Fire Danger in High-rise Buildings

High rise fire
Intro: At Emergency Plan Guide, we try to write about subjects we know something about from personal experience. (It helps to be “a mature adult!”)  But until we become paid reality-show stars, some things we have to write about as observers.

The news is often an inspiration. Last week I wrote about hurricanes — though I have never lived through one. This week, it’s a fire in a high-rise.

The closest I’ve been to that is living through a fire on a ferry boat — not exactly the same thing, but certainly some similarities.

The point of all this? My own experience may be limited, and the risks that I face may be limited. But we all will  face a variety of emergencies FOR THE FIRST TIME. I’m convinced that simply being open to ever more more knowledge gives us a better chance of surviving. That’s what keeps me learning and writing.

With that, here’s this week’s offering. 

_________________________________________

The high-rise apartment building fire in London was horrifying. And deadly. When I started this Advisory – 3 days after the fire – the number of people missing and presumed dead had risen to 58. As of today, 2 days later, it is now at 79 missing and presumed dead.

High-rise fires are alarming but infrequent.

High-rise fires are always particularly horrifying. We all picture flames shooting up the sides of buildings, far above the street, and we can imagine the terror of the people trapped inside.

Still, with the exception of terrorist acts, the threat posed by fires in high-rise buildings isn’t as great as that in low buildings.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in all the structure fires in a year, around 2,600 people die – but only 40 of them are in high-rise building fires.

Moreover, the NFPA says the danger of fire in high-rises is going down.

Why? It’s a function of old buildings being replaced by newer ones.

Modern high-rise buildings have fire-suppression protections that work.

If you’ve read the details about the London fire, you will discover that the 24-story Grenfell Tower did NOT have such protections. According to news reports:

  • Only one stairwell was available for residents.
  • There was no sprinkler system.
  • Recent “upgrades” to the building included a plastic-filled cladding material that was not fire-resistant.

What do you know about the building you are about to enter???

Safety depends on the building codes in effect.

In the United States, national and state codes regulate new construction and, to a certain extent, upgrades or retrofits. Generally, these codes apply to different aspects of the building – some of which we, as consumers, may be aware of, and other that are hidden from sight but just as important.

Outside the U.S., codes and standards may be different. For example, in the case of the London fire, the new cladding would not have been allowed in the U.S. (A visitor to the building wouldn’t have known that. Even the residents of Grenfell Tower, who had requested fire-resistant upgrades, may not have realized that their new cladding did not meet that standard.)

So, whether living, working or traveling, here are some questions to get answered before you stay in a high-rise building.

It’s good practice to answer these every time you enter a high-rise building!

1-Is there a fire alarm or smoke alarm system?

Easy enough to find out. If you don’t see installed alarm buttons, just ask!

2-Is there a fire sprinkler system?

An alarm doesn’t fight a fire!

So, look up and see if you can identify sprinklers. These are the key safety feature – in fact, they have been determined to be 97% effective in suppressing fire. (The other 3% didn’t work because they water supply wasn’t hooked up right, or the system wasn’t properly maintained.)

Don’t see any sprinkler heads? Are they blocked by furniture or decorations? Ask property management if a system has been installed.

This is the very most important feature for high-rise fire safety! No sprinkler? Don’t stay!

(An older building can be retrofitted with a fire sprinkler system. Unfortunately, it costs many times more to put in after the fact that if it had been incorporated into the original building. So, building owners may resist adding systems if the law doesn’t require it.)

3-Where are the fire exits?

Look for signs. Identify more than one exit. Check diagrams of the building so you would know which way to go if you couldn’t see because of darkness or smoke.

4-Where are the stairwells?

Again, note the PLURAL word. Every high-rise building needs more than one set of stairs. Note where stairs are located so if you need to evacuate, and one set of stairs is blocked, you can go down the other. (Remember, in a fire, one stairwell may be reserved for use by fire fighters.)

5-Are there fire doors in the hallways?

Modern buildings include fire doors that close in the case of a fire, keeping it from spreading. Usually, these doors are held open electromagnetically, and if a fire alarm goes off the circuit is broken and the door closes by itself.

Bad sign: Fire doors are blocked so they cannot close.

Again, under normal circumstances you may never notice these doors because they are “hidden” by the décor. However, it is good to know that in an emergency you may come upon a door that you didn’t expect.

6-How would people with a disability be assisted in case of a fire?

While you may see special signs for emergency procedures for people in a wheelchair, etc., it is up to you to figure out how you will handle an emergency.

Other fire safety features to look for, in any building.

1-What is the maximum occupancy?

Overfilled rooms, theaters, restaurants, stadiums, etc. may be more dangerous if there is panic. Be aware of where exits are located, and in an emergency do not automatically head for the door where you came in. Is there a better exit option?

(In my experience it’s fun and valuable to train children on a regular basis to look for multiple exits. As you settle down in movie theater seats, ask, “How many exits do you see? Or, how many ways to do you see that we could get out of here?”)

2-Where are fire extinguishers?

In a commercial building in the U.S., there’s sure to be one not far away!

Usually, local fire codes require that fire extinguishers be installed based on square footage, and they also require that you be able to find one no more than 75 feet away. (“75 feet” is only an example. Specifics may change slightly in a different state and in a different type of building.)

In any case, when you enter a building or room, it’s a good idea to look around to see if you can locate the nearest hand-held extinguisher.

This assumes you know HOW TO USE an extinguisher, of course.

What to do if there is a fire in a high-rise?

Fire experts still say “shelter in place” is the best advice IF THE BUILDING HAS PROPER FIRE SUPPRESSION PROTECTION.

(Stuff towels under the door to block smoke from entering, stay alert for instructions.)

Sprinkler systems have been in use for over 100 years. They provide 24/7 protection, turning on automatically when sprinkler heads reach a certain heat level. Fires can be caught and put out without people even realizing it until later.

Once again, if you plan to visit or stay in a high-rise building without a sprinkler system, think twice. Think three times!  You may want to find another option.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Want more information about fires and how to avoid a disaster? Check out these Advisories:

Hurricane Headscratchers – A Quiz for Preppers

Hurricane forming

Over the years, we preppers gather a lot of info about the various threats we face. We prepare our car, pets, and pantry for “the first 72 hours,” for long-term shelter-in-place, and for bugging out.

We assemble and test survival gear, food and first aid items – including snake bite kits, liquid skin and anti-radiation pills.

We do a lot of preparing!

And then along comes a hurricane, and we realize we DON’T know everything, after all!

Hurricane season starts this month. Here are a dozen questions about hurricanes pulled from a variety of “reliable sources.” Test yourself and see how well YOU do!

Let’s start our quiz with the easiest questions.

1-The circular, clear space at the center of the hurricane is called the ___? (Just beginning to form in the image above, from NASA.)

2-At the center of a hurricane, does air rise or fall to create the eye?

3-The cloudy outer edge of the eye is called the ______.

4-T or F —  Winds are highest at the eyewall.

5-Precipitation from a hurricane is greatest

  • At the eyewall
  • At the outer edges of the hurricane
  • When the eyewall hits land

6-T or F Once the eyewall starts to weaken, the storm is dying.

7-Match the storm name with the likely location:

  • Hurricane
  • Typhoon
  • Cyclone
  • ——————
  • NE Pacific Ocean
  • South Pacific and Indian Ocean
  • NW Pacific Ocean

8-All these storms are considered “tropical cyclones.” Tropical because they are formed ______ and cyclones because they _________,

9-In the northern hemisphere, the winds of a cyclone blow in which direction?

10-In the southern hemisphere, in which direction do they blow?

11-For us preppers, the greatest threat from a hurricane comes from:

  • Wind
  • Tornado
  • Storm surge
  • Flash flooding

12-The word “hurricane” comes originally from the _____ language.

How well did you do?  Sure you got everything right? Read on if you aren’t sure about some of your answers!

And the answer is . . .

1-The eye of a hurricane (that we’ve all flown through in movies) can be anywhere from 2 miles in diameter to over 200 miles! It is typically clear and calm – although the water below may be violent.

2-In a mature tropical cyclone, sinking air is what creates the eye.

3-The outer edge of the eye is called, not surprisingly, the eyewall. It’s not exactly a vertical wall. Rather, it expands outward with height – called the “stadium effect.”

4 and 5- The eyewall is where everything is happening – the greatest wind speeds, heaviest rain, and air rising most rapidly. (In 2015, winds from Hurricane Patricia reached 215 mph! A category 5 hurricane has winds of 157 mph or greater.)

6-In a large storm, there are a series of rain band rings that move slowly inward. The eyewall can weaken, but then can be replaced by the next band, giving the storm a new eyewall and new strength.

7-Hurricanes occur in the Atlantic and northeastern Pacific. A Typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific. And a Cyclone occurs in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean.

8-Tropical storms are “born” in “the tropics,” over warm bodies of water. Their “cyclonic” or rotating winds are a function of the earth’s rotation.

9-Cyclonic winds blow counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

10-They blow clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

11-The greatest threat to life comes from the storm surge – water that is pushed ashore by the storm’s winds. Storm surges can reach 25 feet and be hundreds of miles wide. In November 1970 the storm surge from the “Bhola Cyclone” in Bangladesh was estimated to be 20-30 feet high. Between 300,000-500,000 people in the low-lying regions were killed.

13-The Mayan god of wind “Hurakan” became our word Hurricane. One of the first record of hurricanes is found in Mayan hieroglyphics.

Are you a teacher or leader of any sort, and do you . . .

Want more on hurricanes?

The best short, all-purpose article I found is here:  https://pmm.nasa.gov/education/articles/how-do-hurricanes-form  It has several excellent diagrams showing the parts of the hurricane (eye, eyewall, the rain bands, etc.), how the air sinks and rises, etc. It also lists the different storm categories (rated by wind speed).

If you want the full explanation of the storm categories – the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale — check here: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshws.php

Enough here for cocktail party or dinner table conversation, eh?

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Hurricane season reaches its height in September. By the time September comes around, if you are in hurricane/cyclone territory, you need to know more than just these tidbits. . .! In particular, be sure you and your group distinguish between hurricane warnings and watches.

 

 

Summer Vacation Threats — Wild Animals

WildlifeTravel to a place you haven’t been before often tops the list of vacation destinations.

And a glimpse of a wild animal you’ve never seen outside a zoo might make that vacation truly memorable.

Still, an “up close and personal” experience with a bear (mountain lion, coyote, wolf, bison, snake, alligator, etc.) may turn out to be more than you bargained for.

Five general guidelines for protecting yourself from dangerous wild animal attacks.

 

First rule – “Maintain situational awareness!”

We’ve talked before about the dangers of wandering city streets with your attention focused on your cell phone. Paying attention to your surroundings is just as important in the woods or on safari or surfing. Your “vacation paradise” may be the hunting grounds for wild animals — and you could become the prey.

So, know before you arrive what you might expect, and be on the lookout with every step.

Second rule – Avoidance is the best defense.

Unless you are a professional hunter, or perhaps a professional photographer, the safest vacation will be one where you never even see a dangerous animal up close.

Most wild animals will avoid you if given the chance.

Some ways to improve your chances of keeping wild animals at a safe distance:

• Avoid areas where dangerous wild animals have been seen or attacks have happened. This includes keeping hands or feet out of water where alligators may swim, and keeping entirely out of water where sharks have been seen. Check local reports – you may decide to change camping plans at the last minute.
• Make some noise as you hike or travel. Consider wearing bells or other noisemakers to let animals know you’re coming. (More on that. Keep reading.)
• Vacation with a group. Jog or bike with partners; don’t leave children or pets alone in a campground or let them wander off by themselves.

Third rule – Animal babies are NOT cute.

We pretty much know this by now, but any mother will viciously defend her baby. Many deaths from bear attacks have been because people got between cubs and their mother. Make sure your children understand this rule!

Fourth rule – Hunger drives behavior.

More and more homes are being built in areas that used to belong to wild animals. Climate changes are driving animals closer to human habitation, too.

This means that the traditional sources of food for predators – namely, other smaller wild animals – may have disappeared. Where else can they turn?  To humans.

Bears, coyotes, mountain lions or cougars and alligators can be attracted by garbage. Make sure trash containers are animal-proof, sealed and sturdy. If you’re camping, keep food out of easy reach of wild animals (hang it away from your sleeping area). And for heaven’s sake, don’t take food into a tent with you!

Pet food? Same idea. Small animals may be attracted to the pet food – and in turn may attract larger animals like bears or mountain lions.

If you come across a dead animal, or other stash of food, it may be planned lunch for a larger animal – and that animal may be just out of sight. Don’t let the “owner” think you’re about to steal that meal!

If hungry enough, wild animals may consider people as potential food, too. While attacks are very infrequent, they happen and with grisly results.

Once again, remember the basic rules. Be aware. Hike or bike in groups. Make enough noise that animals won’t be surprised to see you appear around the corner. If you accidentally come across a wild animal, stay calm and back slowly away. Don’t run! Give the animal an escape route. Keep it in sight as you move away, but avoid eye contact, as that is considered a sign of aggression.

Fifth rule – If you are attacked, fight for your life.

The only animals you might be able to outrun are moose. (They don’t see you as food so they give up once they’ve chased you away.)

You might be able to climb a tree to escape a coyote or wolf, but bears and cougars can come right up after you.

If you are being stalked or are confronted . . .
• A coyote can be scared away by noise or aggression. Hold your arms out, open your coat, put a child on your shoulders. Be noisy, look BIG!
• A pack of coyotes may NOT be frightened by your actions. Call for help and get your back against a wall and be prepared to defend yourself from quick attacks aimed at your feet and legs. Use whatever weapons you have. Aim for the animals’ eyes.
Wolf attacks are the rarest of all large predator attacks. Wolves are wary of humans and not aggressive toward them by nature, and if one attacks it’s probably because it has been fed by humans, or is sick. As with a single coyote, be noisy and look BIG, and – unusual for dealing with wild animals – maintain eye contact.
Cougar or mountain lion attacks are also very rare. If looking BIG and threatening doesn’t frighten the cougar away, and it attacks, you must fight back using whatever you have: a stick, backpack, water bottle, shovel or bare hands.
Bears really don’t like people, and they are likely to detect you and leave the area a lot sooner than you will detect them. Should you suddenly surprise a black bear, though, remain calm and do not run. Tell the bear to get away (thus letting it know you are a human). It may make a “fake charge” and then stop. If the bear attacks, fight back immediately and forcefully.
Grizzly bears, like other predators, will defend their territory, their young or their food. If you threaten any of these, they may attack, but if you remove yourself as a threat, they will likely calm down. One way to “remove the threat” is by playing dead – if you have the discipline. If a grizzly sees you as prey, however, it may keep coming. (Note – “Playing dead” seems to work with grizzlys, but not with other bears.)

Weapons for self-defense against wild animals.

Avoiding encounters with wild animals is the best defense. However, if you are trespassing on their territory, it’s best to be prepared with weapons for self-defense.

These weapons can range from firearms to a big knife to a club or walking stick or to pepper spray or bear spray. In every case, you need to have practiced with your weapons so you can reach them quickly and surely. Again, keep reading for a recommendation about bear spray.

Good items to add to your vacation planning list.

If you’re planning a wilderness vacation trip, consider adding these items to your list. They are relatively inexpensive and could actually save your life.

  • Smart camping items

Keep food and food garbage from attracting animals by storing it in odor-barrier bags and/or in bear-resistant containers. Here are examples available at Amazon. (Obviously, you want to dispose of the bags in animal-resistant trash containers.) The bags cost less than $15 for assorted sizes. The plastic, shatter-proof container comes in 4-day or 7-day sizes (weighs around 2 pounds) and costs between $70 and $80 as I write this. Click on the links or images for full details.

BaseCamp Odor-Barrier Bag, Assorted

Bear Vault BV500 Bear Resistant Food Canister

  • Smart hiking items

Let animals know you are coming by wearing bells. This one comes in a variety of finishes (black, chrome, red) and because it costs around $5 is considered an “add on” at Amazon. (The magnetic silencer feature allows you to “turn it off” when you’re not out on the trail.)

Bear Bell w/ Silencer


If you find yourself in a tough spot, you may want to make more noise with a whistle. Again, these are inexpensive additions to your day pack and will give you peace of mind.

ZITRADES 3pcs Emergency Hiking Camping Survival Aluminum Whistle Key Chain With Red/Green/Blue Color

Now for the bear spray. If you’ve read our Advisories for a while, you will have come across a couple of articles about pepper spray for personal safety. THIS IS NOT YOUR MOTHER’S PEPPER SPRAY. It is not meant for that mugger standing 4 feet from you. Bear Spray has extra powerful pepper. The container lays down a cloud of spray well before the bear gets to you — at 25-30 feet.  Start shooting in time, and aim low to get it into the bear’s eyes and nose. (Get a large can of spray to be sure you don’t run out before the bear runs away.)

You must have INSTANT ACCESS to spray to make it useful. Wear it in a holster at your chest or waist, and practice drawing and shooting BEFORE you need it. (Recycle a partially used can responsibly.)

Frontiersman Bear Spray with Chest or Belt Holster- Easy Access, Max Strength – 9.2 oz -Industry Max 35-Foot Range

Don’t think this is everything you need to know!

Different parts of the country experience different wild animal problems. Before you make final plans for your vacation, take the time to check in with experts from the area.

For example,

  • The U.S. Forest Service issues warnings regarding bear encounters.  Google the area where you are heading with the words “bear attacks.”
  • Parks may have special websites all about their wildlife, including ways to interact safely. At http://www.yellowstonepark.com/bear-spray-matters/  you can get info about local conditions and how to purchase or even rent bear spray.
  • Specialty websites are a great source of information about particular animal behavior. A generic resource site can be found at http://westernwildlife.org

As with all threats, the more you know, and the better prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to avoid a disaster.

Enjoy your summer vacation!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

May 31 is Dam Safety Awareness Day

Who ever heard of this holiday?

Dam Safety Awareness DayMaybe the people who live near the 90,000 or so dams in the United States! (BTW, Texas has more dams than any other state, followed by Kansas . . .)

Most likely to have heard about Dam Safety Awareness Day, however,  are the people who live near the 17% of all dams that are considered by the American Society of Civil Engineers as having high-hazard potential!

Apparently the Oroville Dam in northern California, that came so close to collapsing this spring, was not even on that list . . .!

(Personal note. My dad, who among other things was a road-grader operator – “Best damn blade-man west of the Mississippi” – worked on the construction of the Oroville Dam in the 60s.)

The Oroville Dam didn’t collapse, thanks to quick action by its operators. But in the aftermath, it was discovered that its Emergency Action Plan had never been tested in the 50-year-life of the dam. And during that time, population in the area below the dam had doubled and evacuation options had changed. Officials admitted that had the dam actually broken, citizens would not have received a warning quickly enough to be able to get to safety.

What makes a high-hazard dam?

The ASCE defines it this way: “A dam in which failure or mis-operation is expected to result in loss of life and may also cause significant economic losses, including damages to downstream property or critical infrastructure, environmental damage, or disruption of lifeline facilities.”

And, the ASCE gives a grade of D to our dam infrastructure.

What risks do dams face?

Most dams become at risk simply because of age and lack of maintenance. This image from FEMA shows the kinds of weaknesses that appear as an embankment dam ages:

Embankment dam weaknesses

At the Oroville site, the problem wasn’t in the main embankment, but rather a break in the emergency spillway. When water was released to relieve pressure on the main dam, the spillway began to give way, which could have led to the whole thing collapsing.

Too much water behind the Oroville Dam was caused by unexpectedly heavy rain storms. But dam failures are not always caused by storm. Most are caused by settlement and damage from earthquakes, mechanical failures (like gates not working) and poor design (allowing for overtopping and blocking by debris).

So who is keeping track of whether dams are safe?

States regulate the vast majority of dams in the U.S. (about 80%). The Federal government regulates the remaining number.

Regulation is one thing. Actually doing the required maintenance is another. Most states’ safety programs are woefully underfunded and do not have any authority to require maintenance.

Keeping the dams safe is up to dam owners.  And nearly 70% of dams are privately owned.

For example, a homeowners’ association that wants its homes built around a lake will own and operate a dam. A utility may own a lake used for water storage or for electricity production. And, of course, large commercial entities (agricultural, mining, etc.) may build waste holding ponds behind dams.

As more dams are built, as downstream development continues, and as ALL dams age, the number of high-risk dams increases.

Where are these dangerous dams?

I tried to find a map showing dams and danger areas – called Dam Break Inundation Areas. It wasn’t easy!

What I finally discovered is the National Inventory of Dams, maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. As a “non-government user” I could get into the database but even after I filtered for my own state, the data wasn’t easy to read. And I never found a map!

I encourage you to check it out yourself: https://nid.usace.army.mil If you have the name of a specific dam, you’ll get info faster.

Another course would be to inquire of your own insurance agent. You may have to shop for a specialist in flood insurance to get specifics for your own location.

Obviously, even if you personally are not in the path of water from a breech, you could be impacted in other ways by the failure of a dam.

Homes and businesses of people you know might be flooded; those people might be displaced. Your personal water supply might be shut off. Water for irrigation, fighting fires, etc. – all might be reduced.  Utilities that depend on hydro power could be affected. Transportation systems could be disrupted.

If we are near a dam, what should we be doing in the way of emergency planning?

1- People: Somebody manages that dam! Find out who, and ask these questions:

  • Who owns the dam? Has it been inspected?
  • Is there an Emergency Action Plan for the dam?
  • When was it last updated?
  • What kinds of warning systems are in place to warn us of danger or potential danger? (Sirens, reverse 911 calls, door-to-door notification?)
  • Are evacuation routes laid out?
  • What about people with disabilities?

2-Political: If you encounter barriers or obfuscation (love that word when it comes to things political!), consider these actions:

  • Urge your state to require a disclosure of whether property for sale is in an inundation zone.
  • Likewise, urge policymakers to require disclosure of dam-related issues to potential owners of dams and property around them.
  • Urge legislators to fund dam safety programs and to provide funding for those programs.

3-Personal: And everyone can add to their own personal emergency plan:

  • An evacuation route to higher ground.
  • How to evacuate family members who need assistance.
  • Practice evacuation route and point out a family meeting place.

Having an evacuation kit packed and ready to go is a given.

Want more info for your family or your group?

FEMA has produced a useful fact sheet (8 pages), available here:

https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1486735320675-8b0597aca8b23c7e2df293310e248bee/NDSPFlashFactSheet2015.pdf

Hope this has added to your knowledge about the (often invisible) world around us!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. And the story behind the Dam Safety Awareness Day being on the 31st . . .

One of the worst disasters in U.S. History was the Johnstown flood of 1889, which happened on May 31.

At that time, Johnstown was a thriving community in western Pennsylvania. Nearby, a group of wealthy citizens had restored an old dam and created a private lake for fishing, sailing and ice boating.

In May the area experienced several days of extraordinary rain, and it was feared the dam would collapse. Nothing could be done, however, in part because debris had built up in the spillway, making it impossible to lower the level in the dam. Warnings were issued, but false alarms had been given before, so residents ignored them.

At 4 p.m. on the 31st, the dam was overtopped, and collapsed, sweeping a 20-ft. high wall of trees, railcars and entire houses down the valley toward Johnstown. There, the mass was stopped by a bridge, which became a second barrier, causing the water to back up and cover the whole town. Then, everything burned.

More than 2,200 people died in the Johnstown flood. The entire town was destroyed, and surrounding communities dealt with typhus, smoke, contaminated water supplies and outbreaks of violence.

The private club members and dam owners were able to claim the dam break was “an act of God” and escaped being held liable.

 

Are you sabotaging yourself?

Hiuding in the woodsDo you ever roam the internet, checking out different survival forums and blogs?

Well, naturally, I do – to better understand “the communities,” learn about new products and practices, and stay up to date with some of the latest science regarding emergency response.

When I find interesting or exciting new ideas, I try to share them on our Advisories.

One theme I don’t share very often – the paranoia I see out there.

Here’s sort of how it goes:

“When the SHTF, expect bad guys, marauding gangs, vigilantes, even government troops, to start roaming the streets coming for you and for your supplies so you’d better be ready with weapons and lots of ammunition and be able to turn your home into a fortress or better yet, escape to a hidden, hardened survival shelter where you can wait it all out.”

I’m not saying some bad stuff couldn’t happen, or that having an escape plan doesn’t make sense. What I do question, though, are the implicit recommendations in this scenario. I see three of them:

  1. “Treat all others as potential aggressors.”
  2. “Arm yourself with serious weapons.”
  3. “Pull yourself into your shell and close the doors after you.”

As I see it,

The reality of the most likely emergencies is going to be very different.

For example, last week we talked about an emergency that shuts down your work completely, like a fire or flooding. In a situation like this, you may suffer a personal disaster because you don’t have money in the bank to meet your bills while you are out of work. Others you work with may suffer, too. But roving gangs as a threat? Probably not.

We’ve often talked about the most frequent emergency at work – a power outage. Statistics suggest that as many as 70% of businesses can expect to experience an outage during the next year, whether weather-related or from equipment breakdown. Once again, your company, its customers and maybe even shareholders will suffer – but all of you being well armed won’t make a bit of difference.

In fact, in the U.S., disasters have seldom left people on their own and scrambling for supplies, for more than a few days – the exceptions being Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

So, our recommendations at Emergency Plan Guide are built on a different set of assumptions.

Neighbors. I know them, their kids and their dogs. I may not consider them “best friends,” but they’ve never hesitated to lend a helping hand. They’ll be the first to show up in an emergency. Why wouldn’t I look to them for help?

Self-defense. Yes, as I wrote in my bio, I grew up with guns and I’m comfortable with them. But I think the emphasis on guns (handguns, shotguns, automatic weapons) — and also tomahawks, and machetes — encourages people to arm themselves who have no business having weapons. They will make an emergency situation even worse.

(As embarrassing as it is to admit, when Joe went through specialized weapons training with the military, he learned how to shoot all sorts of weapons. Unfortunately he couldn’t qualify as a marksman with any of them! So weapons may be more dangerous for us than for intruders . . .!)

Self-reliance. Yes, be sure you have a sensible stash of food, medicines, etc. But to count on one family to have everything it needs? How much easier to share the cooking, child or elder care, and medical knowledge and skills. How much more effective to share tools and work together on repairs. Share the fear — and share confidence and hope when you can. Self-sufficiency is positive; isolation is lonely and negative.

And as for the government . . .

Again, some survivalist blogs and forums have members who are passionate about hating the government, the police, and, in fact, any “authority.”

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we have been fortunate to build good relationships with all kinds of “authorities” in our community. I write often about the fire fighters and police and the CERT team members with whom we work closely.

One of the advantages to these relationships is that we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the authorities in an emergency. In an emergency, we won’t be guessing – or second-guessing – what they are likely to do.

For example:

  • We know how our police department has been trained to respond to active shooters – and how their procedures have changed in the past year or so. (We’ve even been invited to participate in a drill as civilians caught in an active shooter situation.)
  • We know what emergency facilities our local first responders have. Heck, we’ve been inside most of them, and seen the equipment in action!
  • We’re tuned in to local emergency services that deal with homelessness, missing people and drug overdoses. We know who to call and what to say to get an appropriate response.
  • We’ve checked and are clear on how our local police force is handling coordinating with ICE on immigrants in our community.
  • We receive regular bulletins on how local schools plan for emergencies.

This isn’t everything we’d like to know, but it’s a pretty good start!

What does it take to get up to speed about local policies and procedures?

Here’s some of what our local group members do on a regular basis.

  • We follow what our city is doing by going online to the city website.
  • We take tours when there’s an open house at a fire station or the police department.
  • We sign up for official emergency alerts (AMBER alerts, etc.).
  • We track the police department via its Facebook page.
  • We’re on the list to get invitations to CERT follow-up trainings. (The most recent one was on terrorism.)
  • We invite “the authorities” to come to our local emergency response team meetings as guest speakers – and then ply them with questions. (Yes, we have put them on the spot from time to time!)
  • We subscribe to various online industry news feeds.

If you’ve been reading our Advisories, then you know we also share what we learn from these various field trips and events – so our immediate neighbors and several hundred Emergency Plan Guide subscribers from across the country know what we know.

In our estimation, by choosing NOT to know details like those above, and NOT being open to working with a group,  you are sabotaging yourself and your chances of coming through a disaster.

No, I don’t expect the authorities to “save us” in an emergency. In fact, they have made their limitations clear. Frankly, I’m glad to know that they WON’T necessarily show up immediately . . . because it gives me an incentive to do a better job of my own preparedness.

But our philosophy has been, and continues to be, to include family, friends and co-workers in our planning, because . . .

The more we all know, the safer we all will be.

Thanks for reading.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Survival Kit Supplies

Survival Kit SuppliesBy now you know that at Emergency Plan Guide, when it comes to survival kits, there’s no such thing as “one size fits all.

By now you know that having “the one perfect kit” doesn’t work, either!

No matter how well stocked your survival kit, if it is at home when the emergency strikes, and you are 43 miles away in the car, that kit will do you absolutely no good!

Different Survival Kits for Different Situations

The chart shows the four different sets of supplies that we think everyone needs:

1-A Go-Bag or Survival Kit (also known as a 3-day or 72-hour kit)

This is the kit you grab as you head out the door in an emergency. This kit needs to provide basics for the top  nine categories: water; food (stuff you like and can eat cold); shelter/warmth (clothing, blanket, sleeping bag, fire igniter); health/safety (first aid kit, medicines, sanitation supplies); communications (radio, whistle); light (flashlight, headlamp, lantern); clothing (shoes, gloves); cash (for vending machines and/or for buying supplies); personal items (toothbrush, prescription drugs, extra eyeglasses, paper and pen/pencil, and if it suits, a weapon for self-defense).

By and large, an off-the-shelf kit will be missing more than one of these main categories, so while it may serve as a start, you really can’t count on it.

2-A kit for the car

We all travel. And any of us could be trapped overnight in a car for something as mundane as road construction, a fallen tree – or a full-blown blizzard or hurricane. Your car kit will keep you comfortable and safe until you can find your way around the damage.

Your car kit contains the same basics as listed above for the Go-Bag, but it also may have some transportation-related items including tools for car repairs, jumper cables, a work light, maps, and flares. In snow country? Consider a folding shovel and non-slip mats. (You can see that you may actually have to pack two kits – one with personal stuff, and the other with car stuff. Tools and jumper cables are heavy and get dirty.)

One final note about your car. Remember it has a battery that can be used to charge your phone and power other items (like flood lights) as long as you have the right connections.

3-A kit for at work

Once again, this kit starts with the basics. Then, depending on where you work – how far it is from your home, what sort of building it is, what actually happens at the workplace – you may need some specialty items.

If you have to set out on foot to get home, you’ll need, above all, comfortable shoes. (Break in new shoes/boots for your office or car kit by wearing them on the treadmill at the gym!)

Your work kit might contain any of these specialty items: the comfortable shoes mentioned above, personal safety equipment including gloves, dust mask, and safety glasses; tool for shutting off equipment; list of business and family contacts; a good whistle.

If people have already left the workplace, and aren’t planning to come back, you might check out your colleagues’ desk drawers for extra snacks, band aids, etc. Most office workers have that “personal drawer” that could be a small treasure trove in a big emergency!

4-Shelter-in-place

Here in California, we have been asked by our local fire department to be prepared to shelter in place for 10 days to 2 weeks after “the big one” hits. If you live in a different area, with different threats, you may want to pull together supplies that will keep you going for months, not weeks.

Shelter-in-place supplies start with the basics, just as in the smaller kits. But you’ll need more of everything. Think of it as an extended camping trip, and build a plan . . .

Plan for buying and rotating canned food, stocking up on toilet paper and other sanitary supplies and buying and storing extra batteries. You may need more substantial shelter – like a big tent, or plastic to seal windows, with the ever popular duct tape, of course. A variety of more substantial tools. Like the concept of dried meals? Be sure you have something to heat water in so you can reconstitute it – for example, a camp stove and pot.

For each kit, your complete list will be longer that what we’ve just gone over.

But today, we’re not seeking perfection. We’re getting a handle on general readiness!

Rate yourself on the state of your own survival supplies. 

So as you have read these reviews of the different emergency supply kits, how would you rate yourself? One easy way is to estimate the percentage completed for each of the following statements.

  • I have assembled supplies for all four needs — Go Bag, Car, Work, Shelter-in-Place. My percentage completed _____
  • I have considered all nine major categories — water, food, shelter/warmth, health/safety, communications, lighting, clothing, cash, personal items. My percentage completed _____
  • I have added specialty items that I personally need or want for each kit. My percentage completed ___

If your score isn’t where you’d like it to be, consider the following.

Over the years we’ve asked many, many people why they haven’t put together their preparedness supplies. Here are the most popular “reasons:”

  • I don’t know how to get started.
  • It will take too long.
  • People will think I am strange or weird.
  • Why bother?  If it is the end of the world, it will not matter.
  • Nothing has happened so far, so why should I start to worry now?

Any of these sound familiar? I’m sure you’ve thought or heard them all at one time or another!

However, here at Emergency Plan Guide we figure these are all pretty weak reasons. In fact, we call them “excuses!”

Why so weak?

Because we’ve seen so many people start with one or two items and just keep working at it over time until they have built up a perfectly respectable stash!

When they do, they feel pleased and satisfied and a lot more confident that they’ll be able to handle that emergency, whenever it DOES come!

And that’s what we’re all working toward!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Here are more complete lists of emergency supplies that you may be interested in:

Camping As Practice for Survival

Camper drinking coffee

Hot chocolate! Yum!

Making summer plans for camping?

Camping does double duty!

First, camping is fun, a total change of pace, and a great learning adventure for kids.

Second, camping is a great way to try out survival gear and supplies that you just can’t justify using when you’re comfy at home!

Here are some of my favorite “dual purpose camping/survival items” and why I like ‘em!

1. Staying reasonably clean

To the extent that camping resembles “shelter in place,” you can assume you want to use water sparingly. Still, staying clean is important for hygiene and also for personal comfort.

Three items that I have tested and found useful – and that don’t take up too much room or too much water:

  • Soap. I like a good bar of soap for cleaning dirty hands. But soap requires water, and usually quite a lot just for rinsing. So, for camping, consider liquid soap that can be diluted and doled out drop by drop as needed. (Use different plastic bottles for the different dilutions — for example, one for shampoo, one for dish cleaner (mix with lemon juice) and a third for general purpose stain remover.) My favorite liquid soap is Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap – Almond 32oz. (This soap comes in a number of different “flavors.”)
  • Wipes. If you’re underway, or are worried about germs, you might try these convenient wipes: Coleman Biowipes, 30 Count They’re larger than the usual baby wipe, and will break down within 21 days – IF YOUR BURY THEM IN SOIL. (Just tucking one under a rock does NOT count. Either pack them out or bury properly.)
  •  Clothes line. My mother insisted on clean underwear. When I have enough water, I always wash out the unmentionables and hang them to dry. (I use Dr. Bronner’s soap for the washing.) This stretchy clothesline is great! You just tuck the damp clothing right into the woven bungee cords — no need for clothes pins. Coghlan’s 0433 Adjustable Bungee Clothesline (It’s strong enough to string inside a tent, too, to use for hanging small items and maybe even a lantern.)

 

Staying warm

Sleeping in the RV does NOT count! Yes, maybe you have a tent. And let’s hope you have a fire. As for me, I can get through the night just about anywhere as long as I am warm!

And that means having the right sleeping bag.

There are many choices when it comes to sleeping bags, starting with size (length, width), shape (quilt or mummy bag up to the neck or over the head), fill (synthetic, down) and temperature rating (for example: 0, 20, 40 degrees).  You can pay anywhere from $50 to $500 – but if you pick the wrong style, and find yourself shivering through the night, you’ll regret it!

A couple of different bags to help you decide what you really need or want:

And two more warmer-uppers:

 

Eating and enjoying it

Not long ago we wrote about MREs. And last year I did a taste test between a survival food macaroni and cheese package vs. commercial mac ‘n cheese.

I’m afraid that the reviews on these survival foods are uninspiring.

(Since I don’t eat a lot of macaroni and cheese under the best of circumstances, it doesn’t really make a difference to me. But if YOU have kids, and they are fans, before you assume anything use your camping trip to test different brands!)

If I’m going camping, though, I DO want some things to eat that I really love – and that will make survival that much easier.

The essentials:

 

Seeing what you’re doing

Starting off for the campground restroom always takes some fortitude. Heading in that direction IN THE DARK is even more daunting. And if there were no restroom at all, and you are searching for a “reasonable spot to do your business?”

At the very least, you need to see where you are stepping!

 

Using survival technology

In an emergency we may have to bug out without much in the way of civilized stuff. And, of course, if the emergency goes on long enough, we will run out of everything we were able to scramble together.

Some survival technology WON’T run out, though. And that’s what you might want to consider.

If you have these already, be sure to take them with you on your camping trip to practice with them. If you don’t have them, consider getting them now – in time for the trip, or for ANY emergency.

Start making plans for your camping trip now. Looking forward to it, and getting all your gear laid out and packed, is half the fun!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Some related articles (that have LOTS more details):

 

Will Your Business Survive a Disaster?

You arrive at work the morning after a big storm . . .

Storm damage

So you say you’re just an employee, and business continuity isNot my job!”

Think Again. Your job is all about business continuity!

You should already know these statistics about businesses hit by a disaster:

  • If you can’t get the doors re-opened within 10 days, your business has little chance of surviving.
  • In fact, about 40% of companies hit by natural disasters never do re-open.
  • And for small businesses, the chances of going under are even greater because not only is the workplace damaged or destroyed, but local customers have been hit by the storm, too.

OK, those are statistics. But stick with the scenario a bit longer.

Big storm hits – and thankfully you get through unharmed. Your family is shaken, but safe and back together. Unfortunately, your workplace was leveled just like in the image above. So now, the real emergency begins, because . . .

If the business shuts down, how will you get paid?

If you’ve never really thought about it, here are some things to know that will make a difference to the answer.

  1. Are you paid on an hourly basis and eligible for overtime? Or are you “exempt” from overtime?
  2. How long is the business likely to be down?
  3. Can you work from home?
  4. Does your employer have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that will help?
  5. Do you have a personal retirement plan – 401(k) – that you could borrow from?

As you can imagine, answers to these questions may vary company by company, and state by state, but here are some general guidelines.

If you have questions, please do not rely on this Advisory; check with your employer for specific answers. (This Advisory should help you know what questions to start with!)

What your employer is required to do

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (https://www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/), employers must pay covered non-exempt employees for hours worked, and overtime to those workers who work more than 40 hours in one week. So, if you work, expect to get paid. If you DON’T work because a disaster shuts down the business, don’t expect to get paid.

If you are a salaried employee, and the business is shut down for less than a week, you will probably get paid for that time. However, your employer may deduct those days from your leave bank. If the business is closed for a full workweek, your employer isn’t required to pay you.

If the workplace is completely destroyed from the disaster, you may be eligible for unemployment while you look for work or the company is being re-built.

If the company re-opens, but you can’t make it back to work because your own home has been damaged, or someone in your family has been injured, your absence is considered “a personal day” and it will be counted against your leave bank or deducted from your salary.

Your employer may have set up an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) that in addition to referrals and counseling might provide short-term financial help – perhaps advancement on future wages. Note my use of the word “might” in that sentence . . .

What you may have to do

You may be called upon to work from home while the business gets back on its feet. If you can function from home, you’ll be compensated – either for the hours worked, for by the week. Questions to ask: “How will my work from home be monitored? Is there a minimum number of hours I’ll have to work to get paid?”

If your home or other property is damaged in the disaster, make an insurance claim as soon as possible. Your policy may be able to provide money for what are called “additional living expenses.”

If you have a 401(k) or other retirement plan, you may be able to get a hardship distribution or a hardship loan, with few penalties.

If the disaster is big enough

If the governor of your state requests and is granted “Disaster Relief,” your company may be eligible for special loans or grants from the government or Small Business Association. You and your family may be eligible for FEMA assistance, too. In both cases, there will be some delay before you get any money, and how you use the proceeds may be restricted. Be sure you know what you are signing up for!

Does your employer have more resources?

The guidelines we’ve listed here are minimums prescribed by the federal government. Your state may have other requirements.

And of course your employer may have more resources and be able to pay you a lot more than the minimums.

Still, if the disaster is big enough that the company goes completely out of business, your finances will very quickly be impacted, too.

What’s the best answer?

Of course, you can’t predict a disaster, but the more you and your company prepare, the better the chances you’ll make it through the disaster and get back up and running before it’s too late.

So, even if emergency planning isn’t part of your official job description, find out what your employer has done about it. It’s possible that you could help improve whatever plan exists.

We have resources right here at Emergency Plan Guide. Use the search bar to find specific topics, or click on Business Planning in the Build Your Survival Skills section of the sidebar to page through some of the recent Advisories specifically for business owners and employees.

And watch for more on this topic!*

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

*Our 2017 Simple Business Continuation Plan is about a week away from completion! If you’re a subscriber to the Advisories, you’ll be at the top of the list to get the announcement.

 

Words or action?

Words for preppersWhich do you prefer, words or action?

When you’re nosing around on the Emergency Plan Guide website, you’ll find pretty equal doses of what I’ll label “narrative” – things like personal stories and descriptions of new survival gear – and “calls to action” — the suggestions for putting that info and that gear to work.

That’s because I believe that after learning something, unless we take action – we’ve wasted our time!

That being said, this week’s Advisory leans heavily toward the “words” side of the equation.

In fact, this is the fifth Advisory we’ve done on . . .

Common words associated with prepping, survival and preparedness!

Disclaimer. You don’t have to actually SAY any of these words. Or write them. But at least you won’t feel like a dummy if you hear someone else using them!

The essentials: “Prepper” vs. “Survivalist”

These two terms used to be distinct, but seem to be overlapping more each day. At least after today you’ll know the difference.

Prepper – Clearly, this word comes from the verb “to prepare.” It refers to a person who thinks an emergency or disaster –  man-made or natural — is likely to occur in the future and who makes active preparations for it. Typically, preparing includes stockpiling food, tools and other supplies (which could include firearms and ammunition).

If you are reading this Advisory, you are probably a prepper.

(I must admit I am not particularly fond of this word, however, given its linkage to both “Doomsday Prepper”  — which has become totally trite – and also to words where “-er” is added to an otherwise innocent noun to create something problematic, like “Truther” or “Birther.”)

Survivalist – So now the question. If you are a prepper, are you also a survivalist?

This word has been around a lot longer than prepper, and while it has much the same meaning, the survivalist’s preparations run to learning and practicing outdoor survival skills, typically for use in a forest or wilderness setting.

The survivalist stores supplies, too, but also anticipates “living off the land” by hunting, fishing or trapping (not to mention picking and eating berries, plants, etc.) Survivalists are hardcore. Not many of us are survivalists. (Heck, some of us haven’t even been camping for years!)

Good to distinguish between these two!

Want more than the usual article in Popular Mechanics? Here’s a book from Amazon that will keep you busy for a few weeks! The author, Dave Canterbury, also has a book just on trapping, gathering and cooking! Either one makes a great gift. Just click on this link or on the image to get to Amazon so you can order. (That last sentence is a classic example of a call to action.)

OK, now on to a few more expressions that crop up in nearly every online forum or survival blog.

How about these common prepper vocabulary terms?

EDC – One of my favorite resources is a blog that regularly features a photograph of a pile of small items (always very neatly laid out) that the author carries in her purse or pocket. Usually, there are keys, a wallet, an expensive pocket knife, an LED flashlight, maybe a small very clever multi-tool. These are some of what are called “Every Day Carry” items — stuff to have with you all the time.

Try dumping out your own pockets, or your briefcase. Any useful prepper items there?

BOB – What you have in your pockets won’t be enough to keep you alive for the 72 hours that a Bug Out Bag is designed for. Sometimes called a GoBag, or a Get Out of Dodge Bag, or a simple Survival Kit, this is meant to provide the basics — food, warmth, water, communications — for those first three critical days. In real life the “basics”  usually translates to a whole collection of stuff including blankets, paracord, a multi-tool, dried food, first aid kit, emergency radio, extra underwear, etc.

The thing about the BOB is that you have to be able to CARRY it, so you’ll continually have to pare down what you think you need.

Variations on the bug-out theme include the BOV, or Bug Out Vehicle, which is designed to get you to the BOL, or Bug Out Location. (Remember, roads may be impassible.)

MOLLE – A month or so ago I came across a new word when I was researching BOBs! It referred to a particularly small and efficient backpack with a web arrangement that makes it easy to add additional equipment or pouches. (Here’s a link to that Advisory on BOBs.) Molle, pronounced “Molly,” stands for:  Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. (Anything Molle is also likely to carry the word “tactical.” Both expressions are related to the military.)

Of course, when we mention “military” we must add to our vocabulary list (and probably to our BOB) these classics:

MRE stands for Meals Ready to Eat. You probably already know that these are packaged meals designed for the military. They come in a durable pouch, and you eat right out of it. For those of us who would get tired of eating cold MREs, there are also MRE s that come with a water-activated chemical heater!

While eating out of pouch would probably get pretty tiresome after the first day or two, it would be better than having nothing to eat. MREs belong in a BOB, but probably shouldn’t be major part of the long-term food supply for Bugging In, or sheltering-in-place.

While you can buy individual packets, it’s more sensible to buy MREs by the dozen. After all, you need at least two meals a day to give you enough calories. (Two meals X three days = 6 meals in your BOB, alone.)  Here’s the link to Amazon, where you’ll find this two-box package.

P.S. to this section: Veterans seem to have their favorite flavors/menus. Check with a veteran if you have to make a decision. (The box in the image comes with 12 – all different! – so you can’t go wrong!)

P.P.S. to this section: MREs are packed securely to repel insects, withstand rough handling, etc. That means you aren’t going to be able to open them with bare fingers. Your BOB has a knife or multi-tool, I’m assuming.

Before we leave the BOB, there’s another set of guidelines that will help you as you pack up your kit.

The Rule of Three describes how humans can live only 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. Lately, the Rule of Three has been expanded to add another “rule” – and that is, in extreme weather conditions humans can live only 3 hours without shelter.

We mentioned Mylar space blankets, right? As shown in the clickable image, they typically come in packs of 4 or more.

Now for some random prepper acronyms.

OTG — Off the Grid – or OTGE – Off the Grid Event. A lot of preparedness deals with functioning when “the grid” goes down. The grid refers to the electrical system for the country. The grid provides us not only with electricity, but also drives communications, water, food distribution systems, etc.

Some self-sufficient people have already chosen to live off the electrical grid. But in a situation where ALL systems are down – electrical, social, legal, etc. it may take a long time for civilization to recover.

The concept of a total societal breakdown brings us to the last two acronyms for today:

WROL– without Rule of Law, a situation where law enforcement is ineffective or non-existent.  In WROL, this acronym may apply:

YOYO You’re on your own!

Feel like you know more now?  What are your plans for putting some of this new-found knowledge into action?!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you’re tempted to use some of these acronyms in a game of Scrabble,  they won’t be allowed unless they are considered common usage or if they are found in the official dictionary you have chosen to accompany your game. Pick your team and your dictionary well!

 

 

 

 

Surveillance Technology

Hidden cameraWe regularly look at what I’ll call “common security devices” – outdoor lights, motion-activated lights, including the very popular Ring doorbell camera.

All these are designed to prevent an unwelcome surprise or potential criminal activity.

Security devices help you keep an eye on what’s going on around your home or place of business.

Let’s stop for a moment and take a look at things from the other side.

What about surveillance devices?

Surveillance devices — sometimes called spy gear or spyware — may be letting others watch you!

If you’re a fan of spy movies or novels, a lot of what follows will sound familiar. The thing is, what used to be fantasy is now everyday reality.

Before we start, keep in mind that some of what we’re about to discuss may have legal restrictions. *

Still, people are using “spy gear” every day, and as someone interested in safety and security, you ought to have a basic awareness of what’s out there and how it works.

Examples of everyday spy gear.

We’ve all seen the movie where the detective goes directly to the phone in the room, takes off the base, and silently points to the recording device installed there.

These days, with communications taking place via cell phone, that sort of technology may be outdated!

1-Track a cell phone.

You surely know about the “Find my phone” capability in your smart phone. You can use the app or sign into iCloud and you’ll see a map showing your phone. (By the same token, if someone knows your login in and password, they can pretend they are you, log in and find your phone — and you — the very same way.)

The GPS technology built into the phone allows someone to track a lot more than just where you (and your phone) are. Stealth programs can locate the phone on a map, trace the route the phone has taken and alert the program owner if the phone has gone outside a preset boundary. More comprehensive programs can track all phone activity including instant messaging and social media activity.

More advanced phone tracking software typically requires a monthly subscription.

2-Secretly record a cell phone call.

If you want to record calls you make on your own phone, it’s usually a question of downloading the right app and learning how to activate it before you call, and then turning it off again when the call is over.

But what about secretly recording calls someone else is making? Again, it’s a question of software. You download a program onto your computer, then get your hands on the other person’s phone long enough to get it set up. Then, when they make a call to a specific number, or at a specific time, the call is recorded. You can download it and listen at your convenience. You may even be able to see pictures that are being sent via instant messaging, etc.

This sort of surveillance ware typically requires a monthly subscription because the data is sent to a hosting account maintained by the product manufacturer. You log in to your account to view what’s been recorded.

There are a lot of options associated with the programs that track cell phone usage. Here’s a site that reviews this sort of spyware:   http://www.top10spysoftware.com/

3-Take a video with a hidden camera.

We’re certainly accostomed to security cameras looking down at us in public places – and they have been instrumental in helping law enforcement catch criminals. (Remember the Boston Marathon bombers on video?)

We’re not so used to videos being taken in private settings, however.

In fact, many ordinary items — like the teddy bear in the photo above! — can house a hidden camera and most people would never suspect them. Just a quick jaunt through Amazon shows these examples.  Prices start at around $20, and some are even cheaper. (See my Personal Disclaimer at the end of this Advisory.) Click on the images or on the links for details and prices.

Note: when choosing a hidden camera you have to decide if the unit is standalone, or whether it can be connected to the wireless Internet network in your home or office. To use a standalone unit, you’ll have to remove the SD storage card and plug it into a computer to view what’s been recorded.  If you can connect to the network, you may be able to watch what’s going on remotely.

A pen that is actually a camera? Standalone unit, perfect for any business setting. Be sure it writes, of course. (This one actually comes with pen refills.)

32GB HD Spy Pen Camera 100 Min Video Recorder, FREE 32GB Memory Card, 5 Extra Ink Refills – Professional Secret Mini Digital Security Pencil With Tiny Undetectable Hidden Covert Cam

Look around the room you are in. See a wall clock? See a desk clock? Either one could have a hidden camera, taking photos of you right now!  The average person would never even notice this one, for example:

OUMEIOU 1080P 16GB Spy Hidden Camera Alarm Clock Infrared Night Vision Simplified Version

One of my favorites for a bedroom is a smoke alarm. Easy to mount! (But don’t put up a second alarm if there’s a real one already installed. Someone would notice that!)  (Click on image for more details.)

 

And again, for the office, hotel room, whatever . . . a spy camera that is housed in a phone charger or AC adapter. Comes in black or white to match your own device.

The list goes on. There are , . .

  • light bulbs with hidden cameras
  • electrical outlet plates
  • picture frames
  • key fobs
  • a tablet or iphone case
  • a bottle of water
  • (what looks like) a pack of chewing gum!

And still another idea. This fake plant with its camera actually plugs in for “years and years of use!”

And a last idea. Take a picture BACK through a door peephole using this clever reverse peephole spy cam!

4-Listen to a private conversation.

While there were plenty of spy cameras to look at, I didn’t see anywhere near as many audio listening or recording devices. Probably because of legal limitations — see the Legal Disclaimer. However, you can find good quality up-close recording devices built into wrist watches like this one.

Spy cameras with recording devices can also be hidden in pens, similar to the one above, or in flash drives like the one below. Or you can buy a tiny recorder, no bigger than a button, and stick it anywhere.

Again, click on any of the images to go to Amazon, where you’ll be able to get an idea of features and costs.

5-Track someone’s whereabouts. 

GPS trackers have saved hikers lost in the woods. (We include a review of an excellent GPS radio here.) They also track commercial vehicles and the cars of family members, including pets. An obvious GPS tracker can be put in a pocket, stuck in the car door, or fastened to a pet collar. Hidden GPS trackers are fastened so that they are hidden, of course!

A “simple” tracker is motion activated. It records and saves info about where it went, to what address, how fast it traveled, etc. To get the info, you must retrieve the tracker and plug it into a computer.

An “advanced” tracker can provide real time tracking. It’s powered via battery, or is hardwired to the electrical system, and it sends messages to a cellphone or computer. Advanced trackers can send data in near real time. They require a subscription.

Here’s an “advanced” tracker that reports in every 5 seconds. You can  set up “boundaries” for the item being tracked and be notified via email when the boundaries are crossed. Attach to a vehicle with its magnetic case.

Spy Tec STI_GL300 Mini Portable Real Time GPS Tracker.

6-Track what someone is doing online.

It’s easy to download and install “tracker” software on any computer. It records all activity and, in fact, can record every keystroke. It can send alerts when certain words appear in an email or on a website. And it can block access to certain sites or emails.

If your boss or family member installs this on YOUR computer, they can monitor everything you are doing from their own phone, tablet or computer. The installation is difficult if not impossible to detect. (It’s also legal for your employer to track everything you do with company-owned property, in case you were wondering.  Check your Employee Policies Manual for your own company’s rules.)

Again, this kind of web-based program requires a monthly subscription.  Looking for more information about monitoring software? Again, here’s a review site: http://www.toptenreviews.com/software/privacy/best-monitoring-software/scription.

Counter Surveillance Technology

If you think you might be the target of some of these surveillance gadgets or techniques, you may have to spend some money to find out.

When it comes to computer spyware, you may not be able to detect it yourself. Good anti-virus or anti-spyware may help. Here a link to one of the best: Norton Security Premium – 10 Devices [Download Code]

When it comes to company-owned computers, you may be out of luck. Best solution? Change your behavior so you don’t have to worry.

As for finding listening devices or hidden cameras, “sweeping” a room may require something like this, designed to sweep a room to find hidden listening devices and cameras:  Spy-Hawk Security Products Pro-10G is the 1 GPS Tracker Finder and Law-Grade Counter Surveillance Bug Sweep – Newest Professional Handheld Detection of All Active GPS Trackers, Mobile Phones

Finally, you could try protecting your own cell phone from being tracked by carrying it in a “signal blocking bag.” Inexpensive peace of mind:
SYB Phone Pouch, Cell Phone EMF Protection Holster Sleeve for Phones up to 3.25″ Wide, Black with Belt Hoop

*Now for the Legal Disclaimers

All these items come with a caution to USE LAWFULLY. I am not a lawyer and am not giving any legal advice, but here are the basics that appear at every website or in every product description. Keep them in mind and do more research if you plan to use any of the devices we’ve talked about here.

  • Federal laws are one thing, and state laws another. Be sure you know how your state defines “lawful” when it comes to secretly recording or filming.
  • Generally, taping or filming someone who has an “expectation of privacy” can get you into trouble, and your recordings probably can’t be used as evidence. You may be able to use them to help you make private decisions, of course.
  • Audio recording is more problematic than video recording.
  • If you own the property, or have permission, you can put up a video camera with no audio. (This is the “nanny cam” standard.)
  • When it comes to audio, at least one person must give permission for the recording to be legal. (In some states, both parties must be notified and give permission.)

And my personal disclaimer:

I’m not at all an expert on these devices, and unlike most of the things we write about, I have not owned any spyware. (Joe is more paranoid than I am, and has a lot more experience. He made important additions to this article.) And, of course, technological breakthroughs have a way of changing everything overnight!

Still, what I discovered in researching these devices is:

  • Prices vary widely on nearly all items. (The exception is monitoring software from well-known brands.) Even some of the small items (like a flash drive/camera) can cost anywhere from $15 to $50, so you definitely need to shop carefully. (Generally, I have tried to select mid-range items as my examples.)
  • Some of the inexpensive items seem to be unreliable. You are probably wasting your money on them.
  • Many of these items are available only directly through specialty spyware stores. And not all of them have return policies or guarantees, so again – shop carefully. (That’s why the examples from this article are all from Amazon, where I have had some good experiences in customer service and in returning merchandise that didn’t work as advertised.) Rather than order online, you may want to visit a brick-and-mortar store to talk to a knowledgeable salesperson.

And a few more buyer’s notes:

Many of these devices are powered by batteries. Some are hardwired to electrical sources. Most are either “motion activated” or “heat activated,” which go a long way to extending battery life. What’s being recorded goes onto a SIM card and you avoid having to scroll through hours of dead time.

As with all emergency devices, be sure you understand how they are powered and how often you’ll have to replenish the power source.

And as with all electronic devices, make sure you realize just how much data your spy device can actually store before it runs out of memory and shuts down. As you can imagine, the more memory, and the higher the fidelity of the sound or image, the more you pay.

This Advisory is in no way comprehensive. It is meant to give you an overview of the kinds of spyware readily available today, and that you have probably come into contact with, without even knowing it!

If privacy is a big concern for you — and certainly, it’s becoming more of a concern these days for everybody — you’ll want to find out more about these devices.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

 

Maybe you missed this? Tsunami warnings.

tsunami evacuation routeIt turns out that last week, March 27-31, was California’s 2017 Tsunami Preparedness Week.  While you may think tsunamis don’t apply to you personally, WAIT before you click away!

Who could find themselves in a Tsunami Danger Zone?

Maybe a LOT more people than you think!

In the U.S. several states are at risk for tsunamis: Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California. And think of the US business travelers and tourists heading to Japan, Thailand, Singapore!

You could easily find yourself caught up in a tsunami inundation zone, anywhere in the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire” countries.

My son was caught in the tsunami that hit the Pacific in 2004. He was vacationing in Thailand. As he reported it live on Larry King (!), he saw a “strange long wave” forming way out in the bay. He even paused to take a photo without realizing that the wave was bearing down on the beach much faster than he could run.

Yes, he was caught, washed off his feet and pushed into a building, where he was able to clamber up above the water and wait until it went down. He was young and strong and lucky. He lost only a shoe and a camera.

Over 230,000 people around the Indian Ocean weren’t so lucky. They lost their lives. This little map shows just how far that tsunami reached! 

That was in 2004, and many Americans really didn’t know how to recognize a tsunami.

My son didn’t. He would now, though, and you should be able to, too.

Do you know these three telltale warning signs?

1-A tsunami is typically caused by an earthquake. So, if you feel one, or hear news about one – or about a volcanic eruption, a big landslide or even a meteor hit – you need to be ready to act immediately.

2-You may not feel the earthquake, but you may see water receding, dead fish on the beach, or even hear the sound of an approaching wave.

3-You may see the giant tsunami wave approaching. It can be as high as 100 ft. and travel at 500 miles per hour! Often, the longer the tsunami travels, and the closer it gets to shore, the bigger and stronger the waves get. They don’t look like a regular wave that crests and breaks. Rather, the wave is more like a line of foam being pushed by a half-submerged building.

What to do if you see or expect a tsunami.

There’s no way to outrun a tsunami if you are on the ground when it hits. The only safely lies in getting away, to higher ground, BEFORE it hits. That means:

Heed tsunami warnings. In the United States, an NOAA Weather Radio might be the first to broadcast an alert. (Check out NOAA radios here.) Local radio and TV stations will also be issuing warnings. Some places have tsunami warning sirens.

Instantly get to high ground. Tsunami waves can reach far inland, carrying debris and destruction. Your goal is to get out of its clutches entirely by getting far away from the beach (often not possible), or by getting and staying above the height of the water. A hill or mountain is best; if necessary, climb to the fourth floor or roof of a steel-reinforced building.

Yes, some people have survived by climbing trees, but in many cases the trees are simply not tall enough to provide safety.

If you’re in a boat when the earthquake hits or you hear a tsunami warning, you have several options depending on how much lead time you have. No lead time? Head for a depth of 50 fathoms (300 ft) or more and monitor your radio. Boat owners, get more important details at http://files.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dobor/contacts/Plan-TSUNAMI.pdf

Stay in a safe place until all danger has passed. This could mean for several hours or even days. A tsunami is made up of many waves; don’t assume it’s over once waters have receded after the first big wave hits. People returning to their homes or to port to save personal items have been caught by the second wave.

How to prepare before a tsunami hits.

If you live in a potential tsunami zone, or are simply visiting, here are recommendations from the California Dept. of Conservation and from Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources:

  1. Know if you are in a tsunami zone. In the US, you can check at http://www.tsunamizone.org/knowyourzone/. Or check the World Map at http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-maps/tsunami-zones.html
  2. Find out what warnings you might expect from the community. Make sure everyone in your group knows what they are.
  3. Study the recommended evacuation routes – from your home, hotel and/or office. (Familiarize yourself with the signs, shown at the beginning of this Advisory.)
  4. Practice your evacuation route, particularly in an unfamiliar city. Remember, the tsunami could hit at night, knocking out all lights. It could also knock out bridges or roads, so you might need an alternate route to get to high ground. Everyone needs to understand the evacuation route, since you will not have time to track down other family members before you set out.
  5. Do you have children in school? Find out about school evacuation procedures.

Have an emergency kit ready, and grab it as you evacuate.

There is no time to pack personal items – you need to grab ONE thing and start moving immediately. Remember, you may have to wait for hours or days before the ALL CLEAR is sounded and you can return to your hotel or home.

Need more encouragement or suggestions? Many organizations sponsor special Tsunami Preparation Days and Weeks. Check this year’s calendar, shown in blue above.


This Advisory has been pretty straightforward and non-dramatic. If you don’t remember the images of the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, it might be worth your while to take a look at these 8 minutes of dramahttps://youtu.be/5IKIazZc-a8

The video clip, taken at an ordinary coastal city, starts off slow and easy . . . and then you just can’t believe the water coming, and coming, and coming . . . 8 minutes will give you an unforgettable idea of how a tsunami really behaves.

Pass along this information to friends and family – and stay safe! When World Tsunami Awareness Day comes on November 5, think back to some of the details you learned about here!

Virginia 
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. While we’re talking about tsunamis and earthquakes, did you know that April 26 is National Richter Scale Day!

 

 

 

One size does NOT fit all

Take a look at your collection of Emergency Kits

Survival kits

Which bag still works?

We regularly (although not often enough) pull out our various emergency kits to see what’s in them, whether they need re-stocking, or maybe even replacing.

Some change is always required!

So over the weekend we took a look at what’s in the various closets and trunks of our cars. The photo shows five of the current collection.

It should raise some questions for you, like it did for us!

1-How many survival kits do we need, anyway?

Joe and I are a two-person household. We’ve written often about the different items that you’d find in our kits:

  • The Commuter Bag, stays in the car, designed to get us safely home if something happens when we’re on the road. One 2-person kit per car.
  • The 72-hour Survival Kit, the true “Grab and Go Bag” for immediate use in an emergency. We each have one.
  • The 14-day Survival Stash – food and other supplies that will carry us through in the case of massive storm, big earthquake, etc. The Stash is spread around the house, and doesn’t leave it.

When it comes to Survival Kits, we have published a whole workbook. Below is one of the charts from it. You’ll see that the chart adds a Workplace Kit and a School Kit to the other two.  Now, we work from home, and don’t have kids at school, so they aren’t on our own list. Nor do we have pets. But what about your family?  (Get the details of the workbook here. If you haven’t really begun assembling your preparedness items, this may be just the kick-start you’re looking for.)

Family Survival Kit Chart

2-So are the kits different?

I think EACH kit needs to be unique!  Not entirely, of course. We’ve written before about the top 10 items to consider for each short-term kit. (Here’s the Top Ten list of Emergency Kit Starter Items, with discussion.) Some of these, for example knives or other tools, might be inappropriate for small children or older people.

But as soon as you stop to think about it, you will want other stuff in YOUR kit that no one else might think of. And there are things others in your family might need that you have no interest in packing for yourself. For example:

  • Personal items — toothbrush, floss, tampons, diapers, eye shades, sunscreen, glasses/contacts, dark glasses, chewing gum, etc.
  • Medical items – pills, allergy cream, bee sting kit
  • Comfort items – candy, toys, a book

Most of these extras don’t take up much room, but without yours you’d be miserable!

3-What’s the best container for a kit?

So again, it depends. How much needs to go into the kit? Who is going to be carrying it and how far? If you look again at the photo, you’ll see some kits which have turned out to be pretty good for us, and others that really don’t make the grade. Here’s some of what to consider.

SIZE – We got the Big Yellow/Black Banana Pak Kit (center of the photo) early on. It was designed and sold by a thorough professional – everything you’d need, of the very best quality including the bag itself. Unfortunately, the minute it arrived we realized it was TOO BIG AND TOO HEAVY. I’ve kept it in the back of the closet because I really like some of the specialty items (whistles, binoculars, knives) but it is now relegated to the long-term, permanently stored Survival Stash. I can hardly carry the darn thing. Fortunately it has wheels.

Other kits in the photo are at the other end of the scale. For example, the small black kit with green base was one that we actually sold on Amazon as part of a “starter kit.” It works fine as a Commuter Bag – room for snacks, water bottle, flashlights, radio, a jacket. But with only two compartments, it’s not very flexible.

My latest acquisition is the black “Tactical Bag” at the left in the photo above, and here in a closer look.

I just received it (That’s why it’s empty!) and it seems to have a number of attractive features:
Tactical Bag Survival Kit

  • All the straps are adjustable, and the body of the bag is expandable. (I adjusted the shoulder straps. Took a while, what with all the buckles and loops.)
  • It’s made for carrying long distances – with a front chest strap and a belly strap, padded shoulder straps, etc. Everything cinches down tight for comfort and control.
  • The bag has 9 different pockets of varying size. The larger pockets zip all around for easy opening.
  • Multiple straps and loops make it possible to easily attach more gear: a jacket, bottles, blanket, lights, boots, weapons, whatever.
  • Bag is waterproof. (I always pack a couple of large trash bags so I can cover the whole pack in one fell swoop!)

A quick detour for vocabulary:

I described this bag as a “tactical” bag. This definition of tactical comes from The Free Dictionary:

Tactical — characterized by skillful tactics or adroit maneuvering or procedures especially in military or naval operations.

Molle — And in reviewing backpacks I also discovered the word “Molle” which stands for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. It refers to the ability of a  backpack like this one to attach other modular gear components: vests, pouches, etc.

QUALITY – As I already mentioned, the big yellow pack is made of the highest quality materials. It rolls like luggage, has shoulder straps, and can be carried by a top handle or a side handle like a duffle bag. Its zippers are industrial strength, as is the canvas bag itself. Real leather zipper pulls. Special separate pockets for different items: glasses, water, etc. Top quality, top price, heaviest by far!

The green/black “starter kit” is medium grade nylon material, with ordinary zipper and fabric zipper pulls. Medium quality, inexpensive, very lightweight.

The other bags in the photo lie somewhere in between.

If you are going to store a kit in the car and only grab it in an emergency, a medium quality bag will work fine. (Keep it out of the sunlight, of course!)

On the other hand, if you plan to carry your bag on arduous hikes or use it camping, or even as a daily carry full of books, invest in the best quality you can afford. Nothing worse than a broken zipper when you need reliability!

So go back to your chart. You are likely to need multiple kits – for different needs, for different people. (You may want to start with some used backpacks you already own, just to get a better idea of how much each pack needs to hold and thus how big it needs to be.)

Start building your kits. Soon, you will have a collection just like ours!

4-Consider a “Tactical Bag” for your collection.

There are plenty of backpacks out there labeled “tactical.” Some are absolutely huge! For your first survival kit purchase, you might consider something smaller, like this one, available from Amazon at what appears to be an excellent price. And this one gets some of the best Amazon reviews I’ve seen. (I always read all of them.)

Click on the link for details and the current price. (Remember, we’re Amazon associates and may get a small commission for sending you there to buy.)

Military Tactical Assault Pack Backpack Army Molle Bug Out Bag Backpacks Small Rucksack for Outdoor Hiking Camping Trekking Hunting Black.

Over the years we’ve worn out a number of bags and backpacks, so we’re always on the lookout for new ones for our stuff. And our “stuff” has changed, too, as we’ve moved around the country.

No matter where or when, however, we try to have a survival kit handy. When the emergency hits, it’s too late to start searching for what you need!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

When to Activate Your Emergency Team

Quick! Call the Fire Department!

Emergency call

EMERGENCY ALERT!

Just before Christmas we had a fire here in our neighborhood. One of our neighbors heard a “ZAP” as he turned on the overhead light, and noticed smoke curling from the fixture. He ran outside to grab a garden hose, but as he scrabbled around to find it and then opened a sliding porch door to get back into the house, the fire exploded and knocked him right back down the stairs.

Ultimately, the home burned  down. Our neighbor was pulled safely away from the steps by an on-the-ball visitor. And fire engines arrived to protect the houses on either side.

What was our Neighborhood Emergency Response team doing during all this?

One member of our team was the first to call 911. Other members arrived on foot and helped keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles. (When the police arrived, the police took over, of course.)

Somewhere along the way, a few phone calls alerted other members of our team, including our group “Commander” (me), whose home is far enough away that this all went on without my even realizing it!

Later, we discussed how things went.

Decide: Big Emergency or Small Emergency?

Our group has been set up to help people prepare for “widespread emergencies when First Responders are overwhelmed and unable to respond.” Usually, that means preparing for “the big one (earthquake).” In that case, it will likely be hours if not days before our community gets assistance. We’ll need to deal with possible structural damages, roadway blockages, injuries, need for food, etc.

Our group educates and trains for big emergencies. It does not activate for localized, small emergencies, such as a fire or some sort of medical emergency. Those belong to the professionals.

We confirmed that this fire did not officially fall within our charter.

Choose: Active Bystander or Emergency Response Team member?

At the same time, when any of us hear a loud crash, or hear sirens and see an emergency vehicle pull up down the street, we’re curious and want to help if we can.

Individual members of our group have helped out in situations like this in the past:

  • At an accident in town, one member, first on the scene, parked her car across a lane to keep the victim from being run over.
  • One member alerted a hotel employee to grab his fire extinguisher when she saw flames coming from underneath a bus unloading passengers at the entrance.
  • One member used his “gas sniffer” to reassure a neighbor about a strange smell – and discovered a leak in his own BBQ! (That same gas sniffer operator has identified the smell of marijuana, too. Those are stories for another times . . .!)

The point is, many team members are ready and willing to step up without waiting for a formal group activation command.

When you recognize and safely intervene in potentially dangerous situations, you fit the definition of active bystander. (There is also the “passive bystander,” someone who recognizes a bad situation but takes no action to stop or solve it. That’s not likely to fit anyone reading this Advisory.) In those cases, you’re acting as an individual and not as a CERT or neighborhood group member.

Communicate better for better results.

Part of CERT training is being ready to take charge. In the incidents described above, our individual CERT members made decisions and got other people to follow orders. We’ve often discussed the importance of projecting authority with the help of:

  • Loud, simple verbal commands (“Come to me.”)
  • Appropriate hand signals (“Stop.”)
  • A uniform (vest and/or helmet)

And when appropriate, you’ll want to activate your team.

Verbal commands and an authoritative posture work here, too. And for the group to function best, you need appropriate tools and protocols. After the recent fire, we reviewed our own communication protocols.

Communication steps.

Here’s what we agree on:

  1. Use a phone to CALL 911. (Don’t text to 911.)
  2. Use cell phone, landline, email and/or text messaging to alert other members of the team. (Have their numbers programmed into your phone’s memory.)
  3. Switch to hand-held radios (walkie-talkies) for efficient, immediate group-wide communications – or if regular phone service is out.
  4. Set up command center to manage a larger network. (Our command center is an officially-recognized HAM radio station with direct contact to the city’s emergency communications system.)

As we’ve described, our local group practices using our hand-held radios with a regularly-schedule monthly drill. Our HAM radio station operators belong to a city-wide group; they practice weekly.

Essential tools and equipment.

This Advisory points to the equipment that every group member needs to have and be familiar with. In particular:

Simple team uniform – a vest.

CERT graduates have their own vests; all our group members who aren’t CERT grads are issued inexpensive vests like this one. (They’re not likely to be worn often, so they don’t need to be top quality.) We encourage our members to carry their vests in the car, assuming their car will be where they are in an emergency.

Ergodyne GloWear 8020HL Non-Certified Reflective High Visibility Vest, One Size, Lime

Personal cell phone.

Everyone has his own phone, with his own provider. However, for emergency team members that phone needs to be able to store numbers. The owner should sign up for local automated alert programs (iAlert).

And the owner needs to know how to send a text! (Some of your members not too sure? Check out this Advisory.)

Hand-held radios (walkie-talkies) for team members.

We have reviewed walkie-talkies several times. As with all electronic devices, you can expect changes in what’s available. In any case, you should be able to get a short-range pair of hand-held radios appropriate for your local group for $30-40. Read our review page – it has questions to help you decide just what capabilities you need, and shows several popular models. We particularly like this Uniden model because the buttons clearly show how to change channels and raise and lower volume. Some of the smallest walkie-talkies combine functions on just one button, making it harder to figure out.

Uniden GMR1635-2 22-Channel 16-Mile Range FRS/GMRS Battery Operated Two-Way Radios – Set of 2 – Black

If you’re a candidate for a ham radio (and the licensing that goes along with them), here’s an article about these radios, too, with some info about how they differ from simple hand-held walkie-talkies. Prices vary from $50 to $450, so know what you need before you buy!


BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF) Includes Full Kit with Large Battery

Emergencies happen frequently. Some we can help with, others are handled by First Responders and we have no role. Still, when a real emergency DOES happen, and you are there as witness, being ready to take positive action is something to feel confident about, and proud of.

That’s why we train, isn’t it?!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

The examples in this Advisory are all drawn from our own neighborhood group. They could just as well apply to a workplace group. If you are responsible for emergency preparedness at work, go back and see if your leaders and team members have the essential tools and equipment they need.

 

 

 

Survey Tool for Your Group or Community

Preparedness SurveyThis week I came across a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) survey through one of my Google Alerts. (Alerts are a great resource; find out about them here.) The survey is currently being put out to residents in several counties in Washington State.

It turns out that DHS has been conducting similar surveys in different communities since 2001, trying to track trends in preparedness.

And yes, some trends have emerged. For example, the surveys have found that full time employees have the highest level of personal readiness compared with other types of employees. People with children in school also report higher preparedness levels. And, as you might expect, different parts of the country have different levels of preparedness.

Overall, though, American preparedness has not improved markedly since 2001!

We here at Emergency Plan Guide are trying to change that trend!

Can we take advantage of this survey to improve the preparedness in our local groups?

I’m not suggesting that we use it like DHS does. I see some other uses appropriate for your local CERT meeting.

A look at the original survey.

Before I add my comments, here’s (nearly) the whole survey. (I edited it slightly.) Take a look to see what YOU think about it. (It is LONG. Scroll through quickly to get an idea of the scope and format.)

Citizen Expectation Survey (from Homeland Security)

 1. My home is located in the following area

  • ________________

2. My household includes: (Check all that apply)

  • Child (Birth – 5 years)
  • Senior Citizen(s) (65 and over)
  • Disabled Family Member(s)
  • Non-English Speaking Member(s)
  • Household Pet(s)
  • Tribal Member(s) (and Affiliation)

3. What’s your main source of local, state, and national news and information?

  • Television
  • AM/FM Radio
  • Newspaper/Magazine
  • Internet
  • Social Media

4. How do you primarily receive your local weather forecast information?

  • Television
  • AM/FM Radio
  • Newspaper/Magazine
  • Internet
  • Social Media

5. What is the best way of delivering severe weather or disaster news and updates to you?

  • All Hazards Weather Radio
  • AM/FM Radio
  • Television
  • E-mail
  • Phone Call
  • Text message
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Other Social Media

6. Does your family have a Family Emergency Plan?

  • Yes
  • No

7. Does your Family Emergency Plan include: (Check all that apply)

  • I do not have a Family Emergency Plan
  • My plan includes how to contact each other in the event we were separated during a disaster (phone, text, e-mail addresses)
  • My plan includes an out-of-state family contact person for when all local communications are down
  • My plan includes a specific meeting place in the event my family is separated
  • My plan includes how and where to evacuate to in the event we must abandon our home during a disaster
  • Other

8. Does your or your child’s school have an Emergency Plan for disaster?

  • I have no children
  • I have no children who attend school
  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

9. Does your workplace have an Emergency Plan for disaster?

  • I am not currently employed
  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

10. Do you and all other members of your family, including your pets have a GO KIT, Get Away Bag or similar item? (Check all that apply)

  • Myself
  • Each family member
  • My pet
  • We have none
  • I do not know what a GO KIT or Get Away Bag is

11. I am aware of the risk and hazard to all local disasters, such as, earthquake, tsunami, severe weather, flooding, tornado and wildfire.

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure
  • I have no risk or hazard to any of these disaster events

12. I expect an Earthquake to affect my community in the next:

  • year
  • 3 years
  • 5 years
  • 10 years
  • longer than 10 years
  • never

13. I expect a Tsunami to affect my community in the next:

  • year
  • 3 years
  • 5 years
  • 10 years
  • longer than 10 years
  • never

14. I expect Flooding to affect my community in the next:

  • year
  • 3 years
  • 5 years
  • 10 years
  • longer than 10 years
  • never

15. If a disaster is threatening, my expectation is, I will receive warning and instructions from the following: (Check all that apply)

  • Local City Government
  • Local County Government
  • Tribal Government
  • State Government
  • Federal Government
  • ALL Hazard Alert Weather Radio
  • National Weather Service
  • Local Emergency Management
  • Local Law Enforcement
  • Local Fire Department
  • Television
  • AM/FM Radio
  • All Hazard Alert Broadcast Siren (AHAB Warning Siren)
  • FEMA

16. If a disaster situation was imminent, would you evacuate your home if warned to do so by official authorities?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

17. If you had a 10 hour advance warning of the need to evacuate your home, how long would you expect it to take, to prepare and leave your home, once you receive the initial evacuation warning?

  • I would not evacuate
  • Under an hour
  • 1-2 hours
  • 2-4 hours
  • 4-6 hours
  • Longer

18. If you were to evacuate following a warning given by local authorities, would you bring your pet(s) with you?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure
  • I have no pets – I would evacuate
  • I have no pets – I would not evacuate

19. If you were to evacuate following an order given by local authorities, where would you most likely go?

  • I would not leave my home
  • I would stay with family/friends in my County
  • I would stay with family/friends in an area other than my County
  • I would stay in a hotel/motel in my County
  • I would stay in a hotel/motel in an area other than my County
  • If none of the above, explain where you would go.

20. What modes of transportation are available to you in the event you have to evacuate from your home? (Check all that apply)

  • I have no available transportation
  • Private automobile
  • Public transportation
  • Bicycle
  • I would rely on friends or family
  • Other (please specify)

21. I expect emergency response agencies to assist me if I must evacuate my home.

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

22. If my County were impacted by a significant disaster event lasting multiple days, I expect Federal and State Response Agencies, including FEMA and the Red Cross, to respond within:

  • 12 hours
  • 24 hours
  • 2 days
  • 3 days
  • 4 days
  • Longer than 4 days

23. If my County were impacted by a significant disaster event lasting multiple days, I expect Local, City and County Response Agencies to respond within:

  • 12 hours
  • 24 hours
  • 2 days
  • 3 days
  • 4 days
  • Longer than 4 days

24. In a significant disaster event lasting multiple days, who would you seek out to obtain food or shelter assistance?

  • School
  • City Hall
  • Local Fire Department
  • Local Police Department
  • Church
  • Hospital
  • Unsure
  • Other
  • If other, please specify here

25. Have you signed up for the Emergency Alert and Notification System in your county?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I do not know if we have an Alert and Notification System in my county.

26. Do you have a NOAA All Hazards “Alert” Weather Radio?

  • Yes
  • No

27. Which news headline would likely interest you enough to read the associated article?

  • A Huge Winter Storm is Approaching With Winds Exceeding 150 mph and a Large Storm Surge.
  • We’re Awaiting One of the Most Extraordinary, Mind Boggling, Meteorologic Marvels, Never Before Witnessed by any Earthbound Creature.
  • Neither Headline Would Interest Me Enough to Continue Reading the Article.

28. Please indicate if you would like more information on any of the following:

  • Evacuation
  • Disabled/Functional Needs Disaster Preparedness
  • Livestock Preparedness/Evacuation
  • Pet Preparedness/Evacuation
  • Family Preparedness
  • Business Preparedness
  • School Disaster Preparedness
  • My Local County Emergency Management
  • Disaster Mitigation
  • Disaster Response
  • Disaster Recovery
  • FEMA/Flood Programs
  • Evacuation Routes/Shelters
  • Communications
  • Earthquake
  • Tsunami
  • Severe Weather
  • Disaster Volunteer Organizations
  • My Local County Emergency Notification System

29. Do you have suggestions, comments, questions or constructive criticism? Please write your comments or concerns here. (If you desire a reply, please leave your name, email, and phone number).

How to use the survey as training material. 

I’m usually an enthusiastic survey taker (or interview giver), but this survey is so long that even I felt like abandoning it halfway through.

Therefore, my first idea would be to divide the survey up into several sections or themes and use each one as part of, or the main focus of, a group meeting. For example:

  • Ask group members to complete a section of the survey themselves, and then use that section for discussion.
  • Assign sections of the survey to sub-groups and have them prepare background material or collect samples to share with the others.
  • Create still another version of the survey for neighbors who aren’t yet part of the group. You wouldn’t collect the surveys, but would design them as “eye-openers” for your neighbors!

Family Needs – Questions 1 – 5

Every family is different. Poll the group to detect commonalities. Share resources, such as the best TV channels for weather news, etc. What particular challenges would you have associated with children, older people, people not speaking English, etc.? What actions can your group take to help meet some of these challenges?

Individual Family Plans – Questions 6 – 9

If your group is not likely to have plans, whether family or work related, perhaps you can focus on providing step-by-step instructions on what should be included. At Emergency Plan Guide, we devote about half our Advisories to one facet or another of planning! Here’s a recent article on building a Family Plan and a one-pager for increasing workplace preparedness.

Building a Go Bag – Question 10

Provide people with a list; call a meeting that focuses on “show and tell” using one of the leaders’ bags. At work, make copies of “What to take with you” and distribute them. Check out our new custom survival kit workbook for families, too — it works for all families and can be an excellent benefit for employees.

Likely Threats – Questions 11 – 14.

We’ve had good luck getting experts to train us on different natural and man-made threats. YouTube has great resources, too. Stick with the threats that are most likely; no need to overwhelm everyone with EVERY possible threat! People will have their own amazing stories to share!

Warnings and Evacuation – Questions 15 – 26

Traditionally, about half the people, when asked, say they will NOT evacuate! Be sure people understand how and when to evacuate, and the fact that once they’re out, they can’t come back. Don’t forget to discuss how people with disabilities will be assisted to evacuate, and how to handle pets and large animals. In particular, note how long it might take for “authorities” to show up with help. (Check with your local Red Cross.) “Evacuation Realities” would be a popular topic to attract all kinds of visitors to a group meeting.

As for the “warnings,” you can help people know what to expect locally, show them how to sign up for local alert apps, and see if you can arrange for the purchase of NOAA Weather Radios.

Not sure I’d include – Questions 27 – 29

Caution: You may find some of these questions ask for information that you consider “too personal” to share openly. Feel free to remove or adjust those questions. In any case, be sure to discuss with your group the importance of privacy and how to maintain it.

Training is an ongoing challenge. (That’s why I pulled together my book on CERT Meeting Ideas.)

Finding already-developed materials like this survey is a boon to CERT group leaders. While this particular survey wasn’t designed for groups, it can certainly work as a refresher, as a discussion starter, or even as an agenda for several separate meetings.

Let us know if and how you find it useful!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

 

Self-Defense for The Rest of Us

Violence in the news

Purse with weapon. . . against religions, immigrant or racial groups. Violence in the streets, violence threatened by our government – it’s enough to make you want to lock the doors, crawl into bed and cover your head.

Some people are stocking up on guns and ammunition. But for most of us at Emergency Plan Guide, daily life goes on without dramatic changes that include firearms.

Still, if you’re feeling less secure these days, it’s worth taking another, no-nonsense look at personal safety and self-defense.

1 – Martial arts skills are a potent defense for some.

Trained martial arts masters no doubt have a much better chance of surviving a violent attack by someone without a weapon or even with one. In fact, everyone can become more skilled, without having to become a master. (I’ve seen classes advertised for children, for young women – “Don’t get raped” — and for senior citizens.)

I think even I could handle several of the self-defense moves illustrated in this article: http://www.cracked.com/photoplasty_1376_16-self-defense-moves-to-impress-your-friends-muggers/

But – and here’s the big caution. I am NOT in the best shape of my life. I have NOT trained or practiced these moves. I’m NOT confident that I would remember exactly which move to apply when. And I don’t have a martial arts class in my future.

So what about you?

In other words, unless you are willing to sign up for a professional class and become proficient if not professional, a casual approach to martial arts is useless and probably even dangerous.

2 — Mental attitude will KEEP you out of trouble.

Being aware is the very first defense, and is likely to be the key to your safety. We have written several times about the concept of situational awareness.

But awareness also requires action.

For example,

  • If you find yourself driving deeper into the “wrong” neighborhood, an unknown part of town, or into a dark parking lot or alley – make a smart decision, a quick U-turn and simply get out of there before you put yourself at risk.
  • If your normally familiar neighborhood or work environment suddenly “feels funny” – you see people you haven’t seen before doing things that don’t make sense, hear sounds that could be gunshots – make a smart decision and remove yourself (and your family, no matter how much they resist) before something happens.
  • if you enter what we’ve learned to term a “soft target” area – like a mall, movie theatre, sporting event, or shopping area – make constant note of alternate ways to get out of the area. In an emergency you’ll know just what to do and you won’t be trampled by all the others who will naturally try to get out the way they got in.

All of these mean you have to 1) recognize a potentially dangerous situation and 2) overcome doubt and other people’s criticisms or reluctance and 3) GET THE HELL OUT.

Explain or defend your actions later.

3 – When you have to fight, your ultimate goal is still to get away.

There may be a time when your “antennae” just didn’t work and you can’t avoid a person who is threatening you.

Or, and I hate to say this, YOU may have provoked a situation by threatening, annoying or insulting someone (Road rage? Street protest?) to the point they attack you. At that moment, you need to be able to let go of your own emotions and recognize the danger you’ve put yourself in!

Either way, if you decide that you must fight for your life, then commit to that fight. Any half-hearted attempt will be inadequate and could put you in even more danger.

Some self-protection suggestions that make sense to me:

Yell sharply and loudly right in the face of the attacker!

“BACK OFF!” makes it clear you are not going to be a willing victim. Your aggressive resistance may even be enough to make the attacker look for an easier victim. Note you are yelling at the attacker, not yelling for “Help!” from some unknown source.

Use what you have or can find as an improvised weapon.

If you have keys in your hand, use a key to scratch or cut. (If you are holding a whole bunch of keys in your hand, however, you are likely to stab your own palm if you actually hit something hard with that hand.) Hurl a handful of pocket change. Toss dirt or sand. Launch a pot of hot coffee. Spray an attacker with perfume or hairspray.

Use what you can to distract the attacker so you can get away.

Use “weaponized” personal items.

Any device is useless unless you understand how to use it, and you have it in your hand ready to use. This takes us right back to “situational awareness” and “mental attitude.” Here are some ordinary items that become weapons if you use them that way. Click the blue links under the images to go to Amazon to get current prices and full details.

I try to carry a flashlight all the time, for light and as a weapon.  Lately, we have the choice of “tactical” flashlights that serve both purposes.

My favorite “tactical” flashlight has a ridged grip that won’t slip and a sharp front edge that would cut seriously when used as a slashing weapon. Here’s a tactical light that has a wrist strap for easy carrying, offers a super-bright m adjustable flashlight and comes in a gift box. The blue arrow points to the sharp edge.

tactical flashlight

LED Tactical Flashlight,Akaho 900 Lumen XML T6 Portable Outdoor Water Resistant Torch with Adjustable Focus and 5 Light Modes,Rechargeable 18650 Lithium Ion Battery and Charger

I also carry a “tactical pen.” (The image at the start of this article shows it clipped to my purse.) It looks pretty ordinary but is anything but. It’s solid, heavy, has a pointed end and a thumb rest on the other end for secure grip. It could break a car window in an emergency. And plunging it into any part of anyone’s body would hurt BAD.

Here’s a better look and a link to the description at Amazon. There are other pens that are more pen than weapon, and pens with small flashlights built in. Take a good look to find what would suit you best.

Tactical pen

Hoffman Richter Stinger Tactical Pen

Be prepared with legal, dedicated self-defense items.

In my estimation, carrying guns or knives requires a level of training outside the scope of an Emergency Plan Guide Advisory. But there are other options to consider.

Stun gun. You hold a stun gun in your hand.  When you press it against the body of an attacker, its “electrical punch” can completely disable and disorient him for seconds or minutes, giving you the chance to get away. Before you purchase, be sure a stun gun is legal in your state or county. (For a lot more on stun guns – and tasers, which we do NOT recommend — see our earlier Advisory.)

I like the model shown below because it has a safety disable pin. If you lose control of the gun, the pin pulls out and it won’t shoot. It comes with a wrist strap, too – and in pink and black.

Stun guns

VIPERTEK VTS-979 – 230,000,000 Stun Gun – Rechargeable with Safety Disable Pin LED Flashlight, Pink

VIPERTEK VTS-979 – 230,000,000 Stun Gun – Rechargeable with Safety Disable Pin LED Flashlight, Black

Pepper spray

As I just said, for your stun gun to work, you have to press it against your attacker’s body.

That means the attacker is VERY CLOSE to you!

That’s why I prefer to carry a canister of pepper spray. It can shoot a spray at least 8-10 feet! (For more details, see this Advisory.) Anyone over 18 can buy and carry pepper spray.

Here’s one I recommend; I chose the pink color because if you bury this in a purse or briefcase, you’ll find it a lot easier if it’s colored. (This brand comes in black and aqua as well as pink.)

Pepper spray pink

SABRE Red Pepper Spray – Police Strength – Compact, Case & Quick Release Key Ring (Max Protection – 25 Shots, up to 5x More)

Does any of this make sense to you? Should you make a change in what you normally carry in your car or on your person?

Remember that in all these cases – driving, shopping, defending against an attack – you will only be successful if you

Make a quick assessment

Decide what to do, and

Do it!

Here’s to your safety,

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

How many terrorists are there, anyway?

Earlier this week we attended a special

CERT update presentation on Terrorism.

Terrorist with pistolThe meeting was sponsored by our police department and given by an expert with military and law enforcement experience.

As always, it was good to see some of our CERT colleagues and to renew that feeling of being a part of a committed and capable group. (We have over 2,000 grads in our community!)

As it turned out, much of what was presented is information we have already reported on here at Emergency Plan Guide. Check out the list of Advisories at the end of this article — remembering that some of them were written as early as 2013 and thus are dated.

Anyway, after our training at the City, and prompted by news headlines about terrorists that we’ve seen on pretty much a weekly basis, I decided to dig a deeper into the issue.

My first question was,

How many terrorist attacks have we experienced here in the U.S.?

After several hours of research, my answer is:

There’s no good answer to that question!

Statistics on terrorism were difficult to find and even harder to interpret. Let me go through the challenges that I faced in trying to answer what I though was a pretty simple question.

Challenge #1. “What’s your definition of terrorist?”

As you might expect (!), different people define terrorist differently.

Dictionary definitions of terrorism seem to include three elements: “using force, particularly against civilians, to achieve a political goal.” (Typically, “state-sponsored terrorism” is not included in the basic definition.)

OK, but other terrorist terms popped up, too.

For example, in the U.S., the FBI has the job of combating terrorism. On their website I found that they track or otherwise deal with two different categories of terrorists. “Known terrorists” have been convicted or are known to belong to a terrorist organization. “Suspected terrorists” are people likely to engage in terrorist activities.

(“Terrorist organizations” is yet another aspect of this study. The list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations is maintained, interestingly enough, not by the FBI but by the Department of State. https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm.

And I could find NO formal list of Domestic Terrorist Organizations, but Wikipedia has a good start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_terrorism_in_the_United_States)

And we have all heard of the FBI’s “watchlist” that they use to track terrorists.

But I did NOT know that people cannot be put on that list solely because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation or because they are exercising First Amendment-protected rights – freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etc. There has to be a link to actual or potential terrorist activity – that is, back to the concept of “violence or force.”

You can find out more about the FBI and its watchlist here: https://www.fbi.gov/about/leadership-and-structure/national-security-branch/tsc.

Whew. More work than I really expected to have to do. But while we’re on words, I have to include “extremist” and “radical,” too. Both these words show up, right along with “terrorist.”

Further research suggests that extremists and radicals share and support ideas that are “far from what most people think is correct or reasonable.” It’s only when we add the concept of violent and forceful action that these believers shift over to becoming terrorists.

So what’s the point of all this word play?

Terrorist, extremist, radical, domestic, foreign . . .

It’s this: Having extreme beliefs doesn’t make you a terrorist or a criminal. Forcefully and violently ACTING on those beliefs can.

So, before I could even attempt to answer my initial question, I found I had to first define my terms!

Challenge # 2. What are the parameters of the source you are using?

There are more than a dozen lists online of recent and not-so-recent terrorist activity. Every single one is different. Why? It has to do with the parameters of the study.

And nowhere did I find those parameter clearly stated!

For example, I had to look for . . .

  • Period covered. Online lists of terrorist activity cover very different periods of time – leading to different conclusions. For example, one oft-quoted and very long-term study (starting in the 1970s and ending in 2008) shows a preponderance of terrorist activity perpetrated by Jewish Underground organizations – groups which by today have become essentially inactive. Recent studies, covering the U.S. only since 2000, omit important acts like the Oklahoma City Bombing and Columbine. Timing matters.
  • Current activities. Most studies online are not up to date. The most up-to-date list I found is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Lists_of_terrorist_incidents_by_year
    As of February 15, 2017, the Wiki list shows 63 attacks for this month alone – none in the U.S.
  • Obvious bias. Again, as you can imagine, different authors are attempting to make a particular point. To pick up bias, first it helps to check the author of the study (Individual? Organization, Agency?) What about the use of particular jargon or “code” that reveals a particular point of view? (Religious bias seems to come through pretty strongly.)

With all this in mind, then ask yourself:

Challenge #3. What are YOU trying to prove?

If your goal, for example, is to focus on terrorist activities perpetrated by refugees (a popular topic these days), then be sure you set out your own clear parameters.

For example, if you were looking for statistics about terrorist activities perpetrated by refugees, you might look for refugees who . . .

  • Came from a particular part of the world
  • Arrived during a certain time period
  • Adhere to a particular religion
  • Attacked a certain target
  • Used a particular weapon
  • Etc.

As it turns out, for the purposes of this Advisory I found NO statistics on “refugee terrorists!”

I plan to continue with this topic, because at our meeting we learned some more about how police respond to terrorist activities, and what YOU can do to evade or avoid getting caught. But, that’s for another day.

Meanwhile, if I find myself hearing “statistics” about ANY of these subjects — terrorists, radicals, extremists, refugees — I know I’ll be a whole lot more cautious in trusting them.

Oh, and my research also came up with some terrific quotes about statistics, and I leave you with this one from William T. Watt (Professor of English, Lafayette College in Pennsylvania)

“Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say.”

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Some earlier Advisories with good background info:

Again, some of these were written as early as 2013, so keep that in mind as you read the stats!

 

We can dream, can’t we?

Ah, for a wilderness retreat.

You may have guessed by now that Joe and I live in a community surrounded by other communities running up and down the coast of Southern California. Over 22 million people whose view of mountains is often just a brownish-gray haze over the top of multiple freeways. As for forests and rivers – well, you’ve heard of the California drought, too, right?

What this means is that OUR normal notion of “survival” really doesn’t include camping, hunting or fishing. For most of us, even the notion of back-yard farming is out of the question. (There’s that drought I mentioned.)

Living vicariously

So, I live vicariously through other survival blogs and my monthly Popular Mechanics, which seems to feature survival in 3 out of every 4 issues! Oh, how those photos of lush greenery make me envious! And the “how-to” survival ideas remind me of earlier days, when I tagged after my brothers as they earned Boy Scout merit badges. (Starting a fire with a bow was one of the biggest challenges, I recall.)

Anyway, a recent issue carried this title story: “How to Survive On Your Own – Make your own power, grow your own food, and other secrets to the new self-sufficiency – Page 55.”

So I thought I’d highlight a few things, in case you missed it . . .! (You won’t find all these items at Amazon, but if there’s a link, click to get the current pricing.)

Some slick survival equipment

The multi-page feature article started with wonderful tips about cast-iron equipment for the off-grid cookitems I’ll probably never use but that I’d like to try! (There’s such a satisfying feeling to the finish and heft of just about anything made of cast iron.)

  • A cast-iron grain mill ($1,100) for making flour and grinding seeds.
  • An 8-quart fruit press ($200) will handle berries, too.
  • The 11.75 in. Le Creuset enameled cast-iron skillet ($285) is something I MIGHT use. I admire Le Creuset pots but they’re heavy. The one in the magazine article has two handles so you can pick it up more easily. I’d still probably opt for a smaller size, maybe this one – cherry red, of course. Le Creuset Signature Iron Handle Skillet, 10-1/4-Inch, Cerise (Cherry Red)

But then I got to some other survival items that I would definitely try:

A manual washing machine – a 5 lb, hand-cranked machine great for delicates or small loads in an apartment and, of course, for camping. As long as you can hang things up to dry, it sounds like a terrific – and resource saving – idea, don’t you agree? The Laundry Alternative Wonderwash Non-electric Portable Compact Mini Washing Machine

A heavy-weight shovel that turns out to be a multi-tool – adjust the angle for chopping, digging or sawing, and it even has a fire starter embedded in the handle. I need a shovel for my car kit – I am particularly attracted by the case for this one from FiveJoy. The image shows the whole package.  (Note – this is the RS and not the C1): FiveJoy Military Folding Shovel Multitool (RS) – Tactical Entrenching Tool w/ Case for Camping Backpacking Hiking Car Snow – Heavy Duty, Multifunctional, Portable, Compact Emergency Kit Survival GearA pre-made, off-grid house! No tent for me – how about a self-contained pod that makes its own electricity, collects rainwater, deals with waste, etc.? The article described three different models (only one had a waste processor) costing from $87,600 (ecocapsure.sk) to “$400,000-$500,000.” (acredesigns.com). Sorry, no direct link to Amazon on these!

And then, there was the section called “Entertainment.”

It focused on making sure you have plenty of power for games and movies on your various devices. (After all, we’re talking survival here!) I already own solar panels, and recommend Goal Zero for even the most inexperienced survivalist.

Solar panels plugged into a power pack can charge your phone or tablet to give you the power you need for entertainment or connecting to civilization. There are many permutations of (1) panel/s + (2) powerpack/battery + maybe (3) inverter + device, but Goal Zero seems to have done a good job of making sturdy, convenient and handy combinations. We own a number of the components.

Here’s a Goal Zero kit that you could consider as a starter, for hiking or camping. Charge from the sun, by plugging into the wall, or into your car. The image shows the foldable solar panel with the battery and attached inverter. Many people add an extra 20W panel to give it more capability. Goal Zero 42011 Sherpa 100 Solar Recharging Kit

One family’s story

Still deep in the magazine, turn the page and you come to a personal story about confidence, creativity and survival in Smith Henderson’s article about his childhood and his family living in Montana. The story includes an intriguing mixture of danger (forest fire), hard work (filling the woodshed, canning and pickling and jamming to fill the cellar) and the best of modern survival gear. Again, for example:

Henderson’s father’s hunting bow with “complex sighting system, soloCam and arrows that flange outward.” As a kid I had a bow (and slingshot, and crossbow) so for fun, I took a look at several articles about real hunting bows, and learned a lot about draw-weight, draw-length, speed, weight, noise and vibration. Here’s a medium-priced single cam bow at Amazon that got a solid recommendation. PSE Archery Prophcy Skllwks CamoLH70.  (Nothing like what you remember from your childhood, eh?)

Can’t finish my Advisory without a nod to Smith Henderson himself, who published a first novel in 2014 — set where else but in Montana? — and which won all sorts of awards. Check it out:  Fourth of July Creek: A Novel

And a philosophical touch

I found the best piece in this whole feature buried in the section called “You need books.” It was a quote from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and it can pretty much apply to all our Advisories at Emergency Plan Guide.

As we dream, and make plans for acquiring wonderful new survival gear, we need equally to make plans for acquiring new knowledge, being open to new attitudes and learning new skills.

For as Thoreau says,

“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”

Thanks to Popular Mechanics for its continued emphasis on do-it-yourself self-sufficiency.

What about you? What’s a favorite resource of yours? Let us know in the comments!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

What To Do When You Discover a Gas Line Leak

(Part Three of a series aimed at neighborhood or workplace teams)

Gas main shut-off

Where and how?

In the first two segments of this special article we talked about where gas lines run, why they leak and how to recognize a leak.

Now, let’s talk about what to do if you find one!

Your response depends in large part where you find it. Let’s look at some possibilities.

Before we start, remember Rule #1.

If you detect a strong smell of natural gas, leave the area, get a safe distance away, and call 911.

A leak in the home

In your home, what’s most likely is that you will get a weak smell of gas. In that case, remain calm. Think.

You may be able to solve this problem yourself and safely.

Possibility #1. Nearly every home has a couple of pilot lights – usually in the gas furnace or water heater, gas stove or oven. The pilot light is really a “starter” flame. When you turn on the appliance, the pilot light ignites the gas coming out of the main burner.

In older appliances, the pilot light burns 24/7. In newer ones, it is turned on when needed by an electronic igniter. (You may hear a clicking sound as it activates.) Fortunately, when the pilot light goes out, it triggers an automatic shutoff valve to the gas supply. So you won’t usually smell a gas leak from this source.

However, in older systems, your pilot light could go out from something as simple as a draft or spill, and if the system doesn’t have an automatic shut-off valve you would smell leaking gas.

In this case, you can attempt to relight the pilot light yourself by following instructions on the appliance. They are likely to be something like this:

  1. Turn off the appliance and wait at least 5 minutes for any leaked gas to dissipate.
  2. Be sure you know where the pilot flame is located. (It may not be near the on/off knob.)
  3. Turn the knob from OFF to PILOT.
  4. Hold down the reset button (could be the knob itself) and light the pilot light with a long match.
  5. Keep holding the reset button until the flame is burning steadily, maybe a minute.
  6. Turn the knob to ON.

If the light doesn’t stay lit, try again. If it still doesn’t work after a couple of tries, quit and call for professional help.

Tip: You can’t light an electronic pilot system using a match! If the electronic system isn’t working, be sure the appliance is turned off and call for professional help.

Action item: Check all your home appliances — gas furnace, gas water heater, gas oven or gas burners — to see where you have pilot lights.  Are they ever-burning or do they have electronic ignition?

OK, so much for pilot lights. You’ve checked, they are working, and you still smell gas.

Possibility #2. Most often, a gas leak is usually the result of an appliance with poorly designed, faulty or damaged connection.

Check your appliances carefully.

  • Sniff to see if you can detect where the rotten egg smell of leaking gas is coming from.
  • Coat a questionable pipe or connection with soapy water. Bubbles will appear where the leak is located.
  • Look at the color of the flame on the appliance. Is it blue (good) or orange (not so good, could suggest a leak)?
  • Check the outside of the appliance for soot or scorch marks.
  • Do you have excessive condensation on the inside of your windows?

In these cases, if you identify the culprit appliance, get assistance from a qualified expert – probably your gas company. You may be advised to shut off the gas to the appliance, or even to the whole house. In either case that expert will have to re-set the system once the leak is repaired.

A leak in a larger pipe or larger system

If you discover a gas leak in a larger pipeline or facility, move to a safe distance and notify your gas system operator or property owner or 911. (Review signs of a major pipeline leak in Part 2 of this series.)

Do not attempt to find the exact location of the leak, to shut off the pipeline or to fight any gas main fire. Dealing with a large pipeline leak is the business of professionals.

However, in a big disaster . . .

It’s one thing to handle day-to-day leaks. After a storm or earthquake, however, there may be multiple or large leaks. Professionals may be delayed.

You may be called upon to shut down an entire system to protect against fire or the spread of fire.

Gas line shut-off valves may be located at an individual home, at the entrance to a building, at the street, or in other places along the system. Different size systems use different styles of shut-offs. The more you know about where gas lines run and the shut-offs on those lines, the more options you will have.

(As we have already indicated, your gas line operators are not likely to tell or show you exactly where the shut-off valves are located without your being clever and/or persistent. Remember that map that we recommended building in Part One?)

1-Appliance shut-off. Individual appliances may have their own shut-off valves, usually with a handle that turns 90 degrees. Action item: Check your own home appliances to find these valves. (Do not “practice” shutting them off!)

2-Building or home shut-off. In an emergency, shutting off the gas to the building likely means shutting it off at the meter. To do this, you’ll need to know where the meter is and have a wrench and an understanding of the ON vs. the OFF position of the valve. Here’s a sample of what a typical home shut-off valve looks like.

Open or closed?

Open or closed?

You can turn a shut-off valve using a regular crescent wrench. You may prefer to use a non-rusting tool specially designed for the purpose, like the one shown below. (Click the image or the link to go to Amazon, where you can buy this tool — less than $15. Full disclosure: we may get a commission.) In either case, you must store the tool near the valve!

SurvivalKitsOnline 515100 On-Duty Emergency Gas and Water Shutoff 4-in-1 Tool for Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Fires, Floods, Disasters and Emergencies

 

Action item: Find your home and building shut-offs and have a wrench placed at each one. Figure out a way to attach the wrench to keep it from disappearing.

3-Automatic valves. Some valves, such as seismic gas shut-off valves, operate automatically. They aren’t required, and many professionals don’t trust them – but you may have them on your system. Action item: Find out if any automatic valves are installed on gas lines leading to your home or in your place of work.

4-Gas main. When it comes to shutting off gas at a larger line, the shut-off may be a larger version of the wrench turn off, or it may operate with a large wheel and gear. It may be locked in such a way that only the operator can access it. Often, these valves are painted red. Action item for your group: locate the pipes and the shut-offs leading to your building or community. Larger line shut-offs may be marked with a sign like the yellow one at the start of this article. Or they may not be marked!

What procedures are in place for shutting off the gas?

As we have emphasized, shutting off the gas is a major event to be taken only with due deliberation. It will require professional assistance to get the gas turned back on again. It may take days for all gas service to be restored.

In a widespread disaster, when fire fighters are delayed, representatives of the gas company may also be delayed, perhaps indefinitely. You or your group may have to make decisions about shutting off the gas.

Questions you need to have answers to BEFORE something happens:

  • Who is authorized to shut off the gas?
  • Which valves are they authorized to shut off?
  • What training and tools do these authorized people need? Do they have what they need?
  • How likely is it that authorized and trained people will be on hand in an emergency, when immediate action may be required?

With this info, you will be far more prepared in case of an emergency.

Getting more answers

Over the years we have found that “the authorities” are loathe to share gas line information. However, as we have built up our own skills and knowledge, we have better luck at getting more. Above all, we have a better understanding of just what our role should/could be in an emergency.

One of our most effective guest speakers was a representative from the Fire Department who talked about the various gas lines in our neighborhood. (We have the usual mains and feeder lines PLUS a high-octane aviation fuel line running beside our community.) Action item: Get a speaker on natural gas safety from your own fire department or local utility. Prepare some questions in advance.

Your invitation will cause that fire official to update his or her knowledge about your neighborhood or building, as well as remind your neighbors and/or co-workers to be more alert. (In our case, the fire department speaker was NOT up to speed on gas mains that had recently been installed near us as part of a construction project!)

_______

We started this 3-part series with the question, “Are you sitting on a gas leak right now?” The question still is pertinent. We hope that by now you have a better idea of how to respond!

And one last disclaimer. We are not professionally trained experts on gas main construction, maintenance or procedures. We offer this special series for informational purposes only. Any time you consider messing with your gas supply or gas lines, we recommend that you do it with the assistance or under the supervision of professionals. Gas is inherently dangerous so treat it with all due caution.

But as emergency responders, you can’t ignore it!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Here are the three parts of this special series. Please read all three parts.

Part One: Are you sitting on top of a leaking gas line?

Part Two: Detecting a gas line leak

Part Three: What to do when you discover a gas line leak

 

Detecting a Gas Line Leak

(Part Two of a series aimed at neighborhood or workplace teams)

Are you familiar with your local gas lines?

Could this be leaking? What is it, anyway?

If you have tried finding the location of gas lines in your neighborhood or near your workplace you will have discovered that it takes some time and effort!

Still, using online resources and your local utility you can usually identify the route of:

Transmission lines — long-distance lines, typically more than 10” in diameter (can be as big as 42”), that move large amounts of gas under high pressure (200 – 1,200 psi)

Distribution or main lines –- operate at intermediate pressure (up to 200 psi) and are 2″ to 24″ in diameter

The lines that actually connect to your home are not so easy to track once they disappear underground. These are

Feeder or service lines – pipes less than 2” in diameter carrying odorized gas at low pressures, below 6 psi.

As mentioned in Part One of this series, utility companies are concerned about vandalism and sabotage or even terrorism, so they don’t publicize the location of these lines.

If you have a good relationship with your utility and property manager, you may be able to get some detail; we were actually able to get the construction drawings showing location and sizes of the gas lines for our community.

Action item: create a map of your location, showing the different gas lines as you identify them.

Should we assume that all these lines leak?

Yes!

The gas distribution system is made up of thousands of miles of pipelines, and they operate safely nearly all of the time. Still, all of the time, the system is under one or another source of stress. The amount of gas that is “lost and unaccounted for” – and probably is mostly the result of leaks — ranges from less than 1 to over 4%.

Stresses include:

  • Built-in weaknesses from poor connections, bad welds or incorrectly installed equipment
  • Corrosion or wear from aging
  • Weather-related shifts (winter freeze-thaw cycles)
  • Seismic shifts or earthquakes

(If you’ve seen a cracked slab under a home, you know what “seismic shifts” can do. It’s not unusual for shifts to break gas, water and/or cable lines!)

It is the responsibility of the system operators to monitor and maintain the pipelines under their jurisdiction.

In some states legislation has been introduced to require the utilities to report on leaks and on their progress in fixing them. As you can expect, the utilities oppose this legislation, saying that the number of leaks is exaggerated and that fixing more leaks faster would be too expensive. Find out about legislation in your own state!

Can we prevent a gas line leak in any of these pipelines?

No.

But you can do your community a service by finding out what sort of gas line maintenance takes place.

And, you may be able to prevent a disaster by detecting and reporting a leak!

How can we tell if there’s a leak?

1-Use your nose!

The most common indication of a leak is SMELL. An odorizer called Mercaptan is added to feeder lines for the very purpose of making a leak noticeable.

What does Mercaptan smell like? Most people compare it to “rotten eggs.” In any case, it is distinctive and obvious.

You may be able to get “scratch ‘n’ sniff” cards from your local utility that will give you an idea of the smell.

2-Gas sniffer will help in the discovery.

If you don’t have a good nose for smells, or if you sense you might easily get used to a smell, consider investing in a gas sniffer. This is a simple hand-held gadget that can identify a leak — and some can tell you what gas is leaking – using a lighted meter and/or an audio sound (“tic, tic”). As always, the more you pay, the more capabilities you get.

Our local emergency response groups own a couple of different ones. The “pen” model (less than $40) is used by one group to check around their emergency gas generator when they start it up.

The “tube” model (around $150) adjusts from broad to fine sensitivity in order to pinpoint the precise location and type of gas that is leaking. We have used this model with startling success, using it to identify a propane leak from a gas BBQ, among other leaks.

 

General Tools PNG2000A Natural Gas Detector Pen

 

 

 

UEi Test Instruments CD100A Combustible Gas Leak Detector

 

 

 

Action item: If you suspect or are plagued with frequent leaks, you may want to add a gas sniffer to your collection of safety equipment. They are easy to operate.

Physical signs of leaks from larger pipelines

You’re not likely to find yourself walking along the route of a larger underground pipeline, but a leak can show up anywhere. Here are some ground-level signs you might notice:

  • An unexpected hissing, roaring sound
  • Dirt or dust blowing up from the ground
  • Water bubbling or spraying
  • A spot of dead or brown vegetation when it’s green everywhere else
  • Flames coming from the ground

As a reminder, the gas in these larger pipes may have no odorants added.

What should we do when we discover a leak?

When you do identify a leak, you need to act quickly and decisively. Your goal is to avoid a build-up of gas around a leak or a build-up from gas “migrating” to a nearby area (such as a basement) – creating conditions for an explosion.

Your first response should be to get safely away from the area (hundreds of feet away!) and then CALL 911 or the gas line operator to GET THE GAS SHUT OFF.

As you move away, warn other people about the danger, too, and encourage them to move to safety.

Above all, DO NOT CREATE A SPARK by flipping a light switch, lighting a cigarette, starting an engine, turning on a battery-operated light, etc.

Action item: Discuss with your group the ordinary actions that someone might take that could start a gas fire. (In our community, starting up the car to “get away from the danger” is likely to be the most dangerous action possible. The catalytic converters of cars in a traffic jam can reach 1,600 degrees – plenty hot enough to start a fire!)

Is that all we can do?

Calling 911 from a safe distance is the first and most important step. Not creating a spark is the second.

Every member of your family and of your workforce should know and be able to follow this rule.

However, as an emergency response group, there is more you should know and consider when it comes to getting the gas shut off.

We will address some of these options in our next Advisory.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

Go any stories about gas line leaks or explosions? Feel free to share . . .! And don’t miss the first article in this series.

 

 

Are you sitting on top of a leaking gas line?

(Part One of a series aimed at neighborhood or workplace teams)

An often-overlooked threat

Pipeline brochures

Toss as junk mail???

The word “disaster” usually makes people think about natural disasters like tornado, flood, or earthquake.  You’ve probably already talked in your group about how to prepare for these specific events.

Unless we’re reminded by notices from our local utility — Image at left shows a couple of brochures I’ve received recently — we may never even think about the gas lines that run under or near our homes or places of business.

But . . .

A gas line break can be deadly.

When a leak erupts in an explosion or fire, it’s dramatic and dangerous. Surely you remember these three big ones:

  • In 2010 an explosion in an underground gas main followed by a massive fire destroyed over 50 homes and killed 8 people in a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California. Alleged Cause: stressed system with inadequate maintenance.
  • In March 2015, two people were killed and four injured when a gas explosion in a Brooklyn, New York restaurant reduced the building to rubble and damaged neighboring businesses. Cause: leak from illegal pipe siphoning gas from restaurant to apartments above.
  • In October of 2015, the Aliso Canyon gas leak was discovered north of Los Angeles. The leak was from a well within an underground storage facility – the second-largest gas storage facility of its kind in the United States. Over 97,000 tons of methane escaped in the 5 months before the well was capped; no one was killed but hundreds of people were displaced complaining of headaches, nausea and nosebleeds. Lawsuits continue. Cause: failure of equipment at 60-year-old facility.

Have you or your group asked:

Where are the lines around you?

Finding out where the gas lines run in your neighborhood will take some effort.

In the years that we’ve been studying our own community we have run up against resistance from a number of sources. As can be expected, cities and gas line operators are concerned about sabotage and/or terrorist activities so they protect the details of their systems.

However, a good emergency response group wants to understand its community’s risks, and so perseveres . . .!

Three places to start your research.

1-The National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS) is an online map provided by the Department of Transportation. As a member of the public you can search by your State and COUNTY to get an idea of where gas transmission and hazardous gas pipelines are located.

I say “get an idea” because the public viewer is good only to +/- 500 ft.  (If you are actually going to dig, then you need to contact your local pipeline operator – or call 811 – to find out exactly where the pipes are.)

Here’s the link to the map (“Public Map Viewer”):  https://www.npms.phmsa.dot.gov/Default.aspx

2-Your local gas company

Here in California we have two of the largest public utilities in the country, and our local utility provides a map showing transmission and distribution lines. Once again, the authors of the map stress that the maps are accurate only to +/- 500 ft. Still, we can easily identify the “hazardous liquid” line running along the railroad tracks very near our home.

My research on other utility companies shows that there is no consistency. Many of the websites simply refer readers to the National Pipeline Mapping System.

3-Your local pipeline operator

The pipeline operator is not necessarily the same as the utility.

Keep your eye open for pipeline signs. They are not required, nor are they necessarily placed in the same way every time. What they seem to have in common is the gold color.

The round warning sign will tell you who the pipeline operator is. (You’ll see a round sign on the brochure in the image above, too.) Write down the name and emergency phone number. You may be able to get further information about that particular pipeline and what it carries from the operator.

Kinder/Morgan is the largest pipeline operator in the country, transporting nearly 40% of all piped natural gas, refined petroleum products, crude oil, carbon dioxide (CO2) and more. I found this map at their website. It shows their biggest pipes.

Kinder/Morgan PipelinesThe point of all this is that with some digging (bad joke!) you can discover a lot about where pipelines are located in your community.

How we got information about our own community.

This Advisory is meant to give you an idea of where to start. Different members of our neighborhood emergency response group took on different tasks in researching our gas pipelines.

  • I tracked down online maps like the ones shown in this Advisory.
  • One member hiked along the railroad tracks and photographed a construction project showing the size and exact location of gas lines.
  • One member went to city hall to get the original construction drawings for our community. These drawings showed not only the location but also the size of the various pipes in the network, plus shut-off valves.
  • As a group we queried the management of our community regarding make-up and maintenance of our local system.
  • Our group invited the fire department, the police department and our local utility to special meetings on gas safety. (You will not be surprised to learn that they don’t always agree on where the lines are, what information to share or how to respond in an emergency!)

OK, so we know where the pipelines are and what they are carrying.

Now, how to prevent an explosion or fire?

Gas is leaking from all these systems all the time! Most of the time the gas that escapes isn’t even noticed (except by the atmosphere, of course, since methane – the main component of natural gas – is 30 times more potent as a heat trapping gas than CO2.)

But any time there’s a leak, there’s a potential for explosion or fire.

In our next Advisory we’ll share what we have learned about recognizing a leak when you see, hear or smell one, and what to do when you find one.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

Confident About the Security of Your Passwords?

Combination LockThere is no such thing as complete security. All precautions and security devices are nothing more than time delays. You are not immune from hackers or malicious software bugs, identity thieves or unscrupulous “ransom ware” extortionists.

You can, however make yourself and your business a harder target and significantly reduce the likelihood that you will be a victim.

The first line of defense is usually the password.

At last count, I have close to 100 passwords I have to retain and use periodically, some more frequently than others and some more complex than others. Virginia has an equal portfolio with only a dozen or so overlapping with mine. That’s too many unique and nonsensical combinations of numbers and characters to rely on memory alone.

We understand all too well how unlikely that you will approach your computer and on-line security with enthusiasm.

It’s just human nature to look for shortcuts.

I accept this and, in fact, I have some institutional experience that I’ll share with you that may help motivate you to reexamine how you approach this important subject. It’s not a long story, but it’s one I think you’ll find both entertaining and enlightening.

A true and embarrassing story of security shortcuts.

Some years ago, I was serving our country with the US Army as a Special Agent for Counterintelligence. I assure you that, while there were exciting times and even dangerous assignments, there were many more tasks that some (me included) would consider mundane and tedious. Among the latter was the responsibility of conducting periodic inspections of Army units in their handling, storing and protecting of classified information.

(And, yes, this required that we put on our expressionless “face” and make sure we came across as serious “spooks.”)

One thing we did that relieved the tediousness of these inspections was to ask early in the process to see how documents were stored and who was in charge of their security to “make sure” they had the proper level of clearance.

Storage was typically in a bank of four-door file cabinets with a rod inserted through the handles, secured with an impressive Sargent-Greenleaf combination padlock at the top.

Then, with the handful of personnel (including the Unit Commander, officers and non-coms in the “audience”) we would proceed to begin attempting to open the padlocks by turning the dials without anyone providing us with the actual combination/s.

Imagine, if you can, the looks of surprise and embarrassment on the faces of the soldiers as, one-by-one, we deftly opened most – and sometimes all – of the locks on the file cabinets.

“How in the hell did you do that?!?” was the typical reaction.

Actually, it was quite simple. Before the actual inspection, we examined the personnel records of the people in charge. We jotted down birthdays, wedding dates, serial numbers, etc. With few exceptions, we would find that at least half of the locks could be opened by treating these dates as combinations because they were an easy way for the people to remember the sequence of numbers.

In some of the more dramatic encounters where we opened ALL of the locks, it was usually where the same sequence of numbers was used on all the locks.

The point of this story is to illustrate that the convenient ways you create passwords is typical. Most “crackers,” if not “hackers,” will have search scripts that can readily break these normal code patterns.

Avoid normal code patterns!

There are a number of ways to pick passwords that will foil eager agents, friendly or not so friendly.  Here are three:

  1. Use a password generator. Typically, these programs will create totally random combinations of capital and lower case letters, numerals and symbols, often as long as 16 digits.
  2. Save these passwords so you can retrieve them, since you won’t be able to remember them. Password manager programs include Keeper, RoboForm and LastPass.
  3. Not happy with having all your passwords stored on your desktop? You can write them down on paper and store or seal it well away from prying eyes.

If these ideas seem too few, or too paltry, we recommend you click on Consumer Reports: 66 Ways to Protect your Privacy Right Now. In 14 pages it discusses passwords but also covers email, devices, privacy, software updates, two-factor authentication, PINs, travel, encryption, settings, wifi, pfishing, and ransomware!

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Let us know which of these 66 suggestions you already follow, and which ones you decide to implement.

 

What’s YOUR Cyber Security Threat Level?

Cyber SecurityAccording to Pablo Passeri at Hackmageddon.com, a site that compiles monthly stats on cyber activity, the chances of your website or network being attacked are growing exponentially. And the goal of over 80% of those attacks? Criminal activity.

Most of the attacks – somewhere around 25-30% — are against industry. Anywhere from 7-22% of the attacks are against government. Attacks against individuals represent about 12% of the total. (These Hackmageddon figures are from the second half of 2016.)

Is it possible to protect 100% against hacking?

No. Even the experts say that their programs or systems are never 100% secure.

After all, with 30,817 attacks happening every minute (according to Wordfence.com), how could anyone possibly keep up!? Did you just skim over that last figure? It is so amazing, let me repeat it: 30,817 attacks per minute! Makes you want to DO something, right?!

There are simple steps you can take, but . . .

As a home business owner, and builder of several WordPress sites, here’s some of what I have learned about so-called simple steps to protect your financial and intellectual property.

1-Cyber protection isn’t free.

The first layers of security don’t cost much except time. They involve simple things like using good passwords and adjusting the built-in security levels on your software.

Amazing but true, some 40% of consumers use the same password for multiple devices, and nearly half the home users use the default passwords that come with their routers!

2-Cyber security is added in layers to your networkand each layer has its own cost.

After the initial adjustments, you can add a layer of “free” antivirus or malware protection for your system, like Avast or AVG. These programs are easy enough to install on your desktop; the free programs to protect your WordPress websites take a bit more time to customize.

Soon you’ll recognize the limitations of free, though, and will want to purchase and install security programs appropriate for the value of the work you do online.

A home computer network, for example, can be strengthened by software like Kaspersky and McAfee. Your websites can use the protection offered by an upgrade to the professional versions of iThemes and Wordfence.

Nearly all these security programs come as “security suites,” with ever more levels of protection. Naturally, the more layers or levels, the greater the cost, if only in time to manage them.

3-Cyber protection goes out of date the minute you install it.

As mentioned above, new hacking attacks occur daily, with new “weapons” being developed regularly. For example, Symantec reports that a new zeroday exploit emerges on a weekly basis. (A zero-day attack takes advantage of a security vulnerability on the same day it becomes known – often, on the day the program is introduced – and before the developer has time to create a patch for it.)

Security software does its best to track and protect against the deluge of worms, viruses and vulnerabilities. I have found that the free versions do work, but are often not automatically kept up to date.

In any case, updating operating systems, programs and security software takes time and diligence.

Lower your threat level with cyber security resources

All the products mentioned above in this Advisory are ones that I am familiar with, and I recommend you consider them as you examine your security situation. (I have no affiliation with any of them.)

If you’re starting at the home network “set-up” level . . .

then you may want more details. Here’s a resource that comes from Amazon (where we DO have an affiliate relationship) that offers step by step guidance. Click on the image or the link to go directly to Amazon for full details.

Cybersecurity for Everyone: Securing your home or small business network

What’s attractive about this book is that it is SIMPLE. Only 125 or so pages, no dissertation about global trends, just down to earth recommendations for how to harden your set-up – layer by layer.  You can get a kindle version, or the hard copy. (I always prefer hard-copy because I like to add flags and underlining.)

 

 

If you own or work in a small business . . .

your IT expertise may be limited or sporadic. Even if you think your network is working well, take a look at this new quiz, published by Emergency Plan Guide.

Cyber QuizIt’s only 10 questions, but they will quickly give you a sense of how well your business is set up to protect against cyber threats, and make it easy to plug gaps you may find.

Remember, internal threats (i.e., employee action or inaction) account for 80% of security problems in business!

Click here to request your FREE copy of the Cyber Security Quiz.

 

Disclaimer: At Emergency Plan Guide, we are not security experts, and the material here and in our Cyber Quiz is meant for information only. It may not be complete, and does not constitute professional security advice.

But if you’re tempted to ignore it, you are raising your own threat level!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. What security stories do you have to share? Let us know in the comments. EVERYbody will benefit.

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions and Emotional Intelligence

Do you fall into that 45% of Americans (or 32% of Britons) who routinely make New Year’s Resolutions? And how about your success rate? Is it around the average 8%?

“Getting prepared for emergencies” — not typically one of the top 10 resolutions.

But ask anyone if they have done some preparing for emergencies and you’ll invariably get this answer:

“No, I haven’t got around to that, but I really should!”

This year, as we approach Resolution Time, I’m trying to come up with ways to help people get started on what they clearly think is important! And I decided to see if I could use the concepts of Emotional Intelligence to help.

You’ve heard about EI. It was “discovered” in the 90s and continues to be an important business topic three decades later. From what I can tell, EI boils down to “Know thyself, ” and in so doing, you’ll be able to understand others better, too.

Four Emotional Intelligence questions.

Ask yourself these questions, and then ask others.

1-What’s your motivation for putting together a cache of supplies?

We have asked many, many people this first question. There are four or five common answers:

  1. My wife keeps nagging me
  2. I know it just makes sense
  3. Some sort of emergency is inevitable
  4. Better safe than sorry

What’s your motivation? What’s the motivation of the people you’re trying to convince?

2-How do you respond if you get criticism, resistance, or ridicule?

EVEN WHEN THEY’VE ALREADY AGREED THAT PREPARING MAKES SENSE, most people quit as soon as they get criticism or resistance. It stops ‘em in their tracks!

They then come out with excuses like these:

  1. If it is my time, then it is meant to be.
  2. Nothing has happened so far. Why think it could happen in the future?
  3. There are too many eventualities to prepare for.
  4. We can’t afford the cost associated with preparing.
  5. The government will take care of us.

If you’ve spent time on this at all, you know that these “excuses” are just that. But here’s where EI comes in to play.

3-Can you understand the emotions behind the criticism?

Many friends and even family members may discourage you because of their OWN emotions: Do any of them fit you, too?

  1. They’re guilty they haven’t done any preparing themselves.
  2. They are embarrassed to admit they wouldn’t know what to do in an emergency.
  3. They are afraid to think about destruction, pain or death.

If you can identify these emotions, then you will find answers to these emotional barriers. So, the last question.

4-Do you have the skills to manage the situation and inspire support?

Sometimes answering fears and emotions is as simple as first, listening to the person. Then, depending on the situation and the person, you communicate the value of a change in behavior (i.e., taking steps toward emergency preparedness).

Here are some EO inspired approaches about emergency preparedness that may work for you.

  • (Show confidence.) You have already made it through some tough situations because you already have basic good sense and resilience. There’s nothing magic about emergency preparedness.
  • (Acknowledge conflict) Emergencies happen – but they don’t have to become disasters. You’re likely to live through an emergency. It will be a lot safer and more comfortable is you have some basic supplies and tools.
  • (Articulate a simple vision) Maybe you can’t prepare for every single emergency that could arise, but “general preparedness” will help in every situation. Start with a survival kit; you probably already have a number of the items that belong in it.
  • (Lead by action) Preparing doesn’t mean making one huge investment in stores of dried food. I started with water and a few food staples – things I already knew and liked – and then added a piece every month or so. Flashlights, glow sticks, rain gear, an emergency radio – they fit my budget and began to fill my kit!
  • (Collaboration and team building) As for the government coming to help . . .Katrina, Sandi and more recent floods and storms have shown that in an emergency we can expect to be on our own for at least several days. Neighbors will be our First Responders – and we’ll be theirs. So the better prepared we all are, the safer we all will be.

So to get back to the New Year’s Resolution that started this article,

People who “know themselves” best get the best results with ANY resolution.

Share this article with friends and neighbors. Add to the list of “excuses,”“fears” and “criticisms.” Think what emotions they really represent. ‘With every step, you’ll be understanding yourself better, and be strengthening your Emotional Intelligence.

And you may find that the “Resolution to Get Prepared” will become a reality in 2017!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

How to Light a Flare

Accident in Darkness

Winter darkness makes accidents on the road hard to see and even more dangerous.

Having a good accident kit in the car can help protect YOU, and might help protect others if you come across an accident scene.

An accident kit is different from a car survival kit. The survival kit has stuff for YOU – warm clothing, flashlight, food, water, etc.  The accident kit has stuff for the CAR, like jumper cables, emergency reflector triangles, flat tire inflator, and flares.

Does your car accident kit have road flares?

When it’s dark, there’s nothing better than flares to warn oncoming vehicles of an accident, a stranded car or even an injured person. Flares are easy to get, easy and safe to store, and they last a long time. The problem that people have with ‘em is . . .

How to light a standard industrial flare?

Our CERT group had the opportunity to practice one evening with the police department. We hung around in our official vests, enjoying the cool evening and the chance to see each other again. When it came time to light the flares, however, some of us looked pretty dumb.

It’s not as simple as you might think!

Here are some guidelines that I took away from that evening.

1Have more than one flare so you can warn oncoming vehicles and direct them around the accident.

2-Pick where you want each flare to go BEFORE you attempt to light it. Once the flare is burning, you will not want to carry it around to be positioned! It’s BURNING and shooting off white-hot bits!  Some things to keep in mind:

  • If there’s spilled gas, don’t use a flare nearby at all.
  • Keep flares on the road so they don’t roll into a ditch or catch vegetation on fire.
  • Go to where you’ll place the flare, and then light it.

3-Remove the cap on the flare to expose the rough striking surface.

A flare has a plastic cap. Part of the cap contains a rough “striking surface.” Under the cap is the “igniter” end of the flare. You want to hold the striking surface in one hand and the flare in the other.

4-Light the flare by scratching it across the striking surface.

Extend both arms and scratch the flare across the striker in a movement going away from your body.

It’s rather like striking a very large match. Too soft a strike, nothing happens. Too hard, and you can break the “head” off the match.

In our group, most people had trouble getting the right amount of pressure and speed to get the flare to light. One person actually broke the head off the flare because he “scratched” too hard.

5-Place the ignited flare where you had planned to place it.

Put the cap back on the non-burning end of the flare. If you’re carrying it, keep the flame pointed down so you don’t get any drips on your hand.

Don’t drop the flare – you could break or extinguish it. Don’t place the flare in a puddle – it could go out.

If it’s raining, place the flare so any running water goes around the base of the flare and not directly against the flame end. You can prop it up to keep it dry.

6-The flare will burn for 10-30 minutes.

When you’re ready to extinguish it, break off the burning end and let it burn out. You cannot easily smother this flame.

(In our group, we picked up the burning flares and carefully tossed them a little ways down the road. When they landed the burning end broke off.)

After practicing, we all felt more competent.

It’s like so much else. Until you’ve practiced, you really can’t count on being able to make it work! So here’s a suggestion:

Buy a supply of flares and set up a practice. Even if everyone doesn’t attempt to light a flare, everyone in the group will clearly see how it’s done – and what NOT to do! A great CERT group exercise, and a great family exercise, too.

Hi-tech No-Flame Alternative  — LED, Battery-driven Flares

Obviously, First Responders use “real” flares because they work! Everyone recognizes just what they mean, and starts paying attention as soon as they become visible.

But not everyone is ready to handle industrial flares as described above!

If you find this just too challenging, consider a good alternative: plastic strobe light flares that are safe and comfortable to use.

These flashing, reusable flares come in two styles – stand-up flares with a tripod base, and round, disc-style flares that lie on the ground or attach magnetically to a car.

I personally prefer flares that are really bright and can be seen from all sides – so the disc style would not be my first choice.

In fact, here are flares that we own. (We also own reflective triangles made by the same company). I particularly like that they come in their own case; otherwise, the flares (and their bases) can get lost in the trunk of the car.

Click on the link or the image to get full details. (As you know, we’re affiliates at Amazon so this link will take you there.)

Magnatek LED Flashing Roadside Emergency Beacon Flares-Two RED Flares with Solid Storage Case

A couple of hints if you’re considering flares like these.

  • Each flare has 3 different settings, one of which converts it to a flashlight. Handy.
  • The flares use AAA batteries. If you leave the batteries installed in the trunk of your car for weeks and months, ultimately they will corrode. So, store the batteries in a baggie UN-INSTALLED but in the package with the flares. Of course, it makes sense to PRACTICE installing them as soon as you get the flares so you’ll be able to do it in the dark and when you’re nerves are frazzled because of an accident.
  • These flares also have magnetic bases so you could place one on TOP of your stranded vehicle for more visibility.

 

(This image – for one order — shows the front and back of the case. It’s misleading. Each individual case comes with two flares. If you want more than two, then you’ll have to order more cases.)

Another good idea for a stocking stuffer!  (A very large stocking, perhaps!)

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Again, a reminder to check the status of the batteries in your emergency lights, flashlights, etc. They ultimately do go bad if not recharged or replaced. Now’s a good time to do that.

 

 

Holiday Security Mistakes

Tempting Christmas window All ready for the holidays?

Here are 3 security mistakes people tend to make at this time of year. Take 2 minutes to check them out. It would be wonderful if you and your family could avoid them all.

  1. Packages are SOOOO tempting!

Sure, you know better than to allow packages to be delivered to an empty house.

Just a week ago I was stopped on the street by a patrolman who showed me a picture of a kid taking a package from a front porch. (The picture had been taken by a home security camera. More on those later.)

And when you’re shopping, take the time to put gift purchases into the trunk of your car. If they won’t FIT in the trunk, at least cover the back seat pile with a dark and preferably dingy looking blanket. Better yet, make an extra trip rather than let packages sit unattended in a parking lot in full view.

And at home, don’t position your tree and all the lovely presents right in front of a window as in the picture above. Someone could break the window, grab the presents and run.

Packages are so tempting — to thieves!

  1. “We’re so proud of our emergency preparations.”

The holiday season often means more visitors to your house. The guy to string the lights on the roof. UPS and Amazon delivery people. All the invitees to your Christmas party!

Every person who comes onto your premises has the chance to take a good look at what you have – and that includes some of your emergency preparedness items.

Your gardener sees the locks, the security cameras and lights you’ve installed. The delivery guy walking past your open garage door sees your tools and the cupboards and shelves packed with food and water. The computer guy you bring in to troubleshoot your new network sees your ham radio set-up, not to mention your laptop and printers.

It’s natural for a visitor to tuck this sort of information away. And in a big emergency, your house might become a target for one of those visitors, now turned desperate.

What can you do to cover or camouflage emergency supplies? Yes, be proud of the sensible steps you’ve taken. But with a bit of creativity you’ll get more of them out of sight. You can be just as satisfied and maybe a whole lot safer.

  1. Take out the trash!

We’ve all read the novels where the criminal is identified because of stuff he puts in the trash. (Harrison Ford left orange peels and fake ID photos in the wastebasket in The Fugitive, remember?)

If you’re making a lot of purchases and getting a lot of gifts, you are going to have more trash than usual. And it may attract the wrong kind of attention.

Save and/or shred receipts or statements that have account numbers. Some receipts for online purchases may show up in your email. Protect them from casual view. Don’t stuff empty cardboard boxes (with pictures of TVs and electronic games and security cameras and drones!) into the trash; break them down and recycle anonymously at the recycling place.

And if you’re traveling during the holidays, make sure newspapers, leaves or other trash doesn’t build up outside while you are gone. That trash, plus a dark and empty house, is a real invitation to trouble. (Ask a neighbor for help, and invest in some timers for lights and/or radios.)

Oh, and for heaven’s sake, don’t you or your kids announce via social media or on a phone message that “We’re away skiing for a week!” Ouch!

We wish you the pleasure of giving, and the excitement of receiving. But we sure hope it’s not spoiled because you overlooked taking these sensible precautions.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. We’re writing an Advisory about “Hiding valuables in plain sight.” Sign up for all our Advisories to be sure you get it.