Are you sabotaging yourself?

Thursday, May 25th, 2017
Share

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

Thursday, May 18th, 2017
Share

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

Thursday, May 4th, 2017
Share
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?

Thursday, April 27th, 2017
Share

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?

Friday, April 21st, 2017
Share

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

Thursday, April 13th, 2017
Share

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.

Thursday, April 6th, 2017
Share

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

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
Share

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

 

 

Self-Defense for The Rest of Us

Friday, February 24th, 2017
Share

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?

Friday, February 17th, 2017
Share

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?

Thursday, February 9th, 2017
Share

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

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017
Share

(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

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017
Share

(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?

Thursday, January 19th, 2017
Share

(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?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017
Share

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?

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017
Share

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

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
Share

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

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016
Share

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

Thursday, December 1st, 2016
Share

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.

 

 

Drones for Emergency Response Teams

Friday, November 18th, 2016
Share

The market has expanded dramatically.

Quadcopter as emergency tool

How useful in an emergency?

Part One of Two.

It was just two years ago when we wrote our first article about drones. At that time, non-military drones were still in their infancy. In fact, drones were mostly high-tech toys that (probably) appealed to the same folks who love electric cars and boats and model airplanes.

So we wrote about them as toys, with some interesting but not yet widespread uses like delivery of packages or emergency equipment.

Today things are different. The market has expanded dramatically. And because we are ALWAYS interested in leveraging our strengths when it comes to preparing for or dealing with an emergency, it makes sense to look a lot more closely at drones as emergency tools.

A new category of drones has appeared.

In addition to military and hobby use, we now have drones designated “for commercial and non-governmental use.” Naturally, anything labeled “commercial” means it carries rules.

So whether you’re looking at purchasing a drone — whether as a toy or a piece of emergency team equipment — you should be aware of the latest rules from the FAA.

New Rules for Small UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) as of August 29, 2016

Register Your Drone

Any UAS weighing more than .55 lbs. must be registered. If it weighs less than .55 lbs you can register it online; otherwise, go to the FAA website to get started registering it on paper.  Here’s the link:  https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/aircraft_certification/aircraft_registry/UA/

A pilot under 13 years of age will need an adult to complete the registration.

Pilot Your Drone Safely

Caveat – these rules are changing! (You’ll see why when you look at them carefully.) If you are really interested in using a drone, be sure you know the rules for non-recreational use.  You can check in on a regular basis to monitor any changes, at http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/

The current rules as of this date, November, 2016:

  • Drones must remain in visual line of sight of the pilot — no first-person-view cameras. (This means no flying by what the camera shows as opposed to what you actually see from where you are standing.)
  • Maximum speed is 100 mph and maximum altitude is 400 feet.
  • Pilots must be at least 16 years old and hold a “remote pilot airman certificate,” issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • Operation is only allowed during daylight hours or twilight with appropriate lighting.
  • Pilots must avoid flying over populated areas or over specific people not involved in the operation. ( Based on an “Expectation of privacy”)

To see a summary of the entire set of rules (so-called “Part 107”) go here: https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/Part_107_Summary.pdf

The rules for recreational use really don’t vary much from the “official” rules listed above! They include the same limitations on line of sight, height and speed, and, in particular, avoiding “no-fly” zones like airports, military bases, athletic events, and the White House. One difference: your teenager doesn’t need a Remote Pilot certificate if he wants a drone for Christmas. But if the drone weighs over .55 lbs., it will have to be registered.

Please note — again! – rules keep changing! In particular, rules for non-recreational use, like for emergency purposes, which we’ll get to, are under continuing review. NASA is leading a multibillion-dollar effort to develop a system to manage manned and unmanned flight, while the FAA is expected to ease restrictions on commercial drones.

Using Your Drone as an Emergency Response Tool

Defense is by far the largest market for drones. But there are so many smart ways a drone can be used by the rest of us! For example,

  • Farmers can check on irrigation lines and crop growth at the far reaches of the acreage.
  • Scientists can track ice melt or water level rise without having to wade in, or visible earthquake faults or landslides.
  • Firefighters can safely track movement of the fire line, position of crews and equipment.
  • Real estate professionals can film a property’s exterior, and then tour the entire home inside, for the benefit of prospective buyers. (Walk-through videos are already popular, but for an aerial view of the whole property, the agent has to rent a helicopter!)

What about Emergency Response Team usage?

While not commercial, and yet not exactly recreational, here are some uses we are considering . . .

  • Use a drone to provide overhead lighting when searching an area at night
  • Inspect upper levels of buildings or structures (in industrial or high-rise residential areas)
  • Film damaged areas or obstructions following a disaster
  • Map area covered by the CERT team to segment into manageable areas
  • Search areas for survivors following an event
  • Reconnaissance of adjacent areas to identify pathways to safer positions
  • Drop markers to designate specific damages or routes to follow
  • Monitor teams during training exercises with filmed records for group critique
  • Transfer supplies, first aid items, batteries, replacement radios, etc.
  • Transport high value items over a distance, reducing the need for multiples of expensive equipment (e.g., gas sniffer)

You can probably come up with many more.

Challenges with these Emergency Team uses?

1-Rules may limit your CERT team’s use.

When you look at even this short list of uses, you will see that a number of these uses would be against current rules! Let’s look again . . .

  • Can’t fly at night.
  • Can’t let drone out of your sight.
  • Can’t fly higher than 400 feet.

From our standpoint as emergency responders, these restrictions make no sense. In a serious situation the safety of our neighbors in the community is more important that the actual altitude of the drone looking for them! Moreover, we have confidence that some of these restrictions will soon be lifted.

So we are not letting these restrictions stop our analysis.

2-Battery life may limit your team’s use.

Most drones have a flying time of only 10-20 minutes. To get a couple minutes more of flight can cost a couple hundred more dollars in purchase price. No matter which model you get, plan on getting at least 3 or 4 extra batteries right along with the machine.

3-Set up in advance to be able to share your images and videos.

Clearly, the emergency planning and response ideas above would generate information you’d want to share with the rest of your team or with First Responders! There are several options available – the obvious one being sending footage to YouTube or Vimeo.

However, the FAA may label your video as “commercial use” if it appears with an ad on it, whether or not you wanted it!  (Again, in an emergency, I’d probably not worry about that. But be aware . . .) Other sharing options include apps provided by Facebook, Dropbox and certain drone manufacturers.

If you goal is to share your work, find out more before purchasing.

OK, with all this in mind,

Which drone is best for our Neighborhood Response Team?

In our community, we already have some guys who race electric cars. And there are a couple who build and fly model airplanes. The skills they bring to the table will be valuable – but not all of them are on our CERT team, of course.

So, as we shop for a drone, we have to add “ease of set-up” and “easy to fly” to our shopping list.

Here’s the whole shopping list so far:

  • Big enough to fly outside, in somewhat inclement weather (Cheap toys won’t work.)
  • Strong enough to carry something to a designated location
  • The best battery life we can get for the price
  • Proven performance (not bleeding edge technology)
  • Reasonable image and video quality, though not necessarily the highest
  • Easy to set up and start flying
  • Compatible with variety of hand-held mobile devices

We’ve done a lot of comparing of different machines to get to this point! I hope the data above will be helpful to you in your own search.

Our next Advisory will review the machines in our “list of top choices.” Watch for it in about a week.

Just one last caveat. Our research showed prices for THE SAME MACHINE varying by as much as $100.00.  So take your time to be sure you’re getting exactly what you thought you were getting!

See our top choices in Part Two of Drones for Emergency Response Teams.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S.  Found this tidbit you should consider, too: “Report to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in at least serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage of at least $500.”  (!)

 

 

Better Home and Office Security

Thursday, October 27th, 2016
Share

“Who’s that at the door?”

Who is at the front doorIf you hear someone knocking, can you tell who it is without opening the door?

As the days get shorter, more and more of us — business people, parents of busy children, everybody, in fact — find ourselves out and about in the dark. And while crimes can happen at any time, being in the dark certainly gives us less chance to see trouble coming.

I am all for simple and effective security solutions. Here are a couple of improvements we can all consider.

Better Perimeter Security at the Office

If you are alone in the lighted front office, and it’s dark outside, you may wish you had an extra layer of security around yourself.

(Now we’ve written before to business owners about the importance of securing entrances to the business. Upgrading your entire perimeter with mechanical or electronic security devices – fencing, gates, lighting, etc. – would be costly and time-consuming. Of course, it may be worth it to strengthen your insurance coverage and to avoid legal threats. If you’re interested, here’s a link to that earlier Advisory : http://emergencyplanguide.org/security-at-the-front-door/.)

But getting back to the convenience and safety of the person alone in the office . . . here is one easy upgrade worth considering.

Add a perimeter alert system.

What is it? It’s a wireless motion detector that sends an alert when, for example,

  • a delivery truck arrives at the freight entrance
  • a car comes through the front gate
  • a person appears at the back door.

The model below looks perfectly adequate and is not too expensive. A brief description is below the image — click on it, or on the link, to get all the details at Amazon. CAUTION: As always, compare prices carefully at Amazon! Prices vary considerably, since vendors set the price they think they can get. And sometimes, they’re looking for a quick sale, and you can benefit!

Wireless Driveway or Entry Announcer

This model has two parts. The motion detector — about the size of a baseball — attaches to a building or wall, where its sensitivity and visual field can be adjusted in a variety of ways to suit the location and your needs. It can send a signal for up to 2,000 ft. to the receiver, generating different tones to distinguish between the different alerts.

The receiver plugs into the wall; the detector operates off a 9 volt battery.

Naturally, you’d have to buy one sensor for each entrance you want to protect.

Would something like this make sense to the person alone at the front desk or in a back office at your workplace?

Better Perimeter Security at Home

Lately we’ve seen more and more internet-driven devices that offer home comfort, and now more home security.

Various companies offer “home security programs” that consist of multiple door and window locks, cameras and a console that connects to a remote monitoring office. You can set the alarm system to work while you’re away, or set it at a lesser level so it’s on at night when you’re asleep. In an alarm is tripped, the monitoring company or the police are called. Typically, these systems require professional installation and have a monthly charge (and a contract).

Again, for this Advisory I was looking for something simpler and less expensive.

Something focused on the front door at your house. 

  • If someone knocks at your front door, do your children automatically run to open it?
  • Do you have to peer through the curtain or a window to see if you can recognize who is there before you open the door?
  • What happens if someone knocks in the middle of the night?

Do these questions make you wince?

If so, you may want to consider installing a video door bell.

You’ve seen the ads. The scary-looking guy comes to the door with a questionable story. Without having to open the door, the mother see who he is, tells him she’s not interested and sends him away.

I took the time to look into these devices. Here’s some of what I learned.

First, there are at least a half dozen on the market. All have the same basic characteristics:

  1. A video camera films your entrance.
  2. The camera is triggered by a motion sensor or a person pressing the doorbell.
  3. The camera connects to your home wi-fi system.
  4. A downloadable app allows you to view the video and also to speak with the visitor via your smartphone or tablet.
  5. You can save and store the video for later viewing.

As you can imagine, different products have variations on these features. So, when you’re shopping, compare with the help of these questions.

  1. Consider the video quality you want or need. And how big is the image? What’s the resolution? The best video camera tends to be the most expensive, of course.
  2. What triggers the camera? Someone actually pressing the doorbell? Or simply approaching the door? From how far away?
  3. How much flexibility do you have in setting up the motion sensor? Range, multiple ranges, sensitivity, etc.
  4. What about its source of power? Is it hardwired through your regular doorbell, or battery operated? Do you have a choice?
  5. How well does the system operate at night or in other low light conditions?
  6. How is the video footage stored? How long? What do you have to pay for storage?

And a couple other things to consider to protect your system from being hacked.

  1. Can you set your own password?
  2. How will the security updates be provided by the manufacturer?
  3. Can you disable remote viewing (and just use your system while at home)?

With all this information in mind, and after reviewing the top doorbell video products, here’s the one that seems to be the best seller. I’d start by looking at it.

Ring Video Doorbell Pro

This model is at the upper end of the price range. It has to be hardwired. Since it looks like a regular doorbell, it doesn’t announce itself as would a mounted security camera. Oh, and it comes in four different colors.

Once again, look carefully at all the models, and at all the prices before you buy. Maybe it could be an early Christmas present?!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. I’ve written before about outdoor lighting as a security device. When the light outside my bedroom window foes on at 4 am, I am pleased to know it’s working, and to know I can look out and see just what triggered it. That peace of mind is worth a lot — and that’s what I’m trying to achieve with the security recommendations in this Advisory!

 

 

Gift That Will Save a Life

Thursday, October 13th, 2016
Share

Vial or File of Life – a Great Gift Idea for Family or Employees

We are constantly looking for ways to engage our communities in “preparedness thinking.” It’s not always easy. For some reason, many people prefer to fall back on “It won’t happen to US!” as the reason they don’t do any planning.

However, everyone has seen an ambulance pull up to a home or business, lights blazing. Everyone stops for at least a moment to wonder what is happening inside.

We can use this fact to raise awareness in our neighborhoods or workplaces. Here’s a GIFT that you can arrange for that people will value – and that could make a difference between life and death.

The Gift: The Vial of Life

At a recent meeting with the Fire Department we were reminded that when First Responders are called to an emergency in a home, they automatically look for the victim’s VIAL OF LIFE.

Vial of LifeWhat is the Vial of Life?

The Vial is really simply a container that holds essential medical information for the people in the house – information that First Responders will want to know if they have to give emergency treatment.

Originally, the info was put into an actual vial (like a medicine prescription bottle) but these days, the preferred container is a simple zip lock Baggie. You can see the plastic baggie in the image (blue stripe).

What goes into the Vial of Life Baggie?

The Baggie holds a filled-out Medical Information Form. It’s the form in the picture, with places for info such as:

  • Name of person in trouble
  • Name of Doctor
  • Medical conditions
  • Current medicines/prescriptions
  • Allergies
  • Contact information for family

Where do I put the Vial of Life Baggie?

Identify the Baggie by placing a decal with a red cross on the outside. Fold the Medical Information Form and place it inside.

Then fasten the baggie to the refrigerator door with tape or a magnet.

(Naturally, you’ll want to keep the Medical Information Form updated – that’s why it’s best to use a zip lock style baggie so you can take papers out and replace them.)

How does the Fire Department know I have this information on my refrigerator?

Depending on the layout of your home, place the second decal with a red cross on the front window or door to your house. This will let the Fire Department know you have a Vial of Life Baggie on the refrigerator.

Even without the second sticker, they will likely automatically look there for medical information.

Anything else I need to know?

Depending on your circumstances, you may want to put other information into the Baggie. For example . . .

  • If you have appointed someone else to make medical decisions for you in an emergency (common for senior citizens), you may want to include that info along with directions to where the full document can be found.
  • Your Advance Health Care Directive, which tells what emergency life-sustaining treatment you want, can also be included. (That form is available online and must be witnessed by your doctor.)
  • Finally, if you have specific end of life wishes, such as the desire to donate your body, you may want to include that info, too.

These documents are important.

Without the Vial of Life information, emergency personnel will follow their STANDARD PROCEDURE – which may NOT be what you want or can even survive.

How to Use the Gift with Your Group

If you want people to participate, you have to make it easy for them.

The “easiest” is to create Vial of Life kits, already assembled, and pass them out to all the members of your group. Each member of the family needs one!

You can go to http://www.vialoflife.com to get the masters for everything you need.

Assemble into individual kits:

  • Instruction sheet
  • Baggie
  • 2 Decals (print your own using color printer onto white labels), one for the Baggie and one for the door
  • Medical Information Form

If you prefer, turn this into a group activity. Provide sheets of decals, piles of forms and instructions and the baggies and have group members set up an assembly line to separate and assemble the kits.  Next step is to distribute kits to neighbors, family members, etc. (You could add a pen as an extra incentive to get the form filled out!)

We distributed Vial of Life kits to our community about three years ago. Many of our neighbors, who don’t participate in any of our neighborhood emergency response team activities, still have their Baggies and point proudly to them.

The Vial of Life has been a successful and inexpensive awareness builder for our team. Add it to your own group’s agenda!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you are looking for other emergency response team ideas for group activities, please don’t overlook the book of CERT Meeting Ideas I put together earlier this year. You can get details here.

 

 

Secure Your Space

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016
Share

The Great ShakeOut Hits California

Our community is “celebrating” the annual earthquake drill here in California on October 20. We are joining a crowd of 9.4 million participants (so far).

Secure Your SpacePlus, just two days ago we emerged from a heightened earthquake alert resulting from a swarm of 140+ small quakes near the base of the San Andreas Fault. That’s the seismic fault that’s going to give birth to the long-overdue “Big One.”

So it seems time to take another look around the house to Secure Your Space, as the ShakeOut people say.

We put together a worksheet for our neighbors, and I thought it would be a good tool to share with all our Emergency Plan Guide readers.

(The form I created for our neighborhood group has a space for recommendations to be made by a handyman that we’ve engaged to go to people’s homes. The version shown at the left in this Advisory is a little different. It figures YOU will be making the changes, hence the “to-do list” terminology!)

No and Low Cost Recommendations for Quake Safety

These are all pretty straightforward. It just takes setting a time for a “walk-through” and then making obvious changes to your living space.

As you do your walk-through, look at furniture placement, and not just heavy or decorative items that could fall and break.

When we returned home after the San Francisco quake in 1989, one of the most dramatic things that had happened was we couldn’t get into the bedroom because a bookcase had fallen over, completely blocking the door.

Handyman Help for Quake Safety

You may or may not already be a handyperson, so some of these suggestions may require that you get a few simple tools. Generally, the idea is to stand in the middle of the room and imagine that everything loose starts flying at you.

How do you tether or fasten down the items that could hurt you?

Keep in mind:

• Flexible fasteners may be better than stiff ones, which can break in a large jolt.
• Rubberized pads may stop heavier items from shooting across the room, but of course won’t keep them from falling to the floor.
• A wire barrier or a lip may keep items on a shelf as long as the shelf stays on the wall.

This Secure Your Space list is aimed at simple things you can do to improve your chances. It doesn’t get into major improvements, like blocking and strapping your water heater, or reinforcing your foundation. We’ve covered some of those elsewhere.

Today, let’s just take care of a few items that should not be left unaddressed.

Need a shopping list of earthquake safety items?

Here are some items from Amazon. You could click on the links, order them all, or items like them, get them delivered within just a couple of days, and have everything you need for an earthquake safety family activity!

Picture or Mirror Hanger

The usual hardware or hobby pack of picture hangers is designed for light pictures, but the sawtooth version of a hanger, or any hanger that counts on simple gravity to hold the wire on the hook, will not be adequate in an earthquake. You are looking for something that can carry 50, 70 or maybe even 100 pounds, and keep it on the wall!  Here are some ideas for hanging heavy items.

Hangman 3-Inch 100-Pound Walldog Wire Hanger (WDH-100-2)

And the wire to go with it . . .
Hillman Fasteners 121128 Mirror Hanging Set Heavy Duty

Big Stuff on Shelves

When it comes to electronics on the shelves in our office, we start with rubberized mats under our printers and computers. We also have a mat under the one desktop tower that is still on the desk. (The other tower is on the floor.) I also use rubberized shelf paper in the kitchen under my plates, and actually between some of the serving platters.

I really love this stuff. Get enough of it because you’ll find many uses for it.

VViViD Non-Slip Rubberized Plastic Mesh Shelf and Drawer Liner Non-Adhesive Sheets (12″ x 20ft, White)

Appliances and Furniture

I said above that for our computers, we “start” with rubberized mats. The next step is to fasten all appliances and furniture down with flexible safety straps, so they won’t go anywhere when the world starts shaking.  Of course, what you use to fasten things down depends on their size, their weight, where they are located (how far to a wall stud), etc.

TV monitors are probably the most likely thing to fly in an earthquake. Tie ’em down! Next most important are bookcases, appliances and other furniture. Here are several models of straps and cables to consider.

QuakeHOLD! 4520 Universal Flat Screen Safety Straps

Quakehold! 4163 15-Inch Furniture Strap Kit, Beige

Quakehold! 2830 7-Inch Steel Furniture Cable

And one model of strap (not from Quakehold!) that seems to be all-purpose:

TV and Furniture Anti-Tip Straps | Top Quality Heavy Duty Strap, All Metal Parts | All Flat Screen TV/Furniture Mounting Hardware Included | Lifetime Guarantee (2 Pack, Black)

Objets d’art and Collectibles

Every home has a shelf or cupboard with beloved figurines, plates, vases, whatever. If the shelf falls, or the cupboard opens, these precious items will be destroyed. So, some suggestions:

  • Can you place these objects in a closed cupboard instead of on an open shelf?
  • Run a wire or fishing line barrier along the front of the shelf to keep books from falling.
  • Add a simple lock to be sure the cupboard or cabinet door won’t swing open in an earthquake. (Check under “child-proofing your kitchen.”)

Most important, “glue” treasures down with museum wax from your local hardware or craft store. It holds!

Quakehold! 66111 2-Ounce Museum Wax

Kitchen

I mentioned above what we found in the bedroom when we got home after the 1989 earthquake. In the kitchen was an astonishing mess of broken dishes, broken jars of pickles and peaches, flour and spices, appliances and potted plants.

Again, all kitchens are slightly different. Do a kitchen walk-through. What could fall or move? What will happen if cupboard doors come open? Moving heavy items to lower shelves is the obvious first step. Selectively applying child-proof locks or safety straps may be the next best improvement.

A Weekend’s Worth of Work

Doing the appropriate moving, measuring, drilling and installing will take more than 5 minutes. Depending on your level of skill and interest, it might take all day or even all weekend.

But all it would take is one good shake and EVERYTHING ON THIS LIST  — mirrors, pictures, bookcases, furniture, computers, cupboards, TVs, food, glassware, souvenirs, collections — could end up in a jumble of broken trash in the middle of the room. And you’ll be lucky if you aren’t in it somewhere.

So, join in your own region’s Great ShakeOut and make some safety improvements. You’ll sleep better for your efforts.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

I mentioned some articles on more serious infrastructure improvements for your home. Check these out:

 

 

Will Your Pet Survive an Emergency?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016
Share

One out of every two people reading this message has a pet. Pet in snowAnd according to surveys, 90% of American pet owners consider their pet “a member of the family.”

So we’ve usually included pets in our articles about family preparedness, just like we include children.

But pets are not children.

So today I want to consider three pet situations that most prepper or survival blogs don’t seem to address.

1 – Pet phobias

Humans, even children, understand what a storm is, and can be calmed and thus make it through loud noises, lightning flashes, etc. They can recognize the need for evacuation.

Many pets, on the other hand, respond to a dramatic change not with understanding, but with real terror.

Their response can be so extreme that it can put them, other animals, and you or family members in danger.

We’ve told the story about a friend’s dog who attended a 4th of July celebration with us. The fireworks – not at all dangerous, and a couple of miles away – were enough to send Boo into a frenzy of barking, trembling, sweating, clawing, trying to run away, and peeing on everything and everybody. His terror lasted for the full 45 minute show. (Ruined it for us, of course.)

That was just one small dog. We kept him safe by holding him. (As you can imagine, Joe, who was doing the holding, needed a shower afterwards!)

As for cats, they are likely to go just as berserk — or just go missing.

Still, if you have the pet at home, what can you do to protect the animal, the house, and other people/pets nearby in an emergency?

Various online websites suggest ideas that I am passing along here. I’d love to hear YOUR story or suggestion.

First and most benign is to try to train your pet to manage his phobia. That can mean setting up a safe and protected place for the pet to get to during the trauma of loud thunder and intense lightning. This could be his crate, a closet, or even the bathtub. Practice having the pet rest there (with a favorite blanket and toy?) on a regular basis when there is no storm or rain; take him there when a storm threatens or the earth shakes. Pets can be trained!

Second, and again this needs practice beforehand, is to give your pet a so-called Thunder Shirt. It’s a jacket that fastens tightly around your pet’s body, applying constant gentle pressure (like swaddling a baby). The Thunder Shirt can be used to lessen separation anxiety, travel stress, fear of loud noises, If you were required to evacuate,a familiar Thunder Shirt  sounds like an excellent idea.. Here’s an example:  ThunderShirt Polo Dog Anxiety Jacket, Heather Gray, Large

 

Third, and only if you are confident in your pet and your own instincts (and have checked with your vet), you might consider giving your pet an anti-anxiety drug. Again, your vet can help with a prescription, but a well-regarded over-the-counter brand is Rescue Remedy. It’s a liquid that you add to your pet’s drinking water. My research showed prices at Amazon to be about HALF what they are elsewhere!

Click on the link to check prices – be sure you’re comparing the same size bottles (10 or 20 ml). Bach Rescue Remedy Pet – 20 ml

 

2 – Emergency rations and stomach upset

When it comes to putting together food for a survival kit, we find that for adults the best are (a) foods you know you will like and (b) foods that don’t need be cooked. Typical favorites: peanut butter, canned and dried fruit, canned tuna.

Do you eat this food all the time? No, but you probably know what to expect and thus would be able to put up with it in an emergency. (Heck, you’d be glad to have it!)

If your pet normally enjoys a particular gourmet brand of wet food, she’s not going to be happy being offered dry kibble in an emergency! She may even refuse to eat it!

And even if she does, you may discover what we all know: a sudden change in food can result in a dramatic change in digestion – and poop.

So, as you pack your pet’s survival kit, be sure to put in her usual fare (along with an appropriate bowl and, if necessary, a can opener). If you have time to prepare for a change of scene, and need to use dried food, introduce the new dried food gradually. Naturally, you want to pack water along with the food.

What experiences have you had with potty breaks or controlling your pet’s poop when she has to stay inside, needs to spend long periods in a carrier, etc.? I have seen a number of gadgets invented to try to catch poop before it falls, but none appears to have been a success! (Have you found one that really works?)

3 – Pets in the dark

While we always tend to think about emergencies in terms of storms, or earthquake, the chances are that a simple power outage is the emergency most likely to hit. Your pet will still need to be walked; to protect him from getting lost or being hit and injured, consider a lighted collar (and leash).

Reflective jackets and collars work fine but only when there is light to be reflected! We’re talking here about a total electrical blackout.

Individual battery-operated LED lights can be attached to a collar, or an LED tube can become a collar all by itself. The lights can be set to blink or shine steadily. Very small animals may not be able to wear all models, but here are several that look very practical and are inexpensive enough to add to a survival kit as well as use on a regular basis for night walks.

Note: The most popular styles come with rechargeable batteries. Remember that in an emergency you may not have electricity to recharge the batteries – so maybe regular batteries would be a better choice!

In any case, measure your pet carefully to be sure you get the right size. Here is an example to get you started:

Flat webbing with led lights embedded : LED Dog Collar – USB Rechargeable – Available in 6 Colors & 6 Sizes – Makes Your Dog Visible, Safe & Seen – Green, X-Small (9  13.7 / 23  35cm)

 

Other lighted pet collars for small animals look just like a piece of tubing that you cut to size!

This is just the start of an effort to focus more attention on pets in emergencies. Watch for a whole new section of our website, coming soon. In the meanwhile, if you have experiences or ideas regarding pets that you would like to share, please send them along via the comments to this post or by contacting me directly.

Do you have pets at work? I am particularly interested in their stories!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Be sure to sign up to receive our regular weekly Advisories, below. Don’t miss any of ‘em! Your family, including your pets, will appreciate it.

 

 

 

Coconut Oil for Your Survival Kit

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016
Share

“Good to know about” or “Essential” ?

When I’m writing about items for a survival kit, I often have to distinguish between “good to know about” and “essential to have.” Today, I’m writing about coconut oil. It straddles the line between “good to know about” and “essential to have.”  I’ll let you decide!

Coconut Oil

From my stash . . .

Coconut oil has been popular in health and beauty news for several years, and a couple of years ago coconut water emerged as a very popular drink. (I don’t care for it, myself.)

Coconut Oil for Emergencies

Lately articles about coconut oil as a survival item have jumped out at me. Then, when I got a sample recently — as a unique favor at a wedding party! — I looked into it at more depth.

Here’s what I’ve found out, and tested for myself. See if any of these work for you – then try some of the oil!  It’s inexpensive and available everywhere.

First Aid with Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is claimed to have antiviral, anti-fungal, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties!  Whew! Makes me wonder how I got along without it so far!.

Some simple ways to use it that certainly sound sensible:

  • Apply to a cut to prevent infection.
  • Dot on bites, stings or rashes to relieve itching.
  • Rub between toes to prevent athlete’s foot (a fungus).
  • Relieve chapped lips with a thin coating.
  • Apply to scalp to kill lice (and get rid of cradle cap).

 

Shelter-in-Place with Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has an extended shelf life (up to two years, maybe longer), doesn’t need refrigeration, hardens at temperatures below 76 degrees and is liquid at temperatures higher. The image above shows my two bottles — the one I’ve been using and the one I stuck in the refrigerator.

Some excellent survival or camping ideas:

  • Rub into wood or leather to condition and protect.
  • Use to season pans and in fact, as a substitute for butter or oil for frying.
  • Use as the basis for a candle. Just add a wick to liquid oil, then allow oil to harden.
  • Use coconut oil to clean your hands – of dirt, wax, paint. (It works great as a make-up remover, too, but you won’t be needing that in an emergency!)

 

Eat Coconut Oil

I’m not a trained dietitian or a doctor, so I’m not making any recommendations about taking coconut oil internally. Certainly, there are many, many testimonials on the internet and on TV about its ability to improve your health. I suggest you simply research on your own. (Try looking up “coconut oil + _____” and fill in the blank with your own condition: constipation, diabetes, cancer, acne, etc.)

I did find an article that laid out healthy limits for a daily dosage of coconut oil based on your weight. Find out more about this, too, before you start taking it.

Finally, consider the quality of the coconut oil you buy. While there are no internationally agreed-upon quality terms (like “extra virgin” vs. “virgin” olive oil), it does make sense to read about how the oil is captured and processed. It all comes from the coconut — but can be washed, steamed, pressed, bleached, etc.  For our survival purposes, I would look for virgin oil for the best benefits.

Here are some examples of what look like good buys in three different categories. Click on the image to get full details and current pricing.

Island Fresh – Virgin

I selected this because its labeling specifically calls out some of the survival uses discussed above. Note that some other jars of coconut oil at Amazon refer only to their use for COOKING. In fact, some of them add extra flavors to the coconut! Anyway, this is the one I would start with for my own survival kit.

 

 

 


Majestic Pure – Fractionated

Note that this oil has been treated to remove certain fatty acids, rendering it odorless and greaseless and permanently liquid. So-called “fractionated” oils like this may be more convenient for cooking or general purpose beauty care, but may have lost some of their anti-oxidant properties.

 

 

 

Nativa – Refined, in Gallon size!

If you are planning on cooking with coconut oil (French fries!), you may want to purchase refined oil in much larger quantities. Here’s an example of an oil that has a high smoking point, no coconut smell or taste. The customer reviews are very positive.

 

 

 

 

Note: At Amazon many of the coconut oil product distributors assume you are going to want to sign up for a regular delivery, and they offer a discount for that purchase. My recommendation: try out ONE item first, or even better, try out at least TWO so you can compare, before you sign up for monthly delivery. Don’t accidentally click the wrong box!

I think you’ll end up adding coconut oil to your survival stash, just as I have!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you have discovered great uses for coconut oil, write and let us know in the comments!