  Each can is labeled with a month, and each month I use that gas and refill the can with fresh treated gas.  That ensures I always have about 60 gallons on hand and can run my generators for over a week.  I have the ability to safely store that much gas... check with your local regulations and keep as much on hand as you can legally and safely.
  • Food, Water & Other Necessities
    • Richmonders are famous for clearing the grocery shelves of bread and milk on the day before a storm - wouldn't it make more sense to have a larder or pantry that you rotate on a regular basis and have enough food and other needs to get your family through most any emergency?
    • FEMA suggests 2-weeks worth of food and water - I encourage at least a month, and more if possible.  MREs, freeze-dried "survival" foods and the like have their place in long term preparedness plans, but for most folks, regular grocery store foods will work fine.
    • Copy-Canning; FIFO; Eat What You Store-Store What You Eat
      • You don't need to run to BJs and buy case lots.  Simply buy an extra can or box or two of what you normally buy each time you go to the store.
      • When you buy these extras, mark the date on them and rotate your stores - First In, First Out
      • If you like SPAM, buy SPAM (or tuna or canned peas or whatever).  If you hate it, don't buy it.  It ain't gonna taste better to you if you HAVE to eat it.  Buy foods your family already eats.
    • Water/Drinks
      • You don't need 50 gallon barrels of water in the basement.  Pick up a couple of cases of water on each trip to the store.  Fill up cleaned 2 liter soda bottles with tap water.  Store about 2 gallons of water per person for 2-3 weeks.  You can go less than that if you have alternative ways to get water.
        • If you are on a well (and a genny for the pump), have a pond or pool, or water catchment from the gutters, you have extra water.  I suggest a Berkey Water Filter system for every home that will make all that "outside" water clean and pure.
      • Water gets boring.  Pick up tea, coffee, lemonade, and Kool Aid powder mixes.
    • Toiletries/Necessities
      • Running out of toilet paper sucks.  Why does anyone buy a 4-pack?  Pick up the giant pack and get another one when that one is halfway done.
      • Don't wait to run out of soap, toothpaste, razors, deodorant, etc...  Buy multipacks, and get the next pack when the first one is halfway done.
      • If you are on any kind of maintenance medications, work with your doctor and insurance company to try and get a month ahead so that you always have at least 30 days worth on standby
  • Blackout Kit
    • Anytime the lights go out, whether for a week after a hurricane or ice storm, or just for a couple hours when a drunk runs into a power pole, a blackout kit will make your life easier.  Use a soft cooler or a small tote bag.  I keep one in the bedroom and one in the laundry room.
      • Have a couple of flashlights and extra batteries.  I've become a convert to using headlamps instead of flashlights.  They keep both hands free for hooking up the generator, walking the dog, or pretty much anything else you can imagine.  I love my Petzl Graphite that is linked below.
      • Keep an index card with the phone numbers for the power company and other emergency contacts
      • Candles and a lighter - I like a handful of those battery operated votive candles to just spread around the house.  Some prefer regular flame candles.  At after Christmas sales or thrift stores, look for jar candles since they are safer than a stick candle
      • We already said batteries, but have more!  Have different sizes for anything that you might not even think of.
  • The MOST Important Piece of Storm Preparedness Gear
    • Every home should have at least one NOAA Weather Alert Radio plugged in with fresh batteries year-round, 24/7
    • With S.A.M.E. technology of current models, you can set it so it only picks up warnings for your county
    • Technology has made the warnings more accurate and longer range to give us a chance to prepare and seek shelter - especially for tornadoes
With a 30 day supply of food, water, and daily needs, not only will you be ready for most any natural disaster, but you'll also be that much better off if you get laid off or have to miss work due to a serious injury.  You can also use the extra as charity for neighbors or family who are less prepared.

Where to store all this food, water, and mondo packs of toilet paper?  Be creative!  Under the beds... the dead space above the cupboards... the coffee table or footstool might be able to be used for storing more than a couple throw pillows...  that attic crawl space that is too small to store a bunch of junk, can easily hold a couple packs of TP and paper towels.

If you take these steps, gradually and without building debt (when's the best time to buy a generator? a month after a hurricane hits when half the people who ran out to buy one at Lowe's before the storm end up selling them on Craig's List because they didn't even open the box), you'll be much more prepared for a hurricane, or any number of other personal or widespread disasters.

Check back here over the next few days for more info on preparedness efforts to take as we get farther in to hurricane season and for the last minute things to do in the days before a hurricane hits the area.

For more information on securing your home against high winds, FEMA offers several free download documents here.


Interesting Week

Moore, OK

We were on vacation this past week down on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Taking a break from the beach in the room, my wife was stunned to see live footage of the tornado that devastated Moore.  Her best friend from high school lives there.  As soon as the news showed the tornado had ended, she got on Facebook and reached out to her friend.  Thankfully, they made instant contact, and she and her family were safe.  Her work was destroyed, but her home was unscathed.  In the aftermath of the tornado, the photos were amazing.  Entire square miles are destroyed and there are no recognizable landmarks.  Chance Sanders put a comment on his FB page suggesting folks also record grid coordinates, along with addresses, of their family meeting or rendezvous locations.  Great idea!  But how do you do that without an old school map?

Here's what you do...  Go to Google Maps and find whatever location you want to make a meeting location.  Right click on it and pick "what's here?"  The 16-digit coordinates will show up in the search box.  Simply save these to your notes page on your smart phone, then, if you need to find the location after a disaster, just go to Google on your phone's web browser, enter the coordinates, and it will pop up in Google maps.  You can then get directions to there from your current location. 

For OPSEC, you can simply do a "plus 2" to each pair of numbers when you record it, and you can give them labels such as "gym combination" or "bank account #."  Let's give it a try... using "plus 2," my "elementary school locker combination" is: 39.625758,-79.580219.  Figure out where I went to 5th grade, and email it to me here.  All correct answers received by noon on Saturday, June 1, 2013 will be entered in a drawing to win some cool prep gear from my bunker.  It won't be huge, but it will be cool.

A word of caution - I also tried this with Google Earth.  I got completely different grid coordinates for the same location.  I used the coordinates that I got off Google Earth, and I ended up about 40 miles away on the other side of town.

Five In The Pocket

No, I didn't spend vacation in a pool hall.  We were at the beach.  How to ensure you have protection, even in the bare minimum of clothing (it's OK, you don't have to gouge your eyes out, I wasn't wearing a Speedo).  I carried my NAA mini-revolver with five rounds of .22LR CCI Stinger in the pocket of my swim trunks and my Buck neck knife the whole time.  Super lightweight and convenient, and while not much, it would have been a very rude surprise if anyone on the beach had nefarious intentions.  NAA Mini-Revolver Review  Buck Neck Knife Review

Memorial Day Message

Tomorrow is not for car and sheet sales.  It's not for getting drunk at the ball park.  It's not for having a hot dog on the grill.  You can do all of those, of course, but only because others have given their lives for us to have that freedom.  Have fun, but please take a moment to remember and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.  Go to the local veterans' cemetery and render a salute.  Visit a Gold Star mother and thank her for her son's or daughter's service.  Read some Medal of Honor citations to your children.  Please visit my last year's Memorial Day message and read about two Marines that I have had the honor of knowing.


Prepper Ponderings


The other day, I went again this year to TREXPO in D.C.  It used to be the Tactical Response EXPO back in the 90s when I started going, but I think now it is just plain TREXPO and is done in cooperation with the GOVSEC trade show.  Tons of cool gear, much of it applicable for preppers.  Numerous body armor manufacturers and suppliers were there.  Since I bought my last vest about 8-9 years ago, it is amazing how light and flexible II and IIIA armor is.  Compared to when I bought my first vest over 20 years ago, it is like comparing it to a knight's shining armor.  There was a lot of first aid gear that would be great for a blowout kit or 72 hour bag.  I got a samples of a couple of tourniquets I'm going to review here soon.  Big brother was prevent, of course.  Several different drone manufacturers were there.  These things are getting smaller and more maneuverable every day.  All-in-all, a good show again this year. 

Travel Safety

One of the promotional give-aways I picked up at TREXPO was a glow-in-the-dark door wedge.  Much more useful than the countless pens and can coozies.  We are heading on vacation soon, and this will go with us to help secure the hotel door at night.  I don't know who the actual maker is, but it is just as simple to get an old fashioned rubber door stop or a chunk of 2x4 cut on an angle.

Great Customer Service

I've always heard about the great service from Dillon Precision, but never had a need to experience it.  Some time ago, my Dillon 550 press started having problems feeding primers.  I finally got around the other day to calling them to see what I needed to do.  I was on hold for about 45 minutes, but considering the current state of affairs in the firearms and ammo industry I didn't really mind.  Once the fellow got on the phone with me, I described the problem, and he asked a few questions to further trouble shoot.  He quickly determined what my likely problem is, and said he would send me out some replacement parts.  I was shocked to have them in my mailbox less than 48 hours later... at no charge.  If you are in the market for a reloading press, strongly consider Dillon.


Fleeing Felon

It Can Happen Anywhere

Friday afternoon I got a call from the local police that a guy had escaped from state police custody and he had 50 years of time hanging over his head for parole violations, and he had vowed never to go back to jail.  He was in the vicinity of three elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school.  We put the schools in a modified lockdown with the exteriors secured.  As dismissal time rolled around, the five lower schools let the students go, with one bus getting loaded up at a time and a police officer standing by.  The high school just got all the students to their cars or on the buses quickly, with plenty of adult supervision and a couple of police officers on site.

The police were using bloodhounds, helicopters, and about a hundred officers to try and find this guy, but never was it like Boston with people ordered inside and warrantless searches of private homes and businesses.  He was found about 12 hours later, holed up in an apartment, less than a half a mile from two schools.  This situation worked out pretty well with minimal disruptions, but what if it were a worse or larger problem?

So how can a person prepare for an event like this?

Really just like any other event that might make it difficult to get home.  A communications plan and alternate travel routes, along with a 72-hour kit that fits your particular needs.

If your kids are at school and dismissal is delayed, can you get to them, or do you have a nearby trusted friend or family member that is on the "pickup" list and can get them if you can't?  Do they have age-appropriate kits with them at school in case no one can get to them?

If your main road is shut down, do you have alternative routes?  Perhaps cutting through residential areas, or maybe skirting outside of town and coming back in the back way.

How about communications?  Make sure your cell phone is always charged up.  Have phone numbers for school, neighbors, and family members.  If you have a smart phone, be sure you know the webpages for you local media outlets.  You can also download an app that allows you to listen to your local police, fire/rescue, state police, and other emergency radio broadcasts.  There are a bunch of them out there, many free, so check them all out to see which ones carry your local frequencies.

Using an "all-hazards" approach, prepare for any eventuality that could reasonably happen in your community.  Disaster commonality will ensure that you are pretty well prepared for even those things that you may not have thought of.