-by Kent Ballard
I don't like to be called a "survivalist.. To me, that rings of untrained and often poorly educated people who believe that
a machine gun and a scary-looking knife will carry them through any regional or
national disaster. Such people have watched too many Rambo movies, or worse,
silly theatrical accounts of dinosaur-killing asteroids crashing into the
earth. I've studied--and often lived through--widespread disasters where
civilization simply slams to a halt for a matter of hours or days. In many
parts of the world, it's stopped even for months. I never cease to be APPALLED
at the lack of preparation so many of my countrymen bet every day of their
lives on. I don't place that bet, and you shouldn't either. Disaster can occur
anywhere, anytime, and you and your loved ones can find yourselves alone in a
very hostile world in the blink of an eye.
The great earthquake and tsunami in Japan is the greatest devastation that
country has seen since World War II. Nobody predicted it. Nobody saw it coming.
But even now the aftershocks from the disaster are continuing. Both seismic
aftershocks--and economic and psychological aftershocks that will leave an
entire generation of Japanese citizens a changed people forever.
Without question, the best early coverage of the disaster was from the BBC News.
They had continuous updates around the clock and frequent live newscasts that
went all over the world via the Internet, radio, and television. This story
will contain BBC news reports and Twitter feeds from those on the scene on
Saturday, March 12th, the second day of the disaster on the American side of
the International Dateline. All times will be in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
They will be used to illustrate the needs of ordinary people in the days
following a national disaster. Why the SECOND day? Because when the disaster is
ongoing, people simply react to get out of harms way and help those near them.
On the second and following days, they've had time to think. And some will
behave courageously and selflessly, others will be numbed by shock, still
others will panic. And panic is contagious. It can spread like wildfire.
The length of time you will be alone and without any outside help will be
determined by the scale of the disaster. When your car gets stuck in remote
areas in sand or snow, generally someone will come along to help within hours
or even minutes. After a major hurricane passes, don't expect any organized
assistance from the outside for days to weeks. In the event of a "minor" nuclear exchange, help will probably take months or years to arrive--if ever.
With a little effort, and only a modest amount of money--but with a few hours of
education--you can safeguard yourself and your family. Each car in your family
should have a "road emergency bag," keeping emergency supplies in the trunk in case you're caught away from home
when the sky falls in. This includes your children's cars, and all family
members should be trained in the use of the contents. If they don't need them
to save their own lives, they can be used to save others.
What you will need first in any disaster depends on your climate and what just
befell you. In almost every case, your first need will be ordinary drinking
water. This must be the starting point for any preparation you make. Only in
savage winter climates would this come in second to the immediate need for
shelter and only when you or a loved one has been seriously injured does it
come in third.
Let's look at three different contingencies and the three different things you
should have for each--the "road emergency bag," "the family bug-out bag," and "stay-in-place" home storage and how you can make these without taking out a second mortgage.
BBC: 0324 hours: “Michael Tonge, a teacher from Sendai, tweeted the BBC: 'Going to take a few days for things to get better. Still experiencing strong
aftershocks. No trains running so many people stuck and sleeping rough in
freezing conditions as had heavy snow storm just after quake when people
running to go to evacuation points in park.'"
Do you know the average temperature when most people die of exposure? It's
amazing. Most people who die of cold do so when the temperature is 47 degrees
Fahrenheit. They've become lost or trapped, are usually soaked by cold rain,
and find themselves without even a jacket or good sweater. The body sheds its
heat rapidly when wet, and without proper clothing or shelter you can die at
surprisingly high temperatures. If it's windy, you'll die sooner. Before you
do, you will lose the ability to move to shelter and eventually fall into a
drunk-like state where you even stop trying.
Shoestring budget solution: Go to a second-hand store (Goodwill, Salvation Army,
etc.) and buy a warm, hooded coat that's a size or two larger than what you
normally wear. This will allow you to put on any other clothing you might have
under it for extra insulation. Never mind the color or style. If you ever need
it, those will be the least of your worries. A pair of warm work gloves would
be handy to stuff in the pockets, too. The store will have cleaned the jacket.
You personally should waterproof it to turn away mist, rain, and sleet by
spraying it with any of a number of waterproofing products available at grocery
and department stores. The best I've found is a spray that waterproofs shoes.
It soaks into the cloth, smells terrible for a day or two, but will repel water
wonderfully. Hang it somewhere to let it dry and for the nasty smell to die.
Set it aside while making the rest of your kit.
BBC: 1207 hours: Voice of America's Steve Herman tweets: "In Fukushima-ken. We have 3g mobile sig but no interent access. Most places
have no water..."
BBC: 1355 hours: "At least 1.4 million homes are without water following the quake, according to
government officials. 59 water trucks have been sent to the worst-hit areas.
Some 3 million are without power and utility companies say it will take some
time to restore supplies."
BBC: 1446 hours: "In Fukushima residents are lining up in town centers to collect drinking water
as helicopters airlift the injured to hospital, Reuters reports."
But this was the center of a high-population area. If you live in the suburbs,
or worse, on a farm, how many water trucks do you honestly expect to be
dispatched to you? And what if the roads are choked with debris or scoured off
the face of the earth altogether?
You could buy several cases of bottled water. But be smarter than that. Bottled
water costs too much. I consider it one of the biggest rip-offs to the consumer
today. Despite the sparkling scene of a wilderness waterfall or arctic glacier
on the bottle, the fact is most bottled water is simply city tap water, bottled
in a factory, and given someone's idea of a refreshing label. Then they slap an
utterly ridiculous pirate price on it. People buy millions of bottles every
year. Save your money and make your own.
Interestingly, it is possible to sterilize plastic water and soft drink bottles.
Use your own if you have any, but feel safe in collecting from others too. Ask
your friends to set them aside for you. Sterilize the bottles by rinsing them
thoroughly several times. Then fill the bottle to one-third with a mixture of
water and UNSCENTED bleach, about 30% bleach, the rest plain old tap water.
(Scented bleach has nasty chemicals you don't want to ingest.) Cap it tightly and shake the daylights out of it for a minute or so. Wash the
outside in warm, soapy water with a little bleach in it too. Make sure to wash
the caps as well. Rinse very well in clean water and set aside upside down on a
towel to dry.
You can make two kinds. One for vacations, daily use, or road trips. Simply
sterilize any one liter or two liter bottle and put it under your faucet, fill,
and cap it tightly. If you're going camping or on a road trip, freeze the
bottles for double-duty in your food cooler. And keep those extra dollars in
your pocket. But we're talking survival situations here, and that type of water
storage is different.
You want a biologically-protected water. This water will be stored for very long
periods of time, perhaps years. You'll need sterile containers and you will
need to prepare the water to be microbe-free. Here's the way I do it, and it's
economical. In the long run, it's even safer than commercially-bottled water.
Keep your two liter soft drink bottles after they're sterilized in a clean,
unused plastic garbage sack. And don't let the word "garbage" disturb you. New plastic sacks are sterile when opened. When the sack is full,
clean off a spot on your counter and get to work.
I use two-liter soft drink bottles. When I set up my "assembly line" I have the empties on one side of the sink, the full ones on the other, and
periodically haul bottles in and out so things don't become too crowded. Take a
sterilized bottle and fill it half full of tap water, then using an eyedropper
(available at any drugstore), put exactly four drops of unscented bleach into
the water bottle. Then fill up the bottle from the tap, using the water to mix
the bleach in, then crank that lid on tightly. If you wish, you can label the
bottle with the date on which you bottled it. What you should have when
finished is a bottle of water that smells slightly like pool water. The
chlorine in the bleach will kill microbes, and you MUST store the full, clear
plastic bottles away from sunlight. Mine are in my basement, but the floor of
any closet would work just as well. During our power outage after a tornado
whipped through my area in 2004, my wife and I drank water that we had bottled
in 2000, four years earlier. And I gave away several gallons to neighbors until
our power--and water pumps--came online again four days later. You can
eliminate most of the chlorine smell by pouring the water back and forth
between two containers, or simply pouring a pan full of it and allowing it to
"air" for a couple of hours. It'll still be fresh and safe, provided you don't drop
anything in it.
And now that you know how to do that, it's imperative that you make and store a
seemingly RIDICULOUS amount of treated water. Many, many bottles of it. Under normal conditions, one adult will
consume a gallon a day. That's two two-liter bottles right there. You should
consider adding a third for minimal washing and hygiene, and to wash a dish or
two daily. You don't want to use mud puddle water for that. It must be clean
too. And believe me, for home storage, for your family, you can never have too
much clean water. Never. Figure how many people you need to provide for and how
long you want to provide them with water. Do the math, then make about half
again more bottles than you think you will need. You'll find uses for them.
If push came to shove, yes, you could collect buckets of rainwater or take them
out of a river, lake, or pond and strain them through several layers of clean
cloth, then boil them. If you do, add two drops of iodine or four of bleach to
kill the few microbes that even boiling won't kill. In a widespread, major
disaster you could use debris from buildings for your fire. But--what if your
outside water supply is polluted with chemicals? Boiling and straining will not
remove these. And what if it's not exactly safe to be outside for long periods
in your area? (Mobs, gangs, looters, fallout, etc.) Wouldn't it be much wiser
to prepare beforehand and stay in your dwelling?
If sheer logic doesn't convince you to do this, how about something much darker?
BBC: 1257 hours: "Peter Old, of search-and-rescue society RapidUK, told the BBC's World Service
that while most people think of tsunamis as made of water, by the time the wave
reaches inland, it is more like a mudslide. 'Those people that would have been
on the ground are likely not to have survived, ' he said,"
You've seen the films. They would have been ground into hamburger. Dead bodies
and parts of dead bodies, both human and animal, rapidly begin to decay. Any
that are mingled with any water supply or hordes of insects will result in some
of the worst of mankind's old killers, cholera, typhus--including typhoid
fever--and dysentery. Modern chemistry and hygienic procedures save us from
them, but they're still out there, still as deadly as they were centuries ago.
You can even become infected by dipping a cut hand into soiled water, or
searching through debris and picking up contaminated objects. And if you do,
you'd better pray there's an operating, well-staffed hospital you can somehow make your way to, one with multiple
antibiotics still in their stocks. Without that, your death will be slow,
degrading, and agonizing. Think it over, then start saving those pop bottles...
BBC: 1151 hours: "Damian Grammaticas has just arrived in Sendai. He says there are truly
astonishing scenes of devastation at the harbor, there are shipping containers
that have been swept inland and smashed against buildings and trees and rubble
strewn across the streets."
BBC: 1157 hours: "More from Damian Grammaticas in Sendai. "The streets are covered in mud that
was swept inland. There are dozens and dozens of cars that were carried along,
twisted and turned and crushed by the wave. The gas and water have been cut
off, fires burning are close to the seaside, and locals say hundreds of people
died in this area."
No roads. They were obliterated in many areas by the tsunami and in others by
the earthquake. This would be a very bad time to realize you were low on
groceries and had to make a run to the store.
BBC: 1609 hours: "The BBC's Rachel Harvey in Sendai: It is a very patchy picture--in the center
of the city there is power, traffic on the streets, but the shops are mostly
closed and the place feels eerily quiet. If you drive out of the center, there
are areas in complete darkness. There are huge queues at every petrol station
that is operating. I spoke to one man who said he had been in that queue for
five hours. Now the station is rationing fuel to 20 liters per vehicle."
You can freeze to death in minutes. To die of thirst takes about three days for
the average adult. Healthy adults can go six, perhaps up to eight weeks without
food. But what about your infant? What about your three year old daughter or
pregnant wife? What about those with special dietary needs? You need food, but
all about you is devastation. No stores are open. Perhaps they no longer even
exist. And you have no way of getting to a store outside the emergency area. No
fuel, and no roads even if your vehicle is still operating. No electrical
power, land lines are severed, and cell phone towers have collapsed everywhere.
You're on your own...and getting hungry.
That is no time to start thinking about the unthinkable. The time for that is
now, when you can do something about it.
What we've done when we had a little extra money is go to a stock up-type store
and simply buy cases of canned goods; vegetables, canned meats, powdered milk,
non-refrigerated packaged meals. Sometimes just a case of corn or peas a week.
Sometimes half a truckload. We stuff the cases under our beds. And don't think
merely of food. Feminine products may be needed in your household. Powdered
baby formula. Toilet paper. Paper or plastic dishes and bowls to save water for
cleanup. Batteries--and lots of them. Garbage bags, which have scores of uses.
Salt and pepper, plus other spices to make drab meals more tasteful.
But you can't carry all that in a "road bag." So you go to the basics. Let's make our road emergency bag now. For a permanent
addition to your car's trunk you need some type of container. You can go fancy
and buy a nice, heavy nylon zippered bag with suitcase handles and a shoulder
strap, one of those kinds that have a dozen separate zippable pockets. Or you
could be smart and buy something that would not be as noticeable in a crowd of
panicked people if you find yourself afoot. Who would steal a diaper bag? Or an
old suitcase? Or a gym bag? Cut a length of rope to tie through the handles and
you have a shoulder strap. You'll also look like a bum, but in some situations
that's desirable. People fleeing on foot from a disaster area won't be as
prepared as you, and panic is a dangerous thing. If they think you have food,
water, a first aid kit, and other essentials they might decide they need it
worse than you do. But who--even if panicked and dangerous--would try to take
an old faded diaper bag?
Inside you should have four two-liter bottles of treated water. This will be
heavy, so make sure you rig up a shoulder strap. For food, a human being can
live a LONG time on peanut butter and crackers. Peanut butter contains as much
protein as meat and you'll get your carbs from the crackers. Don't buy the
pre-made kind. Simply toss in a small jar of peanut butter and fill a few old
Pringles cans with round crackers to keep them from being crushed to powder.
Candy that will not melt in a hot car trunk is good too. The sugar will give
you needed energy and calories. Folks with peanut allergies can substitute
canned meat products or cans of tuna--all high protein.
You should have a city and state map folded up in the kit. A compass. Two
flashlights and extra batteries. A home-made first aid kit in some kind of
waterproof container. Don't go out and buy any pre-made kit. They're
overpriced, bulky, and don't contain everything you might need. My personal
first aid kits are made from military surplus .30 caliber ammunition boxes.
They're practically indestructible and can hold a surprising amount of gear.
Mine are painted gloss white with a bright red cross on each side, but you
don't have to do that unless you want to. And they'll fit into a gym bag or
diaper bag, anything of that size.
You know those dandy bandages that feel like gauze but sticks to itself? Sure,
you can buy them in drug stores, but if you go to any farm supply store where
they sell odds and ends for livestock and horses, you can buy even wider rolls,
with more feet of bandage per roll, and get them a LOT cheaper. They're still
sterile, and if you want you can even get them in different colors. I used to
keep a whole bottle of hydrogen peroxide in my first aid kit--until the first
winter came. Then the peroxide froze solid and burst the container inside my
kit, ruining everything. Instead of hydrogen peroxide, go to a drug store and
buy the house brand of
"antiseptic wound wash." They won't freeze. I know, because before I remade my kit I bought a bottle and
tested it. Several days in the freezer and it didn't become solid. Or, you
could simply buy a bottle of Listerine brand mouthwash, the slightly
rusty-colored kind that's the original type. Have you ever read a bottle of
Listerine? It says you can use it as mouthwash, of course, but the first word
under the big brand name is "Antiseptic." Cuts, puncture wounds, scrapes, anything that needs washed out, wash it with
Listerine. I don't own any stock in their company and no one paid me to say
this. But Listerine is an extremely powerful antiseptic and if you're wounded
and the local hospital is rubble, it can save your life. The rest of the items
in your first aid kit are common-sense things, Don't forget a good pair of
scissors and tweezers.
Four or five road flares should be in your car's survival bag. These can be used
for signaling, light, warning others of danger ahead, but I think the greatest
use for them is starting fires. I once started a campfire in a driving rain
with a road flare just because a guy told me it was impossible. I knew better,
and proved it. There was no dry tinder anywhere. It had rained in our camp all
night and was raining buckets the next morning. Sitting in the tent, I jokingly
said we should start a fire to have something warm to eat. One thing led to
another, and just to show my scoffing friend I dug around in my pack, grabbed a
road flare, and went out into the downpour as my buddy peeked through the tent
door, laughing at my foolishness. In twenty seconds I was soaked to the skin.
But I gathered tiny twigs and once-dry weed stems, all of them dripping with
water, and made a nice pile of them. Then I got larger twigs, broke them off to
the length I wanted, and made a second pile. Finally I gathered larger branches
of proper firewood size. I got all the little stuff piled on the bottom, then
placed the next-larger pile atop it. Then I popped the cap off the flare, lit
it, and jammed it up under the tiny stuff. Flares are made of magnesium. The
lighted tip of one burns at 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit--hotter than kerosene,
hotter even than gasoline. The tremendous heat dried then ignited the kindling,
and as the flame grew I patiently added more small sticks, then larger ones.
Eventually the fire became self-sustaining and began to make hot coals. By
constantly and carefully feeding the fire, in ten or fifteen minutes I had a
respectable campfire going in a hard rain. If you slide off a mountain road in
the winter, or get lost hiking in chilly weather, knowing that could save your
In my little adventure, it won me a case of beer and some serious bragging
There are several types of flashlights on the market now, and available through
the Internet, that do not require batteries. Put a regular flashlight (and an
extra set of batteries) in your glove box and one of these others in your car's
survival bag. If you must abandon your vehicle, take both. Ground cloths and
plastic tarps are reasonably cheap and flatter than a book when still in the
package. Put two in your car's kit, along with a couple of those silvery Mylar "survival blankets." Remember, if you need to use them, turn the most shiny side inwards towards your
body. It'll reflect your body's own heat back to it. Not as good as a heavy
sleeping bag, but much lighter. For those in winter climes, I'd suggest
spending some money and carrying a good brand-name sleeping bag in your trunk
that's rated to zero degrees or even colder. Never lay on the bare ground if
you're trying to sleep. Put a waterproof ground cloth or tarp under you. The
difference it makes in keeping your body warm is amazing. Also, if you'll toss
in a few yards of clothesline, light rope, or even heavy nylon string you can
make one tarp into a ground cover AND a lean-to, giving you some protection
from the elements. A couple extra pairs of warm socks is a good idea for your
kit, too, as well as some sensible walking shoes. Boots are better still. Also
add a small box or package of tissues, which can be used for anything from
cleaning rain off your glasses to toilet paper.
In severe winter weather, NEVER abandon your car unless it's absolutely
necessary to do so. It might be stuck, it might be out of gas, but it's the
best shelter you have. Hunker down, bundle up, and wait for help. Setting out
afoot in a driving blizzard has killed many a professional explorer. And you're
probably not one of them. Instead, tie a brightly-colored cloth or tape a
chemical light stick to your car antenna. This will draw attention to any
snowplows or rescue services coming through.
Remember, in any widespread emergency one of the first things you'll lose is the
electrical grid. That also means power to cell phone towers. Your whiz-bang 4G
cell phone that will do anything except make breakfast will be useless dead
weight as soon as cell coverage drops out. Even to this day, many people keep a
roll of quarters in their car survival bag. The pay phone isn't completely dead
yet, and you may stumble across one that still works. They operate on a
different power system and it might have survived. Also carry a small
transistor radio that will pick up National Weather Service broadcasts. Even
better, buy one that's a genuine survival radio, one which is powered by a hand
crank. These too are available in stores and on the Internet. Many people don't
know this, but the National Weather Service Radio System--in times of
widespread emergency--will also become a news service, giving rapid updates on
whatever situation that has befallen your area, places to go for emergency
shelters, gathering points for refugee pickups and other important information.
And in most cases, you will hear these reports the same instant the local
authorities hear them.
Families are told to decide on certain meeting areas in case "home" isn't there anymore. This is a good idea, but you might be far away from your
secondary meeting point. Or bridges you need to cross may have fallen. The car
bag is designed to keep you going for two days, more if you stretch it. If you
normally drive with more than one person aboard, make two car emergency bags,
at least that contain water, food, and other personal necessities. (No real
need to carry two radios, for example--unless you break one.) And remember,
when looking for economical, rugged, and extremely tough gear, an Army surplus
store is your best friend. You can usually buy the
"P-38" can openers there for fifty cents or so, among with many other handy items. Buy
several and put them in all your survival gear. You can even put them on your
key ring. They're tiny, but will open any tin can regardless of size.
You can add, alter, and modify your car bag to meet your personal needs. The
important thing is to have more on hand in the event of an emergency than an
empty hamburger sack and some old gum wrappers in your car. Something you've
given thought to. Something you have seriously considered. Something you will
This goes too for the family-sized "bug-out bag," a larger and better equipped version of your car survival bag. Forest fires,
floods, large dams breaking, and a host of other disasters can force you to
flee your home on a moment's notice. Do you live downwind of a large factory
that stores toxic chemicals? Is there a nuclear power plant in your vicinity?
Until it was recently decommissioned, I lived about 25 miles from the U.S.
Army's Newport Chemical Depot. Many years ago the United States decided to
eliminate all nerve gas bombs, artillery shells, and all manner of hideous
chemical weapons from its arsenal. There were no more toxic substances on the
planet. You could survive a brief brush with plutonium or uranium, but VX nerve
gas would kill you in seconds. All of America's nerve gas stockpiles were
destroyed at the Newport, Indiana facility and it took them decades to do it.
Periodically we'd get a pleasant, colorful pamphlet in the mail reminding us
that we were in death's path if there was any leak or accident at that plant.
They had pretty pictures and drawings and were designed to keep you aware
without scaring you silly. But everyone around knew that if an F-5 tornado
would hit the place, probably every living thing in the western third of
Indiana would die. That's why we have two military surplus gas masks in our
closet now. Interesting conversation pieces...
In short, there is nowhere we can call completely safe. Not your huge cities,
not my beloved forest. You can die in any environment.
In any such emergency, having your "bug-out bag" well thought out, assembled, and stored where you can grab it in an instant is
imperative. You probably won't have time to grab this and that and worry about
Grandma's quilt or your CD collection. Your life in such an emergency depends
on your preparation--and sheer speed in evacuating your home.
You'll take your car. If you own a pickup truck, take that. Anything that is
four wheel drive or all wheel drive is preferable over anything that's not.
During this time, neatness does not count. You'll shovel your spouse and kids
in on top of your family survival kit and, if wise, stick to the back streets
and roads. How you will save that desperately needed time is by
preparing--NOW--for any worst-case scenario. Again, you'll need water, water,
and more water. You'll need pre-packed containers of rough-wear clothing for
everyone in the family and a couple of bags of disposable diapers for while
you're on the run if you have an infant. After that, you'll switch to
rewashable cloth diapers until outside civilization can fight its way back into
your area. You'll want to have very warm but inexpensive blankets (Army surplus
stores carry them from all over the world.) Sleeping bags are better, and both
are the best. You'll need food. Remember the K.I.S.S. rule here--keep it
simple, stupid. In pre-packed bags, all stored in the same place, you'll want
heavy canvas or nylon bags full of prepared bottled water, peanut butter,
crackers, baby formula, hard candy, maps, toilet paper, compass, powdered milk,
and all prescription medications your family takes. All of them, every pill in
your house. Anything that you cannot pack away, ready to grab, toss, and run
with in a moment's notice should be written on a list and that list should be
safety-pinned to the top bag in your gear. And an empty bag should be next to
it so you can sweep the contents of your medicine cabinet into it without
Wise people will talk this over repeatedly with the whole family. Wiser people
will even make annual drills in loading the vehicle. Speaking of vehicles, we
all need to stop for gas now and then. You may not have that opportunity when
sirens go off and every TV and radio station is screaming at you to get the
hell out of Dodge immediately. It's pretty pointless to go to all this trouble
and preparation only to pull out onto the street and realize your gas gauge is
sitting on empty. Since we need to buy gasoline anyway, and since it's
dangerous to store except in specialized containers, store it in the one that
came with your car. Every time your vehicle reaches 3/4 of a tank, stop and
fill it back up. You'll have to buy it sooner or later anyway in routine daily
driving. Why not buy it and keep it in the car, topping the tank off frequently
instead of always driving home on fumes? Remember, no electrical power means no
pumps will operate at the gas stations. It won't be available at any price, and
the station owner will probably be gone anyway, the doors locked, the place
shut down. I know, I know, it goes against the grain of Americans to think they
cannot buy gasoline whenever they want to, despite the awful cost. I'm the same
way. But use logic here. Where else would be a better place to store gas than
the very place you will need it? Keep your tank full. It costs no more in the
Keep a road atlas in every car, and teach everyone in your family who can read
how to use a map. Your nice little talking GPS unit might not be broadcasting.
Listen to the radio for advice where to head. If they don't offer any yet,
listen for where the greatest danger is and move away from it. Calculate how
far your loaded car will go on the gasoline you have in the tank at that time.
And remember, you and your family are human. You're susceptible to panic. Fight
this at all costs. Panic is contagious--but so is courage. Keep your voice
moderate. Don't scream at the kids. They'll be scared enough as it is. If your
spouse shows signs of becoming irrationally frightened, calm him or her using
your normal voice, perhaps even touching them on the arm or shoulder. For every
family that evacuates an area, the ones most likely NOT to make it are the ones
who will panic. You may not FEEL courageous, but if you pretend to be, others
will find strength from that. And eventually so will you.
Have at least three possible destinations in mind, places where you believe you
will be safe. Friends and family come to mind here. If none are within range,
or if those areas are in danger too, consider a state park. If push comes to
shove, you can hang your hat at a roadside rest stop or large truck stop for at
least a few days, as long as it's out of the danger area. And while you're
driving, keep in mind that local, state, and federal agencies are already
formulating plans--or already have them in place--that will do their best to
feed and shelter as many as possible. Keep that radio tuned on. The
disaster--whatever it is--will be changing constantly as new information comes in. Things might not be as bad as were originally thought.
It's possible you could even return home in a day or two. The better informed
you are, the less you will worry. Solid information is a panic-killer.
This brings us to what is known as "shelter in place." Perhaps the emergency is of such a nature that the safest place is inside your
own home, and fleeing would be the worst thing you could do. If possible, it's
the best choice. You'll be in familiar surroundings and therefore more calm.
You'll have all those cases of food under your beds and jugs of water and be
able to ride out the storm where your family will be most at ease.
You'll still need a few specialized things. Assume no water comes from the taps.
That means you can't flush toilets either. Pretty soon you'll have to dig a
latrine somewhere, preferably out of sight and smell. You could buy one of
those camper chemical toilets, but they only last so long before needing to be
emptied. If all else fails, place a heavy-duty garbage bag under your toilet
seat and carry out the waste. You don't want that in your home, especially in a
hot climate. If you have no oil lamps, buy a few and several bottles of lamp
oil. They're decorative in normal circumstances and irreplaceable when the
power goes out. If you need to heat your home, close off all non-living spaces
and camp out in one or two rooms. Consider the wide variety of kerosene heaters
available. Kerosene isn't nearly as dangerous to store as gasoline. Kerosene
also burns nicely in lamps. If you're a camper, you're aware of the several
tent heaters that operate off of small one-pound bottles of propane, and that
adapters for twenty pound tanks are easily available. I've heard of families
huddled together in the same room for two or three days with mere candles for
light and heat. They were chilly and uncomfortable, but they came through it
with all flags flying. You'll also need some way to cook food. There are scores
of different kinds of camping stoves. Personally, I have a Coleman Dual-Fuel
two burner gas stove that folds up to the size of a briefcase.The nice thing is
that it will run on Coleman fuel (white gas) or regular unleaded gasoline. But
in a pinch, don't forget the tiny backpacker's Sterno stoves and the cans of
jellied fuel that burn in them. They're economical, take up very little space,
and can heat a can of beef stew as nicely as a three thousand dollar kitchen
Any natural disaster can kill you. So can falling off a ladder or slipping on a
banana peel. But there are unnatural disasters which can be deadly too.
Remember, for over a decade I had many tons of the most wicked nerve gas on
earth as an unwelcome neighbor. And there are other unnatural disasters too.
BBC: 0023 hours: "People living within a 3km (two-mile) radius of the Fukushima-Daini nuclear
plant are told to evacuate, the AFP news agency reports."
BBC: 0914 hours: "Japanese authorities have extended the evacuation area at the Fukushima-Daini
BBC: 1023 hours: "Japanese authorities are extending the evacuation zone around the two Fukushima
nuclear plants from10km to 20 km, according to local media."
BBC: 1427 hours: "More than 300,000 people have now been evacuated from homes in northern Japan
and that number will rise as the government increases the exclusion zone around
the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Kyodo reports."
This article is not a debate about the pros and cons of nuclear power plants.
The timeline above simply shows that if things go wrong at them, they can go
from bad to worse to terrifying in very short order. When I read that Japanese
nuclear agencies were telling some people to stay in their homes and not go
outside or attempt to evacuate, I knew it could only mean one thing. Some of
the smoke in those ventings and explosions carried radioactive particles. In
other words, fallout.
In another article about surviving different kinds of disasters, one author
said, "If you're prepared up to and including the point of nuclear war, you're as
prepared as you're going to get."
Do you remember what I said about educating yourself on survival? In the case of
nuclear fallout, be it from a power plant coolant failure or a terrorist "dirty" bomb, if you're an American you damned well better educate yourself about it
because no one else will. I began reading about it almost fifty years ago, and
no two books or articles seemed to be saying the same thing. Part of that was
Cold War hysteria, part of it was sensationalist writers, part was pro or anti
nuclear propaganda, and part was because even the people who built nuclear
weapons didn't know themselves. But while the United States gave little more
than lip service to
"civil defense" for a few years, and then dropped even that pretense, the Soviet Union was
spending billions of rubles on seeing that their population was as educated as
possible and they built massive, well-stocked shelters across their nation.
They often seemed to be less assured than we were about "mutually assured destruction."
Finally someone on our side actually had an attack of common sense and
commissioned a team to learn what--if anything--the average American could do
to protect themselves in the event of a "nuclear exchange." It was led by Cresson H. Kearny, a scientist with the Oak Ridge National
Laboratory. They published his findings in 1979 (updated in 1987) in a book
titled "Nuclear War Survival Skills." You can buy hard copies of this book at many sites on the Internet, but also the
book can be found--in full--online at http://www.oism.org/nwss/
If you never read anything else this month, go online and read Chapter One of
that book, "The Dangers From Nuclear Weapons: Myths and Facts."
What is says, pretty much, is that everything you know is wrong.
I'll leave it at that. Any attempt at even a brief outline would run far too
long for this article, and probably confuse you to the point where you'd throw
this entire paper away. Let's just say there are things we have been grossly
uneducated about almost to the point of criminality. You'll see no TV specials
about this. It won't be bantered about on talk shows or radio programs. You can
only learn this by seeking out the information and educating yourself.
In any event, the release of even small amounts of radioactive material into the
atmosphere is considered a major disaster. And like other disasters, there are
steps the average person can take to protect themselves. I can only plead with
you to read this and learn them. For example, you could sit in your front yard
and allow the fallout to pelt down on you, or you could go in the house. The
difference that alone makes in your chances of survival are simply staggering!
But no one ever taught us that. No one underrates the dangers of a nuclear
accident or considers it a minor affair. But to go beyond the scope of this
article, which is making basic survival kits to see you through several days of
natural disaster, you'll have to earn it. You'll actually have to be willing to
learn. It can be done, but how many will do it?
As for survival kits, any good bookstore--plus scores of websites--will have
much more detailed information. Your life is worth learning how to protect. No
one article can cover everything. Do you live in desert country? Are deep snows
common in your area? Is most of your driving rural or urban? Do you live in
areas prone to flash floods? Think about where you do most of your driving, and
give serious consideration to what you would need to survive in that
environment for a couple of days. You could carry all this around for years and
never need it. If so, consider yourself blessed. You've led a lucky life. Or
you could need it tomorrow morning--and need it desperately.
I've never needed so much as a little self-adhesive bandage strip from my
personal first aid kit. But six years ago when I came upon a car that had
flipped over on its roof in a very rural area, I used that kit to make a
difference for the occupants. Okay, so maybe you won't save your own life. But
other people's lives are important too, and when you least expect it you may be
called upon to save someone else. Do it. It'll make you feel good later.