Friday, October 31, 2008

Stocking your car for Winter

"Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?"
-- Samuel G Freedman
Yesterday I talked about having a mechanic winterize your car to reduce the chances of something going wrong during winter driving. But that is just half of the preparation you need to do. You should also stock your car with supplies to keep you alive and comfortable if a breakdown occurs or you get stuck in snow.

I found the following list on under
Winter Driving Emergency Survival Tips.

Bottom Line

I once skid off the road and got stuck in a snow bank just a mile from my house. If you're like many people, for a short trip you'll jump into your car with no coat, gloves, etc. If you follow the list above and you get stuck like I did, you'll be glad to find gloves, hat, windbreaker under your seat so you can pull out the folding shovel and kitty litter to dig out and get the traction to escape.

Another important recommendation: Always keep your fuel level above half during winter months in case you are stranded and must idle your engine to stay warm.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Winterize Your Car

"Never lend your car to anyone to whom you have given birth."
- Erma Bombeck
As winter approaches it is a good idea to have your mechanic winterize your car - particularly if you live in a region that dips below freezing. The extreme cold will put your car under stress and you really don't want to be stuck in a snow storm if something breaks down. Here are some items to consider:
  • Read your owner's manual and follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Engine Performance - Get engine problems (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected. Cold weather makes existing problems worse. Replace dirty filters-air, fuel, PCV, etc.
  • Fuel - Add bottle of fuel de-icer to your tank once a month. Keep your gas tank full. A full tank helps keep moisture from forming.
  • Oil - Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your car manual.
  • Cooling System - A 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water is usually recommended. The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses should be checked by a pro.
  • Windshield Wipers - Replace old blades. If your climate is harsh, purchase rubber-clad (winter) blades to fight ice build-up. Stock up on windshield washer solvent-you'll be surprised how much you use. Carry an ice-scraper.
  • Heater/Defroster - The heater and defroster must be in good working condition for passenger comfort and driver visibility.
  • Battery - The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment.
  • Lights - Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned out bulbs; periodically clean road grime and road salt from all lenses.
  • Exhaust System - A mechanic can examine your exhaust system for leaks. Exhaust fumes can be deadly in winter if you keep your windows closed.
  • Tires - Worn tires will be of little use in winter weather. Check tire pressures once a month. Don't forget your spare, and be sure the jack is in good condition.

Bottom Line

At a minimum have your car checked professionally twice a year, once before winter starts and again before the start of summer. Make sure your vehicle can handle both seasonal extremes.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How to Remove a Tick

"Don't panic. It's true that Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States, but your child's risk of developing Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick is very low." -
Use tweezers to grab the tick as close as possible to your child's skin. Then gently pull it straight up, avoiding any jerking or twisting movements, to prevent the tick's head from breaking off and being left behind under your skin.

As you pull the tick out, DO NOT squeeze the tick. Squeezing pushes the tick's internal germs and diseases into your body.

After removal you can kill the tick by dunking it in alcohol (or squeezing it). Then wash your hands and disinfect the tweezers and bite site with rubbing alcohol. If a rash appears around the bite, contact your doctor.

Don't use a hot match to kill and remove a tick. This has the same effect as squeezing, the tick pushes fluids into you as it violently dies. Do not try to smother the tick (e.g. petroleum jelly, nail polish) as the tick has enough oxygen in its body to complete the feeding.


I hope this helps but know that I am not a medical professional. The information above as taken from the following sites:

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Help with Winter Heating

"If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?" - Steven Wright
In New York there are signs that winter is approaching - frost on the ground in the morning and even a snow forecast! So with much regret we turned on the house heat and started burning oil. I say with regret because heating oil is VERY expensive this year - a delivery we got last week cost nearly $4/gallon.
Unlike most of America which uses gas or coal for heating, there are many in the North Eastern states that use oil. And not everyone will be able to afford the bill. If this is your situation then check out on the topic of heat. A recent story, Ways To Get Help With Paying For Heat, recommends the following...

1. Low-Income Housing and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Direct funding for heating bills from October to March

2. The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) Funds "low-income" homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient

3. Check with your local electrical company for winter assistant plans.
For example: Con Edison provides assistance with bills through the winter months with Level Billing, energy grants for needy families, and payment plan options; 1 (800) 75-CONED.

4. Look for a Salvation Army, an American Red Cross, or a local advocacy center in your town or city.

Data collected in 2001 indicates that nearly 600 deaths a year are caused by extreme winter weather. Over half of these will be elderly, children or disabled adults in homes unable to afford adequate heating. In late 2008 gas/electricity shut-offs have been running 17 percent higher than last year among customers of New York state's major utilities, and 22 percent higher in economically hard-hit Michigan. Also up are Pennsylvania, Florida and California.

Under the laws of New York and many Eastern and Midwestern states, power CAN NOT be shut off for nonpayment during winter months.

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Monday, October 27, 2008


"It became clear that people have erroneously come to falsely mistake management for leadership." - James W Breckenridge
During hurricane Katrina the media and the public did a lot of finger pointing at FEMA and President Bush. What was overlooked and misunderstood was the role each had to play during the emergency. FEMA has a management role. It exists to organize, give advice, train, but not to lead.
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” - Peter Drucker, management advisor
President Bush was criticized for not leading. Although we typically think of the president as the leader of our nation, we tend to forget that we are the United STATES of America and that state governors have a lot of local authority. In the case of hurricane Katrina, the first leaders responsible were the local Mayors. Sadly the mayor of New Orleans and his staff fled the city, did not implement the city's emergency plan, and yelled loudly for the Federal government to save everyone. However, mayors do not have the authority to request federal resources. This is the right and responsibility of the state governor and during Katrina the Louisiana governor delayed asking for help for many days. Technically Bush and FEMA were not legally allowed to help until officially asked to by the governor. This is known as state rights and as a former governor of Texas, George Bush understands state rights.

Bottom Line
During emergencies, both leaders and managers are needed. Managers must ensure good logistics by organizing the supplies, people and resources. Leaders are needed to inspire the people, to issue orders, and make major decisions.
"One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency." - Arnold Glasgow
Great leaders will hire great managers to take care of the details. Great leaders will also understand the limits of their authority and how to work with and cooperate with other leaders.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Level Orange

"Auntie Em, Auntie Em! It's a twister!"
- Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz
FEMA gets a lot of teasing by comedians for the new color levels indicating the risk of terrorism. But in reality, this system is far less confusing than the verbal warnings used for weather events.

Quick test - which is more dangerous: a Tornado Warning or Tornado Watch?
  1. Tornado Watch (conditions are favorable for a tornado)
  2. Particularly Dangerous Situation Tornado Watch
  3. Tornado Alert (formerly used)
  4. Tornado Warning (a tornado was spotted by eye or radar)
  5. Tornado Emergency (rarely used for monster tornados in urban areas)
Do you know there are four escalating levels of flooding?
  1. flood watch
  2. flash flood watch
  3. flood warning
  4. flash flood warning

Tsunamis can be

  1. “advisory”
  2. a “watch”
  3. “warning”.

Another test, which is worse: your nearby nuclear power plant issues a “notification of unusual event”or a “alert”?

  1. "Notification of Unusual Event"
    A small problem has occurred inside the plant. No radiation leak.
  2. "Alert"
    Small amounts of radiation have leaked inside the plant only.
  3. "Site Area Emergency"
    Radiation has leaked within the plant site, outside the building but within the fences. Area sirens might be sounded.
  4. "General Emergency"
    Radiation may leak off the plant site. The sirens will sound. Follow promptly instructions on your local radio or television station.

Bottom Line

Threat level messages can be confusing. Remember that a Watch means keep your eyes open (watch out) and a Warning means take action (you have been warned).

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Professional Snow Training

"Because of the specialized nature of this course, the student is expected to bring the snow vehicles they currently use to class."
- SafetyOne course description
One of the fun things about this blog is learning new things. Who knew there are companies that teach OSHA certified winter survival for drivers of snow plows and other winter equipment? It sounded like a fun class to take until I found the quote above - bring your own snow plow to class!!
I wish I knew how much the classes cost. The web site show zero dollars when I try to register.

Bottom Line

Winter weather is no joke. If you are a hunter or work in winter wilderness areas then seriously consider attending a winter survival class. It may save your life. Here are some links I found on Google but I have no experience with these courses: (this site has a nice list of topics taught and other useful information) (located in the UK)

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"TEOTWAWKI" - The End of the World as We Know It

As I browse and read survival/preparedness blogs I keep seeing the acronym, TEOTWAWKI. For example:
It took a few minutes to figure it out that TEOTWAWKI means "The End of the World as We Know It". Personally I don't expect the world to end or that civilization will collapse in my lifetime. However life as we know it can be disrupted on a temporary and local scale. Examples include hurricanes, the East Coast blackout, 9-11, and so on.
When I commuted to work in New York City I traveled by the Metro North railroad. Both 9-11 and the Blackout events stopped the trains and I was stranded at my office 30 miles from home. In both cases the nature of the emergency made it dangerous or impossible for my wife to drive into the city to pick me up. Taxis were a scarce resource during these crises. So life as I knew it was seriously disrupted.
A recent example is the gasoline shortages in southern states after hurricane Ike. Your daily commute, driving kids to school, grocery shopping may all depend on having gas in your car but no gas is available.

Life as we know it depends on many things that we take for granted - electricity, clean water, gasoline, banks & ATMs, roads, schools, sewers, etc. For a nice list of reasonable things that can go wrong, see Be Prepared! Why... by Dixiebelle.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Religion and Preparedness

"Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition"
- 1942 American patriotic song
Today I'd like to bring to your attention another blog which has the potential to be an interesting discussion: The Christian Survivalist: A Biblical View of Preparedness. The author's stated goal is...
"To provide a biblical view of how to prepare for disasters, large and
small, so that the individual Christian, the Christian family, and the local Church can give glory to God in the midst of trying times, defend and provide for their families and church, be a blessing to other Believers who were not as prepared, to reach out to the lost with the Gospel while serving them in a crisis, and to preserve a Christian civilization for the future."
Excellent things to consider and debate. While reading I was reminded of a college roommate who attended a bible study group on the topic - Christians and War. Several viewpoints were discussed:
  • Total pacifism (like the Quakers) based on "turn the other cheek".
  • Limited Support (like serving in a MASH/medical unit but refusing to kill) based on "Rendering onto Caesar what is Caesar's" and "Thou shalt not kill".
  • Full Support for a "just war" (carrying and using a gun to kill the enemy) based on the many wars God supported in the Old Testament.

What's your thoughts on the role of religion during wartime?

Bottom Line

Ezekiel 38:7 "Get ready; be prepared." Using I found 49 uses of the word prepared in the Old Testament. Twenty in the New Testament. While this blog focuses on worldly preparedness, it is also useful to consider your spiritual preparedness. The End will come like a thief in the night. Would you be ready?


Thursday, October 23, 2008


"Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes
it Chinese; garlic makes it good." - Alice May Brock
One use my family has found for freshly ground wheat is making spaghetti. It's actually quite easy and can be a lot of fun. When we have visitors for dinner we sometimes let them make their own meal by rolling and cutting pasta. We make the dough in advance and let it cool and firm up in the fridge beforehand.

We discovered pasta making while dining with a friend and watched in amazement as she made spaghetti in her kitchen. So we bought a pasta maker (optional but makes it so much easier) and, lucky us, a kitchen supply store held a class on pasta making. We also bought a pasta making cookbook.

Bottom Line

Here are some links to learn the art of pasta making...

Try it! You'll like it!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rolling in the dough

"Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven."
- Yiddish proverb

For several years my wife & I avoided buying wheat in bulk because we wanted a food storage we would really eat and use. So we stocked up on boxes of pasta, jars of spaghetti sauce, and canned soup, fruits, meats and vegetables. But we also like eating fresh food in season from farmer's markets so we found that the canned supplies stayed on the shelves until winter. If we bought a year's worth of canned food but only ate it 3 months of the year, then it would take four years to eat our way through the inventory and restock. That's probably safe but we prefer not to let cans get that old.

So to reach our goal of a one year supply we had to buy bulk grains and now have a closet filled with buckets of wheat, oats, etc. Wheat if kept airtight, bug free, cool and dark will last a very long time. Still it's a good idea to eat what you store. So we had to learn - what can you do with whole wheat?

Step one was buying a wheat grinder. I'll write more about grinders another day. We choose a hand grinder so it would always work but discovered that wheat grinding is HARD work and later bought a motor attachment.

Step two is discovering wheat and wheat flour recipes. Wheat berries (the whole grain) can be tasty in soups and salads when cooked. We've also learned to bake bread and make home made spaghetti.

Bottom Line
Wheat has sustained mankind for most of its history. And wheat can be fun to use. Many people find personal satisfaction in making bread from scratch. There are so many flavors & fillings & shapes to try out. And who can resist the yeasty smell of fresh bread just baked? So give wheat a try!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Storing Water

"It’s water that creates the biggest problem. We cannot live without it. [But] water weighs over eight pounds a gallon!" - the Arnass blog

The most difficult item to store for emergency preparedness is water because it is so darn heavy. The preparedness rule of thumb for clean water is one gallon per person per day for drinking and cooking. On top of that you'll need a second gallon of water (not necessarily clean) for flushing toilets and bathing. For a family of five with a pet that means 88 pounds of water per day, 264 pounds (33 gallons) for 3-days/72 hours.
Where do you keep all this water? There are several options:
1. Store it dispersed: in new/unopened water bottles that you buy on sale when the price is low, in cleaned soda bottle, in small camping containers that are 3-5 gallons in size. Do not reuse milk/cider gallon jugs. There are often biodegradable and will leak over time. We tried this and yes, they did leak. Soda Pop bottles use a heavier plastic.
2. Store it large: you can buy 55-gallon food-grade barrels but once filled don't plan on moving it! It will weigh over 400 pounds so find a strong floor space. You may also need a special wrench to open the container and a syphon to empty it.
3 Store it outside: for gray (dirty) water consider your swimming pool or large trash barrels. This only for external use, not for drinking! A plastic trash barrel worked well for us but split and broke in the winter when the water froze and the ice expanded.

Bottom Line
Clean water in a sterile container kept in a dark location will be safe for six months. Beyond that the risk of bacteria growth increases. If your stored water is old, boil it first, or filter it or use iodine. If your old water tastes flat, pour it between two clean buckets to put air back into the water.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Ideas for spending less

"Most people get interested in stocks when everyone else is. The time to get interested is when no one else is. You can't buy what is popular and do well." - Warren Buffett
As the stock market plummets, banks fail, and prices rise due to high fuel costs, you might be looking for ways to save money. The has a great article 5 Expenses To Cut Right Now If You're In Debt. In fact the story is better than the title - the story has five links to five other stories each with a list of ways to reduce expenses. Suggestions include:
  1. Get your life organized and stop paying late fees on bills, overdraft fees on your checking account, fines on overdue books or parking tickets, ...
  2. Cut out the extras - the deluxe cable TV package with premium movie channels, meals at restaurants, gym membership, an expensive car, ...
  3. Use Coupons at the grocery store, don't pay extra for pre-chopped food, try generic products, compare prices at different stores, ...
  4. Watch out for the cost of the information age: Cell phones, Internet service, etc.
  5. Create a budget and follow it.

Bottom Line

I heard a story recently about a friend of a friend, let's call her Betty. Betty would go through mood swings and spend wildly when up but then become depressed when the money was gone and she was unable to pay for rent and other essentials. My friend has tried to convince Betty (unsuccessfully) to pay her bills and groceries FIRST thing when she gets a paycheck. Then she can party with what is left over. NOT the other way around. It amazes me and my friend that not everyone understands this.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Renters Insurance

"Last night somebody broke into my apartment and replaced everything with exact duplicates... - Steven Wright (1955 - )

As a home owner I never considered NOT having home insurance. A house is too expensive to replace if lost to a fire. However as a college student I never once considered renters insurance.

The topic pops up now-a-days as one of the questions I must ask fire victims on the Red Cross forms. According to a pamphlet I picked up, renters insurance covers the cost of your belongings (not the apartment room) in case of fire, smoke, theft, storm damage, water/plumbing damage, etc. Your landlord's building insurance does NOT cover your personal stuff - for example my record collection that got warped and ruined when my basement apartment at college was flooded by heavy rain.

The pamphlet claims that rental insurance can be inexpensive, $12/month in many areas. But you'll need to check the policy to see what it covers and perhaps pay extra for some coverage like flood damage. Your car insurance company might give you a discount for buying another policy from them.

Also, keep in mind your need for liability insurance. Say your roommate's clumsy cousin trips on your sneakers, falls down the stairs and hurts his back. Like it or not, he could sue you for that. Whether or not he wins, fighting that suit could be an expensive nightmare.

Bottom Line
If you own an apartment you may be thinking - I don't have much, why insure it? But if you add up the cost of your big screen TV, your computer, your stereo system, clothes & shoes, cooking supplies and equipment, books, jewelry, CDs & DVDs, electronic toys, etc you may be surprised at how much it would cost to replace.

Here are the top links I googled for rental insurance:


Liberty Mutual

State Farm


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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Traveling with a good map

"I have an existential map. It has 'You are here' written all over it."
- Steven Wright
This morning while leaving a grocery at the main exit of the parking lot. It turns out a van had been in an accident and flipped over on its side right in the middle of the intersection. Naturally every road feeding into the intersection was closed by the emergency responders. We had to exit the parking lot via a side road that sent us in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go on local town roads.
We made a few wrong turns and a short cut through a neighborhood that didn't work out before we found a way around the accident and back to a major road. And we were not the only "lost" drivers. Others diverted from the accident were making confused turns and illegal turns (like the wrong way on a traffic circle!)
Since we carry maps in the car we didn't have to be lost - we just thought we knew the neighboring town better than we did and never considered consulting our maps. We carry several atlases in the trunk of our car - detailed county maps, state maps for NY, NJ and CT and even a national road map.

Bottom Line
Always travel with road maps. We like the Hagstrom county maps which show every road. We recently tried finding a friend's house in NJ with just the state map and of course it lacked the detail we needed for local roads. We buy maps that are a year old and discounted at book stores - not much changes in a year.
Also useful when you have a destination in mind is one of the many free online mapping services:, and

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Friday, October 17, 2008

First Aid

First Aid – There’s a reason why it’s called “first” aid. It has to come first. Threatening injuries have to be stabilized before food and shelter will do any good.

Research has found that most U.S. households are deplorably unprepared to administer first aid. Most households have band aids, some Tylenol, and maybe rubbing alcohol. However, most are lacking in supplies to treat larger wounds like open wounds, burns, or broken bones. Relatively few have CPR training. - - Classes and Careers

This month the theme in our Cub Scout pack is "Be Prepared" with an emphasis on first aid. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the 8-10 year-olds did when tested with first aid questions. Do you know how to treat the following?

o Serious bleeding
o Stopped breathing/Choking
o Internal poisoning
o Heart attack
o Cuts and scratches
o Burns and scalds
o Blisters on the hand and foot
o Tick bites
o Bites and stings of other insects
o Poisonous snakebite
o Nosebleed
o Frostbite
o Sunburn

Bottom Line

If you are not 100% confident with first aid then get some training ASAP. Since Red Cross classes are very expensive one advantage of being a CERT volunteer responder is free training in First Aid and CPR/AED. Other options include - online videos and websites, Scouts, and first aid books.

My favorite book is the American College of Emergency Physicians "First Aid Manual". It has pictures on every page and covers everything.

While books and website are great for review, you really should take a class at least once. Books and web will not test you on tying slings, give feedback on your CPR technique, or hands on with an AED heart stimulator, etc.


See written by someone who attended a Red Cross First Aid class and what was learned.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

ARC Disaster Action Team

"Treat all disasters as if they were trivialities but never treat a
triviality as if it were a disaster." - Quentin Crisp

While my wife and I have been Disaster Action Team members of the American Red Cross for many years, it was only yesterday that I saw a "job description" of the role. I thought this might be interesting to share...

DAT members assist the Red Cross in its mission to provide relief to victims of disaster and help prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies. Disaster Action Team members respond to disaster scenes during assigned times, provide relief (shelter, money & toiletry kit) by completing all ARC forms at disaster sites and provide referrals to other agencies. DAT volunteers must be able to respond at all hours or as scheduled with own transportation, be aware and conversant with diversity issues, and able to maintain confidentiality with clients.

Team members will learn: “Mass Care Overview”, “Fundamentals of Disaster Assessment”, “Shelter Operations”, and “Client Casework Providing Emergency Assistance”.

DAT volunteers are valued members of Red Cross relief services who make an impact on clients' lives. You will have the opportunity to enhance your personal organizational and leadership skills and to be trained in Red Cross emergency response skills. We ask volunteers to commit a minimum of six months. Once trained you may remain active as long as required training is up-to-date.

Bottom Line

If this sounds like something you'd like to do contact your local Red Cross. In addition to the Disaster Action Team there is also a need for volunteers to process the paper work and type it into computers, to organize blood drives, staff ARC tables at events, and give presentations to the community.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sharing with your Spouse

I'm not a real movie star. I've still got the same wife I started out with
twenty-eight years ago. - Will Rogers (1879 - 1935)
Clearing out old papers this morning I came across a list of information that spouses (or significant others) should share. These include company names & address, phone numbers, email, account ID & password for the following...
  • Utility companies: gas, water, electric, telephone, cable TV, cell phone
  • Contractors: plumbing, air-conditioning, auto repair, lawn mowing, etc
  • Professionals like lawyers, financial advisers, and doctors.
  • What is your preferred hospital and health insurance?
  • Life insurance, Home/Fire insurance, car insurance.
  • Caregivers (like babysitters) for your children or elderly parents
  • Medications and dosage taken by family members
  • School & teachers for your children
  • Relatives and friends to contact in an emergency
  • Tax preparer or location of past tax information
  • Outstanding loans
  • Retirement plans
  • Credit cards, bank account, CDs

Bottom Line

If there are assets you don't own jointly, arrange for your spouse to have "Power of Attorney" in case you die or are incapacitated. See also my earlier blog, Death - JT TEN WROS regarding Joint Tenant with Right of Surviorship. Other blogs on this topic include what important papers to collect and how to keep them safe, Protecting your Go-Kit Contents, and Who gets your 401(k) when you're dead?

In our house we entered this information into an excel spreadsheet, attached a password to it for privacy and printed out a copy stored in an non-obvious location. We also put a copy of this information on my parents computer and backed it up on flash drives we carry with us.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Neighborhood Watch

"Preparation can only take you so far (what happens when your preps run out?)--ingenuity, social skills, and attitude can take you much further." - blog Code Name Insight
Last month I blogged about Protecting your Food Storage. I suggested you could hide it, share it, or defend it by force. A recent blog article, A Question and an Answer, suggests protection via cooperation. The blogger recommends
"talking to your friends, neighbors, and family members to both build close bonds with them and plan some shared efforts during a disaster, and using your mind instead of your brawn or a weapon."

I can think offhand of two organizations that operate at a local neighbor level, CERT and Neighborhood Watch. In both programs neighbors work together to improve the lawfulness and security of your part of town.

Bottom Line
There's an old saying, "many hands make light work". You don't have to survive a crisis alone. Get to know your neighbors through outdoor dinners, garden work parties, neighborhood cleanup projects, etc. Consider joining a neighborhood organization or starting one. Work together to pool skills and resources like chain saws, off road vehicles, log splitters, etc.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

All your eggs in one basket

My father hated radio and could not wait for television to be invented so he could hate that too. - Peter De Vries

This not a product endorsement but I did want to point out a product with an amazing name: American Red Cross FR150 Microlink Solar-Powered, Self-Powered AM/FM/Weatherband Portable Radio with Flashlight and Cell Phone Charger which sells for $30 on

During an emergency technology can be a blessing and a curse. I love gadgets that do multiple things - less for me to pack. But if the gadget above breaks, then I don't have a radio, flash light or cell phone charger. The wisest course is to plan on backups.

Bottom Line
When packing go-kits for a family, each individual's kit should be self-sufficient. If you pack just one radio for the family in Johnny's kit and that kit is lost or left behind, you're out of luck.

Here are two opposing points to consider when packing multiple kits:

1. Pack different products for the same equipment in each kit. This way if you find that one radio is really cheap and won't work, another kit will have a radio of a different manufacturer that might work better.

2. Pack the same or compatible equipment in each kit. It may be cheaper to buy in bulk, you can share batteries, and you won't have to learn how to use many different products.

Here's how I would resolve these opposing points of view...

1. Buy the same equipment for each individual kit. But be sure to test it and try it out before you need it.

2. Pack one extra kit - the family kit. This contains more expensive items that you can not afford to put in each individual kit. This is kit contains items that are not necessary but make life more pleasant like a butane stove, collapsible water buckets, a fancy combo-radio, extra fishing gear, etc.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Finger Pointing

"After any crisis ... there is a lot of finger-pointing. Any tips on how to help my team avoid finger-pointing when we face a crisis?" - Harvard Business Publishing
Today I recommend the article, 7 Steps to Stop Finger-Pointing in a Crisis by the Harvard Business School. The advice includes
  • "help more, judge less"
  • Focus on the future, not a past that cannot be changed
  • Everyone should take responsibility for their own behavior
  • Ask, "What can I learn from this crisis?"
  • Avoid speaking when angry or out of control

I was inspired to talk about this topic after reading the article, Death, destruction, darkness strike Gulf Coast. The writer describes the finger pointing between FEMA and local government after hurricane Ike:

FEMA came under fire as several dozen trucks filled with water and food were not set up in surrounding communities a day after the storm passed. While taking criticism reminiscent of Katrina, FEMA officials immediately pointed a finger at someone else.

In a press conference at FEMA headquarters, Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff faulted state officials for handing his department the “unexpected challenge” of preparing distribution points (PODs) in addition to delivering supplies.

But state officials said it was the duty of local government, which came as a surprise to Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “If I could have known something 18-hours-ago, we
could have made plans to pick up something a lot quicker, that’s a fact,” a frustrated Mayor White said in a press briefing on Sept. 14.

Confusion between relief agencies is normal after emergencies. At best once a year emergency response organizations get together to role play a disaster and practice inter-agency communication.


Don't count on the government save you; save yourself. It was families without survival kits in their homes or apartments that anxiously awaited the word about points of distribution (PODS) after the horror of Hurricane Ike.

If you are self reliant you won't be in this situation of this person...

"It is a damn shame that they’ve been sitting up arguing like children about whose fault it is when my family and others were in serious need. I was standing in line for nearly six hours waiting for water and food to arrive at one site.” -

See CERT for details on personal emergency training.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Multipurpose Supplies

One must believe "six impossible things before breakfast" - White
from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass.

Since space in most survival kits is limited, the best supplies are those that can serve many functions. In the book discussed yesterday, for "Build the Perfect Survival Kit", an entire chapter is devoted to multi-purpose components. The author, John D. McCann suggests the following...
  • Aluminum Foil - use it for cooking, to make a drinking cup, as a pot for boiling water, as a reflector in a solar oven, a signaling mirror and more. Foil can be folded to a very small size.
  • Snare Wire - useful for fishing, traps, repairs, to lash items together. Can be wound very tightly round a sewing bobbin.
  • Duct tape - a million uses to fix rips and tears, patch boots and flesh, cover blister, etc. Can be folded or rolled in a small shape.
  • Large Garbage bags - can be an emergency rain poncho, a water bag, a waste sanitation bag, a mattress, a blanket and more.
  • Bandannas - useful as a hat, a mask against dirt/bugs, a filter and as a sling
  • Zip lock bags - water protect your kit contents and useful as mini bags when gathering tinder and kindling for fires. Wear on your feet when wading thru water.
  • Dental floss - a strong string that take up little space
  • Needles - magnetize them so you can sew and use them as a compass
  • Safety pins - can be used as pins and fishhooks.

Bottom Line

To repeat a point made before - preparedness is not about what you have but how clever you are at making the best use of what you've got. By stocking up on multi-purpose items you've greatly increased how flexible and creative you can be.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Principals behind a good Survival Kit

"Readers will learn about the eight categories of gear: Fire and Light,
Signaling, Water and Food, Shelter and Protection, Knives and Tools,
Multi-purpose Items and Miscellaneous Items, and what to pack into a kit for their pocket, glove box, four-wheeler, trunk, small plane, backpack, and more." - description for "Build the Perfect Survival Kit"
Several years ago my wife & I attended a class held at a local sporting goods store on "Building the Perfect Survival Kit" by John D. McCann. It was an amazing experience and I highly recommend John's book on the subject.

As the quote above indicates, John builds a kits following two principals

  1. Satisfy the rule of 3's with the right tools
  2. Select the contents based on the kit size
Small kits fit on a hiking hat, a belt or inside an Altoids tin. Large kits can fill a back pack or a supply chest on a boat or bus. The kit size forces compromises: you won't fit a tent into an small tin but you can address the need for shelter by having a compact space blanket.

The "Perfect Kit" satisfies eight categories:
  1. Fire & Light - can be used for warmth, cooking, medical sanitation, protection from animals and signaling. This is the most important.
  2. Signaling - Includes whistles and mirrors to help rescuers find you. Old CD's make great signal mirrors and can be cut to size.
  3. Navigation - maps and compass
  4. Water & Food - in small kits this can be line and hooks for catching fish and some foil for cooking
  5. Shelter - space blankets and rain poncho
  6. Knives and Tools like a mini saw
  7. Medical - First Aid supplies
  8. Multi-purpose: items which can serve many uses like DUCT TAPE. More on this in another post.
Bottom Line

The perfect kit is tailored to your abilities and your needs in the size space you have available. Review your kit to make sure it supplies fire, warmth/shelter, means to obtain safe water, food or means for obtaining food, first aid and useful tools.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Survival Kits

"He's making a list And checking it twice" - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town Song Lyrics
When it comes to survival kits you can buy or build your own. Many websites will sell you complete kits in a variety of sizes, for example: off road biking,, and Red Cross. You can also buy home & road kits at Walmart and other retail stores.

Personally I like making my own since many prepackaged kits are filled with little besides band-aids and drinking water. There are two ways you can approach kit making: follow a list or follow a principle.

Follow a List
The web has dozens (hundreds, thousands?) of lists for 72-hour kits. Here are some recommended lists...
Follow a Principal
More on this tomorrow.... See Make a Survival Kit out of an Altoids Tin for examples.
Bottom Line
Get Kits. Get one for each family member, for each car, for your office, for suitcases when traveling. It really does not matter how. It is just important to have supplies when and where you need them.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Stormy Vacation

While the Caribbean is the "most feared" hurricane-season destination, 64% of travelers said they would be willing to visit a destination in the hurricane zone if it meant significant savings.
- Robert's Caribbean Travel Blog

If you like traveling, check out the article Part of vacation planning includes Emergency preparedness plans! by Terrie Modesto on the blog "Train For A Hurricane". The author points out that many travelers will visit the Caribbean during Hurricane season and sometimes you get caught in a foreign country with a storm headed your way. This happened to a friend of my wife during his honeymoon.

Do you have trip insurance? Will your hotel stay open or force you into a shelter? What is your airline's policy for getting you back home? Very likely you'll be on space available standby and it can take days to obtain available seats with no guarantees.

Bottom Line
Preparedness is not just for home. If your wallet/ID/passport are stolen on vacation, do you have photocopy backups in your suitcase? You will find it very difficult to get money and board a plane with no ID.

If someone gets sick do you know your insurance company's policy for doctors and hospitals while away from home? Do you have to call to get approval prior to treatment or find a doctor within your plan? If you are traveling outside your home country, call your insurer before you leave to find out the rules for coverage in a foreign country.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Preparedness Fairs

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)

A great way to learn about preparedness and learn about local resources is to attend a local preparedness fair. See for example this
Preparedness Fairs are a great way to check out equipment like water filters and learn new techniques for fire fighting, gardening, first aid, etc. Many fairs include activities for children so this can be an event for the entire family.

A few years ago my wife & I helped to organize a Preparedness Fair with responsibility for four booths. On the day of the event we were amazed at the quality and total number of booths on display. We were also dismayed at the lack of attendance. Like too many local fairs, there was no budget for ads on radio and newspaper; just local fliers posted at stores and businesses.

Bottom Line

Don't miss an opportunity to attend a Preparedness Fair in your area. The hard part is discovering them in advance and not the day after in the newspaper. Here are some ways to stay informed:

  • sign up to be notified of town and county events via email
  • subscribe to a community paper published locally
  • check out community event calendars on the Internet

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Monday, October 6, 2008


“As a rural county, Millard County realized 15 years ago that it might have to depend on itself in a disaster. We began serious training citizens to take care of themselves. We now have 1,000 residents trained or one tenth of Millard County trained in CERT.”
- Janet Linquist
Today I recommend the article Mock disaster training for CERT trainees from When catastrophe strikes, neighbors may have look to each other for help. That’s why CERT begins at the level of the neighborhood. This is free training in using fire extinguishers, light search and rescue, first aid, and more.

Bottom Line
The federal website for CERT is
You can register to join, find a local team or event start your own neighbor team. There are also online training videos that anyone can view.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Disasters during School Hours

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."
- Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)
When a sudden regional disaster (forest fire, chemical spill, nuclear power plant accident, etc) occurs during a school day, the natural instinct of parents is to rush to the schools to pick up their children. However this is NOT encouraged by most schools. A rush of incoming parents will block the roads and create confusion as the school attempts an orderly evacuation. Many school disaster plans call for all children to be taken by bus to a predetermined safe location outside the danger area. Do you know where that location is?

Bottom Line
Ask your school for a copy of its emergency plan and read it. Know what is expected of parents. Also ask yourself, "Is this plan realistic?" In Westchester county, NY there are only enough buses for one third of the school children (not counting those who walk to school!) During normal days, school buses make three trips to cover all schools - separate pickup and delivery for elementary, middle school and high schools. To evacuate everyone, the buses would have to return at lease twice into the danger zone for two additional loads of kids. This could fail on several grounds - drivers won't go back, returning buses are blocked with all lanes filled with outgoing traffic, buses are trapped in traffic trying to get out.

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Skills, Not Stuff

"Tools Without Training Are Almost Useless. Owning a gun doesn't make someone a "shooter" any more than owning a surfboard makes someone a surfer. With proper training and practice, you will be miles ahead of the average citizen. Get advanced medical training. Get the best firearms training that you can afford. Learn about amateur radio from your local affiliated ARRL club. Practice raising a vegetable garden each summer. Some skills are only perfected over a period of years." -
Today I recommend reading articles found on Goggle alerted me to Two Letters Re: Advice for City Folks on a Budget? where readers of the blog ask for practical advice for normal families and apartment dwellers. The author Jim Rawles responds with a host of links to articles he has written on practical preparedness:
Budget Preparedness--Survival Isn't About Stuff, It is About Skills
Letter Re: Hunkering Down in an Urban Apartment in a Worst Case Societal Collapse
Letter Re: An Urban/Suburban "Stay Put" Survival Strategy
Ten Things That Will Get You Killed While Bugging In, by Paul C.
Letter Re: Advice on a Budget Water Filter
Selecting a Rifle for a Budget-Constrained Prepper
Letter Re: Preparedness on a Very Tight Budget
Letter Re: Advice for a Canadian with a "Just One Gun" Budget
Letter Re: Will Peasant Farmers Fare Better than the Rich in TEOTWAWKI?

Bottom Line
Jim Rawles has an excellent "about" page where he talks about his background and interests. I especially the section "Surviving What, You Ask?", the answer being...
  • A Dollar Crisis/Monetary Collapse
  • Naturally occurring plague or pandemic
  • Nuclear Blackmail
  • Terrorist LNG fuel sector or power grid attack
  • Terrorist nuclear, biological, or chemical attack
  • Fuel and/or food shortage crisis
  • Major volcanic and/or earthquake events
  • Nation-state nuclear, biological, or chemical attack

This puts a nice focus on not-unrealistic dangers that we all must live with and hope never to see in our lifetime.


This theme can also be found in the blog, Some say invest in gold. I say invest in you.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

A long time without power

"Do you realize if it weren't for Edison we'd be watching TV by candlelight?" - Al Boliska
In Louisiana Hurricane Ike knocked out power to 99% of the Entergy Corp customers. Eight days after the storm, CenterPoint Energy of Texas reports that 819,000 customers, or 36%, were still without power in its service area. "Most" of metro Houston should have power in another 4 days, nearly two weeks after the hurricane.

Disasters like this go way beyond the 3-day (72 hour) go-kits that most agencies recommend. Could you live without power for two weeks? In earlier blogs I've covered Food Safety During Power Outages and Living without power. Today I'd like to offer some additional practical advice that we use in our home.
  1. Build a long term food store. One month is good, 3 months better.
  2. Include in your food store items that do not require cooking like peanut butter, crackers, canned fruit (do you have a manual can opener???), cereal, instant milk, canned tuna and other meats, etc.
  3. Have a camping stove and extra fuel. I like the butane mini-stoves sold everywhere as an alternative to hot plates. When cooking with gas, either cook outdoors or have LOTS of air ventilation. Never use charcoal indoors. Also be aware that some cities and apartments/condos have regulations restricting the storage of fuel and gas cylinders.
  4. Stock up on easy meals that just require boiling water (which you'll make with your portable stove). We store MRE's and boxes of pasta with canned/jar sauce. Ramon noodles are also convenient.
  5. Store water. We use several 7 gallon containers. Anything larger would be too heavy for us to move.
  6. Have means to purify water. If your water storage runs out or is old you'll need to purify water before use. We keep on hand iodine tablets, water filters, and the stove for boiling.
  7. Have something for light. Flashlights and batteries will run out fast - unless you have a hand crank flashlight. We have a large store of candles (fire risk!), a multi-fuel gas lantern, and a solar powered lantern.

When you consider the emergency supplies we have at home you may be thinking either

  1. we're nuts to have so much stuff
  2. we're rich to have so much stuff

Neither is true. We shop for bargains, keeping an eye out for sales, closeouts, etc. JC Penny's once sold hand crank radios for 70% off just before Christmas. We bought several for ourselves and as gifts to friends.

You don't have to build the ultimate emergency bunker overnight. Each year buy one new item like a portable stove or high-end water filter as a present for yourself and family. Within just a few years you too will be prepared to handle emergencies.


"Some parts of Houston are projected to be without power until early October. Meanwhile the aftermath of Hurricane Ike remains with fallen trees, contaminated water, long food lines, a serious gas shortage, fights at gas stations and total damages that could exceed $18 billion.
More than 300,000 evacuees are in shelters and the Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to pay for some victims whose homes are unlivable to stay in hotels or motels until Oct. 14."

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Preparedness or Hoarding?

"A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff... And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff." - George Carlin
Today I'd like to include a short blog posted on

"People of this great country have been badly misinformed by the mass media about what actually constitutes “hoarding.” By preparing and stockpiling several months in advance, you do not contribute to any shortages. Supply chains are continuously replenished when there is no crisis at hand. So, by buying and storing supplies, food, ammunition, and gas well in advance, you are actually helping to alleviate the short-term supply disruption when disaster hits.
Only the people that buy a disproportionately large supply during a
crisis could be legitimately labeled as “hoarders.” People who prepare well in advance are not part of the problem but are rather part of the solution since by having extra on hand, they can dispense charitably." - Emergency Preparedness

Today's businesses run on a "just-in-time" model. Since it costs money to shelf extra supplies, stores stock only what they need for a normal day and rely on frequent restocking. However the system breaks down when resupply trucks can not deliver the goods due to blocked roads, etc. You saw this after hurricane Ike with gas stations in Tennessee without gas (no supply trucks from refineries along the Gulf Coast). So I completely agree with the blog post above. Stock up during good times and don't try to build a hoard when everyone is desperate for the last gallon of milk at the grocery store.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Which phone to use after a storm?

"In the good ole Houston, USA, in the aftermath of IKE, telephones, Internet and
cable TV were down, and cell phones were unreliable due the spike in traffic. The only means of communication that approached useful levels was SMS messaging
and good ole AM/FM. Sometimes text messages would be delayed for minutes but
they almost always got there. I’m putting my el-cheapo crank-up radio in a pedestal next to my cell phone. They kept us in touch and made us comfortable for 60 hours. And let’s not forget the car charger for our phone. Sure, a generator is great, a car-pluggable DC-AC inverted will do work for small appliances, but a lowly $20 battery charger plugged to your car 12V outlet will power your radios, phones, flashlights, even coffee makers can make the difference between terror and small comfort." - submitted to Instapundit by Fernando Colina
During an emergency, more people are trying to use their phones at the same time. The increased calling volume may create network congestion, leading to “fast busy” signals on your wireless phone or a slow dial tone on your landline phone. If this happens, hang up, wait several seconds and then try the call again. This allows your original call data to clear the network before you try again. Keep non-emergency calls to a minimum, and limit your calls to the most important ones. Chances are many people will be attempting to place calls to loved ones, friends and business associates.

The conventional wisdom is that landlines are better in during natural disaster emergencies. However I'm seeing many personal accounts on blogs that say this isn’t true. Because of the small message size and low bandwidth, SMS’s (texting, blackberrys) were the only lifeline many had to keep in touch with friends and family near New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. If you live outside a city your landlines most likely on power poles which fall over in high winds, snow and earthquakes. During and immediately after Katrina, even with 135 mph winds, the cell phone service stayed up and running in some areas. Power, regular phone service, and cable took over a week to restore because the streets were a giant tangled mess of wires and fallen trees. Same thing during the blackout. Landlines were almost always busy but SMS’s would usually get through.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket. If you can afford it, consider having a landline phone (the kind with a phone cord) and a cell phone with texting. Other options include walki-talkies and ham radios. You must be licensed to use a ham radio but if you did well in science in high school, the exam is not so bad. Now-a-days you won't have to learn Morse code to use ham radios.

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