Surveillance Technology

Thursday, April 13th, 2017
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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These days, with communications taking place via cell phone, that sort of technology may be outdated!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
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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
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Take a look at your collection of Emergency Kits

Survival kits

Which bag still works?

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

Some change is always required!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Survival Kit Chart

2-So are the kits different?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A quick detour for vocabulary:

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

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

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

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

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

The other bags in the photo lie somewhere in between.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

When to Activate Your Emergency Team

Sunday, March 5th, 2017
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Quick! Call the Fire Department!

Emergency call

EMERGENCY ALERT!

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

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

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

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

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

Later, we discussed how things went.

Decide: Big Emergency or Small Emergency?

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

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

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

Choose: Active Bystander or Emergency Response Team member?

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

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

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

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

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

Communicate better for better results.

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

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

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

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

Communication steps.

Here’s what we agree on:

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

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

Essential tools and equipment.

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

Simple team uniform – a vest.

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

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

Personal cell phone.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

That’s why we train, isn’t it?!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

 

 

 

Are you sitting on top of a leaking gas line?

Thursday, January 19th, 2017
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(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

 

 

How to Light a Flare

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016
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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.

 

 

Drones for Emergency Response Teams

Friday, November 18th, 2016
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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.”  (!)

 

 

Battery Failure Ruins Flashlight

Thursday, November 10th, 2016
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We Test More Batteries

If you’ve been following our blog entries you know that over two years ago we ran some tests on our Emergency Response Team’s battery purchases and the batteries’ life expectancy.

Battery failure

Recent failure of one battery ruined the entire flashlight

What we found was that performance between Duracell and EverReady batteries was pretty much equal, and both outperformed their private label versions sold through the big box stores (Costco & Sam’s Club).

The one dramatic difference was a higher failure rate (i.e. leakage and corrosive damage to our radios, flashlights and other tools that we relied on) for the Duracell batteries than for the EverReady batteries.

It’s important to note here that our Neighborhood Emergency Response Team typically has close to sixty active volunteers. We issue each team member a radio (FRS/GMRS) and a flashlight. We run active monthly drills with the radios and recommend that members check their batteries regularly and change them twice annually. The result is that we spend almost $1,400.00 annually on AA, AAA, C & D batteries and replacement radios, flashlights and other devices.

Batteries Die and Fail

While most batteries simply die and are unable to produce sufficient voltage or current to power the devices, we experience a 15% (+) failure due leakage and corrosion. We are able to “repair” about half of the radios using baking soda & water paste applied with Q-tips to dissolve the corrosion confined to the battery compartments. Flashlights are usually a total loss.

You can easily see an example of corrosion on the black flashlight in the photo. It takes a sharper eye to spot the point of failure of the Premium AAA Duracell battery. The arrow points to the cavity where the casing failed at the bottom (negative pole), under the silver strip.

We Switch to Premium Batteries

Lately we have been using only the premium Duracells (red/gold, 10-yr guaranteed shelf life) since the EverReady batteries are no longer available through Sam’s Club (where we used to find the best price). Our hope was that by purchasing the higher-priced premium Duracells, we would experience a longer life and a reduced failure rate. So far we have no evidence that this will indeed be the case and, to date, the failure rate seems to be about the same as the regular Duracells.

As of this week we are stocking up on additional EverReady, Amazon, Ikea and Orchard Supply Hardware batteries to measure longevity. We will share our methodology and results in a future post.

And, while the comparison on battery failure rate will take longer to measure, the results will be more anecdotal since the sample size of our tests will be smaller and subject to individual team members’ actual usage and care patterns. We will share our experience in this regard as well with the caveat that it’s not possible to completely separate individual user habits from the failure rate experience.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you’re asking yourself why we don’t use rechargeable batteries, that’s a good question. But we think the answer makes sense. It’s this: We’ll only be using these radios and flashlights in a real emergency – most likely, after a major earthquake. We expect all power to be out for an extended period, days if not weeks. As soon as our rechargeables are dead (and they don’t last as long as disposables, anyway), we’ll be stuck. We don’t want that to happen! (Yes, we DO have some solar chargers. That’s a topic for another Advisory!)

P.P.S. If you are interested in the results of our planned test, be sure to sign up below to get our weekly Advisories.

Communication Challenges in an Emergency

Thursday, October 20th, 2016
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Once again, Emergency Plan Guide offers some tips for business or neighborhood CERT teams.  Today’s subject: communicating with people in a disaster situation.

 Last month we talked about the importance of succinct and clear radio communications. Today, succinct and clear are just as important, but this is a situation where you are dealing with a non-professional. It’s a situation that may be uncertain and unfamiliar to you both. Communication is going to be a challenge, no matter what.

Action Item: Use this Advisory to start a discussion in your group on potential problems. You are likely to be able to add more specifics based on your environment.

Person with disabilities

“Not getting through?!” 

In a big emergency, whether you are a concerned citizen, an Emergency Response Team member, or a First Responder dealing with victims or potential victims, you may find your words just not getting through!

You are asking urgent questions or giving urgent commands.

But the people you’re dealing with just aren’t responding!

Before you overreact and start yelling, run through this list in your mind. If you can identify one of these problems, and its solutions, you’ll have a better idea of what to do next for better communications.

Don’t forget to start by introducing yourself!

In any emergency situation, start by introducing yourself and why you are there.

For example: “My name is Joe, I’m a member of CERT, and I am here because there’s been an explosion and we need to move you to a safer location.”

Tell the person where they are going and what they need to take with them. If you know, tell them how long this move is likely to last. Repeat that it’s urgent that they get started . . . and that you are there to help.

If you know the person’s name, use it to start your sentences.

If the person has a care-giving companion, address your remarks to the person, not the companion!

What to do if the person doesn’t respond to your commands.

There are a number of things that could be preventing your audience from understanding your words and/or what they should do. Here are a few problems, with tips for how to address them.

The person doesn’t understand what you are saying.

1- Whether the person doesn’t hear well, doesn’t speak English well, or has mental health issues, here are some ideas for improving communication:

  • Make sure they know you are there to help. Get their attention by calling out and flicking the lights.
  • Get face to face with the person and at their level; don’t yell down at them or across the room.
  • Speak simply, clearly and slowly. Use hand gestures in speaking.
  • Repeat your commands or requests as necessary. If still no understanding, use DIFFERENT words to explain; don’t just repeat the same thing over and over.
  • Write your message on a paper, and let the person write back.

2- You are dealing with an elderly person who is resisting or confused.

  • Tell the person you are there to help.
  • If the person needs to leave the home, reassure them that this will only be temporary.
  • Gather medicines (or at least a list) and any portable medical equipment.
  • Let them know how and when they will be able to contact family.

 

What if the person isn’t able to follow your commands?

1- Person has a service animal and you aren’t sure how to proceed.

  • The animal must be kept with its owner. A service animal is like an extension of the person – it is not a pet.
  • The service animal must be on a leash or in a harness but does not need a muzzle.
  • Don’t try to give the animal instructions or use its harness to direct it. The animal will respond only to its owner.
  • Do not feed or pet the animal.

2- Person has mobility problems (walker or wheelchair in room).

  • Ask to be sure you understand the person’s capabilities. For example:
    • “Can you stand or walk without your walker?”
    • “Can you get down the stairs without my help?”
  • Assume the person knows how you can help. Let her tell you the best way to do it.
  • Assume the person knows how her equipment works. Let her give instructions about how to attach or detach parts, move the chair up or down stairs, etc.

3- Person declares or you think he is visually impaired.

  • Announce your presence.
  • Visually impaired does not mean hard of hearing. Speak in a normal tone of voice.
  • State the nature of the emergency, tell him what needs to happen, and offer assistance.
  • Do not reach out and grab the person to move him. Let him take your arm or rest his hand on your shoulder and then lead him.
  • Warn of stairs, doorways, ramps, etc. before you reach them.
  • To help a person sit down, place his hand on the back of the chair.

 

Communicating in a disaster takes extra thought.

By and large, we understand and are able to automatically put many of these tips into use. In an emergency, though, we may allow our own excitement to make the situation more challenging than it needs to be.

Take a deep breath, think it through.

It will be so much easier dealing with someone who (finally) understands than trying to force them, confused and frightened, into action.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. The best resource I’ve found on the topic of communication with people with disabilities is called Tips for First Responders, from the Center for Development and Disability at the University of New Mexico. You can get copies of the booklet here: http://cdd.unm.edu/dhpd/tips/tipsenglish.html

P.P.S. Resources for dealing with people with disabilities all echo this point: these are PEOPLE FIRST.  Start with the assumption that they have many abilities. For an interesting perspective about the concept of “People First” – written by a person with disabilities — check out this article from the Huffington Post.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/15/disability-etiquette_n_3600181.html

 

 

 

 

 

Secure Your Space

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016
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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:

 

 

What Will You Take When You Evacuate?

Thursday, September 29th, 2016
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We watched the movie “Sully” last week. Talk about emergency response!

Sully tells the story of the emergency landing of a commercial airliner on the Hudson River in New York in 2009. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger brought the plane down on the water after engines were lost when the plane hit a flock of geese.

Two great moments from the film.

The day after the movie we used it at our neighborhood meeting to highlight crisp and clear emergency radio communications.

Remember when Sully was asked if he wanted to attempt a landing at Teterboro (NJ), and we all knew that it was just too far given how low they were, how they were losing altitude, how the motors wouldn’t re-start, etc.?

Sully responded to the complicated situation and to the question with just one word: “Unable.”

The movie had another wonderful moment that inspired me to write today. At the last minute, after Sully had checked the entire sinking plane twice to be sure no passengers were left, he made his way back up to the cockpit. He grabbed a clipboard, then turned and jumped out of the plane.

I don’t know what that clipboard had on it.

But it was obviously important. And since everything he and co-pilot Stiles had done so far was “by the book,” grabbing that clipboard was obviously on his list.

And thus today’s Advisory.

If YOU have to evacuate your office or workplace, what would YOU take with you?

Do you have a list? Below is one you can start with. I say “start with,” because obviously every business setting is slightly different.

But every business, no matter how big or small, has certain legal obligations to its employees.

And when the business needs to restart after the evacuation, in the same location or in a different one, it will need certain vital information. Your list needs to have your company’s vital info on it.

What to take in an emergency evacuation

If you would like a full-size copy of the list, click here.

Action Item: Build a customized list.

Again, I recommend that you use this list only as a start. Take the time at your business to build a customized list. Some thoughts:

  • Keep it to one page! Use big print, simple language and the words you use in YOUR business.
  • You may want one list for employees and a different list for management.
  • Be sure employees keep their list handy/visible at all times.
  • You may want to assign certain employees as monitors to be sure certain areas of the office or workplace get evacuated.
  • You may also want to add to certain lists instructions about systems or machinery that need to be SHUT DOWN in the case of an evacuation.

We all use lists for everyday activities. But they work particularly well in the case of an emergency, when people can be rattled and in a hurry. Put some time into building your “What to take” list for your business, and you’ll feel and be safer.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. The list, and this Advisory, assume you have a more comprehensive Business Continuity of Business Continuation Plan. If you haven’t really started to build one yet, sign up for our Advisories, because we’ll soon be announcing the 2917 version of our Guide to a Simple Business Continuation Plan.

 

Coconut Oil for Your Survival Kit

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016
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“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!

 

Stay or Go? Keeping Ahead of California Wildfires

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016
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Take a look at these 2016 maps, from CALFIRE. On the left, the Current Incidents map shows 10 wildfires burning. Now, look at the map on the right. Just one month later, 17 fires are burning!

California Wildfires

And these are just the MAJOR wildfires burning.

Today, as I write this Advisory, there are 31 fires being fought and/or monitored by CALFIRE.

CALFIRE is the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Its people respond to an average of more than 5,600 wildland fires each year. This year, as of 27 August 2016, they have already responded to 4,270 fires – above average due to significant drought conditions. (No, El Nino didn’t bring Southern California the much needed rain.)

What causes wildfires?

The simple answer: people. Yes, some are started by lightning or lava, but over 90% of fires are started by hunters, campers, tree trimmers and grass mowers, smokers, people’s cars’ catalytic converters and, of course, arsonists.

What can I do to protect my home?

Before you buy or build

Find out before you make an offer if that site is high-risk for wildfires! (If you have found what you think is a good deal, increased wildfire or flood risk may be the reason why.)

Plan for, or confirm, that the home is built from the ground up to the highest fire-resistant construction standards. Building standards vary, but you can get detailed information from your City’s Municipal Code Department and even more detail from the National Fire Protection Association. http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards

Before a wildfire threatens

You’ve heard before about creating a defensible space around your house. Briefly, that means clearing combustible materials from around your house – trees, bushes, uncut grass, piles of wood, fences, sheds, etc. – to create a 100 foot buffer zone between home and fire. Find out full details of each of the 4 zones of defensible space here: http://www.napafirewise.org/index.html

Protect against flying embers by cleaning and then closing up or blocking off gutters, eaves and vent openings or areas under the deck or porch. Purchase or make custom-fitted vent covers.

Pay particular attention to windows and skylights, because they may be more vulnerable to heat. Consider upgrading them to more-resistant materials, and installing metal shutters for the outside of the house and fire-resistant curtains inside.

Fight a fire threatening your home

It is not always possible to protect your home from a wildfire.

However, you may be able to protect your home from a threat or until the fire department gets there by the use of a personal water supply and pump delivery system.

This does NOT mean a garden hose!

Your water source needs to be independent – a pool, dam or lake. Your pump needs to be gas-operated or otherwise stand-alone, since electricity may be out. The entire system – with hoses — needs to be big enough to cover your whole house and preferably the entire defensible space. At the same time, it needs to be portable.

Here is an example from Amazon of the kind of home system you may wish to consider. This model has two 50 foot hoses and can be expanded with more nozzles and hoses. It also delivers foam and comes with approximately 3 hours’ worth.
Home Firefighting HF-S14FC-100F-BK Pool Fire Pump Cart System with 1-Inch Fire Hose and 30 gpm Solid Cartridge Foam System

Obviously, you need to maintain a system like this and practice with it before you actually need it.

Know when to evacuate

For all the above recommendations about preparing for and fighting fire, be ready to go sooner rather than later.

Here are evacuation recommendations from CALFIRE. You can get their full evacuation checklists at http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Pre-Evacuation-Preparation/

Inside the House

• Shut all windows and doors, leaving them unlocked.
• Remove flammable window shades and curtains.
• Close metal shutters.
• Move flammable furniture to the center of the room.
• Shut off air conditioning.
• Shut off gas at the meter; turn off pilot lights.
• Leave lights on so firefighters can see your house under smoky conditions.

Outside the House

• Gather up flammable items from the yard (furniture, toys, trash cans) and put them inside or in your pool.
• Turn off propane tanks. Move propane BBQ appliances away from structures.
• Connect garden hoses to outside spigots for use by firefighters.
• Don’t leave sprinklers on or water running (can affect water pressure).
• Leave exterior lights on so your home is visible.
• Have a ladder available and place it at the corner of the house for firefighters to quickly access your roof.
• Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals.

We have seen the news footage of fire after fire, and, unfortunately, heard about not only property damage but death.

Preparing for the risk of a wildfire needs to be part of your emergency planning, particularly if you live in California.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Any more ideas you’d like to add to this list?  Just drop them into the comments!

 

Flood Damage Not Covered by Insurance

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016
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The devastating floods being shown on TV are often accompanied by this voiceover:

“And most of these people have no flood insurance.”

flood damageWhen you see the piles of ruined possessions out on the curb, as in the photo, you get a better idea of what “no insurance” really means. And, I hope, you are prompted to take another look at your own insurance coverages.

After all, it seems as though in the last 12 months we have seen multiple floods labeled “thousand year floods,” so even if you have never been flooded before it’s possible you’ll experience one for the very first time. And it could be any time.

This spring we were threatened by unusual rain from El Niño, so I took a closer look at flood insurance. Here’s some of what I found out about it.

Of course, you should check with your own insurance agent to confirm how YOUR home fits into the world of insurance coverage. Questions to ask:

What does my Homeowner’s Insurance cover?

Your standard homeowner’s policy doesn’t cover flood damage at all. It may cover some water damage from rain coming through a hole in the roof punched in by a storm, but if rising waters fill the house, you are out of luck.

Do I have to live in a flood plain to get flood insurance?

Well first, do you know if you even live in a flood plain?

Find out by going to FEMA’s map service at https://msc.fema.gov/portal 

If you do live in a flood plain, obviously flood insurance will cost more because the chances are higher that there will be a claim. (If you have been required to obtain flood insurance as part of a mortgage, the map can be a good “second opinion.”)

The fact is, though, that something like 1 in 4 claims is for a home not on a flood plain. So this shouldn’t be your deciding factor.

And, to answer the question, anyone can get flood insurance, flood plain or not.

Where do I get flood insurance?

Start by checking with your current home insurer. Some of them have flood insurance available, as a separate policy. Most will refer you directly to the National Flood Insurance Program, administered by FEMA. NFIP was set up in back in the 60s, and it has been updated regularly so be sure you check for the latest limits and costs.

How does NFIP work?

Like all insurance programs, the NFIP must be financially sound, so its policies are priced based on the likelihood of a claim (“Are you in a flood plain?”) plus the amount of coverage selected by the homeowner – whether for the building, the contents, or both.

Does the NFIP have maximum limits?

Yes. (That’s why I included that question here!)

While limits have increased over the years, and coverage has been refined, there are distinct features to the policy. You will need to watch for:

  • Maximum for the structure – currently $250,000
  • Maximum for possessions – currently $100,000

If you have a more expensive home, you can get “excess flood insurance.” You’ll get it from a private carrier, and it will function rather like “a flood policy with a $250,000 deductible!”

What is covered by NFIP?

According to the Insurance Information Institute, “Flood insurance covers direct physical losses by flood and losses resulting from flood-related erosion caused by heavy or prolonged rain, coastal storm surge, snow melt, blocked storm drainage systems, levee dam failure or other similar causes. To be considered a flood, waters must cover at least two acres or affect two properties.”

Note that last sentence. An overflowing storm drain just in front of your house might not count!

What isn’t covered?

Read the following exceptions carefully, and confirm whether they apply in your case.

  • First, flood insurance doesn’t cover that build-out to your basement (although it may cover some of the air conditioning or heating systems) or anything you may have stored down there. No basement coverage!
  • Second, it may pay replacement cost for your home, but it will only pay “current value” on possessions. This means the family “heirlooms” may be worth almost nothing as far as insurance coverage is concerned.
  • Third, this insurance doesn’t help cover living expenses during the time your home is being rebuilt.

 

Should I get flood insurance?

I’m not going to recommend one way or another, but I would certainly consider it. The average price is somewhere around $600 a year for maximum coverage. (I looked into it for our house here in Southern California, built in what is essentially a desert landscape. Our quote was $371/year.)

What else should I know?

Here I WILL make some recommendations.

  1. Be sure to maintain your house whether or not you get a flood policy. Some water damage coverage on your current homeowners policy may be denied if you haven’t installed or maintained gutters, kept up with roof repairs, etc.
  2. No matter what kind of insurance you carry on your home and/or possessions, charge up your phone and do a deliberate walk through, video-taping the contents of every room. Having this record will be incredibly valuable in helping you remember what is missing or damaged in any kind of emergency. Put the footage on a flash drive and store it with a family member or at work, somewhere “off site.”
  3. If you are thinking to wait until the “real” rainy season hits before you buy flood insurance, remember that there is a 30 day waiting period after you sign up before the coverage goes into effect.

Finally, as with all insurances, I recommend you get at least two quotes. Flood coverage, just like earthquake coverage, is something the average insurance professional may not be experienced with. You need to become your own expert – after all, it’s your house we’re talking about!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. I can hear some of our readers saying, “Heck, I know all this.” If that’s your case, how about forwarding the article to a family member or friend who might NOT know it all!  Thanks!

P.P.S. And if you haven’t already, subscribe to our Advisories below. Just let us know where to send them. You never know when one will come that has some new information perfect for you that week!

 

 

Survive An Airplane Disaster

Thursday, August 18th, 2016
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Announcement from the cabin attendant, “In the unlikely event . . .”

Last Friday I flew from L.A. to San Francisco. It was an evening flight so before we even started taxiing people had removed their coats and shoes, turned off their overhead lights, and curled up to get in a quick hour’s nap after a long week’s work.

"you have 90 seconds to get 370 people through this doorway . . ."

“You have 90 seconds to get 370 people through this doorway . . .”

Alarm bells started going off in my head!

Why?  Because I had just finished reading a series of articles about airline safety and here are some of the details that stuck with me.

Three Airplane Safety Facts

 

Fact 1: Most airplane disasters happen between 3 minutes after taking off and 8 minutes before landing.

With that in mind, I was horrified to see that at take-off most of my co-passengers were NOT thinking about emergencies, had NOT taken a look at the emergency brochure, had NOT checked their flotation device, had NOT noted the number of rows to the nearest exit.

Worst of all, many were barefoot.

If we had to evacuate, these people would be groggy, confused, and naturally hesitant to scramble out in the dark onto a strange, maybe hot or broken surface – or into the ocean!

We were set to fail the 90 second evacuation test.

Airplanes are designed to get everyone out within 90 seconds. To accomplish that, over the years airplane designers have widened the galley ways (to 30 inches), widened evacuation slides to handle 70 people a minute, etc.

The 90 seconds isn’t an arbitrary number.

It’s about how long you can keep moving to save yourself if you can’t take a good clean breath of air.

And that’s because, in the case of a crash, more people perish from smoke inhalation than from injury.

Well, our flight didn’t have a problem (after all, I’m writing this) and when we landed, I witnessed an orderly exit. Still, it took a long, long time for everyone to dig out their hand luggage from under the seats and from the overhead racks. And this reminded me of the second thing I learned.

In an evacuation, people naturally want to bring the stuff they boarded with. The problem?

Fact 2: Evacuation slides on modern passenger aircraft are designed to rapidly remove human bodies from a plane that may be as tall as a two story building.

Key word is “rapidly.” A rapid evacuation works only if you JUMP onto the slide. It won’t work if you attempt to sit down to start your slide.

Jumping and falling that fast means you cannot control suitcases, computer bags, or rolling luggage carts. For sure, slowing your fall means you will be plowed into by the 350 lb. guy coming behind you with HIS rolling cart.

Even in evacuation drills, trained volunteers with nothing in their hands get injured sliding that fast and that far.

Luggage on the slide makes injury inevitable.

Fact 3: Once you’re on the ground, the next sensible thing to do is get away from the airplane. Fast!

We have all seen movies where the heroes run away from a burning car, house, or boat and it blows up behind them. (Great special effects.)

This image could just as well be an airplane loaded with aviation fuel.  Do our heroes stop to take a video of the flames behind them . . .?

While we’re on the subject, here are just . . .

A Few More Airline Safety Tips

 

Negotiating Emergency Doors and Exit Rows

Apparently getting an emergency door open isn’t always as simple as it looks in that brochure. (“Pull down on handle, lift up door.”) In fact, some airline industry professionals suggest that you anticipate that half the emergency doors won’t be able to be opened at all – due to location of a fire, a damaged frame, whatever. That’s why you need to

  • Identify the two closest emergency exits as soon as you are seated.
  • Count the number of rows to the emergency exits so you can get there in the dark.
  • If you can choose your seat, get one within 5 rows of an exit.

(During my research I came across stories of people attempting to open the emergency doors during flight. Mostly, it’s because they (1) were drunk or (2) had never been on an airplane before. Unbelievable.)

Managing Yourself

In a crash, your goal is to get up and get out right now! Do not sit there checking to see if you are OK or waiting for your breathing to return to normal all while wondering what is going to happen next.

Remember that 90 second rule and get yourself and family members moving to the nearest exit!

Leave your luggage behind.

You are going to have to launch yourself off the side of the plane. Extra weight and/or encumbrances will slow your passage to the door and threaten your ability to slide safely and to negotiate your landing.

Of course, crew members will guide the evacuation. The more assertive they are, the better it will go, so don’t get huffy at being yelled at. Get off the plane!

“In the unlikely event . . .”

. . .is the subtitle for this Advisory, because air travel is still statistically safer than other modes of travel.

Even with all the bad news of recent months, a CNN update published in May 2016 for the first half of the year stated: “We are ahead of the 10-year average with eight accidents and 167 fatalities compared to the average of 10 accidents and 205 fatalities.” (Source was aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas, editor of Airlineratings.com.)

When there is a crash, though, death statistics can be dramatic. Being aware and taking immediate action may keep you from becoming one of them.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

P.S. The Number 1 airline fact above – the 3 minute 8 minute rule – came from a book that we have read with great interest. It’s called Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life: A Former CIA Officer Reveals Safety and Survival Techniques to Keep You and Your Family Protected. The travel safety tips are just a small part of what is fascinating reading about protecting your home and yourself from people out to get you.

P.P.S. If you want to get regular tips and recommendations, be sure to sign up for our weekly Advisories below. There’s no cost, and you never know when one of our Advisories will be enough to save your life.

Summer Water Shortage

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016
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What I really meant: Summer Water Shortage Storage

Here in California, we’ve had drought conditions for 4 years. Throughout the state, people have cut back about 25% on water usage – sometimes voluntarily, mostly as a result of cost pressure.

But using less water for the landscape doesn’t mean we should drop storing water for an emergency!

So again, I want to promote . . .

The best water storage solution: the 4-item 55-gallon water barrel kit.

The kit has four components. You need all four!

You can buy them separately or all together, at Amazon, Walmart or at Costco or wherever you find the best price. In doing my research today I found that by shopping carefully I could get the same four items for a low of about $100 to a high of about $150.

The image at the left shows a kit with the four items that need to be on your shopping list — the barrel, the bung wrench, the pump and the water preserver. You can click on the kit image — or any of the images below — and go directly to Amazon. But before you go there, learn more about each of the components so you know what you’re looking for.

1 – The 55 gallon water barrel

What you want is a standard blue polyethylene plastic food grade water storage barrel with a sealed top. (I’d want a new one. Even if it’s brand new, give it a good rinse with a diluted chlorine-bleach solution – one part bleach to 10 parts water. Of course, use non-scented bleach that contains no soap.)

What to watch out for:

When it’s full, your barrel will weigh 440 pounds so you won’t be able to move it by hand!  Pick the spot where you want to store it, lay down some boards or pieces of wood to keep it up off the ground or the floor, and set it in place. (Make sure your floor can hold this weight.)

2 – A “Bung wrench” to open the plugs in the top of the barrel

The stopper in a barrel is called a “bung” and you’ll need a special wrench to remove it. You can get a metal or plastic wrench like the red one in the photo to the right. Often, the wrench will be designed for a second function, like being able to turn off gas at your meter. Bung wrenches seem to go missing on a regular basis. You may want to fasten it to your barrel (tape?).

3 – A Pump to get the water out of the barrel

 These water barrels are designed with openings only at the top, so to get the water out you need to insert a pipe down through one of the bung holes and then pump the water up and out. Since this is for emergency use, you need a pump that operates by hand! Be sure your pump is BPA free since your drinking water will be flowing through it.

What to watch out for:

An inexpensive siphon hose can work but may take a lot of effort to get started. Other hand siphon pumps have a hand-operated sliding action and larger tubes, and are more efficient. The image shows the “vertical manual action” of the pump shown in the kit.

Once you get a siphon pump flowing, it will continue to flow until you stop it, so be sure you know how to start AND stop the flow. (Hint – you unscrew the cap at the top to break the vacuum.)

Here’s a great video from Robert Canning that shows just how to install and use a hand siphon pump.

There are also hand pumps with a lever that pump a certain amount with each press of the lever – best if you want to remove just a small amount of water.

4 – Water preserver liquid

We have written before about using 1/8 cup of plain bleach in your barrel full of water to keep the water clean for long-term (i.e. year-long) storage. You can also use a water preserver concentrate that will keep water clean for up to 5 years. Follow the directions on the bottle to get the right amount into your barrel.

And now, the question we overlooked . . .

How to get the water INTO the barrel? Three options.

If you’re like me, I want the barrel tucked out of the way, so it turns out not to be close to a faucet. So how do I fill the barrel?

Naturally, you’ll think about using the garden hose. But wait. That hose has probably been sitting around for who knows how long, getting dirt on it, spraying pesticides or soap, and gradually disintegrating. I wouldn’t want to use it to fill MY barrel!

So what are other options?

One way is to use new bottles of water or simply carry water from the kitchen in a clean container and pour it into the barrel. Works fine, takes many trips!

The other option is to purchase the right length of food grade, white plastic drinking water hose at an RV supply store and run it from the tap.

And finally, store the barrel properly.

Some hints:

  • Label the barrel with the contents and the date you fill it, so you’ll know when it’s time to empty, refresh and refill.
  • Store in a cool dark place, out of sunlight; keep it clean.
  • Camouflage the barrel to prevent someone from stealing your water. Cover it with a tarp or canvas, turn it into a workbench, whatever.

This water can keep you alive in a crisis, so consider this big purchase as a gift to the family for the summer!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

 

P.S. You will likely want to have smaller containers of water, too, so you can store them more easily, move them, pour out just a glass of water, etc. Here are a two more articles from Emergency Plan Guide you may find useful as you consider how to store the water YOU need:

 

Are Your Employee Communications a Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Thursday, August 4th, 2016
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Many companies are being forced to set up or beef up their emergency employee communications plans. Those that don’t may be courting liability.

Being sued for no disaster plan

Being sued . . .

Read on.

In today’s news, we learn from a simple press release that “The Boston Globe is making customized comprehensive safety guidelines available to all employees via a mobile app.” (That’s my emphasis.)

What does this have to do with YOUR company?

Start with these questions:

  • What has your company done about emergency response and emergency communications? Does it have a plan?
  • Is your company keeping up with what others are doing?
  • Is it meeting its legal responsibilities?

 

Managing emergency communications is an ongoing challenge.

 

1 – You face threats today that may never have been threats in the past.

Again, recent news stories tell of oil train explosions, once-in-a-lifetime flooding, live shooter events and cyberattacks that can cripple entire enterprises.

Is your workplace communications system set up to respond to “new” disasters as well as the usual ones? When did you last do a “risk analysis?”

2 – New technology means the world may hear about your emergency before your front office does.

What’s your procedure for making sure employees get instructions and the public – including suppliers and customers – gets factual information that will staunch rumors?

As Paul Barton, a business communications specialist says, “Rumours are created for a specific reason: they fill in the information void. If an organization does not tell staff what is going on, they will make up their own story.”

And today, that “story” will be out via YouTube and Twitter before the smoke has a chance to clear!

In the past, companies usually assigned one person to be the spokesperson in an emergency. Today, every employee can instantly reach a huge audience. You can’t stop that, but you can train employees in how to communicate.

3 – Employee turnover means your “communications plan” must be continually updated and employees must be regularly trained or they won’t be able to use it.

Not only does your workforce change, but the company premises themselves change. You may change your phone system, switch to a different internet provider or IT set-up, add a new website or a new office, invest in mobile devices for the whole staff, etc.

All these give the business and employees new communications options that must be considered in the emergency communications plan.

4 – Don’t overlook the families.

You may expect your employees to be ready to step up to protect the business and pitch in to get it back on its feet in an emergency.

Guess what. You may be wrong.

Over and over again in disasters, employees – even First Responders! – have abandoned their posts because they were desperate to find out if their families were safe.

If you can reassure employees about their families, your business continuity plan has a much better chance of working.

What this means is your emergency communications plan has to put family communications right up at the top. It must ask and help answer questions like:

  • How will the company communicate with employee family members regarding the status of the business and the employee?
  • What plan does the family have to get in touch with each other in an emergency?
  • Does the family have an out-of-state family contact person?
  • Has the family designated a place to go if they get separated and/or they can’t get back to their home?

 

5 – What responsibility does the company really have?

The “Prudent Man Rule” (now probably referred to as the “Prudent Person’s Rule”) has been around in the financial world for nearly 200 years. It says that someone responsible for another’s interests should exercise the same care, skill and judgment that other “prudent men” in that position would exercise.

When articles like the one about The Boston Globe appear in the daily news, you must ask yourself,

“If others are setting up new ways of communicating with employees during emergencies, could we be found deficient or even negligent if we haven’t updated our own plans?”

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we’re not offering legal advice. But we do know that businesses and particularly owners get sued. We believe they can improve their chances of coming through the legal system safely by demonstrating that their decisions with regards to emergency response planning are consistent with good practice.

Two more resources.

Action Item:  If your company’s emergency response plan needs updating, take a look at these for inspiration.

This article reviews the different groups that may sue you after a disaster, and suggests three steps you can take immediately to protect yourself from legal fallout.

If you haven’t thought about physical security, this article will list some “prudent steps” that other companies are taking in this regard.

Once again, this isn’t legal advice, but I hope it falls into the category of “good business” advice.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

Don’t miss any of our free Advisories. They’re a quick read and come right into your email box. Sign up below.

 

 

Buy Batteries On Sale

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
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Is getting batteries “on sale” a good idea?

Check out this article before you buy! Price isn’t the only factor. In the world of batteries, it seems you get what you pay for, and you’d better know in advance just what you need.
Batteries
Some Background on Batteries (Skim if you already know all this!)

How batteries work

Batteries use a chemical reaction to do work. Alkaline batteries, the AA, C and D batteries we all know, typically depend on zinc interacting with manganese (through an alkaline electrolyte solution) to produce electricity.

Other batteries use different chemistries to achieve a higher “energy density” so they will last longer and perform better. Some of them: nickelcadmium (NiCd), nickelzinc (NiZn), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), and lithium-ion (Li-ion),

In a regular alkaline battery, the reaction ultimately consumes the chemicals (leaving behind hydrogen gas as a “waste” product) and the battery dies.

When to recharge

While an alkaline battery can be recharged, the process is inefficient and dangerous because of the hydrogen gas buildup. Recharging non-rechargeable batteries can result in a leak or even an explosion.

Rechargeable batteries are designed differently. First, they use specific chemicals (most popular seems to be Lithium Ion, which is even being used in Tesla batteries) that can undergo a “reverse chemical reaction” easily and efficiently. They contain a catalyst to keep hydrogen gas from forming. They have vents to prevent pressure from building up during recharging.

As you might expect, rechargeable batteries are more expensive because you have to buy that extra “charger.” However, studies suggest that you will save money over time using rechargeables, but they need electricity to work, so IN AN EMERGENCY SITUATION you will probably want to have regular disposable batteries on hand, too.

Getting the most out of batteries

No matter where they are stored, all batteries will ultimately die. Eventually, the steel casing will corrode and rust and leak. (Heat like we’ve had over the past several weeks can speed up the deterioration!)

Still, there are things you can do to preserve the life of your device batteries.

  • Don’t attempt to recharge non-rechargeable batteries.
  • Remove batteries from a device that you won’t be using for a while.
  • Replace all the batteries in a device at the same time. (Clean the contacts with a cloth before you install the new batteries).
  • Don’t mix different kinds of batteries in the same device. Use the same manufacturer, same type, same manufacture date.
  • Store batteries in a cool, dry place. (Your car, in the summer heat, is not so good for preserving the life of whatever battery-operated device you store in there.)
  • Don’t mix loose batteries with metal objects – like in your pocket with change. They can short-circuit and burn or explode!
  • Keep batteries cool, but there’s no need to refrigerate modern batteries.

 

My phone’s my most important survival tool! What’s the best solution for it?

The battery already in your phone or computer may have to be replaced as some point. If so, you’ll probably have to get whatever the manufacturer requires.

But, you’ll be recharging that device many times before you have to get a new battery! In an emergency, of course, electrical power for recharging may be out or you may be nowhere near a wall socket. One back-up option is a device that holds an extra charge, just ready for you to plug in to when you need it.

So let’s look at portable chargers or Power Banks.

Power Bank with Flashlight

My Power Bank has a flashlight, too.

If your goal is to extend the life of your electronic devices, consider a Power Bank,  otherwise known as a “mobile power supply,” mobile battery, external battery, spare battery, charging stick, or portable charger. These devices can keep you operating for days at a time!

If your time is worth anything, a power bank will be an inexpensive boost to your productivity and, in an emergency, to your peace of mind.

Power Banks are sized from something similar to a small flashlight to a device that resembles a small external storage drive. They all fit in a palm, pocket or purse, but may be a bit heavy to carry around all day. (Check the weight.)

As you compare them, look for:

  • Capacity (measured in mAh, or milliampere hours). The higher the mAh, the more stored power.

    IS THE POWER BANK BIG ENOUGH TO DO THE JOB?  Some negative reviews come from people who expect a small battery to recharge a much larger device. Doesn’t work!

    You want enough juice to reload your phone or tablet completely, at least once and preferably more often than that! For example, one power bank model declares its 15,000 mAh are able to charge an iPhone 6 more than 5 times. To know how much capacity you need, get the specs on your device from the box it came in, or search online for “technical specs.”

  • Output (measured in V, or volts). Generally, you want the power bank output to be the same as the input to your device. For example, your phone and Bluetooth headset probably each have 5V input.
  • How many ports? Some of the chargers can “feed” as many as 4 devices at the same time. (You’ll need the right cord for each device.)
  • What security against short circuits, over-charging or over heating?

 

The chart below will gives you a quick idea of options. These models range from $20 – $40 each; click on the name to go directly to more details on Amazon.

NAME
CAPACITY (mAh)
SHAPE
WEIGHT
NOTES
Portable Charger RAVPower 22000mAh 5.8A Output 3-Port Power Bank External Battery Pack (2.4A Input, Triple iSmart 2.0 USB Ports, High-density Li-polymer Battery) For Phones Tablets and More - Black22000 mAhFlat - Wide14.4 oz5.8A Output 3-Port External Battery Pack
Portable Charger RAVPower 13000mAh (Powerful 5V / 4.5A Dual USB Output) Power Bank External Battery Pack - Black13000 mAhFlat - wide10.88 oz4.5A Dual USB Output (iSmart Technology) Black
Portable Charger, RAVPower 10050mAh Outdoor External Battery Pack Waterproof Dustproof and Shockproof Rugged (Premiun Bttery Cell) Built-in Flashlight; iSmart Technology - Black10050 mAhFat - wide7.36 oz2.4A Single Output, 2A Input and iSmart Technology
[Smallest but Powerful Enough] Portable Charger RAVPower 3350mAh 3rd Gen Luster Mini - External Battery Pack and Power Bank & iSmart for iPhone, iPad, Android and Other Smart Devices - Black3350 mAhTubular2.56 ozSingle Output Port


What are the best batteries for our other emergency devices?

 

Disposable Batteries

Understanding all that basic information listed above, we have tested disposable batteriesEnergizer, Duracell and Kirkland (Costco brand) — multiple times for our emergency radios. These radios are used once a month for our Emergency Response Team drill, and then very lightly, so we don’t go through the batteries quickly at all. We do automatically replace them regularly (usually twice a year at the time change.)

Re results of our testing? There doesn’t seem to be too much difference in manufacturers, although our current favorite is the Duracell Coppertop with Duralock.   You can get what you need at your local hardware or big box store, or add them to an Amazon order. The packaging shown here has both AA and AAA sizes in one.

 

Rechargeable batteries

For multi-use devices, like our emergency radios, we prefer rechargeable batteries. We’ve found that rechargeables are often specified BY NAME by the manufacturer of the product. If specified, use ‘em.

Other raters for rechargeables have consistently come up with Eneloop NiMH. These are made by Panasonic, and come in AAA and AA sizes. Panasonic says these can be recharged 2,100 times!  For that reason alone I would try them!

 

 

 

Whew, this is a lot of info, but given the fact that we all seem to invest in batteries on a consistent basis, it’s worth it to get the right battery for the job.
Oh, and buying on sale? A good idea if you know what you’re buying.

But buying just on price alone makes no sense.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you’re part of a Neighborhood Emergency Response group, you’ll need a budget for batteries for your walkie-talkies. Here’s an article with some ideas about financing your group’s efforts.

 


 

 

Off to College? What’s in your survival kit?

Thursday, July 21st, 2016
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Pretty exciting, isn’t it? New freedom, new friends, new food (!).

And, new dangers.

Survival kit for collegeWe can’t deal here with all the social issues on campus. But there are some things you can do to make your life away at school a bit safer and more secure. Take the time to check these out.

1-Be Ready For An Active Shooter on Campus

The news has been full of shooter incidents lately, so perhaps you’ve spent time talking about what YOU would do in that situation. But maybe you haven’t.

People most at risk are – OBLIVIOUS!

  • Walking around with their eyes glued to their cell phones.
  • Chatting or goofing off with friends and not paying attention to their surroundings.
  • Half asleep, waiting for somebody else to tell them what to do.

Time to change those habits!

Here’s a video put out by the University of Alberta that is pretty effective at reminding you what to do in case you hear what sounds like gunfire. The best stuff comes after the 2 minute intro.

Action item: Take 8 minutes right now and watch this video.

https://youtu.be/gHNApS-MC18

And then consider these actions for when you get to campus:

2-Secure Your Dorm Room or Apartment

Let’s assume that any room you are sleeping in has normal locks, and that you use them. However, if you want to be more secure – and particularly if you have been notified of danger on campus – you want to be sure you are extra safe inside.

Depending on the construction of the door, here are three things to consider.

= = > Barricade the door.

Somebody dangerous threatening you? The classic chair under the door handle really DOES work, as long as the angles are right. In an office setting, though, you may not find the stiff chair you’re looking for. So, in an emergency, don’t hesitate to pull a HEAVY piece of furniture (table, copy machine) in front of the door. Add a second heavy piece behind it.

= = > Disable the mechanism.

Keep door from openingThe working of a typical commercial door hinge may be defeated by use of a belt. Tighten it down to prevent the door from opening, as shown by Bill Stanton, safety expert.

= = > Get a door wedge.

In your bedroom or dorm room, a simple investment in a rubber door stop may be all you’ll need. (This one looks as though it will work on any surface.) Click on the image for details.

Keep intruders from coming in through a balcony with the help of a sliding glass door bar – you can place it in the track of the door, or, if you’ve bought one for that purpose, lock it across the center of the door. Obviously, a determined intruder can break a glass door if he or she has the tool to break it with.

3-Be Prepared For Evacuation or An Extended Lockdown

It’s far more likely that your college stay could be impacted by something less dramatic than an active shooter. But it might be equally serious – like a storm, flood, electrical outage, or even some sort of disease outbreak.

Be ready to respond to a call to shelter in place or to evacuate by having your own survival kit. Figure you need to take care of yourself for at least 72 hours – and remember, you will have no access to electricity, water or food. Or a toilet.

Stuff your kit (use a backpack) and have it handy so you can grab it at a moment’s notice.

What should be in your kit?

Basic Emergency Supply Checklist

  1. Water – 1 gallon per day. (Tough to fit in a small backpack, admittedly!)
  2. First Aid Kit with fresh supplies.
  3. Food – Canned or dried foods that you like and that don’t require cooking.
  4. Clothing – A set of warm, comfortable clothing. Extra sunglasses, glasses or contact lenses.
  5. Medicine – At least a two weeks supply of any prescription medicines.
  6. Sanitation – Garbage bags, including small, compactor-strength bags for waste. Sanitary supplies. Toilet paper, baby wipes, paper towels.
  7. Flashlights, emergency radio that operates with batteries, solar or by hand crank – NO CANDLES!
  8. Car – Always ready with half tank of gas.
  9. Cash – No electricity = no ATM, no credit card.
  10. Telephone numbers – Write on paper. Your cell phone and computer will run out of battery unless you have a solar charger.

You should be able to collect just about everything on this list right at home, before you leave for school. There’s one possible exception — the emergency radio.

Here’s a link to Amazon that will get you one of the best ones we’ve found. It operates using AA batteries, its own solar panel, or you can crank it for power. You can even charge it from your computer. Click on the image for details. (If you buy through Amazon we may get a small commission. It won’t impact what you pay.)

OK, we know you have put in a lot of effort to get to where you are. Don’t overlook some of these common-sense preparations that will KEEP you at school just the way you have planned.

Best of luck,

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

P.S. Please share this article with friends. It’s possible they won’t have thought of all these things, either!

 

 

What threat do you face from a nuclear reactor emergency

Thursday, July 14th, 2016
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Nuclear Power PlantWe have written before about the shadowy world of nuclear power plants. In last week’s news I found another of the disconcerting developments connected with plants that have been shut down and that are going through the “decommissioning process.”

This news comes from Vermont.

Briefly, the purpose of decommissioning is to remove and dispose of contaminated materials so that the property may be released for other uses. Since decommissioning can be a long and complicated. the plant owner is required during the plant’s lifetime to set money aside for that purpose.

Naturally, once the plant stops producing power, owners want to shut it down as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.

One of the steps they take is to petition to have the “emergency zone” around the plant reduced. We have written before about the 50-mile-zone vs. the 10-mile-zone; you can check that Advisory by clicking here.

It turns out that Entergy, owner of Vermont Yankee, has successfully petitioned the NRC not only to stop supporting planning in the 50-mile zone, but also planning in the 10-mile zone. In fact, it has petitioned to eliminate ALL its responsibility to the 18 towns around the plant.

Apparently the funds set aside for decommissioning have also been “used for other purposes.” Lawsuits are being filed, hearings held. It’s not clear what the outcome will be.

But this brings up the whole issue of emergency planning around nuclear power plants.

Can you answer these questions about living near a nuclear power plant?

Nuclear Reactors U.S.1. How far away is the closest nuclear plant?

There are about 100 operating nuclear plants in the U.S., and most tend to have a low profile. So if you don’t really know where the nearest reactor is located, here’s a link to a map from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC):  http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/  *There’s a lot more info behind each pin on the map at the site.

2. In an emergency, how will you be affected?

The NRC defines two emergency planning zones around nuclear power plants: 1) a “plume exposure” zone with a radius of 10 miles, where airborne radioactive material would directly impact people, and 2) a second zone with a radius of 50 miles where contaminated food and water could be ingested by people within the zone.

(As a side note, Japanese authorities set a 20 km “exclusion zone” around the destroyed Fukushima Daishi power plant. That zone continues to be adjusted as radiation levels change as the result of government clean-up efforts and new weather events.)

3. What preparations can you make to protect yourself from a nuclear accident?

If you live near an operating plant, it’s likely that the first you’ll know of an emergency is when you hear a siren. (3-5 minute blast, repeated) Immediately tune to your local FM radio station or TV station, or to one of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) stations.

  • Plan to shelter in place. The major hazard in the plume area is direct exposure to the radiation cloud – through breathing, touching particles on the ground, or eating materials that have been contaminated.
  • Go indoors and stay there. Close doors and windows and shut off furnaces, fireplaces and air conditioners. Keep pets inside. If you’re in your car, close the windows and vents.
  • Keep listening for updates!

4. What will the authorities be doing?

  • An evacuation may be called. Grab your survival kit/evacuation kit and follow instructions. Hopefully your car’s gas tank is at least half full.
  • You may be advised to take potassium iodide (KI). KI is a nonprescription medication that blocks uptake of radioactive iodine by the thyroid gland. It is FDA-approved and readily available, coming in 65 and 130 mg tablets and liquid form; children need half or even a quarter of the dose for adults, so follow directions carefully. KI is effective for about 24 hours and you need to have enough to last every member of the family for several days or until you can get out of the affected zone. (See purchase info at the bottom of this article.)
  • You’ll be notified when it’s safe to return. (How can you be sure it’s safe? See “More resources,” below.)

5. What about the threat of a closed plant?

Here in Southern California, the San Onofre plant ceased operations in 2013 after a history of maintenance problems. The owner of the plant is just now putting final touches on its “decommissioning plan.” Spent fuel is being stored in one of the closed reactor containers — just hundreds of yards from the Pacific ocean (risk of tsunami?).  Since the 2010 U.S. census counts over 8 million people living within 50 miles of the plant, ANY emergency here will have a big impact!

Clearly, the chances of a nuclear disaster are far less for a plant that is no longer running, but as long as radioactive fuel is still being stored on site a certain threat remains, whether from a weather event (like what happened and continues to happen in Japan) or a terrorist event.

So it’s back to you and your emergency planning team, whether that’s your family, your local neighborhood emergency response team or your workplace leaders:

  • Are you near a nuclear plant?
  • Is it operating at full or reduced capacity?
  • Is it shut down or scheduled to be shut down?
  • What is the emergency plan for the site?

As an active and concerned citizen, it’s up to you to learn more. I hope this article can be the impetus. We’ll continue to share what we learn . . .

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

More resources:

Buy KI tablets. As you are shopping, consider the make-up of your family, and whether it would be easier for you to have smaller tablets (adults take two, child takes one) or even liquid (would have to be mixed with something). This is an inexpensive item so get a big enough supply that you don’t have to worry about running out. This particular item often goes on sale at Amazon — note its expiry date!
Potassium Iodide 60 Tablets 65 Mg. Each Expires 2018

Test radiation levels using a personal Radiation Test Sticker. These stickers come in postage-stamp size; paste one on the back of your drivers licence or elsewhere in your wallet and you can always test conditions. This link takes you to Amazon.

Radstickers -Radiation Detection Stickers – Lot of 10 Add to your Nuclear Survival Gear

For real understanding of your circumstances, consider a Geiger Counter. You can learn more about them at this Advisory and take a look at two versions here:

SOEKS 01M Plus Generation 2 Geiger Counter Radiation Detector Dosimeter (NEW Model replaces SOEKS 01M)

GCA-07W Professional Geiger Counter Nuclear Radiation Detection Monitor with Digital Meter and External Wand Probe – NRC Certification Ready- 0.001 mR/hr Resolution — 1000 mR/hr Range

There are less expensive options, including this app that works with your phone. Its  low cost makes it attractive for people living or working in areas of moderate risk, or for people who want a backup unit to carry on the road.. . .

Smart Geiger Nuclear Radiation Gamma X-ray Personal Detector Counter Tester Sensor for Smartphone Apple iPhone 4 4s 5 5s 6 iPad, Android Phone Samsung Galaxy S3 S4 S5 S6 Note 3 Lg G G2 G3 G App

 

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Assessing Threats to Your Business

Thursday, June 16th, 2016
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“What could possibly go wrong?”

Storm with lighteningWhen asked that question about their business . . .

Most people think first about natural disasters.

Here in California, everyone is concerned about earthquakes or (some years) El Niño. Along the coasts, popular threats are hurricanes and, occasionally, tsunamis. That leaves tornados and storms for the rest of the country.

Would you believe that initially, most people overlook the most common natural disaster?!

According to the experts, the most common natural disaster – accounting for about 30% of all disasters in the U.S. — is flood!

But let’s take a broader look at threats.

What about threats that are man-made?

This list will be a lot longer. Here are some more threats to business (or to any community), in no particular order:

  • Unplanned IT and communications outages
  • Cyber attack
  • Data breach or loss (accidental or deliberate from disgruntled employee; loss of mobile device)
  • Power outage
  • Water main break
  • Fire
  • Security breach (including theft)
  • Health emergency (chemical leak or spill)
  • Safety problem (accident, train wreck, explosion)
  • Terrorist act
  • Regulatory change
  • Lawsuit: personal injury, employment practice
  • Loss of key personnel
  • Civil unrest (might depend on your neighbors and/or neighborhood)
  • Supply chain interruption
  • and the list goes on!

 

STEP ONE. What threats does YOUR business face?

One of the first steps in preparing for emergencies in your business or community is to take a look at the threats you are facing. The easiest way is to gather together key people and simply brainstorm, writing down everything you can think of.

For example, your list could start by looking like this:

List of threats

STEP TWO. What’s the likelihood of the threat actually happening?

The next step in your analysis is to rate all the threats you’ve come up with as to their probability of taking place. An easy way to do that is simply give each threat a score from 1-5.

  1. = rare
  2. = unlikely
  3. = possible
  4. = probable
  5. = almost certain

Here’s our sample list with the threats rated.

Probablethreats

 

STEP THREE. What would be the impact of the threat?

There’s a second side to every threat, too. That’s the impact that it would have on your business. For example, some common threats (for example, a break in a water line) might be serious but would probably not threaten the health of the whole organization.

Other threats, like a direct hit from a tornado, might completely destroy the business.

So your threat analysis needs to consider impact.  Again, one way to help direct your preparedness efforts is to add a second score to your list of threats.

The impact score could also be 1 – 5, from lowest to highest impact. For example . . .

Threat probability

STEP FOUR. So which threats do we need to look at first?

By completing the list, you can get an idea of the priorities for your preparedness efforts. Here’s our sample, completed:

Create the total score by adding probability and impact.

Business threat

The higher the total score, the more attention you probably want to place on preparing for that event.

Caution: Danger of Threat Analysis Paralysis

Analyzing your threats can become complicated. In fact, in the wrong hands it can get WAY too complicated!

You don’t have to do it the way this report suggests.

But it IS important to get past that first quick assumption about natural disasters, and take a look at the other threats facing your business. The risks associated with the threats might be reduced by better procedures, better insurance coverage, or simply more awareness.

Completing even a simplified risk analysis will give you a more realistic picture of what could happen and how to protect and prepare for it.

Joe and Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you are serious about analyzing the risks to your business, consider purchasing this book. It has a significant security focus, but defines all types of threats and lays out a process to help you make decisions regarding mitigation.  Threat Assessment and Risk Analysis: An Applied Approach. The book is available in hardcover or soft at Amazon, where we’re affiliates, as you know.

 

 

 

 

 

Stay Safe in Hotels

Thursday, June 9th, 2016
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Summer may find you traveling to new places, and staying in new hotels.

Hotels have their own risks

. . . worth noting and being aware of.

Smoke in hotelFire:

High-rise hotels (or any high-rise building, for that matter) are vulnerable to fire. The causes? malfunctions in electrical equipment, carelessness, smoking (in bedrooms), temporary decorations for festivities, use of combustible cleaning materials, and, of course, arson and sabotage.

In a hotel, fire danger is increased because guests, people attending conferences, patrons at restaurants and bars, etc. probably don’t know the layout of the property and have no idea about security or emergency policies.

Terrorism:

Particularly in developing countries, hotels have become the popular target for terrorists. There are a number of reasons why.

  • Over the past couple of decades, embassies and military buildings have been “hardened” against attack.
  • Hotels remain areas where many people come and go, where entrance to the building is seldom restricted, and where politicians and other high-profile individuals are likely to be found.
  • Even when security is improved, by definition a hotel is a “soft target.”

If you are traveling and can make a choice about which hotel to stay in and where in the hotel to sleep or conduct your business, you may wish to consider these recommendations, culled from a variety of sources including the Stratfor Weekly, National Fire Protection Association, and Siemens Switzerland Ltd.

What to do to reduce the risks

Before you arrive

  1. Find out about hotel security. Is parking secured? Is the desk manned 24 hrs. a day?
  2. Ask about smoke/fire alarms and sprinkler systems. There is no guarantee that they will work, but if they are absent altogether, you may wish to look for another hotel.
  3. Choose a room between the 3rd and 5th floor, where terrorists can’t easily reach you from the street and fire department ladders can reach if you need to evacuate.
  4. Choose a room away from the street to avoid an explosion or violence at the entrance, which is where most terrorist activity occurs.
  5. On your floor, confirm the location of fire extinguishers. Have they been certified?
  6. Check on emergency stairs, exits and signage. Confirm that there are no items stored in stairwells.
  7. Keep emergency items next to your bed: shoes, a flashlight, and a smoke hood if you carry one. See below for more details.

If there is a fire in the hotel

  1. Grab your smoke hood and be ready to put it on if you smell smoke.
  2. Escape from your room if you can safely.
  3. Stay low and use walls as a guide.
  4. Use stairs; do NOT use elevators.
  5. Do not enter a staircase or hallway if it is filled with smoke. Try to find another path.
  6. If you must, stay in your room. Protect against smoke by sealing the door with duct tape and/or wet towels; stay low to the floor.

If you suspect terrorist activity

  1. Escape from the hotel if you can.
  2. If you are trapped in your room, protect yourself. Lock the door. Use a door wedge. If you can do it quietly, move furniture in front of the door for further protection. Turn off the lights. Turn off the TV and silence your cell phone. Close the drapes to protect from explosions that might create broken glass, and stay away from the windows. YOUR GOAL IS TO MAKE THE ROOM APPEAR EMPTY so terrorists will go on to an easier target.
  3. If terrorists are evident, and you cannot escape and cannot hide, you must fight. Improvise weapons with whatever is at hand – a lamp, a piece of furniture, a hot iron, a full water bottle, a battery charger at the end of a cord or in a sock, etc. In this case, your SURVIVAL MINDSET IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WEAPONS. Fight, and don’t stop.

Emergency items for travelers

In this article we’ve mentioned just a few items that are recommended for travel safety. We haven’t used all of them ourselves, but it they make sense to you, check them out.

Door wedge

You may have a couple of these in the house already! Simple, small, easy to pack. Very effective at keeping any door closed — and you can get a couple of them for less than $10. Here’s an example from Amazon:

Shepherd Hardware 9132 Rubber Door Wedges, Brown, 2-Pack

If you’re traveling by car, you can also consider carrying a sliding glass door security bar. We always have one for peace of mind when we stay in hotels with balconies. Cost is right around $20. Here’s a link to a good one (no photo – I figured you know what a bar looks like!):

Master Lock 265DCCSEN Dual-Function Security Bar

 

Smoke hood

Rather like a gas mask, a smoke hood goes over your head and seals tightly to protect you from inhaling smoke. A filter allows you to breathe. Smoke hoods cost anywhere from $25 to $150 or even twice that, so you’ll want to shop carefully.

The filters in smoke hoods screen out particulate matter, fumes and gases. Unfortunately, the most deadly gas, carbon monoxide, can’t be filtered out. But carbon monoxide can be converted to carbon dioxide. Look for this feature in the smoke hoods you’re considering.

Other features to consider: How big is the hood — will it go over eyeglasses? Will it fit a small child? How good is visibility? Can others see you in the smoke? How long will protection last?

Here are three different models from Amazon, for comparison. Look at the photos (provided by the sellers) to answer some of the questions above. Click on the links to go directly to the detailed product page.

1 – FIREMASK

FIREMASK Emergency Escape Hood Oxygen Mask Smoke Mask Gas Mask Respirator for Industrial and Urban Survival – Protects for 60 Min Against Fire, Gas, & Smoke Inhalation . Great for Home, Office, Truck, High Rise Buildings. Get Peace of Mind 

Firemask

Firemask claims 60 minutes effectiveness. Of course, it is one-time use, replaced if you need to use it. Its Polycarbonate visor looks to provide good visibility.

Easy to put on, fits children as young as 3. Amazon low cost (as of today), $28.95.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 – SAFESCAPE

Safescape ASE60A Fire Escape Smoke Hood Respirator Hard Case with Glow in the Dark Side Straps and Labels

safescape

From the photos and reviews, it looks as though the hood on the Safescape is bigger and perhaps more heat resistant than other hoods. The hard case can be mounted in a strategic place, and the glow in the dark strips would make it easy to find.  Any hard case might make packing a smoke hood more difficult.

60 Minutes of breathable filtered air. Easy to put on without special instruction.

Five year shelf life – Free Replacement if used in documented emergency.

Amazon price today: $69.95. Note that there is also a less expensive Safescape 30-minute hood.

 

3 – iEVAC

iEvac® the only American Certified Smoke/Fire Hood

ievac

This is most expensive and heaviest of the three hoods here. Notice the reflective tape top and sides, which will stand out in smoke and darkness.

This hood is the only “certified” hood. It gets top reviews and carries some strong endorsements:

  • Designated as an Anti-terrorism technology by the US Department of Homeland Security Safety Act
  • Tested by the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, Edgewood Chemical Biological Center
  • Currently being used by numerous Federal, State and local Government Agencies including every branch of the Military

The iEvac costs $149.95 at Amazon (and more in other places).

 

 

Of course, you can’t avoid every potential danger when you’re traveling. But some simple, common sense preparations may make your trip a lot more comfortable and safer.

Virginia 
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you actually live full-time in a highrise building, you may want to take a much closer look at what would happen if a fire broke out. Here’s an Emergency Plan Guide Advisory with more ideas.

 

Emergency Radio Update

Thursday, May 12th, 2016
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Panasonic Emergency Radio

How old do you think this radio is?

Radios — The Most Popular Piece of Emergency Gear

More of our readers “invest” in emergency radios than in any other one piece of emergency equipment. (Makes sense, of course. Without a reliable emergency radio, when disaster hits you could be completely cut off. Without a good emergency radio, you may not even know that a disaster is COMING!)

Because of this interest, we continually comment on what to look for when you’re shopping for a radio. And we regularly update our Best Emergency Radios review page to be sure the radios listed there are still available.

So it’s time for yet another radio update.

Status of our long-time favorite emergency radio

The Ambient Weather Adventurer, original cost around $30, has been our favorite for a while. We own more than one, and many of our readers have them, too. It’s a great radio to tuck into your pack or simply have on the kitchen counter.

Bad news! This model seems to have been discontinued. Here and there online you can find one for sale, but their prices make no sense! I saw one yesterday at $281!

So we aren’t recommending this model anymore. (Maybe you want to try to sell yours for a profit???)

New favorite, the Eton FRX5

Eton makes several different radios, and the brand carries a number of labels including one from the American Red Cross.

The FRX3 costs about $10 more than the original Ambient Weather, and has most of the very same features.

The one we’re recommending today, though, is the Model FRX5.  It costs nearly twice as much, but for that you get double the power, more lighting options, the ability to charge a smart phone, capture localized emergency alerts, etc.

Here’s a link to the radio: Eton FRX5 Hand Crank Emergency Weather Radio with SAME Alerts

And here’s what it looks like:

This is a very compact radio, just over 7 inches tall and a couple of inches wide. It operates on battery, AC, solar and crank. In fact, this radio earned the best score in a recent test measuring how much listen time was created by 2 minutes of cranking. (In this case, something like 10-12 minutes.)

What I like is the SAME Alert feature — stands for Specific Area Message Encoding. You enter in your county and the radio will automatically send alerts for that area.  (Seems to me this would be essential in Tornado Alley of the U.S.!)

When you click the link above, you’ll go directly to Amazon. Scroll down to the bottom of the Amazon page for a full description of this radio, with several more photos.

First time radio purchaser? Get answers to 7 important questions.

If you haven’t yet added a radio to your survival supplies, check out the Eton model above. Just click on the blue link to get started.

If you have NEVER shopped for an emergency radio before, go first to our Best Emergency Radio Reviews page because you’ll find there the 7 questions you need to consider before adding a radio to your pack, or to the survival kit of any of your family members. And you’ll see a number of other radios that we have reviewed and recommend.

The radio we would upgrade to if we were flush

I’ve mentioned before that we have an old Panasonic shortwave radio. (Joe’s had it ever since we’ve been together, and that’s over 33 years now, so its age is something older than that!) That’s the radio in the picture at the top of this page. Joe was changing the batteries, which explains the red ribbons at the bottom.

We have hauled this radio from coast to coast and back again, and Joe loves it.

Yesterday Joe handed me a spec sheet for the radio he would LIKE to have. It’s also available at Amazon, and also made by Eton. As far as I am concerned, it certainly looks a lot like the old Panasonic (!), but . . .Joe assures me that it’s “the ultimate” in radio receivers. It gets AM, FM, Aircraft, Longwave and Shortwave bands, has a rotating antenna plus you can tune-in stations by keying them in or searching for them. You can actually store 1000 stations!

If you’re really serious about emergency radios, check this one out.

Alert – Prices for the SAME RADIO vary considerably. Shop carefully to get the best deal!

Eton Grundig Satellit 750 Ultimate AM/FM Stereo also Receives Shortwave, Longwave and Aircraft Bands – Black (NGSAT750B)

And doesn’t it look a LOT like the Panasonic collector item above?


You need at least one emergency radio, and probably several. The good thing about radios is you can select the features you need (for each use or each person) and not have to buy features you don’t want, and you’ll save by choosing carefully.

Do you already have an emergency radio? Would you recommend it?  Let us know in the comments!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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Update on Self-Defense Products

Thursday, May 5th, 2016
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Scary Parking LotAbout a year ago I researched and wrote my first Advisory about stun guns and tasers for self-defense. It generated a number of comments then, and continues to be one of our most popular posts.

You may want to take the time to read it here, then come back for this update.

Obviously, self-defense products are NOT for everyone.

At the same time, our readers’ personal safety continues to be a concern.

So we keep up with the news and reviews about all aspects of self-protection, including the Second Amendment controversy. I’m not ready to jump into recommending firearms yet, but I certainly can suggest some non-lethal alternatives that may serve ALL our readers.

Stun Guns vs. Tasers – They are NOT the same.

The confusion about these two items continues in the public, at least. Even on Amazon, there is no distinction!

Here are three differences you need to know:

1 – Different technology

While both these devices operate using a charge of electricity, the stun gun generates a shock when the probes on the gun itself are pressed against someone. The taser shoots a projectile that creates the shock when the projectile hits someone. Stun guns are available starting at around $20. Tasers start at around $300 and quickly go up in price from there.

2 – Different uses

Obviously, given the technology, the stun gun is an up-close weapon useful when you are being physically attacked. The taser can be put to use from a distance – typically from 10 – 25 ft, away.

3 – Different regulations

Stun guns seem to be legal in most states. Tasers may not be legal without a weapon carry permit and the training that goes with it. It all depends on the state – or even the county – you live in.

Here are two places you begin research about your own state:

http://outdoorsmagazine.net/stun-gun-laws/ (NEW as of 12/21/2016) and http://bestpepperspray.net/stun-gun-laws-legal/

No guarantees! Check with official agencies in your OWN town to be sure you know the rules.

Warning about these NON-LETHAL devices.

The taser really isn’t non-lethal. It has been reported as causing the deaths of hundreds – yes, as many as 800 – of people in law-enforcement related incidents. Only some of these deaths seem to have been accidental.

My recommendation – Unless you are willing to come up with the cost for a taser, get the appropriate training and licenses and run the risk of a tragic accident that could get you mired in the legal system – I’d stay away from a taser.

Stun gun vs. Pepper Spray

The disadvantage I see to a stun gun is that your attacker has to actually be within arm’s reach for you to use the device. Yes, its colorful “Zap” may have some deterrent effect, but that’s it.

When it comes to stopping an attacker before he gets too close, I’d prefer pepper spray.

A hand-held canister of pepper spray can shoot a spray or cloud at least 8-10 feet, and probably more.

The important questions to ask about pepper spray:

Size of canister – Does the spray canister fit easily and comfortably in your hand so you can grab and use it? Sizes range from lipstick-tube-size to much larger cans. The 2-oz. size offers enough liquid that you can test a couple of times without emptying the canister.

Safety features – If you hang your canister on your key chain or onto the outside of your purse, or carry it IN your purse, what keeps it from accidentally going off? Flip top? Twist top? Can the safety features be operated WITH ONE HAND?

Life of product – Pepper spray won’t last forever, although it should last at least a couple of years. Check the expiration date on the packaging, and test to see that the spray is working every 6 months or so. You don’t want to need it and discover that nothing happens when you press the button!

Product quality – There are a number of manufacturers of pepper spray, and while I am usually happy to get “the best deal” on anything I buy, in this case the cheapest is not likely to give me what I am looking for.

My research has led me to one particular manufacturer of pepper spray – Fox Labs.

Reviews from law enforcement users as well as “regular” people are compelling. This product seems to work when other products, similarly priced and highly promoted, do not.

Here’s what the 2 oz. canister looks like. It should provide 18 or so ½ second bursts, so you can practice a couple of times. Its range is advertised as 17-20 feet.

Click on the image to get the latest pricing at Amazon. (It was just under $17 when I last looked.)

There is also a 4 oz. canister that may shoot even farther and has double the number of bursts, but that size is not legal to be shipped in California, so may not be legal where you live, either. Again, check local regulations!

Note that this product must be shipped via ground, so it may not arrive immediately.

If you purchase pepper spray, check your canister carefully. Note its expiration date. Then . . .

Practice!

Practice getting it out of your purse, unlocking the cover and shooting. You must be able to do it in the dark and when you are nervous!  Get your moves down, and then refresh your skills from time to time.

If you ever need this, you’ll need it.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Joggers and bike riders say this spray works great on threatening dogs, too.

 

 

Plastic Bags – Use or Reuse for Emergencies

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016
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PlasticBagsToday I stuffed 20 or so plastic bags into one, so I can take them back to the store to be recycled. It’s amazing how many accumulate in just a couple of weeks – and we carry reusable shopping bags!

Be that as it may, I always keep some bags handy for emergency use! Here are 20 ways they can come in handy or even save the day!

And the best part? You can collect these bags and add them to your kit for free. (Or at least you MAY get them for free. A new law was just passed in California to ban free plastic bags . . .)

Keep out moisture

  1. Use a plastic bag to line your Bug Out Bag, to help keep it water proof.
  2. Use zip-lock bags for storing food, small items, cosmetics, etc. in your bag.
  3. Put a plastic bag OVER a backpack to keep out the rain.
  4. Turn a large plastic bag – like a trash can liner – into a rain poncho. Just make a slit along the seams for your head and arms.
  5. Use bags inside your boots to keep your feet dry.
  6. “Wear” underneath your clothes for extra insulation.

Protect from dirt

  1. Pull a plastic bag over your hand before picking up something dirty. Then just turn the bag inside out and dispose of it.
  2. Tie a bag over your face to keep out blowing dirt or sand. (Of course, don’t use thin plastic that clings for this!)
  3. A plastic bag can work as a diaper. (Why, I remember the earliest plastic diapers that I used on my daughter really weren’t much different!)
  4. Water out of order? Use plastic compactor bags in the toilet to capture waste. (These won’t likely be bags that are reused. But having a supply is essential for your emergency stash.)

Aid for First Aid

  1. Use zip-lock bags to store different first-aid supplies, keeping them clean and dry. You can pack full small bags into a larger bag for easier and more efficient access. (For example, pack gauze in one bag, band aids in another, tape and scissors in a third; put them all in one larger bag.)
  2. Fill a bag with ice and apply over an injury to keep swelling down.
  3. Turn a plastic bag into a sling.
  4. Tie a bag over a bandaged wound to help keep it dry.
  5. Somebody sick? Use a bag to catch vomit or diarrhea. Yukky, but better than having it spread all over the car or your living area.

Other smart uses

  1. A bag with no holes can be a temporary carrier for water, snow, berries, etc.
  2. Twist a bag or two together and use them as a belt or a carrying strap.
  3. Fasten a number of bags together end to end to use as rope. Braid several strands for more strength.
  4. Use a white bag as a signal or strips of bag to mark the trail.
  5. If an emergency keeps you trapped in the house, use trash bags – for trash! You can always dispose of it later.

As you’re packing your Survival Kit, use a few extra bags as padding, to cushion the sharp corners on tools, keep shoes separate, etc. That way you’ll always have some at the ready.

And one last note about the “secret ingredient”

Many of the ideas above would work a lot better if, in addition to the right sized bag, you have DUCT TAPE. (That’s an old roll in the image, above. Recognize it now?)

Use duct tape to close gaps, make sure the bags stay put, and even to seal them up when they’re full of waste.

These two essentials – plastic bags and duct tape — should be in every one of your kits. And the good news? They’re practically free!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

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