Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Write & Bright Survival Kit Tip

You probably know how to use every item in your survival kit, but what if you are injured in an emergency?

Would family members know how much tincture of iodine to add to a quart of water to purify it? Would a friend know to scrape shavings from the magnesium block to start a fire? Being dehydrated, very cold or simply in a very stressful situation will make the human brain foggy. Anyone can become confused.

Some survival experts like Cody Lundin recommend putting bright duct tape on pieces in your survival kit. More visibility means less chance of getting lost or left behind when you move on. This habit also provides a place to write simple instructions using a permanent marker. Figure out the shortest way to write instructions anyone can understand and critical items in your emergency kit are instantly improved.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Take a Hike...More Safely

You’re camping, perhaps in an RV, and you want to explore your surroundings. Don't forget to take a few safety precautions even when you're just taking a “short” hike. Boondockers especially should prepare for their own safety, since the likelihood of fellow hikers on the same trail is less.

If you were planning to camp overnight or take a day-long long hike, you’d carry a number of items for survival and comfort. But the truth is any hike could turn into an overnighter due to a series of unfortunate events (getting lost, sprained ankle, unexpected weather making a trail dangerous). You’re not going to take a fully loaded backpack on every walk in the woods, of course, so what items are the most essential to carry?

First: tools to help you get home if you literally get lost admiring the scenery. A GPS or smartphone app is the high-tech solution, provided you have marked your camp location before setting out and have the electronic device with you (along with enough battery life or extra battery).

To go old-school or as a backup, a simple button compass (liquid filled) will steer you in the right direction if you’ve taken time to learn the basics and you know the general direction of your camp. The simplest tool is your own awareness: take note of recognizable features that can be seen from a distance all along the way, especially if you make a turn. To keep from accidentally veering off course little by little, find a distant landmark straight ahead when you set off and keep it constantly straight ahead.

If you suddenly find yourself turned around and you’ve taken photos with a digital camera, go back through the photos to see if you can find your previous position for each successive photo.

Next, always carry a very loud plastic whistle. You want an extremely loud compact emergency whistle that is not metal and doesn’t have a “pea” (those can be a problem in freezing weather). A whistle can be heard much farther than the human voice, and it never gets a raw throat. To summon help more effectively, it’s good to know standard signals. One whistle means “Where are you?” (If you’re hoping for a whistle back from a hiking companion). Two blows mean “Come to me; this direction.” Three whistles in a series means “I need help.” (Three of anything is the international symbol for “Help!”)

A small but powerful flashlight is, in my opinion, the third essential for every hike. It may help you get home after the sun goes down, preventing the need to spend a night out.

If you have a tendency to wander off course when walking or there is no distant marker in the landscape, consider taking a good length of a neon-colored “flagging tape” in your emergency kit. Tie these non-adhesive plastic strips onto branches or slip an end under a secure rock. On the way home, collect the pieces you’ve used to mark your path.

These items are all small enough to fit in a mint tin for your pocket or small belt pouch, so there is really no excuse not to take them with you every time you walk away from camp. The mini LED light, the whistle and even some tiny compasses can go on your key chain. Survival experts insist a knife is also necessary, so consider at least a small pocket knife or multi-tool on your keychain as well.

Now, imagine you are stuck a few miles from your RV without the ability to get home. What additional items can you easily carry on every walk that may help you survive or be more comfortable until morning?

Your most immediate need will be shelter from wind, rain, cold or heat/sun. Wearing appropriate clothing when you leave camp is your first line of “shelter.” For mini emergency kits, the most often-used shelter is a mylar sheet sometimes called a space blanket. These are better than having nothing to fend off hot sun or rain, but they are very cheap for a reason.

If you choose to wear something like a fanny pack, or if you have a decent-sized cargo pocket, you would be much happier with an emergency blanket such as those in the SOL line made by American Medical Kits (AMK). These bright orange “heat sheets” even have survival tips printed on one side (and the color helps others find you). Or, take along a 55-gallon trash bag or contractor bag that is at least 3 mil thick (4 mil is even better). Do an online search for “garbage bag shelter” to view the best ways to deploy your “shelter” in various locations and conditions. Here is a link to a very good explanation in a video produced by Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

A fire will not only keep you warmer but also make you feel safer overnight. It may serve as a signal if someone is searching for you after dark. For these reasons, carry a lighter: one that is NOT childproof but is translucent. Childproof lighters can be difficult to operate if your fingers are cold or shaking because you are freaked out about your situation. A translucent reservoir allows you to keep tabs on the amount of fuel so you can replace your lighter when needed.

A fire will also be necessary if you are in the wild long enough that you must find and purify (boil) water. Hopefully you are prudent enough to carry a bottle of water, but you’ll need more than a liter or two in very short order. You can only last about three days without water (but most can survive a week or two without food). To be able to boil found water, many experts recommend carrying a stainless steel or aluminum water bottle. But in the desert, a metal bottle can get quite hot to carry and use. Consider taking along a metal cup or even a clean small food can if you decide to carry your water in a plastic bottle. If you are using the famous “Altoids tin” for your kit, you can boil water in it, but you’d need to do that over and over to get enough to drink.

Most long-distance hikers insist on redundancy for crucial survival items. They would tell you to also carry a flint and steel or a magnesium stick and striker. Cotton balls well coated with petroleum jelly and kept in folded foil or a small prescription bottle are superb “tinder” to get your fire going from a shower of sparks. However, if this begins to feel too cumbersome, it’s better to keep a simple kit that is always with you instead of a better kit you never take.

Along with the bright colors of your emergency blanket (or contractor bag) and your flagging tape, a signal mirror can help rescuers find you if you are immobile. It is a small rectangular mirror with a sighting hole. If you carry one, know how to use it properly. (Your metal bottle or cup can also be used to reflect the sun in a pinch.)

For comfort, consider adding a few bandages and insect repellant wipes to your tiny kit. Finally, make yourself a small roll of duct tape, or wrap some around your water bottle or other items. It can cover a blister to make walking possible, repair a rip in your emergency blanket and do so much more.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What’s Waiting in Your Safe Place? 3 Actions for a Severe Weather Watch

A severe weather watch issued in your area is your signal to take 3 actions before a severe weather warning is issued.

1. Make sure your weather alert device is on and has working batteries (and a fresh set nearby). Of course, this should be checked regularly during your region’s storm season, but a double-check when a “watch” is issued is important. Have one warning device ready to take with you to your home’s “safe place” – the space in your home where you go with your family once a warning is issued.

2. Everyone in the home should wear a flashlight, whistle and shoes. Wearing shoes or having them immediately accessible can help avoid injuries from broken glass or other debris after an event. An around-the-neck lanyard or a pouch for clipping to clothing will keep a small flashlight and loud whistle handy for children. Not only is the light important for getting to your home’s safe place if your electricity goes out, but a light and whistle can aid in rescue if someone becomes trapped beneath debris.

3. If not already there, your emergency “go bag” or 72-hour kit(s) should be taken to your safe place. Ditto for your purse and/or wallet and vehicle keys.

  • Your go-bag, also sometimes called a 72-hour kit, should contain things such as copies of important papers in a waterproof pouch, nonperishable snacks, survival supplies, etc. Several good lists for 72-hour kits are available online, but make sure to modify the kit for your own family. The paperwork is important in case your originals are damaged or missing after a storm. You may need the info for insurance claims, medical care, etc.

  • If you do not have extra supplies waiting in your safe location, at a minimum take some bottled water, blankets and pillows when a watch is issued. A warning may last only minutes, but it could also last for hours. Also have your purse, wallet and keys.

Make these preparations during a watch, so you’ll be ready to take shelter immediately if a warning is issued.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bedside Preps: Read Before Sleeping

Your nightstand – it’s one emergency preparedness location often neglected even though it is among the most likely to be used.

Consider this scenario: Your smoke detector screeches at 3 a.m. You check your bedroom door handle for heat. It isn’t hot, so you cover your nose and mouth as you head toward the front door where your evacuation kit (72-hour kit or “go bag”) waits in the closet. But thick smoke blocks your exit through the front door, and you have to feel for the walls as you run for the back door.

Safe outside, you want to call 911, but you always leave your cell phone charging on the entry table. A neighbor runs out to say he has called for the fire department, and only then do you catch your breath and realize you are standing outside barefoot with one foot bleeding. Your car is in the drive, and you’d love to hop in and move it away from the house while there is still time. But your keys are on that same entryway table.

Now, consider if the same thing happened and you had an infant to rescue before you felt your way to the back door. You would be standing barefoot outside holding your child with no extra blanket and no way to move your car and use it as shelter while you wait for the fire truck. 

You get the picture. If you cannot get to your “go-bag,” you may be left with no supplies for your most immediate needs. Here are suggestions for what to keep immediately at hand in case of emergency -- consider having at least the first 3 at your bedside tonight!

1. A pair of slip-on, sturdy-soled shoes.

2. A flashlight and a light stick (because you do not want to turn on a flashlight if you smell gas).

3. A spare car key, perhaps on a keychain with a mini-LED flashlight to take care of item #1. The key should hang from something with enough substance to grab onto easily in the dark. If you can get into your car, you will have shelter, transportation, and your car’s emergency kit (you do have one, right?).

(Side Note: Depending on how far your bed is from your vehicle, you may want to get in the habit of keeping your main key fob at your bedside. Test to see if the “panic button” on your key fob will set off your car’s alarm from your bedroom. If you ever wake to sounds of an intruder, you can press the panic button to attract attention and perhaps scare off the criminal.)

4. Purse or wallet and “everyday carry” kit. Your wallet contains your most-used ID plus financial resources. Doesn’t it make sense to have it within grabbing distance if you must run from your home during the night?

5. A cell phone such as an older phone still capable of dialing 911. Or make it a habit to charge your current cell phone on your night table.

6. Glasses if you wear them.

7. Loud whistle. Special emergency whistles that are small but quite loud can help rescue crews find you if you do not make it out of the house.

8. Dust mask (for smoke or debris dust).

9. Copies of important papers in a waterproof bag or pouch. Or, scan documents and save them on a thumb drive. Emergency situations are exactly the time you will need your insurance policy numbers, a copy of your birth certificate, financial account numbers, etc.

10. Mylar emergency blanket or pocket poncho. Provides some warmth and a little shelter from rain while outside.

Sounds like a lot of stuff, right? But most are quite small. One suggestion for organizing these things is to have a small tray on your nightstand to hold your mini flashlight, car key, wallet, glasses, and possibly your charging cell phone. The other items can be stored in an open tote with handles. If you are startled awake by a crisis, it takes mere seconds to dump the items from your tray into the open tote, grab the handles and run. A woman’s purse can serve the same function if it is large enough. A woman carrying a smaller purse can simply get in the habit of setting it inside the bedside tote each night.