Fire Prevention/Fighting Category

Friday, January 24, 2014

Her name was Dawn. The fire that took her life started in the living room directly below her bedroom and spread quickly. It followed her father up the stairs as he tried to rescue her, setting his clothes on fire as he went. He grabbed the doorknob to Dawn's room. It was red hot. There was no longer life on the other side of that door. It was 0045, New Year's Day, 1976. Things like this are never forgotten. The wounds never heal. Dealing with the loss of a loved one this way is horrible in itself. Having it happen during a TEOTWAWKI situation may very well break you and your group. If these words save one person, I'll put it down as an answered prayer, no matter what.

First, the disclaimer: I'm not a firefighter. I did, however, spend twenty-one years in the military; several of them were at sea. The ship was my retreat. I was taught that it was the only thing between me and death, and we were drilled in firefighting and fire prevention constantly. You need to think of your retreat in the same manner. Chances are, no one's coming to your rescue. You need to educate yourself in fire prevention and, to some extent, firefighting, if you and your family are to get through a survival situation. For the record, Dawn was my first love.

Fire is one of the most powerful tools known to man but is also a double-edged sword, capable of working both for and against us. Prepping websites and written material cover the starting of fires in a TEOTWAWKI situation at length, but precious little is written about fighting them, or better yet, keeping them from getting out of hand in the first place. In a grid-down scenario, firefighting services most likely won't be available. This will be further compounded by the fact that you're using unconventional methods to light the house, heat, and cook. Do yourself and your group a favor; don't stop here. Continue reading and learning. Make yourself the smartest person in the room concerning the use and control of fire.

Face it; we live in the age of electric light. Many of us also cook with electric stoves. We're no longer intimate with the hazards of the open flame, especially within the confines of the home. Unfortunately though, in the long run, it is the least expensive way to light a room, and may be the only way to cook a meal. In a long outage, you're most likely going to have to resort to "hazardous" lighting and cooking.

Lighting is one of the easier things to deal with in a power-down situation. It's also one of the easiest ways to burn down the house. Nothing says "we're prepared" like lighting a candle or lantern during a blackout. On the other side of the coin, nothing says "we're screwed" quite like standing in front of your burning house! Use candle or oil lamps only if they're properly made. Look to the past for example. Folks "back in the day" knew how to minimize the risks of lighting with open flames. Learn from them! Look for lamps and candle holders with wide bases and glass chimneys. The wide base will make a lamp harder to tip over. The chimney will keep the wind and flammables off the flame. Oil lamps range from fairly safe to downright dangerous. Many people have decorative glass kerosene lamps around the house. They're usually tall, with the tank and burner elevated by the handle/base. They're made that way to better broadcast the light, and to make them easier to move around. This design also makes them top-heavy and easy to tip. Less thoughtful designs have a small base footprint or are too tall, making them even easier to tip. Steer clear of these. Look for a wide, heavy base; the wider and heavier the better. Also, make sure the burner, which also supports the glass chimney, screws onto the tank and stays there. Many of these lamps are cheaply made; they're more for looks than actual use. The burner and chimney will often fall off if the lamp is moved or tilted at all.

"Old fashioned" metal kerosene hurricane lamps sit low, with the tank on the bottom for stability. New ones tend to be junk. I bought a couple of these a while back. They leaked wherever anything was welded to the tank. They were so dangerous that I wouldn't even give them away! Look instead for older ones at yard sales and swap meets; preferably ones made in the USA. Aside from my bleeding red, white, and blue, I recommend these because they're really well made. If you can find the kind once used on the railroads at a good price, grab them! Aside from being sturdy and really stable, they're collectors' items and are worth some money!

Propane or liquid-fueled pressurized lanterns throw a ton of light. They also throw a ton of heat! They can actually double as small area space heaters. At one point there was even a burner plate marketed that replaced the lantern's top. The lantern could then be used as a small, really top-heavy stove! The fact that it's unavailable now is testimony to just how bad an idea this was. Don't use one of these. Any source of light which uses an open flame must be treated with respect. Don't leave lamps unattended or where children can tamper with them. Don't leave them anywhere near combustible materials like curtains and bedding. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but fires caused by misplaced lamps and lanterns happen all the time.

Heating with an open flame gives fire yet another opportunity to ruin your day. Again, the prime culprit here is the proximity of the heat source to combustibles. If you're heating with something like a kerosene heater, keep it away from the walls and away from the furniture. If using this type of heater, also be mindful of Carbon Monoxide buildup. You need to provide ventilation for the thing. If using a woodstove or fireplace to heat, keep anything that can burn away from them. A single ember rolling out of either one is all it takes. When cleaning either of these out, NEVER assume that there are no hot embers. The ash needs to be placed in a metal container, removed from the house, and stored away from the house.

Does your house have an electric stove? If so, unplug it or kill its circuit breaker when the power goes out. Horizontal surfaces like these inevitably tend to be repurposed as countertop space. If the power comes back on and one of the burners was inadvertently left on, anything left on the stove will be burning in minutes.

Speaking of cooking; if you find yourself having to cook on a campstove or other "alternative" means, do it outside, away from the house if possible. Again, look to the past. In the days of yore, the kitchen was always a separate structure built some distance from the house. The old-timers knew that it was a matter of time before a fire would start there. Isolating this fire source from the rest of the house was simply smart prepping. Do the same. And please, do not bring a gas grill into the house or garage for cooking, heating, or whatever. Aside from the obvious fire danger, running one of these in the house will fill the place up with carbon monoxide in no time!

Liquid fuel must not be stored inside the house, or anywhere near your stores. Place containers of fuel on the ground, in a really well ventilated space. Outdoor storage is ideal, but not always practical. The shed I store my fuel cans in has a very large vent louver at floor level, to allow any heavier-than-air vapors to immediately exit the structure. You don't want to accumulate at all.

Okay, you did everything you could think of to prevent fire. Unfortunately, nature always sides with the hidden flaw. You need to be prepared, should a fire end up sprouting where it's not supposed to be. Plan for the "what if". If your retreat is not self-contained, plan on running water not being available. Purchase several fire extinguishers. Keep them in the areas most likely to entertain a rogue flame. Know how to use them. Know when to use them. A grease fire in a pot in the kitchen may be easily snuffed by putting a lid on the pot. Hitting the fire with a dry chemical extinguisher will do the same, but will also make a BIG mess. It'll also use up one of your valuable extinguishers.

Four things are needed for fire-- fuel, heat, oxygen, and a sustained chemical reaction (sometimes referred to as "free radicals"). Remove any one of these elements, and the fire goes out. It's that simple (on paper). All fire extinguishers are designed to remove one or more of those elements. Readily available extinguishers are rated A, B, and C; A is for solids (trash, wood, paper); B is for flammable liquids; and C is for electrical fires. Most of the "A-B" extinguishers you'll see offered at the home improvement and department stores are the "dry chemical" type. Squeezing the trigger on one of these releases a powder agent to snuff the fire. As I said before, it also makes a heck of a mess. If you discharge one of these on electronic equipment, consider the equipment ruined. Engines don't like inhaling this stuff either. Aside from checking the gauge or "pop-up" pressure indicator, dry chemical extinguishers should be inverted every so often and tapped lightly with a rubber mallet. This keeps the powder inside from packing down and rendering the extinguisher useless. The most common class C extinguisher you'll see is the CO2. This type starves the fire of oxygen. It'll also starve YOU of oxygen, so use it with care. It produces water droplets and fog when used. It'll also cause frostbite if discharged onto skin. To check one of these, either read a gauge on the unit, or weigh the extinguisher on a scale. Before using an extinguisher on an electrical fire, shut off power to whatever initiated the blaze, if possible. At this point, the fire goes from being a class C fire to either a class A or B. Chances are, shutting off the power will either bring the fire under control or put it out altogether!

There's another type of extinguisher out there that'll work on B and C fires, and can even give you the upper hand on some class A fires as well-- halon. Halon gas actually interferes with fire's chemical reaction. You can spray halon on electronics, engines, and the like with no ill effect, as the discharge doesn't produce frost, static, or residue. The only damage you'll have to deal with is that caused by the fire itself. The downside is that halon extinguishers are really expensive. They used to be quite common and cheap before the EPA clamped down on them for punching holes in the ozone layer. They ended up in a lot of cars, garages, and kitchens. As a result, you may find perfectly good units at yard sales. If you find one, and the gauge is in the green, BUY IT! Smaller halon units may not have gauges. If you find one of these and it feels about half-full, it's most likely good to go.

If the fire you just knocked down involves any kind of bedding or furniture, get it out of the house immediately. Fires in things like this can smolder and reflash hours later. If the fire was that grease in the pan on the stove and you dropped a lid on it to snuff it, leave it alone until it cools. DON'T take the cover off right after you put the fire out! Remember; you snuffed the fire by dropping a lid on the pot, which starved the fire of oxygen. The heat and the fuel are still there, just waiting for the oxygen! Removing that lid will most likely result in a reflash, with your face and body just inches away from it! In the event of ANY fire, post a reflash watch until the fire scene is completely cooled.

Fire is one of those "fight or flight" things, and can go from one to the other in a heartbeat. If you're fighting a fire, the only people in the space should be those doing just that, or, if necessary, removing stores from the structure. Everyone else should be outside at a predetermined meeting place. Pre-assign someone to do a head count, so that no one is mistakenly left inside if you need to fall back. Know when to run. Fires can get ahead of you really quickly, possibly barring your escape. This is a big deal, I know. You're losing your shelter. You're losing a good portion of your prep. If you wait too long though, you'll lose your life. This is as good a place as any to plug the practice of dividing up your stores between several locations. It just plain makes sense not to put all of your eggs in one basket.

Have an escape plan, should a fire catch you by surprise, such as at night. As with every prep, have a plan A, B, and possibly C for escape, in case the primary exit route is impassible. Be sure everyone practices using the escape routes. Having a rope ladder fire escape in your kid's 2nd floor bedroom is a good idea. Some people are afraid of heights though. Better to find this kind of thing out during a practice drill, than during a real event. Everyone should know what to do and where to go. Again, have a specified meeting place outside the house. While on the subject of "surprise" fires; buy GOOD smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, along with enough batteries to keep them running for a several years. These are proven lifesavers and are very affordable. They may even give you enough of a jump on a fire to save the house. There is NO excuse for not having a few of these installed in your house.

The uncertain times ahead will have their share of trials. My hope and prayer for you is that uncontrolled fire will never be one of them. May God and His wisdom be with you if it is.

Monday, December 30, 2013

K.M. in Ohio's post "Ounce of Prevention..." warns that "If the needles are 1 per hole, that’s NOT Pine" is not true. The warning about Fir needles being toxic is valid, but there are one needle pines. The state tree of Nevada is the Single Leaf Pinyon, Pinus monophylla. It is found almost exclusively in The Great Basin with two subspecies in California and Arizona. Besides the needles being a source of vitamin C as with other pines, it produces nutritious and delicious pine nuts. (It also makes the perfectly shaped Christmas tree!) - David in Carson City, Nevada

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Many SurvivalBlog readers are familiar with the Orange Jeep Dad (OJD) blog. It is a great blog written by an X-ray technician prepper with a wife and six daughters. For more than two years, he's been earnestly striving to live self-sufficiently. Two days ago, he posted about the tragedy of his house burning down. And today, he posted a follow-up. As I mentioned before, I doubt that his renter's insurance will cover all of their losses, especially for things like storage food and ammo.

In a recent e-mail, OJD mentioned these details:

"For now, I for sure lost my Glock 27 and old double barrel side-by-side hammerless. Hadn't verified the age yet. It was not one of the $1,000 type. More like $250. My thousands of rounds of ammo in every caliber is gone.

My wife's .38 Special revolver survived in our safe as did our certificates and licenses. Our bullion silver seems to have made it although I have to pry it out of the melted plastic to see for sure. (It was not in the safe.)

All of our #10 cans of freeze dried food preps are gone (dehydrated strawberries, blueberries, banana chips, powdered eggs, apple cubes, butter buds, meat substitute. But all the stuff we had in mylar bags that I had just suspended from garage rafters after the rats go into it survived since it wasn't in the house. (Yay!)

We lost all appliances including a Wondermill wheat grinder ,and two large griddles.( I haven't found the dutch ovens in the ashes yet to see if they are salvageable.) There was also a Bosch universal mixer, spools of paracord, Jack Lalane juicer, meat grinder, Presto (62 quart?) pressure canner, dozens of mason jars and lids/gaskets, BlendTech blender, Macbook, Dell laptop, Dell desktop, several thumb drives, all of my knives! all my medical kits (IV start kids, Coban, creams, quik clot,  dozens of lidocaine bottles, too much to list really. It was a collection of years of discards from working at the hospitals. I could have patched up a village with the stuff I had established.)

My 12 gauge and .22 rifle made it [through the fire intact] in a gun safe."

You can send donations via PayPal to:

A snail mail address where tangible donations can be sent is:

Orange Jeep Dad
2532 N. Fourth St. #230
Flagstaff,  Arizona 86004-3712

In addition to survival and kitchen gear, I'm sure that toys suitable for girls would also be appreciated. For instance, a Breyer toy horse might cheer someone up...)

To save on postage, I recommend using Priority Mail Flat Rate Boxes.

Note: Anyone who does not have a PayPal account can send checks or money orders to that same address, payable to "Orange Jeep Dad.".)

For my own part, in addition to replacing his melted Glock magazines and sending a big box of assorted books, I am auctioning a full tube of 20 American Redoubt Silver -1-ounce coins on eBay, with 100% of the gross proceeds going to OJD's family.

Even if you can't afford to help, please pray for OJD and his family! - JWR

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Introductory Note: I originally composed this story in August of 2011 just months after our family went through a devastating event.  At the time of writing the essay was short, sweet and to the point.  I have reconstructed my family’s journey of the past 24 months to the present.

Thanks for all that you and others do by sharing information, educating and inspiring the thought process. It is my hope that this short family history will provoke some to think about their lifestyle, what is important and the effect an event like this has on a family.

Four years ago my wife and I purchased fifty acres that join our families’ three hundred and fifty acre farm, built a new home and a seven acre lake (we built both the house and lake ourselves, our labor our time).  We sold a business that we built at a very large profit.  We dumped the capital back into the purchase of the 50 acres.  The plans were to built modestly and have a small mortgage or none at all; we got carried away and ended up with land free and clear but $138,000 mortgage on the house and 10 acres.  Once the house was complete the market crash of 07-08 occurred, this is when we truly woke up, we must prepare.  In our research we discovered survival blog, and rural revolution blog we have learned so much.  Our family has farmed, gardened, canned, kept chickens for generations, just our way of life, but we didn’t truly prep for potential collapse, which leads me to the bulk of my story:

May 5th, 2011 changed my family forever.  With the wet spring in the Midwest early garden planting was nonexistent, May 5th was no different ground was in good condition to plant but rain was in the evening forecast so I took off from work early to plant potatoes’, broccoli, cauliflower and so on.  When I turned in the quarter mile drive I met our black lab, who never leaves the house, I thought this was strange continuing on I noticed blue smoke coming through the timber, panic struck, the house was on fire.  I grabbed the cell phone dialed 911, then the garden hose, long story short we lost everything.  People it is a sickening filling when you realize all you have in the world are the clothes on your back and the cash in your pocket.
I cursed God that evening, how could he let this happen to me and my family? Even now typing this I do so with tears in my eyes, not so much for the tangible loss but the pain I could see in the eyes of my wife and eight year old daughter, I’m dad, it’s my job to protect.  It took several days for me to realize that God sent dumpsters to my house instead of coffins, for that I am thankful, and I hope he will accept my apology for the things I said and thought.

The day after the fire my wife, daughter and I went shopping for clothes, we had been discussing money and the situation in ear shot of our eight year old daughter.  Our daughter who loves horses and collects Breyer horses lost her collection in the fire.  We had been in the clothing section of our local farm and garden center when daughter went missing.  I found her staring at the shelves full of breyer horses.  She would pick one up, look at it and set it down.  Pick another up and put it back. I watched from behind a cloths rack as she dropped her shoulders, turned to walk away with tears in her eyes.  Gentlemen if you have never seen this look in your child’s face I will tell you it will tug at your heart like nothing else.  I was so proud of her because she was not going to ask.  I stepped out from behind the rack and asked her if she found a horse she liked if not pick one out.  She said “but mom” I told her mom would understand.  This over a toy I could not imagine how I would feel if something of a larger magnitude were to happen.

Two days prior to the fire I turned the basement lights on and the light switch arced. I guess that is where the fire started.  I should have called my electrician buddy then and there. Poor choice, and poor decision.

You may ask “What does this have to do with this blog”?  Well, there are lots of lessons to learn and lots of blessing to count.

Some Lessons Learned:

  1. We lost several years worth of food, canned goods, canning equipment, meats the list goes on. Note: do not store everything in one location.
  2. Guns, ammo and hunting equipment. Note: purchase gun safe, make sure guns are on separate rider for insurance.  Most policies only cover $2000 worth of guns I had one gun that was worth that amount, just by itself. (Point of concern insurance companies require serial numbers for coverage) I listed most but not all.
  3. Cash and coins, thankfully a fire fighter was able to retrieve a large sum of cash hidden in the house.  Note: this goes in the safe or hidden outside with other cash. My dad was impressed when I took a shovel and dug up a mason jar.  He said “I thought only old timers banked that way”. Interest doesn’t pay much but I know where the teller is.
  4. Pictures, gone. Note store some in other locations
  5. Keep a list or film your personal contents you will have to list every item to collect your replacement costs from your insurance company, this is painful. Imagine setting down and listing every item in your house. The big items are easy but think of every can of beans, every item in the cabinets, bath room closet, toys (although our daughter had a pretty good idea of what she lost.)
  6. Important papers, titles, DD214, marriage license, birth certificates note: these go in the safe

Blessings counted

  1. My family is safe, yes we have a lot of work ahead of us
  2. The mortgage is gone, we can rebuild like we should have the first time
  3. Add a root cellar
  4. Insurance has eliminated all of our dept.
  5. Our commitment to preparing is stronger
  6. Our family is stronger
  7. Most of all we found out who we can truly call our friend.
  8. We will never look at someone else’s misfortune the same.

It hit me hardest when I was hilling potatoes. I thought if this was a total collapse, we’ve lost everything and if the garden I stand in fails my family would more than likely not see the spring of 2012.

During the summer of 2012 we spent some insurance dollars and built a 30 by 50 shed complete with storage, 30 by 30 living space and fireproof hidey hole.  We have been living for the past two years in a two-room shed, bathroom and the rest.  This has been a great experience in close living, a great example of retreat living.  At times this has been fun and at time it has been difficult the following are some examples of both:
Fun times

  1. We never replaced the satellite television.  Board games, cards, conversations and reading have been our main source of entertainment. Our 8 year old is now at the academic level of an 11 year old and her grades along with creativity have improved.
  2. The time spent outside has doubled maybe tripled. We walk the property more, garden more, camp fires in the evening
  3. This style of living has given us a glimpse of what close living will be like when family comes knocking.
  4. We purchased a Kitchen Queen Cook stove to heat with.  If you have never cooked with wood it is an experience of fun and education.  Although we installed an electric stove the wood stove has been entertaining, daughter loves to cook cookies, pizza and her morning toast on the wood stove.

Not so fun times

  1. Even though the shed is insulated the 12 foot garage door allows the cold air in when the wind picks up and the temperature drops.
  2. The experience has made the wife and I wonder how pioneers had such large families when living in a one room homestead.
  3. Storage has been an issue. Hanging cloths, books, toys, food, everything just seems to be cluttered all the time.  Constant cleanup and pickup. 
  4. Bathroom issues with just three in the house someone is always knocking on the door. Hot water is always in demand during peak times.

Lessons learned

  1. This has been hard, we cannot imagine what it would be like without electric or water.
  2. Fire wood being the only source of heat is tuff.  We have always had wood heat but we always had a backup (electric or gas) when the wood pile gets low you really start to worry about the outside temperatures.
  3. With a full time job, rebuilding the house (will discuss later) there is very little time to prep.  The garden did well this year but canning was minimal. Gave lots of produce to friends but let the garden go in august.  How did homesteaders find the time to build a home, put food by, cut fire wood? All by hand without modern equipment and energy.  This should be an eye opener for all.  Times could get very, very difficult.

Where are we now?  In January 2013 we finally demolished the old house. Our goal has been to rebuild with the end result of no mortgage payment.  Working with insurance dollars and out of pocket/savings we are finally trimming the home.  This is large mile stone to a more normal lifestyle.  We made lots of changes this time around because of our prepping lifestyle. Here are some of the major changes:

  1. We went from a conventional 2,800 sq. ft. home to a 1,400 sq. earth berm home. Both for security reason and efficiency reasons. 
  2. Because the house is a basement style home I found that if we have our water tank full we can back feed water through the hydrant to the lower level and have a toilet when the electric is out, doesn’t help with potable water but it beats running to the timber.
  3. Added some solar, but not near enough. But the house has been wired for future addition.
  4. On demand hot water (gas) hope to use the energy savings for additional preps
  5. Purchased a large gun safe all items of value are stored/protected
  6. The wood cook stove goes in the new house for both cooking and heat.
  7. This time around the kitchen stove is gas not electric.
  8. Utility room designed specifically for storage of food and other preps.
  9. All basement windows have large window wells installed for egress and potential fields of fire.
  10. Most important hard wired battery backed up smoke detectors. One in every room.

In many ways we are better prepared than we were prior to the fire. Most importantly we are free of mortgage companies and banks. This makes life so enjoyable, knowing that most of our monthly income can go towards prepping, savings, et cetera.  God has blessed us in that respect.  In many ways we are less prepared.  Our food stores are less than before, with two seasons sense the fire we have consumed as much as we have set by.  With livestock to tend, hay to bail, daily chores and a full time job something had to give while rebuilding.  It’s mid-October and we are in no way prepared for winter. Not a stick of wood is ranked.  Equipment has not been winterized. One last round of hay to get in the barn, the list could go on, but we should have enough to get us to new crop.

We have replaced many things already, we have a long row to hoe but with gods’ help and lot of work we will be prepared for our future.  We have a second chance to make changes to better prepare and make better choices.  My prayer is for all to look at your situation and think, double check and rethink, anything can happen and it may very well happen.

To my best friend whom I lost in June of 2013 to a heart attack, I think of you often, thanks for your help of cleaning, demolishing and rebuilding.  I’ve been helping with the boys they are doing fine you are missed.

God bless and please learn from our experience.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Dear JWR;
There is nothing like a real emergency to get you checked out in a quick way for your evacuation plan. During the Black Forest Fire, which began on June 11, 2013, at least 511 homeowners completely lost their homes, many more were damaged and are uninhabitable, two people and countless animals perished in the fire. Our family and business were in the direct path of the fire, but a major wind shift the first night, along with hard-working first responders saved us.

Sitting at the office ready for our afternoon of work, a friend walked in and sid, "did you see the fire?" Expecting a wispy white trail of smoke when I peered out the window, I was immediately floored when what I saw was a GIANT plume of black smoke heading our way.

LESSON ONE - Take Action. My husband and I took 30 seconds to put the "Office Closed, Fire Drill" sign on the front door and we were outta there and home in four minutes. We did not debate, question, ponder, look, examine; we went directly home. I know some who dawdled to watch and photograph, but then had only minutes to "grab and go."

At home, we sat down with our two children, who were wondering what we were doing home so early. We calmly told them - which took ALL KINDS of self control, that there was a fire, and we were going to pack up and be ready to go if we had to.

LESSON TWO - Keep the kids busy and involved. The more we gave them to do, the better they felt. Our children are old enough to help, 11 and 16, and were very calm, as we stayed calm. I have to give kudos to both of them, they did not panic and were very focused on the tasks at hand. On a side note, my 16 year old is completely disabled. His task was to monitor the news and let us know when "breaking news" came over the Internet. Thank goodness for the battery-powered radio, which kept him involved and important while we packed, even when the power failed.

LESSON THREE - Ammo is heavy. Unlike so many families in this firestorm, we had time to load the trailer. Clothes, papers, medicines, dogs easy in 10 minutes or less, ammo was a bit more difficult. Thankfully, friends materialized out of nowhere to help!

LESSON FOUR - Keep the keys on a lanyard or string or belt or rope or chain on your body. We only had to hunt for lost keys twice. One friend loaded up her van, couldn't find the keys and had to leave the loaded van there. It is easy to set them down when you are busy going to and fro from house to car to house to car and so on. The memory stick around my neck was a comfort, unfortunately, brain doesn't kick in so well in an emergency so I never thought to tie the keys to the lanyard I was already wearing.

LESSON FIVE - Power and water are going to be shut off. After years of reading this blog, books, emergency handbooks etc., you think I would have figured this out. Well the fire commenced at 1:30, we were home by 2 p.m., and the power and water and gas were off by 3:30. Thankfully, water stored, battery radio prepared and additional lighting was no problem, but I did feel a bit stupid wondering why the sink faucet wouldn't work.

Because of the smoke and proximity of the fire, we voluntarily evacuated the children late Tuesday night. Thanks grandma for the couch. My husband came back and spent most of the night at the property. And we were able return, early Wednesday morning. We had no utilities, but our preparedness habits made our home quite comfortable during this emergency. Our home remained on "Pre-Evacuation" status for two and a half weeks. That meant living out of suitcases in our living room, which was a miniscule problem compared with what was going on just a couple of blocks north of us.

Now the rebuilding is taking place. Friends are sifting the ruble of their home sites looking for hidden treasures. So much was lost, but community and family abound. The Southern Baptist have their disaster relief semi trailer parked a block from our home and are offering assistance. When I asked how long they would be here, they said "Until we are done." Great people. I also know Samaritan's Purse is here with disaster teams, and the Red Cross and many other agencies. By the way, I never thought I would be the one offered a ham sandwich from the Red Cross. It is weird to be on the "receiving end" of the emergency. Gratefully, I declined and offered the food to a friend who had to evacuate, lost power and all of the contents of his freezer.

There are many more lessons to learn from a fire drill like this, and some stories to tell. Some were learned by others, some by us: For example: Paper maps to handle all of closed roads, grab the cell phone chargers, leave the stuff. We learned that goats like to ride in the back seat of Hummers too. Spray paint your phone number in large numbers on your horses if you have to let them out and close the gates so they do not return to their stalls and many more. Hopefully this can help others, and I look forward to continue reading this blog to learn more for myself and my family.

- Colorado Boots. Black Forest, Colorado

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dear Sir,
I work as an firefighter/EMT and Hazardous Materials Tech in the Greater Louisville, Kentucky region. I would like to provide your readership with two examples of 'stabilized' emergencies going wrong in the last year in the Louisville area alone. Both could have been catastrophic had it not been for quick thinking and pure dumb luck.

The first incident began in late October of last year when 11 cars of a 57-car Paducah and Louisville line (a CSX owned company) derailed in the southwest corner of Jefferson County, very near Fort Knox. The cars that derailed were carrying Butadiene and Hydrogen Fluoride. Understand that Hydrogen Fluoride is a very powerful asphyxiant and as an added bonus is heavier than air so it doesn't easily disperse into the atmosphere. The incident was stabilized and just about to leave the front of the news when three days later, workers ignited fumes from the Butadiene car and caused an explosion. Three severely burned forms walked themselves up to the street and and were transported to hospital. Intense flames were feet from the Hydrogen Fluoride car although not quite impinging. Just as the city was getting used to the main highway in the area being shut down and ready to concentrate on other news an entire small city had to be evacuated!

The next incident was less severe, but also nerve racking for the surrounding population. A hydrochloric acid leak at a Dow Chemical plant in 'Rubbertown,' a part of Louisville, caused a one mile shelter in place order to be called for. The leak was contained to a 'drainage pool' (a purpose built concrete lined pool designed to catch chemical leaks. Just as this was winding down, the pool was found to have a crack in it and Haz Mat teams needed to be called out again.

The take-a-way is like this: Know what is going on in your area. What is commonly transported down the railway that runs a mile from your property and be ready to take action even if the situation seems to be mitigated. Even when the authority involved says 'all clear' remain cautious. I encourage all concerned to map the railways, chemical plants, and pipelines in your area. Also be aware of light industrial parks where highly dangerous activities occur on a regular basis. Just because they say light industry doesn't mean they're making teddy bears in there. - Sam H.

Monday, May 13, 2013

James Wesley;
I'm worried about keeping farm machinery operating, in a long-term TEOTWAWKI whammy. Some of my equipment is horse-drawn and a full century old. God forbid we go through a multi-generational scenario like you've talked about. How will we repair broken metal, or cast metal, or join metal ('cept drilling and nuts and bolts)? Obviously arc welding is out, unless someone has a huge solar battery bank, and I'm not at that Pay Grade. (I live almost paycheck to paycheck, other than a seasonal bump when I sell hay each year.) And gas welding will be non-functional once the available welding gas supplies run out. I also saw the SurvivalBlog piece on the giant fresnel lens solar oven (for aluminum casting) but beyond that I'm stumped. What am I missing? Thanks for your time, - Rod C.

JWR Replies: Missing? In a word: Thermite. (The formerly patented trade name was "Thermit.") Thermite welding is a simple process that just employs a mixture of iron oxide powder and aluminum powder to create what my high school teacher called "a vigorous exothermic reaction." It is most commonly used to join railroad tracks, using specialized molds and tooling. (Thermited tracks don't have that traditional "clickety-clack" sound.) The only fairly exotic material needed is magnesium ribbon, to ignite the mixture. An Aside: My #1 Son found that a Blast Match or Sparkie fire starter (both sold by several of our advertisers) works just fine as an igniter, just by itself.

The iron oxide and aluminum powders needed for thermite welding can even be produced locally, albeit very laboriously, with materials from your local automobile wrecking yard. (Hint: Look for aluminum "Mag" wheels.) Welding with thermite can be tricky: If you use too little or if you don't contain the "puddle" properly, then you don't get a good weld. If you use too much, then you destroy the parent metal. Practice a lot now with scrap metal so that you don't make costly mistakes, later.

Warning! All the usual safety provisos for welding apply, and then some! Thermite burns at thousands of degrees and looking directly at the reaction can cause permanently-blinding retinal burns. You'll need welding goggles. Since a thermite reaction creates its own oxygen, unless you have a Class D fire extinguisher there is basically no effective way to fight a thermite fire. (Without a Class D extinguisher you have to just wait until it burns out--although cooling it with a CO2 extinguisher helps a bit.) Also, keep in mind that if a glob of burning thermite contacts water or even just mud, it can cause an instantaneous steam explosion that will throw burning thermite in all directions. Also, using finely-ground thermite powder, or any sort of expanding gas containment can also cause thermite explosions, so use extreme caution. And if you aren't wearing welding clothes and dark welding goggles when igniting thermite, then you are foolish. After mixing or otherwise handling loose thermite powder be sure to thoroughly wash your hands before using it. (Setting your thermite-powdered hands on fire would be a Very Bad Thing.)

Thermite has many other clever uses, as described, in my novel Patriots. (The Mythbusters guys demonstrate overkill.)

Reprints of two old thermite welding references now that are now in the public domain are available from They are:

Thermit Welding Process 1914 by Richard N. Hart


Thermit Welding (A series of articles revealing the art and science of welding) by Ethan Vial

Thermite welding is also briefly described in the free Kindle e-book: Oxy-Acetylene Welding and Cutting Electric, Forge and Thermit Welding together with related methods and materials used in metal working and the oxygen process, by Harold P. Manly.

An inexpensive source for iron oxide powder, aluminum powder, and magnesium ribbon with excellent customer service is They have been a SurvivalBlog advertiser since early 2011, and I must mention that I have had ZERO complaints about the company, since then. They have satisfied thousands of SurvivalBlog-reader customers. AlphaChem now packages most of their iron oxide powder and aluminum powder in resealable heavy duty mylar pouches. This keeps everything neat and dry. They double package and discreetly ship via UPS in boxes that just have one small blue "ORM-D" safety label. (The binary components are not classified as pyrotechnics until after you mix the component powders yourself.)

Because of its weight, any casting equipment (molds, crucibles, refiner's sand, etc.) is best found locally, from an industrial supply company, or better yet used, via Craigslist. And of course terra cotta clay pots are available at garage sales or your local garden supply store.

Lastly, keep in mind that if you are planning to cast metal with Thermite, then wet sand or damp clay processes cannot be used. (See my previous warning about instantaneous steam explosions.) Your molds must be quite dry!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Prepper communities and compounds rely on each members worth to their group, cooking, sewing, carpentry, leatherwork, gardening. There is one skill that cannot be over looked as one of the most valuable skills/trade for a prepper to possess.  Blacksmithing.  All other crafts and trades will require once again the skills of a blacksmith to replace stolen, broken tools.  In addition to making these tools a blacksmith can also make weapons, swords, axes, daggers, spears, arrow heads. 

But how would one go about obtaining these skills?  Look in your local areas for classes offered, some community colleges are now offering blacksmithing courses. Look for a local blacksmith group, a living museum that has a working blacksmith shop can help locate a blacksmith that’s willing to teach the basics. After taking the lessons or classes, it’s just a matter of practice before you’re looking for more complicated projects. A blacksmith with even the minimal skill set will be of great value, even if all they can do is make a simple knife, tomahawk or even a hinge. 

Once you’ve gotten the basic knowledge of blacksmithing practice is very important, for you to learn how to not burn your metal. (Yes metal will burn if heated too hot.) So you need to practice, how you’re asking, what next?  Build or purchase a forge, while a gas forge is great because it’s harder to heat the metal too hot in a gas forge, if TEOTWAWKI occurs, it won’t be long before propane or natural gas will become more valuable than gold.  So by all means use a gas forge to increase your skills, but also look at the many plans online to build your own coal/coke forge.  Even if you don’t have a supply of coal or coke you can use charcoal that you can produce yourself.  I believe the winner of round 42 of this contest is about making your own charcoal.  Tools, you can find blacksmithing tools at most flea markets, trade days and even on craigslist, or you can make your own tools.  Something most blacksmith will usually do when they want a specific tool for a job. That’s why when you see a picture of a blacksmith shop it’s cluttered looking due to all the tools and metal laying around. There are companies that also sell the coal forges as well, I took advantage of a sale and purchased a coke fire pot for the forge I built. Coke is coal with the impurities burnt out, coke burns cleaner and hotter making it quicker to heat your metal and finish your project in less time. Again practice is the most important thing in getting better at blacksmithing.

Hammer control is, (IMHO) the best and hardest skill to learn in blacksmithing.  Take a piece of wood and place it on your anvil, mark and X in the middle of the wood, now strike it with your hammer. Now hit it again. Did you hit the mark twice? Were you off the mark on the first and on the second? Or were you able to hit the mark twice in a row? Continue practicing this till you can hit the X every time, or until the wood splinters for your kindling.  Hammer control will allow you to finish a project in fewer hammer blows.

A source of metal is something else you’ll need, at one time I had several thousands of pounds of metal stored. When I was forced to sell out and move back into town, I sold most of it to a scrap yard. The one thing to be careful of is galvanized metals, the gas put off from heating galvanized metal is very toxic and can kill you if you breath it in. Zinc, the metal that galvanizes is the metal that creates this deadly gas. So again, classes, reading everything you can find on blacksmithing may save your life.

Speaking of heating metal to white hot, this is the perfect temperature to work metal, you want to push the metal around with your hammer. Make hard confident strikes, practice, practice, practice. Make nails, when you can make a nail in less than three heats then you’re doing fantastically well. The trouble I see most newcomers to blacksmithing is having a timid hammer strike. Once the metal cools to almost a dull red, put it back in the fire. If you see sparks, you’ve gotten it too hot. Once the metal has burnt, it’s not worth anything and after you heat it back up, cut the burnt piece off.  Remember, strike it while it’s hot is more than an old saying our grandparents used to say.

A lot of the old equipment was ran off a steam powered system or a system powered by water, they used belts and pulleys to power the equipment. If you’re homestead has the means for something like this, it will make life easier as a blacksmith to have the better equipment.

Being a blacksmith has been a great experience, you can learn a lot about life from blacksmithing. Blacksmithing as in life, you will get burned. Some will be minor irritating burns that are forgotten the next day. Some will be second or third degree and will leave a scar, a gentle reminder of a lesson learned at a price. The burns will heal, most of the scars will fade, but taking a cold hard piece of metal and heating it white hot, then molding and shaping it into something useful, there’s no greater thrill than seeing something you’ve created work like it’s supposed to.  The pride you’ll feel when someone oohs and aahs over a sword you’ve made.

Blacksmithing at one time was a common trade, many farms and ranches had a blacksmith shop for creating tools, repairing equipment, and many other tasks. In old Sears and Roebuck catalogs a complete blacksmith kit would cost less than $20. Now you’re lucky if you can find a single tool for that price. Blacksmithing as a prepper, you will gather your tools and supplies and build a nice stockpile of them. You never know when someone will come up and request a certain tool and you don’t have a piece of metal big enough to do the job.

Imagine making a hunting knife with which you can trade a hunter for two deer.  A chisel to a carpenter for a tool chest. A candle holder to someone for twelve jars of canned vegetables. The list goes on and on the things you can make and barter for.  An additional thing a blacksmith can do is create bolts for doors, hinge straps to re-enforce a door, metal for the corners of a wooden box. Just remember when you barter, you are the one that has what they want, and if they want it, they’ll make a fair trade. If not it’s up to your judgment on how to proceed, will not giving in create a hardship for you your family, will it put you in possible harms way. Unfortunately when TEOTWAWKI is gone, there are going to be people out there who won’t think twice about hurting you or your family to get what they want. A blacksmith is going to have many things that people want. Trust your instincts.

While the government may track down and take the guns away from the registered owners, they’ll overlook the knives, arrow heads, spear heads, thinking they’re just pretty flea market items. If someone breaks into your house and all they’re armed with is a small knife or club, pulling a sword or spear on them will make them change their minds quickly.  As will a crossbow with a sharp arrow head you’ve put the finishing touches on. England defended many invaders with nothing more than swords, axes and spears. If I can make a nice stockpile of weapons that don’t have to be registered with the government to keep my family safe, then light the forge and heat the steel, it’s time to increase my value.

A great place to start is with the Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America (ABANA), you can locate local smith’s, classes and even find a few projects to try. Another good place is, with loads of useful tips and projects. Last but not least is The Blacksmith’s Journal, they publish a small booklet that contains new projects and tips each month that will be mailed to your house each month, you can also purchase past issues as well.

Remember, while you have the chance to enjoy this wonderful craft, do just that, enjoy it. Because when it’s no longer a hobby, but a matter of putting food on your table for your family, or protecting them. There won’t be many days you’ll be able to remember to enjoy it. Don’t be afraid to contact a blacksmith, most are eager to share and pass on their trade especially if they’re doing it mostly as a hobby. It’s a little harder to get someone to share their knowledge when it’s what pays the bills.

Blacksmithing can be enjoyable, profitable and useful. It’s never too late to learn, and you can start out with simple equipment like a piece of railroad rail, hammer and a long handle pair of pliers for tools. I hope this helps put a spark in your life and will help create a few more blacksmith’s in the world.

Friday, March 22, 2013

I saw J.A.N.'s letter about MSDS information for chemicals.  A comment J.A.N. made indicated the lengthiness of some MSDSs – very true with amazingly confusing info.  Another source is the international chemical safety card (ICSC) and can be located here.
These are typically only two pages in length, have standardized format, and are available in numerous other languages.  As an FYI – the “MSDS” is quickly becoming archaic as the U.S. is finally catching up with the international concept of SDSs  (no “M”)– with mandated format, international symbology, and definitive info for personal protective clothing/equipment (PPE).  Too many MSDS indicate simply to wear “gloves” as PPE – well, is that nitrile, or latex, or neoprene, or what? - Bill C.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dear JWR:
The excellent article, "Fire: Your Partner in Survival, by Pledger" mentioned the BTU ratings of certain trees. Wanting to know a bit more, I did some searching and found a chart of the BTU ratings of various types of wood.

On another note, Pledger's reference to a cord as 4x8 feet by 16 inches threw me. I looked it up and found that a "full cord" measures 4x4x8 feet, which is the number I was familiar with, ranging from 80 to 100 cubic feet stacked. The web site I found uses 90 cubic feet for its BTU ratings. However, a "face cord" is one-third of a full cord and measures 4x8 feet by 16 inches. This is the one Pledger's article uses. - Larry X.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dear JWR:
You don't always need a snow plow to to free up the streets in a snow-bound neighborhood. I found a video that shows a U.S. military surplus M35 2-1/2 Ton ("Deuce and a Half") truck being used to pack down snow. - Solar Guy


Mr. Rawles,
We in dry Central Texas are having the opposite problem from your "Snowmageddon" contributors: Dry wind-blizzards. On Monday, February 25th we had dry, sunny weather combined with high winds all day and night.

I stepped outside after lunch to check the mail. Uhh-Ohh. The brush pile fire we had burned almost two weeks before, and foolishly thought to be extinguished, threw wind-driven sparks out to a nearby unburned brush pile. The new fire had been burning for a half-hour, but the smoke was going away from the house. My spouse and I were oblivious that a roof-high, whipping fire was outside, while we ate lunch just two hundred yards away! When juniper (here called “cedar”) burns, it flares up to a scary inferno of flames even in mild, damp weather.

My husband got the tractor and frantically covered the pile with dirt, using the loader. I grabbed chain saws, water hoses, the air tank for the tractor tire. But the trouble wasn't over, cinders had blown into the juniper forest! I ran into the woods and stomped/wetted a few smoldering spots. The cinders had traveled 140 feet and, thankfully, hadn't ignited into flames. The kids stepped off the school bus and searched the woods for any other smoldering spots, none found.

I sat out all night in the truck, with shovel/water buckets, in case there was a flare-up in the cold, whipping wind. My 4G Tablet was entertainment, and served as an alarm for short catnaps. My Jack Russell Terrier, a whip-smart little companion, kept my lap and hands warm.

Lessons: (1) I will never again allow a burn-pile to be covered with dirt and smolder. Buried logs and stumps can smolder for months! One will discover how dangerous this is when you get a dry spell and a wind storm. I will make sure future burned-up piles are promptly knocked down and thoroughly extinguished. (2) Since the burn-pile was very near the county road, I was disappointed that no passers-by stopped to offer help, nor noticed the unattended flames, while we were lunching, and inform us of the problem. As other contributors have noted, get to know your neighbors well, make sure they have your phone numbers.

Postscript: The high winds picked up again, a week later, (March 5) and blew the dirt off the pile, exposing embers from last week's accidental fire. After piling more dirt on, we are waiting for forecasted rain this weekend so we can tear down this dangerous pile of buried embers, allow the old stumps to burn and extinguish it for good. - Sarah in Central Texas

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I am a retired journeyman pipefitter who is a Certified Welding Inspector.  I teach at a nearby community college two days a week.   Welding encompasses such a large body of knowledge that no one person can know all there is to know and certainly cannot condense everything into a short article, but let me start with some basics.

First of all, if you can’t tell the difference between steel, stainless steel, aluminum or cast iron you shouldn’t be welding.  You have to know what process to use and which filler metal to use.  Some things will hurt you or kill you if you try to weld on them.  Never, under any circumstances, weld on a gas tank, or any container that you don’t know what was in it.  Welding is “hot work” so you need to know if there is anything around that can catch on fire.  Remove all flammables or cover them so they don’t cause a problem.  Be sure what you’re welding on is adequately restrained or supported so as not to injure you or someone else. 

The selection of the right filler metal is very important.  If the wrong filler metal is selected the weld can have major defects and not be fit for service.  Shielding gas selection is also very important.  Preheat and postheat is important on cast iron or high strength alloy steel.  Preheating is required whenever the metal to be welded is below 70 degrees F because the cold metal quenches the weld.  When large welds are needed, it is better to make more small welds than a few large ones.  Low carbon steel also called mild steel is easily welded by all common welding processes.  However, long-arcing of the weld will allow air to enter the shielding envelope, so proper welding technique is needed not to induce air which will cause porosity and other bad effects.

If you still have access to electric power, then wire or stick welding would be the preferred method of welding.  This also holds true if you have a generator available.  If not, then one is left with oxy-fuel welding.  Wire welding is the preferred method of welding for any novice.  It is much more intuitive for a novice to get the feel of it, but setting the machine can be intimidating.  Let’s start with the machine.  If you are going to invest in any machine, consider one of the new smaller more portable inverter welding machines that can do four major welding processes i.e.: wire with cover gas, flux cored gasless wire, stick and TIG.  Older machines that are strictly constant current or constant voltage are larger, heavier and can basically only do one dedicated type of process with the exception of TIG.  If you are going to spend your money on a new welding machine, why not buy the most versatile machine?  I own a THERMAL ARC FABRICATOR 211i  but others are available.  The new machines can operate on either 110 or 220 volt with reduced capacity on 110.  The difference would be the necessity of 3000 watts of power for 110 volt operations or 6000 watts for 220 volt operations.  The new machines have very clear manuals and charts for welding operations.

But let’s say you have or have the opportunity to buy a used wire welder.  You’ll want a wire welder that is rated at a minimum of 130 to 140 amps of power.  Why, because it takes one amp of power to weld each 1/1000 of an inch of metal thickness and I wouldn’t recommend a machine that wasn’t capable of welding at least a 1/8 inch of metal thickness.

So now you have a wire welder, how do you go about setting it to weld?  With a wire welder your heat is controlled by the wire speed, there is no setting for amperage.  The rule of thumb is this: 100 inches per minute (IPM) of wire speed for each 1/16 of an inch in metal thickness plus add another 50 IPM at the end of each calculation, thus, 150 IPM for 1/16” metal thickness, 250 IPM for 1/8”, 350 IPM for 3/16” and 450 IPM for ¼” in metal thickness.  It is not recommended to weld over ¼” metal with a wire welder, unless you do multiple pass welds.

Next, you set the voltage.  If you are welding 1/8” metal, set your wire speed to approximately 250 IPM and start with your voltage to 17 or 18 volts.  Turn your voltage up or down as you practice on a test piece to get the machine “dialed” in.  You’ll have to practice setting the machine to get the desired result.

Wire welding can be done with either a push or a pull technique.  Pushing the weld from right to left is easier for many right handed people.  This method does not penetrate into the parent metal as deep as dragging or pulling the gun from left to right.  Be sure you are holding the gun with the tip at a 45 degree angle to the surface that you are trying to weld.  Electrode extension is very important.  You shouldn’t be more than ½” away from the metal, where the wire comes out of the contact tube.  You lose heat or amperage with a long arc.
Flux cored wire welding is cheaper than normal wire welding, though not as good.  The normal gas for wire welding is 75% argon 25% CO2 but straight CO2 can be used, although it causes more splatter.  We won’t go into inductance in this short article.   Wire welding is not tolerant of contamination nor is it recommended to use outdoors.   Any rust, grease, oil dust, paint or contamination of any kind will cause porosity.  If you are going to wire weld, you have to start out with the metal clean at least an inch on each side of the weld.  There is more expense in setting up a wire welder as compared to a stick welder but less practice is required to make an acceptable weld.

Stick welding is more portable than wire welding and more versatile.  Stick welding is a very versatile process, because the same SMAW (Shielded Metal Arc Welding) machine can be used to make a wide variety of welds in different weld joint designs, metal types, metal thickness, and in all positions.   Stick welding is more portable in that it requires less equipment and is easier to move, especially an engine driven generator-welder.  Stick welding can be performed outside.   Most major construction of new buildings, plants and piping is done outside with either stick or TIG welding.  Wire welding and stick welding are negative ground positive electrode processes and TIG welding, flux cored wire welding being positive ground, negative electrode process.

Stick welding is harder to learn than wire welding and takes much more practice.  If possible, take a course at your local college or high school.  The difficulty comes in maintaining a constant length arc off of the parent metal, electrode angle, speed of welding progression, and manually weaving the electrode, in some cases, to make the bead profile.  Low hydrogen (E7018) electrodes are the best for welding mild steel, but require a pretty steady hand to weld good beads.   E6011 is the best electrode for a novice to learn with but requires more electrode manipulation to achieve a good bead i.e.: small circles, a C shaped or other pattern as recommended in any good text on welding. E6011 welds will be less ductile in service than E7018, the welds will break in time with hard usage, thus the bad name for “farm rods”.  If you are using and old AC only farm welder, try to buy the newer AC-E7018 electrodes.  There is no substitute for practice when it comes to stick welding, only with practice will you be able to lay down good serviceable weld beads that will hold your project together.

Now for oxy-fuel welding.  During its prime, plates up to 1” thick were wire gas welded to produce ocean-going ships, to large industrial machinery.  Today, due to improvements in other processes, gas or oxy-fuel welding is seldom used on metal thicker than 1/16 of an inch.  Newer processes are faster, cleaner and cause less distortion from heat than oxy-fuel welding.  However, when nothing else is available, welds can be made using this process.  All that is required is a compressed gas bottle of oxygen and a cylinder of fuel, usually acetylene, the appropriate torch set, which will have regulators, a Siamese hose and a combination torch, for both welding and cutting.  I will discuss important safety factors in both cutting and general welding at the end.   Needless to say, once you have your “rig” properly set up (refer to your manual), turn on the gas just enough to let some gas escape, light the gas with a spark lighter near the end.  With the torch lit, increase the flow of acetylene until the flame stops smoking.  Slowly turn on the oxygen and adjust the torch to a neutral flame.  Too much fuel and you won’t get a decent inner cone of flame, too much oxygen and the inner flame turns whitish blue.  In either case, too much of one or the other increases the size of the flame.  The neutral flame will produce the most concentrated heat at the end of the inner cone of flame.  The maximum gas flow rate for the size of tip will give the flame enough flow so that when adjusted to the neutral setting it does not settle back on the tip.  This will keep the tip cooler so that it does not backfire.

    Factors affecting torch welding: torch tip size, torch angle, welding rod size and torch manipulation.

  1. Torch tip size is used to control the weld bead width, depth of penetration into the parent metal, and speed.  Tip sizes should be changed to suit the thickness and overall size of the metal being welded.  Lowering the gas flow rate on a larger tip to weld thinner metal will just make it overheat and backfire.  You should have a tip size chart with your torch outfit and each manufacturer has a different size which is proprietary to that manufacturer.  Consult your chart and pick the tip needed to cut or weld that thickness of metal.
  2. Torch angle – the ideal angle for torch welding is at 45 degrees to the metal.  At the end of the welding tip it curves downward, if this end of the torch is pointed straight down into the parent metal this is 90 degrees, a compromise angle of half way between this and parallel with the surface of the metal is best.  Hold the inner cone between 1/8” and ¼” off the surface of the parent metal.
  3. Welding rod size and torch manipulation can be used to control the weld bead characteristics.  A larger filler rod can be used to cool the molten weld pool, increase weld buildup above the parent metal and reduce penetration.  The torch can be manipulated so the direct heat from the inner flame is flashes off the molten weld pool for just a moment to let it cool, keeping the secondary flame over the pool.

The weld pool must be protected by the secondary flame (the larger outer flame) to prevent the air from contaminating the weld pool.  If this flame is suddenly moved away the pool will throw off a large number of sparks.  This is a real problem when the weld is stopped.  The torch should be raised or tilted at the end, keeping the outer flame over the molten weld pool until it solidifies.  Often the number of sparks increases just before a burn through when the molten metal drops through the backside of the plate.

Novices should practice pushing a molten pool on a clean piece of plate before attempting to add filler metal.   Start at one end, hold the torch tip at a 45 degree angle in the direction you intend to weld.  Establish a molten weld pool at the end of the inner cone of the torch.  When the metal starts to melt, move the torch in a circular pattern down the sheet toward the other end.  Try to get a uniform bead all the way along the weld.  You may have to speed up or slow down to keep an even bead.  Practice this until you can keep the width of the molten weld pool uniform and the direction of travel in a straight line.  You should try this process next adding filler rod.   Always bend one end of your filler rod, usually in a U-shape to know which end is hot.  The straight end  is dipped in the molten weld pool, as filler rod, is added to the weld pool, the flame can be moved back so as not to melt and drip the rod into the pool.  The rod should be melted by the leading edge of the pool only.  Once you can make good welds in the flat position then it is time to try other positions and other styles of joints.  Try butt joint, T joints, lap joints in the flat position.  Try welding these joints vertical up or overhead.  Get a good book on welding and see what you can do.

Now, for the most important part of welding: SAFETY.  All welding involves heat and the possibility of burns can never be over emphasized.  Your safety is your own personal responsibility and you must address it yourself.  Many burns are caused by contact with hot metal or slag.  I have seen students try to reach out and grab something they just welded and you can get burned even though you are wearing welding gloves.  Be careful of hot weldments and sparks and splatter from your own welds and others.  Ultraviolet light from welding will cause flash burn to the eyes.  Wear shade 5 lenses for cutting and oxy-fuel welding.  Wear shade 10 or greater in your welding hood for stick welding.  Always wear safety glasses when doing any work and ear protection when necessary.  Actual welding should be well ventilated.  Fume sources that are bad for your health include: paint, oil, grease, coatings on metals such a zinc and cadmium.  Older machinery and farm equipment may still have lead based paint.  No welding or cutting on refrigeration or air conditioner piping.  Wear the appropriate welder clothing: long sleeve shirts, long pants, leather shoes, a welders cap or beanie to protect your head.  Special welding jackets of leather or flame proof canvas and leather welding gloves should be worn.  Oxygen and acetylene cylinders should be chained securely in separate areas at least 20 ft. apart unless they are in a bottle cart and chained to it.  Never lift a bottle by the cap or safety valve.  When in use, oxygen bottles and cover gas bottles should be opened all the way to the back seat position after the regulators are properly screwed on.  Open the valve on a full cylinder just briefly to blow out any dust, then attach the regulator.  Acetylene bottles that have been laid on their side should be stored upright for at least 4 hours before being used.  After attaching the regulator open the acetylene bottle enough just to get full pressure on the gauges.

Again, welding is considered to be “hot work” so you are responsible for fires.   Keep a fire extinguisher handy.  A 5 gallon bucket of water wouldn’t hurt either.  Welding can cause electrical shock, so keep your leads and other equipment in good shape.  Use the right type of regulator for the process you are setting up.  Acetylene and fuel gases use left hand connections with a notched nut.  Back off the adjusting screw of all regulators after use so as not to distort the diaphragm.

I’m sure I haven’t covered everything and maybe forgotten a few things that should have been included, but if at all possible, take a welding course.  You’ll have a skill that will stand you in good stead and be very valuable, especially in a TEOTWAWKI situation.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Just writing in for the first time to bring an interesting incident to the forefront of the readers minds. It's been lost in the national news since it happened .

Saturday night, November 10, 2012 at just past 11 p.m. an explosion rocked a south Indianapolis neighborhood. Officials immediately cordoned off the neighborhood and started doing sweeps of the debris looking for survivors. In all four houses were totally destroyed, two were wiped to the foundations. Several surrounding homes were damaged beyond repair and 80 homes were damaged. The scene looked like a war zone with the look of a 500 pound bomb explosion (minus the crater). Luckily for the couple who lived in the house where the blast originated, they had gone gambling at the casino. They won this bet for sure. The couple in the house next door weren't so lucky. They both perished in the explosion and accompanying fire. The wife was a teacher in the school system that my children attend.

Moments after the initial blast that was heard and felt up to 20 miles away, sirens wailed on  for hours. Emergency crews flooded the neighborhood causing gridlock in the surrounding area. There was no way for survivors in the vicinity of the blast to drive away due to water hoses and emergency vehicles. Many survivors were moved to a school located across a field from the subdivision with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Gas and electricity was cut off to keep the emergency workers safe. The division of code compliance was soon on the scene in the early morning hours to check the area for structures that were deemed unsafe and they were tagged such so no entry was permitted. Some homes will need to be bulldozed, many of which were knocked off their foundations.

The Subdivision is a standard quarter to third acre lot brick faced vinyl village that has sprouted all over in suburbia. These homes are built to meet and never exceed code requirements. They build them as cheaply as possible! The rafters and deck bracing is all 1.5" x 3.5" (modern 2x4) construction with 1/2" decking and wallboard everywhere. The electrical systems and plumbing are as bare bones as you can get and still pass muster. The houses have little insulation unless you pay for extra and you can gain entry through a wall with a pocketknife. These houses are total junk and sold at the same price as a custom home. I'm not surprised at all that the damage was so severe. The fire department in a town near Indy tried to find out why so many of these type tract homes burned when struck by lightening by hiring experts to come in and inspect the structures for a cause. They found that any time a house of this construction was built, they flexible metal gas lines would take the energy from the lightening strike and make the tubing fail, causing the super heated line to catch the escaping gasses on fire.

Saturday it was near 70 degrees F so many people took advantage of the weather and got some exercise. Luckily my Cub Scout troop had planned a service project at the local church. The boys and I along with many other volunteers were fighting the weeds in a hedgerow wearing short sleeves. Many people opened their windows during the day and enjoyed the warmth. The occupants of the house that exploded had left it closed up and the house was warm enough that the furnace didn't need to operate all day, until about 11:09? The home owner got a text from the occupant (Daughter) a few days before that the furnace wasn't working properly.

At this time the cause of the fire hasn't officially been determined, but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that it was the furnace. (Many Internet speculators have called it a Predator UAV strike or a plane crash. One even cited Russian intelligence sources as noting a launch profile from their satellites. The American CIA had supposedly lost control of a Raptor and it fired or something along those lines. I have a hard time believing that and the evidence doesn't support it, but hey, it's a nearly free country.)

The response from the alphabet soup government was huge. ATF, NTSB, FBI, State police, County police, City Police and fire services were all on scene to evaluate. All residents were removed for their own safety and the houses were inspected again Sunday. The devastation was immense. People weren't allowed back to their homes until Monday afternoon, were they had an hour to collect belongings from their homes and leave. The residents of homes that were made habitable were allowed to stay as long as no evidence was found in the immediate vicinity of their home. Many residents had no way to get around due to the damage to their cars, or the fact that the cars were trapped under collapsed garage doors. Most were unprepared and caught naked in the night. They scrambled out of their houses with little more than the clothes on their backs.

My house is almost exactly a mile from the explosion, but after a hard days work I was dead asleep when the explosion occurred. I slept right through it. This emergency was too close to ignore, too different form the one's I have prepared for to keep me content with my level of preparedness. Things I've come to realize over the last few days have really shaken me up and have made me consider caches more acceptable than guarded preps at the house.

The idea that a government agency can forcefully remove me from my property for my own safety really bothered me. Not only that, they made the survivors rally at a school that is a "Gun free zone" with regard to the Indiana Code. No firearms, no time to gather preps, no vehicles due to the streets being cordoned off. Had I lived in the vicinity, I'd be homeless, hungry and unarmed in an instant with no recourse to make the situation better. There were relief agencies mobilized by Sunday but no long term accommodations had been made for those without insurance to cover it. It's now Tuesday and there are still people relying on handouts for the basics. This would be totally unacceptable for myself and my family. I need a better plan.

I needed somewhere local I can stash a few buckets of food and provisions to keep the family happy long enough to arrange long term housing in case ours is uninhabitable. At least a couple weeks food, some cash and barter as well as copies of documents we might need. Maybe even an extra credit card and book of checks for keeping a lid on the finances during the event. Toiletries for the whole family. Cash phone with minutes in case there's something else going on to necessitate a bailout. Insurance contact information. Personally, I have 2 locations that come to mind but only one is secure. I'll have to enact my plan in the next few weeks to make sure it's handled.

My biggest failure was with regard to my bailout bags. Mine is still torn apart from the last scout camping trip late last month. I was intending to replace the sleeping bag with a better rated bag for the cooler weather. My eldest son had claimed my old one so I was without until a new one showed up on my doorstep tonight. Had I needed it, I would have been unprepared and so would my eldest son. Neither had the BOB ready to go. Unacceptable behavior on my part.

Interior security on my home is pathetic. Should the inspectors stroll through my house, they would see way too much for me. OPSEC would be totally blown and I'd be on the list for having guns and reloading components stocked up. I've got ammo, powder and bullets strewn all over my garage and the fuel cans are easily visible. All my web gear is hanging where it can be seen without much digging. A looter with someone on the inside would clean me out in a matter of minutes. Our local code enforcement officers are paid at the poverty level so they would be my biggest concern. None of my steel storage cabinets were locked up securely. Anyone could have rifled through my weapons list and exchange books. My financials were laying on my desk for the most recent moves out of the market. Several of my guns were laying on top of the safe because I hadn't cleaned them from a range trip the weekend before the explosion. All my Dillon equipment was out and charged up ready for use. My alarm covers the garage so I just don't consider it a threat.

I don't have Window and door sized plywood cut and ready to go in case I have an emergency. I have several sheets of 1/4" sheet, but none cut for easy install. In the event of a tornado or blast, I would be unable to cover my windows and doors in a timely manner. My house would be a sitting duck without me here to protect it.

Another prime fail point would be transportation. If we were in the same position, we wouldn't have wheels except for my bikes that I keep off site during the winter. Sounds like I need to stash an el cheapo wagon somewhere where we can get to it locally. The bailout vehicle at my bailout location isn't moving, I need another option. I'm thinking a small minivan or station wagon that is unassuming and cheap would do the trick. Need to tint the windows and make it as soccer momesque as possible. Maybe even an Honor Roll sticker on the bumper. To add to my own ignorance, my truck (the primary BOV) is packed to the gills with work supplies that need to be brought into the garage storage system. My converted cargo trailer is also in use with a friend so I can't even use it for temporary housing. It has my backup generator on it as well.

The primary bailout location is a few hours away in a secluded area but without my preps at home, I might not make it if the emergency is serious enough to require us to bring our own fuel. It's all set up and ready to go but it couldn't help me a bit if I was homeless but needed to stay here for work. It's a unique emergency for sure.

The biggest, and most important issue we face is the proximity of our neighbors. By local code, we must not build closer than 10' from the property line. That means our houses can be a minimum of 20' apart. Way too close for my comfort. I'm still 100 feet or so from my closest neighbor, but not enough space if they have an explosion of this magnitude. It's suburbia, so I'll have to live with it. I have not been able to convince the wife to move further away yet but I'm working on it. Montana, the Dakotas, and Utah interest me, but I think she has only Montana on her mind.

In closing I'd like to point out that this tragedy was an opportunity for me to put myself into that situation and learn from it. The discipline to survive should never falter of fade. Vigilance is the key to prevailing in this climate of uncertainty. I've failed myself and my family and vow to enhance our security and ability to survive no matter what is thrown at me. - J.B. from Greenwood

JWR Replies: Our friend Tamara of the View From The Porch blog was about 15 miles away and heard the blast. This dramatic incident is a reminder that it is safer to live in a neighborhood where houses are more widely spaced. Keep your BOB handy. And, of course, the smell of odorized natural gas or propane should never be ignored, as the consequences can be devastating.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fire Statistics
The following statistics from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) are for fires in the USA in 2009:

  • There were 3,010 civilian deaths from fire, 2,565 of which occurred in the home.
  • There were 260 civilian deaths from motor vehicle fires.
  • Only 105 civilian fire deaths occurred in non-residential structures.
  • US fire departments responded to an estimated 1,348,500 fires resulting in an estimated $12,531,000,000 in property losses and 17,050 civilian injuries.

In general, fires cause more loss of life and property in America than all natural disasters combined. Every year, fires are responsible for more loss of life, limb, and property in the USA than either hurricane Katrina or the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11!  Statistically speaking, the easiest and most cost effective way to reduce the chances that you, your home, or your family might suffer great loss in a future event, is to improve the fire safety of your home, and the fire awareness of your loved ones.
With the record breaking heat, drought, and fire storms of the summer of 2012, most of us want to do what we can to improve the chances that our home will survive a local wildfire. Creating a “defensible space” is one of the first set of tasks that a rural homeowner or renter should do.

Creating a Defensible Space

My buddy Jim Bolton, an experienced Reno fireman, tells me that when they enter a neighborhood, they take mental notes about which homes have maintained a defensible space and which have not. They don’t waste their time focusing on homes without a defensible space, but spend their time defending homes where they stand a decent chance of success, while keeping a watchful eye on nearby flames. These are brave guys, risking their necks where most of us would not go, but they have wives and kids so when a vicious fire storm gets dangerously close, they simply have to leave the neighborhood and let nature take its course.

• Clear dead brush from property and trim tall weeds short.
• Clean rain gutters and roof valleys of all dead leaves and pine needles.
• Place smoke detectors in all bedrooms, hallways, kitchens and at least one on every floor of your home.
• Put fire extinguishers in kitchen, garage, and workshop areas.
• Inspect and chimney sweep chimneys and woodstove pipes annually to prevent creosote buildup. Creosote is a black greasy gooey layer that is combustible, and is a common byproduct of incomplete wood combustion. Chimney fires destroy many homes each year.
• Store flammables (gasoline, kerosene, oily rags, paint thinner, etc.) in approved flame-resistant containers and away from living areas. Garage areas should have one-hour fire-wall code-approved construction (typically ?-inch sheetrock wall covering, or better).
• Clear ground of pine needles, dead leaves, etc. Rake them once in the spring and let them fall in the fall. Remove dead vegetation and debris.
• Thin out thick stands of shrubs and trees to create a separation.
• Remove “ladder fuels” like lower tree branches and shrubs underneath trees to keep wildfire from climbing and spreading. Prune all dead limbs from trees.
• Plant “green zones” of moist, fire-resistant plants that will act as a barrier, and not fuel for fires.
• Swimming pools, ornamental ponds, etc., provide extra water reserves for fighting fires, and may be tapped by either fire trucks’ onboard pumping systems or lighter-duty homeowner firefighting pump systems.
• Consider installing fireproof window shutters that will help prevent the heat of an approaching a firestorm from shattering your windows or transmitting enough radiant heat to ignite items inside the home.
• Your house number should be clearly visible from the street for identification by emergency vehicles.

Additionally, in rural areas it may be a smart idea to purchase a high-volume gasoline-powered home fire-fighting pump. Gel systems have the capability to get the most out of limited water supplies, and the sticky gel is a fire resistant gooey coating that provides much longer lasting protection than a simple water spray, when applied to walls, decking, and roofing.

About the author: Matthew Stein is SurvivalBlog's Back Country Editor. He is a design engineer, green builder, and author of two bestselling books: When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide to Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival (Chelsea Green 2011), and When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency (Chelsea Green 2008). Stein is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he majored in Mechanical Engineering. Stein has appeared on numerous radio and television programs and is a repeat guest on Fox News, Coast-to-Coast AM, Alex Jones’ Infowars, Vince Finelli’s USA Prepares, and The Power Hour.  He is an active mountain climber, serves as a guide and instructor for blind skiers, has written several articles on the subject of sustainable living, and is a guest columnist for the Huffington Post. His web sites are and

Monday, September 17, 2012

After living in The States off and on for several years, in 2008 Andrew and Mary Hall moved back to their home in Buxton Australia so they could  be closer to their aging parents. It was a modest three bedroom two bath house with exterior walls of “mud brick” (adobe) that helped keep the home’s interior cool during the hot Australian summers. With large eaves, a metal roof, and adobe style mud brick walls, many would consider their home to be reasonably fire resistant, but its construction proved no match for the forces of nature that turned the neighboring towns of Buxton and Marysville into deadly infernos on Australia’s tragic “Black Saturday” on February 7, 2009.
The prior week, the weather had been extremely hot, with several days recording temperatures of over 40°C (104°F). On that Saturday morning, record breaking temperatures combined with long term drought conditions and high winds (over 60 MPH) to generate the most serious fire conditions that anyone could remember. An official “extreme fire alert” was issued along with a strict “no burning” command. Mary remembers looking at the thermometer on that day, and it read a blistering 47°C (117°F)! Around 4:30 in the afternoon, a neighbor came by and pointed out a large ominous plume of smoke rising to the southwest. Andrew dialed 000 (The Aussie equivalent to America’s 911), and it just cut out. When attempts to call the fire department also failed, they decided to pack-and-go. Knowing that they did not have enough water and other resources to stay and fight should a major wildfire break out, Andrew and Mary’s fire plan had always been to evacuate. They packed some clothes, the dog, a few files, their computers, and a couple bicycles into the car and left their home, hoping and praying it would still be standing upon their return. 

Andrew and Mary headed for a friend’s place with a defensible piece of property that included a swimming pool and a dammed reservoir, plus an extensive supply of fire fighting materials such as pumps, a tractor, and backpack sprayers. Unlike Andrew and Mary’s property, which backed up to a steeply wooded hillside, their friend’s property was mostly grassland, making it easier to hold back a bush fire. About 10:30 PM a 3 meter (10 foot) high wall of fire descended upon that property,  and for the next eight hours family, friends, and neighbors fought to keep the flames and flying embers at bay. Exhausted, around 6 AM they were able to catch an hour  and a half of fitful sleep before braving the drive back to their home to survey the damage. At this point, they still had hopes that a favorable wind direction had spared their home. As they walked up the hill to their front yard, they saw that all but three mud brick walls had been totally obliterated. Except for the few things they had packed in their car they day before, all of their personal belongings and the tools for Andrew’s bicycle repair business had been reduced to cinders and scraps of molten metal.

Andrew also had a commercial coffee roaster (“The Great Divide Coffee Roasting”) housed in a shed on his partner’s property just outside of the neighboring town of Marysville. The entire commercial section of Marysville, except for the bakery, had also been destroyed by the fire, but miraculously, the shed that  the coffee roaster was stored in, as well as their friend’s home, had survived. Both were scorched by the flames, but spared the destruction which had taken all but 14 of over 400 buildings in Marysville. In spite of having lost their home, one of their businesses, and nearly all their personal possessions, they fared much better than many others in the surrounding area who had lost their lives or loved ones. On what has become known as “Black Saturday”, bush fires took the lives of 173 people, wiped out whole towns, and entire families were found incinerated in their cars while trying to escape the inferno.
In addition to the details of their trials and losses, Mary also had this to say in her official statement to the local police, “I don’t believe we would have done anything any differently. As far as having adequate warning, we weren’t given any. Other than knowing that it was a high fire danger day, there was no real warning. I don’t know that having had any other warning would have made a difference. I know I didn’t hear any siren or warning sound that day.” For my friends Mary and Andrew, knowing when to stand and fight, and when to pack and run, clearly meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of folks on that blazing hot Saturday in Australia!


Extreme Fire Alert, or Approaching Fire

  • Stay tuned to local radio stations, but keep your eyes and ears open, not counting on authorities for proper warning. STAY SAFE! BEST TO ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION!
  • Keep pets and children close at hand and ready for rapid evacuation.
  • Place 72 hour emergency kits in car(s) along with important documents and computer backup files (“My Life in a Box”). Park cars facing towards the driveway exit for a speedy evacuation.
  • When concerned about an approaching fire, a lawn sprinkler left running on your roof improves the chances for saving your home.
  • Hose down bushes and hedges next to your home, and trim back if you feel it may be helpful or necessary.
  • Close all windows and doors. Block foundation and roof vents to slow penetration of superheated firestorm gases inside the building envelope.
  • Close fireplace or chimney dampers to minimize the “chimney effect” from drawing air up your chimney. Whatever volume of air draws up your chimney, will be replaced by superheated air from the outside firestorm.
  • Remove drapes from windows and move furniture into center of rooms away from windows.
  • Turn off natural gas lines at the meter (you may need to contact your gas company to have a qualified workman safely turn your gas back on) and propane lines at the tank. Place a lawn sprinkler on your propane tank.
  • Remove gas grills and portable propane tanks far from the home, as well as combustibles such as portable gasoline cans.

When a Fire Strikes Your Home

Crawl under the smoke

Remember that hot air rises, so if your step into a hallway filled with choking blinding smoke, drop to your knees to see if that will get you into a bearable level of smoke so you can speed crawl your way to safety.

Putting out a clothing fire with a blanket, or rolling on the ground

Normal types of fires needs oxygen in order to burn. When hair or clothing catches on fire, quickly smother the fire with a towel, blanket or jacket tightly wrapped around the burning area on the victim. Alternately, get the victim to roll on the ground to smother the flames, or grab and hug the victim while using your own body to smother the flames.

Bust through sheet rock walls

In an emergency situation, realize that most homes are built with interior walls covered in sheetrock. If necessary to avoid a fire and smoke filled hallway, or to gain access to a room to rescues a family member, realize that this sheetrock can be easily kicked through to allow a person to slip between the studs from one room to another without using a door or window.

When to Make a Stand, and When to Pack and Go

The 2001 Martis Fire started about two miles downwind from our neighborhood.
When a fire threatens, remember the story of Andrew and Mary Hall, keeping in mind the fate of those less fortunate families that were found incinerated inside their cars after being overtaken by a fire storm during Australia’s infamous “Black Saturday.”

When it comes to wildfires, it is better to err on the side of caution than to risk all in a moment of valor!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Given the record breaking droughts, heat waves, and fire storms of the summer of 2012, if current scientific predictions of global warming prove anywhere near correct, then the we can expect that this scary situation will become the new normal  in the coming years. Whether you are a homeowner wishing to improve the fire resistance of your current dwelling, or are planning to build a new home, beyond creating a “defensible space” around your home there are a number of other actions you can take to improve the chances that your home will survive a local wildfire. These guidelines are typically applied to homes located in areas where long periods of dry weather are common, such as many of the western states. However, due to changing times people in many areas where the threat of wildfires was previously a non-issue are now finding it to be a growing concern.

Lessons from the 1993 Laguna Fire

In October 1993, when a vicious wildfire broke out in Laguna Beach, a southern California beach town, firefighter John Henderson was called down from his home in the Sierras of northern California to fight this blaze. The combination of extremely dangerous fire conditions, brought on by three consecutive drought years coupled with 60 to 70 mph hot and dry Santa Ana winds, quickly whipped the fire into an unstoppable conflagration, burning hundreds of homes to the ground! When John rounded a corner on the Pacific Coast Highway, just north of Laguna Beach, he saw a sight that he will never forget. He and his partner watched the firestorm rush down the dry hills toward the ocean. The heat of the firestorm was so intense that, even after blowing across four lanes of pavement, it was hot enough to ignite a mile-long stretch of wooden telephone poles on the ocean side of the road. From a distance, he said they looked like a string of matchsticks stuck in the sand, igniting one after the other until there were perhaps a hundred telephone poles burning at once.

• Many if not most homes burned from the inside out when firestorm heat radiated through closed windows and slipped inside through foundation and roof vents to ignite interior curtains, rugs, etc. Double-pane windows and heavily insulated walls will slow the rate of heat penetration into interior spaces.
• The only buildings to survive the Laguna Fire had insulated walls, double-pane windows, and blocked or minimized venting. A well-insulated, well-sealed building envelope, and high thermal mass, will slow interior heating and ignition.
• Minimize venting, and screen all vent openings to prevent flaming embers from entering vents. Removable fire-wall vent blocks should be placed in front of foundation and roof vents during periods of extreme fire danger to keep hot air from easily penetrating the building envelope.
• One of the few Laguna homes in the path of the firestorm to survive had a 40-foot-wide strip of the green succulent “ice plant” (creating an excellent “defensible space”) and a concrete tiled roof (an exceptionally fire resistant roof). The firestorm blew right over the top of the ice plant and the house, dropped burning embers on the concrete tile roof, roasted a 10-foot-wide swath of ice plant, but failed to ignite the building’s structure.
• Stucco, cement, or earthen walls are preferred. If wood siding is desired, it should be applied over a ?-inch sheetrock fire wall for improved fire resistance. Cement-based weather board can look like wood but give you cement board’s superior fire resistance. Even with a stucco or cement weather-board sheath, an underlying wood-framed wall might ignite if the firestorm gets hot enough.
• All projections (roof eaves, etc.) should be protected on the underside with cement stucco or cement board (like Certainteed or Hardie Board) that looks like wood. A less-preferred alternative is to paint natural wood with fire-resistant coating to improve its resistance to ignition by burning embers. Hot air rises and can easily ignite roof overhangs in a firestorm.
• Coat wood decks with multiple layers of a fire-resistant urethane deck covering (Pacific Polymers or similar) or treat wood decking with fire-resistant coatings (Fire Stop or similar).
            Note: Chemical treatments, such as Fire Stop, will inhibit ignition by burning embers, but will not prevent ignition due to a super hot firestorm. A stucco coat (¾ inch or thicker) on the underside of wooden decks was credited with saving two homes in the Laguna Beach fire. There is a new fly-ash composite decking board from LifeTime Lumber that has a “Class A” fireproof rating, and is LEED certified for its recycled content, that can be used to build high-quality fireproof decks. Trex and many of the other similar competing composite decking manufacturers have come out with “Class B” fire-resistant wood/plastic composite decking to meet California’s new wildland fire codes.
• Use only “Class A” fire-rated roofing systems, which are rated to prevent both the roofing material itself, and roofing underlayment (plywood) from catching fire when covered with burning embers. Most asphalt and fiberglass shingles are Class A rated, but metal roofing usually requires the use of Versashield underlayment (or equal) to achieve this rating. “Living” roofs (planted sod) have excellent fire resistance as well as thermal mass and insulation. With Class A roofing, the eaves and overhangs are the most vulnerable areas of the roof owing to the fire down below. 
(Above list adapted and expanded from John Underwood, “Fire Resistant Details: Studying the Houses That Survived the 1993 Laguna Beach Fire Storm Yields Lessons in Building to Withstand the Heat,” Fine Home
            There are a number of building systems that are inherently fire resistant. Basically, if it is earth or concrete based, it is very fire resistant. Also, if you fill the wall with foam or straw, to eliminate dead air spaces and the chimney effect, and sheath the wall with stucco, earthen plasters, or cement board, even if it is wood-framed it will have good fire resistance. Do your best to make your roof, eaves, and decks fire resistant too, since your home will only be as fire resistant as its weakest link. Obviously, traditional stone, brick, and concrete-block construction are also quite fire resistant, provided their roofs are not a weak link in the system.
            With burning embers settling on rooftops, in many cases it is the roof that forms the weak link in the fire-resistance chain. Traditional wooden shake and shingle are notorious for catching on fire from burning embers. For fire-resistant roofing, consider the following options:
• Use only “Class A” fire-rated roofing.
• Class A roofing must withstand burning embers on roof without igniting plywood sheeting.
• Most modern composition (asphalt) shingles are “Class A” fire-rated.
• Metal roofs transmit heat easily to the underlying plywood, so they tend to be not as fire resistant as you might imagine, unless they are underlaid with an insulating flame-resistant lining. They are usually only Class A fire resistant with the addition of Versashield underlayment (or similar).
• I recommend two layers of Versashield FR underlayment (or similar) FR barrier for extra fire barrier between metal roofing and its underlying plywood sheeting.

NOTE: This article was adapted from the author's book When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival.

About the Author: Matthew Stein is SurvivalBlog's Back Country Editor. He is a design engineer, green builder, and author of two best selling books:When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency and When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival.. Stein is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he majored in Mechanical Engineering. Stein has appeared on numerous radio and television programs and is a repeat guest on Fox News, Coast-to-Coast AM, Alex Jones’ Infowars, Vince Finelli’s USA Prepares, and The Power Hour.  He is an active mountain climber, serves as a guide and instructor for blind skiers, has written several articles on the subject of sustainable living, and is a guest columnist for the Huffington Post. His web sites are and

Friday, June 29, 2012

I was two miles from where the Waldo Canyon fire when it started last Saturday. We saw the fire just minutes after it began. Within five hours, 2,500 acres were consumed. Four hours after we left Garden Of The Gods, they evacuated the park. Then they evacuated the town of Manitou Springs where we were staying. We had to leave because of this.

32,000 people have had to abandon their homes. Some 6,000 acres have burned so far. Keep the people of Colorado in your prayers. - Shrike

In the article “Preparing Your Retreat For a Forest Fire or Brush Fire” by F.A., the author states “In reality though, the gap exists because the Forest Service policy was to fight every fire. I’m not meaning to offend anyone, but I believe they got caught up in the same 'spend it or lose it' budget planning that has helped bury this country in debt. Their policy was to extinguish any reported fire by 10:00 AM the following morning. Imagine the resources necessary to accomplish this goal. Even in the primitive areas, then designated wilderness areas after the passage of the Wilderness Act in the 1970s, every fire was fought”.
I’ve worked for the US Forest Service for over 24 years, and this is a sad misrepresentation of firefighting policy.  The US Forest Service did not have a spend it or lose it policy for firefighting - we had a policy based upon a faulty understanding of fire ecology.  This began to change as early as the 1950s, and continued to gain momentum in subsequent decades.  We still aggressively suppress fires in the urban interface but we draw large boxes around lightning-caused fires in the backcountry and manage them for fuel reduction as appropriate.  By the way, fuel reduction isn’t a “spend it or lose it” proposition either, it comes out of the local budget at the expense of planned projects.
When the author says that he did not mean to offend anyone, he in fact did.  Firefighters die every year protecting homes and natural resources.  Many of us have decades of experience, and are not as ignorant or greedy as the author apparently believes.  If the author realized how little funding the US Forest Service actually receives, perhaps he could write a more credible article.  He should look at a pie chart of Federal expenditures.  The wedge of the pie the US Forest Service receives cannot be discerned.  That wedge continues to decrease: the fiscal year 2013 budget is bleak, and projections for fiscal year 2014 are worse.  Ignorance is turning the US Forest Service into a caretaker agency.  Perhaps we should let wildfires burn for a few years in order to gain some level of appreciation.  Many of us are awfully tired of sleeping in the dirt and inhaling smoke. Sincerely, - P.F., (PhD in forest ecology, firefighter, conservative, and Christian)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

As hundreds of thousands of acres are burning all across Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Wyoming, as I write this article, the smell of smoke wafting through my window has caused me to think about the many thousands of people that have retreated to the Redoubt. While I have no way of knowing how many folks have relocated from parts other than the Rocky Mountain west, I suppose that many are not familiar with the devastation a forest fire can cause; nor how quickly the devastation can occur. I also can only assume that most of the Redoubt folks that have relocated have taken many precautions to make their retreats as inconspicuous as possible. Many, for very good strategic reasons, have probably built on a ridge or high point. I’m certain that retreat cabins have been designed to blend in to their surroundings; many are probably built of logs – if not logs from the property, then logs that have been trucked in. I would bet that many are on deep wells, with a majority of those providing less than 10 GPM. While I’m assuming on the common profile, I would also make an educated guess that many of the retreats are a fair distance from a town, more commonly off of a U.S. Forest Service road or timber company road, both cut through the middle of heavily forested areas.

A little as to background: I have spent nearly two decades in Idaho - over half of that time working as a mule-packer/guide in the River of No Return Wilderness. Many other years were spent working on ranches that backed up against the Beaverhead Mountains in Montana. I have fought fires, not as a trained Forest Service firefighter, but in the course of life in the professions that I had chosen. I have raced my mules through the middle of fires that had sprung up ahead of us without my knowledge; I have ridden back through that same fire nearly three months later to find it smoldering and crouching like a dragon, just waiting for conditions to tempt it out of its sleep. I have not pulled camps in a fire zone after a foot of snow had fallen and extinguished it – only to have to pull it three weeks later with ember and ash falling on us, because the foot of snow was nothing more than a very temporary slow down. The weather warmed up again and the warm earth in late August melted the snow very quickly, as if it never fell. I have trailed horses through areas when a fire was fifteen miles away, only to find out that the very trails we rode on were torched three days later by a fire that was jumping a mile ahead of itself (see Runaway Ridge Fire – Cold Meadows Ranger Station). In a nutshell, I have been on the periphery of a lot of fires. I have packed out a lot of smoke jumpers and hotshots when the Forest Service used to fight fire in the wilderness areas, and listened to their tales of crowning fires that seemed to create their own wind. I have ridden along trails above fires listening to massive yellow pines and Doug firs literally exploding from the heat. I’m not an expert on fires, but I am pretty experienced with them.

To the point of the article, there is real and present danger to retreaters who have built their places in the locations described above. Typically fires will race up ridges; then will get pushed along down the backside with wind direction. The speed of this obviously varies on fuel load, humidity, wind speed, etc. A fire can engulf homes sitting along ridgelines faster than anyone would ever believe. I can’t stress this enough. If there is a fire in the area, and if it is moving towards your retreat, please be very wary. There will not be time to do much of anything. Staying or leaving is up to you, but what will you do? Have you cleared undergrowth and trees back several hundred feet from your home? Do you have a metal roof that might spare you from falling embers? Have you installed a cistern or reservoir of some sort with hoses, hardlines and pumps? I can assure you that a well delivering any flow, much less 10 GPM, through a yard hydrant and garden hose will be like, well, relieving oneself. What about your ability to get out of Dodge (as in going back to Dodge and away from the retreat)? Can you be certain that the fire hasn’t made your Forest Service or timber company road impassable? Do you drive across a timber bridge many miles from your retreat each day? What will you do when that bridge is gone? Do you want to be caught in the middle of an inferno in your “Bug Back Vehicle”?

In case some of you are thinking, “This won’t happen here”, let’s take a quick look at some brief history. Nearly everyone has heard of the fires of 1910. Most of western Montana was burning. Many homes and ranches were engulfed. That was before the Forest Service had trained firefighters. In fact, that fire was the impetus to develop the Forest Service. Never again they said will we be short of manpower and supplies to fight this natural, regularly occurring event. Everyone remembers the Yellowstone fires of 1988. Hundreds of thousands of acres tore through Yellowstone. The Forest Service with support from the military threw everything they had at this fire with no gains in containment – at least not enough to change much. Not until the cooler fall temperatures and precipitation came along, did this fire get extinguished. How about the year 2000? Do you remember the famous photo [by John McColgan] of the two cow elk standing in the middle of the Bitterroot River while the landscape around them was fully engulfed and glowing an eerie, smoky orange? In that year 7.4 million acres burned in just two states, Idaho and Montana! It was absolutely apocalyptic in nature. All summer and fall, tens of thousands of Forest Service personnel, along with help from various tribal ranger districts across the west lived in massive tent camps in numerous locations across Idaho and Montana. Even the USMC sent troops in to help. In that year, even if your retreat was unaffected by fire, if it was along the route to a section of the fire, a sharp young Marine at a roadblock would have determined if you were allowed to pass or not. Notice the big gap in history between 1910 and 1988? Some of the gap is due to this history coming off the top of my head! In reality though, the gap exists because the Forest Service policy was to fight every fire. I’m not meaning to offend anyone, but I believe they got caught up in the same “spend it or lose it” budget planning that has helped bury this country in debt. Their policy was to extinguish any reported fire by 10:00 AM the following morning. Imagine the resources necessary to accomplish this goal. Even in the primitive areas, then designated wilderness areas after the passage of the Wilderness Act in the 1970s, every fire was fought. Fire lookouts were built on every prominent point throughout the wilderness and surrounding forest areas. These lookouts ranged from glorified tree houses to extensive steel structures anchored in concrete footings. I’ve been in several of these fire lookouts, and became friends with several of the lookouts themselves. These loner type individuals would stay in their lookout from June until October, everyday, 24/7. If a fire was spotted, triangulations were called in and within hours, tankers, smoke jumpers or Hotshots were called in to extinguish. The amount of fuel that continued to build up due to this “10:00 AM” policy was astronomical. During the Clinton years, for budgetary reasons, this policy was changed for the wilderness. No longer would fires be fought in wilderness areas. The “let-burn” policy was put into effect and since then we have seen nature burning through the fuel load.

Is your retreat on the border of a Wilderness Area? At this same time, the Clinton “Roadless Initiative” was passed. Well-meaning folks across the political spectrum in some cases, or hardcore environmentalists in other cases, considered this law a great savior for the nation’s forest. In reality however, the logging industry was destroyed. Again, fuel began to build up from lack of logging. Coniferous stands became diseased with scab and mistletoe and finally the dreaded “Pine Bark Beetle” that has destroyed 90% of the trees in many counties in the forests of Colorado. So again, there is an unusually high amount of fuel. Another by-product of the Roadless ban was that many of the forest service roads built to allow for the transport of logs to the mills, were reclaimed. Contractors were paid by the USDA to “un-build” roads. Dirt was pulled down from cuts above the roadway and graded to look they way it did before the road was built. Culverts and bridges were removed, topsoil and duff spread on top and seeding occurred. The unforeseen result in this reclamation effort was that many firebreaks were lost. Combine all these policies and we will be seeing big fires across the west for decades to come. Some years, conditions will be right for fires to burn in the southwest mountains; some years they’ll burn in the central or northern Rockies. But they will burn and burn hot, for many months in the summer.

I guess the real point of this article is to make some folks think about a very real danger to them in their new and unfamiliar settings. By no means am I trying to discourage folks from having an out of the way retreat. To me, there is nothing better than being self sufficient, away from the crowds and cities all the time – heck, I used to live six to seven months out of a year in a wall tent in the middle of the biggest wilderness in the lower 48! I just want to stress that forest fires are deceiving and untrustworthy. They cover more ground than we expect them to. They come back to life when we think they are surely dead as a doornail. They change directions, slow down, speed up, jump rivers, jump roads, jump scree patches, lay dormant in roots only to spring up again like a rattlesnake.

To those of you wonderful people that have taken the enormous leap to move yourself and your families out of the cities for whatever reason, just walk around your place and look at your retreat through the prism of a fire being in the area. Take a look at the topography in a ten or twenty mile radius around your retreat. Pay attention to your drive, not just for ambush points or defensible positions, but wonder how you will get in or out during a fire. As always, in everything, pay attention. Do the things that make your retreat more defensible from forest fire. The rest is up to you and the will of our Lord.
Be safe while being prepared in your forested retreat.

Dear Editor:
Wanted to share my evacuation experiences and lessons learned while they're still fresh in my mind.  Although it wasn't a 5 minute evacuation, it was pretty stress-free.  Fortunately, I started serious preparations early this year, or it would have been a whole lot more work.
My house is (was?) within about five miles of the starting point of the fire.  Not far at all, but fires don't burn that well downhill, so it was ok.  But the wind picked up big last night and sent the fire into the houses within about three miles of me. 
I got my pile of "definitely going with me" stuff by the garage door on Saturday night.  The bullets and bullion, mostly.  Since this isn't TEOTWAWKI, I wasn't much worried about food, other than losing hundreds of dollars worth of stored food to the fire.
I continued getting things ready, packing some clothes, organizing things to be ready to go, but not really organized.
Lesson #1 - partly organized isn't ready for full-scale, fast evac.  To do that, I'd have needed duplicate things already packed and ready to go.  For example, duplicate toiletries so you have the set you use and the set that's ready to go.  Going back and forth is a hassle, and the extra is worth it.
I was away from home last evening as the fire raged on.  On my way home, they had evacuated the Air Force Academy and more neighborhoods from the northeast part of town.  It was a traffic fiasco.  They shut down I-25, leaving me to find the back roads way home.  Ordinarily not a problem since I've lived here forever.  But the crazy driving, the police blockades and gawkers stopped by the side of the road made it much more difficult than anticipated.  Fortunately, I just kept flowing with what worked and turning where I had to.
Lesson #2:  During a large scale evacuation, expect traffic to be a mess no matter which direction you're.  There were people stuck in traffic for hours, not moving - and they were darn close to the fire!  Good news is that the incident management team gave lots of notice to leave, and they evacuated in sections, so it wasn't really time critical.  In a true TEOTWAWKI situation, though, you're not going to drive anywhere.  Maybe ever.
Once I got home, I tossed all of my "ready to go" stuff in the back of my truck, and then started going back for "Tier 2" stuff.  That was the stuff I had already planned in the back of my head that I would take with me.  That included critical business stuff, like the computer and networking equipment, and some additional tools and belongings I wanted.
Lesson #3:  Since some things can't easily (or affordably) be duplicated, make sure they can be evacuated quickly.  For me, that means have all of the equipment in a small pile, easily extracted and put into a carrying container.  It took me about 30 minutes to get all of the equipment out from under the table, cable rat's nest separated, and into a bag (that I had to get from downstairs!).  If/when I go back home, I'll have a much more transportable system set up, with carrying case in place.
At that point, I had most of the things I wanted into my truck, and then started going for "Tier 3" things.  This included books, more medical gear, and some other random personal things.  Then I took a breath to find out if I needed to get out.  Since I had disconnected all of my television gear, I couldn't use that info outlet!  I probably wouldn't change that, though.  I used my nose instead.  I went outside to look, listen and smell.  Most of my neighbors had already packed up and left.  I could see a big orange glow that didn't look far away at all, maybe a couple miles.  The smoke was worse than before, but not choking.  And there really wasn't much sound at all.  Nothing untoward anyway.
Now I had to figure out one of my biggest challenges - surprisingly so:  How to move both packed cars with cats and dog and the most valuable things in my life in them!  This was made more complicated because I didn't have room for the dog in the truck, and I the back window in my truck wouldn't roll up - so I couldn't secure the really valuable stuff!
I talked with my "retreat" to find out what they knew.  Unfortunately, nothing they knew really helped me make that decision.  Since no one had knocked on my door to tell me I was officially, "mandatorily" evacuated, I elected to drive the sedan to the retreat, then come back for the truck.  Went and packed up the cats and drove off.
Imagine my surprise then, when I got a ways down the road and realized I was driving the truck instead of the sedan!  Oops!  Yeah, and I didn't know if I would be able to fit it in the garage of the retreat!  Instead of turning around, I just went forward, because I didn't know if I'd be able to get back home once I left the neighborhood.  And I had the most valuable stuff with me.
Lesson #4:  Having one person and two cars and no backup doesn't work all that well in evac mode. Especially when you can't secure one of the cars!  Have backup meet you there to help out, if possible.  I considered doing that, but with the luxury of time, I didn't.  In a more time-critical operation, you're either packing everything into a space that doesn't work, or leaving stuff behind and hoping for the best - like I did.  And don't expect that an unrehearsed plan will go perfectly.  I sure was surprised when I "woke up" in the truck!
Lesson #5:  The process of evacuation is a process of "letting go".  Specifically saying, "I can live without that."  Knowing in a very black and white way, that you may literally NEVER SEE IT AGAIN.  For me, it was surprisingly easy to do, for the most part.  Maybe that comes from having moved a lot of times in my life, and having a fairly loose grasp on the things in my life.  I have it or I don't, ok.  Maybe because I've never defined my life as the things I own?  Or not being very sentimental?  Or maybe because the memories are more valuable to me than the T-shirt I got for being there and doing that?  Dunno.
In any case, as I drove to the retreat, I heard the mandatory evacuation notice for my area on the radio.  I still had to hope the police would let me back in to get the other car.
Lesson #6:  The media is both good and bad in this situation.  The bad:  mostly, they repeat the same information over and over - obtained from the press briefings at 8 am and 4 pm.  Not very helpful.  And then they spew oatmeal in between that.  Amazing the nonsense that comes out of their mouths - lots of filler words that sound intelligent but mean nothing.  The good:  They tell you when/where the evacuation zones are.  Mostly accurate, but at times inaccurate.  But IMHO, if you were waiting to be told you should be ready to evacuate, you're an idiot.  This is a wildfire!  No one knows what it might do, so be prepared.
Fortunately, my truck did fit in the retreat garage.  Then saddled up for the return trip.  It was fine, the cops were just starting to get setup to block the neighborhood.  Since I had some more time, and the ominous glow had retreated some, I went in for some luxuries.  Like the photo albums, some food for the retreat, and a few other things - like cat and dog food, bowls and litter boxes.  About another 20 minutes, and it was time to say goodbye to the house.  I'd being doing that all night, so I just shut the door and left.  I even forgot to do the "dojo bow" as I've done before.
Once back at the retreat - now some four hours after arriving at home to evac, I unloaded some stuff and sat back to reflect, ponder and relax.
Lesson #6:  The last lesson came when I started getting ready for bed and this morning.  I hadn't brought everything I really wanted!  For example, I forgot to get my razor from the shower into my toiletries bag.  And a pair of shorts for sleeping in.  Oh, and I snagged a fingernail in moving stuff and didn't bring my fingernail clippers.  I know, all small stuff, but it's a bummer to not have it when putting aside extras would have been so easy.
And now I get  wait and wonder if I'll ever move back into my house.  And even the television news can't tell me that...
Be Safe, Be Prepared, - E.P.

JWR Replies: There is nothing like the prospect of a wildfire to get people re-thinking their priorities. And of course many fire preparations cross over into other areas.Here is a great quote, courtesy of SurvivalBlog reader Stephen M.: "The sudden closure of service stations along with other businesses, leaving fleeing motorists unable to fill up their cars, added to a sense of urgency as roads filled with traffic Tuesday...". And there are also fires raging in Utah. Stay safe and plan ahead, folks!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

To anyone who swatches the news or opens up an internet browser from time to time, it’s exceedingly clear that the world is becoming an extremely dangerous place.  From the abstract threats such as global economic collapse or pandemic to the more concrete ideas of natural catastrophes, terrorist attacks and the like, it’s obvious that preparedness isn’t just something to think about occasionally, it’s an absolute necessity.  Yet, with our feet firmly planted in the middle class, my wife and I don’t exactly have the money to go out and build the fortified bunker of our dreams for the day when, inevitably, life as we know it here in America may take a turn for the worse.  We’ve had to adapt our game plan to match both our materials and our means.  And let me tell you, preparing for disaster smack dab in the middle of the suburban wasteland is a completely different ball game.

So, to start off, I think we should have a little history about me and my situation.  I grew up in the mountains of northeastern Tennessee, deep in the heart of Dixie.  In rural Appalachia, self-sustainable living and prepping are just normal parts of everyday life for a lot of people, and my family was no exception.  Hunting, fishing, gardening, canning food, etc. were pretty much the norm in our area, and served as a means for people in a fairly poor economic region to build both a comfortable life for themselves and a little peace of mind.  On top of that, the mountainous terrain of the southern back country offers great protection from a lot of natural disasters (tornados, flooding, etc.) and isolation from most of the rest of the American populace should widespread civil unrest occur.  In short, though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was born and raised in a prepper’s paradise.  Then, against all odds, I found a beautiful woman who loved me back and we’ve been building a life together for the last 12 years.

However, once we got married, we joined the world of corporate America in order to be able to make the kind of living that we wanted for ourselves in the “new” economy.  Unfortunately, our company underwent some “consolidation” and shut down the office in our hometown.  My wife and I (who both work for the same business) were tasked with a choice:  both face unemployment and risk becoming part of the foreclosure statistics on American home owners, or follow our jobs and move far from friends and family out into the Midwest.  It wasn’t an easy decision, but with the prospect of starting a family of our own right around the corner, there was no choice but to bite the bullet and take a chance on building a better life.  With only a three month window to find and purchase a new home, we ended up settling in a large subdivision on the outskirts of a major metropolitan area near our new place of employment.

Back in Tennessee, our home was a two story brick house with a sizable basement, snuggled into the side of a heavily wooded mountain.  However, due to the higher prices of real estate in our new area, we ended up in a single story wood-framed house built onto a concrete slab, surrounded by hundreds of nearly identical homes.  We are less than 10 miles from one of the largest cities in the continental United States, and to make matters worse, our home is actually visible from one of the major interstates that feed into the city.  In other words, like most of Middle America, my new house is a nightmare in terms of survivability should any major collapse of society occur.  Yet, for that very reason, immediately bugging out during a time of crisis is not an option, due to some of the following factors:

  • Living near a major population center means that when food/water/electricity go into short supply, everyone is going to have the same idea: get out of Dodge.
  • The major roadways around our home become near parking lots during rush hour every day as it is.  In a disaster, those traffic pileups are likely to become semi-permanent.
  • Since a lot of people in large cities don’t commute via cars, during the mass exodus to escape, those who do have working transportation will become immediate targets.
  • Furthermore, like the swarm of locusts of Biblical lore, a large group of people trying to flee an area on foot are likely to consume every resource in their path, one way or another.  While they may not have cars, it’s extremely likely that whether it’s a golf club or a Glock, some will be armed.

Therefore, for all these reasons and more, a more nuanced approach is required.  As much as we would like to, getting back to friends and family in the mountains of Tennessee just probably won’t be an option in the short term.  This means bugging in and hoping to ride out the worst of it until such a time that either:

  • We deem the situation fit to travel via the back roads and reach a more defensible location back home with our families.


  • The turmoil in our area has cooled to a point that we can start trying to become self-sustainable here in our community without fear of reprisal (openly gardening, hunting, fishing, etc.)

Either way, the name of the game becomes surviving the short term fallout that is bound to follow any collapse of basic societal structure.  Following Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it becomes pretty easy to map out the way that things will probably play out.  Our lives, like it or not, are ruled by this chart.  Surviving the “exodus” near a major city means two things:  Having the basics in the bottom row of that pyramid covered for up to a 6-month time period for you and your family and having the means to defend it from those who will want to take it from you.  However, there are unique challenges to achieving either of these goals when living in a matchstick house on a concrete block amidst hundreds of other families and within spitting distance of millions of potentially hostile people.

Let’s start with the first part, meeting your needs.  There are plenty of preparation checklists out there with great advice on every little thing that you might need to survive the apocalypse.  I’m going to assume that you know how to cover the basics of food/water/medicine storage.  However, there are a few extra things to consider when living in the suburbs.  Basic bunker mentality for bugging in during a crisis follows the “dig in and defend” model.  We’ll call this the tortoise approach.  That’s great if you have the means to make it work, however, there’s nothing particularly defensible about many people’s homes, mine included, so that mentality has to change.  For me it has become “avoid detection and deter”.  My home doesn’t have a basement, a bunker, or a safe room, so the idea of holing up in a fortified spot with enough firepower to hold off the mob just isn’t feasible.  Instead, I want to present a small target and make it as unappetizing to potential looters as possible.  Think less snapping turtle, more porcupine.

Back to Maslow’s handy dandy pyramid of preparedness priorities, we know that water is the number one driving force of human survival behavior.  Once the taps stop running and the Aquafina has flown off the shelves, it will be a matter of a few short days before people either leave their homes in search of greener pastures (lakes, rivers, etc.) or start to beg, borrow, plead, and potentially kill to take water from those who still have it.  Here are some things to remember about water storage in the ‘burbs.

  • Diversify your storage.  Like the old adage says, don’t keep all your eggs in one basket (this includes brands, types of containers, and storage locations).
  • You should try to have at least 100 potential gallons per person in your house at any given time, and stored in a variety of places around your home.
  • Keep emergency water containers clean, dry, and ready to be filled at a moment’s notice.
  • My solutions include:

It’s been said over and over, but it is the truest statement in this world: water is life.  Storing water in this way, even if a portion of my home becomes damaged or inaccessible, I’ll still have enough to survive the short term and reevaluate the situation.  Eventually, though, even the largest supplies will run dry.  In this case, you need to be able to answer these questions:

  • Where is my nearest source of clean water (stream, river, large lake, etc.)?
  • Is it easily reachable by foot, under cover of darkness?
  • If not, how likely am I to be able to reach it by car?
  • Do I have an easy way to transport it back to my home?
  • Can I protect myself during this process?
  • Do I have some way to make sure it’s safe (boiling, filters, water treatments, etc.)?

Next on the list comes food storage, and this is another topic that is covered ad nauseam in any number of preparedness web sites and books.  But the important thing to remember for our purposes is that not only do you need to have food, but you need to not draw attention to the fact that you have food.  Nothing brings uninvited guests to the party quite like the smell of fresh beef stew when they haven’t eaten a thing in weeks.  In fact, they’re likely to bring their own silverware if you catch my drift.  Here are some ways to keep that from happening:

  • Avoid storing foods that have to be cooked in an open container or that put off a strong or unique odor.
  • Avoid heating methods that produce smoke or have to be ventilated in any way.
  • Don’t store foods that require much, if any, water to prepare.  Water is going to be your number one resource; you can’t waste a drop that you don’t have to.
  • Try to cut down on trash as much as possible (i.e. large resealable containers as opposed to individually packaged and disposable containers).  Trash has to be disposed of at some point and is a clear indicator that someone is still taking the wrappers off of candy bars.
  • Keep calorie intake healthy, but to a minimum.  Being the only guy in the neighborhood who still has a double chin is another red flag.
  • Don’t use a generator for any reason, ever.  In an isolated location, with proper noise reduction and ventilation, it’s a viable choice.  But nothing says “come burn my house down and take my stuff” like being the one family that has electricity when the darkness comes.

The whole goal here is to fly under the radar as much as possible.  Shelf stable foods that don’t have to be cooked at all are ideal.  Think mixed nuts, dry cereals, beef jerky, and the like.  These types of foods are also much more convenient to transport and prepare should you have to bail out.  Self-heating MREs are also a fantastic option but do require water to prepare and are easy to get burnt out on after a while.  While it’s no fun to have very few fresh hot meals, survival in the midst of the fleeing hordes revolves around avoiding notice at all costs.  You may not be happy, but you’ll be alive.

The last piece of the puzzle is the hardest, but also the most important: defense.  A quiet, middle-class suburb is a pretty appetizing target to people in a desperate search for the basic necessities of life.  All of the supplies in the world won’t mean a thing if you can’t defend them.  However, the key is to not to attract any unnecessary notice and to make your home an inadvisable target.  Some potential tools for getting this job done include:

  • Door Crossbar Holders:  These can be installed quickly during a time of chaos with nothing but a cordless drill, some heavy duty wood screws, and some spare 2x4s.  Putting up at least two sets per door means that the old police trick of “kick and breach” won’t be quite so easy.  It also stops the more subtle “lockpick in the night” routine.  Remember, the goal here isn’t to make the entryway impregnable (which is nigh impossible in a wood and drywall home), but rather to buy some time to defend.
  • Biohazard Signs:  If pandemic is the trigger that starts the collapse, one of these signs on each door is tantamount to installing an invisible force field around your home.  Even if it’s something more plausible, like a global economic collapse, looters are much more likely to target the house that they think won’t give them cholera.
  • Window Privacy Film:  It’s ok for people to know that your home is still occupied.  In fact, an abandoned house is far more likely to be ransacked than one that is thought to still be defended.  Letting people pinpoint your exact location before an attack, however, could cost you your life.  With this upgrade (along with normal blinds/curtains) you can still use lanterns, headlamps, etc. without giving away where you’ve chosen to bed down.
  • Window Bars:  Again, the keys here are speed/ease of installation and deterrence.  You don’t need to protect your windows from a full SWAT team with breaching charges, just dehydrated, half-starved city folks looking for some free supplies.  These bars give you time to line up a clear shot from behind cover and make sure that the person trying to get in realizes the risk vs. the reward.

It’s also important to designate a small fallback area within your home and use this as the staging area for everything else you do.  This way if part of your home becomes compromised it’s not a total loss.  While your “Alamo” may not be a fortress, it should be a place with as few windows and doors as possible and a clear field of fire.   Ours is the large master bathroom with an attached walk-in closet.  The only window in the bathroom is small, octagonal, made of thick frosted glass, and about 8 feet off the ground.  Once things look to be turning south, all our supplies can be quickly moved to the closet, the bathroom door triple barred, and the window filmed over.  The two Mossberg pump action 12 Gauge shotguns with 500+ magnum slug shells that live in the closet provide the “deter” portion of the game plan.

Finally, if possible, it’s also great to have a “plan C” just in case.  If your home catches fire, is completely overrun, or for some other reason becomes uninhabitable, you may have to leave in a hurry.  Fortunately for us, there is attic access in both the walk-in closet and our garage, with only about 20 feet of crawlspace between the two.  Hiding a couple of bug-out backpacks in the crawlspace allows us a fairly covert escape route directly to the car, or at the very least, out of the house.  Planning everything needed to bail out and stay safe on the run in a completely different topic in and of itself, but just keep in mind that bug-out supplies are similar to bug-in supplies, just on a much smaller, more mobile scale.  It’s not a perfect scenario, but having a “last ditch effort” retreat solution is never a bad thing. 

At the end of the day, I think it’s very feasible to sit tight and ride out the initial panic of any major catastrophe, even in a less than fortified location.  When the lights go out and the trucks stop running, places in and around major cities are going to revert to the Wild West fairly quickly.  But it’s for that very reason that staying put is the best option.  When the world around you is chaos, there are too many things that can go wrong by stepping out into the maelstrom, even if the goal is getting to a safer location.  It’s hard to predict exactly how things will go down and Murphy’s Law will bite you on the butt any time you think you’ve got it all figured out.  In any event, by keeping a low profile, deterring looters if possible, and using force if necessary, I think that we suburbanites stand a pretty good chance of making it through the first few months of TEOTWAWKI relatively unscathed.  And that, my friends, is what it is all about.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

As a former California Department of Forestry (C.D.F. which is now Cal-Fire) wild land firefighter I would like to give some professional advice to persons living in wildfire prone urban interface locations.  The 100 foot clearance required is really a necessity in defending your retreat.  If infrastructure is still up, when told to evacuate, GET OUT ! From a roadway, I once had to listen to the screams of a woman who burned to death because she refused to evacuate her home.  It is a haunting memory.

Have an advance plan for safety zones and escape routes.  A safety zone is an area where you could weather the fire without the chance of being burned over as your escape route has been cut off.  A large area, void of vegetation is the best.  Sometimes you might come across grazed over areas or a large rocky area that would suffice.  Gravel and paved parking areas are best.

In an instance where you are about to be burned over, setting a fire ahead of you and the main fire's path of travel and then moving into the "black"  might save you as fire cannot burn the area again.  

When a wildfire breaks in your area, put on as much 100% cotton clothing as you can. Long sleeves and ALL leather boots are also important.  Safety glasses and a bandanna over your face (not wet) .  Cotton resists flame where polyester melts.  Nomex is your best fire resistant material.

In a post collapse situation, I strongly suggest going to a bare earth policy around your retreat.  Strip all vegetation (yes that includes your landscaping, no spare water to care for it anyway) away for 100 feet.  Eliminate over-hanging tree branches, clear "ladder fuels " which are the lower branches on the trees.  Clean your roof and eaves troughs of dead vegetation and leaves.

Lastly, "don't put all your eggs in one basket " in fire prone areas.  Have a back up pre-position or during high fire season have a stash trailer positioned somewhere else.  A root cellar or underground storage will also work.

After collapse, especially in the California foothills, many refugees will escape the city with very little survival skill knowledge.  The first thing they will do is start a fire to cook food during a high fire danger season.  Post collapse, wildfire danger rates at or above that of looters and gangs. - G.I. Jim

Monday, April 2, 2012

There is much conversation about the desirability of moving to a rural retreat location.  Much has been written on your site about moving to moving to the American Redoubt.  But how many people really consider the drastic changes in their lifestyle when moving out of the city to a rural location?  Consider one drastic change:  fire protection.  People living in cities with asphalt streets, fire hydrants, professionally staffed fire stations, and minimal response times may not understand the change to living in a rural area with fire protection offered by volunteer departments.  I have lived in rural areas for over 25 years in the western US, including the Redoubt.  I am familiar with firefighting to protect structures and wildlands, managing prescribed burns, wildfire mitigation around homes, the level of protection and response times offered by volunteer fire and ambulance departments.  I have served on a volunteer fire department.

Recently, the Colorado State Forest Service started a prescribed burn in an area southwest of Denver. It was started within the prescription parameters. On Monday the weather changed and the winds were ferocious. Embers were carried out of the fire boundaries and the wildfire nightmare began.  People were notified about a possible evacuation, and evacuating.  However, several structures burned to the ground, two people are confirmed dead, one person is still missing as of this morning.  The fire is nowhere near containment.  More winds are forecast to occur this weekend.
This is not a letter to point fingers and assign blame on the state forest service.  It is a letter to point out that one of the strategies to preparedness is to consider all of the things that may go wrong and plan a response to them.  Wildfire is one thing that can happen in rural areas and people need to plan to defend against it, and plan to make a sudden evacuation.  Even with all of the careful planning and preparation things can still go wrong.  The couple featured in the article linked below had spent years doing things to defend their property against wildfire.  Including a fire suppression system, foam retardant, extra water to fight fires, a generator presumably to provide power to pump the water, concrete shingles (whoever heard of concrete shingles?), clearing brush and ladder fuels for fuel load reduction.  In the videos it is clear their G.O.O.D. vehicle was pointed to leave the house.  Comments from their pastor indicate they were preparing to evacuate, but they didn't make it.  With all of their defenses against wildfire loss their house was a total loss.  May they rest in peace.  
Headline: Couple killed in wildfire was ‘packed and ready to leave’
A second report on this wildfire graphically shows cell phone video of what the evacuation during a wildfire looked like to one family.  It seems the family members were in two vehicles.  Listen closely and you can hear the panicked voice of a child asking the father: "Why did mommy stop?" and "Where is mommy?"  The family in this story lived adjacent to the couple that perished in the fire.  Depending solely on law enforcement or fire fighting officials to determine when to evacuate is wrong.  We have brains and we need to use them and make decisions appropriate for our situation.
Headline: Family’s terrifying escape from wildfire caught on video.
People living in rural areas must be ready to leave on short notice and be ready to make the decision to evacuate and not wait on official notification.  It could be a matter of life or death.  - S.M.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mr. Rawles:
The recent article about conducting a home earthquake audit reminds me of a preparedness step that I took: A little over a year ago I saw an automatic gas shutoff valve displayed at a professional plumbing store. After looking in the cutaway demonstration  valve , I inquired about the cost of the valve, which was around $100. I have kept a wrench next to the gas meter for years, but last year I had to commute 60  miles  away for school. Now with a new prepper mentality  , I wondered what would happen if a big quake did happen while I was gone. If it took me a week to get home,  only to find a home burned to the ground because of a broken gas pipe, I would be mad, and feel stupid for not protecting everything for  a paltry $100 valve.

I installed the valve and forgot about it, but  then it had an unexpected test just one week later. I was also having a very large tree removed (one that could crush half of the house). My mother and I were eating lunch when we heard and felt a large thud, as the tree trimmers felled the last portion of the tree trunk, which was about 12 feet tall. Not until the next day, when the hot water became very cool, did I realize the valve had in fact worked and automatically shut off the gas to the house. I would rather spend $100  now, than to lose everything and be covered by the world's best insurance policy. For those people that don't think they are in earthquake territory, I only need to remind you of the magnitude 5.8 quake  that hit Virginia last year, and the fact that 75% of quake related fires are caused by  unsecured and top heavy gas water heaters falling over and breaking the gas pipe.

Thanks again for getting the word out,  - Solar Guy

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I grew up in the low desert areas of Arizona:  Douglas, Wilcox, and Mesa.   Later, living near Flagstaff, I began keeping Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) in my kitchen.  In the low desert, Aloe grows in medians and desert yards; almost weed - like.  It is a succulent so it does not need much water.  Most of its moisture comes from any available humidity.  It has a cactus look without thorns, and is a welcome green in a harsh country.  A bonus is the beautiful tiny orange-yellow lily flower that fits with the easy lifestyle of a desert landscape.   Pictures and further descriptions on the internet will help you identify this plant.  If you live in a warm climate you may even have it growing close by.

I do not remember when I first knew about the positive benefits of this plant.  It seems my family used it forever.  I know this is not true, but that is how I think of it.  Treating burns and wounds using aloe has been known for centuries.  Those who are concerned about future preparedness  and ”what if “ scenarios may gain some peace of mind if they have  at least one of the Aloe vera plants growing in a pot in their kitchens.  An offshoot makes an attractive Christmas gift for friends.
Aloe has a long positive history, also some controversy, some skeptics, and many true believers in its effectiveness.  A couple of my personal experiences put me into the true believer category:

1.    When my daughter was three and her big brothers were making model airplanes, the laws against using glue that contained oil of mustard had not been passed.  If a kid built model airplanes, that is what hobby shops sold at the time.  The boys knew to be careful with it, but baby sister Mary, didn’t want to be left out of the fun.  Unknown to her brothers, she grabbed the tube of glue and started playing.  Shortly after, she was screaming.  She had a bright red burn from the glue on her leg.  I grabbed a leaf of my Aloe plant, split it to get at the gel, and swabbed it on the burn area.  Next, I put her in the car and headed for the local hospital emergency room.  Mary screamed all the way.

I entered the emergency room with the crying child and she was rushed right in for treatment.  I was standing next to the doctor in charge and stated that I had just treated her leg with an Aloe vera plant.  He turned to me in anger and said, “You did what?”  I was made to feel that I had hurt my baby girl and must be a witch of some kind.  Then, still angry, the doctor asked me to spell it so his nurse could look up the plant.  I assumed this was to see what kind of poison, if any, I had put on my child.  I spelled it and then just stood by in silence.
 The nurse was busy going through her book and the doctor still had a stern look on his face as he waited.  No one noticed (except me) that Mary was no longer crying, and she was busy looking around and playing   under the table.  I breathed a sigh of relief.   The Aloe vera worked!
Finally the doctor and nurse noticed the same thing...the silence of a once screaming child.  The doctor checked the leg and gave her some minor care.   His countenance changed now, he casually stepped toward me to say, “Where can I get one of those plants?”  By this time I was the angry person.  He never apologized and he was rude and arrogant to me earlier.  Normally I give a person one of the aloe offshoots I generally have growing attached to the base of my Aloe vera plants, but in my anger I simply answered, “In a nursery.”  Aloe plants are easily obtainable in plant nurseries across the country so I forgave myself for my own just anger.  Mary healed with no scaring.

2. I use a pressure cooker.   One time I was impatient and wanted to open the cooker before it was completely free of steam.  When I opened the lid, the hot steam hit me and I felt it burn my entire inner arm.  I grabbed some aloe leaves, put a few in the refrigerator, and used the gel of another to spread over my arm.  I knew the effects would not be immediate, but also knew that the gel in the leaves in the refrigerator would be icy cold in seconds.   After the application of the first leaf,   I took another leaf from the refrigerator, sliced it, and applied more gel.  Now   the icy Aloe vera gel had burn stopping power, and the comfort of ice.    After several applications of the icy gel, the pain subsided.  With continued icy cold aloe treatment, my burn healed with no scaring.
Over the years I found that although not an instant cure for burns, it does work, but it usually takes about twenty minutes for pain to cease or at least become bearable.  Getting to an emergency room and obtaining “instant” treatment probably takes longer than that even if you live near a hospital.  I think the time saving application of aloe, plus a trip to the hospital is the best way to handle a burn.
Typing the words “Aloe vera plant” into web browsers will supply all sorts of information. One article I saw gave some details of its characteristics.    According to an article published by the University of Maryland Medical Center,  “Aloe vera gel is comprised of 99 percent water, and 1 per cent glycoproteins and polysaccharides”  Aloe's glycoproteins reduce pain and inflammation, while its polysaccharides stimulate skin growth and repair.   The article also mentions that for these reasons, “aloe can be effectively used to treat pain, itching and swelling caused by burns, insect bites or allergic skin reactions. It can also help small wounds and burns heal faster, and it can soothe and moisturize dry, irritated skin”.

I use aloe on chapped hands and lips, rough soles of my feet, sunburn and any minor burn, scratch, or rash.  A friend of mine uses aloe as her only face moisturizer.  Her face is beautiful and youthful looking.  Modern day beauty product manufacturers create all types of beauty products using Aloe vera as the prime ingredient.    Even Cleopatra knew about using it as a beauty treatment.  
Aloe is spoken of as a medicine perhaps as early as 4000 BC, when drawings of it were found on temple walls in the tombs of the Pharaohs.  The   Egyptians called it the "Plant of Immortality" suggesting that it might have been used in the embalming process. 
Greeks carried aloe plants into battle for wound treatment.  Alexander the Great knew about the power of aloe in healing wounds and sent an army to gather plants that were growing on an island so his enemies could not get them.  Aloe is one of the most frequently prescribed medicines in old herbal books which mention aloe’s use for a variety of ailments. 
 I like to have a small bottle of straight Aloe vera gel in my travel bag   to use on insect bites or scratches.  Having the “traveling aloe bottle” is like having a bottle of inexpensive soap along.   The gel has a soapy substance called saponin in it that is capable of cleansing, and, saponins have antiseptic and antibacterial properties   as well.     I cannot imagine a better product for a first aid kit.
Aloe is mentioned in the Bible including the following:
John 19: 39-40   Nicodemus (the man who had first come to Jesus at night) likewise came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes which weighed about a hundred pounds. They took Jesus’ body, and in accordance with Jewish burial custom bound it up in wrappings of cloth with perfumed oils.
Psalms 45:8-9:  You love justice and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellow kings.  With myrrh and aloes and cassia your robes are fragrant; from ivory palaces string music brings you joy.
Proverbs 7:17:  I have sprinkled my bed with myrrh, with aloes, and with cinnamon.
One of the best things about Aloe vera is the ease in which it grows and the fact that it thrives in benign neglect.  In warm places it will grow outside.   Even then it is still a good idea to have a pot full inside.  Direct sunlight fades the plant but it is still good to use.
Inside, the plant thrives in a coarse potting mix similar to one for cactus.  Aloe is not a cactus,    it is a member of the lily family but the cactus mix drains readily.  About the only thing that kills an Aloe plant is over-watering.  Add some Perlite or something to lighten up the mix if using a regular potting mix.    Use a shallow but wide container because the plant is not deep rooted and it also produces offsets at the base which can be easily removed and repotted. 
I have only touched on some of the benefits of Aloe.  As with all survival skills, the plant can be researched, and knowledge can be gained about its use.  I have an Aloe vera plant growing in my kitchen and I always will.    I am in my “golden years” now, and think   people concerned about the future will do the same once they know about the benefits of this plant.   Do your homework, and then get an Aloe vera plant for your kitchen.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dear Mr Rawles,
In regard to the article by Firefighter Charles on fire protection, I imagine (and, indeed hope) that I won't be the only person who suggests a qualifier to the advice on what to do with a fire in a cooking pan.  My understanding is that one should NEVER put water on a pan which holds oil or fat, because the resulting explosive burst of steam and fat will leave anyone attempting the exercise with extensive, serious burns.

I realize that Firefighter Charles dealt with grease fires earlier in the same paragraph, but wondered if it might be helpful to make the point about fires in pans of oil/fat explicitly.

With many thanks for your helpful site and my regards, - Philip M.

Thank you Mr Rawles and Firefighter Charles. While much of the information provided by Firefighter Charles is very good basic info, I feel there are some serious and potentially deadly errors presented here. I would like to explain:

1: NEVER throw flour on a fire. You risk creating a small fuel air explosion. Think grain silo dust explosion. Flour is finely ground plant material and is combustible! If it creates a cloud through your toss or by being blow upward by the thermal plume created by the fire, it can "flash". Sugar is glucose and equally flammable. I have seen a few Pop Tarts break in toasters and really get going.
Baking soda, not baking powder [or flour] should be used. Salt is also acceptable.
Most professional chefs leave a pan cover or wet towel on the side of the grill that is large enough to cover the pan.
NEVER move a flaming pan from the stove to a sink or exterior. (Bad Chef Ramsey) If you move to quickly the contents will splash out or the flame will flare out over your hand causing you to drop it. Pouring flaming oil down the sink will damage most modern plumbing. If you start the faucet over and through the heated flaming oil (600 to 800 F) the water will "explode" into steam (212 F) and aerosol the flaming oil for the first few seconds.

NOTE: If you are using a propane turkey fryer indoors, then stop doing so! I have seen one entire house and two garages lost this way. If you have not properly measured the oil level or it is caused to boil over you just may get to restart building your structure from scratch. (Ref NFPA 10, IFSTA Life safety educator 2nd edition and NFPA Fundamentals of Firefighter skills 2nd edition)

2: Crawling low to get away from smoke is the way to go, but I got the impression that active unprotected firefighting was partially encouraged. Be advised: Smoke does kill most fire victims. It does so through three ways: carbon monoxide, cyanide and heat. Trying to crawl through a modern house fire is suicide. Construction and interior materials have changed since the 70s. Houses are now weather sealed for energy efficiency. Interior materials are now synthetic petrochemicals (20% benzene) in a solid stable state. A fire breaks down the synthetics with thousands more BTUs than old wool and wood. The smoke is not allowed to vent and is heating other materials in the structure which now begin to thermally break down, melting and vaporize.

The gasses created are too hot to breathe and will sear your eyes and lungs shut. Temperatures at 18" and higher can exceed 600 F. The most common byproducts of the incomplete burning (black smoke) are carbon monoxide (which will disorient before killing you and is the reason most die), hydrogen cyanide (which will kill you and has yet to be properly treated after smoke inhalation in the US. Europe has had it in their protocols for the last decade, they got something right!).

This all happens in less than 5 minutes from open flame. If you are upstairs where the smoke and heat will flow first, you have 90 seconds to get out.
Due to the heat and byproducts (benzene) in the super heated gases, you will have flash over soon. The temperatures will reach over 1200 F. A fully suited firefighter has less than 14 seconds to escape that atmosphere or he will cook in his suit. It is rated to protect the wearer at 5 minutes at 500 F, and the time greatly diminishes with each 100 F increase. You will not make it, and the radiant heat will bank down on anyone too close to the exterior openings. Get out and get away. (Ref NFPA Fundamentals of Firefighter Skills 2nd addition, IFSTA Firefighter 5th edition and Brannigans Building construction for the fire service)

3: Combination detectors are fine. Ionization detectors have a radioactive element with a 10 year half life. The data of manufacture or expiration should be on the unit. If not, replace it. Photo electric sensors do not expire. Firefighter Charles is right, you should have both types.

Detectors mounted on [upper walls near] ceilings must be mounted at least 4" from the ceiling but no lower than 12" and at least 12" from wall corners. If mounted on the ceiling itself, they should be at least 12" from any wall and 3' from ceiling fans or ducts. This is due to air flow disruption and smoke layering issues. (Ref NFPA 72)

4: Unless the fire is small and you have an extinguishing method on hand CALL FOR HELP FIRST! Evacuate, then fight the fire. (If SHTF [or you live in a remote area] then disregard, we probably aren't coming quick enough if at all). The leading cause of injury and fire loss in an occupied (you inside) structures is delay in fire department notification (ref FEMA and FM Global Insurance). If the fire is larger than 3'x3' it is past "incipient" stage and will rapidly spread. The rule of thumb is for every 18 degree F increase the fire will double in size or damage potential. This changes with the size and type of the fuel (your stuff) and the container (room-house) it is in. More stuff in less space = quicker hotter fire.

5: One more thing you can do to make your house safe is to keep doors closed and storage in containers. By limiting the areas heat and smoke can travel and the total surface areas that can be affected fire growth is slowed.

Once again, thanks for the info Firefigher Charles, and "Omnis Cedo Domus" my brother! (Everyone Goes Home, the national firefighter motto) - P.A.F.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Fire protection is very important for the home.  Keeping protection around your home from fire is a very important practice.  Too many homes a year are destroyed to fires.  Too many people die each year from fire related deaths (Note: Most people die from smoke inhalation not the heat of the fire).  You should learn ways on how to prevent fires and learn method on how to fight fires.  Preventing fire will lessen your chance of a fire but learning how to fight a fire will lessen the damage to your home and keep your family alive. 

     Understanding The Beast:  First, you will need to understand the element of fire.  Fire works off of three components Oxygen, Heat, and Fuel.  This is called the Fire Triangle.  Fire needs all three components to come alive.  Take one of the components out and the fire dies.  If you have a grease fire and you put baking soda, flour, or even sugar (which is even messier) you take the oxygen away by smothering it.  If you have a propane fire and you shut off the propane tank, you take the fuel away.  If leave a pot on the stove and it begins to heat up, before it can burst into flames.  You take the pot off the stove, put it in the sink and run water over it.  You took the heat away.  All three components will cause a chain reaction to ignite a fire.  Stop the chain reaction and you stop the fire.

     Understanding The Fire Ground:  To fight or escape from fire you have to understand the conditions you might find yourself in:

Smoke:  Smoke can be anywhere from a light haze to black out conditions.  In blackout conditions you are going to have to solely rely on your sense of feel.  This is why I earlier recommend that you practice with blindfolds to simulate heavy smoke conditions.  The thicker the smoke the less viable air you can breath and the less you can see.  Most people die from smoke inhalation during a fire.  Smoke brings a lot of people to panic, which in turn makes them breath faster, flooding their own lungs with smoke.  People also panic at the fact that they can’t see during a fire.  In any smoke condition stay low.  Since smoke rises, there should be less smoke at the floor.
Fire:  You’ll smell or see smoke before you see the fire most of the times.  You’ll feel the heat of fire as well before you see the fire.  Fire can move really fast therefore you have to move faster.  Oxygen helps the fire move faster.  Opening a window to let the smoke out alleviate the smoke but it will also feed the fire.  In turn making the fire move faster.  Knowing what to do during a fire is very crucial.  It’s a matter of seconds, life and death.
Heat:  Staying low can keep you alive.  By staying low you can avoid the heat as well as the smoke.  Since heat rises there should be less heat at the ground.  This is why we are taught to crawl out of a fire or smoke condition.  If you happened to get lost in the smoke, you’ll have to use the sense of feel and touch.  The hotter it gets in your home the closer to the fire you are.  Therefore go opposite the fire if you can.  
Some fire departments have a Smoke House that allows kids and adults to crawl through a simulated fire conditions (minus the heat and fire).  A fog machine produces the smoke.  The house is black out for you to have to feel your way through.  It’s a great way for people to get an understanding of what a fire condition (somewhat) can be.

     Prevention:  A very basic prevention is being careful.  By being careful you should turn off your appliances after usage, blow out candles, do not leave oven mitts near an open flame, and keep space heaters away from flammable objects.  Another basic prevention is common sense.  By using common sense I mean never put a Christmas tree next to your chimney or a space heater, don’t fall asleep while smoking a cigarette, don’t over load a power strip or use a cheap extension cord, and never pour water on a grease fire.  Now, if being careful is not your thing and you have no common sense.  Buying a smoke detector and an extinguisher is your next best bet.

     Home Smoke Detectors:  Buying a smoke detector is a very easy process.  Go to any hardware store, Target, Wal-Mart, or K-Mart and you will find a smoke detector.  All smoke detectors are pretty much the same with a few small exceptions.  Some come with strobe lights.  Some come with voice alert.  Others come in a smoke and carbon monoxide combination.  Most importantly they come in two types Optical (photoelectric) or Ionization.  Ionization detectors are made to pick up small smoke particles.  They are cheaper than the photoelectric but are also faulty.  Some are sensitive to dust and or dust build up which will more than likely trip the alarm.  Optical or Photoelectric detectors are a light sensor that senses smoke particles breaking up the beam of light inside the detector, therefore setting off the alarm.  The downside to an Optical detector is that a fast moving fire might not be picked up as fast as on a Ionization detector.  I, myself am not a big fan of the combo detectors such as the carbon monoxide/smoke detectors.  Try and get two separate detectors if you can afford it.  Now, as far as placing a detector you should place it high on a wall or on the ceiling (which I prefer).  Depending on your home size, you should have one in the basement, living room (right above the base of the stairs), hallway, and each bedroom, if possible.  If you live in an apartment you should have one in the hallway and in each bedroom.

     Extinguishers:  This is probably one of the best weapons against fires you can possibly have.  Fire extinguishers are pressurized by air or nitrogen.  The extinguishing compound can either contain water, dry chemical, dry powder, and or foam.  Fire extinguishers come in four different classes to combat four different classes of fire.  Class A fires are ordinary combustible solids.  Class B fires are flammable liquids and gases.  Class C fires are energized electrical equipment.  Class D fires are combustible metals such as titanium, magnesium, potassium, uranium, lithium, and plutonium.  Now, there is Class K fires which is cooking oil and fats but that can also fall under Class B fires. 

     Now, the most common home extinguisher is the ABC extinguisher.  This extinguisher holds dry chemical (Monoammonium phosphate), which battles three classes of fires, Class A, B, and C fires.  As far as the size of the extinguisher to get you should go with a 5 lbs. to 10 lbs. extinguisher for the home and a 2 lbs. extinguisher for the kitchen (only).  A water extinguisher is very useful as well but you have to be able to identify the class of fire.  If you use a water extinguisher on a grease fire you will spread the fire.  If you use a water extinguisher on an energized electrical fire, you’ll get electrocuted.  Also in the extremely rare case that you use a water extinguisher on a metal fire, you can cause a steam explosion, which could burn you.  Water cans (extinguisher) are also heavy.  Water cans are only good for one class of fires, Class A fires.  Don’t forget to check your fire extinguisher once a month.

     Extinguishing The Fire:  Attacking the fire with extinguisher seems easy and it can be if done correctly.  You can actually attack a fire in the wrong manner.  You can waste every drop of water or dry chemical and not even darken the fire.  To attack a fire with a water can (extinguisher), pull the pin, squeeze the lever, point the nozzle at the fire and put your index finger partial over the nozzle.  By doing so will give the water a spray effect, which in turn covers more fire.  Start at the base of the fire and sweep from side to side.  To attack a fire with dry chemical, pull the pin, squeeze the lever, and sweep side to side at the base of the fire.  If it’s a grease fire don’t spray directly at the burning grease because you might splash the grease and spread the fire.  To attack the grease fire, spray slightly over the fire so that the dry chemical blanket the burning grease.  Then come down gently onto the fire to completely knock it down.  Never use a water extinguisher on a grease fire. Also, Remember P.A.S.S. (except for flammable liquid fires):

Pull Pin
Aim at base of fire
Squeeze the lever slowly
Sweep from side to side

     Other Extinguishing Methods:  Smothering techniques are another way of putting out the fire.  Like I stated before using baking soda, flour, salt, sugar, or a pot cover on a grease fire will smother the fire.  Turing a trash can upside down when there is a fire in it, will also smother the fire.  You can also use heavy blankets to smother fire.  Dampening the blanket first will make sure that the blanket doesn’t catch fire too easily.  There are fire blankets for sale, just research for the best one for you.  Fire Blankets are also great for extinguishing a person on fire.  The fire blanket won’t melt to the skin.  Don’t forget Stop, Drop, and Roll.  It is still an effective way to extinguisher a fire on a person.  When doing this method make sure if at all possible to do it in dirt, sand, or even a puddle of water.

     Fire Escape Ladders:  Escape ladders are great to have around.  Even though they do not protect you from fire.  They will aid you in escaping a fire.  Most of these are 2 to 3 stories long but I have seen a 5-story fire escape ladder.  Escape Ladders can weigh up to 25 pounds so they’re easy to handle.  They also hold up to 1,000 pounds depending on the maker.  With escape ladders you have to practice and get use to the wobbliness of the ladder.  Escape Ladders are drop ladders that you drop from your window in case the fire blocks off your first means of egress.

     Fire Escape Hoods:  These are great to have.  They are pretty pricey but worth their weight in gold.  These hoods allow you to breath in a smoky environment and some even protect you from extreme heat.  The hoods also have multi protection use as they also protect you from other toxic gases and radiation particles.  When practicing putting this on, make sure you Do Not Activate the filter by pulling off the paper or plastic tabs that block the filter’s airway.  If you do, the filter will be no good when you really need it.  Now, having an escape hood in an average size home might not be necessary.  The time it would take for you to put it on, you can already be at a window climbing down to safety or waving for help.  Although they can come in handy searching for loved one if need be or can buy you time in searching for a way out should you get lost in your own home.  Escape hoods are good for office buildings, apartment buildings or large homes.  The escape hood works, up to 1 hour.

     Fire Escape Plan:  You should have a well thought out fire escape plan.  You should have a couple of escape route from your home or apartment.  You should have a couple of meeting points as well.  For your escape route you should make sure your family knows how to get out through all exits.  Drill your family and yourself with blindfolds on.  Have them try to find their way out.  Get them use to the fact that in a fire they won’t be able to see a thing.  In the being of that drill just make sure that they can get to an exit.  When they get better at getting to an exit, start timing them.  Make sure that everyone in your family crawl out as the heat and smoke is going to push you to the floor anyway.  Once out of the fire home or building.  Make sure everyone knows where to meet.  Whether it’s a neighbor’s home, a light pole on the corner, or a park across the street.  Make sure it’s in the immediate area of the fire home or building.  NEVER go back in for pets or personal belongings.  Pets a lot of the times make their own way out and personal belongings can be obtained again.

     Fighting The Fire:  The first thing you want to consider is the size of the fire.  If it’s too large then you want to leave and let the professionals handle.  If it’s small or a medium size then you might want to consider fighting it.  To determine the size of the fire is to know how much of the area the fire is burning.  The rate of speed the fire is moving at also will be factor on whether or not to fight the fire.  Make sure you have a way to get out before engaging the fire.  If the fire is going to cut you exit off, just get out.  Always make sure the exit is at your back.  Make sure you have the proper extinguisher or adequate water supply before fighting the fire.  If all else fails just leave and let the professionals handle.  Remember to stay low.

In the end, you should hold fire drills and have everyone in the house on the same page.  Some fire services will drill with your family, send you brochures, and send you a DVD on how to plan for fire emergencies.  You can also look on-line and watch YouTube videos on how execute a proper fire drill. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I am considering using Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) for building my next house/retreat back in the United States  for when I feel that it is not longer safe to live abroad. 
For a relatively small incremental cost in a new home (3-5%), you have disaster proof, fire resistant, fortified home. I found this brochure (in PDF) that describes some of the advantages of ICF construction.
Best Regards, - AmEx (American Expatriate)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In case of TEOTWAWKI, being successful in the art of camouflaging will be a serious matter. It will be necessary for many aspects of life to include; movement, reconnaissance, and ambush. Camouflaging is a multi-tiered animal, including camouflaging your skin, your clothing, your gear, and your weapon.

I spent six years in the army as an Infantryman. As a result I personally have spent 26 months of my life in Iraq, and I have been on well over 500 combat patrols: to include raids and ambushes of all kinds.

Camouflaging of your outfit or uniform begins with the construction of a ghillie suit, which is often up to a person’s own preferences; there is no wrong way as long as you stick to a few basic principles. One if that color doesn't appear in nature it had better not appear on your suit; two environments change so your suit should too, if you need to roll around in the dust to make it blend in with say a desert terrain do so, if you’re in grasslands and its springtime don't try to pretend you are a patch of dead grass. Three don’t stick to patterns, there is a reason the word wilderness includes the word wild.

The materials needed for the type of ghillie suit that I made are as follows: 

One, a basic camouflage uniform (either an old set of Army BDUs which can be purchased for around $50, and bought used for much less in many different places from surplus shops to thrift stores; patterned in woodland or desert camouflage uniform (DCU), or my personal favorite a set of olive drab mechanic coveralls for around $40 brand new (heavy duty so they last long and as they are one piece they are actually more comfortable [than a separate pants and shirt]). 

Two, burlap (you can buy it by the yard for around $5 to $7 or do as I did and use old sand bags; try to get a few different colors)
   Three mosquito netting (under $20 for or you can buy a roll of 5 ft x 50 ft from Ronco for around $45.) For grasslands I recommend 1 inch x 12-14 inch strips however the nice thing about the mosquito netting is you can cut it into larger pieces to form a more leafy pattern.

Fourth, any type of basic twine net, try to stay away from plastic or synthetics if possible (I used an old camouflage net and cut away the camouflaging portion so I was left with a basic net). I personally recommend buying camouflage netting. It can be purchased in 4ft x 8ft sections for under $20 from a variety of online retailers) because you can also make "Yeti nets" with it which I will explain later in this article. 

Fifth, for added comfort buy a few sections of felt, (when I made mine I bought a 6 ft x 12 ft section of tan felt for $27 from the Felt Store online) enough to sew pieces on the front of the uniform all of this is for added comfort.

Lastly, a few additional items needed are: a tube of Shoe Goo, a good sewing kit, cloth dyes in a variety of subdued colors is also recommended (if tan burlap is cheapest with a little experimentation it could be changed into a variety of colors and shades.) And a roll of olive drab duct tape is always handy. This is known in the U.S. Army as "100 M.P.H. tape."[JWR Adds: Fire Retardant Spray is also a must, since untreated burlap is quite flammable, especially with the edges shredded, as is typical for ghillies!]
When I constructed mine I started out with an olive drab pair of coveralls cut out sections of net so the entire back of the coveralls would be covered by the net, the net covered my entire back from shoulders to ankles and down my triceps to elbows.  I then secured the net by sewing it to the uniform around the edges and about every six inches I would sew the inner part of the net to the coveralls to further reinforce the netting. Step two take your burlap material and cut it into 1in x 12-14in strips starting at the bottom weave it through one section of the netting and tie it in the middle, keep stacking strips of burlap onto each other, (if you happen to have different colors make it random just stick to good earth tones) also to add to the random pattern if you opted to buy mosquito netting, cut it into 1in x 12-14 in strips, a good ratio is one strip of mosquito netting to every 25-30 strips of burlap. Unlike the burlap however take the mosquito netting and before you attach it cut irregular patterns again use nature as your model, I made mine wavy to look similar to grass or weeds.

Once you have the entire back covered in the burlap and mosquito netting, take the burlap strips and start pulling out the horizontal fibers, so essentials you have clusters of burlap string knotted together. That should take care of the back now onto the front when I constructed mine I knew I would be doing a lot of crawling around so I took portions of felt one for my chest, two for my elbows and two for my knees. For my knees I cut out the felt 12 in long x 10 in wide. I cut it 12 in long x 6 wide for my elbows.  For the chest I cut two pieces that started at my collarbones to the end of my rib cage, and placed them side by side to allow me to zip and unzip the coveralls, I then cut sections of burlap 2 in x 2 in bigger than the felt pieces so that an inch overlapped on each side of the felt. I cut a square inch out of each corner so the burlap could easily be folded over the felt. Next I used shoo goo to attach the two together and then sewed each piece in its respective spot. For the knees I put the two pieces about where you would wear knee pads and had the elbow pieces start at my elbow and follow the outside of my arm to the hem of the sleeves. The chest piece is pretty self explanatory. It adds a little padding and helps the suit last longer.
The idea behind the one I constructed was that if you were lying on your stomach the burlap mosquito netting mix should cover everything but your boots, head and hands.

Next you need to construct a sniper veil, you can purchase these but I always found a piece of gear I made or fashioned myself was always better. I used an army BDU boonie cap and a piece of camouflage netting I rigged up and refer to as a "Yeti net". (These similar in construction to the ghillie suit but instead of attaching it permanently you use a section of camouflage netting and spruce it up with strips of burlap and mosquito netting in a similar fashion as described above, but instead of stacking the strips one on top of the other you can space them out a little.) I tied the yeti net to the boonie cap using parachute cord. The idea of the sniper veil is to break up your outline and generally you want it large enough to cover you head and neck and also extend to the front and drape on top of the optic on your weapon.
I also constructed another Yeti net one for my feet and one for my bag, both were 4 ft x 4 ft. Now, as a quick aside, Ghillie suits are advantageous because they can cover your whole body while providing great camouflage, and unlike me where I had the burlap and mosquito netting concoction covering my back, you can make them cover your whole body and even make a hood. Just do a little measuring and cutting, I had a friend that used a hooded sweatshirt as a pattern to sew a net together and a pair of pants for patterning the leggings and attached the netting together. So before he added the burlap and mosquito netting it looked like he had a fishnet pair of pants and a fishnet hooded sweatshirt. So all he actually wore underneath was a t-shirt and pair of shorts, making excellent camouflage and it was very light and comfortable.  However the advantages of ghillie suits stops here… wearing body armor is difficult next to impossible in a ghillie and its pretty hard to access magazine pouches because if you were to wear your webbing gear it would have to be underneath or the ghillie is all for naught. As a solution to this you can make a larger yeti net to cover your back and legs you wear it almost as a cape. It looks ridiculous when you are moving but it is a good alternative to a ghillie suit if you still want easy access to gear and prefer to keep your body armor on. Yeti nets are more quickly constructed but they do have a tendency to tangle. I have done both and see advantages and disadvantages to both.

Whatever choice you make, whether to make a full ghillie or partial like I did, or a yeti net, just follow the basics, subdued colors, don’t use vegetation stick to durable materials like burlap and netting. You want to get as much coverage as possible (depending on whether you want to be able to wear your body armor or web gear) Be creative within the contexts of creating camouflage and you might surprise yourself and always field test when possible.

Next, after you have camouflaged your body you have the hand and face. Here is where camouflage face paint comes in handy. Now I know a lot of sets come with black however save that for any urban raids, where you need to just subdue your face and hands. Now to understand camouflaging, you need to understand the end goal. The human face in its natural form is very recognizable, a protruding nose, shadows formed by your eye sockets and lips naturally pursed. The idea is to make you face unrecognizable and appear more two dimensional rather than three dimensional, and also remove any shine produced by natural oils in your skin) I personally like to use either a nice light to medium brown or green.

I have a whole travel hygiene kit bag full of different colors and sticks but my personal favorites are the camouflage paint sticks, they look similar to a container of Chap Stick, but they have two sides with alternating colors, two common ones are light green/loam and black/olive drab. I personally prefer them because other than the black you can use all those colors as a base and they are about $2 per versus the $5 to $10 compacts that inevitably have colors you don’t use, and not as much paint in them. That is to say you can buy a couple compacts but I wouldn’t stock up on a ton of them unless you want them for barter/ charity. When selecting camouflage paint colors diversity is key, but also keep in mind your surroundings (you will want to stock up on extra of those particular colors), and always buy waterproof. Now I know I have touched on the use of black paint, they also sell white paint in sets, you can always use the black and the white to darken or lighten up other natural colors. As well as the black and white have a limited role in winter camouflaging.

Alright, first and foremost, you have the base layer I always applied a healthy amount of the base color on the back of one of my hands add a little spit to even it out and start applying to your face starting about half an inch into your hairline and all the way down to about an inch or two of where your shirt begins. Don’t forget the ears, work the paint into your eyebrows, inside your nose half a fingernail length for those of you who haven’t outgrown the habit, and your neck.

Once you have the base coat it’s time to start adding some other colors either in the form of stripes or blobs. I always preferred a mix of the two. Keep in mind to keep the stripes small (although tiger stripes look awesome that’s not what we are going for) And I was always taught to vary things up when it came to stripes don’t be afraid to use a mix of vertical, diagonal, and horizontal. Inconsistency is the key here. The base coat is to reduce your skins natural shine while the added stripes and blobs are to break-up the protrusions on your face. Also another goal of stripes is to try to mix the vertical and horizontal lines already on your face. For example, you wouldn’t want a stripe going horizontally across your eyes, aka "the raccoon look". Also you wouldn’t want a vertical stripe going down your nose. Field testing is a must it can help demonstrate what works and what doesn’t.

I always applied paint to the backs of my hands, even if you are going to be wearing gloves, there may be moments when you aren’t wearing them, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Follow the same steps for the backs of the hands obviously not as much detail is required as is for the face. And I always rubbed the remainder of paint that I would always wind up with on my fingertips into my palms not because I was necessarily trying to camouflage my palms but in an attempt to reduce the shine
As I mentioned earlier, I used a Yeti net for my bag that I carried on ambushes. As most of you have probably already purchased subdued colored bags, I think it goes without saying there aren’t enough camo nets in the world to camouflage a sponge bob square pants backpack or that coach purse you just had to have. I phrase I heard over and over in my career keep it simple stupid or KISS applies here, if you have to work too hard to conceal something it’s not worth it. I attached a yeti net to my bag using parachute cord, and rolled the excess up and secure it with a bungee while on the move. As far as gear I always kept it on the ground under a yeti net near me when stationary or on me if the suit I was wearing permitted or in a bag if not. But you could try to camouflage it by wrapping a little burlap around it again experiment see what you like and what you don’t like.
Lastly, but importantly, camouflaging your weapon. Again they have many… many kits available for purchase online but as always I preferred something fashioned by myself; many times it’s cheaper however, the reason I prefer it is you become better at something only by experimenting and experiencing it.  Even if you have a camouflage finish on your weapon the rules of camouflaging still apply you need to break up the outline of that weapon and make it unrecognizable. Also another quick aside even if you decide to stick to the original finish of your weapon in the last several years I have noticed a trend of offering different subdued colored accessories offered for many different pistols as well as most AR-15/M4 type rifles, ranging from buttstocks and pistol grips to rail covers and lasers/lights.  Research and testing is really the only way to find out what truly works for you.

I always used sections of camo netting and fashioned them similar to mini-yeti nets and attached them to the weapon with parachute cord. When attaching it always make sure you can still see through the optic or the sights and ensure the action doesn’t get tangled. (I once almost lost a squad mate due to his camo netting getting entangled in the action of his M249.) After you have sufficiently camouflaged your weapon one thing that people often forget to is take a look at their optics. A flash from an uncovered pair of binoculars or scope can give your position away to someone over a mile away. I learned three different techniques to camouflaging scopes they are: one the honeycomb, two the bird’s nest, and three the horizontal viewing slit.

First with the honeycomb [scope caps] that a lot of companies offer these as an accessory, which I think should be an immediate purchase with the optic. [JWR Adds: These channelized "Killflash" adapters are getting popular, for good reason.] However if yours gets lost or broken you can construct one using strips of the burlap fiber and small amounts of shoo goo.  It is time consuming but well worth the effort you basically create a square patch larger the end of the optic to be covered, fold down the excess and I used a piece of parachute cord and tied a square knot to attach it to the optic.

Second the birds nest, this requires a degree of patience and is a good technique to use if you happen to own an optic similar to a Trijicon ACOG, because they have about an inch lip between the edge of the scope and the objective lens. You weave a birds nest around the outer edges of the objective lens trying to keep the middle clear, a lot of experimentation is needed for this method because too little camouflaging and it is an exercise in futility and too much and you won’t be able to see.

Lastly, the horizontal viewing slit, the name pretty much says it all you take and cover all but a horizontal strip. On my ACOG I had I covered all but a one-inch gap for ambushes. Yes it reduced the amount of light but it also helped reduce the glare off the objective lens.

All the techniques I have mentioned throughout the article I have at least some if not extensive experience with, I used many of the techniques on multiple occasions obviously for desert warfare, but even as environments change techniques remain standing, just be adaptable and being willing to change. But always field test to ensure you are on the right path. Game time is too late to be changing certain strategies. Should you choose to build your own ghillie I would spend some time at home wearing it and spend some time familiarizing yourself with camoing up. Then, whenever you get a chance to spend a day in the woods, break it out. Take turns with friends trying to spot each other, you might just amaze yourself.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Recently (based on a suggestion by a SurvivalBlog reader) I began a Meetup Group for Emergency Preparedness.  One of the Meetup events that I’m soon to host is entitled “To Build a Fire”.  Hosting this Meetup which I originally conceived as simply a fire building class has forced me to think logically about tactical fire building in a WTSHTF scenario where you are forced to build a fire for survival purposes.  I’ve synthesized these ideas into this article.

By “tactical” what I mean is “low observability” because technically no true definition of tactical perfectly fits this discussion.  However people should generally understand the points I’m making.

My experience with fire building includes six years in the Boy Scouts (attaining Eagle) in addition to years of post-Scouts camping and using working fires for various reasons on my property.

Inherently a fire is not tactical; however building a fire may be a requirement when no other alternatives exist.  Thus the question is posed: How can I make a fire as tactical as possible?

People may think that in the worst of future scenarios they can simply bugout and build fires for warmth & cooking.  My hypothesis is that using a fire in such a situation is the worst thing to do because of the high likelihood of negative outcomes, such as getting killed for your supplies.

Why do we build fires?

Much of the time it’s for pleasure: Inviting friends over to chow on good grub, or just hanging out in front of a warm bonfire and having a great time.  Other times a working fire is necessary for burning dead wood on your property or for other reasons.  When camping, fires are useful for cooking and to provide a lighted, warm, and friendly environment around which campers will gather.  Not as common are survival fires for sterilizing food and water, raising one’s body temperature, drying clothing, signaling, or repelling wild animals and insects.

Tactical strategies are generally not important for these types of fires and usually not even considered by the fire builder.  This can be a huge problem in a SHTF scenario because the effects of such fires tend to be highly observable.   Easy observation by sight, sound, and smell makes the pinpointing of a fire’s location simple, both during the fire and afterwards.

  • By sight: Fire, smoke, and general site destruction (broken or cut tree limbs, absence of normal levels of dead wood, footprints, trash).  Thermal imaging devices increase the chance a fire will be observed.
  • By sound: Preparation activities (breaking, sawing, or chopping fuel) and popping wood while burning.
  • By smell: Smoke and cooking food.

Tactical strategies are extremely important when building a fire in a SHTF or bugout scenario.  Starting a fire for any reason will attract people for miles unless extreme care is taken.  My recommendation is to not create a fire at all unless absolutely necessary for survival reasons.

Alternatives exist that must be considered prior to igniting a fire to keep your sight, sound, and smell observability to a minimum:

  • Food: can be eaten cold
  • Water: can be filtered or sterilized by other methods
  • Hypothermia or freezing: body heat can be shared and/or shelters built.

Stoves can be used if raw food must be cooked or water boiled but only if you’ve prepared with such equipment.  (Read this as: prepare with such equipment!)

If no alternatives exist and building a fire in a SHTF world is required for warming people in critical hypothermic or freezing conditions or to remedy other survival problems, then you must: 1) Know how to build a fire (an extremely important survival skill.)  2) Control and limit the observability of your fire.

(My disclaimer) Prior to the next discussion pre-SHTF safe fire building practices must be mentioned.  These are:

1) Know your local fire ordinances. 
2) Remove combustible material from around your fire building site.  The larger the fire is the greater this requirement.  Don’t forget to remove overhanging branches.
3) Do not build a fire in windy conditions. 
4) Prepare a readily available and continuous water supply. 
5) Ensure your fire is “cold out” when you’re done with it.  After spraying plenty of water on the remnants of the fire, turning over all unburned fuel and spraying again, carefully put your hands in the wet ashes to ensure no hot coals remain.  Bonus: after rinsing the ashes off your hands you’ll notice they are nice and clean from the mild lye solution created by the water and wood ash.

My experience is that most people think they can quickly start a fire in the wild because they can light a barbecue or a fire in their fireplace.  Fire building in the wild, especially under survival conditions and with added tactical considerations, will be quite daunting.

Building a fire is fairly simple but without knowledge and practice is challenging.  In less than ideal conditions starting a fire is extremely difficult.  Watching SurvivorMan on television does not make you an expert and when a fire is needed for survival reasons it’s critical that one is made quickly. 

Three prerequisites are required for a successful fire: ignition, combustibles, and air.

Ignition: Creating the initial heat source which is then amplified during the next sequential fire building steps.  Many tools are easily available for igniting a fire, prepare your bug-out bags with several of these options and practice using them.  Examples are: Waterproof/weatherproof matches, lighters, and magnesium style striker tools (BlastMatch, etc.).  While its fun to watch Les Stroud igniting a fire using a fire bow, this takes long hours of practice, precisely the correct wood types, and a relatively long time to manufacture the tool and to produce an ember.  Use a match instead.

Combustibles: Generally described in three categories: tinder, kindling, and fuel.

  • Tinder is composed of the smallest or finest flammable material.  Its purpose is to amplify the ignition source enough so that kindling can be burned.  Examples are: Pine needles, dried grass, tree or vine bark (cedar, birch, or grapevine), mouse nests, bird nests, etc.  The list is endless.
  • Kindling is woody material that is the next size up from tinder, but smaller than the fuel.  Size ranges from about 1/8” to 1” in thickness.  Its purpose is to amplify the fire enough to light the fuel.
  • Fuel is the material that’s added to the fire after the kindling stage.  Generally smaller sized fuel is used in the early stages of the fire but as the coal bed becomes larger the fuel can increase in size.  The fuel’s purpose is to be the main working part of the fire.  It provides the direct heat or burns down to hot coals with which to cook food, warm bodies, or for other reasons.

When building a fire you must sequentially move in order from tinder to kindling to fuel.  Skipping a step will not work, especially in wet conditions.  Combustibles must be as dry as possible for effective fire building.  Techniques exist for dealing with wet conditions, such as using a knife to expose the dry insides of the combustible material; you should familiarize yourself with these skills.  Another tip is to use hanging dead branches as they tend to be drier than fuel on the ground.  Finding sap covered tinder or kindling is a bonus.  Pine or other sap is flammable and very helpful when starting a fire. 

Air:  At first you may not think air is much of a problem because we are building a fire on Earth, not the Moon.  However, when a fire is not properly constructed, too little air will flow into the ignited fuel and the young fire will not effectively burn or will go out.  This is the last thing you want to have happen if you are attempting to build a survival fire.

Airflow is controlled by the fire lay.  A fire lay is the fire’s method of construction and an effective fire lay is critical for starting a fire.  A mature fire usually ends up as a pile of fuel with a hot coal bed, so the fire lay eventually disappears.  If a mature fire goes out, it can typically be restarted by adding fresh fuel onto the hot coals.

Too many fire lay configurations exist to review in detail (teepee, lean-to, hunter’s, log cabin, etc.)  You should research and practice using different types so you know when to build a specific one.  Fire lays can generally be categorized as “above ground” or the less common “below ground.”

Below ground fire lays are superior for controlling and limiting the observability of your survival fire.   A below ground fire lay of particular usefulness in a SHTF world is the “Dakota Fire Lay” or “Dakota Fire Pit” (DFP).

A DFP consists of a jug shaped hole dug with a wide base and narrower top.  The lower part of the hole is connected to a smaller angled air intake tunnel.  The air intake entrance is dug upwind from the main hole.  In essence it’s a small wood burning stove built into the ground.  An above ground fire lay is used to start the fire within a Dakota Fire Pit.

As a Scout I never made a DFP because they were too time consuming to build.  I made one this week and it took me 75 minutes to dig and that’s with proper hand tools.  For a young Scout that’s too long when you can use an above ground method to prepare and ignite a fire within a few minutes.

Again, not building a fire is the best way to maintain your operational security, however if a fire must be built and you have the time the DFP is excellent for these reasons:

  • Minimal light and heat signature:  Most important for tactical considerations is that it produces the least amount of observable radiant light and heat because the fire is totally underground.
  • Efficient burning of fuel:  Little or no smoke is produced, again reducing sight and smell observability.  The design of the DFP is such that a draft is created to supply fresh air to the fire as it burns.  This configuration allows the fuel to burn completely which produces little smoke.
  • Quiet: The DFP is quieter than other fire lays because the sound of popping and cracking wood is suppressed.  When digging it I suggest using sticks or other non-metallic tools because when a metal hand tool is struck against a rock it’s quite noisy.
  • Safe for windy conditions:  A low chance of the fire spreading exists because (That’s right!) it’s underground.  Furthermore this fire is easy to light and maintain in such conditions because the wind has little effect on a below ground fire.  Wind actually improves the fire by blowing through the air intake and increasing the burning efficiency of the fuel.
  • Easy cooking: Lay a couple of green sticks across the top of the hole and put your pot on it, or create a green stick grill onto which meat will be laid.  All of the heat is concentrated with this fire lay instead of spreading out as with other types.  You’ll notice your food cooks more quickly than expected, a definite tactical plus.  You can also wait until the fire burns down and cook directly on the coals, or use the pit as an oven or smoker.
  • Simple site restoration:  Just fill the hole with any remaining signs of your camp and fill it with the dirt that was removed.  If no chip producing saws or axes were used to prepare the fuel, then the vacated site will never be recognized for the campsite it was.

If the ground is too wet, frozen, rocky, or otherwise unsuitable for digging, or if no time is available to properly dig a DFP, quasi-underground alternatives exist which aren’t as effective, but are better than above ground fire lays.

One example is the trench fire lay which is a simple trench dug in the ground into which the fire is built.  It’s not as efficient or secure as a DFP however it achieves some of the same results.

Any fire should be kept small to minimize the output of light and heat.  Small fires also reduce the amount of fuel consumed which means less fuel collection and preparation is required, ultimately translating into minimal site destruction.  Additionally, fewer calories are used by the people maintaining the fire which means less food consumption is necessary. 

Ideally no tools should be used for preparing the fuel.  It should consist of small pieces that don’t need further cutting, again minimizing site destruction and leaving few telltale clues (wood chips, saw dust, or limbs broken or cut from trees) that you occupied the site.  You want your location to be 100% unrecognizable as a camp after you depart.  Also the sound of chopping wood with an axe can be heard for miles, and sawing is quite noticeable in quiet woods too.

To summarize:  In a SHTF world a fire will draw unwanted attention.  Before you make that fire always think of alternative methods of eating, sterilizing water, or getting warm.  If a fire must be built, keep it to the smallest size possible to meet your needs.  Use cover (dense woods, low spots, cliffs or rocky areas, even buildings) to help hide your fire, and seriously consider digging a Dakota Fire Pit to maintain your operational security.  This type of fire lay minimizes observation by sight, sound, and smell thus reducing the chance of attracting attention.

Lastly: Practice this essential skill now!  Don’t assume you can build a fire in the wild. Identify and use native materials around your bugout sites and travel routes.  Practice in both dry and wet conditions and in different seasons.  Prepare your bugout bags with some of today’s commonly available fire starting tools (magnesium type fire igniters, paraffin & fuel type fire starters, etc.).  They increase your chances to successfully and quickly build a fire; however don’t think you can build a fire just because you pack them.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Okay, I admit it, I’m a Prepper.  The first time I read the Boy Scout Motto “Be Prepared”, I was hooked.  "Be prepared for what?" someone once asked Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, "Why, for any old thing." said Baden-Powell.  My real awakening with the Boy Scout Handbook was my first introduction to fire.  Learning to make a basic campfire, a cook fire, bonfire and camp-fire television were the first tastes of what would prepare me for the future. I camped, earned merit badges and worked my way to First Class and Patrol leader all the while putting an end to cords and cords of wood with gusto.  Being a Scout taught me at a young age to think about prepping as a natural part of my life.  When I read Jack London’s epic story “To Build A Fire”, I understood that being unprepared can be the harshest schoolmaster.  So I began my life in the workaday world planning on being the one who was prepared.
Fast forward to ‘married with children’ and I can hear my patient, psych-majored, wife say, “prepping meets a basic need”.  In my mind, prepping meant to know ‘everything’ about being prepared.  It was important to understand not just how to prep, but what to prep for and to understand the root causes for why one had to prep.  Several books I read provided the best explanation of what was coming: 1) The Fourth Turning by Strauss and Howe, 2) Conquer the Crash by Robert Prechter, and 3) The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.   All three helped me understand what I was preparing for and instilled a real sense of urgency.  Knowing the why, I also pursued the how by reading: 1) Boy Scouts Handbook (First Edition, 1911), 2) The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery, and 3) How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It, by James Wesley, Rawles, the best among many others.

After years of reading books, articles and blogs, it slowly dawned on me that I would never know ‘everything’ about prepping, but at least I could know ‘everything’ about a couple of things.  My work consisted of designing and building process equipment, which requires large vessels called retorts that are used to heat mercury vapor, hydrocarbons and air to over 1000F.  The retorts are kept under a mild vacuum, to prevent the conditions for combustion and fire from ever happening. After more than ten years of designing and building retorts, I became interested in biomass gasifiers, which are in many ways, similar to retorts.  My prepping had led me to look at alternative fuels for our family’s two diesel fueled sedans.  Although already easy on fuel, I was interested in what alternatives there were to using straight diesel fuel.  Peanut oil, soybean oil, palm oil, coconut oil, used fryer oil, used motor oil, LP gas, compressed natural gas and producer gas are all mentioned as alternatives to diesel fuel.  Wait a second!  What is that last one - producer gas? It is fairly common to convert a diesel to run on LP and compressed natural gas, but what was producer gas?  As it turns out, producer gas is the result of burning biomass (basically wood) with insufficient air. In fact about ¼ of the normal amount of air necessary to completely burn wood will yield a smoky, but burnable producer gas consisting mostly of Carbon Monoxide (CO), Hydrogen (H2), Nitrogen (N2) and smoke (unburned hydrocarbons).  Producer gas from a gasifier must have the smoke reformed into producer gas before it can be piped directly into the intake of a diesel engine. This could reduce, but not completely replace the diesel fuel that the engine uses.  I was intrigued by the possibility that we could use biomass to power our diesels.  After studying biomass gasification for about two years, we built our first test gasifier.  It was a batch-type, stratified, downdraft gasifier, which we built with insulated, stainless steel chimney sections and small axial blower. It was a very simple, yet excellent way to learn more about biomass gasification.  With this test unit we gasified every type of biomass we could get our hands on – wood chips, wood pellets, sawdust, cocoa shells, wood shavings, paper, and dried distillers grains (don’t ask).  In addition to producer gas, the gasifier also yields a charcoal, also known as biochar, as a valuable byproduct.

Needless to say I was excited, but then my wife says I’m always excited about something or other, having been born fully caffeinated.  Now I could make producer gas and biochar simply and on demand.  With some development time, stainless steel fabrication, and a digital control system - I could see this becoming an entire new business.  I made a plan for our prototype and my faithful sidekick, Jake, drew up good looking solid model drawings, which he then built.  To our surprise, the unit worked and generated producer gas that we flared off in an impressive blue flame about two feet long.  To our amazement, we also got it to power a 5 kW gasoline generator which we converted to run on producer gas using the tri-fuel generator kit available from US Carburetion.  So I showed my wife the unit, showed her how it operated, the big beautiful blue flame, ran the generator and told her my idea of how this was the basis for a whole new business.  Her immediate response, “That’s great dear – but don’t quit your day job.” Well I haven’t given up mercury retorts, but I could tell by her enthusiastic response that she was behind me all the way. 

Soon after, young Jake and I were discussing gasifying the various types of biomass, whether hardwood, softwood, nutshells, paper, and grains, and how the process seemed to be straightforward. Our conversation got around to size and again how simple the process was to gasify average size wood chips, wood pellets and other “average” size biomass, just as we could easily gasify small size biomass like fine sawdust.  I mentioned to Jake the importance of testing the other extreme, to which he immediately shot back, “then gasify logs”.  Ouch! Now that smarted.  Wood blocks, can do; small branches, check; short 2x2 cutoffs, no problem; but logs, full size logs?  That little challenge from Jake, faithful apprentice and right-hand man, forced me to think about the real reason we were doing what we were doing.  We really needed to be prepared for the time when the gasoline, diesel fuel, LP and natural gas were gone.  The time when the natural gas pipelines were empty, when we had used the last of our LP tanks, and when our diesel fuel and gasoline tanks were empty.  What happens then?  How would that happen? Whether war, EMP, political upheaval, famine or plague – it matters little.  Because when you’re cold and it’s dark, no one is interested in motives or underlying causes, you just need heat and light. 

All that would be left as a renewable resource would be our firewood, but how can we effectively use firewood?  Normally, the traditional campfire can provide heat to warm you up, cook your food, dry your clothes, signal your location, and provide you with adequate light to see and read.  However, under abnormal situations involving the high stress of no shelter, extreme cold, deep snow, high winds and driving rain; building a fire can be a lifesaving, but tricky proposition especially for the inexperienced and unprepared.  This is the part where having read Jack London’s short story, “To Build a Fire” was crucial to my thought process.  If you never read it - now is a good time.   Just what does it take to properly build a fire in extreme conditions?  It requires: first, shelter from wind and cold surfaces like snow; second, a good quantity dry wood; third, some kindling consisting of dried wood cut in thin sections or slivers; fourth, some flammable tinder, which can catch and hold the smallest flame or spark; fifth, all-weather waterproof matches or flint and steel; sixth, knowing the process of assembling the wood, kindling and tinder that will enable you to start and maintain the fire; and seventh, practice.   The best campfire resource on the web that I’ve seen is The Campfire Dude who provides you with solid information matched with years of practical experience.  Making a campfire is not that easy, in fact it requires skill under good circumstances, and can be near impossible in high stress situations.  Add to that the fact that a campfire is absolutely the least efficient means to burn wood to generate warmth and you may well be permanently disappointed. 

Jake and I had learned that it was easy to gasify almost any biomass using our downdraft gasifier, as long as it had been nicely chipped, chopped, pelleted, trimmed, dried and graded for uniformity.  However to gasify logs required a completely different approach, we found a clue at the 2010 U.S. Biochar Initiative Conference at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. There we saw several versions of inverted downdraft stoves and were intrigued by one large unit in particular.  One big problem was that it required electric power and a blower to operate - we were not interested, as our unit had to operate without power.  Instead we developed an idea, which used the updraft heat from the fire to drive the necessary airflow to feed the fire in place of the electric blower. We designed the layout for our basic prototype from our initial calculations, which required that we place correctly sized openings for primary and secondary air and chimney. Proper location, sizing and spacing all were important, in that they determined, how fast the wood burned, how hot the fire got and how completely it burned the wood fuel.  We built our first unit and were again amazed that it worked at all.  Our testing used metal containers, which ranged from 5 gallon metal pails holding 12 inch long split wood to 30 gallon cans where we tested full sized logs. 

We discovered in our first test that:
1) The burn was extremely hot, enough so to warp the metal container,
2) The wood burned with no visible smoke except on startup,
3) 20 pounds of wood burned down to less than 5# of biochar, and
4) The burn lasted more than two and one-half hours. 

Thus was born our "Commence Fire!" Emergency Fire and Heat unit, which includes:  one 5 gallon shrink-wrapped container, chimney, 20# of hardwood pellets, tinder/fire starter, stormproof matches, metal cups, water pouches, single servings of tea and a reflective Mylar blanket. 

To operate the Commence Fire!, first strip off the shrink wrapping, remove the shrink tube from inside the chimney, firmly pull the chimney completely up until it locks in place, charge the unit with the tinder/firestarter mix by pushing it completely down the chimney, remove a stormproof match from its package, light it and immediately drop it down chimney. 

Within five minutes of opening the shrink wrap, your fire should be well established. Next fill a cup with water and in a few more minutes you will have boiling water ready for hot tea.  Immediately search for about 100 pieces of small diameter logs and branches that are dead but still off the ground, and which you are able to break into 12” lengths using your hands or feet.  Lean the accumulated wood, even if wet, on the Commence Fire! unit to get it dry – as you will be using this wood as a continuing source of fire.  It is also recommended that you stack rocks up around the outside of the container to be heated and later brought into your tent or sleeping bag for long lasting warmth. Proper positioning of the Mylar blanket enables you to shield yourself from wind and rain, while reflecting heat from the backside of the unit.

You probably know that you can remain conscious for only three minutes without air. You may not know that you are likely to remain conscious for only three hours without adequate shelter and heat in extreme cold and wet conditions.  To reverse the effects of exposure and hypothermia you need the means to provide heat and shelter to reduce exposure and the means of increasing your core temperature by drinking warm liquids. With the Commence Fire! you have a unit with everything you need to start and maintain a fire in any weather and to provide shelter and warm liquids fast, especially when it is pre-positioned and ready in your BOV, retreat, cabin, boat, or cache.

Indoors, most folks believe that their fireplaces will be their backup heat. But the harsh reality is that a fireplace can be only slightly more efficient than a campfire in extracting heat from wood.

JWR Adds: The author makes an interesting new stove and tinder kit dubbed Commence Fire! It will soon be reviewed in SurvivalBlog by Pat Cascio. It is notable that the kit is specially dry-packaged for use in an emergency, so the contents stay dry, even if its shipping box gets soaking wet. Here is a demonstration of a Commence Fire! kit. 

Disclaimer (per FTC File No. P034520): I accept cash-paid advertising. To the best of my knowledge, as of the date of this posting, none of the companies mentioned in this article have solicited me or paid me to write any reviews or endorsements, nor have they provided me any free or reduced-price gear in exchange for any reviews or endorsements. I've been told that they will be providing Pat with one of their kits for test and evaluation, but nothing else. I am not a stock holder in any company.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

That was an excellent article by A. Arizonan! As a former newspaper deliverer (rural route in the American Redoubt), I would like to add that there are benefits to delivering or subscribing to newspapers.

As a deliverer who serviced home customers and coin-op boxes, I could amass "extra" or "unsold" paper to the tune of about 300 to 500 pounds a month. To this day I still have about 2000 pounds in storage. I'd have more but I can't properly store any more.

The added benefit of my former route was that I got to meet a lot of people and explore places near me that I wouldn't otherwise go. This has proved useful in learning more about where I live and who lives in it.

I also found some of my customers would return the rubber bands and plastic sleeves so I could reuse them (as they cost me money to use). I asked one customer if they would return their papers as well so I could "recycle" them and they were more than happy to. (As if I needed more of what I couldn't save, but you see my point).

After giving the route to a friend and fellow prepper, my friend has told me that he now has two customers who want unsold or "used" paper! He, like myself, struggles with storage space (he has about three times what I have in paper) so he is happy to not go out of his way to the recycling place but rather leave the "extra" with someone who has a use for it.
If you would like a massive amount of newsprint in a short amount of time, you can either get a route or simply talk to your delivery person. - T.M.

Dear Mr. Rawles,
One quick point with regard to the statement: "Some frown on cellulose as an insulator because of two of its other main properties, namely flammability and absorbency (ask anyone who has had a roof leak into an attic with cellulose fill)."  Commercially available cellulose insulation is treated with borate, and is actually safer than fiberglass in nearly every regard including fire safety. Regards, Peter in Maryland

A. Arizonan mentioned: "Cooking. My grandparents used to have a grill that utilized only newspaper to cook on. Quite a while back I even saw these advertised on late night TV."

Newspapers may contain toxic chemicals and these chemicals might end up in your food. Typically paper is treated with toxic beaching agents and these toxins remain in paper. Newspaper also utilize recycled paper which may also have become contaminated other with toxins from their previous use. - An Anonymous Reader

JWR Adds: This warning is particularly true of slick color-printed inserts. These should all be shunted off for recycling, as their risks outweigh their benefits in almost every potential application.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I believe in having all the “big” things, to prepare for the possible breakdown of civil society.   I have a large home outside of a small mid-west town, and expect 12 people to arrive to hunker down, if things do fall apart.  I need to be able to feed and supply of them, perhaps for years.

So I have 1,200 gallons of Kerosene.  This is intended for heating the home for 3 winters, and I have 3 Kerosene heaters to do the job.  The Kerosene is stored in in 3 large 330 gallon plastic totes, half buried in my back yard, hidden by a wood pile, as well as four 55 gallon drums buried under my deck. I have a hand-crank pump to get fuel from either type of container.  I have treated it all with PRI-D, and I expect it to last for decades.  I have stored more PRI-D just in case.

I have 12,000+ pounds of food on site.  Along with lots of canned goods and dried meals, I have barrels of white rice, rye, Triticale, 5,000 pounds of hard red wheat, pinto beans, and 250 pounds of popcorn.  I have another 4,000 pounds of wheat in a barrels in a second location.

I bought the rice, beans and popcorn at Restaurant Depot in 50# bags, and the rest as “seed” from a local grain dealer, for around $14 per 60# bushel.  It's mostly stored in 55 gallon drums, with liners, and dry ice to drive out the oxygen.  Some is also in 6 gallon buckets. 

I have 300 gallons of water.  100 gallons of this is instantly drinkable, in 1/2-liter bottles.  I also have 100 gallons in two water heaters, and 110 gallons in two 55 gallon drums in my basement.  I could filter and/or disinfect this water if I needed to drink it, but it's intended for washing and toilet flushing.  I also have 1,000 coffee filters, and various-sized of commercial filters, to handle drinking water for the foreseeable future.  I have a 165 gallon tank collecting rain water from my downspouts as well, for gardening.  I bought that for $20 off Craig's List.

I have 36,000 rounds of ammo and eight guns.  I try to double up on calibers, so I have two rifles that use .223, two hand guns that use .40 S&W, and a .22 rifle and .22 pistol.  Much of the ammo is stored in sealed 4-gallon buckets with desiccants, but I always keep about 500 rounds in magazines ready to go.

I have bags of silver, mostly in junk pre-1965 coins, as well as gold in 1 oz coins.  I don't know if this will be needed for actual spending during a breakdown, but it should transport a chuck of wealth thru a hyperinflation.  Once there is a new currency, I can exchange the silver a little at a time to buy items I need. 

I also have Canadian dollars, which I think will do better than US currency at holding it's value.  And I have it in a Canadian bank, and I renewed my passport, in case I need to bug out for real.  I'm just a few hours from the border.

But I don't just want to survive if TSHTF.  I want to thrive.  So over the past few years I have gathered lots of other items that I don't want to be without, when there is no store to run to.  Once you have the big things, be sure to look for these “little things”, to make life easier. 

I have way too many of most of these items for our own use, unless things stay broken down forever, but I like them for trade items as well.  Barter may become very important.

I bought small 400 bars of soap.  These are individually wrapped hotel-size bars.  I paid $17 on eBay, or 4 cents each.  I want to be clean post-apocalypse, and these should trade well.  To help conserve water, I also bought a bucket of 500 Clorox disinfecting wipes.  Then I added 40 tooth brushes, at 5 for $1.  Dental hygiene will be important, and they should be trade well too.

I worry about lighting, especially in the winter, so I bought 3 gross (432) votive candles from, for 30 cents each.  They burn 15 hours.  I also bought sixå of the 120 hour Nu-wick candles on eBay for about $10 each.  They cost more per hour of light than the votive candles, but you can put 3 wicks in them, and cook over them if needed.  So combined, I have about 7,200 hours of candle light.  I think the small 15 hour candles will be good trading items as well.

I bought 200 Fish hooks for $1 at a flea market.  Others will need them.

I bought 12 rolls of Vietnam-era trip wire, 160 feet each, on eBay, and 1,000 feet of 6# fishing line.  I want to have lots of trip wires and booby traps to protect the homestead.  I also bought 50 old-fashioned mouse traps, 25 cents each, to use with the trip wires.  (You can attach the trip wire to the “cheese spot” and rig a shotgun shell primer under the spring arm, and make a nifty trap or alarm. I put aside 100 shotgun shell primers for this too.)

I bought 100 tubes of Super Glue on eBay, for about $20.  Good for trading, good for quick small repairs, and also good for treating minor cuts.  In a pinch you can glue the cut shut.  Nice pocket size item for trading.

I bought 4 gallons of Barricade Fire Blocking Gel for about $250.  You can but buy it on eBay.  That's a lot of money, but my house backs up to a woods.  If that woods starts on fire, I can quickly coat my roof and deck with this stuff, and it simply will not burn down.  Very important if there's no fire department available because TSHTF.

I bought three Water dispensing Fire Extinguishers via eBay, from a guy who salvages old buildings.  Just $15 each.  They hold 2.5 gallons of water, and you pump them up with a bike pump for pressure.  You wouldn't believe how far they throw a powerful stream of water!  They are like water cannons.   I could use them with a mixture of Barricade Gel to coat my roof will standing on the ground, if needed.  Otherwise, I have handy fire extinguishers that I can refill with water again and again.

I bought 1,200 doses of Antibiotics, from various Pet Med places on line, and Amazon.  I'm convinced they are the same as people meds.  I did my research, and settled on 200 doses of Cephalexin, 200 doses of Ciprofloxacin, 100 Metronidazole, 200 Doxycycline, 300 Amoxicillin, and 200 Ampicillin. 

I have them in the refrigerator until TSHTF, where they should stay near full potency for a decade.  After the electricity fails, they should still last for many years, and only slowly loose their punch.  After a decade, I may need to take double the dosage for the same effect, so I have stocked a good supply.  I hope to have a doctor to diagnose any problems, but in an emergency, I have some medical books, and may have to roll the dice in the face of a serious infection.

To help prevent illness, I also bought 100 of the N95 masks, and 200 pairs of rubber gloves.  (Don't ask me why, but I also bought 300 unopened, empty insulin syringes, on Craig's List for $20.)  I also bought four boxes of 100 count butterfly bandages, as well as many boxes of band aids, and 30 rolls of wrapping bandages. A primitive lifestyle can lead to lots of cuts and bumps, and I want to be prepared. 

I have all the standard over-the-counter stuff, purchased as Sam's Club.  This included many bottles of Imodium, Benadryl, Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, Pepto-Bismol and Robitussin.  I also bought a gallon of Chlorhexidine for washing wounds, and Silver Sulfadiazine and Ichthammol, based on articles I've read on treating injuries.  I also tucked away 4 quarts of Hydrogen Peroxide and 4 quarts of rubbing alcohol.

I've also stocked up on bottles of vitamins.  If TSHTF, nutrition will suffer.  So I have 50 big bottles of Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Acidophilus, and a good multiple vitamin.  This should handle my crew for years, and also allow some trading of bottles.

Having fire will always be important, so I bought 4,600 Strike Anywhere matches, in 32-match boxes.  These individual boxes should make great trading items, so I bought a gross of them.  I also bought more than 50 lighters, and spare fluid.

I am about to have installed a solar panel system and windmill to power the whole retreat, but I did buy 100 NiMH AA and AAA Batteries, and a small solar recharger.  All my little flashlights and tools use these, so I wanted a bunch.  There may even be a business opportunity, where you recharge batteries for people, and swap them charged ones for dead ones, as needed.

I hate bugs, so I bought 200 bottles of Mosquito spray!  Just 17 cents each from a guy who had overstocked.  Not aerosol cans, but the pump kinds, so they'll never go flat.  I did the research, and the active ingredients seem to have a long shelf life.  Farming would be unpleasant without bug spray, as would summer nighttime patrolling, and the bottles should also command a great deal in trade.  And when they finally ban DEET, I'll be all set.

I should get more, but I do have 10 bottles of sunscreen.

I'm obsessed with home security, so I bought 600 feet of razor wire (20 rolls of 30 ft each) and 10,000 feet of barbed wire.  (Remember to get the special gloves for handling the razor wire!)  I know wire won't keep people out if it's undefended, but we plan on it slowing the bad guys down long enough to shoot 'em.  Or just discourage them, so they move on to easier targets.  There are some good free PDFs on the net describing how to layout a good Soviet-style tangle foot obstacle.  Print one out and save it.

I may want to fortify defensive posts, and observations posts, so I have 500 sandbags.  Get the clear plastic self-sealing bags, from Home Depot, for about 35 cents each in boxes of 50.   They store/stack well, and self-sealing plastic bags have lots of uses besides home defense. (Such as human waste disposal.)

I expect we'll need to build stuff after TSHTF.  The lumberyard is unlikely to be open if things really fall apart.  So I bought about 10,000 nails and screws.  I bought dozens of trays of them at an area flea market, for about $50.  

The attic above my garage was not floored when I bought my home.  I put in a pull-down stairway, and “floored” the attic with loose 8-foot 2X4s.  I put about 100+ of them up there, not nailed down. [JWR Adds: That approach is not recommended in earthquake country.] So now it's a great place for me to store stuff like my barbed wire spools.  If and when I do need the wood for building, I can slowly un-floor my garage attic and have 100+ 2X4s for construction.  Until then, they make a fine, inexpensive floor.

I have 720 packets of various vegetable seeds.  I found a seed company distributor online, and ordered one of their vegetable variety display racks, at around 10 cent per packet.  These are the packs that sell for 59 cents. 

They are hybrid seeds, so the next-generation seeds collected from their veggies won't always reproduce true.  But I look at it this way – they are bred to produce bountiful first generation crops, unlike heirloom seeds, so my early crops after TSHTF will be reliable and big.  And I have so many packs, I won't need to save more seeds for decades.  Like all seeds, they should store well in my cool, dry basement, and the $70 they cost me wouldn't have bought me all that many heirloom seeds.  I expect the packets will make great trading items too.

I have 50 red laser pointers with white LED lights included.  I buy these on eBay for under $1 each, batteries and shipping included.    I think the little white lights are handy for in your pocket or hanging on a nail.  And we will use the red laser lights, in the hands of some of the women-folk, to make any raiders think we have even more guns aimed at them than we do.  (I also want to rig up a sort of hand-held “laser light gun” with dozens of lasers, which can be used to blind siege folks.  People are very afraid of looking into one of those lasers, and being blinded, so they should be intimidating!)

I worry about a large group rushing the retreat, in greater numbers than we can shoot quickly.  Or at night or as a surprise attack using a distraction.  If a group crashes through multiple doors and windows at once, we could be screwed.  So I bought a 150 ft long heavy fishing net, 12 ft wide, on eBay, for $100.

I cut the big net into various sizes for hanging over all the doors and ground-floor windows.  These individual nets can be hung quickly with the hooks I have, and should secure all the entries long enough for us to defend them.  Even if you shoot my front door of its hinges, it's just going to hang there in place, held up by the heavy netting inside.  Then I'm going to shoot you through it.

I bought 7 pounds of calcium hypochlorite (pool shock) for less than $20 from  Each pound will make enough chlorine bleach to disinfect 12,000 gallons of water.  I intend to make bottles of bleach in my 1/2-liter water bottles, and sell them as a business when TSHTF.  Each little bottle will itself disinfect 12 gallons of water for someone.  I'll make some money, and save some lives at the same time.

I have stored 72 gallons of treated gasoline in twelve 6-gallon cans.  I empty one into my car each month, and refill it, to keep the stock of gas fresh.  I use the mid-grade without ethanol, in case I want to use it in small engines. 

I also bought 1 gallon of PRI-G, to rejuvenate 2,000 gallons in the future.  A few years after TSHTF, there will likely be lots of old “worthless” gasoline, that can be completely reconstituted if you have PRI-G set aside.  It costs about $85 a gallon on line, but I think it's worth it--from  Five years after a collapse, I still want to have a chainsaw!  (I bought several extra chains for the saw as well.  And 2 back-up chain saws, tucked away.)

Because I worry about bullets flying in through my walls, and I also worry about inflation, I have slowly accumulated 1 million pennies (400 boxes, $25 each).  Each box already has about $40 in copper (pre-1981 pennies make up about 30% of each box), so I'm ahead $15 the day I “buy” them.  I don't sort out the good pennies. 

I have the unopened boxes stacked along the outside walls of the upstairs bedrooms.  I guarantee no rifle bullet is getting through the siding, the wall boards, and the boxes of pennies.  If we never collapse, I have a great inflation hedge in the pre-1981 copper pennies.  If we have deflation, my coins will increase in buying power.  And in a hyperinflation, if we get a new currency, the coins may be accepted as part of the new money, and avoid the inflation entirely.

Since they don't make Sears catalogs any more, I have stocked up 200+ rolls of toilet paper.  I keep adding to the stash.  It takes up some space, but I don't want to think about the end of the world without toilet paper.  Not with 14 people living in my home if things fall apart!  I also bought one of those handy 5-gallon bucket toilet seat tops, just in case.

I don't expect your average thugs to have tear gas, but some left-over police state types may have some.  So I bought 10 Israeli M15 Gas Masks and 20 spare 40mm filters on eBay.  I can also use them if the woods behind my house is on fire, and I'm busy spraying Barricade Gel on my roof while the smoke surrounds me.

I also bought five canisters of Clear Out tear gas from one of your sponsors,  $17 each.  (Remember to use the SurvivalBlog discount code "sb"!)  I figure I can roll a can down the stairs from my second floor if intruders do get in, and our gas masks will protect us from the effects, and allow us to fight while the tear gas gives us the edge.

I also bought a roll of 1,000 feet of 550 paracord for $36, from another of your sponsors  That stuff is good for so many things.  I added an 4-wheel block & tackle, so with the paracord I can lift some very heavy items.  I've practiced with it, and it's fun to lift 100 pounds with one hand.  Don't forget a few hundred cable ties as well.  Very handy.

Speaking of lifting things by hand, buy gloves when you find them inexpensively.  I also bought the expensive studded gloves for handling razor wire, and some “welding glove” for high heat, and some rubber coated gloves, but mostly you want a box full of more modest gloves.  Simple cloth hand-covers,  for doing regular outdoor tasks, will really save on the wear and tear, as well as precious water for hand-scrubbing.  At flea markets, I often see them for $1 a pair, so I have stocked up.  They should trade well too.  (If you find a couple nicer, leather gloves, stash those away as well.)

I continue to read survival blogs every day, and I am always looking for new items that will be both handy, and good for trading.  I usually buy them on eBay.  I also find the big outdoor flea markets offer a large variety of useful items.  And I watch Craig's List for things I haven't thought of.  I also love the Deal of the Day sites.  Each day, I stop by, for a summary of all the deal site offers, and I often find bargains on stuff I think I can use.

Start a list of things you'd like to have on the shelf.  Add to it every time you read something interesting on the web.  Don't rush out and buy them all at once, but check the items off as you come across them at a bargain price.  In a surprisingly short time, you will find you have stocked a lot of handy items for use, and for trading.  Good luck.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I began work in Toronto on August 1, 2003.  The lights went out three weeks later.  The entire Northeast was dark for several days.

The company had provided us with three months of free housing.  By my standards it was quite posh ¾ pool privileges, chandeliers, weekly maid service. 

But we knew nobody, had little food in the cupboard, and no local currency.  (Then again the cash registers didn’t work anyway.)  When the sun went down it got dark and stayed dark.  We had no light of any kind.  Granted, the two huge candlesticks on the mantle were a blessing, though some candles for them would have been nice.

Afterwards, my wife confessed how close she had been to begging:  “Let’s go home.  I’m scared.  I don’t care about the job.  I don’t care about the money.  Let’s get the hell out of here.” 

Fear of the dark is both primitive and powerful.

I later retired and began work on a book entitled:  No Lights?  No Batteries?  No Problem.  A Handbook of Non-Electric Lighting.  After three years of research and hundreds of “science experiments,” I submitted a book proposal to a publisher.

They kept my chapters three months and sent me a very nice rejection letter.  It began to dawn on me (at age 71) that there were not enough months left in my life to locate a publisher.  No doubt I’ll self-publish electronically at some point but in the meantime I’d like to share some of my findings.  I wish I’d known this stuff myself in 2003.

Everything that burns consumes oxygen.  So be sure to crack a window and provide ventilation. 

Also, everything that burns gives off carbon monoxide: your gas range, your KeroSun heater with catalytic converter, your gas clothes dryer, your boudoir incense, your wood stove, your kerosene lamp, your fireplace, the candles on your birthday cake.

As a check to see that it’s working, the directions for my carbon monoxide detector suggest bringing a stick of burning incense close to the detector.  Wow!  The detector screams!  A very impressive demo!

Vegetable oil lamps are less expensive than candles to burn.  One tablespoon of vegetable oil will produce a candle-sized flame for two hours.  Cooking oil has been burned in lamps since Biblical times.       

You can use a tuna fish can to hold the oil but a clear glass container allows more light to escape.  It should be Pyrex; a wine glass is the perfect shape but will probably break (trust me on this).  You can buy small Pyrex custard dishes at the Salvation Army store for 50¢ each.  They have brand names like Glasbake and Fire-King.

Soak a length of cotton string in the oil and let it dangle over the edge of the bowl.  That’s your wick.  Light the wick with a match.  The flame burns right at the lip of the bowl.

Do not use synthetic material for a wick (polyester, nylon, etc.).  Oil is drawn to the flame by capillary action.  Synthetics melt in the heat of the flame and seal off the capillary action.

The best wick material I’ve found (for heavy, viscous vegetable oil) is a strand from a cotton-string floor mop.  Actually, a whole strand is too much.  Just one of the four plies within the strand will do the job.

String mop-heads can be purchased at the Dollar Store.  For a buck you’ll have a lifetime supply of wicks.  An edge seam from your handkerchief will also work.  Ditto for a strip of your flannel pajamas or flannel shirt or denim from your jeans.  Just nothing synthetic.

You can dangle several wicks over the side of the bowl and light all of them at the same time.  That’s a nice arrangement because, when one of the wicks builds up a big carbon goober on the end, it can be cleaned off by the light of the still-burning wicks.

The string lamp is very safe because vegetable oil is fiendishly difficult to ignite.  If you spill vegetable oil, you’ll create a mess but no fire hazard.  In fact, a string lamp is best extinguished by pushing the burning wick right into the oil.  The flame will go out instantly.  (If you merely blow out the flame, the wick will glow and smolder and stink.)   

TIP:  Put a saucer under your string lamp.  It will drip. 

TIP:  Use the least expensive vegetable oil available.  You’re not going to eat it; you’re going to burn it. So don't buy olive oil for this purpose.  

TIP:  The generous use of mirrors will enhance your light output.   

The terms “lamp” and “lantern” are almost interchangeable although a lamp is generally used inside whereas a lantern is used outside.  A lantern shields the flame from wind and rain.

A crude but serviceable lantern can be made by pouring a quarter-inch of vegetable oil in the bottom of Pyrex measuring cup or a pot from your Mr. Coffee.  (A cup or jar made from ordinary glass will break for sure using this design, no “maybe” about it.) 

Wad up a 2" x 2" square of paper, light the paper with a match, and drop the burning clump into the oil.  Voila!  A lantern.  The flame is down inside the container, shielded from the wind.  The paper serves as a wick.  And a wide range of paper can be used ¾ paper toweling, newspaper, bond paper, paper bag.

The bottom becomes very hot.  You’ll need a trivet under it.  In the case of a measuring cup, the handle becomes very hot.  You will need a potholder or gloves to carry it.  You cannot regulate the flame size so the lantern will smoke, making it suitable for outdoors use only.  After half an hour the glass will become smoked up. 

On the plus side, it will light your way to the privy and back at midnight. And, like the string lamp, should you spill this lantern, the vegetable oil will create a mess but the fire hazard is very small.

This idea came from a booklet entitled Light by Dawn Russell. 

You’ll need:
(1) A candle (i.e. a taper, not a tea candle).
(2) A 3-pound coffee can (well . . . today it’s 2½ lbs.)  And make it a metal can, if you please.  Not plastic and not paper sprayed with an aluminum coating.
(3) A wire coat hanger (for a handle).

We’ll operate the flashlight with the can on its side, not eye-to-the-sky.   What served as the can’s bottom when it held coffee becomes the back wall of the flashlight.     

In use, the candle is vertical while the can is horizontal.  The top of the candle sticks up through (what has become) the floor of the flashlight.  The flame is at the top of the candle and inside the can.  The candle’s bottom end protrudes down through the floor and hangs under the flashlight.  Hence you can’t set the flashlight down; it must be carried or hung on a peg. 

NOTE:  In case you can’t visualize it from my description, the following link shows a picture of the candle flashlight as well as the string lamp and the vegetable oil lantern:

To build the flashlight, first remove the top of the coffee can (and the coffee, too, may I add).  Then cut an X in the can wall, midway between the two ends.  Each arm of the X should be an inch long.  Push a candle partway through the X and into the can.  The points of the X become spurs holding the candle in place. 

To cut the X, first punch a hole through the can wall with a nail and hammer.  Then cut the metal with a utility knife.  (Cans aren’t very thick these days.)  Use a sawing motion.  Some strength is required.

A piece of wire coat hanger forms a handle.  Punch two holes in the top of the flashlight (the “top” being the roof over the flame).  One of the holes is at the rear of the flashlight; the other in the front. 

Push the wire into one of the holes (from the outside) and, with pliers, crimp the end of the wire inside the flashlight to form a foot that will not pull back through the hole.  Bend the wire as necessary and repeat the process on the second hole.

A 2½ lb. coffee can is 6" in diameter.  I allow 4" of headspace between the top of the candle and the flashlight’s ceiling.  It works well.

There is not much to be said about [traditional wick] kerosene lamps (the $6 variety from Dollar General).  They are simple, reliable, and reasonably safe.  And smelly.  They give light equivalent to a 7½-watt nightlight.  Ditto for Dietz-type barn lanterns.  If you want more light than that (ignoring antiques such as Rayos), you’ll have to enter the world of pressure lanterns.

There’s one exception, the Kosmos.  It’s made in Europe, burns kerosene, and outputs light in the 15-watt range.  But it costs $100.  Before you buy, may I suggest a cost-benefit comparison to a propane pressure lamp...

Lamps that run on small cylinders of propane represent one type of pressure lantern.  The cylinders are pre-filled with fuel in contrast to liquid-fuel lanterns that are messy to fill. 

A single-mantle propane lamp (Century brand) is $20 at Wal-Mart.  It will produce light equivalent to a 40-watt light bulb.  One cylinder of fuel ($4) will last 12 hours.  That’s a run rate of 33¢ an hour which is a fairly steep.  But because no filling is required (and thus no spills) and because there is no smell while burning, propane lamps have largely replaced liquid-fuel lanterns within the camping community. 

Note that the cylinders used in camping lanterns, and the skinnier cylinders used for Bernz-O-Matic soldering torches, and the 20 lb. cylinders used on barbeque grills, and the 200 lb. cylinder behind the house for the kitchen stove, all contain propane.  And it’s all the same stuff, C3H8.  You can buy adaptors to hook up your little camping lantern to a bigger tank.

Liquid-fuel lanterns are less expensive to operate than propane.  Unfortunately, pressure lamps that run on white gas belong to granddad’s era and not many people today understand the technology.  A little bit of homework, though, will help ensure your family’s safety.  So let’s have at it.

Oil refining is a two-stage affair.  First, distillation breaks crude oil into five major fractions:  refinery gases, gasoline, kerosene, diesel oil, and residues.

After fractional distillation comes cracking.  The world’s thirst for gasoline is bigger than fractional distillation can satisfy.  Cracking breaks down heavy oil into lighter products.

White gas is (and was) pure gasoline with no additives.  It is clear as water and 50 octane.  The Model “T” Ford, with its 4.5:1 compression ratio, ran fine on white gas.  So did Coleman lanterns.

Better auto performance required higher compression engines.  Higher compression required higher-octane gas.  Tetra-ethyl lead was added to white gas to increase its octane rating.  A bit of red dye was also added so that consumers didn’t accidentally pump the old-fashioned 50-octane stuff, now called white, into their cars. 

White gas at the pump became hard to find but Coleman lanterns still needed it.  Coleman began selling white gas branded as “Coleman fuel.”

Leaded gas is no more.  It poisoned people and was phased out 1975-1995.  But “unleaded” does not mean “no additives.”  Unleaded means different additives.  No additives would put you back to 50 octane.

Today, Coleman sells “Dual Fuel” lanterns that are billed as running on either Coleman fuel or unleaded automobile gas. 

I was surprised to discover that my new Coleman Dual Fuel 285 produced light equivalent to a 150-watt light bulb on Coleman fuel but only equivalent to 100 watts on automobile gas. 

Would auto gas plug the lantern’s generator (as some claimed)?  I decided to find out.

Day 1.  The 285 started out (on auto gas) at 100 watts.  I kept it pumped up hard.  Eight hours later it had faded to 40 watts.  At nine hours it was almost empty.

Day 2.  It started out at 100 watts.  Six hours later it was 40 watts.  I shut it down at nine hours.

Day 3.  It started out at 100 watts.  Three hours later it was 40 watts.  I shut it down at nine hours.

Day 4.  It started out at 40 watts.  Total hours at 100 watts (actually, 40 watts or more) were seventeen.

Day 5.  I switched back to white gas.  Light output was 75 watts, half of what it had been prior to running automobile gas.  Auto gas had clogged the lantern’s generator.  A new generator was $11.49 plus postage:

Aside.  The term generator might sound complicated but a “steam jenny” was a generator.  Jenny was slang for generator.  A steam jenny generated steam.  A teakettle is a steam jenny.

And the generator for a Coleman lantern is little more than a length of brass tubing.  Liquid fuel enters one end.  A check valve stops it from reversing direction.  Heat is applied to the outside of the tube.  The liquid inside the tube turns to a gas.  Gas (in the “solid-liquid-gas” sense of things) has been generated from a liquid.

Question.  Will older Coleman lanterns, engineered for white gas, run on unleaded automobile gas?  Yes.  Safely?  Yes.  Will automobile gas slowly clog the lantern’s generator?  Yes.  Did I personally test it?  Yes.  Why didn’t they advertise the old lanterns as “dual-fuel”? 

Why?  Because the auto gas of that era contained lead.  Not good for baby’s little brain.

An “orphan” is a lamp for which you cannot find spare parts.  An otherwise perfect lamp without the necessary wick or mantle or pump leather is effectively junk.  And when, exactly, is that critical part going to fail?  When the water’s five feet high and risin’.  It’s a law of nature.

[With the exception of Diesel fuel,] kerosene is the least expensive liquid fuel ($3.75 a gallon versus $10.50 for Coleman fuel).  If you want a pressure lantern that runs on kero, your choices are a used Coleman 237, a used Coleman 639, a new Coleman 214, or a new Coleman 639C.  You can find these lanterns on eBay and spare parts at Coleman.  Everything else in the Coleman kerosene lineup is an orphan.

(Petromax is a non-Coleman lantern that burns kerosene and for which spare parts are available.)

Older Colemans that run on white gas and for which spare parts are readily available include the 220, the 228, and the 200A.  Other older Colemans are orphans.

Other older brands (J.C. Higgins and Ted Williams from Sears; Hawthorne and Western Field from Wards; Thermos; KampLite; Diamond; etc., etc., etc.) are orphans. 

Even new lanterns can be orphans.  Today, NorthStar is Coleman’s top-of-the-line lantern but requires a unique pleated, tubular mantle.  No other lantern has it or can use it ¾ domestic or foreign, new, used, or antique.  I own several lanterns but, because of its unique orphan mantle, not a NorthStar.

This is a hot-button topic.

Pressure lanterns require mantles.  Mantles are made of cloth coated with a rare earth that glows in the heat of the flame and produces more light than the flame itself.

Thorium was the rare earth used in lamp mantles from the 1890s to the 1990s.  Thorium, however, is slightly radioactive.  Thorium has been largely replaced with yttrium, another rare earth that is not radioactive.  The new yttrium mantles are not as bright as the old thorium mantles. 

So how radioactive is radioactive?

A “Roentgen equivalent man” (abbreviated rem) is a measure of radiation.  A millirem (abbreviated mrem) = 1/1000 rem.  Background radiation is about one mrem per day in most parts of the world.

One dental X-ray is equivalent to 0.5 mrem.  One mammogram is equivalent to 300 mrem.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that “avid campers” (making 26 two-day camping trips per year, using Coleman-type lanterns with thorium mantles) receive 0.05 to 6 mrem per year.

Let’s express the foregoing in more familiar units, Dollars: Background radiation is $1 per day.  A dental X-ray is 50¢.  A mammogram is $300.  An “avid camper” would receive between 5¢ and $6 per year from thorium mantles.

Today’s Coleman mantles are the #21 and the #11.  They replaced the 21A Silk-Lite and the #1111 respectively (which were the old thorium mantles). 

The #21 mantle is used on Coleman’s new Dual Fuel lanterns as well as Coleman’s older gas models (220, 228, 200A) as well the Coleman 214 (kerosene).  The #11 mantles are used on Coleman’s larger kerosene lanterns (237, 639, 639C).

Personally, I use the #21 mantle on my Petromax 150CP (i.e. 150 candlepower) and the #11 mantle on my 500CP Petromax.  Petromax is a brand of lantern to be discussed next. 

I’ve given up on Petromax-brand mantles because they are too fragile.  With all the finesse I can muster, I usually break them when starting the lantern.  At $2 apiece, it’s an expensive game.  Fortunately, however, Coleman mantles work fine on a Petromax lantern.  As a consequence, I use only Coleman mantles on my Petromaxes.

I used to have a friend at work who pulled into the parking lot each day in his clanking Volkswagen diesel.  He would get out, shaking his head.  “When you go to the dealer, they brag about German engineering.  They neglect to mention that it’s built in Mexico.”

Petromax lanterns are like that. 

The Petromax was a German, WWI-era lantern.  Its patents have long since expired so it is freely copied by everyone.  The Petromax trademark is another story.  The original trademark lapsed and was reregistered by other sellers.  In the USA, BriteLyt in Florida currently owns it.  Other countries, other owners.

In the USA, Coleman is the big name.  But worldwide, many more Petromax lanterns exist than Coleman.  Petromax’ brothers, sisters, cousins, and clones include BriteLyt, Butterfly, Anchor, Sea Anchor, Tower, Santrax, Egret, Solex (Italy), Aida, Geniol, Hipolito (Portugal), Primus, Optimus (Sweden), Radius (Sweden), Hasag (Switzerland), Buflam-Petroflam (England), Big Wheel, Light, Red Heart, Silverray, Crown (Iraq), Kohinoor (India), Wenzel (Sam’s Club), Prabhat (India), and Col-Max (USA).  Col-Max?  Yes, just before WWII Coleman made a Petromax clone for export, intended to compete directly with Petromax itself.  

All of which testifies to the excellence of the original Petromax design.

Many of these brands are no longer manufactured (although most appear on eBay from time to time).  All of the new ones (of whatever trademark including Petromax itself) are made in the Far East and any given factory produces several different brands.  Unfortunately, it’s nearly universal that the tooling is worn, threads are rounded and don’t hold, holes don’t line up, pumps don’t pump, and prickers don’t prick.  I feel certain that few if any would meet the old-time Petromax specs.

Advertising hype notwithstanding, if you Google for BriteLyt or Butterfly or Sea Anchor you will discover a whole new world of bitching.  The best advice I can give is to buy a Petromax only where you can return it!  You may have to go through several lanterns before you find a good one.

Why bother?  Because Petromax lanterns will burn diesel fuel with today’s yttrium mantles.  Coleman lanterns won’t. 

In 2006, a contributor to The International Guild of Lamp Researchers said, “the Petromax can be used with diesel - at least for five or six hours (or so, depending on the quality of the fuel). After that time you will most probably find the generator clogged with a coal-like substance . . .:  (ref. question #3644)

Sorry, but that statement is an example of armchair science.  I ran my 500CP Petromax for 50 consecutive hours on diesel.  The generator (Preston loop) was clear before, during, and after the test, ready for another 50 hours. 

The Petromax is a kerosene lantern.  There’s a running war between The International Guild of Lamp Researchers and BriteLyt on the safety of burning gasoline in a BriteLyt.  BriteLyt says you can.  The Guild says you can’t.

There are reported cases of Petromax lanterns “exploding” when run on gasoline.  Neal McRae best covers the design issues.

I have to side with The Guild on this one because, in addition to design issues, there’s the poor workmanship so widespread in today’s Petromax lanterns. 

For example, I own a BriteLyt that will not turn off when run on gasoline.  I returned this lantern when it was brand new to BriteLyt in Florida because of the incredible quantity of gunk in the fuel tank.  They sent it back to me a month later, all better.  

Now, with the control valve in the OFF position, the lantern continues to burn.  It will not shut completely off.  (To my mind, this is a factory workmanship issue more than a Petromax design issue.)

The only way to turn the lantern off is to crack the thumb screw on the filler cap and release pressure . . . thereby releasing flammable gasoline vapor mere inches away from a burning mantle.  Not safe!  (That practice may be acceptable with kerosene ¾ the Coleman 241, for example, a kerosene lantern, was designed that way ¾ but it is decidedly unsafe with gasoline.)

So . . .  Can you burn gasoline in a Petromax and get away with it?  Sure.  Can you pump gasoline while smoking a cigarette and get away with it?  Sure.  Now riddle me this:  Is it a smart thing to do? 

This article is only the tip of the iceberg.  We haven’t touched on mineral spirits or burning fluid or animal fat as fuel.  Or Rayos or Duplexes or Aladdins.  Or carbide miner’s lamps or candle-making or lantern repairs or a host of other topics.  But I hope it gives you some light and I hope it helps keep you safe.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not own any stock in any company mentioned in this article.  Nor do I own stock in any competitor of any company mentioned in this article. JWR Adds: Here is my own disclaimer (per FTC File No. P034520): I accept cash-paid advertising. To the best of my knowledge, as of the date of this posting, none of my advertisers that sell the products mentioned in this article have solicited me or paid me to write any reviews or endorsements, nor have they provided me any free or reduced-price gear in exchange for any reviews or endorsements. I am not a stock holder in any company. I do, however, benefit from sales through the SurvivalBlog Amazon Store. If you click on one of our Amazon links and then "click through" to order ANY product from (not just the ones listed in our catalog), then we will earn a modest sales commission.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Doing some research on earth domes and I'm seeing a new trend, tire bales. These are 5 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 2.5 feet tall. They weigh 2,000 pounds apiece. They are environmentally friendly, being sold for $25-35 a unit plus shipping. I'm planning on using them around the houses perimeter as I feel they are much less expensive and more durable than a masonry wall. Covered in concrete or adobe they won't be an aesthetic issue either.

I was wondering what your opinion of them would be as a ballistic barrier/wall?

Keep up the great work. - David F.

JWR Replies: Tire bale bastion walls (or even entire tire bale houses) are a viable option, and they do indeed offer great ballistic protection. (Although their irregular shape does leave a few gaps that would have to be "chinked" well with shotcrete.) Tire bale walls will definitely stop all .30 caliber rifle threats and will probably stop .50 BMG or Russian 12.7mm machinegun bullets. But I must mention a few provisos: 1.) The cost per cubic foot of wall is substantially higher than with the usually free for the hauling packed-earth tires (as used with "Earthships"), and 2.) , Because of the great weight of tire bales, a forklift (or a skid-steer equipped with forks, or a heavy-duty crane hoist) is required. This means that you can work only on a level building site, and, 3.) Unlike Earthship tires, which can be earthquake stabilized with just driven re-bar rods, tire bales must be specially strapped, and 4.) To be fire resistant, tire bales should be encased in adobe, shotcrete, or other masonry on all sides. (Following your link, I found a great series of photos that show a large tire bale house under construction.)

If you are going to put forth the effort to encase tire bales in adobe to add ballistic protection to an existing house, then you might as well build masonry "planters" that are filled with gravel. Two feet of gravel will stop bullets just as well as a tire bale, and there is no fire hazard.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hi James,
I recently attended a close quarters battle (CQB) training course with a company here in the United States. After the course, I was very kindly 'gifted' a 'Breath of Life' emergency mask. I was very grateful for this gesture, and curious as to this product. Luckily, as a volunteer fire fighter, I got the chance to try this mask' effectiveness during one of our training sessions, which can be seen here.

I must say, I was incredibly impressed with this product, and as a long time reader of your excellent site, feel it maybe of interest to your readers also...

I should mention I am not 'affiliated' to this company or product in anyway, merely just aware of it, and lucky to have had the chance to try it out.

I hope these links maybe of some use.

Best wishes, - Toby C.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Just like everybody else, I am unique. In the disaster prepper field I am unique in that I am both a diehard personal prepper and a college trained emergency management professional.  I did not become one because of the other; my personal preparedness mindset comes from my parents, as well as my internal system of ethics and belief structure.  My career path grew out of my military and correction background.  However, even though they are separate, I find that my skills in one translate to the other even though the goals of the two are not always identical.

I would like to take a few moments and describe how you can take government emergency management doctrine and personalize it as well as scale it to your needs.

The first thing I grabbed from my training manuals to apply to my personal emergency plan is the all hazards approach.  I have seen people jump into panic mode over single issue events like Y2K, 2012, the New Madrid Fault, CME, or whatever is going to kill us all on exactly 12 p.m. Sunday whatever.  These people then run around and throw money at their fear, and then feel taken when whatever disaster failed to occur.  But just like government evacuation orders – If they call for an evacuation, and people leave, but nothing happens, the next time nobody wants to evacuate.  In the case of Y2K so many people that prepped for it, that once it did not happen they now have a bad taste in their mouths about prepping and won’t “fall for that again”.  With an all hazards approach, rather than spend all your energy prepping for a specific event, you build capabilities that help with any event.  As I tell my students, When your doing CPR on me, I don’t care if my heart stopped because I was electrocuted, was shot, or ate too many hamburgers with too little exercise – I just want you to keep pumping…

The next thing I took was the cyclical nature of disaster and the 5 phases of emergency management.  You have a planning phase where perform a risk assessment and then make plans based upon your threats and hazards.  Once you begin planning, you move into the preparedness phase where the planning takes shape – you take training to better prepare.  The lists you wrote in the planning phase become deep larders and tangible goods.  Along with preparedness and planning you need to worry about mitigation.  What can you do to make the disaster either less likely or less disruptive?  Personally I have to plan for the New Madrid Earthquake, so I make sure my water heater is strapped down, and my shelves of glass mason jars are secured so that the jars cannot fall off and break.  Appropriate amounts of insurance are a mitigation step we all can get.  When disaster strikes (We don’t know what or when it will happen, but rest assured you will have an emergency at some point in your life) you enter the response phase where you have to deal with your incident priorities of

  1. Life Safety (Pull the people from the burning building)
  2. Incident Stabilization (Keep the fire from getting worse and spreading)
  3. Property Conservation (Put the fire out and save as much of the building as possible)
  4. Environmental Conservation (Keep the runoff of water from polluting the creek)

Once the emergency phase is over, recovery mode begins.  At some point you have to get back to normal.  Even if it’s a catastrophic event that ends in TEOTWAWKI, you have to create a new normal.  It’s critical to understand that these phases blend into each other and the lessons learned from one disaster turn into the planning phase to improve your plan.  But keeping the cyclical nature in mind, as you create a plan of action based upon your most reasonable estimate of your hazards you need to test and refine, then retest and refine some more.  The more you sweat now, the less you bleed later.

Mutual Aid Agreements and Memorandums of Understandings are common among government jurisdictions and agencies.  During a disaster everybody wants to help, but knowing who is responsible for what and what their capabilities are is very helpful.  Its also important to spell out how damaged or used equipment gets replaced.  Two weeks into a multi year grid down disaster is not the time to get into a fight with your neighbor over who gets to use the tractor first.  Of course OPSEC is a priority, but no man is an island.  The time to network is now.

Have a plan, but be willing to scrap the plan if it does not work.  I tell my students that before you can think outside the box, you better understand everything about the box.  The very act of planning helps with response.  The more you think about your capabilities and what you would do in situations the better prepared your brain is to react flexibly to a situation.  Your mind is a wonderful creation, but you have to program it to work.  If you’re worried about disasters your program it by creating disaster response plans.

The last concept of emergency management I will share today is incident command.  This system came out of the California wildfires in the 1970s.  Military vets turned fire jumpers created a management system called fire scope to deal with the rapidly changing fire situations.  After the attacks on 9/11 the lack of communication, coordination, and chain of command was identified as areas we needed improvement on.  The Incident Command System (ICS) was then adopted as the national standard and all responders in all disciplines were mandated to be trained to a basic level.  Free training in the incident command system is available online at the FEMA training website.  The ICS system is a flexible system geared toward emergency events.  This flexibility is derived from a few essential concepts:

  • There is only one overall commander. [The military "Unity of Command" concept.]
  • The incident commander is responsible for everything, but can delegate roles to qualified staff based upon incident complexity and size
  • Span of control for optimal leadership is 5-7 individuals under a supervisor.
  • Everybody reports to only one supervisor, and everyone knows who their supervisor is.

Obviously there is more to the system, but it allows anyone trained in incident command to rapidly integrate themselves into the command structure because it has clear roles and responsibilities.  Knowledge of this system is important because every responder has been trained in this system and it will provide the basis of any response.  It does not matter if your dealing with a volunteer fireman or a military civil support team, any agency with a role in emergency response has to have this training to receive federal funding.   While I don’t agree with the mandate, I have seen this system work several times, and the disasters I have worked that were not as successful as others also deviated from the plan more than the others. 

The more you understand about the ICS system the more you will know what to expect from the government.  The other reason you should learn about this system is that it works if you apply the fundamentals.  It does not matter if you’re working in a government agency, a local neighborhood preparedness group, or a family these concepts are timeless and reduce confusion.

Besides concepts and theory on emergency management FEMA has also created many courses in disaster preparedness.  Many of these are geared to first responders, but at this time, most of them are available free of charge to civilians.  If you visit the FEMA training website the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) has a distant study program, and has classes in Radiological Response, Hazardous Materials, Guides to Disaster Assistance, Active Shooters, Dam Failure – literally almost any aspect of interest to Federal emergency officials.  I have personally taken several hundred hours worth of their courses and while distance education is not as good as hands on with a qualified instructor, the materials are a very handy and inexpensive resource to put back in your binder.

For neighborhood organization and home preparedness, don’t overlook the Citizens Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). I wish this program would have caught on in more areas, but you can download the training materials for free without any sort of login or identification. 

Right now I am working on using the Citizen Corps materials to help gradually introduce my community into the need for prepping without being labeled with a pejorative term.  My personal situation does not allow me to move to the American Redoubt States (even though I would love to), and my urban homesteading has set me apart from my neighbors, so I feel like my best option is to co-opt a government program as its less threatening to someone that does not understand the needs and causes for the prepper lifestyle.

Knowledge is power, and by taking the concepts our federal government has spent billions developing and testing in real life incidents in both large and small scale will give you a head start in creating and employing your own personal preparedness plan.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mr. Rawles,
A s a distributor of oil and gas parts, it warmed my heart to read R.J.'s article. I would note a couple of things, however. First, when you reduce the pressure of gas you also reduce its temperature. In the aforementioned case, that pressure reduction would drop the temperature by around 10 degrees F. Ordinarily this isn't a problem, but in the winter an already-cold regulator could seize or internal parts could break. With higher pressures, the problem becomes much more significant.

To solve this problem, most installers would use two regulators with some pipe between them. Each pressure drop is then made a little more gently and the gas has time to reclaim some ambient heat from the intervening pipe (which is often artificially heated) before hitting the next regulator.

Also, when using a safety relief valve, please buy a valve intended to pop 25% or more above your normal operating pressure range. (i.e., don't operate at 150 psi and install a relief valve set to pop at 165). While it might work, it's more likely the valve will never re-seat after the first pop. - Z.M.

Friday, July 8, 2011

When shopping for our retreat property a few years ago our family was looking for something that could sustain several families besides our own and have as many features common to a retreat that most readers would recognize as desirable for TEOTWAWKI.  Water, security, location, population, soil, and local wildlife (four and two legged) were all things we were concerned with.  When we came across our current retreat property we were shown what was supposed to be a 400 foot deep, 10 Gallon Per Minute (GPM) well.  Luckily we were serious and bought a new pump and had a well test done before we purchased the property.  The well test was done and it turned out to be 1 GPH! (Gallon Per Hour) We used the fact that the well did not produce as advertised to great advantage in bargaining the price down!   One thing we noticed right away about our “no water well” is the constant hissing noise that came from it. After asking questions from the well company we were informed that it was the well was producing methane, and not just a little. After doing some research we found that in our state it is perfectly legal if to use methane out of a private water well as long as it does not serve any commercial purposes. Needless to say we bought the property.

Let’s start off with some disclaimers and warnings on safety before we get started on our hissing well. Natural gas is primarily methane.  It is extremely flammable and explosive. The greater the pressure, the greater the risk. It is also the cleanest burning of the fossil fuels.  Great care needs to be taken while working around methane.  Any combustion source can set off a gas well.  Fire extinguishers and wet blankets need to be on hand and safety procedures need to be planned and in place if and possibly when the well catches fire. Also first aid for burn treatment should be covered before attempting anything described below.  Our family is above average when it comes to technical skills such as welding, construction, machining, fabrication and industrial arts.  Also we are blessed with medical training of both my mother and father.  Even then we still had two very close calls when harnessing the earth’s natural gas for use at our retreat, both of which could have been deadly had we not been prepared and were able to think under extreme, life threatening circumstances.

The first incident happened while removing our new pump that we bought for the flow test from the well.  Since the crane had to be fairly close to the well to lift the pump out, the well company truck had to back fairly close to the well.  Since this was a very deep well this was quite the job.  Unfortunately we forgot about the methane.  Since the truck used a regular gasoline engine for powering the crane while lifting the pump, methane was ingested into the motor and ignited.  When this happened the motor produced a backfire that lit the well.  We had a 30-50 foot flame coming out of the ground quite unexpectedly.  Removing the oxygen from the fire will put the flame out.  Luckily this was surprisingly accomplished quite easily with a CO2 fire extinguisher.

While building our retreat property we built it from the underground up.  Using the opportunity while we were laying out our septic, cisterns and fresh water system we also laid gas piping to the old well along with pipe to a propane tank.  This was an important first step as all liquid lines need to be at least four feet down to prevent freezing. Some forethought and planning went into this because digging four foot trenches all over the property was quite the chore, even with the backhoe. Our State law says that we had to cap the old well permanently when we drilled the new water well.  Because of this law we removed all well components except the outer case from the old well.   Since our well was producing hundreds of cubic yards per minute of gas we had to be extremely careful of how to permanently cap the well.  We had many long discussions about how best to not kill ourselves nor draw attention to what we were attempting.

One of the problems we had to overcome is blocking the flow of gas so we could effectively work on the well.  After much thought we used a Cherne inflatable rubber plug lowered into the 7” case and inflated with compressed air, we were able to block all flow of gas and hold the gas pressure.  Next, we used a pipe bung fitting and drilled a hole above the rubber plug and welded the bung in place. (Note, any welding should be done by a professional welder that respects the nature of what they are welding and the danger in it).  During this welding process we had our second incident that caused some excitement.  While welding, a small leak was created in the inflatable plug that was placed in the well casing and it started to creep up the case to the area of the hot weld.  This then caused a gas leak that ignited and the welder found himself in a ball of flame.  Thankfully, being a professional he did not panic and we were there to put the flames out in a matter of seconds.  Even then he had a small 2nd degree burns and some facial hair missing.  One saving grace was that he was wearing a proper welding attire of heavy leather and 90% of his body was covered.  lease learn from our mistakes and respect what you are working on!

Next we removed the rubber inflatable plug and put a 1” fitting and Gastite tube venting the methane about 50 feet away from the well.  Since we were trying to cap the well we used a large wooden plug (think: wine cork) coated with Liquid Nails for additional sealing, this wooden cork was driven into the well casing with a sledge hammer until all flow was stopped from the well case.  Testing with a small lighter to make sure no gas was seeping around the well head we were then ready to cap.  With a pre-made plate cut to the diameter of the well case and with all rust and corrosion removed from the well casing and cap, we welded the cap onto the well without incident.

After successfully capping our well and proving to the state that it was a sealed water well, we constructed our condenser system and regulators in a six foot pit around the well head.  After the gas leaves the well case we use a older American made air compressor tank for condensing any moister in the gas from 400 feet down.  We mounted this tank vertically.  The pipe from the well casing comes into the upper side of the tank. On the bottom of the condenser tank we installed a Midwest Control Automatic Float Drain (AFD-50).  What this piece does is purge water that is built up in a chamber.  When the water height reaches a point it has a float that opens the valve automatically draining the water.  This unit was chosen because there is no AC electricity or batteries required.  It is also made of stainless steel.  The final addition to our pit was 1/2” steel walls on the sides and rocks on the bottom for drainage.  The pit was then covered with a sheet of steel and a vent with a layer of dirt covering the steel.  We then added some “junk” on top so that nobody would accidentally drive over our well.  The “junk” also made some good camouflage!

The next item to tackle was pressure.  After talking with local gas well workers in the area and asking seemly innocent questions we found that for the area the pressures can range from 10 PSI to 200 PSI on wells in the region.  This is pressure is found in most shop air compressors and regulators in this range are extremely easy to come by.  A word of caution though is that the regulators are something you do not want to skimp on.  Buy quality!  After much thought we chose to use multiple pressure regulators and regulate the pressure down to what most homes use; between ¼ PSI and 2 PSI.  We chose to regulate the gas out of our condenser tank to 10 PSI and then drop to the operating pressure of 1 PSI next to the main building.  Use a high quality gas regulator such as those sold by Midwest Gas Equipment Inc. The final item in dealing with pressure is a safety pop off valve. Much like an automotive fuse that opens when there is too much electrical current, a safety pressure pop off valve is something you need to install if considering a gas well to vent pressure in case of overpressure of the system.  These are fairly simple pieces that are readily available for most air compressors.

On plumbing our retreat for gas we used propane.  This is because on all outward appearances our retreat blends with the local area norms.  This mainly was an OPSEC concern as we did not want to be the only place in the area with no propane and have questions asked.  We have a 1,000 gallon propane tank that was purchased and filled when we need to. But if and when the SHTF, we have a tested plan in place on not only running refrigerators and freezers on natural gas but also a Generac 5875 [20 kilowatt] natural gas-fired generator for producing electricity for the main building and shop at our retreat.  This is done by closing and then opening ball valves to switch over the propane to natural gas.  Our appliances also require using different gas jets for natural gas versus propane.   This is an important feature in gas powered appliances that should be researched before you buy a gas powered appliance.

A very important consideration you need to keep in mind when dealing with natural gas or methane is that you cannot smell it.  Since natural gas is lighter than air and is odorless we felt natural gas detectors were a must indoors.  These were placed very high in our main building as this will be the first place the gas will accumulate if there is a leak. Getting gas from a gas company, an odorant is put into the gas to make it “smell like gas”. This it is not the case when it is coming straight from the ground. The Natural Gas detectors are wired to the electrical grid but we have backup ones that use batteries for the occasion when the electrical grid goes down. We felt that redundancy was important for safety reasons.

In looking back at the project it could have gone smoother but as with some plans nothing goes the way you think it will. Education and Knowledge about what you are working on is a key component of undertaking a project like this. Harnessing the resources God as provided us with has been a challenge.  WTSHTF we realize our natural gas system may fail, our retreat overrun or any number of disasters may make it impossible to use.  Educating ourselves while resources and parts are available we feel is the key to having a better chance of surviving whatever may come. In closing if you ever decide to undertake this type of project when working on something like this safety should be your top priority.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Independence Day to you and your family. Concerning underground tanks for fuel storage, most states require both lining systems and cathodic protection to prevent leakage into the ground and or ground water. I fully agree with the defensive sense, being a veteran of the US Army and most of my time serving in the Infantry, having prepared many a defensive position.   As such for OPSEC, finding a discreet contractor may present a challenge, and of course the local county may get interested, Hopefully not too much. - Grog  

JWR Replies: Cathodic zinc anodes (commonly called "sacrificial zincs") such as these have been mentioned before in SurvivalBlog. They are important to use if you bury metal containers for caching, too!

Your mention of bureaucratic nosiness prompts me to mention that this is just one more reason to move to one of the American Redoubt States. In most of those states, no building permits or inspections are required for anything except septic tank installations, if you live outside of city limits.

That was an interesting article you wrote about the goal of blending in. My amplification of that is to make a goal of not showing up on the aerial and satellite photos that Google and others have on line. I’m in the middle of 10 acres of old growth woods and the satellite view shows the road leading here swallowed up by the over-reaching trees. And delivery vehicles trying to get here usual go right by the drive.  

For ham operators, the method I use to blend in is by use of wire antennas. Through the trees. My long wire antenna is 250 feet long. My doublet is strung as an Inverted V. Details on doing these antennas that perform every bit as good as more expensive beams and towers is The Wireman’s excellent handbook, now in its fifth edition.  

My scanner and VHF/UHF antennas are all on five television masts and push-up mounts on the rear of the house, not visible even from the front of the house. - Vern

JWR Replies: Keep in mind the drawback to having large trees that screen your house from aerial observation in most cases also put your house at risk of forest fires.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

As the saying goes “preventive medicine is the best medicine”, this can be said for many aspects in life. Why wait until something happens to fix it? Why not perform proper maintenance procedures so you don’t have to fix it? Frankly, before I became a prepper, I’ve always found this approach to be best. It can save you time, money, frustration. Even if something is going to break no matter what, with preventive procedures, you can sometimes see it coming, therefore fixing or changing a part. From a prepper’s perspective, preventive measures are a necessity. The U.S. military puts an emphasis on Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services (PMCS). Throughout the rest of this essay, all preventative measures will be termed PMCS.

Preventive Maintenance

When it comes to machinery, PMCS must take place. The last thing you need when disaster strikes is to hop in your bug out vehicle and realize you’re low on fuel and the battery is dead. When it comes to vehicles, generators, freezers, or anything that is a complicated system, you need to perform PMCS and keep a record of it. When it comes to vehicles, whether tractors, cars, pickups or SUVs, you can keep the record book with the vehicle. For items such as generators or tools, keep them in a filing cabinet for easy tracking. Some items that should be checked include:s
Oils/lube, Fuels, Filters
Belts, Batteries, Fuses
Plugs (spark or glow), Tires/wheels, Specialty tools
Check your owner’s manual or with the original company to find out when you should perform PMCS, with what specific parts, and where to find all of the proper parts and tools. When it comes to tools, they also need PMCS. Visually inspect all parts for cracks, tears, bends, or partial pieces. Simple tools such as a hammer will not help you if the head is ready to break off of the handle. Remember to sharpen blades and teeth, oil moving parts, and always clean and dry your tools to prevent rust.

Preventive Medicine

Once the SHTF, making appointments to see you doctor are probably not going to happen. Even if you have a medical professional in your group, some supplies will not be available. Those supplies that are available will eventually run out.

Dentistry: I personally am one of the worst when it comes to taking care of my teeth and gums. I’ve also paid for it. Brushing your teeth is not enough. You should brush your teeth first thing in the morning, in the afternoon, and before bed. Flossing needs to be a part of your brushing routine. Full flossing of every space should be done in the evening, prior to brushing. After flossing, use a mouthwash so you don’t push anything back into spaces, and then brush. Throughout the day most people have snacks. After eating, use dental soft picks. These can be purchased fairly cheap and are found at many stores.

Lifestyle: TEOTWAWKI or not, a healthy lifestyle should be sought. You don’t have to be a gym junkie either. Sports are a great way to get some exercise. Some prefer hiking or bicycling. The point is to be active and flexible. However, bulking up like Arnold doesn’t do you much good if you’re eating steaks and burgers, then finish it off with a smoke. While the science of nutrition is difficult to understand, there are some basics that make it easy. Check out to help plan better meals. This shouldn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: drop your bad habits! Tobacco is the big one, but anything else that you can’t handle in moderation. This could be alcohol, caffeine, or sweets.

Medicine: Take care of any health concerns now. Lifestyle changes can change some of these issues. Diabetes type 2 and high cholesterol are a few of the conditions that could be managed better, or even resolved, by lifestyle changes. For medical concerns that can’t be resolved be lifestyle changes should be looked at before it’s too late. If you’ve been putting off a surgery, you just might have to live with your current condition if the SHTF today. Make sure that you are updated on all of your medications and have a stockpile. If you have any sort of condition that requires an apparatus such as canes or braces make sure that you have extras or extra pieces. Most of us will be doing quite a bit of work outside. Have a good supply of lip balm, sunscreen, insect repellant, and foot powder. If you’re sunburned or have blisters on your feet, this makes survival rough. These are simple steps that you can take.

Sanitation: This section is extremely important for people that bug out somewhere where there is no house. This could be out in the woods or on someone’s property. The first is on defecation. One simple idea is the cat hole. The cat hole is good for on the move or for one person for no more than one day. Dig a hole 12 inches in diameter and 6-7 inches deep. Do your business in hole and cover it with the dirt that was removed. This is also helpful for OPSEC being that if it was out in the open, you may give away your location. If you plan to stick around a spot for one to three days, use a straddle trench. Dig out a rectangular area 1 foot wide, 4 feet long, and 3 feet deep. After use, cover the excrement only. Once the trench is filled to 6 inches below the ground, cover the rest with the remaining dirt. One trench is good for up to 25 people. I wouldn’t recommend a burnout barrel latrine unless you are in a large camp with security. Basically, somewhere where everyone knows you are there anyway. This consists of a wooden bench with a hole in it over the top of a metal barrel cut in half. All openings must be covered so vermin cannot get in. Once the barrel is half way filled, drag it out from the enclosure and at least 10 feet away. Add 3 inches of a fuel mixture containing one part gas and four parts diesel. Set on fire and monitor. Once all of the waste is gone, clean and sanitize the barrel and return it to the enclosure. When it comes to urination, this needs to be put into the ground as well. For males, dig out an area 4 feet wide, 4 feet long and 4 feet deep. Place metal tubes 8 inches into the pit and fill with stones and gravel. Place funnels on the tops of these tubes to be used as urinals. For females, construct the same pit but instead of pipes, use a barrel. Place it 8 inches into the pit with gravel underneath and around it. Place a wooden seat on top of the barrel.

For other liquid wastes such as bath water and dishwater, dig out another area that is 4 feet wide, 4 feet long, and 4 feet deep. Place a barrel with a perforated bottom 6 inches into the pit. Then dig out four trenches from the pit starting at one foot deep and ending at 2 feet deep. They need to be 6 feet long and one foot wide. Fill all of this with gravel. When it comes to trash, I don’t like the idea of burning. It is an announcement to people of where you are and what you may have. I also imagine that many people will be recycling and reusing heavily thus reducing the amount of trash produced. Start off with a pit that is 8x8x8 feet. As you dump your trash in, make sure to cover it with at least 6 inches of dirt. This will cover smells and hopefully deter vermin. Always make sure that all of your areas are clearly marked for present and past areas. You do not want to dig in an area that is filled with trash or excrement. Guidelines for latrines are 50 feet away from living/sleeping areas, 100 feet from water sources, and 300 feet from food storage/preparation areas. For garbage areas they need to be 100 feet from food storage/preparation areas and water sources. Always make sure that these areas drain away from water sources, on level ground, and well above water tables.

Food: Getting food poisoning is no fun. I’ve had it a few times. Always be aware of what you are eating. Just because something looks like a food you know, it may not be. It may also be poisonous. Wash all fruits and vegetables before consumption. Even if you are going to cook them, there could be critters or dirt on them. They may have pesticides as well. When it comes to meats here are some guidelines on cooking temperatures: beef, lamb, and goat needs to be 170 degrees in the center or until uniformly brown. Pork needs to be cooked at 165 degrees and until no longer pink. Poultry should be cooked at 170 degrees or until juices run clear. Fish needs to be cooked until 140 degrees or until it is flakey. Rabbits and squirrels should be cooked at 180 degrees. Cats and dogs? I’m hoping I won’t ever have to find out.

Water: If you aren’t lucky enough to have a filtration system there are some basic techniques that will make your water safe to drink. First up is boiling. Pass the water through a filter or fabric in order to get rid of sediment. Bring the water to a roaring boil for one minute. Once cooled, it is safe to drink. You can also use bleach. Use 8 drops per gallon if the water is mostly clear. If the water is mostly cloudy, use 16 drops of bleach. Once again, make sure to pass it through some sort of material as a filter first. Also, look at where you are getting water. If you come across two ponds and one of them have algae, mosquitoes and other wildlife that is probably the safe one. It’s the water source that has no life that should raise a red flag.

Preventive Measures
Security: Don’t wait until the SHTF to come up with a security plan. Start one now. Find out where certain positions will be and what weapons are needed. Figure out how you are going to set up your schedules.

Land: Every year property owners cut back their grass and trees and bushes because fire season is coming. This is something that should always be taken care of. Fires can happen any time of year. Look at your land and figure out where you are going to situate things. If you are going to put in more gardens or a trash pit after the SHTF, figure out where those places need to be now. Go so far as clearing those areas.

Investments: The US could face an economic collapse tomorrow, or in ten years. No one knows when it is coming but we all know that it will come. There is a lot to be said for investing in tangibles and stocking up on food and fuel. For preppers that are younger and are not already financially secure, food and fuel isn’t enough if you’re renting an apartment with no BOL and TEOTWAWKI is still fifty years out. I would first recommend getting a college education and a secure job. Learn how to make investments. The stock market may not be the greatest place to invest, but talk around to others that are knowledgeable and ask for advice.

Family and Friends: I had talked to my wife about prepping and to no surprise she thought I was crazy…at first. I approached her slowly and gradually showed her all of the problems in the world and how they could pan out. Then I introduced her to the scary thought of the “bad men.” She is the one who keeps asking me when I’m going to take her out shooting again. She wanted a garden in this year so she could practice. She came around. Make sure that you get your immediate family on track. When everything is falling apart around you, you do not want this to be the time to start talking prepping. Get your kids involved in prepping activities such as fishing, hunting, gardening, canning, and sewing. Also be aware that there are some people that will think you are nuts no matter what. These same people could be a danger to you before and during TEOTWAWKI. Make mental notes of who these people are and make sure to not talk “prep” with them.

Preventive actions are much like prepping. You are preparing for the worst, but making the best of it right now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mr. Rawles,
Thank you for all you do. I cherish my daily visits to SurvivalBlog. The recent letter titled "Living in a Small Town - An Australian Perspective" by Margaret G. inspired me to write you.

We moved from a large city to place just outside a small town a year ago. We are just now being accepted as part of the community. I agree very much with Margaret G.! Another thing I can add is joining the local Volunteer Fire Department. Through the dept and a lot of hard work we find ourselves a part of the community. Because I am over 60 (and not as physically fit as they require) I cannot fight fires. On the other hand, there is a heck of a lot I can do to help the dept in terms of administration, cleaning equipment after a fire, etc. Now the department has a "Rehab" group that supports the firefighters in a larger fire with water, food, taking vitals and so forth to keep the firefighters functional and thus safer.

I'd like to encourage other preppers to look into volunteering. More than 70% of all firefighters are unpaid volunteers, and without them we are in serious trouble, SHTF or not. By the way, with very rare exception, volunteer firefighters have just the kind of character and selfless courage you want as neighbors. OPSEC still applies, of course.

In God we trust, - W.B.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What will you do when your fuel runs out, or your energy system fails? How about burning wood? I used to dismiss burning things for energy off-hand as a dirty and wasteful heating tool, nothing more - not a source of actual power or energy.  However, learning what I have in the past few months has given me a new appreciation for this readily-available resource.  My perspective was changed somewhat, and it was kind of a shock to me, because i'm pretty open-minded to alternative solutions.  My mindset is this: until I have a wealth of  food and supplies in storage, I can’t afford to ignore a resource – especially cheap and renewable ones.  Can you?   Even if you’re prepared for the long haul, it pays to have a couple contingency plans, and this could be one of them.  

"Gasification" is the use of heat to transform solid biomass or other carbonaceous solids into a synthetic “natural gas like” flammable fuel.  "woodgas" is the term usually applied to the fuel itself.  The basic idea isn’t a new idea as much as it is an improvement on the basic principle of burning biomass for heat and light (like a fireplace); in fact, this has been around for more than 100 years.  A “gasifier” is typically a multi-tank design that burns wood to create gas, cleans it, and cools it before it is used.  And here's the clincher: when done properly, and routed to an engine or a storage container, the gasses can be used to power machinery and (drum roll please) your off-grid home power system.    

The use of woodgas really became popular with the proliferation of the automobile, when inventors modified internal combustion engines to run off everything imaginable, including peanut oil, steam, and compressed air (a subject for another article).  Gasification came into widespread use during the fuel crisis of WWII as well as during the OPEC fuel problems of a few decades ago, and the ever-increasing fuel prices make it just as relevant right now.   There are a couple industrial power plants in places like Svenljunga, Sweden and Gussing, Austria, but this is a version that can be made small enough for personal use.   

Building your own:
I’m going to stick to the details of my own experience, since that's more beneficial for you than simply sharing the research; you can find pictures and details online yourself, and you're welcome to email me for suggestions.  Anyway, since my new goal is to convert everything of mine to run on woodgas(or a mixture of fuels), I decided to start small and work with a simple woodgas stove.  The stove idea works like this, to give you an example:  

Start with a small enclosed container, which could be cubed or round.  I picked a barbecue propane tank, since they are easy to acquire and had the right size.  The next major element is the flue and/or fuel inlet.  (I picked 4'' steel stainless pipe).  This I cut into 2 sections and welded into an "L" shape.  The bottom emerges from the side, and the top emerges from the center of the tank.  The third step would be to add a fuel tray, like in a fireplace.  (I stuck with the barbeque theme and used part of a barbecue grill, cut to fit)  This I inserted through the side (where you'll put your wood fuel) and tack welded in the center (little lower) of the pipe.

And that's pretty much all there was to it.  I welded up the edges, where the pipe meet the container, and it worked like a charm.(Though in the absence of a welder you can get by just fine with a tube of high-temperature automotive caulk, like Gasket Goo)  This is something that can be made in your garage or metal shop with a welder and a saw, although you don't have to follow my design - test models can be built out of soup cans or soda cans, with little or no fabrication.

You can imagine how it works, in principle; it’s quite similar to your chimney at home.  This air flow is the same reason that campers will build a fire in a ‘tent’ shape.  Once the fire is lit, hot air rises, drawing cold air into the vacuum.  I made mine so that I could take it camping; the propane tank perfectly fits a small pan or pot on top, has a base for stability, and works almost as well as a gas-powered camp stove that you would buy at a retail camping supply outlet.  In comparison to my simple stove, most gasifiers will utilize some kind of fan, in line, for two reasons: to help kick-start the process by improving air flow, and then to propel gasses thru the device and to the engine/container.  At this scale, pressure and volume become an issue, and to standardize the process things like this become necessary; some users even use computerized controls to regulate burn and flow.  

Storing Woodgas:
Most woodgas users produce it on-demand, which is preferable if you can afford to build a large (or efficient) enough system.  Personally, I wanted to be sure I could save it, in some way, before I dumped any more time or money into this technology.  With this in mind, I picked up a small air compressor and modified it to work with my camp stove.  I routed a tube (flexible rubber automotive/compressor hose) from the top of the woodgas stove to the air intake on the compressor, so that as my compressor operates, it fills the tank with gas, instead of air.   Using a regular tire style air fitting, I was able to fill an external compressor tank, from my compressor.  I will use this method to fill similar tanks with a basic woodgas mixture, which I can use to run gas lanterns, a gas stove, or a basic propane-style camp stove.  In the long run, I will store fuel in a much larger on-site container, but I chose these elements to fit my circumstances.  

Fuel sources:
The woodgas stove or gasifier is not limited to wood.  I have run my camp stove on the chaff from coffee husks, for example.  I don’t have first hand experience with these, but here’s a list anyway, of other fuels, to get you thinking: walnut or peanut shells, charcoal, coal, sawdust, wood pellets, buffalo chips....  I think I'll continue to stick with cordwood as my main resource, though, even if it has to be chipped up to fit in a camp stove.  I can find it for free all week long and in fairly large quantities.  I have started scouting my local online classified ads for free woodpiles around town, and I've already filled one section of fence with cordwood.  Of course, it needs to be relatively dry to work well, so it helps to live in a dry climate and have an out-of-the-way place to store materials.  You may have access to other kinds of fuel in your area, so keep your eyes and ears peeled. 

Camp stoves are easy; building actual gasifiers is a little more complex and actually requires some precision design work, so I'm going to need some expert assistance when I scale this system upward, to power a truck or a home generator.  This doesn't require a huge systems change for me, since I had already started collecting the electrical supplies I would need to start going off-grid - just a change in the fuel supply.  Rest assured that I will write again with the results of the next woodgas project, in greater detail.  For those of you with construction experience (or if you’re just motivated, like me), there are schematics and drawings available online for a few different gasifier versions, one of which you can find by searching for “gasifier” on Wikipedia.  If anyone's interested, I have found plans (complete with images) and instructions from a 1950s design, that was used to run a farm tractor.  I don't have the original link to where this manual came from, but I'd be glad to forward on the information

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Being without electricity in the middle winter is cold. We didn’t have any heat during an ice storm. With that winter in mind, we finally purchased a wood stove for heat and cooking opportunities.

As the wife and mother, I had this horrible image of an old black pot bellied stove belching smoke and catching the roof on fire. I could hear the neighbors complaining about the smell and my kids going to school smelling like they had just burned down the house. Images of black walls and ceilings and truck loads of firewood haunted me with every winter wind. I finally relented after four years of planning and saving.

The first thing in purchasing and planning our wood stove was to check with our local city government to make sure there were no permits or codes that had to be met.
The second thing was many years of research on the internet and attending trade shows.
The third step was saving what money we could spare and finding a stove that would fit into our allotted room space and budget.
We finally purchased a stand alone Lopi cast iron wood stove.
This Lopi stove is 79% efficient, burning the smoke before it leaves the stove. Thus no complaining neighbors or smoke smell in our home. When loaded with wood it can burn up to eight hours and warm a 1000 square foot home. It is lined with firebricks and will hold heat after the wood has burned. We did purchase the optional electric fan, but the stove will warm up the house without the fan running.

For the mother in me, it does not smell up the house, it is clean burning, sealed, and with the clearances recommended by the manufacturer, and following the installation instructions, we hope it won’t burn down our house. (For my further comfort I made the men of our house pull all the insulation away from the chimney in the attic.)
For the wife in me, it is stylish and functional. It looks great in the corner. The stove is matte black with matte black accessories. It does have a glass window.
For new chimney installers I would recommend the double walled chimney. This allows you to set your stove closer to the wall and also gives the wife and mother a larger piece of mind.
We purchased our chimney with our stove and the owner of the business talked us through the entire installation. Each box of the chimney, and there were six, had its’ own instructions. The telescoping inside black pipe was the best and most expensive part of the chimney. This pipe allows you to place your stove in your room and not have to cut, fold or bend the inside pipe to the correct length. It telescopes up to a box collar on your ceiling and then the attic part attaches to that box. Or, you don’t have to be exactly precise when measuring how much inside pipe you need. The brand we purchased was Metal-Fab. The inside telescoping pipe is black and very stylish with the stove.
My son and husband were able to install the chimney and stove in one day.  They did have to find more sheet metal screws.
This stove does allow you to cook on the top.

Cooking on a Woodstove

After learning how to light and burn the wood in the stove, I decided it was time to learn how to cook on the stove. I was amazed at how small the top of the stove was compared to the look of the stove. My cast iron skillet was too big for any area on the top of stove. I had to purchase a smaller skillet and lid. You do want to use a lid as you don’t want any grease or food build up on your stove.

We found that purchasing a small, inexpensive, oven temperature gage helped in knowing when the stove was hot enough to cook on and with a cast iron skillet, we can start cooking around 200 degrees. It is very warm standing in front of the stove while cooking, but you must have a very hot fire to cook. I have cooked many meals on this stove for practice. This practice has led us to some new and different realities of food storage and preparation.

We have found that we use more oils, and starch foods such as potatoes, corn and beans. Having pre-canned cooked foods such a vegetables and meat shortens the cooking time. We will probably eat more popcorn than we are used to. Coffee should be started as soon as you start cooking a meal.  Smaller but deeper skillets and Dutch ovens work better and stay hot longer. Baking on the inside of the stove takes time and patience. Using breads with the least amount of moistures helps in complete baking. Cast iron cookware will burn off its season when left on the inside of the stove too long and cast iron is the only pan to use when cooking on the inside. Cast iron will also continue to cook after you pull it out of the stove.  Metal bread pans will warp and can get a burn hole in them. (Only experience on my part.) We can not use our canner on this stove. We have no way of heat control and not enough space. (Nor would I want a wood fire in our home in the summer.) We will be building an outdoor fire pit for summer cooking and canning.

After having a melt down in knowing we had wheat stored, had purchased a grain grinder and then not being able to make bread in the new stove, I finally found a way to bake. A Dutch oven with lid and low burning coals is the only way this stove will bake bread. If your Dutch oven is seasoned well, don’t grease the Dutch oven. Greasing the Dutch oven will cause the bread to burn on the outside of the bread.  Don’t expect a loaf of bread to come out of this kind of stove looking like it came out of an electric oven.

Things we would have done differently:
1. Saved more money and bought a larger stove, we need a larger cooking surface. Think about the kitchen stove you have now, four burners, you use the oven and the microwave when cooking a meal. Think about no electricity, you now have maybe two spots to cook with. A larger stove would have allowed us to have more room to cook, to use larger firewood and have a longer burn at night.
2. Installed the stove on an inside wall. Inside wall installation makes for better heating. You are not heating up an outside wall. We could have used less wall protection in the way of ceramic tile.
3. If money would have allowed, we would have bought a real wood cook stove and installed it in our kitchen with a water heater attached.
4. Built a higher platform for the stove so we don’t have to get on our knees to clean and load the stove.

Our stove was our most expensive prepraedness purchase. I am thankful that I have time to learn to cook and heat with this stove.  We have “survival night” once a week and only cook with this wood stove. It brings up a lot of different scenarios that we thought we had taken care of. We need another hand can opener. We also need a moveable table near the stove when cooking and much thicker potholders. We need more first-aid items for burns. We need to purchase more and longer metal spatulas and spoons. We also need to stock up more pre-cooked items when we home can during the summer and we need truckloads of firewood.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thanks and God Bless for your wonderful blog. You do mankind a great good every day your site is up and passing information to the masses. Please keep it coming.

I find it a rare and surprising occurrence when my real world work experience and professional knowledge actually prove some use to the on-going threads found at SurvivalBlog. Since I'm a career Maitre' de in fine dining restaurants, it really isn't surprising; I seriously doubt anyone will be worried about wine vintages or the proper service of escargot after TSHTF. However I was pleasantly surprised after I read Andrew D.'s post on Forever Preps. I found his info extremely helpful, since I quickly added a few amendments to my master prep list, with many valuable links.

I must disagree with Andrew on his candle substitute option, the paraffin oil cartridges. I have chosen, purchased, and used dozens of varieties of paraffin oil cartridges, and the lamps that burn them, throughout my 25 year career and in my experience they would be next to useless in a survival situation. They work well for what they are, which is a simple light source used to provide ambiance. They give virtually no use-able light and generate very, very, little heat. Mainly, because they are not meant to do so and they cannot be opened or adjusted, since the tiny wick is part of the sealed self contained unit. I once had to purchase small penlights for my entire waitstaff due to the ineffectiveness of these items with dim room lights, much less total darkness. These units are inexpensive, well sized and store well, but unless you can rig an alternate adjustable wick, which I don't recommend, or transfer the oil to a proper lamp or lantern, I can't see recommending this over candles or larger containers of oil. You don't need the extra bother. However, I still trust candles as the ultimate back-up lighting. I live in the deep south and have also had candles melt to nothing in storage, so I tried a trick from a local candy vendor. This guy makes and sells Roman candy, i.e. taffy, from a horse drawn carriage even during the hottest summer days. To keep the candy from sticking and mal-forming when it's soft from the heat, he would roll a stick in several layers of over-sized waxed paper and simply twist the ends. I tried this and it works well for tall candles and tapers. However the larger and detailed candles may mal-form a bit upon hardening and lose details. Plastic wrap will also work, however it may stick to the re-hardened candle a bit. Thanks. - W.N.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dear Sir,  
I’ve been making “permanent” candles for years, using empty cat food cans, pipe cleaners, and store-bought paraffin wax. The cans are quite stable and, because of their volume, the wicks don’t “float” until they’ve been burning a long time. Rotating candles solves that problem. The wicks don’t burn up – they wick – unless you touch them and knock the built-up carbon off them. If that happens, you can easily repair them using lint from a clothes dryer – a good thing to have anyway. The candles must be fed to keep ‘em burning and to adjust the flame; the wax is the consumable. I’ve had many candles last literally years, and I always have ‘em handy, with some spare fuel, for emergency lighting. With inverted ceramic flower pots, they also make decent small-space radiant heaters, and will warm up a can of soup in a pinch. Hope this helps.   Thanks and best wishes,   - Rick O. in New Mexico


Greetings Mr. Rawles,

A fairly low cost alternative for low level lighting is the solar LED pathway lights. Just place them in the sun during the day, and they are good for several hours during the night. Just remove the charged batteries when they are not needed, or add a simple switch to turn them off and on. With minimal soldering skills you can replace the white LED's with red, to make them easier on your night vision. Blessings, - M.I.A.

Using candles as lighting tools should be considered as a last resort. A much better option would be a small capacitor with a solar charger, powering LED lights. I have been to too many residential structure fires that resulted from improper use of candles.  Often the candles pollute the inside of the house, so the occupants open windows, allowing winds to blow combustible fabrics into contact with candle flames. Usually I have seen this during periods of high-wind related conditions, that have blown down electrical utilities, thus leaving residents to figure out how to deal with the mess themselves. - "Split Hoof

Friday, February 11, 2011

I have learned WSHTF, that after dark, subdued lighting is mandatory. A complete conversion of a home into a cave is not my idea of living so my thought is to choose one often used room and black out the windows with black plastic, duct tape and heavy curtains. Hang a thick blanket in front of the room's door and specify bright lights out before any one enters or leaves that room.

The rest of the home would be dimly lit. With preferably one, no more then two at a time candle-like devices behind heavy lined curtains.

The thinking behind this is that a lot of other folks in urban settings will be hunkered over candles and oil lamps during grid down time So you are blending in with the majority.

Tea candles are drip free and easy to manage if left in one spot. [The wicks tend to shift if lit and moved].

The candles can be easily by removing the metal wick holder, turning it upside down an fitting it in a 5\32-inch hole drilled near one end a 3\8-inch thick 8 inch long board held in a vise [orthe hand if you are carful]. Using a ice pick push out the old wick stub and enlarge the wick hole.

Insert a new slightly thicker cotton wick holder and push and pull it till it sticks through about 1 inch. Remove the wick holder from the board and using a pairof smooth jawed pliers grip near the hinge and gently crush the little nipple on the upper part of the wick holder till it holds the wick snugly.

Scissor off the bottom of the wick so that the holder and wick sits upright in the little metal pan.

Get wax from old large discarded candles or other sources, chip off wax with a 1\2-inch wood chisel and rubber mallet into a metal 11.5 ounce coffee can with a formed pouring spout. Use the lowest gas setting of the lowest gas fire and position the can of wax chips in a double boiler. (The can inside a larger pan of water). Never, ever leave the melting pot unattended! [Since fires can easily result.]

Place the tea candles to be filled on newspaper. When about one-half of the wax in the can has stared to liquefy, slowly fill the tea candles cup to the rim.

Turn off the gas burner and leave the can on the burner it will cool slowly. But keep the wax liquid for a long time.[never allow the wax to get so hot it smokes danger danger]

Once the tea candles have set up, add more wax around the wick to top them off. - Axman

JWR Replies: Wax tea candles are available in bulk for as little as 12 cents each, if you buy them 200 or more at a time. And as you describe, they can be re-filled.

All the normal safety precuations for open flames must be observed when burning tea candles. One advantage of these is that they are much less likely to tip over than tall candles. But keep in mind that nothing is ever foolproof! I recommend that you position tea candles in the middle of a large ceramic plate or a steel pie tin. (Old plates and pie tins are usually available from thrift stores for less than a dollar each. Use these mis-matched pieces instead of your matching kitchen china, and you will get along better with your spouse!

Friday, January 14, 2011

As energy prices soar and the dollar loses value, people are purchasing firewood for the future. Heating oil is a grade of diesel, propane is an oil by- product and with the rise of over twenty cents a gallon in just a few weeks, people are planning ahead where there may not be any fuel to warm their homes. Those with electricity are starting to look at any solar power possibilities, meanwhile, the big oil corporations have bought up many of the solar-panel producing companies!

Firewood providers in our area are getting orders to bring customers as much firewood as possible- the customers will take all the wood they can provide. (And, of course, the providers like to be paid in cash...) The customers are saying that next year -and beyond-, heating oil will be too expensive to heat their homes with.  Add to that the uncertainty of any oil being available for our rural area. Firewood will also cost more due to fuel for delivery trucks as well as the chainsaw maintenance, which includes bar oil and gasoline.

Natural gas is not available in our area, and many rural folks use propane. Rising in cost, our recent fill up cost us over $700, and that was with a price break of filling over 200 gallons! ($2.15 a gallon.) Typical fill up rule is to fill to 80% to leave room for expansion and for safety reasons. We have propane ‘on-demand’ water heating and are looking to improve on that system with firewood .  We live on a mountain; in winter there is no delivery. We can fill our own small portable tanks, a bit hard to use with a major home hookup. Firewood it is!

We heat and cook with  wood, using our ‘Pioneer Maid’ air-tight stove. It works great.  It is Amish made, available from Lehman's or from Obadiah's in Troy, Montana. We had it delivered to a local hardware store.  They used a forklift to set it into our truck; when we got home we used our tractor to lift it out onto a dolly with wheels.  That dolly was pre-tiled to compensate for any further moving of the stove, it went right into place. Wheels, what a concept!

Consider purchasing extra stove pipe to replace or repair yours in the future, along with spark arrester-tops, chimney brushes and creosote blocks or powder. If  you can afford it,  buy stainless steel chimney pipe which costs quite a bit more but will last a long, long  time.

Have a safe way to get up to your chimneys to clean them out with chimney brushes.  Roof ladders come to mind, if you don’t know anyone with a “cherry-picker” extension on their truck!

We located our woodshed(s) uphill from our dwelling location, that way everything can be downhill when bringing wood into our home.  We purchased a large wheeled wood-hauling cart that is wonderful to use from Harbor Freight as well as a black plastic tub that slides well in snow.  It takes at least eight months to dry or “season” firewood, with it being stored under cover with open sides all around. We do hang tarps during winter months to block the weather from wetting the wood. The best strategy is to have at least two years of wood stored, we rotate by having two woodsheds. If you can, purchase your firewood, saving ‘your’ wood until other wood is not available. If times get challenging, you will be glad of this strategy!

We save the scrap from our woodpiles in old construction buckets under cover. It is great fire starter along with pine cones and needles! The caution here is the creosote potential.  We use “Safe Lite”natural fire starters made by Rutland.  (Pine needles in fall, are also good for bedding your raspberry bushes!) We save newspapers when thrown out at the post office. (Black & White papers are better, since color pages have cadmium, etc.,) You’ll have to use your creosote powder remover more often as well as clean your chimney pipes more frequently. One thing; we tended to burn our stove pretty hot, and ended up needing a few more bricks to have on hand to replace the ‘liners’ in the stove firebox that cracked.

Here at our center, we are planting trees for the future.  Tamarack and others are sold through our county conservation district and we found hardwood species through Lawyer Nursery. We are fortunate that we have enough downed trees (and diseased) trees that we do not need to cut live trees. Our thought is the small nursery trees have a better chance of surviving the days that are here.

In our experience burning Ponderosa Pine and Western White pine is like trying to burn wet cardboard! Here is our order of preference for the N.E. Washington Rocky Mountain Foothills:
1) Western Larch (Tamarack,)
2) White Birch,  
3) Douglas Fir  
4) Aspen
5) White Fir.

A combination helps to cook with Birch and Tamarack, but of course, for heating, you will use what works! In our area a cord of Red Fir a.k.a. Douglas Fir is $125 per cord. Western Larch (also known as Tamarack) and Birch sell for $145- $150.

Attached is a composite list from several sources on common firewood ranked by heat produced, (BTUs= British Thermal Units) per cord of wood. A Cord is wood stacked four feet wide, four feet high and eight feet long.  Please note we do not have some of the exact BTU ratings for some species, (“u/a”) but they are categorized just the same.  Google Search “Firewood Characteristics”, U. S Forest products Laboratory, also see:,  and the Firewood rating chart.

“*” denotes  Overall  rating of combination Split-ability, Ease to start, low sparking, and how hot fire burns: 

Common Firewood Species

Very High Heat  =  25 - 27   Million  BTUs

Million  BTUs  per cord

Apple .....  Fair*


Black (sweet) Birch.........Excellent*


Blue Beech........Excellent




Hombeam (Ironwood).......Excellent


Locust, Black.......Excellent




Oak, White.......Excellent


High Heat = 23 - 24   Million   BTUs


Ash, White.......Excellent




Birch, Yellow.......Excellent






Maple, Sugar........Excellent


Oak, Red.......Excellent




High to Medium Heat =  20.8 - 23.5 Million BTUs


Maple, Red




Pine, Yellow.....Good






Western Larch (Tamarack)......Fair


Medium Heat = 19.5-20.3


Birch, Paper.....Excellent


Birch, White........Excellent


Birch, Grey.......Excellent


Black Cherry






Fir, Douglas......Good




Maple, Silver.....Good






Sweet Gum......Fair




Medium to Low Heat = 15 - 17.9 Million BTUs




Cedar, Red.....Good




Ponderosa Pine.....Fair


Box cedar


Low Heat = 12 - 14 Million  BTUs












Englemen Spruce.....Poor


Fir, Grand.....Fair


Pine, White, Western.....Fair


Pine, Norway


Pine, Lodgepole






Supplies for Firewood Users

If possible, have two chainsaws, with extra bars and chain, a way to sharpen those chains, and a supply of bar oil, fuel mixing oil, and gasoline.  We also have a couple of splitting mauls, ($28 at Wal-Mart, Big R farm and ranch stores have them too.)  Add steel wedges, and repair manuals for your brand of saws!  We use a sledge hammer (our ‘finishing tool’) and bow saws with extra blades. (Avoid blades that are not made in Europe!)  Get extra wood handles for replacements.  For a good Axe:  They’re in Maine and they offer a lifetime guarantee.

As mentioned above have at least two quality chain saws. Husqvarna (made in Sweden) and Stihl (made in Germany) are the most popular in our area. We personally have a “Husky”(for Husqvarna) and old McCullough, which the local small engine repair shop calls a “museum piece”. Most saws come with 16 to 24 inch bars. Our advice is to buy the  longest bar that will work on your model. That way you don’t have to bend over as far to cut the firewood up, reducing back strain.  Have extra bar oil, fuel lines, spark plugs, carb re-build kits, and learn which files work to do your own sharpening/ Be sure to get Kevlar safety chaps, eye and ear protectors.

Try to find non-alcohol added gasoline. This saves on the fuel lines and carb gaskets.

There are fuel preservatives for both gasoline and diesel fuels.  For your stored gasoline, PRI-G is an excellent product. They also have a diesel life extender product called PRI-D   We were told by our small engine repair business, preservatives keep the fuel for up to two years, although the product label doesn’t say that. The author of the book No Such Thing As Doomsday says that it will store even longer! Add it to fuel you are storing longer than four months. The experts recommend storing this fuel with preservative in the equipment over winter, rather than running them dry for storage.

Have a ‘two-crew’ cross cut saw of good quality. See, or (The last manufacturer in USA).  There is a $4 manual that is a handy reference. For someone who reconditions and sharpens crosscut saws:  Definitely non-electric!

Have some wire rope to drag trees out of the forest so you don’t have to haul out the cut up logs. If you don’t have a tractor a four wheel pickup can sometimes work if not muddy. A Peavey tool with the attachment to lift the log off the ground is great to have as well, they are referred too as ‘log-lifters’. Or “Back-savers!” 

We hope that this is a very useful bit of information to help you in the challenges we may face in the coming years.  Please pass it along for others!

We are living ‘ Inspired’, hope that You are too!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I am sleeping soundly when I hear a car horn then another long horn for a full minute which seems like an eternity at 4 A.M. the apartment behind mine are 70 yards from my back porch. Then I hear a slamming of metal sound and then another like a bat hitting a car. Then I kind of fall back to sleep only to hear police knocking on doors yelling police and it sounds like they are down stairs and then all this knocking. I open my eyes and there is a fireball outside my window and my dog is starting to go nuts.

I look for my flashlight next to my pillow and realize it is in the truck because I took an extra one when I went hunting and forgot to put it back. I put on some clothes and cant find the flashlight in the kitchen. I go outside and the cops are trying to get people out of their apartments that are near this truck that is now a huge bonfire. I get closer and then the fire dept comes and this truck starts to catch another car on fire and the cops are trying to put out a huge blaze with a car fire extinguisher. Now there is smoke everywhere and I go back to my apt cause I can't breathe.

Lessons Learned:

Don't remove the flashlight without putting it back. Have one in your vehicle and have a fire extinguisher in your car and in your apt. Have a damn bug out bag. I started one and through hunting and car trips, etc. It got used and appropriated for other things. Seeing the neighbors who's front door was 10 feet from the parked truck standing out in the cold at 4 A.M. in boxers while being shouted at by cops while you are half awake is disconcerting to say the least. Had I lived closer to that truck that was on fire, it would have been us out there.

So as I am half awake, I am planning on building a BOB for the family and dog and getting fire extinguishers and some gear together and putting it in our vehicles. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mr. Rawles,
Recent posts about chimney fires mention the value of having ones chimney cleaned at least once per year. Most volunteer fire companies do chimney cleaning for a nominal donation. It gives the homeowners a chance to get their chimney cleaned and make a donation towards their community's fire service, it helps the fire company by making one more house less likely to have a chimney fire, and it benefits both parties by getting folks to interact with and perhaps join their local volunteer fire department. Best, - RMV

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I also had a chimney fire many years ago. This was long before I had ever thought about TEOTWAWKI and I knew absolutely nothing. I did end up with firemen and “lookie-loos” roaming my house and yard and included much embarrassment.

The reason I am writing this is that one of the firefighters advised me that I can use a long length of heavy chain and lower it down the stack and do a lot of rattling around. This will not replace regular cleaning, but will knock down the larger pieces of build up. If you have wood that leaves a heavy creosote build-up in relatively short time, this will keep you from having to call the chimney sweep every few months. As you wrote, however, the best solution is to buy the proper tools and learn to do it yourself, which we eventually did. Sincerely, - Erica C.

Friday, October 29, 2010


- You've either bugged out to your bug out location (BOL)


- You've bugged in


- You've bugged out to wilderness.


- You’re living at your retreat because “sumpthin bad dun happened sumwhere”.

After a couple of days, you've settled in, you've set whatever level of security you can establish, you've started adjusting to living the primitive life.

Suddenly you smell smoke.

If you've bugged in - the house/apartment next door is on fire. Or the vegetation up wind from you is on fire - grass, brush, woods, whatever.

If you've bugged out or living at your retreat- the vegetation up wind from you is on fire - grass, brush, woods, whatever.

Have you prepared for firefighting? Is your area fire defensible?

My Background:

I've been a volunteer firefighter since the 4th grade. I'm 59 now. I have a two-year degree in Fire Protection and Safety. After the service I worked 8 years as a Fire Fighter/EMT on a rescue truck and have continued volunteering.

I've fought my share of wildfires. I've never fought a forest fire. Part of my degree included how to make your home fire safe and your land fire defensible.

I know that I don’t know it all. What I am suggesting you do below has proven to work.


For a bug-out or bug-in location, I'm a big fan of pressurized water extinguishers for most first aid Class A firefighting. You can fill them yourself and use a hand air pump to pressurize them. I also have what would be considered an “over abundance” of BC and ABC dry chemical extinguishers handy.

Here is a review of the classes of fires and the common agents/extinguishers used to fight them.

A – Ordinary combustibles – wood, fibers, plastics – can be easily extinguished by “putting the blue stuff on the red stuff” that is by applying an appropriate stream of water to the base of the fire or droplets of water into the superheated area/gasses above the fire. The latter causes the water droplets to flash to steam smothering the fire. The former cools the fuel below the point that it will burn. ABC extinguishers (generally monoammonium phosphate) can be used on Class A fires.

B – Flammable liquids/gases – gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas – Foam systems will smother the fire. Dry chemical extinguishers work by interfering chemically with the fire. BC (sodium bicarbonate or potassium bicarbonate (purple K) or ABC extinguishers can be used. Also foam and carbon dioxide extinguishers can be used.

C – Fires in electrical equipment – electric motors, stereos, DVD/CD players, computers – once the electricity is shut off then the fire can be fought as a class A fire. If you’re not sure about whether the electricity is off – attack it with a BC or ABC rated extinguisher.

There are two other types of fires using American standards, class D and class K.

Class D fires – combustible metal – titanium, magnesium, potassium, steel, uranium, lithium, etc. Requires special and sometimes specific extinguishing agents. Water reacts with such metals by being split into Hydrogen and Oxygen. When they recombine – you get explosions etc. Explosions around fires are not good things.

Class K fires – cooking oil or fat like deep fryers – You can use class ABC extinguishers on them. You do have to be careful about not blowing burning grease all over the place; same issue with most Class B foam extinguishers. There are also specific Class K extinguishers designed to fight cooking grease fires. As I understand them, the “specially-formulated, aqueous solution of organic salts” reacts with the hot grease to form grease saponified foam. I’ve never used them. I do know of one fire where a built in Ansul system was triggered and the Class K agent worked as it should. Cooled, extinguished the fire without any flare up etc.


1. Make you place defensible:

You have two main areas of concern here. The first being the roofs of your buildings and the second being type/distance of defensible space you have from your buildings to the natural environment.

The simplest, easiest way to take care of your roofs is to have metal roofs. If not then tile roofs or any other roof that will not burn. If not, then uses Class C or better rated building materials. Plumbing sprinklers on the roof has been done before. I’m don’t know if roof sprinklers will help reduce the cost of fire insurance. Generally non-combustible or at the very least Class C or better rated roofs do help with insurance. YMMV.

If you can – have your space/distance from your buildings to be further away than the tallest tree at your site. Having metal roofs doesn’t help much if a burning tree crashes down thru it.

You’ll have 2 to 4 areas of space defense. The closer to the house the fewer plants, bushes etc the better. Having a sidewalk around the house keeps the grasses and weeds from growing immediately against the house. And in the hot dry parts of summer, keeps them from being an ignition point adjacent the house.

As you get further away from your house/building you’ll need to keep the amount of burnable material down as in mowing the grass, cutting branches, getting rid of scrub woody bushes etc. Also you’ll need to be aware of where you place items such as your wood piles and gasoline/diesel/propane fuel storage tanks.

I realize that some of you may have planed blackberry bushes around your house as a “natural” barrier. That’s fine – keep them pruned and green. A big pile of brown [low moisture] bushes close to the house is a fire danger.

This page goes into much better detail as well as a better explanation of what to do concerning sloping land..

2. Active Defense:

Active defense is a somewhat new idea. I’ve heard great reports about how effective it is.

One site talks about a fire prevention gel you spray on your house to defend against an active wild fire bearing down on you. A wet gel on any combustible surface including side walls will keep embers, sparks, and radiant heat from being able to start a fire.

3. Inside the house. You should have at least one medium to large ABC extinguisher (at least a 4A rating - a 4A rating on an ABC extinguisher always has a 60+BC rating). I also have four pressurized water extinguishers I keep. I always take one or two with me when I car camp.

4. It does work. An example: 20 years ago, a friend of mine asked me how he could make his place less likely to burn down from grass fires.

He implemented my suggestions:

1. Clear out all brush for at least 100 feet from home fence line and all buildings.

2. Do controlled burns around the area to help keep grass fires from his house/outbuildings.

3. Permanently plumb in some lawn sprinklers (the impact type) . Make sure the sprinkler coverage will either do the ground around the house/outbuildings and/or the sides of the house/outbuildings around your home/buildings.

4. Spend the money to purchase a pump that and water storage system that will enable all of the sprinklers to run for 45 minutes and as many 3/4" x 100' garden hose stands as he will have. (Tips are the straight bore type with a shut off). A local volunteer fire department had just put a 750 gpm fire truck up for sale – he bought it and put it up on blocks, built a concrete tank that took overflow from an existing windmill supplied water tank, and plumbed them all in.

His home and outbuildings all had metal roofs. Most of his outbuildings are all metal. His big barn is 100 year old wood with a tin roof.

About five years ago a county in Texas had a wildfire that burned 30,000+ acres of land. (That's slightly more than 48 square miles).

After that happened he called me and said what I had suggested kept his home and barn from burning down. The fire burned up to and around his home and outbuildings. He said he started the sprinklers when the fire was about 500 yards away. He and his wife and 2 sons manned the garden hose sections and used them to put out spot fires while his daughter ran the pump station. He said the water supply ran out about 10 minutes after the fire had burned past. He and his sustained no injuries and lost nothing in the home area to the fire.

As part of the discussion he told me that the fire truck he had bought had three (3) 150’ 1-½ inch pre-connects, two (2) 200’ ¾ inch booster lines, and about 1,000 feet of 1” forestry hose. He said he did some hard thinking/evaluation and then plumbed the equipment in at various locations. He said that the sprinklers did a very good job of keeping everything wet while they were able to hustle to the various hose stations to be able to fight the few spot fires. He did say that if someone had not been there to start the system up they probably would have lost the big barn and maybe the house. He said he had not kept the 100 foot boundary from each building like I had suggested and that allowed some of the fire to get as close as 15 feet to some buildings. He said that from then on, he was going to keep a 200’ line. He said based on what he saw that day – for his place – a 200’ fire line would keep the place safe if no one was home. I told him about the new fire gels and he said he’d look into them. I was out that way a year ago and stopped in. I could easily become used to being treated like a King.

Please understand, what I advised my friend to do worked like it did because he took time to carefully understand the exposures/risks and took appropriate action way ahead of time. You’ll have to do the same evaluations, planning, and actions as they apply to your situation.

Disasters can show up anytime, and leave little time in the moment of crisis to prepare with any sense of organization. The worst time to prepare is when you receive a reverse 911 call, or a knock at the door from a police officer ordering an evacuation of your home.

This list is meant for residents of a suburban area located near an undeveloped forested area. This list was put to the test during a wildfire that consumed over 4,600 acres within a five-hour period, fed by winds sustained at 55 m.p.h. and gusting to 70 m.p.h. No matter where you live, what circumstances are prompting an evacuation, or the natural disasters common for your area, preparing beforehand is key.

1.  Plan Ahead.  Receiving an order to evacuate your home, without knowing when you will be able to return is stressful. Having to make critical decisions about “what to take” and “what to leave” is unneeded stress. Taking the time before the emergency is setting up for success. If you live in an area with severe weather, plan a winter and summer evacuation list to ensure the safety and comfort of your family.

2.  5 Minute List.  Sometimes there are mere minutes to get out. If you only had 5 minutes to get out, what items are critical?
Children and Pets.
Documents in the safe (emergency binder, life insurance policies, passports).
Essential clothes. (Winter wear, one change of clothes)
Essential medication.

All the items of a 5-minute list are best contained in a “bug-out” bag. Prepare a backpack for each member of the family with the essentials. Rotate each season to ensure safety and comfort.

3.  20 Minute List.  Some disasters give a bit of warning. Depending on location, wildfires can generate a few hours of warning before the fire is too close for comfort. 20 minutes should be plenty of time for a full-on evacuation of all the critical (NON-replaceable) items.

How do you decide what goes on the list without packing the entire house? This is where early planning is critical to alleviate a bit of the stress.
All documents in the safe.
Current household documents.
Emergency Binder – copies of credit cards, passports, contact information and account numbers for all bills. 
Essential clothes. (Winter wear, one change of clothes)
Essential medication.
Mementos/Photos – only the ones that aren’t scanned.
Hard drive, jump [aka "thumb"] drives.
Remember: Non-replaceable!

Prepare the emergency binder beforehand. Make photocopies of all passports, social security cards and drivers licenses for the first section. The second section contains all critical accounts for banking and bill paying. Include the company name, account number, mailing address, phone number, web site and login information. With this information, you will be able to pay your bills, cancel utilities, or any other critical items while you’re unable to get back to your home.
In this technological age, if all your contacts are saved on your computer or iphone in lieu of your brain, print the critical contacts and add a section to the binder.

4.  Involve the whole family.  If you weren’t home, would your spouse or kids know what to do, what to take, and where it’s located? Is there a list posted somewhere in the house? Does everyone know where the list lives?
Is everyone’s list the same? Does your spouse have a non-negotiable item you didn’t think to add to the list? Does anyone have a new medication that’s not on the list? Would your youngest manage this kind of stressful event without a lovie or woobie or pacifier?

5.  Write it down.  Excel’s user-friendly columns are an easy place to create the 5-minute and 20-minute lists. Bottom line, it doesn’t matter if the list is fancy, or spaced evenly, or even printed. What counts is writing it down, posting it in a central location, and telling everyone where it is. Use crayon if necessary, but write it down.
A central location possibility is the inside of the pantry door. Pick a date to review it every year. A not chaotic choice is on your birthday. If there are young children in the house, their needs change rapidly as they grow, and the list may need to be updated more often than once a year. If anyone has health problems, the list will need to be updated often to reflect any medication changes.

6.  Post it.  Once the list is written down, it won’t do a bit of good if it’s sitting on the computer’s hard drive. Hit print, grab some tape, and stick it up.
The Pantry Door list is a master list. For each room containing 5-minute and 20-minute evacuation items, post that room’s items again on the back of the room’s door (i.e. in the office: household documents, hard drive). Add the item’s location to the list. Be specific enough to ensure all members of the family will be able to find the item based on the location description. Add an item description if there’s room on the list to eliminate confusion.

The more detailed the list, the less likely precious minutes will be wasted running up and down the stairs grabbing forgotten items.

7.  Share it outside your family.  What if you were out of town and your home was included in an evacuation order? Share your list with a nearby family member or friend willing to come evacuate your essentials if a disaster showed up while you were on vacation. Remind both of you before you leave.

8.  Consolidate.  Most lists contain “photos/memorabilia” with a vague sense of where everything is located. Specificity is key. Oftentimes, photos and important family items end up on a shelf to be cataloged later. Evacuation is not the time to find out boxes are half-full, overflowing, or photos are still in frames, waiting to be put away. Catalog all items falling into the “Photo/memorabilia” category. Eliminate duplicates, Eliminate items safe on the hard drive and backed-up online. Group items by date and label the boxes with large lettering, including the date. Use medium sized boxes easily carried by one person (ideally, by the weakest member of the family participating in the evacuation).

9.  Organize.  Where is everything on the 20-minute list stored? Are the items in separate rooms? In the event of a flood or other natural disaster, would they be safe? If you had to leave them, would they be safe? Can everyone find them?
When storage is tight, creativity is king. Some of the items on the evacuation list may not be in use every day, or on a regular basis. It may be tempting to store items such as photos and memorabilia on a bottom shelf, out of the way, out of sight, out of place. If possible, find an ongoing location that keeps all the items out of harm’s way for most disasters.

10.  Practice.  Once the list is complete (both the 5 and 20 minute), items are organized, and labeled, it’s time for a Dry Run. Set the timer, grab the family and see what happens. This seems silly, but it’s a critical test. Practice eliminates panic. Practicing more often (a monthly drill) will hone the skills of every member of the family, instill confidence in even the youngest member, and cut the time it takes to complete an entire evacuation.
Be prepared to take notes during or after the practice. While you practice, notice things to change, eliminate, or add.

11.  Change it.  During the Dry Run, what issues or obstacles surfaced? While you practiced, what did you notice? Are there things to add to the list? Was everything on the list where it was supposed to be? Did you complete the Dry Run as a family? What would happen if you practiced as individuals – can everyone find all the items? Did you practice with the Person you assigned in Step #7?

12.  Reorganize and Put Away.  As you’re putting things away from the Dry Run, be aware of the changes you’ve made to the list in the last step. Do things get to move around? Are they logically together? Are they easy to get to? Don’t just plan for one emergency – plan for all of them.

13. Keep It Up. As the family grows, and new items get added to the list of items, organize them as you go, catalogue them, and remember to tell all the family members where the new items are located.

At the close of each year, rotate household documents to ensure the most up-to-date items are in the evacuation location.

Consider an online backup solution for all your computer files. External hard drives can fail, and an online solution is one less item to pack in the event of an evacuation.

The best evacuation preparedness is an ongoing task. It might be easy to get complacent once the list is done and one Dry Run is completed. Practice is crucial, and ongoing practice is priceless.

With a little planning, and a lot of practice, you'll be ready for anything nature throws you! - The Survival Mama

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mr. Rawles:
Regarding the reader who had the chimney fire and put it out with a 10 pound bag of baking soda:

We were told by our fire chief that some insurance companies will refuse to pay for damage done in an "undocumented" chimney fire. How do you "document" a chimney fire? You have to call the fire department, and then it becomes a matter of record. In addition, putting the fire out in the firebox does not guarantee that a smaller fire isn't burning somewhere up in the attic or the eaves.

So you might be embarrassed, but even firefighters get chimney fires at their own houses. Far better to call the trained professionals than to risk greater damage or have your insurance company refuse to pay for the fix. - Janet S.


The contributor's chimney fire report included information about flue tiles damage and consequent repair expense. A metal chimney insert would be far less expensive and also upgrade the safety of the existing chimney. Bob

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dear James,
I have been a Survival Blog reader and Ten Cent Challenge subscriber for about a year or so. Thanks for all you do. The advice I read in SurvivalBlog from a rural firefighter -- to keep on hand a 10 pound bag of baking soda to throw on the fire in case of a chimney fire -- just came in handy!

My husband and I were just enjoying our first fire of the year in our brick masonry fireplace. We have our chimney cleaned about every three years. I was upstairs and my husband called out "we're having a chimney fire!" -- he had heard roaring despite a small, calm fire in the fireplace. We looked outside at the flue to see fireworks, threatening to set a nearby tree on fire.

We almost called the fire department, then I remembered about how to put our a chimney fire from SurvivalBlog by throwing baking soda on the fire in the fireplace. The chimney fire went out immediately! We were spared an embarrassing visit from the local fire department, our tree catching on fire and possibly setting our house and neighborhood on fire.

Now we are facing an expensive flue relining job because the creosote burning at 2,500 degrees cracked all the flue tiles. The cracked tiles exposed the frame of the house to fire risk. We are told that insurance may help pay for the repair.

Bottom line: It is wood burning season, have you had your stove or fireplace checked and cleaned? Do you have trees and shrubs trimmed properly around your house? Do you have 10 pounds of baking soda handy? We consider ourselves lucky. Keep up the good work on survival blog. Thank you, - Louise in Colorado

JWR Replies: Thanks for that reminder. Chimneys should be cleaned at least once a year, or even more often if you burn wood often, or if you burn wood that creates copious creosote. It is important to learn how to clean it yourself, and buy your own chimney rod sections and brush. After all, chimney cleaning tradesmen won't be available in a worst-case societal collapse.

Monday, October 4, 2010

After reading Filling in the Gaps on Firefighting and Emergency Medicine by Nate I would like to add a few things about what he said. I myself am a volunteer firefighter. I started by wanting to be more active in the town that I had just gotten a house in. Now that I have really become actively prepping, I see more and more good to being involved with it. The training is great and free. Further, after reading books like "One Second After", I see where it puts me in a place where I can help get things going in a productive way when the SHTF. I hope to be able to help my community should TEOTWAWKI happen. My plan is to stay in my town and do what I can. The way I see it is I am in a place to set up town security and what not already being in a service position. I also would encourage people to get involved in this.

However in regards to how Nate described putting out fires I would have to disagree bases on what I have been taught and seen. Most of what he stated I would agree with and was well written except that when attacking an interior fire with an 1.5-2" hose I have been taught and seen where spraying a large amount of water at the base of a fire can and most likely cause a thermal imbalance. What I mean by that is the water hits the fire and turns to steam. This will put the fire out but the steam created rises and then pushed all the heated air and gasses back on top of you. This disrupts the thermal balance of the room (hot air on top cooler air on bottom). This in-turn cooks anyone in the room especially if they are not wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE). This would seem to be unlikely unless they are firefighters and can keep their gear at home. The way to get past this would be to spray a narrow fog (water pattern set to a 30-40 degree angle) and start by spraying short burst (3-5 seconds -- one Mississippi two Mississippi...) wait a minute to see were the fire is and then spray at the base when the steam has had time to dissipate. This will help from upsetting the thermal balance of the room and keep everyone safer. The trade-off as I see it is that it would potentially take a little longer to do, but in my opinion it is worth not getting cooked. After it is put out clean up and checking for fire extension into the walls and ceiling is extremely important.

Although I will openly admit I do not have the experience of a paid firefighter or of people in larger departments this is just what I have been taught and have seen through live fire training. - J.J.H.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I’ll be the first to admit this is my first visit to SurvivalBlog, and I only received copy of "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It" yesterday, but I finished reading it yesterday as well. I’ve always had what I like to call a “jack of all trades” mentality, as soon as I begin to feel competent in one skill, I have a strong urge to begin the learning process anew and expand my base of knowledge.

I’ve been reading through the articles previously posted, and while extremely helpful and informative, I feel I have found a few gaps.  Many critically important things are mentioned casually or in passing, and then simply left there by the wayside.  I hope with this article to give a brief overview to fill in some holes, at least as they intersect with my current skill set. (Give me another five years before TEOTWAWKI and I’m sure I'll have a bunch more unimportant titles to my name, but much more useful information too.)

Fire Fighting

It has been mentioned before that firefighting may be a necessity not just for a specialized few come TEOTWAWKI, however I have yet to see mention of skills and strategies.  Obviously the most effective way to increase your skills in firefighting is to join your local fire department.  In the ideal scenario, almost all firefighting operations today are performed by volunteers.  If you are able to do this, that is a double positive, you are gaining advanced skills, and building stronger ties to your community, and your community stronger ties with you.  If that is not an option, then you must first consider each type of fire, its main causes, and things you can do to mitigate that both pre and post SHTF.  It takes over 1 million firefighters (according to FEMA) to maintain our current fire free lifestyle. After TEOTWAWKI, it's not a question of if you will encounter fire, but when and how often.

Wildfires burn every year, worldwide, and from Alaska to Florida. Admittedly, one of the reasons wildfire has become such a problem in civilized world is civilization's fault.  When you aggressively fight small fires, that would naturally burn off underbrush you cause a build-up of that underbrush.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, our trees, which are naturally fire resistant, can really only take so much.  Eventually enough underbrush is built up and on the next fire, the entire forest lights from top to bottom, this is bad because the same stuff that makes them fire resistant burns extremely well once lit.  This is the situation you’ll face when your area goes up for the first time in TEOTWAWKI, presuming you live somewhere with forests of evergreen trees.

But all is not lost!  If you can afford the space, and increased visibility--remember that staying hidden for the beginning of TEOTWAWKI, may be more important than fire safety, and with the right tools this modification could be made post a few months when things in your area are largely quiet (hopefully) you can vastly increase your margin of safety by cutting down any trees or shrubs for a 100 foot thick barrier between the forest and you.  The forest service usually recommends doing this in a 100’ circle from the edge of your house (50’ is considered the absolute minimum, but remember were not going for making the firefighters jobs easier here, were hoping to completely protect you from the fire in the first place) however for the situation were planning for the most effective way would be to make your 100-foot barrier by cutting out from your perimeter fence line into the forest.  This gives multiple benefits to you:

  • You have vastly increased visibility of people that are approaching your dwelling(s) and outbuildings
  • It would be extremely difficult for anyone to cover 100 feet of completely cleared terrain without being noticed by active lookouts
  • It ensures that not just your house, but indeed your generator your garden, any fruit trees you have, your vehicle, etc. all share the same “island from the fire” status. 

You can use this land to grow short grasses for animal grazing (nothing taller than 6 inches, please) if the idea of clearing land and doing nothing with it really just doesn’t settle with you but at the very center along the fence line you must have five feet of actually clear ground to prevent the grass fire that may ensue from spreading into the compound.  Especially if you choose to keep a wild grass on this perimeter, it is still important to be armed with a large diameter hose ready to put out the errant spark or to wet the ground to prevent the much smaller grass fire from encroaching on your compound.

If your entire house catches on fire, you’re quickly no better off than any other joe blow, so the most important safety factor here is prevention.  Good habits from you and your family and new extended family come TEOTWAWKI must all remember the basic fire rules, but those are predominantly common knowledge so I’ll skip them for now.  You should never have to leave the room to get a fire extinguisher, especially if you are in the kitchen or any room that regularly has a heating source in it (garage, living room, workshop etc)  If you are using a standard compact fire extinguisher it is only rated to put out a wood and natural fuels fire with a base of 1 square foot in the hands of an “average person” (the ratings are listed at ~60% of the actual carrying capacity, on the presumption that the average person will waste a significant portion failing to Pull Aim Squeeze Swipe (PASS) effectively).  If you must leave for even a minute to obtain the fire extinguisher most likely you will be too late to be effective.

If you have any doubts about “wasting” a fire extinguisher by putting one in each bedroom and the hallway, and essentially any and every room,  just youtube a video of a couch or a bed fire.  Most of the items we have today are made with a significant amount of petroleum in them.  A plastic table puts out the same BTUs when it burns as around 10 gallons of gasoline, and a large CRT monitor's case can be the equivalent of almost 5 gallons.

Okay, so the SHTF and the whole room is on fire. Fortunately for you modern construction buys you a little time.  Your house is certainly going to be the worse for the wear, and depending on how many holes you have punched through it for doors, electrical sockets, light switches etc, your time will vary, but each piece of drywall a fire must pass through should take approximately 5 min.  Now today, I absolutely recommend leaving your house and calling 911 in the event of a fire, big or small.  However, in a future where that is not possible, and your life depends on that structure, and I stress this point, because fighting a fire with improvised gear and training puts lives at risk, then here are my recommendations.
Have at least 2 teams of 2 designated as the fire squad, this way you can always have one pair available when needed.  Lay in at least 4 sets of firefighter turnouts (if possible, they are expensive), or in a pinch lay in the heaviest and tightest woven wool jackets and pants available at your local Goodwill (don’t be afraid to do this over a period of time because you need true quality ones).  Additionally invest in at least (and I stress this as a minimum) 4, 3-cuft canisters of spare air, this size is approximately the size of a mans forearm, and weighs only a few pounds.   An SCBA (a typical firefighting breathing apparatus) is safer, because of its Positive pressure airflow system (if you crack the mask air comes rushing out of the hole, to keep any smoke from rushing in), but is logistically unrealistic even for the most well off, and the minimum weight for an SCBA rig is 30 lbs, which is simply not something you need to be adding when you’re already having the fight of your life.  The spare air design is fairly simple and basic, it’s a canister with a built in gauge regulator and mouthpiece, in the event of capsizing your kayak and getting stuck headfirst underwater or running out of air diving it is designed to give you the extra breaths needed to save your life.  This size gives ~57 breaths on the surface but keep your lips tight on it, you want to breathe the air in the canister, not the smoke in the room.  You will also need a properly installed hose (as discussed in "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It"), heat resistant goggles a wool balaclava, thick welders or barbequers gloves, and thick heavy boots without a steel shank (leather or durable black rubber can work here)  you will have less than 1 minute to gather and put these supplies on, so keep them in 1 spot, never ever move them, and practice just in case.  You will also need an axe, hatchet, heavy duty hammer, pry bar or basically anything to tear open a wall, but you should already have all, if not one of those tools for many other purposes around the house.

Enter with a 1.5-2 inch pressurized hoseline with firefighter tip (at least 50PSI to keep the flow of water coming out fast enough) and stay low, it can be more than 100 degrees cooler on the floor of a burning building than at 6’ so keep your head down, never be taller than a crouch.  Always keep one hand on the hoseline, always, since it is dark, noisy and if you lose your hoseline, you lose the only guaranteed way in and out of the environment you just entered.  As soon as you see smoke, begin breathing from your canned air( modern firefighters everywhere except require breathing before entering the building except for sky scrapers, but in this situation the risk of running out of air before the operation is done outweighs the extremely small risk of carbon monoxide contamination without other signs of combustion in room), and counting your breath (or time if you can resist the urge to breath faster with the panic 57 breaths should last ~5 min, but start leaving at 3 at the latest).  Attack the fire with a relatively narrow stream (firefighter tips will give everything from pure fog to a nearly perfect jet of water, stay somewhere between jet and 1’ wide at base of fire or you will find yourself moving a lot of hot smoke and ash around the room and right into your face).  Hit the fire hard at its base, you cant put out the flames you see in the air, it is the burning material at the bottom you need to be concerned about.  Once you have the fire “knocked back” as they call it, or basically what appears to be dying off, you need to open some windows to get airflow through the room, and you need to start tearing apart the walls.  It is critically important that you find any fire that has escaped into the wall and extinguish it before it has a chance to grow somewhere else.   Again, I hope no one ever has to fight their own home fire, it will be a tough situation, but in TEOTWAWKI, your life depends on your well stocked retreat, and in my opinion at least, it is worth risking my life to protect the safety and security of my friends and family. 

Medical Notes

The most important medical item that I feel that has not been fully covered in SurvivalBlog is advanced medications, and how to obtain them.  It is remarkably simple if you are a trustworthy person and have a good relationship with your family physician. There are many items that are critical to have, which today require prescriptions to obtain.  This either means looting in the perfect place when SHTF, stocking them ahead of time, or doing without. 

The easiest and least deceitful way is to talk with your doctor about your planning, and to ask them if they would be willing to write the required prescriptions.  Have a list, and be prepared to explain exactly why you would want each one, and swear up and down that you will not abuse it, this method may still fail, and may ruin your relationship with your Dr.  but you may luck out and he may be willing to make some or all of your needed prescriptions. If not… well… there are reasons doctors see as more fit than “I'm preparing for the end of the world”

 There are several methods to get antibiotics stockpiled for someday to come, but you must do this fairly regularly since, even though they will last longer than their 1 year marked shelf life, they do not last forever.   Talk to your doctor about a trip to Mexico, or other are notorious for bad water (in my case it was Belize), and ask if they can set you up with a precautionary prescription to take with you.  You will get a 10 day supply per person (each custom dosed, so only adults can switch, or similarly sized children, please don’t give an adult dose to a child even in TEOTWAWKI) of one of the strongest and least commonly resisted antibiotics we have today, it does however have annoying side effects (you will sunburn easily, and feel horrible) but personally I’d rather survive pneumonia, then sunbathe for two weeks.

Another method for obtaining quick packs of antibiotics, which have less side effects, only require a few pills typically, and might keep longer (because they come in foil sealed packets rather than an open air bottle) is to lie more directly (but it is very important to only use these antibiotics come TEOTWAWKI… modern medicine already uses antibiotics too often, increasing their frivolous use because you “felt like you had a cold” will only make more problems).  The next time you have a good congested nose, make an appointment with your Dr.  Tell him about your greenish yellow mucus discharge, productive cough, and severe sinus pressure with pain on touch, and he will most likely prescribe you a course of antibiotics and some Sudafed for your “sinus infection”.

Clotting factors:
Now your body has multiple, extremely complicated systems for clotting which are quite frankly amazing, but sometimes not enough.  In the event of a TEOTWAWKI +1 gunshot wound, you’re going to need something to help you clot, you could use the packaged Quick-clot or its equivalent, but these are messy and require being cleaned out surgically before healing can begin.  The best option in my opinion is a Chitin based bandage, these come in band-aid size to 4x4 and larger, but 2x2 is the most versatile.  But anything larger than Band-Aid sized requires a prescription.  My recommendation is to talk with a doctor about extended backpacking trips or hunting trips, and express concern that a severe wound received on the trail would prove fatal before making it back to society.  These bandages are relatively harmless, and have been quickly making their way from military only, to Military and EMS, to prescription, to OTC for Band-Aid size, so in a few more years the 2 x 2s may even be OTC as well, however in the mean time, the doctor will most likely be accommodating on that option.

Pain medication:
If you are going to have to repair a Gunshot Wound (GSW) Advil will simply not cut it.  Even if you are able to restrain your patient, the trauma of experiencing that kind of pain greatly reduces survival rate.  Even something as simple as a Tylenol narcotic mix, commonly prescribed for minor back pain or post surgical pain, will do wonders for reducing the strain during that trying time.  This one will be much harder to obtain.  One option is to horde all your left over medication, noting the size of the person for whom it was prescribed at the time it was prescribed on the bottle. (you can give doses for smaller people to bigger people easily with pain medication, however you should carefully think about anything that involves giving a larger person's dose to a smaller person).  Another option here is to obtain veterinarian quality pain medications, they are not appropriate for human consumption under normal circumstances, and may be almost as hard to obtain as human, but it is another route you can take.  Take extra caution with certain vet medications, ketamine, for ex is an extremely powerful hallucinogenic in many adults, however kids can take it quite safely (in the appropriate doses).  One final option, that could be a last resort is illegal street medications, heroin acts extremely similarly in the body to morphine (one of the most common heavy pain killers).  The largest problem with relying on street medications is impurity (often cut with things that are actually quite hard on your body, and wear on your heart valves in long term use), inability to know dosage concentration (because it’s a street drug, no dealers going to list 15mg heroin/mL dose on the side of his little syringe), and obviously the fact that its illegal.

IV supplies: 
These will be useful for hydration during an emergency operation, during rehydration for a potential refugee you pick up, or for administering the aforementioned pain medications.
Again if reasoning and pleading with your doctor fails, and you can’t simply borrow some supplies from work or a friend, the easiest way to obtain these is through your vet.  Cats commonly experience kidney failure during the end of their lives, aggressive treatment plans involve giving IV bags to families and having them administer 200-500 mL of Lactated ringers IV solution subcutaneous to their kitty every day.  If you care about your cat and they are experiencing kidney failure, please do not short the prescribed dose, instead change tubing slightly less often than they recommend, and once a month or so, claim to have screwed up and wasted a bag, the vet will happily sell you an extra one while you stockpile needles tubing and IV bags in your retreat.  IV fluids won’t keep forever, but if stored in a cool dark place, they can last years past their expiration date, if I needed one in TEOTWAWKI my rule of thumb would be to check the fluid itself, If it’s still clear with no punctures in the bag or cloudiness or flakes (which would be signs of bacterial growth) I would give it a go.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The two greatest tools that mankind has, the tools that pulled our species out of the wild and still separate us from base animals, are fire and the blade. A blacksmith crafts and uses both of these tools.  Whether you live in a frontier situation where you have to make do with what you’ve got and make it last or you’re planning ahead for a potential TEOTWAWKI situation, knowing how to shape iron and steel to suit your needs without the use of electricity is a good idea.  This article is intended as the most basic primer to give you, the reader, an idea of what’s involved.  My future articles may include the differences between various types of iron and steel or even video demonstrations of how to forge specific items and tools.

It’s important that you, the reader, understand that while blacksmithing is a frontier or survival trade, it’s not something that can be easily done “on the go” unless one has a vehicle to transport his equipment in.  More importantly, it should be understood that ‘functional’ doesn’t have to mean ‘pretty.’  If a tool or item will do the job it’s intended to do, it doesn’t matter if it’s pretty enough to be art or not.  Concentrate on learning to create functional tools and your hands will naturally learn how to make them into works of art along the way.

What You Need
When you strip away all the non-essential things, all a blacksmith needs to work metal is a hammer, an anvil and a ventilated heat source.  The first of these things is easy.  A hammer can be found laying around in any old barn in the world, or bought inexpensively from a hardware store.  A carpenter’s claw hammer will suffice in a pinch, but a heavier, more specialized hammer like a blacksmith’s cross-peen or an engineer’s hammer will generally produce results with less effort.  While it’s possible to fall down a rabbit hole of specialist tools for any metalworking occasion, I’d caution anyone new to the craft against getting a hammer that is too specialized or too fancy.  There are still many reports of blacksmiths in Africa and South America that still make do with smooth river stones as hammers, so there’s little reason to assume that one must have one of every shape of hammer in the world to work metal and besides… with a little practice, you’ll soon be making every tool you want or need.

An anvil of some type is a requirement.  Most people will have a mental picture of the English-style anvil from such sources as the Loony Toons cartoons of our childhood.  That makes for a good anvil, but all that’s really required of an anvil is that it be strong, hard and heavy, and having a flat surface will be a significant benefit to the smith.  The anvil is easily the most expensive tool a blacksmith will have and while one doesn’t want to skimp on this if at all possible, buying a new anvil is not always required (or even possible in the event of TEOTWAWKI).  A heavy piece of railroad track will make a suitable anvil for occasional use.  Your local scrap yard will undoubtedly have a plethora of potential makeshift anvils that will serve just fine.  In a pinch, the head of a sledgehammer can be sunk halfway into a bucket of concrete, leaving one of the striking surfaces exposed to act as a small but effective anvil face.

The last thing that’s required for smithing is a ventilated heat source (often called ‘the forge’).  A basic campfire generally does not produce enough heat to work iron, but a steady blast of air from the underside of the fire will increase its heat output.  While many modern designs can be used for a forge, the simplest by far is a length of metal pipe that is buried in the dirt so that it points straight up into the bottom of a campfire.  This pipe has air blown through it using an electric squirrel cage blower, a hand bellows or even the smith’s own lungs.  The airflow will consume more fuel, but the fire will burn much hotter… hot enough to make iron as pliable as clay.

Modern blacksmiths are fond of using propane as a fuel but in a pinch, most anything that burns relatively cleanly will get the job done.  Charcoal (carbonized wood, not the grill briquettes from the grocery store) is the easiest solid fuel for most people to obtain.  It can be made just by burning hard wood to a black, carbonized lump and then dousing it with water.  Coke is another old-time favorite, and is made by burning mined bituminous coal until it stops smoking and the sulfur and other impurities are burned out of it.  Wood may also be used if nothing else presents itself as an option, but it will take a lot more wood to produce a fire hot enough to work iron.

Some other items, while not strictly required, will be very useful for the smith.  Tongs are a blacksmithing staple.  They allow the smith to hold and handle small pieces of metal that would otherwise get too hot for him to hold.  They’re among the first tool that novice smiths make for themselves, but a pair of long-handled pliers or vice grips will suffice in the beginning.  Metal files and sandpaper are handy to have around, especially for precision work or bladesmithing.  Heavy welder’s gloves will also save the novice smith a certain amount of pain as he learns to feel his way around the fire.

Working Iron and Steel
Everyone has an iconic mental image of a blacksmith with rippling biceps pulling a glowing red bar from the fire and wailing on it with all his might, using a hammer that’s half a step away from being a sledge.  This image may be iconic, but it’s also thoroughly wrong and attempting to imitate it will produce very poor results.

Temperature control is something that many blacksmiths struggle with, and it’s one of the first things that any new smith is going to have to learn something about if he’s to succeed in his task.  Wherever the air feeds into the fire will be the hottest part of the forge, and while it might bring the metal to a workable temperature more quickly, the smith also runs a serious risk of melting his metal into unusable slag by applying too much heat.  Keep an eye on your material and rotate it often to ensure that it doesn’t overheat.  Remove your metal from the fire when it has a yellow glow to it and do not hammer on it once the color has faded, or you risk cracking your work.

Simply pulling a piece of metal out of the fire and hitting it aimlessly with a hammer is useful only if you’re trying to produce a flat, featureless sheet of metal.  Take some time to consider your work in advance and then plan for how to best go about shaping the metal to the design in your mind’s eye.  Think of the hot metal as though it were a piece of modeling clay.  If you were to smoosh the clay with your hammer in a specific way, how would that affect the shape of the overall piece?  Once this mentality, this way of thinking, sets in, you will begin to place your hammer blows so as to move the metal in predictable ways, rather than blindly hammering and hoping for a magical end result.

Quenching and Tempering
Another iconic image of the blacksmith that many seem to have in their mind is of the smith plunging a tool or weapon into a bucket of water or even a snow bank to make it hard and usable.  This is an iconic mage that is half right, actually.  Once a piece is finished, it is dunked into a liquid to cool it down quickly and make it hard by tightening the molecular structure of the material.  This is called ‘quenching,’ but there’s more to it than meets the eye.  To boil it down to the basics, you place your finished project in the fire until it just reaches a temperature where a magnet will not stick to it and then you plunge whatever section of your project you want to be hardened into a liquid.  This rapidly cools the metal down, causing it to compress itself at a molecular level and become super hard.  The speed at which your metal cools is important because while cooling faster will produce a harder end result, it has a greater chance of cracking your metal, thus rendering your hard-worked project useless.  Water quenches at a very fast temperature… some people say it’s too fast for most applications.  By far, more professionals use some manner of oil, as it has a slightly slower quenching speed.  Kitchen oils such as canola or peanut oils are fine for this application, as are most common industrial oils, such as brake fluid, automatic transmission fluid or motor oil. [JWR Adds: The usual fire prevention provisos of course apply!]

Testing whether or not your project successfully hardened should be your next step.  The most common way this is done is to rake an old metal file across the material.  If it doesn’t bite into the metal and instead slides across the surface with a sound like it was skating across glass, then you have achieved a suitable hardness from your quenching.

However, quenching is only half the battle.  At this point, you have a super hard metal project, but it’s also super brittle.  Were you to slap it against your anvil or drop it onto a concrete floor, it might well break into several pieces.  You need to reduce the brittleness of your work piece.  This is done by exposing it to relatively low levels of heat, which removes brittleness by sacrificing a small portion of your item’s new hardness, a process that’s known as ‘tempering.’  This is most easily done in a common household oven or toaster oven.  Just insert your work piece, set the temperature to 400 degrees and walk away for an hour.  If that’s not an option, the work piece can be tempered in the same fire it was forged in, so long as the smith is exceptionally careful.  First, clean off a section of your work with a file, sandpaper or some other method to expose a shiny metal surface.  Then place your piece back into the fire, being careful not to force any air into the flames, as was done during the forging.  Keep the piece moving and watch the shiny metal spot for a line of rainbow color that will begin to creep across it as heat moves in.  The color you want to look for will depend largely on the item’s intended use, but the colors most easily seen will be gold, straw, purple and blue, with each representing more of your item’s hardness removed.  If the item heats to the point where it begins to glow, even faintly, you’ve gotten it too hot and you must repeat the quenching and tempering process again, so keep your work moving!

Example Forging: A Simple Knife
A knife is perhaps the most useful tool one will ever need, especially in a TEOTWAWKI situation, and any blacksmith worth his salt can make at least a passable blade.  In this example, we will make a simple blade with a relatively shallow belly, a single edge, a straight tip and a simple handle… not unlike a Japanese tanto blade.  As of yet, I have not discussed the various types of steel, as I believe that subject is beyond the scope of this primer article (future articles may well focus on this subject), but finding a suitable bit of metal to forge a knife should be a piece of cake.  Find yourself a flat metal mill file (sometimes called a ‘bastard’ or ‘mill bastard’ file) in the 8-12 inch range.  They can be had very inexpensively from flea markets and pawn shops, but if worse comes to worst, you can always buy one new at a hardware store.

Please have a fire suppression device nearby before doing this.

Get your fire started and stoked and have more fuel standing by.  Place the end of the file in the hottest part of the fire.  Once it takes on a yellow glow, remove it from the flame and position it on the anvil so it’s standing up on what will be the spine of the blade.  Hammer the corner of the file, pushing it into the file and forming the end of the file into what will be your knife’s tip.  Lay the file flat and gently correct any warping you may have caused before it loses its glow.  Place the file back into the fire and keep repositioning it every so often so that the entire file heats up relatively evenly.  Once this occurs, take the file out of the fire and lay it flat on the anvil so that the side that is to become the cutting edge of the blade is positioned facing toward you.  Begin to hammer out the edge using a circular hammer stroke that draws the metal toward you.  Work quickly, but evenly and make certain to hammer along the entire edge, leaving enough of the file unhammered to act as a suitable handle.  Place the file back in the fire and heat it evenly as before.  This time, place the side you hammered last time face down on the anvil with the edge facing away from yourself.  Hammer the edge out on this second side, using a hammer stroke that pushes the metal away from you.  Repeat this process as many times as is needed, alternating which side you hammer on each time.  Once you have drawn the edge of your blade down to roughly the thickness of a dime (and no thinner), make certain your edge is straight.  Further, sight down the file at all angles to make certain everything is as straight as you can possibly make it.  Take some time and get this part right.  Once this is done, place the piece back in the fire and heat it evenly just until a magnet doesn’t stick to the metal anymore.  Once this occurs, dip the blade of the knife into a waiting container of oil.  Hold it there without shaking or stirring it until all the bubbling in the oil stops.

Please have a fire suppression device nearby before doing this.

Once the bubbling stops, remove the knife from the oil and wipe it down with a cloth to remove the oil.  Be careful, as the knife is still probably hot enough to burn bare skin if it touches you.  Use an old metal file and rake it across the knife’s edge.  If it bites easily, repeat the quenching process.  If it doesn’t bite easily and simply skates across the blade, your work has been successful.  Heat a toaster oven or your kitchen oven to 400 degrees and place the knife inside.  Leave it alone for an hour, and then turn off the oven.  To be certain this process is performed with 100% efficiency, you might want to let the oven cool, then turn it back on to 400 degrees and let it run for another hour.

Once your blade is tempered and cool enough to touch, wrap the handle with rope, paracord or whatever you have handy.  Sharpen the edge with a metal file and/or sandpaper and then move on to sharpening stones until the blade is as sharp as you want it.  Congratulations!  You just made the most useful tool you’ll ever own, out of a worn out old file!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

It’s the dead of winter. Snow is flying. There is nothing more comfortable in the cold of a winter season than knowing you are cozy in your home. You are warm and oblivious to the penetrating cold of the outdoors. But just how vulnerable are you to a sudden and unexpected power outage from an ice storm or another failure of the electrical grid? Do you depend on oil, natural gas, propane gas or electricity for your home heating? Under any circumstance, could your home heating system become unworkable? This article should help prepare you enough so you and your family won’t freeze to death if the grid goes down.

I have spent 37 years of my life working as a chimney sweep and/or a brick mason. So my first love of heating alternatives are solid fuel heaters. When I say solid fuel, I am specifically talking about wood, coal, or other biomass, which can be combusted in a controlled environment in exchange for the heating value--as measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs)--of the fuel source.  Wood fuel will average up to 8,500 BTU of heat per pound. Coal is approximately 12,000 BTU per pound. Variations of the actual BTU of heat potential will be specific to the density of the solid fuel being combusted and moisture content. Lighter density woods like pine and cedar will take a larger amount of wood to make the heat potential that a smaller amount of oak or hickory will produce. Of course one is limited to whatever is locally available. If you have a good source of coal locally available, that could be your fuel of choice.  However, it is unfeasible to import coal or wood from other regions of the country because of the transportation costs and energy expense of the transport.  For this reason I do not recommend pellet fuel as a viable survival fuel. I will talk about pellet stoves specifically a little later.

There are three types of solid fuel appliances. Fireplaces, free standing stoves, and central furnaces. Each has unique properties, advantages, and disadvantages. Out of the three categories, a fireplace is the most inefficient. A fireplace will achieve perhaps a 10% efficiency rating because most of the heat goes up the chimney. Dampers must remain partially open during all phases of the heating cycle. Glass doors help efficiency considerably over an open fireplace. A better fireplace will have ducting around the outside of the firebox to allow more heat exchange. Masonry fireplaces store more ambient heat than metal box fireplaces. But a metal box fireplace will put out more radiant heat in a shorter period of time. And a masonry fireplace is relatively difficult to add to an existing structure without major modifications in footings and other structural considerations.

 The installation of a wood burning stove in an existing fireplace, called an Insert will increase the efficiency of a fireplace upwards to a comparable free standing wood stove. But before installing an insert stove in any fireplace, be sure to check manufacturers instructions for both fireplace and the stove insert for compatibility! Failure to follow the instructions or the use of mismatched parts can lead to unsafe and potentially deadly consequences! Safety cannot be stressed enough when using solid fuel heaters. When properly installed and maintained, solid fuel heat is safe, efficient, and economical under any conditions.

If you choose to have a gas fireplace, or gas log, be aware that the convenience comes with an expense. If the fireplace has an electric igniter and the power is off, that appliance will not function. Without blower circulation heat build up can become excessive and unsafe. Gas logs can be added, but they are relatively inefficient and ever an increasing expense to operate. Also keep in mind that if there is a disruption in gas supplies and distribution, your gas appliance may become useless within a very short period of time. Propane gas appliances allow storage on site, which may buy you some time. But under a prolonged disruption of gas supply, that appliance will no longer be useful.

Free standing wood stoves are the most popular. They can be located centrally in a house or cabin for maximum heating. Many stoves come with an electric blower system, which improves efficiency. However in a power outage, the stove will still produce enough radiant heat to keep you warm.  Stoves that have no blower,  rely upon their design to produce area heating. EPA Certified solid fuel heaters will have an efficiency rating of 85%, which is nearly as efficient as gas heaters. You may be able to pick up an older, used wood stove for not a lot of money. But be aware that the stove may not have the highest efficiency and by law may not be legal in some environmentally sensitive areas. But in a survival situation, the goal is to keep from freezing to death. On a tight budget, an older stove is still a worthwhile investment if it is sound working condition.

 There is also a class of solid fuel heater called pellet fuel heaters. While they may be the current rage of environmentally friendly solid fuel heaters, they will not function without backup electricity. I used to own a pellet stove. They are nice when you have electricity, but worthless if the power goes off. Unfortunately the cost of transporting the wood pellets is making the fuel source very expensive per BTU of heat. If there is a disruption of the transportation grid, the fuel would become unavailable in many areas of the country. By and large, I would never recommend a pellet heater for a survival heater.

Third category of solid fuel heaters is central a furnace. My home was originally "all electric". A couple years ago we had a severe ice storm in Central Missouri that knocked out power to thousands of homes for over a week. My neighbors essentially had to leave their all electric homes because the temperature became unlivable. But I was able to remain in my home. Why?  I have a central wood furnace that is ducted into my heating system. Without electricity, the blower circulation will not function. But the radiant heat rose from the top of the furnace duct and circulated naturally through my central ductwork.  When it became evident that the power might not be restored for several days, I brought my portable generator into use. I located my generator in my detached garage and ran an electric cord through my clothes dryer vent, into my furnace room. From there I was able to power the wood furnace, freezer, and extra refrigerator. Warning: Because of the risk on carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, never place a generator in an attached garage or living space! Also be absolutely sure to "lock out" the circuit breakers to prevent a back feed condition to the grid power lines. During the power outage, several people needlessly died due to carbon monoxide poisoning because they placed generators in their attached garage and the CO gas entered the home. The goal is to survive here so be smart.

Another popular wood furnace is located outside the house. A generator could run that system from outside. But one disadvantage to an outdoor wood furnace is having to go outside to add fuel. If there is some kind of outdoor environmental situation that makes it unsafe to go outside, the indoor furnace can be fueled from inside wood storage for a few days. Not having to open doors preserves the indoor air quality. The indoor furnace will still send heat into the ductwork without a fan. The outdoor furnace has a much more difficult ducting system that may not transfer enough heat to sustain livability if power is lost completely.

Having a generator is very good for short term survival circumstances. But you may be limited on how much use you may get out of a generator if there is a long term disruption of gasoline delivery. You may be able to use a good generator sparingly and operate a wood stove or furnace fan for many days on 5 gallons of gas. But in the long term your solid fuel system should be capable of sustaining enough heat in your home to make it livable under the worst of winter conditions.

A solar electric panel with battery storage will operate a blower , so that could be another consideration for power to circulate heat or other power needs. [JWR Adds: An inverter would be required to run an AC fan. But when sourcing your power from a DC battery bank, running a DC fan is much more efficient.]

You may have to consider blocking off some rooms to keep the heat in the main area of habitation.  If your wood appliance has a cook top that is capable of basic cooking or boiling water that is a plus. If there is a disruption of water supply, the ability to melt snow or boil water on a cook top wood stove could allow you to process enough drinking water to sustain an ample survival water supply.

One last item to consider for a survival situation utilizing any solid fuel appliance is the chimney. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a clean and structurally sound chimney system. If your masonry chimney has cracked tile liners, or is unlined, I strongly suggest you have a Certified Chimney Sweep inspect your chimney and perform any necessary repairs before you consider using a solid fuel appliance. There are stainless steel chimney liners available to reline your chimney. If the chimney has ever been used to vent a gas appliance, the mortar becomes weakened by chemical reactions and is unsafe to use without the addition of a stainless chimney liner. Under no conditions should you vent a solid fuel appliance into a chimney being used by a gas furnace or gas water heater. This can create a dangerous condition. In addition, the gas damages the structure as I've already outlined.

The other type of chimney system is called a Class A Chimney. These systems consist of insulated, prefabricated sections of stainless steel pipe that snap or lock together. They can be fully supported by the ceiling rafters, which allow installation in areas where a masonry chimney is impractical. Where a masonry chimney requires a concrete footing, a prefab Class A chimney can be easily installed into any existing structure. A chimney should be cleaned and checked prior to use in the fall, and cleaned and rechecked at least once during the heating season to insure safety and long term durability.

All in all, as a matter of long term survival, alternative heat should be a top priority as an equal to food and water storage. Winter may be almost over for many, but now is the time to start gathering firewood for next season. As a rule, one acre of timber produces, by natural turnover, about a cord of wood every year. Not many trees need to be cut to heat your home. I will heat my 1,900 square foot home with two to three cords of firewood a year with very little electric furnace operation. But if you do cut a tree, be sure to plant one for sustainability of your wood supply. In a survival situation. One can never have enough dry, split firewood handy if the power grid goes down in the dead of winter.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dear JWR,
On March 14th at 2 a.m. it is the Daylight Saving Time change time in most of the US. So now is a very good time to check some things that you haven't thought about in a while. I'm sure you heard the Public Service Announcements to change the batteries in your smoke alarm and to test them. That is certainly a good thing to do, but is that the only thing you should do this time of year? Grab a pen and paper and let's look around your home.

Batteries and Battery Powered Equipment
Since you're changing some batteries already, this is also a great time to check the batteries in your flashlights, radios, and other battery powered equipment around your home and cars. Turn them on and see if they still work and if you still know how to use them.

First Aid Kit
Hopefully your first aid kit didn't see much use, but you need to check it for expired food and medications, put what needs replacement on your shopping list. If things have migrated to all parts of your home, bring them all back together into one central location. Update any contact information, medication changes or allergies in your document kit.

How Are Your Vehicles Doing?
You probably use your car every day but have you taken the time to really look at it recently?
Check your tire's pressure and look for signs of wear. Use a penny to check your tread depth, if you can see the top of Lincoln's head you need new tires. Look in the wheel wells for signs of rust.
Pop the hood and check the fluid levels and not just the oil and windshield washer but brake, steering and radiator. Look for leaks and worn belts.
Get a helper and make sure all the lights work.

What Did the Winter Do To Your Home?
How well has your house and property weathered the winter? You might want to start another page and call it the Honey Do list.
Check under sinks and around outside faucets for water leaks. Drain your hot water heater. Not only will this clear the buildup of mineral deposits and silt, it will make the hot water heater more efficient and give you more available hot water and faster too, but also more drinking water in case of an emergency.
Look around the foundation, driveway and sidewalks for cracks in the concrete.
Check your foundation, deck and fence for damage or rotting with a pocket knife, particularly around the base of posts. Small piles of sawdust indicate signs of vermin or insect intrusion.
Grab your binoculars and inspect your roof for missing shingles and flashing.
Test your lawn mower, generator and other gas powered equipment and their fuel.

Oh and don't forget to set you clocks the night before. "Spring forward, Fall back."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Good Morning Sir,
My question pertains to a February 24, 2010 blog post, where there was mentioned an EMP ground for one’s vehicle. This is the first I have heard of a ground wire for today’s vehicles that would prevent electronics from being damaged. Is this true sir? Thanks for providing us all the education to survive. - Tim S.

JWR Replies: A grounding strap offers only marginal EMP protection for a vehicle. The type that were mentioned are the sort that you can see used on many trucks, especially fuel delivery trucks, where the concern is a buildup of static electricity.

With a quick web search, I found one vendor on the Internet with straps at reasonable prices. They do eventually wear out, so you should probably buy several. But again, they are more for static electricity discharge protection than EMP protection. Sadly, the only way to make your vehicle truly safe from close proximity EMP is to convert it to a traditional ignition system. Alternatively, if you leave the electronic ignition system installed, you'd have to carry spare ignition components in a couple of layers of Faraday protection. ( Alternating layers of aluminum foil and ziploc bags should work fine.

I should also mention that once parked, while preparing to unload fuel, gas tanker trucks use a separate grounding cable, for even greater protection, from a static discharge kablooey.

It is important to note the EMP is a different animal than lightning, so the grounding rules are not quite the same. For example, a ground connection can actually be counterproductive to EMP shielding if you use a lengthy linear object underground, such as a water or sewer pipe. For anyone with a basic understanding of lightning protection, it may sound hard to believe, but EMP can actually couple with underground linear metal objects! So if you do decide to use a ground for any of your electronic gear, then don't use anything longer that a six foot long ground rod.

A SurvivalBlog reader who is an Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) engineer added these comments:
"Many people are under the false impression that a ground connection is some sort of magic sump into which they can dump electric current and electromagnetic fields they don't want. To some degree this impression comes from the fact that power lines and other electrical wires entering our buildings are grounded at the point of entry. The reason for this ground is to give a path for lightning strikes to wires external to the building a lower resistance path back to the source of the electric current (in this case the Earth) than though something inside the building. The service entrance ground rod does not play a part in electrical safety insidethe building provided by the ground wires run with the hot and neutral power wires. The key issue here is that the ground wires are connected to the neutral wire at the service entrance bond point. That same bond point is where the ground rod is connected, but the physical path to earth ground is not why the ground wires in the house help safety.

By the way this is why portable generators do not need to be grounded per the National Electrical Code (NEC). All they need is the internal bond from neutral to the ground wire.

In a similar way, when it comes to electromagnetic energy (radio waves) the important issue is shielding rather than grounding. The most effective shielding is made of a continuous conductive surface that totally surrounds what we want to protect. This is why the advice to wrap equipment that we wish to protect from EMP in aluminum foil is excellent. The continuous conductive surface of the foil with joints that overlap each other provides extremely effective shielding from all types of electromagnetic waves including those from EMP. Grounding the foil to an earth ground makes no difference in its effectiveness.

Static electricity also is stopped by shielding, and discharges to a conductive shield flow around the outside surface of the shield and do not damage equipment inside the shield. Again a connection to earth ground will make zero difference in the protection provided by the shielding.

Ground straps on vehicles provide a path to equalize the local static electric potentials and reduce the chance of a static discharge that might cause fuel fumes or other explosive or flammable gasses or liquids to ignite. A separate ground wire as you mention is even more effective. In both cases they work because they reduce or eliminate static electric potential differences that could cause a spark, not because they are tied to the physical earth."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Safety, Aluminum Sources, Melting, and Pouring

We are now at the most exciting and most dangerous part of the aluminum casting process. You will be working with fire, an extremely hot fire, fed with forced air. But the biggest hazard lies in a possible spill of molten metal. Before I even start the fire I wear tall, heavy leather boots, this is no place for sandals, or plastic tennis shoes. I also wear a pair of welders suede leather leggings, and a welders suede leather apron. It is wise to wear long pants and long sleeve shirts. This is a pain in the summer, but even with good clean charcoal there will be cinders blowing out of your forge. Make sure there are no flammable’s within a 10 foot radius of your work area. The most dangerous would be a forgotten 5 gallon plastic gas can laying near the forge. If you do not already have a fire extinguisher, then buy one, the biggest baddest [dry chemical A-B-C] one available, and keep it close by. When it is dry I take my garden hose and water down the entire forge area. [JWR Adds: Never do this anywhere except on soft soil. Wet gravel and concrete will spall into "formidalbe projectiles", in a steam explosion.] It is critical to protect your head, face, hands, and lungs. I wear a respirator, not a simple dust mask, but a respirator with a valve. Molten metal gives off toxic fumes that you don’t want in your lungs. I also wear a standard military issue boonie hat, this keeps cinders out of your hair. I wear a full [Lexan] face shield, the kind that you wear when brush hogging or grinding. Lastly, you need to wear thick leather gloves, since your hands will be closest to the heat. Lineman’s gloves or welder’s gloves are best. And if you have not guessed already, you need to do this outdoors. There is one last safety step you will perform when doing the actual pour and I will cover that later.

You are going to need some aluminum to melt. Look around, chances are you already have pieces of aluminum scrap. The trick is to find or cut down scrap pieces that will easily fit into the crucible. Yes, you can heat up an automotive transmission in a charcoal fire and bust it down into smaller pieces, but that takes an enormous amount of work. Stay away from aluminum soda cans, they provide very little metal when melted, and are coated in latex that gives off foul fumes, and can contaminate your melt. The absolute best aluminum scrap around are door and window frames. Almost every window made has aluminum bars that hold the glass in. Once the glass and rubber gaskets have been taken out, the window panes and door frames, can be pulled apart into nice long bars. If there are any steel rivets, screws, or hinges they need to be removed prior to melting. If they are painted, don’t worry about it, the paint will burn off quickly. You don’t even need to cut them down, just feed them vertically into the crucible, once melting temperature has been achieved. I have a scrap dealer/junk peddler in the neighboring town who sells me all the window panes and door frames I can carry for just a couple dollars. Unfortunately not all of us have a good scrap dealer, but do look around, if you can’t find one then you will have to get creative in finding aluminum to melt. Many scrap yards do not even sell scrap to the general public anymore, they only buy scrap, and this irritates me to no end. Be prepared to cut down many pieces of scrap into smaller pieces.

You will be astonished at how many chunks of solid aluminum scrap it takes to fill a crucible with molten metal. So before you begin have it all cut and ready to feed the melt. You also need to keep your charcoal fuel close at hand in a covered container. I had a cinder ignite my entire barrel of charcoal one night. You will have to re-fuel the forge quite often, it is also important to have your fire tools close at hand also. I rest mine on a metal table next to the forge, along with my melting scrap, and keep my fuel under the table. Attach your air supply to the air pipe on your forge, I place a small piece of plywood over the air supply to keep it from sucking in embers and ash. Make sure there is a flat level spot next to your forge, a cinder block or brick can be used also. This is to set the crucible on to re-fuel. With a pick or shovel cut some small 1" x 4" trenches in the dirt near the forge, make sure the trenches are away from your main working area. This is where you will dump any leftover aluminum after the pour. You next will fill your crucible with scrap, for these starter pieces, make sure none protrude out of the crucible, get the crucible as full as you can. Fuel the forge with charcoal, fill it at least halfway up, also put your forge lid into place.

Now for the last safety step, you need to do a practice run for your upcoming pour. Go and get your mold and set it down carefully near the forge. Get your hooks, one in each hand, and practice lifting it, practice attaching the second hook to the lower manipulation ring, and practice pulling the bottom up on your crucible for the pour. What we are doing is getting your orientation right, the orientation of your body to the forge, crucible, hooks, and mold. Figure how you are going to move, where you are going to stand, and where everything needs to be located when you move the molten metal from the forge to the mold, for the pour. Make adjustments until you are comfortable with the location of everything and your movements are smooth and fluid. You can leave the mold in place if you like, but put a piece of plywood over it. If it is going to get in the way, then put it up, but remember how and where it needs to be placed. Move the mold slowly and carefully!

Don’t turn on the air supply just yet, I squirt a little lighter fluid over the charcoal and then drop in a lit match. Let the charcoal catch for a bit before turning on the air supply. Take your crucible and set it in the forge on top of the charcoal. Things will begin to heat up, I like to do the actual melting at night, the darkness allows you to see what is going on in the forge and crucible. Have patience it takes some time for the concrete of the forge to heat up, you will not melt any metal until this concrete is hot and refracting heat.

Let the fire burn for a time and then grab your skimmer, I run the skimmer down into the charcoal bed to gauge how much has burned off. If you see a large quantity of ash, then its time to re-fuel. You must turn off the air supply before re-fueling. At first when I re-fueled I just dumped the charcoal into the forge, this was difficult because much of it would wind up in the crucible, too much. When I re-fuel now, I first turn off the air supply, then I grab one of my hooks and carefully lift the crucible out, and place it on the level spot you made earlier. A minute or two out of the fire will not make a big difference. Then I scoop out several handfuls of charcoal with my gloved hands, and drop it into the forge. I then take my hook and lift the crucible and set it back atop the new fuel and turn on the air supply. This also gives you further practice in manipulating a hot crucible. The metal is not molten yet and is still relatively light. It is later on that great care must be taken.

I need to cover why you are resting the crucible on an unsteady bed of charcoal. On one of my earlier melts I rested the crucible on the forge bottom and just kept fueling around it. The aluminum heated up and began to melt then it re-solidified, and no matter how much fuel I kept burning around it, it would not melt. After an hour of this, I took the crucible out and looked at it, the sides were orange hot, but the bottom was not glowing at all. It is crucial that the bottom of the crucible be brought up to a high temperature, if not, there will be no melt. I welded up a little table for the crucible to rest on while in the forge, at first it worked, but when ash built up I had the same problem as before. You could also scoop out the ash at intervals during the burn, but you will be losing heat and wasting fuel. A 3" or 4" diameter pipe that is 8" tall will not fall over in its 8" diameter forge. It may shift some and later it may spill some aluminum, but a small aluminum spill in the forge is neither dangerous or explosive, and the spilled aluminum is easily removed and recovered once the forge has fully cooled. My very first attempt at a crucible was a chopped down empty propane cylinder. I got the aluminum to melt, then the bottom of the propane cylinder burned out, and the entire charge of aluminum went into the forge. I did not even notice it, one second it was full of aluminum, the next second it was empty.

After your third or fourth re-fuel, take a good look at your crucible, gently push down on the aluminum with your skimmer. If it gives at all then it has begun to melt, re-fuel and keep the heat on it. You will see a layer of charcoal and ash beginning to form on the aluminum. This is not a concern and the ash layer actually protects the aluminum, allowing gasses to burn off while keeping other unwanted gasses from entering the melt. Before long your charge of aluminum will have melted, you will see just a small amount of silver molten metal in the crucible covered by a layer of ash. A filled to the top crucible now has less than an inch of molten metal. You have reached melting temperature and the pace is going to quicken, the walls of your forge are now very hot and refracting. This is the fun part, when this happens I find that time flies by, and all your concentration is on the melt. Re-fuel and begin feeding aluminum into the melt, when the crucible is taken out, the entire pipe is orange hot. It will stay orange hot while you are fueling. I only feed the melt when it is in the forge. If you are fortunate enough to have the long aluminum bars, simply put it in the crucible vertically and hang on to the cool end with your tongs. It will quickly melt into the crucible. If you are using broken bits of scrap, only feed them to the melt with the tongs. The temptation to put them in with gloved hands can get you burnt in a hurry. Mind your fire tools, the hook you just used to remove the crucible is still very hot when you set it down to grab your skimmer. I got branded one night for not minding my fire tools.

Continue re-fueling and feeding the melt, when the crucible is half way filled with molten metal, you need to skim out the charcoal and ash layer, otherwise known as dross. First take your skimmer and stick it into the charcoal, get it red hot, this prevents the aluminum from sticking to the skimmer. Now work the skimmer washer across the dross layer and pull up as much dross as you can. Some aluminum will come out with the dross, don’t worry about it. Pull the skimmer out of the crucible and forge, and rap it against the metal side of the forge towards the bottom. The dross and captured aluminum will drop off onto the ground and can be collected and disposed of later when everything has cooled. Repeat until the molten aluminum is mostly cleaned off. You do NOT want to stir the molten metal, you just want to get the trash off the surface. If you stir the metal it can capture air and gasses you don’t want in the melt. With the melt cleaned off, have a look at it, you will see the quicksilver of the molten metal but aluminum also has an orange aura around it. Even when it is out of the crucible, but still molten, it will have this orange glow around it. Continue fueling the fire and feeding the mold until the melt is nearing the top of the crucible. It is up to you to judge the amount of metal you need to fill a mold. And you get better at this each time you do it. For the 6" X 6" sphere you will need the crucible to be pretty full. It is not just the pattern cavity that needs to be filled, but the sprue, riser, filter trench, and channels as well. It is far better to have too much metal than not enough.

With your crucible nearly full, I like to carefully take it out of the forge, you should be pretty good at this by now, for one last re-fuel. Put it back into the forge and turn the air supply back on. This last heat will bring the impurities to the surface. Be sure to orient the crucible so its lower manipulation ring can be accessed from the standing position you practiced earlier. Get your mold and tools ready it is almost time to pour. After letting the final heat work its magic for several minutes, turn the air supply off, and repeat the process of skimming the dross from the metal. Hooks in hand get into your pouring position, lift the crucible out, it will be heavy so exercise caution. Attach your second hook to the lower ring and move the crucible over the mold. Your target is the funneled out sprue hole. Slowly raise the bottom of the crucible and let the metal run into the sprue. Do not stop pouring for any reason, a brief interruption can cause the metal to solidify and wreck the casting. Slow and steady, slow and steady! While pouring, keep your eye on the riser, when you see the aluminum come up to the surface of the riser, you are finished. Stop the pour and move the crucible over to the trenches you cut in the dirt earlier. Pour out any remaining metal into the trenches. You can use an ingot mold instead of trenches for this as well. You need to get all the remaining metal and trash out of the crucible before it cools. Once I have poured off the remaining metal I will hold the crucible with both hooks, bottom up, and tap the mouth of the crucible on the ground several times. This does a good job of cleaning it out for the next melt.

| Look at your mold, if you see aluminum bubbling out of the sprue, your sand was too wet and not properly burned out. Chances are the casting is blown, but this is not always the case, so don’t lose all hope. Once in a while you get a poor fitting between the sand in the cope and the sand in the drag. When this happens aluminum will briefly come out from the seams. It will burn the wood and smell terrible but don’t touch it, just let it cool, and once again, this may not necessarily ruin the casting. If you see just a little steam and water coming out of the vent holes then chances are the casting is a good one. But there is only one way to find out for sure, open the mold and have a look. Keep in mind that it is still very hot inside the mold. I wait 20 minutes before breaking the mold open. Even after 20 minutes you can get a steam burn so wear gloves. While you are waiting clean up your mess, put your tools and air supply away. The forge will stay hot for 12 to 15 hours depending on the outside temperature, so don’t worry about cleaning it up until the next day. The crucible will stay hot for a while, just let it cool.

In the next installment, I will cover: breaking the mold, possible disappointment, and cleaning up the casting.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Forge Fuel & Homemade Charcoal

The aluminum melting forge is fueled by hardwood charcoal. To begin making charcoal you are going to need 2 steel barrels. One standard size 55 gallon drum will serve as your outer barrel, the second barrel is a little more difficult to acquire. The inner barrel or actual charcoal out gassing barrel needs to be small enough to fit inside the 55 gallon barrel. The smaller barrel also must have a lid that can be locked in place during the cooking and removed later to extract the charcoal. I was fortunate enough to find Military food barrels at a local surplus store. These are 25 gallons, they come with a lid and locking ring. If you are fortunate enough to find some of these buy as many as you can, they are highly useful. I keep all of our dried goods in them, they are great for storing and mulling your casting sand, and ideal to make charcoal. Drill or knock roughly 8 holes in the barrel lid, the holes do not need to be more than ½" in diameter. These holes will allow your hardwood to out-gas.

Next, you need to come up with some hardwood pieces. Split firewood logs work you just need to make sure the pieces are small enough to fit into the forge. Most woods make good charcoal especially pine, construction sites will often allow you to haul away their cut-off scrap , but you cannot use plywood, since it is highly toxic when burned. The same goes for any type of [resin-impregnated] particle boards.

Fill your smaller barrel up with hardwood, go all the way to the top, just make sure there is enough room to put the holed lid on and lock it. Now place the smaller barrel(Holes Up) into the larger 55 gallon drum. There is another method where the holes are places down and gasses coming off the hardwood can fuel the fire, I have never had any luck with this method. For the charcoal making burn in the 55 gallon drum, tree trimmings work quite well. It takes some time for the fire to get hot enough to burn away the volatile gasses from the hardwood leaving you with charcoal. You will need to keep feeding the fire and watch the holes in the charcoal barrel. When the correct temperature is reached flames will shoot out of the holes of your charcoal barrel, this is the out gassing. After the volatile gasses have burned off I add one more round of fuel to the fire and let it burn out. Usually I let the whole thing cool overnight, it is not worth the trouble to get in a hurry and haul a hot heavy barrel out of another hot barrel. The next day, take your 25 gallon barrel out, pop the lid and have a look. You should have nice black charcoal pieces ready for the forge. This is enough charcoal for one melt, it will ignite easily and burn clean and hot. The pine charcoal is also great for use in your steel forge, and will cook an excellent steak as well. There are many other methods available to make your own charcoal but this method works and is fairly inexpensive and does not take up too much space in your yard.

If you have the funds and do not want to go through the process of making your own charcoal, then it can be purchased. There is a brand of hardwood chunk charcoal for around $8 for 20 pounds, it works well in the forge, you can also use the cheaper dollar store briquettes. The little square charcoal briquettes have some big drawbacks, they are hard to ignite and even worse they are extremely messy when used as forge fuel. The air flow causes them to spit small chunks off while burning, and these little cinders go everywhere, they can cause fires, burn you and fill up your crucible with trash while melting. I would only use the briquettes as a last resort. You have fuel, you have a forge and crucible, you have sand, flask and tools, it is time to draw your first mold.

Drawing the Mold

There is an art to drawing your mold that can only be learned by doing. It took me two years to get this process down and I still consider myself a novice. I need to mention again that you have to keep pushing forward and try, try, try If your mold goes wrong and falls apart, keep trying If your mold goes right and your pour gets ruined wasting hours of work, keep trying Nothing in life, that is worth doing, is ever easy. You will get discouraged, you will have failures, but don’t give up. I am going to talk you through a split pattern mold. This is the easiest one to do, I recommend that you draw many molds before even lighting a fire, I wish that I had.

You are going to need some parting powder, parting powder or dust is sprinkled liberally over the parts to be replicated and at the seams of your cope and drag. The parting dust provides a barrier that allows parts to be removed and seams to be separated without adhesion to the surrounding casting sand keeping your two part mold intact. I use diatomaceous earth as my parting dust but I started with common baby powder. I drew many a mold with baby powder before learning that the baby powder absorbs moisture while diatomaceous earth does not. The difference between the two, in my opinion, are hardly noticeable. For a parting dust spreader simply put some dust into an old foot sock, hold the sock end closed and shake vigorously over your parts to build up a layer.

You are going to need a pattern, this is the object you wish to make a negative of in casting sand so a positive can be made in aluminum. For these beginning molds keep it simple don’t try to make a candelabra for your first mold, or in retrospect, a light saber. Lets say that you want to make an aluminum sphere 6 in diameter and you already have that sphere but it is just a wood ball at this point. For the split pattern mold start by cutting your wooden sphere in half . You now have two half spheres that need some alignment points, so the two halves fit together exactly the same way each time you separate them. Two small 1 nails with the flat end cut off will serve this purpose. Drive both nails ½ deep into one sphere half, match each up in the opposite sphere half and drill a ½ deep hole using a drill bit with a slightly larger diameter than the nail. The two sphere halves can now be joined together using the nails. Make sure that the fit is not tight as you will want them to separate easily in the mold. Now that you have a pattern it is time to start using all that homemade equipment. I trust that you have added water to temper your sand? This should be done, ideally, the night before drawing your mold, but the sand can be tempered in just one hour if you forgot. I keep my sand in one of the lidded barrels mentioned earlier, so it is always tempered and ready to go. Contrary to what many have written do not be overly concerned about adding too much water to your sand, I will cover a drying process a little later on. Grab a handful of your sand and squeeze it together in your fist. It should be wet to the touch but not slimy or runny. When you open your hand you should have a nice fist shaped ball in your palm. Grab the fist shaped ball in both hands and break it, it should offer some resistance and the break should be clean. If it is overly crumbly you need to add more water and possibly some more bentonite. You will know with a bit of practice.

Rest one of your backboards between the 2x4s on your casting table then grab your cope. Place the cope triangle points facing down and resting off each side of the backboard. You need a flush fit between the cope and the backboard with no gaps. Take the sphere half with no nails in it and place it(flat side down, concave side up) on the backboard centered roughly in the middle of the cope. Take your sock of parting dust and shake it vigorously over the cope and the sphere half pattern. You want a good covering of parting dust over the backboard (floor) and over the pattern, if it looks thick to you, don’t worry about it, the casting sand itself will compact the parting dust layer. Being careful not to shake the pattern lay your riddle on top of the cope, you should have sand at the ready on your casting table. Grab a handful of sand and place it in the riddle, gently at first, begin pushing the sand through the wire mesh. You can use a plastic paint scraper for this if you like, but I just push it through with my fingers. Keep going until you have a good layer of sand over the entire cope bottom and pattern, the sifted sand should come up to the bottom of your wire mesh. Pick up your riddle and set it aside, then gently push the sand down with your hands, compacting it around the pattern and cope floor. Put your riddle back onto the cope and push through another layer of sand but this time make sure the sifted sand covers the corners and sides of the cope. Again put aside your cope and compact the sand with your hands. The first and second layer of sand over the pattern are the most important, this is the sand that the aluminum will make contact with. Compact it carefully at the cope edges and corners, you have now effectively locked the pattern down in sand.

Riddle another layer of sand into the cope and this time when you compact it with your hands you can push down harder making sure that you are capturing all the detail of the pattern. Compact the sand on the pattern and the pattern sides, you want to make sure there are no voids or empty spots which can misshape the casting. One last layer of riddled, hand compacted sand, should be enough for a simple casting. Now you can just grab handfuls of sand and fill the cope, it is now that you will use the rammer. For each layer of sand put in, you need to compact its entire surface area with the rammer, paying close attention to getting the sand at the corners good and tight. Start ramming at the edges first, it is OK now to push down hard, and work your way into the middle of the cope, with the rammer. Keep doing this until the cope is full and the compacted sand is an inch higher than the 2 X 4 walls. Take your stiff straight edge and using the 2 X 4's as your guide scrape or cut off the sand. You want the sand flush with the 2 X 4's. Now take your other backboard and rest it the same way as the first on your casting table. Gently pick up the filled cope, flip it over and rest it (Pattern Up) on the second back board. Do not worry, the compacted sand has formed a friction hold with the wood of the cope and will not fall out. With a larger flask you need to add some sand holders but a small 12 X 12 flask holds just fine with friction.

Have a look at the first half of your mold, you will see only the sphere half bottom surrounded by whitened sand (Parting Dust). Clean off the edges of the wood only, if any particles have gotten onto the mold itself they can be blown right off with either a small bellows or your mouth. Try not to inhale any particles when you are readying yourself to blow. With the cope resting on the back board it is time to make the second half of the mold. First grab the other half of your pattern and mate it to the first sphere half using the nail guides. Next grab your drag and using the alignment triangles, which are now facing up, mate the drag to the cope. Make sure the 2 x 4's of both the cope and drag are flush with each other with no particles between them. Sprinkle in a hearty layer of parting dust over the pattern and the drag (Floor) which is now sand and completed pattern instead of the backboard. Then exactly repeat the sand riddling and compacting process you just completed with the cope. Fill past the drag top and scrape off the excess with the straight edge just like before.

You are ready to separate the mold, making sure you have your second back board in place, grasp the handles of the drag and gently pull it apart. Sometimes you need to wiggle it a bit to get it to separate from its triangle guides. Once it has parted, flip the drag over (pattern up) and set it on the second backboard. The cope and drag should be lying next to each other and they should both contain a pattern half. This is why it is important to maintain a loose fit on your pattern guide nails. If half of your pattern does come out of the sand, DON’T PANIC, at this stage many errors can still be corrected. Continue the separation of the mold and get the cope and drag rested, then gently pull the pattern half that came loose off, making sure you don’t pull out the other half in the process, then simply place it all the way back into its mold. If it did come loose then most likely some of the sand at the edges in direct contact with the pattern came loose as well. This too can be fixed by pressing in some extra fresh sand, once the pattern is back in place, and smoothing it with your fingers. If it wants to crumble on you, dip your fingers into some water then smooth it.

It is very important that your pattern remain in the mold during the next step, which is sprue, riser and channel cutting. The sprue is the actual hole in which the molten metal will be introduced to the mold, on the opposite side of the sprue; I like to cut a riser, the riser is a hole smaller in diameter than the sprue, in which the molten metal can exit the mold after passing through and filling the pattern cavity. Many sand casters do not use a riser but having this second hole in the top of your mold has several advantages. It adds extra molten metal weight to the pattern cavity and it also tells you when the mold is holding all the molten aluminum it can handle. It is awful when you overfill a mold with aluminum, molten metal running off the sides, is dangerous, to say the least, and when it hits your 2 X 4's it catches them on fire and emits a foul smoke. My casting flasks have many burns. Now there is a complex mathematical equation that explains how molten metal weight gets your pattern cavity filled, but to put it simply, the weight of the metal at the sprue and the riser will fill the pattern cavity nicely before it cools enough to solidify. Lastly you need to cut channels or gates from the sprue to the pattern, and from the pattern, to the riser. Think of them as small canals that allow metal to flow.

The sprue and riser will be cut into the cope or top part of the mold only. To accomplish this you will need your 1 and 1 ½” diameter segments of pipe that are roughly 6 to 8 inches in length. PVC pipe works but thin walled metal pipe works even better. With the pattern still facing up in your cope look where the most empty sand area is, you do not want the sprue to be too close to the pattern or the wooden cope wall, find an area that has at least 1 of sand between both the pattern and cope wall. This is why it is important to center your pattern in the flask. For this hypothetical pattern there is plenty of empty sand room all around. Pick a patch and run your 1 ½ diameter pipe vertically all the way through the cope sand until you strike the wood of the backboard. Then gently pull the pipe back out vertically, the cut sand will remain in the pipe, and you have just cut your sprue. Now repeat the process with the smaller diameter pipe on the opposite side of the pattern, the sand will remain in the pipe and you have added a riser to your mold. Be sure to remove the casting sand from your sprue and riser pipes with a long screwdriver, if it dries in the pipe, it is a pain to get out. Now you need to pattern out the location of the sprue and riser holes in the drag or bottom part of the mold so you can cut your channels. This patterning in the drag does not need to be 100% accurate so you have several options. 1. Put the cope and drag back together and run your pipes back through the holes to make an indentation in the drag sand. 2. Take a ruler and measure the location of the holes in the cope then use the measurements to find them in the drag. 3. Just guesstimate.

With your drag (pattern up) it is time to cut your channels and filter, this is where you will use your bent kitchen spoon. The channels and filter will be cut in the drag sand only. The filter is a trough or trench cut below the sprue (Larger Hole) its purpose is to catch any errant particles or trash that may get caught up in the molten metal pour as it runs down the sprue. The particles and trash collect in the bottom of this small trench and allow clean metal to run through the channel into the mold cavity. It sounds far more technical than it is, simply cut a small trench in the drag sand below the sprue. It is important that the filter trench be slightly lower than the channel. From your filter trench cut a straight U shaped channel all the way to the wood of the pattern, scoop away the excess sand and drop it into your casting table. Be sure to blow away any particles that may fall onto the mold. Smooth down the entire filter trench and channel with your fingers, any excess particles will be washed into the pattern cavity when you pour. The riser channel is a bit easier, there is no filter trench to worry about, just cut another U shaped channel from the riser to the pattern and smooth it down with your fingers.

Now we need to remove the two wooden sphere halves (pattern) from the mold. This is where your rapper comes into play, start with the pattern half that has the nails in it. Use the nails as your rapping points. Take your Y shaped rapper and gently strike the nail with the two rapping bolts using a side to side motion. I must emphasize gently here, you are not trying to knock out the pattern, you are trying to loosen the pattern from the surrounding casting sand. Rap both of the nails until you see the wooden pattern move just slightly in the sand. When you see the slight movement it means the pattern is free and can be lifted out. Grasp a nail in each hand and slooooowly wiggle or rock it out. If there is any damage along the edges don’t panic and follow the procedure detailed earlier in this segment. Now to rap out the wooden pattern half with no nails. To create a rapping point I use a small punch inserted into the holes drilled earlier. Once it has been rapped loose from the casting sand, two small punches, or something similar, will be used as the grasping points. Insert a tool into each hole, angle each tool to create a friction hold and wiggle it out. With the pattern removed you need to smooth down the channels cut earlier with your fingers, where they meet the pattern cavity, this will allow an unobstructed flow of molten metal into and out of the cavity.

We have one last cut to make in the sand, this is the funnel cut, and it will be performed on only the cope. Take your cope and rest it on its side, make sure it does not fall and ruin your work. You are going to make this cut from the top side of the cope. With the pattern cavity side facing away from you locate the sprue hole (Larger Hole). Take your dull X-Acto knife or even a butter knife and cut a funnel shape around the sprue hole. This greatly helps with the accuracy of the pour, channeling the molten aluminum directly into the sprue. Smooth the whole funnel cut down with your fingers. Be careful not to cut the funnel too deep, this can weaken or ruin the mold cavity on the other side. Before laying the cope back down you need to vent the cavity. This is an important step performed on the cope side only. When the molten aluminum hits the wet sand it creates steam, the vent holes in the cavity allow the steam to escape. Grab the vent wire you made earlier, rotate the cope so the pattern cavity is facing you. The venting only needs to done on the pattern cavity, nowhere else. Push the wire through the cavity until it pokes through on the other side where you just made your sprue funnel. Go gently and slowly with the vent wire both when pushing and pulling it back out. I believe in profuse venting, so on a 6 pattern cavity like the one described, I would vent it 20 times, make sure the vents are all over the cavity. When you are finished with the venting wire while the cope is still on its side, blow off any and all excess particles from both the top and bottom. If a particle is giving you trouble just wet your finger tip, or even a Q-Tip and gently touch the rogue particle, it will stick to the wet surface and can be removed.

Burning the mold is the last step, and once again it is an important step. Steam is our enemy and will ruin the casting. You need to get as much moisture as you can away from the points that will make contact with the molten aluminum. To accomplish this your friend the propane torch will be utilized. Ignite your torch and start burning, burn your sprue and riser from both sides, burn your channels and filter trench, and burn that cavity especially the drag (Bottom Side). You will see the moisture burn away from the sand when the blue flame is put to it, once the moisture has burned away, the sand becomes harder and more brittle, you must be very careful not to bang the cope or the drag. When the mold has been burned blow off any excess particles, it helps to turn the mold cavities upside down and hold them above your head and blow. Lastly you need to very, very carefully put your cope and drag together. You have just drawn a mold It is ready for the pour, a good rule to follow is never start a fire until you have fully drawn your mold. You can prepare the forge before drawing the mold but don’t ignite it.

I need to also note that you are under a bit of a time constraint after burning the mold. As soon as the torch is shut off, moisture begins to creep back into the burned spots. My own rule on this is to re-burn the mold if it has set for two hours. [JWR Adds: Or less, in very high-humidity climates!] As for making a mold one day and using it on the next day, forget it, it is a same day deal. There is also an internet rumor floating around that if your sand is too wet the mold can explode. I have poured into overly wet sand on several occasions, the casting was wrecked, but there was no explosion. The venting and burning of the mold will alleviate any steam problems making an explosion impossible. Aluminum has a melting point of 1,220 Degrees F, this is a relatively low melting temperature, which is why aluminum is such a good metal for the backyard caster. If you were to melt copper you would be dealing with a melting point of nearly 2,000 degrees F, with this much higher temperature an overly wet mold explosion is a real possibility. The next installment of this article will cover safety concerns, the melt and the pour. (So don't start doing anything except mold-making until you have read the next installment!)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mr. F. has written a very good article on a subject often neglected by many. As a fire service professional working for one of the largest municipal agencies in the country, I must warn against the use of candles whenever possible. Paranoid? Not after seeing burned up children, loss of property, etc. If you must, please place them well away from any combustible materials, and never carry one when lit. - SplitHoof.

JWR Replies: I generally discourage the use of candles, but if and when they are used, my advice is to: 1.) Never let them burn unattended, and 2.) Over-engineer their supports. Don't just use a cup-base candlestick holder. Place candles in the middle of a large cookie sheet or a broiler pan. (Look for well-used ones at thrift stores and at garage sales.) That way, even if a candle were to burn unevenly and tip over, there would be no risk of a fire.

Mr. Rawles-
The subject of fire safety is seriously overlooked in preparedness, as evidenced by the large losses of life and property we experience even in "normal" times. Mr. F's piece is a needed wake-up call.

Allow me to add that there is good reason for owning the proper fire extinguishers in the event of an attack on your retreat/home.

Those of us that remember the 60's will recall that the Molotov Cocktail was a favorite weapon used by rioters and general trouble makers. These were generally gasoline filled bottles with some primitive ignition device like a fuel soaked rag. Some had more sophisticated ignition. Generally they were not good weapons and not too effective. However if one lands in your living room it can at least distract you from more important matters.

A portable fire extinguisher rated as ABC for the three classes of fire in the 10 to 20 pound range is sufficient to quickly take care of one of these improvised incendiary. I have both demonstrated this and seen it demonstrated in more controlled tests. A few extinguishers at the ready can do dual duty in peace and war. Consider them as you would firearms and get them big enough and in quantity. - Palmetto


Mr. Rawles,

I'd like to add a quick aside to Mr. F's excellent article on Survival Fire Safety:
I've always had an interest in firefighting, but not so much that I ever considered it an appropriate career option. About a year and a half ago, we moved out of a major metropolitan area to the outskirts of a very small town (census population less than 100) a few hours away to establish a retreat and small family farm where we now live.

Shortly after moving here, I realized that most all the fire departments were staffed by volunteers. I asked around, and eventually got in touch with the chief of our local volunteer fire department. Long story short, I went through a few dozen hours of state-funded training and am now an active member of our local department. I was issued a full set of structural firefighting protective gear (boots, turnouts, gloves, Nomex hood, and helmet) which stays with me at all times. I was also issued a pager, and a radio is soon to come. There are ongoing training opportunities available, including medical training which I plan to take advantage of later this year.

Over the past six months, I've responded to a number of fire calls—ranging from very minor to one recent call where a just-vacated house burned clear to the ground in the middle of the night, having progressed much too far by the time a neighbour discovered there was even a fire. To say I've gotten valuable real-world training and experience in even this short time span would be an understatement. It's made me re-evaluate how and where we store liquid fuels, more closely monitor our woodstove/chimney and electrical system, and generally be more cognizant of combustibles in and around our home and how we should respond in the event there is a fire. We've always kept fire extinguishers on hand and maintained smoke alarms, but I'm now much more deliberate about these important items. Our department historically deals with quite a few brush/woodland fires in the warmer months, so I'm anticipating those learning experiences to come as well.

What's more, in addition to now being trained and equipped, I'm on my way to becoming a much more active and recognised member of the community. My wife's family has been here for generations, but we're new and our name was previously unknown. Now, I'm serving my community in a unique and important way, getting to know folks, and in the process getting valuable training and access to gear which no doubt will help me serve my own family in a SHTF scenario.

If anyone has a similar interest, I would highly recommend at least looking into it. - CH

Mr. Rawles,
I would like to add too your posting on this subject, I am a member of a volunteer fire department in Tennessee. For chimney fires, we use what we call an "One Pounder" to put out this type of fire. A One Pounder is a plastic bag (zip lock, lunch bag,or a a thin small plastic bag) that weighs an about 1 pound after the dry chemical fire extinguisher powder has been put into the bag. (Baking soda has been used as well, but it takes more of it). We get on the roof, throw the bag down the chimney, the bag melts and release the powder, and the fire goes out. Some what clean and simple, please don’t get buried and/or fall of the roof. If the fire does not go out, in goes another one, but that is very rare this has to happen.

Always check with your local fire department on their process for putting out this type of fire. Support your local Volunteer Fire Department.

Have a good day. - Jason B

Friday, February 19, 2010

In our preparations, we’ve all made an in depth survival plan.  We have stocks of food items and a means to hunt or grow more.  We know where we’ll get water and how to treat it and have solutions for cooking, heating and lighting.  Perhaps some will operate gasoline or propane-run electric generators and some may distill alcohol or use wood gasification for fuel.  We also have adequate supplies of medications, vitamins and first-aid items.  We’ve thought of everything, planned for any contingency.  Right?

What about Fire Safety?  Our plans mostly or entirely rely on fire for cooking, heating and lighting.  Do you have working fire extinguishers or another plan to deal with a fire if one erupts?  If you are planning to use a generator it needs to be properly wired to prevent fire.  And what about your fuel storage?  Is it a hazard?  After all, if services have deteriorated to this point, the local fire department isn’t coming either.

Of all aspects of our daily life, Fire Safety is most commonly overlooked.  The second step to mitigating any safety hazard, after removing the process entirely if possible, is to engineer out the hazard.  Today, this is done for us in the form of model building codes, UL listings and other industry standards.  Not surprisingly, it isn’t forefront in our minds.  But when SHTF, we’ll be trading our electric lights for kerosene lamps and candles, electric ranges for camp stoves and wood fires.  Many things will be home-built or improvised from available resources.  Have we already, or will we, engineer in those safeguards?

The Science of Fire

To understand fire potential, and extinguishment, it is important to understand the dynamics of a fire.  Some of you may recall learning about the “Fire Triangle” in school.  The theory being that combustion occurs when all three components (oxygen, fuel and heat) are present, and removing one or more will extinguish the fire.  While this is a simplistic approach, it makes an appropriate foundation to start with.
First off, this means that the fuel and oxygen components must attain proper geometric distribution or fuel to oxygen mixing.  This usually requires that the fuel, though it may be in a liquid or solid form, must be heated until it vaporizes.  This is where heat comes into play.  “Flammable” means that it will vaporize at temperatures below 105 degrees F and generally includes liquids such as gasoline, alcohol, propane, etc.  “Combustible” refers to fuels which vaporize at temperatures greater than 105 degrees F, thus requiring more heat input for the combustion process to occur.  This is also why it is harder to start a campfire in the dead of a Canadian winter than summer in west Texas.

As a fire burns, the combustion reaction produces large amounts of energy in the form of heat.  This in turn becomes the heat necessary to sustain and/or grow the fire.  The hotter the fire, the more fuel that becomes available and the more rapid the fire’s growth. The only limitation now is the available air. It is important to note, however, that not all fuels need to be in vapor form.  Fine dust particles, when airborne in high enough quantity, can attain the proper mixing with oxygen to burn quite rapidly.  This is important for anyone with bulk storage of grains, coal, sawdust and even dusty hay.

The oxygen, or oxidizing agent, in the context to which we are concerned with comes from “standard” atmospheric air – roughly 20% oxygen, 79% nitrogen, etc.  As the fire burns, hot combustion gases expand and rise in a superheated plume.  As these gases rise, fresh air is drawn into the fire at the base, heated, consumed in the fire and again released upward.  This is what is referred to as convection currents and one reason why you aim a fire extinguisher at the base of the fire. Also note, however, that in some instances such as with gunpowder, no outside oxygen is required for combustion.  Some chemicals, such as nitrates, contain sufficient quantities of oxygen within the molecules, and are easily released during the combustion process.  These burn rapidly and are difficult to control.

Okay, a fire just broke out!  Now what do we do?  First, we need to know what classification of fire it is (that is to say what materials are involved).  This is important so we can determine the proper method of extinguishment. 

Class A Fires
involve “ordinary” combustibles such as wood, paper, cloth, etc.  This is the most common fire you can expect and will most likely occur from a campfire that got out of control, a lantern getting knocked over, a lit candle or some other similar incident.  A little care can go a long way here.
Water is going to be the best means to put out a Class A fire but it’s likely to be a precious commodity.  Snow is another excellent media since it is also very effective at blanketing the fire.  If it is small, you can also try smothering it with a blanket or jacket but make sure there is no flammable liquid involved (guarantee you’ll set the blanket or jacket on fire if there is).  In the case of a small to medium fire outdoors, sand or soil shoveled onto the fire is also effective.  However, sometimes it may be best to simply let the fire burn itself out while you prevent it from spreading.

Chimney Fires can creep up unwittingly.  Unburned volatiles called creosote are given off primarily due to green/wet wood, low temperature fires and insufficient airflow.  This creosote builds up until it either blocks the flue or is ignited by a hot fire.  If a fire occurs, immediately close all inlet vents on the stove to smother the fire.  If it is an open fireplace, extinguish the fire below then carefully try to close the damper if you can.  Do not attempt to cover the chimney but do try to water down the roof if possible.  There is otherwise very little that can be done for a chimney fire.  Water sprayed into the flue will likely crack the flue liner.  Even the extreme temperature generated is likely to cause damage to the chimney.  Damaged flues and chimneys drastically increase the likelihood of a structure fire.  It is best to take every precaution to avoid a chimney fire. [JWR Adds: Chimneys should be cleaned at least once per year!]

Class B Fires
involve generally flammable liquids such as gasoline, kerosene, paraffin, alcohol, etc.  These pose a great risk because they ignite easily and spread quickly.  Accumulated vapors can ignited with the smallest spark, even static electricity.
If you encounter a flammable liquid pool fire, do not use water.  Remember, most of the flammable liquids we will be using are hydrocarbon based and float on water.  Application of the water will cause ripples in the fuel, causing a flare up as well as spreading the fire.  Flammable liquid fire must be extinguished by smothering.  This is best accomplished by dry chemical of foam fire extinguishers though small fires in containers may be carefully covered.

| Now let’s say you are refueling a hot generator and it flashes over.  You now have flames coming out of the fuel tank as well as the gas can.  Get away!  It is important to keep your distance as explosion or eruption is possible.  This is a bad situation and there is little you’re going to be able to do.  A pressurized hose could be used to cool surfaces but at the risk of overflowing the tank or can, thus spreading the fire. In the event of a leaking propane line that catches fire, shut off the gas at the source if it can be done safely.  It is unlikely that anything else you try will be successful and even if it is, you’ll be releasing raw fuel that is likely to re-ignite.

Probably one of the most common and dangerous fires in this class is the grease fire.  This generally occurs from superheating animal fats or vegetable oil and also applies to paraffin.  Again, do not use water.  Find something to cover it with, such as the lid to a pot if you are cooking.  The next step is to do nothing.  That’s right, don’t touch it.  Let me repeat that.  Do not touch it.  Don’t even think about.  You see, as oil, grease or paraffin burns, its’ auto-ignition temperature decreases.  That means that if any air is introduced, it will flash over again unless it has cooled sufficiently.

Class C Fires
involve energized electrical components such as wiring, motors, generators, etc.  In this case, the ignition source is the electricity and the fuel is usually the wiring.  The first step in this situation is to kill the electricity – trip the disconnect, turn off the ignition, shut down the generator, what have you.  Now it is simply a Class A or Class B fire.  DO NOT use water around live electricity.

Class D Fires involve metals, such as sodium, magnesium, aluminum, etc.  These may be found in some fire starters and flares as well as around metal grinding and cutting.  It is possible for two metals, along with a catalyst, to ignite.  Such fires burn rapidly and extremely hot.  However unlikely it is that you will encounter such a fire in a survival situation, this is one you can’t affect without specialized firefighting equipment.

Fire Extinguishers are an indispensable safety item for every household.  Each extinguisher will be labeled for the class of fire and fire size it is capable of being used on.  There are several styles available so familiarize yourself with how yours operates before it is needed.  There are also a number of different extinguishing agents so choose wisely.  Water and water based foams will freeze and the powders used in dry chemical types wreak havoc with electronics.  Do you homework. They also require some regular maintenance.  For instance, dry chemical powders need to be “fluffed” every so often to keep them from caking.  This can be accomplished by turning it upside down and hitting the bottom with a rubber mallet.  And also check to make sure the bottle is free of rust or other mechanical damage.  I recall one incident in which a woman intended to operate a fire extinguisher on a small fire.  However, the bottle was severely rusted and when she “charged” it by firing off the supplied air cartridge, the top blew off and killed her. Also, with the exception of the old “Indian fire pumps”, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to refill them.

Doubtless, the most fearful fire of all is one that upon your person.  In the event that your clothes become involved, don’t run.  STOP, DROP and ROLL to smother the fire.  If you see someone else on fire, this is where  your time on the high school football team comes in handy.  Grab a blanket, preferably wool, and tackle them (albeit gently).  The goal is to get them on the ground and covered with the blanket, smothering the fire.  Depending on the circumstances and clothing involved, there will likely be some first aid required.

Up in Smoke

Aside from the inherent dangers of fire itself, combustion by-products may pose an even greater hazard.
In complete combustion of organic materials, where adequate free air exists for the fire, carbon dioxide and water are produced.  Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a colorless, odorless gas which, being heavier than air, collects in low areas.  An increase of only 2-3% CO2 in the air we breathe can result in impaired memory, loss of fine motor skills and weakness.  Higher concentrations can cause unconsciousness and death.  If you find someone a victim of CO2 exposure, ventilate the area.  Do not go rushing in and become a victim too (you won’t do them or yourself any good like that).  Remove the victim to an area with fresh clean air.  In some cases, the victim may require further medical treatment my trained personnel.

If the fire is starved for oxygen, then carbon monoxide (CO) is produced.  Again, CO is a colorless, odorless gas, but it is even more dangerous.  Generally, CO exposure causes a feeling of sleepiness in the victim, but also nausea, headaches and vertigo.  Once the victim becomes unconscious, death soon follows.  The complicating factor here is that CO molecules bond to hemoglobin, the oxygen carriers in the bloodstream, preventing oxygen from getting to the cells.  Simply getting the victim to fresh air will not adequately purge CO from the system.  Treatment for CO exposure usually requires 100% oxygen or hyperbaric treatment.

When inorganic materials such as plastic, paint, glue, particle board, wire insulation and other man-made materials burn, there is virtually no limit to the volatile and toxic chemicals that are released.  These can result in serious illness and death very quickly and will almost certainly require medical treatment you cannot provide at your survival retreat.

An Ounce of Prevention

While we want to be prepared to deal with a fire if one starts, our best bet is to “engineer out” the hazard and prevent a fire altogether.
Make sure that lanterns, lamps and candles are placed on a flat, stable surface.  Candles should be in a proper holder or on a porcelain or tin plate with sides to catch melted wax.  An empty tuna can works well for this.  Ensure that all combustibles are kept away and be mindful of shirt sleeves and loose clothing when working with or around such items.  Also, be careful around children and animals (remember Mrs. O’Leary’s cow).

As I said before, chimney fires are best avoided and regular maintenance is the key to preventing them.  This starts with regular cleanings.   If you are burn strictly for heat in cold months, this means at least one cleaning before the burn season and possible more during the season.  If you will be burning regularly for cooking, you’ll probably be using a smaller fire, thus creating more creosote.  Burning hot and staying away from “green” wood or wood heavy with resins such as pines will drastically help reduce buildup. 

There are various products on the market which claim to help with creosote buildup.  These products are simply burned periodically in the fire.  However, while these would likely help, they are certainly no replacement for proper cleaning.  Make sure you have a brush or two of the proper shape and size for each flue.  In a pinch, a bundle of chain on a rope will work for small flues. 

Even as I write this, I received a call from a woman who just had a chimney fire last night.  Today she is trying to make repairs so that it is again safe to burn.  Metal chimneys are expensive but easily replaced if you have spare parts.  However, damage to masonry chimneys is much more difficult to repair.
Take extra care with flammable liquids.  When stored, ensure that they are in approved containers with good seals.  On his 1911-12 journey to the South Pole, Robert Scott left caches of food and fuel.  On the return trip, he found that many of the fuel cans were empty, having leaked at the seals.  The lack of fuel eventually led to their deaths.

Flammable liquids should be stored out of sunlight and in a well ventilated area.  And for God’s sake don’t use anything with a flame around flammable liquids.  Even a flashlight is a potential ignition source.  If you need to have something for light, get a small flashlight with a Class 1, Div.1 rating.  I use ones from Pelican and UA.
Also avoid using gasoline and the like for starting fires.  The accumulation of fumes can have deadly results.  A good alternative is to use gel starting fluid for pellet stoves.  The gel is less volatile and won’t flash or explode like gasoline will.

Also be very mindful of the clothing you wear around or when starting a fire.  Nylon, rayon and the multitudes of synthetic fibers used in clothing today are extremely dangerous.  They ignite easily and melt even easier thus increasing the need for medical attention.  Natural fibers such as cotton and wool are best.
When possible, buy instead of building anything that uses a flame.  This includes lanterns, stoves, burners, incubators, brooders and heaters.  There are also several manufacturers of fire resistance coatings that can be applied to almost anything.

Be careful with outdoor fires, especially when windy.  The last thing you want to do is start a fire that burns your house or shelter down with your supplies in it.  Remember the rule of 3’s?  You can survive 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without food.

Don’t use stoves or flames inside of tents unless both the tent and the stove are intended for such a purpose.
If you are planning to use a wood framed structure for your survival shelter, you may want to think about fire resistance.  A number of manufacturers offer concrete fiberboard siding that is fire proof as well as water, weather and insect proof.  There are also a number of options for roof coverings such as metal, clay and cement fiberboard.

Unless you are competent in electrical wiring, make sure to have everything checked out by a licensed electrician.  If you plan to use an electric generator, use the proper connections and transfer switches.  Don’t try to jury rig this - the shock and fire potentials here are extremely high.

Smokey Bear always said “Only you can prevent forest fires”.  This is essentially true in a survival situation too.  Many of us will be living in somewhat primitive conditions compared to what we are used to.  We need to be vigilant at every moment.  Think Safe, Be Safe.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dear Editor:
With regards to the battery powered carbon monoxide (CO) detector, I just want to second that. When my family went through the Nov. 2007 ice storm that took out the power to half of Oklahoma, we were running off our generator for two days. The first night I put it outside, but close to the house to help shelter it from winds. Our CO detector went off in the middle of the night. We ended up having the fire department come out and check things. It was determined that the CO came in through either the dryer vent, which was close to where the generator was, or through the attic. Our home was built in the 1960s and has attic vents on the sides. We ended up moving the generator about 10 feet farther away from the house and didn't have any problems after that.

We've also found that one of the plastic kid pools works well with some duct tape to provide a temporary shelter for a generator in case of rain. Thanks for running the site, it's a wonderful resource. - Chad in Texas


I really enjoyed reading "Lessons Learned from an Ice Storm", by G. in the Zarks. I went through a similar experience when I first moved to the hills, and resolved to buy a generator so I wouldn't lose all my perishables (not to mention my mind).

Connecting the generator to the home electrical system was easy enough: simply purchase a transfer switch or a "double throw switch" or a "break before make switch" to the tune of about $200 bucks at any contractor supply house. These handy devices are mechanical switches that route your generator power directly to your home electrical system, and physically separate this source of power from commercial power, thereby preventing the generator's electricity from feeding back into the power company's lines and injuring their linemen trying to restore the system after a power outage. Plus, you don't have to worry about tripping over all those pesky extension cords running to your refrigerator or freezer or whatever.

Next, hire yourself a licensed electrician to install said switch. This cost me under $200, but this was over 10 years ago, so YMMV. Knowledgeable, experienced electricians able to do this work are common in the Ozarks, as many make their living installing transfer switches on chicken houses.

When I bought my generator, all I could afford was a 6,500 watt gasoline-powered screamer. I wish I could have bought something bigger and better (read: diesel), but just couldn't come up with the bucks. Consequently, I am unable to power everything in my (unfortunately) all-electric house simultaneously. This necessitates careful load management. For example, I can run a couple of lights,my well pump and hot water heater at the same time, so hot showers are possible. Once showers are done, the well pump and water heater circuits are turned off and the refrigerator or freezer or what ever else needs doing are turned on.

Not the best situation, but until I can come up with the money to buy a larger generator, it sure beats sitting in the dark and cold praying the power comes back on soon. - L.H.


Mr. Rawles:
Re: The article "Lessons Learned From an Ice Storm, by G. in the Zarks" in the Friday, February 5th posts of SurvivalBlog, can I offer the some lessons I've learned in 40+ years as an Ozarker?

First, I listened and learned as much as I could from the fast-dwindling group of Ozark natives when I moved here. Second, I learned to watch the weather and know something about it. I didn't waste my time with the media weather female meteorologists or guys outstanding in the rain. I looked at the weather maps, remembered my years of experience here, and the stories told me by those whose experience preceded arrival of power lines and pavement. About 8:00 the morning the big ice storm was to hit the Ozarks, I committed to not being here when it did. Experience told me I'd be iced in for some time and the come-latelys would be in the ditches or otherwise draining the resources of our overtaxed and under-staffed sheriff's deputies, volunteer fire, and EMT crews.

It took me just two hours to load up and be on the road in my 16 year old conversion van, further converted to a self-sufficient home on wheels kept well stocked. That included preparing the house for what was ahead too. RV antifreeze in all drains and traps including washing machine and dishwasher, drain the water lines and shut off the electric water heater. Since the house is primarily heated by wood, two electrical strips were left on at low level to keep the inside above freezing. Six inch walls and a modest size make my house easy to keep above freezing and at adequate food storage levels, even in below zero times.

I called my sister-in-law, who lives a few miles away, and told her to drop by when conditions allowed to clean out the refrigerator as appropriate, and check for damage from trees in my 10-acres of hardwoods that surround and hide the house. She did, about a week later when the others who live down my road had cleared a path. The storm had given a war zone background to the beautiful mountains and valleys, but nothing hit either my house or two metal-clad outbuildings. A melted quart of ice cream was the worst clean-up problem.

I met the leading edge of the storm about 75 miles south of home, on the crest of our mountain range, where ice began appearing on the antennas on the van. I was out of danger on the flat land another 25 miles south and headed toward Texas via the shortest and fastest route. Once there and rested up after an overnight in a state Hospitality Center parking lot, I began a leisurely 30 days in the Lone Star State's state parks and other favorite and cheaper Texas camping places. With middle seats removed, my van contains a bed, 40-quart chest-type Engel 12 and 120 volt refrigerator with efficient rotary compressor. I can cook on either microwave or propane stoves. There's a Porta-potty tucked under the table holding the microwave, and food, water, coo ware and other
necessities in cabinets made from Sauder kit furniture units all bolted together and anchored to the mounts that held the middle van seats. Plastic storage units fit elsewhere for other supplies. Solar power panels, discreetly mounted inside the luggage rack on the roof to be invisible to any but someone climbing the van's ladder, keep the refrigerator going through a deep cycle battery. The 190 watt solar system also powers a 750 watt modified sine wave 120 volt power supply that runs the microwave for limited cooking such as my 2-minute oblates, 60-second brown and wild rice and meals. The 120 volts can run the laptop computer's TV module when TV stations are in range. Its own batteries handle e-mail. Some Texas State Parks are sources for free Internet hookups.

The van also is outfitted with three amateur radio and two scanner radios and antennas, to keep friends advised of my whereabouts beyond cell phone range or need, and keep me appraised of what is going on around and above me.

What I've learned from my resourceful and self-sustaining Ozark native friends is not to rush out and stock up after the first warning from the Weather Channel but to be ready to adapt to what ever may be coming, and to know if and when it is coming by experience, monitoring the real news sources of public service and other early warning media.

"Lessons learned from an ice storm?" Really be prepared. Prepared in priority. Power outages, winter storms and summer tornadoes or hurricanes, New Madrid acting up, heat, cold, rain or snow; I can ride them out or bug out in hours or less. Financial collapse, civil unrest, madness spawning something else; look for me gone in these less-likely but slower moving crises. I'll be out there somewhere, identifiable from the next vehicle only by license plate, if you happen to come upon me camping or rolling down some highway or back road. - Vern M.

Friday, February 5, 2010

While watching the local weather over the last few days, it has become apparent that a winter storm is heading for our part of the world, bringing with it the distinct possibility of not just snow, but significant amounts of ice. As I pondered this, it brought to mind our recent experiences with ice storms over the last few years, most notably in January 2007. I thought some of our “lessons learned” were worth sharing with others.

We had been blessed with several years of reasonably mild winters leading up to the 2007 storm. Unfortunately, the good times often seem to lull people into a state of complacency, characterized by an artificial sense of well-being and overall lack of awareness. This is, of course, what the late Colonel Cooper referred to as Condition White.

I freely admit to being somewhat guilty of the “All is Well” syndrome where the weather was concerned also. While I have spent my entire adult life trying to make sure my family is prepared for the myriad of difficulties we experience, I must confess that when the weather man said “Chance of ice,” I didn’t really take him all that seriously. I failed to properly evaluate the nature of the threat. In that particular instance, I didn’t think through the potential ice storm scenario to any great degree, because I considered myself and my family to already be prepared for this event. At the very least, I should have gone through the mental exercise of “what if” and reviewed the supplies I had in contrast to what I was likely to need in this situation. In a real emergency, “All is Well” can get you killed.

The ice came. In the early hours of the morning I awoke to find the power had gone off. This was, frankly, no surprise to me. Temporary interruptions in the grid caused by weather are far from unusual here. What I couldn’t know at the time was our power would not be back on for 8 days. Neighbors not far from us were out for 13 days. In contrast, power in the closest town was only out for hours.

Upon waking, I immediately got up, woke my wife and told her the power was out, and took a hot shower before the water in the tank had a chance to cool. My wife did likewise. A hot shower can become an unbelievable luxury in a surprisingly short period of time when the power is out. (Yes, our hot water heater is “gasp!” electric.) Also, I filled the bathtub and several buckets with water in case the generators failed at the local water district. I already had several cases of drinking water and approximately 200 gallons in drums in the garage as well. These are standard precautions on our part, regardless of the time of year.

Heat was the next issue we tackled. Our home is all-electric, but we supplement the electric furnace with portable kerosene heaters in order to keep utility bills manageable. I isolated the living room, which is where we spend most of our waking hours, by stapling blankets over the doorways leading to our hallways and kitchen. This five-minute modification allowed me to more efficiently heat the living room with a kerosene heater, and minimized heat loss into the unused areas of the house. I used the same “compartment” approach at night when heating the bedroom. Of course, kerosene heaters should never be left unattended for any period of time, and a battery-powered CO detector is a must.

A second important lesson regarding heat is to have ample fuel supplies on-hand to handle an emergency. We were burning kerosene on a daily basis before the storm. When the weather forecast seemed ominous, I asked my wife to pick up an extra container of kerosene on her way home from work, since I work long shifts and would not be away from work before the station closed. She forgot, and we faced the storm with less than 5 gallons of kerosene. On the heels of the ice came painfully low temperatures for several days. It became clear that we would not have sufficient fuel for our heaters to last throughout the cold snap. Furthermore, a large percent of the local population had turned to kerosene heaters in the absence of electricity. Local suppliers soon ran out of kerosene. As a result, I eventually found myself standing in line for approximately four hours in order to purchase 10 gallons of kerosene, when it became available. Fortunately, I did have enough cash on hand to make the needed transaction. ATMs were only intermittently operational. The wait, outdoors in single-digit temperatures, with a few hundred other unfortunates, was by far the most valuable lesson I received during this time. The helplessness, anxiety, and shame associated with my lack of preparation have impacted me deeply. By the way, I now buy kerosene in 55 gallon drums. No more queues for me.

That covers water, shelter, and heat. Our next issue was light. I keep several Dietz lanterns and two Aladdin lamps along with several gallons of high-grade lamp oil on hand. Illumination was not a problem. In addition, I have a wide variety of Surefire brand flashlights and spare lithium batteries for nighttime chores around the house. All of the above were put to good use. I was even able to supply some of my neighbors with Dietz lanterns and oil during the time we were off-grid. Several valuable lessons concerning light were learned. First, the Aladdin lamps are excellent, albeit somewhat expensive. They are bright when used according to the instructions. So bright, in fact, that I recommend anyone planning on using them also spend the extra money for lamp shades. They are definitely bright enough to read by without undue eyestrain. They also give off significant amounts of heat, which was helpful in the cold temperatures. They would be less pleasant to utilize in hot weather, however. I was actually able to boil water by holding a metal cup over the top of the chimney for a brief time. This was an excellent technique for preparing some of the freeze-dried Mountain House food we ate during the event. Buy at least twice as many mantles and chimneys as you think you will need, as these are the most fragile parts of the lamp. Also, read the instructions.

Dietz lanterns are excellent tools for the money, but are significantly less bright than the Aladdins. They are easier to use when you are moving around as they have handles and can be carried while lit. All the standard precautions apply when using anything that is actively burning while you handle it.

Surefire lights are also outstanding illumination tools. The major shortfall is battery life. I discovered that when you are using them as a primary illumination source, you will go through a surprising number of batteries. The good news is the batteries generally have a shelf life measured in years, so you can afford to stock up without worrying too much about discharge rates. Don’t buy CR-123 batteries from places like Wal-Mart; they are too expensive there. Instead, order them directly from Surefire’s web site. You can get them in bulk for less than $2 per battery. The battery life problem can also be mitigated somewhat by buying the newer generation of LED lights, as opposed to the older ones with the xenon bulbs.

Food was not an issue due to pre-existing stocks. All our cooking was done outside on a propane burner from a turkey fryer. Coffee prepared in an enameled percolator was definitely the biggest morale-booster from day to day. We even had friends over for “Mountain House night” to provide a little levity and fellowship in an otherwise dreary situation.

The same morning that the power went off, I removed all perishables from the refrigerator and stored them in a Rubbermaid tub in the cold garage. That food was prepared and eaten first. The freezers were left closed as much as possible, and wrapped with blankets for additional insulation. I keep a 5kw generator with the tank drained along with several gallons of stabilized fuel (religiously rotated) and sufficient oil. My only purpose for the genset is to keep the freezers frozen in just such situations. Only one of my freezers in indoors, the others being outside. It was only necessary to run the generator for a couple of hours every two to three days to maintain the integrity of the frozen food. In retrospect, it would be advisable to have the ability to connect the genset to portions of the house (with the appropriate safety measures, of course) for added flexibility in using a limited number of electric appliances.

During the crisis, I had two different coworkers whose homes were “cased” by potential thieves. Each home was rural and isolated, with no neighbors in direct line-of sight. Fortunately, in both cases, when the armed homeowners confronted the would-be thieves, they wisely ran away.

Keep in mind that, while the power was off for several days, this was in fact only a pseudo-disaster. Roads remained passable, and within a day, Wal-Mart was open for business. Within hours they sold out of bottled water, candles, lamps & lamp oil, manual can openers, flashlights, batteries (D-cells were the most in demand), milk, bread, and most foodstuffs that don’t require preparation. Over the course of three days, I watched my closest neighbor make at least two trips to Wal-Mart per day, returning with armloads of white plastic bags each trip. Also, within days, there were enterprising individuals selling small generators out of the back of tractor-trailers. You could hear the rattle and hum of Briggs & Stratton engines in almost every direction.

On a personal note, the experience was also a validation of the preparedness mindset for my wife. While she has always been supportive of my efforts to prepare, she was from time to time also prone to grumbling about the amount of space occupied by our preparedness supplies. More than once during the storm, she would say something like “Gee, it would be nice if we had…” upon which I would go to the back room, rummage around and return with the item she was requesting. By the end of the storm, her most frequent comment was, “I’m glad you’re my husband.”

Lessons Learned:

  • An "All is Well" attitude will get you killed. Take threats seriously.
  • Have your water taken care of now. It will be one less critical thing to worry about in an emergency.
  • Keep fuel in sufficient quantities for emergencies.
  • Batteries, batteries, batteries.
  • Be able to cook outside.
  • Thieves and looters will come, even in rural areas.
  • It’s not really a disaster if you can still go to Wal-Mart.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dear James,

I recently was walking through Ikea with my wife here in Minneapolis and came upon a candle sale. They are currently having a sale on red 8 inch, Unscented Christmas candles rated at 70 hours for 99 cents. I promptly filled the cart with 40 or about 2,800 hours worth of candlelight for 39 dollars. Not wanting to recommend anything I had not already tried I promptly lit one to see how long it would last and right now it is still burning on hour 85 – will probably be done between 90 and 100 hours. Thought your readers might appreciate a good buy on candles. Kind Regards, - Troy

JWR Replies: I'm also a proponent of stocking up on candles, but keep in mind the obvious fire hazards. In a disaster situation where candles might be left unattended, burn candles only on a steady surface, with a deep cookie sheet or or broiler pan beneath. Also, be advised that many of the decorative candles on the market are not truly long-burning. "Large" doesn't always equate to long burning. Unless candles have an hour rating marked then avoid them, or you may be wasting you money on fast-burning candles made of wax with a low stearic acid (aka stearin or octadecanoic acid) content. (The higher the stearic acid content, the better.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mr. Editor,
It seems that when we have to store anything it is always recommended to store in a cool dark area with low humidity. What things can we store in less than favorable spots like attics or outside sheds where the temps and humidity varies greatly? Thanks for all you have done for us. - Bill H. in Delaware

JWR Replies: Humidity can be problematic, but some items that can tolerate fairly high temperature inside a shed include salt, ammunition, paper products, and many cleaning supplies and lubricants. (But do your homework on potential leaks and fire danger, especially for items in liquid form, or that are packaged in aerosol cans!) If you live in a humid climate, then be sure to keep your eyes peeled for airtight containers--the bigger the better. Five and six gallon plastic buckets with gasketed lids have become ubiquitous. If you are creative, you can store a surprising variety of items in these buckets. For example, I found one brand of meat butchering paper that come in 10" diameter bulk rolls, that when turned on end fit perfectly in a 6 gallon bucket, with just an inch to spare at the top.
Also note that in addition to the tried-and-true milsurp ammo cans, some military surplus stores sell airtight shipping containers that were originally made for military electronics--made variously of metal, plastic, or fiberglass. I've see these up to nine cubic foot capacity! In the "Rawles Gets You Ready" family preparedness course, I describe using silica gel desiccant packets, as a well as Golden Rod Dehumidifiers. OBTW, these days, the least expensive source of bulk silica gel, is the new variety of "crystals" unscented odor -absorbing cat litter, such as Tidy Cats Crystals and the Amazing Cat Litter brand. (OBTW, these cat litters are often sold in three or four gallon rectangular HDPE buckets, which can be re-used for storing non-food items.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It was a gorgeous Saturday night, Sept. in Montana's mountains the weather was hanging onto summer's 70 degree temperatures, warm and dry. Working all day at the hospital and finishing some of my home preparedness projects gave me a satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. Time to relax, I sat down, put my feet up and was sipping my week's end treat, a cold beer. I phoned my friend, “Brett” to finalize our plans to butcher a few of his farm animals tomorrow. He was finishing a Bible reading with his boys and was putting them to bed, and would call me back in a few minutes.

It was quite strange, as soon as I hung up, the phone immediately rang. It wasn't Brett, it was “Eric.” His voice had a tone and panic I'd never heard before. Through his hollering and shouting I gathered a forest fire had just erupted a mile from his home. He was pleading for me to get to his parents' home and tell them he is being evacuated! He was about to loose his house, horses, tools, everything. His call ended any type of relaxing for this Saturday night.

Eric and I have been friends for years. We live about 30 miles from each other. His parents and I are only 5 miles apart. He was unable to phone them. They have discontinued their land line, living tucked away on the side of a hill, far in the country and far from cell service. We of like minds prefer it that way don't we?

My job in the health center was to train staff to respond to emergencies. We prepared for heart attacks, missing children, chemical spills, the usual. I am also a martial art's instructor and former fighter. Eric's call had ignited my fight or flight response dumping adrenaline into my body. My mind was racing, hundreds of thoughts and ideas all at once. I had just let my guard down. It was my time to relax, but my friend needed help. His request, and my urgency was to notify his parents, get people to the scene!

“Should I ride my Harley”? It would be quicker than my truck, but the thought of being in a smoky fire on a motorcycle wasn't appealing. I'd ridden it before during a bad fire season a few years ago, the memory of the smoke stinging my eyes and my lungs burning made my decision easy. I ran to my truck.

Oh adrenaline, how amazing you are..more thoughts flooded my mind, simultaneous, in a moment, “grab my boots, Carhartts, jacket, chain saw and Pulaski to fight the fire. I'll need my cell phone and lights, No, don't waste time get going! Hurry! I can always come back for my gear. It's only a few miles. Got to get to his parents! The fire was at least 30 miles from my home. My two daughters were safe, my wife was out for the night, the animals were all in their pens, go now, go fast!”

I blasted off in my truck. My mission, my friend's request was clear, notify his parents. I took off wearing a pair of worn out sneakers, blue jeans and a T-shirt, no wallet, no ID, no phone. I raced my pick up to Eric's parents' home. “I can come back for my gear” disappoints me to this day.

Completing my mission caused another families' Saturday night to change quickly, crying, disbelief and shock. It took them an eternity to accept this, get dressed and get on the road to help Eric. I followed them at 80 mph for the next 30 miles. Of course, we got stopped for speeding but the considerate officer knew of the fire situation and let us go, no ticket. I hope he reads this. I'd like to thank him.

As the miles passed, the outline of the mountain tops were easily seen glowing a dull red. Smoke was now thick from the burning trees. I shut the truck's air vents. As we turned off the main highway I was suddenly cut off by a frantic heard of deer, several horses and a few dogs. They were crisscrossing the old road running wild. The fire was spreading quickly. I wondered, what I was getting into? This isn't safe. This really happening!” My friend needed help, there was no hesitation, only my commitment.

The country dirt roads were not made for the traffic created from fire and pumper trucks, pick ups and trailers. The dust from the vehicles choked any attempts at normal breathing. I wrapped a bandanna around my nose and mouth but they were already dry and burning. It was quite dark but the glow from the fire and headlights created an eerie radiance. Any form of light was now encased in an evil combination of smoke and dust. Nothing was seen clear. Nothing was for certain. My Saturday had changed so quickly I couldn't keep up.

My thoughts drifted to how valuable my gear would have been. Great planning and preparedness on my part. I never drove back to gather my equipment. I even have it organized for this type of grab and go situation. Wondering if the extra time spent would have been worth it? Saving those few minutes and racing off could prove costly.

My instincts told me to drive my truck. My gas tank was rarely below ¾ full, and true to my nature, I'd even topped it off after work. I had a full tank, (no wallet). I always stocked my first aide bag, pistol, extra mags, leather work gloves, 120 ft. of rope, jumper cables and a spot light in my truck. I plugged in the spot light, holstered my pistol, put on my gloves, grabbed the first aid bag and rope and set them on the front seat. I lit up the spot light and in this smoky confusion of animals, firefighters, trucks, trailers and flashing lights, I found Eric. He was standing in a grass field, sweating, dirty and holding two of his five horses.

I jumped out. Eric was in shock, my friend and brother needed help and lots of it! I used my 120 foot rope and several of us banded together forming a human fence. We were able to coral two more frightened horses. It took several attempts and over an hour to trailer those two. We roped off others and tied them to the trailer Like us, they were scared. confused and running on adrenaline One horse, was cut and bleeding bad. Her chest and legs sliced open, looked like she tangled with barb wire. I released my right hand from the rope and rested it on my pistol, assessing her, wondering?

One lady was standing alone in the middle of the dirt road, trucks and trailers driving around her. I grabbed my first aide bag and went to her. She was stiff, didn't speak, didn't answer my questions. I checked her, no signs of injury, B/P and 02 sats were within normal limits, pulse was racing, whose wasn't? No cuts or bruises, shock. I drove her down two miles to the small country town, Lakeside where others had gathered by the Red Cross station and were sharing information and horror stories.

I could hear conversations of those who needed to get gas at this time of night, without success. Most stations were closed and the one that was open was choked with long lines, and taking credit cards only. Beautiful 350 Turbo powered Cummings trucks sitting, going nowhere, without fuel. Frustrated drivers, swearing, pounding their fists on their hoods as the fire threatened their homes.

One lady was standing in shorts and a tank top, great for the warmth of the day but more than exposed to numerous dangers in this situation. Her home was directly in the fire's path. She had called the police prior to attempting to go to her home. They told her not to worry she would not be evacuated. By the time she got home, the fire had changed directions and she was not permitted to go near her home.

Eric had made several phone calls and other friends arrived. Some were quite prepared, some not. With his friends there to help him, all Eric could do was stand in disbelief, mumbling, “I've lost everything. I've lost everything.” I held both his arms, looked him square in the face and reassured him he hadn't lost everything. “There still is time. Look, your house is right here, the fire's still up on the mountain top. What can we get out of it? What's first?” He didn't answer. He ran off to get a chain saw.

What are his priorities? What did he want out of his home? If his house did burn down what is important to him? We may only have this one chance. How can I help? What do I get for him? birth certificates, insurance papers, cash, guns? Where is all this?

Then amongst all the fear and shock, unexpectedly, an angel gently touched my arm. It was Eric's mom. She was a calm in all this confusion. Her and Eric's dad are older, not in the prime of health and took a little longer to find us. His dad, Charles may not be in his youth but he sure proved his efficiency on the front end loader. Charles took up his position on Eric's loader and immediately started pushing over smaller trees and brush, dragging them away from the house and work shop. He was also building 10 ft high mounds of dirt around the house at the same time. He was amazing! Efficient, productive, we were making gains now! We were on the offensive! We rallied behind their calm wisdom and experience.

All too sudden, it was quite, very quiet. The front end loader stalled while dragging a tree and wouldn't start. After several attempts to restart it, the battery died. At this moment I felt the weight of the Red Sea crash in on me. I felt the fatigue. I was exhausted. I couldn't breath. My knees, ankles and feet were throbbing, the past few hours walking, running and tripping in unfamiliar fields and dirt roads had taken its toll. My boots were now worth millions.

“My boots, my gear, Wish I would have....wait! I always carry jumper cables in my truck! I hobbled to it and eased into the front seat. Shifting and pushing the clutch sent waves of pain through my battered ankles and legs. I drove through the field right up to the Bobcat and popped open my hood. Charles had been trying to restart it and grabbed my jumper cables. In a few short minutes, we had her running again! Guess I wasn't that sore after all and Charles didn't seem quite as old.

As I moved my truck out of Charles' path, the headlights caught an outline of Eric at the base of a tree. He found his chainsaw and had started to cut down the larger trees close to his home and shop. Charles could push them away from the house once they were on the ground and the fire would not have any fuel. Great idea.

Eric was halfway through a 60 ft. Tamarack and found his chainsaw had no fuel either. He ran out of gas and had none stored. Vehicles, people and animals all racing in the glowing dark and now a 60 ft. pine tree ready to come down at any time. We had an experienced logger, a Stihl chain saw but no fuel. This was very dangerous and we created it.

Tired, thirsty and frustrated, I lit up the tree with my spot light and parked my truck sideways on the dirt road blocking any traffic from the North. Others stood on the South side and stopped any flow from their direction. Charles inched the Bobcat closer and closer and was able to push over the 60 ft. danger without incident. We all sighed in relief.

The whole night was filled with events like this, success mixed with failure. You never experienced any one emotion for more than a few minutes. The burning fire created a constant urgency in everything we did. The eerie backdrop of a mountain glowing red with an uncontrolled fire wouldn't let us rest.

Time changed that night. It would slow and pause for a moment, then by the time you blinked the smoke out of your eyes and it sped up creating situations and forcing immediate decisions throughout the night. There were times when I was watching all this unfold, far away from the fire, danger and confusion. There were times I was in the middle of everything, eyes stinging, scared, tired, wanting to do more for my friend.

Lessons learned:
1) Take the next step, if you have been preparing, don't let up.
2) Emergencies seem to happen when we let our guard down
3) Do not become drunk with wine or strong drink
4) Help your friends prepare.
5) When a situation occurs, it will probably be at night and dark, you'll be hot or cold and definitely tired
6) You respond they way you practice/prepare
7) If you do not practice or prepare............things will get ugly
8) Little things we do on a daily basis, our habits, make big differences in crisis situations
9) Have fuel

I'd like to thank Mr. Rawles and your blog page. I've been a regular for almost two years now. It has been very valuable to read it and your books. You have given sound advice and enhanced my sense of preparedness. Because of your mission people were better off in a Montana wild fire. I hope and pray similar situations never come again but I feel it is only a matter of time. When the next one occurs, I will be even better prepared and will react with more efficiency thanks to you and others like us.

Since I initially started writing this our weather has changed. In a 48 hour period it has gone from sunny and 70 to 4 inches of snow, icy roads cold, and minus 4 degrees at night.

God Bless us all. - Daniel in Montana

Monday, November 16, 2009

One of the most troubling things I see when speaking to people about going off grid is how badly they want to keep all of their electrical appliances and just spend many thousands of dollars on a battery bank more appropriate for a U-boat and solar cells or generators to keep them topped off. Having had a minor role in a micro-satellite system design proposal one thing you learn when confronted by limited power supply is to either economize or do without.

The appliances you own for on grid use are not efficient. They are built to be inexpensive or if you are better off durable, even the fancy electrical appliances out of Europe with the Energy Star are in reality a big waste of power once you are paying by the off grid watt for solar panels and battery banks. There is no reason a normal family shouldn't consider an off grid option for their home. Even in a national emergency and societal breakdown it is very rare for supplies of diesel fuel, gasoline, kerosene, and LP gas to be unavailable for long periods at some price.

Dryer - Enemy number one especially in a large family, a solar clothes dryer is under $5 at nearly every hardware store, ask for a clothesline. Folding indoor drying racks are very popular in Israel. Even in winter indoor drying can be assisted by using a fan, it will also keep the air humidified. After trying the above and finding you just can't make it there are LP gas heated clothes dryers, but these still need mains power for the drum motor.

Oven/Stovetop - There is no reason to use electrical power for cooking. Excellent caterer grade ovens and stoves are available at most appliance stores which run totally on gas. Some may use an electrical ignition or thermostat but nearly all can be retrofitted either with a piezoelectric (no battery needed) spark starter or can just be lit with a match avoiding the danger of the old style pilot light since they now are equipped with a thermal safety. Most people find they actually prefer gas once they are used to it as it is a more even heat. We have had good success using MSR camping kerosene burners when the gas to our home was unavailable for a few weeks.

Hot Water - Nearly any off grid home will benefit from the addition of a solar collector in addition to a well-insulated gas water heater. Think about turning down the thermostat or using a secondary gas instant heating system and low flow shower heads to stretch your hot water supply.

Heating - Most stores and contractors can provide a wide variety of wood, pellet, gas, kerosene, or oil-fueled stoves and furnaces and space heaters. Insulation is key to keeping your alternative heat system from breaking your bank account.

Power Tools - Some older large shop tools can be powered by a PTO shaft or belt system. The possibilities from a gas motor, to steam, to hydro and beyond are limited only by your imagination.

Water pressure - In many areas there is not enough wind for a windmill to keep a water tower full so an electrical or gas pump might work better once all factors are evaluated. If your retreat is located below the summit of the hill it would probably be much easier to install a pool or cistern on the summit to provide pressure for firefighting operations even if your pump is destroyed, for every foot of elevation .433 pounds of water pressure is required for filling your tower or cistern and this pressure is returned when water is used in your home or property. Anyone living in a wilderness area should have in addition to a gravity fed water system of at least 1,500 gallons and a 300 gpm capacity, and at least one portable reservoir. There are portable swimming pools that are the same as US Forest Service uses for firefighting, and a gas powered portable pump for emergency firefighting. Descending water can be run reverse through some pumps generating electricity making it a very effective and inexpensive way to store electrical power once your battery banks are full.

Refrigeration - Most readers if their inventory their refrigerator will find mostly leftovers or things which actually will last until consumption without refrigeration. There are high quality kerosene and LP gas powered absorption refrigerators, some with secondary mains power optional, available from a few suppliers even in the US.

For those with the skills required to build and test a system which can withstand 250 psi anhydrous ammonia, copying the old Crosley Icy-Ball chest refrigerator-freezer is a thrifty option. Since anti-drug manufacturing laws make obtaining anhydrous ammonia difficult, an icy-ball can be built with drains on the absorptive water side to self distill ammonia from cleaning solution. A warning: Ammonia is a dangerous respiratory irritant and any homemade system should be used with caution and kept and recharged outside in case of leakage. One DIY design includes a shutoff valve to keep the ammonia from reabsorbing until the valve is opened allowing it to be stored in a charged condition.

Before refrigeration people would buy eggs and milk fresh in the city or if they could have chickens and a cow or goat would produce their own. A chicken is easily consumed by even a small family once cooked, in less than a day.

A water evaporation cooler cabinet is another very cheap option for keeping food.

Lighting - Gas mantle lighting once found in most urban homes is not difficult to implement using either camping lamps and piped gas or better yet certified indoor lamps. While in college I worked in a gun and camping shop which sold a reverse fitting for refilling disposable Coleman LP gas cartridges from the older non-tip over shutoff bulk tanks making camp lights highly practical for hanging. It must be remembered that gas lighting presents an increased fire hazard so precautions including avoiding clutter and considering the floor and wall surface must be taken into account. Battery powered florescent and LED lights and LED nightlights are also useful for reading and small tinkering. Metal halide lighting is much more power friendly than incandescent if large areas require illumination for security purposes.

Communications - Your radio communications system should have a redundant battery bank and power supply should your services be required in an emergency. It should be remembered the operating rule of just as much power as required and the usage of low power consumption modes like CW. Tube systems are notoriously wasteful of power and tubes have limited life so these should be kept as backup systems in most cases. Only power up satellite Internet systems after you have typed up all the e-mails and set them up to send immediately after going online. There are offline viewers which will call up all the web sites you normally visit and grab them all for later viewing.

Television sets, satellite receivers, and large stereo systems are wasteful of electrical power if left on. A small notebook computer for occasional movies and an MP3 player for music will save many valuable watts. Unplug or employ a disconnect switch [or power strip with switch] on all electronics unless they are in use. This will protect them from power surges in addition to eliminating sleep-state power draw. [Also know as a "phantom load."]

Telephone - If your retreat can obtain telephone service a secondary redundant system connecting you to selected neighbors can be set up in some areas by ordering an old style alarm or bell line to one central home, this is usually cheaper than a line with actual telephone service, and should work in most telephone systems even if the central office with its redundant power goes offline but the wires are still intact. The Telephone company will either splice the wire pairs at the neighborhood box or at the closest central office, officially only for alarm systems, it is possible to set up anything from long run Ethernet or simple voice lines with an old style "everybody rings" party line. This will not save off grid watts but is a good way to add redundancy to your retreat.

Safety - Install at least two combo carbon monoxide sensing smoke alarms in your home in addition to a smoke alarm in every occupied room. In these alarms, install long life lithium batteries and check on the first of the month and every time you change to or from daylight savings. DO NOT use rechargeable batteries for your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms!

Due to the higher fire risk using flame-based alternatives to electricity I even more strongly recommend installation of fire sprinklers in all rooms, flame hoods over all cooking surfaces with automatic sprinklers that have a manual activation, and at least two standpipe and hose cabinets with 100 gpm gravity flow minimum per standpipe, ABC-rated fire extinguisher, gloves, goggles, and Nomex face shroud. Install outdoor standpipes and stocked hose locker for wildfires, a charged mobile phone for 911 (BTW, you need not have an active calling plan to use a cell phone to call 911 in the USA) and if you have to retreat from interior firefighting. Most importantly have an evacuation and rendezvous family accounting plan and volunteer with the local volunteer fire department, learn when the fire is just too big to fight by yourself.

With an engineering eye it is often possible to reduce your home or retreat electrical requirements to an inexpensive few hundred watts once alternatives are considered. Shalom, - David in Israel

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In the various TEOTWAWKI scenarios there will probably be no organized fire companies to help out the survivors with timely a fire suppression response. Here are some simple and low cost solutions that individuals can do to suppress and fight fires that are type A fires such as paper, cardboard, wood, cloth, plastics etc. Do not fight other fire types with water . Search engine “fire extinguisher types” to learn more. [JWR Adds: You should keep at least two 10+ pound A-B-C fire extinguishers in your home, for fighting grease, chemical, and electrical fires.]

In many homes there is currently water under pressure from some supply. This can be accessed for fire suppression by various means if one takes the time to plan and practically tie into it. One of those coiled snake type 25 foot or 50 foot ½ inch or ¾ inch diameter (preferred size) garden hoses can be attached to a Y splitter ball valve from the cold water line that feeds the washing machine. You turn it on by flipping on the ball valve spigot and uncoiling the hose to move throughout the home as needed to fight the fire.

A handy person could put such a hose line anywhere in the home that water can be plumbed into such as a main hallway closet or corner area of a room on any floor. I would recommend a quality brass 90 degree ball valve as the main shut off at the end of the hard line plumbing where the flexible garden hose is connected. This prevents those nasty slow leaks from the cheaper plastic or pot metal valves.

A good quality spray valve with various spray patterns works well on the business end of the coiled hose and can very effectively give either a strong stream or various short wider spray patterns. It is not the power or volume of a real fire hose but can work well if the fire is caught in time. The key to water fire fighting is a spray or mist to quickly lower the heat and wet potential fuels. Always have working smoke detectors throughout the home and practice fire drills regularly including both coordinated fire fighting and evacuating the home. If you and the family members can get some volunteer fire training now or study fire fighting techniques from books or online this will be a big benefit later in times of crisis.

You will also want a crook staff shaped metal tube sprayer with a long metal handle. They are normally purchased to water high-hanging planters. They can be bought or made from pipe with a bending jig. It can be used for those times that fire suppression (the Molotov cocktails threat?) is needed out a window against the side of the house while maintaining some protective cover from behind a wall inside.

With a well or pressurized tank system you can add extra storage capacity by plumbing in extra pressure tanks with other valve splitters and “no leak” metal mesh covered washer hoses. The tanks can be located anywhere in the home plumbing cold water lines. Just make sure they do not freeze. This gives an added benefit of keeping your pump from cycling too much with a small tank. In an off grid or grid down scenario hook up a potable Shurflo brand or similar 12 volt pump powered off of deep cycle batteries. They are available from farm or Do-It-Yourself stores. The water can be stored in 55 gallon or similar drums and then drafted out and used to pressurize the house system by back feeding a washer spigot. These pumps usually have a 30/50 lb on off type switch built into them like a regular 120/240 volt AC water pump.

The older water type fire extinguishers which are air charged are ideal to have but they are few and far between with the modern move to and versatility of dry powder. If you have an older fire extinguisher that has a metal valve base assembly and pressure gauge you may still be in business. Those small dial pressure gauges on the side generally have a 1/8 inch NPT port which they are threaded into. You can get older spent fire extinguishers (cottage industry job potential?) from a local fire extinguisher service company.

There is usually at least one of these businesses in an area. The fire codes call for many models to be rotated out of service on time intervals or discontinued due to changes in powder formulas and such. Make friends with the owner as I have done and you can probably get all you want as they usually have to pay to haul them away because it is not worth their time to dissemble them as various scrap types.

To convert them you first make sure they are completely empty. Sometimes they leak gas or air propellant and are still partially full of powder. Squeeze the handle in a safe area outside where you do not mind killing grass or weeds. The powder kills yards dead in concentrations. Avoid breathing it as it is a slight irritant. (A twenty pound dry extinguisher also puts out a white cloud bigger than three military AN M8 HC smoke grenades and is just as irritating, for future reference). If no propellant gas is inside you can carefully unscrew the small dial pressure gauge off the metal valve base with a set of slip joint or water pump pliers. This will reveal a small port hole that goes down into the main extinguisher tank. Get some 1/8 inch NPT / Schrader Tank valves from an auto parts store such as NAPA tank valve numbers NTH 90294 or NTH 90290 (about $2 each). It is a male 1/8 inch NPT and Schrader (automobile tire) valve on the other end.

The 1/8 inch NPT end of the valve can be screwed into the port hole with some pipe dope or Teflon pipe thread (be careful not to close over the end) and you now have a way to recharge the fire extinguisher. You can take an air hose and partially recharge the tank from an air compressor and use it till it is empty or safely trigger the sprayer to make sure all the powder is out. Then take a valve cap with core tool such as NAPA part NTH 90188 ($2.39) or a valve tool NAPA part NTH 90344 (about $2.22) and remove the core which will allow the water to be forced into the tank and the air to come out. Water can be forced back into the spray hose end. To fill it simply use a garden hose and duct tape or a hose to hose with a screw pipe band clamp or any other standardized coupling designs you may devise.

The tricky part is getting the right amount of water to air mixture in the tank. Most of the old water extinguishers had a mark on the side about ¾ way up the tank side to fill them to when you removed the top. They had the luxury of being designed with a total top removable valve assembly with a big gasket seal which allowed water to be poured into by sight and the valve assembly being resealed by hand or with slip joint or water pump pliers. The valves on powder extinguishers are not practical to fill this way.

This filling process will be a trial and error on your part with your specific size and style of extinguisher. The key is to weigh the extinguisher when empty and each time you fill it and charge it with an air compressor. Most air tank compressors fill to about 100 to 125 lbs pressure. You may have to fill and charge it a few times until you get the right amount of air and water so they both run out at the same time. You usually want a little extra air pressure when the water runs out to make sure the water is all delivered under pressure. Once you have the right water/air mix write the tank empty and full weights and air charge pressure on the side of the extinguisher in marker or stamped on a brass key tag attached to the pull pin chain. This weight method of filling is similar to what is used on 20 lb propane tank fills. Check it regularly with a high pressure hand tire gauge to make sure it is still charged properly.

It is also advisable to paint over or remove the old fire ratings on the extinguisher and visibly mark the extinguisher in some manner such as a big blue stripe or bold letters H2O or WATER on the side so someone does not grab it to use it on an electrical or grease fire.

If you are real handy and have the time you can always plumb in a room by room sprinkler system that is automated (lower fire premiums) or one that just takes a ball valve to turn on when fire is discovered.

Remember that if the fire is too big or smoke too thick it is not worth your life to fight for a house. A house is just a structure. Good and prepared people make it a home. Good luck and keep the faith.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Throughout the last few centuries, mankind has been building and building up, combining raw materials and energy to create... stuff. This stuff is scattered all over urban population centers, and many of it can be used for basic life-sustaining purposes. I thought I'd write in and share some information I've gathered over the years in my work and in my hobbies, as it relates to sustaining life if you're trapped in an urban area. I'm enumerating the primitive uses of some very basic components for those interested, this wasn't meant as a guide for building any of this stuff, further research is definitely necessary and DO NOT try any lab chemistry without becoming an expert first and observing all the appropriate safety precautions. [JWR Adds: Handling strong acids and bases also necessitates wearing goggles, extra long gloves, long sleeves, a safety apron, having proper ventilation, and having an eye flushing bottle (or fixture) and neutralizers close at hand!] I hope this inspires others to share similar uses for modern waste.

Many urbanites will not have enough room to grow self-sustaining gardens in the soil in your backyard, with the limited growing season, and even if you did it would become a target for looters. Construction of a greenhouse in your backyard with adequate security may be a worthwhile compromise. Using hydroponics in your greenhouse will maximize your yield. Hydroponics requires that you're moving fluids around in a growing medium, and this movement requires electricity in the simplest setup. It also allows you to maximize your space by eliminating huge buckets of soil. One downside to hydroponics is that it requires more advanced technology, and most often an energy supply. Another downside is a requirement for more specific fertilizers.

Car batteries can be used to power your food supply and your home, a typical setup is a very sturdy shelf to hold rows of the deep cycle variant. You can calculate how much energy you'd need to power your appliances but a better setup for survival would be to only power a single DC circuit, with some very energy efficient appliances; LED lights, laptop computers, radios, flashlight battery chargers. I have a circuit wired in my basement which can be switched to backup power, so for me it would just be a matter of wiring an extension cable out to my greenhouse.

The equipment to build a battery backup system is widely available, it's very mature technology and has been very easy to afford with the increased usage of solar energy. Solar panel prices have also dropped almost 40% in the last couple of years. I recommend that someone with the cash to spend, who has already bought a long-term supply of food and other essentials, build themselves a photovoltaic backup system to keep your electronics running for years, using deep-cycle marine batteries for storage. It happens to be the cheapest form of storage, the deep cycle batteries are available from Wal-Mart and Costco at the best prices.

I recommend some form of sustainable electricity. Most fuels will go bad with time, the easiest fuel to reliably store is propane and many homes are equipped with propane and natural gas powered backup generators. Propane is extraordinarily cheap right now as well. A 300-to-500 gallon propane tank can be bought used for around $500 in most places, and propane is selling in my area for $1.79/gallon. Propane is produced from natural gas and, along with coal, are the two fossil fuels we're least likely to see a shortage of. Regarding solar, you don't need a 5,000 watt solar panel farm to power your essentials. Just one large solar panel on a pole will be enough [to provide charging] for your odds and ends DC-powered electronics.

If you intend to use scavenged car batteries for home power, you will need to come up with a scheme to charge them. If you charge a random collection of batteries off of one charger some of them may overheat and explode. You need to have an individual charging circuit for each of them, a temperature probe is good but not necessary. The best way to do this with a generator setup is with a multiple-bank charger or charging station, or with multiple charge controllers in a solar setup. It would be a good idea to have backups, so you might as well have one charge controller for every battery. If you're running a generator, it is especially important that you use a battery backup system, as it allows you to use the energy more efficiently to charge up a battery bank which you can use for days to power efficient appliances.

Another interesting thing about car batteries is what you can do with them if you're not using them for power. Car batteries contain two main ingredients, sulfuric acid and lead. Sulfuric acid is used in many industrial processes. It's a source of elemental sulfur, and these strong acids are used to convert many other substances to something usable.

Hundreds of years ago people made saltpeter for formulating black powder by urinating in a jar and adding straw to it (almost too easy, huh?). A more industrious method would be to mix straw and manure into a pile and urinate on it regularly to keep it moist. This was called a "niter-bed". After a year, run water through it and then run the resulting mixture through a wood ash filter, and then air dry the resulting mixture in the sun. Any failed batches could always be used as [the basis for a larger quantity of] fertilizer. Your urine contains nitrogen in the form of a chemical called urea, which means it also makes a good fertilizer (1 part urine and 10 parts water immediately applied makes a decent fertilizer). The urine/straw mixture would change over the course of a few months to contain nitrates, mostly a chemical called potassium nitrate, or saltpeter. Wood ash contains mostly potassium compounds and can be used to convert remaining nitrates to potassium nitrate. Potassium nitrate is a powerful oxidizer. Mixed with a fuel it forms the ingredients of many fireworks such as bottle rockets. Black powder is made with a mixture of 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur. Sulfur can be found on the electrodes of the car batteries, or it can be produced through electrolysis of the sulfuric acid. A good rocket fuel is 60% potassium nitrate and 40% powdered sugar, should you have a need for rockets, perhaps as a signal flare.

You can buy potassium nitrate over the counter from the hardware store (Lowe's and Home Depot). It's known as stump remover and is available in 1lb bottles. If you're doing that last minute shopping, it might be a good idea to swing by the pesticides shelf and buy all the stump remover while you're getting your fertilizers and everything. Potassium nitrate has an NPK rating of 13-0-38.

In the 1890s, widespread use of "smokeless powder" was adopted, which is about three times as powerful as simple black powder. This was a result of a substance called nitro-cellulose or guncotton, which is which can be made from cellulose and nitric acid and some other chemicals by means of nitration. Nitric acid is a very useful substance. Nitro-groups or nitronium ions can be added to certain chemicals to create explosives. Compounded with hexamine fuel tablets (Esbit fuel), it forms [the equivalent of ] RDX explosive. Compounded with glycerine, it forms nitroglycerine, that with added stabilizers forms dynamite or blasting gelatin. (Not to be confused with trinitrotoluene (TNT), which is generated by the nitration of toluene.) The most useful application of nitric acid though is in making smokeless powder, commonly just called "gunpowder" today, which is a compound of nitrocellulose and a number of other proprietary ingredients. It can be made from cellulose and nitric acid and some other chemicals by means of nitration. [Reader M.H. Adds: Doing any of this will take considerable study and storing some other chemicals, since nitric acid just by itself will not (to any significant degree) nitrate organic compound such as glycerine, hexamine or toluene. For details, see the book titled "Chemistry and Technology of Explosives" by Urbanski (available online).]

The government has made it difficult to purchase nitric acid without a valid reason. You can make it out of sulfuric acid, from the car batteries, and potassium nitrate, from the niter beds. You will need some basic lab equipment to do this, a glass distillery connected to a vacuum pump (a vacuum distillery), and a hot plate. With the leftover parts of the car battery, mainly lead [and wheel weights as a source of antimony for hardening], you can mold lead bullets. The lab equipment required to perform some of these reactions is useful in many other processes, such as an ethanol distillery, so it may be something you'd want, regardless. Take care that you don't cross into illegal territory with your experimenting. Potassium nitrate and black powder aren't controlled substances, but at some point gunpowder becomes classified as an explosive and requires a permit to manufacture. [JWR Adds a Strong Proviso: This summary information is provided for educational purposes only. EXTREME safety measures must be taken, and all the legalities and zoning issues must be researched, permits obtained, et cetera. Also, be advised that the instructions presented in many of the published references on do-it-yourself explosives making have insufficient safety margins. For example, the set of directions on making nitroglycerin in the book The Anarchist Cookbook, could best be described as a "recipe for disaster." It will get you killed or at least maimed, in short order!]

Another interesting thing I'll mention is that handgun calibers and muzzleloaders are better suited for lead bullets with no copper jacket, since they travel through the barrel slower they can be made softer. Forming a copper jacket around a bullet is difficult and expensive. [JWR Adds: One notable exception to this is making jackets for .22 caliber bullets, which can be made with discarded .22 LR brass and lead wire, using commercially available forming dies.] I think it's also worthwhile to own at least one muzzle-loading black-powder rifle, and bullet forming equipment. Manufacturing guncotton is not nearly as easy as black powder. You can no longer readily buy black powder [in gun shops] today, it is less stable and more expensive to ship. Even the modern muzzle-loader propellants (like Pyrodex) are smokeless powders. So, you may find black powder is all people are using one of these days, as they can make it in their backyard. Either stockpile thousands of primers or use a flintlock style rifle.

I mentioned that urine can be used as a fertilizer, nowhere is this more true than in a hydroponic system. Plants need three main chemicals to grow, all three of which must be in a soluble form. urine is easily the best source of nitrogen in soluble form. Potassium can be gathered from wood ash easily by running fluids through it. Phosphorous is the hard part, and many fruiting plants need phosphorus, so it is the area where you focus the most energy. Bone has phosphorus in it, and a commonly used fertilizer for plants is bone meal in the form of calcium phosphate. Bone meal has an NPK rating of 4-12-0. Bat guano is one of the best sources of phosphorous, and bird droppings ("Bird Schumer") can similarly provide a good supply. Be careful with bird droppings though, many contain diseases especially pigeons. You may want to boil it first. Match heads can also be used for their phosphorus content, if for some reason you have thousands of matches with no barter value.

Back to urine fertilizers: When you urinate into the water your urine and many other nitrate fertilizers begin to break down into ammonia, which needs to be filtered out. If you've ever maintained a koi pond you know this can be accomplished with the use of a bio-filter. Another way to do it is with an aquaculture setup, which means connecting a fish hatchery to a hydroponics setup. The fish and the plants thrive off of each other. This has evolved into it's own industry called aquaponics, and has proven to be a commercial success, mainly to serve as leafy plant production on top of a primarily fish producing setup. If you get sick of eating that dried corn, try feeding it to a 55-gallon barrels full of Tilapia. Tilapia has been the preferred fish stock as it will eat a wider range of things, but the temperature must be kept warm. It's possible that even in colder climates a greenhouse would provide sufficient trapped heat to keep the fish alive.

Many of these techniques can form the foundations of exciting hobbies such as model rocketry, aquaculture, hydroponics and gunsmithing. I strongly encourage you to absorb some of these hobbies in your life, if they appeal to you. [Do plenty of research, and get lots of practice,] especially when it comes to something sensitive like fish or hydroponics. Beginner's mistakes could spell the end of you if you're depending on this for your urban survival. I've opted to fortify my suburban home on a quarter acre and optimize it for survival, with over two years of food storage for me and my family to get started and enough energy to cook it. If this is all you can afford then make the most of it!

Letter Re: Making Do at a Rural Vermont Retreat

While I could wish to be west of the Mississippi, my wife and I will have to retreat where we are. My elderly parents are nearby, and my wife has made it very clear she has moved for the last time. Vermont is where we will be for the foreseeable future.

We live within a rural town of approximately 2,000 residents. We are about seven miles outside of a twin-city with a population of 28,000. We lack like-minded neighbors both in faith and preparedness. We hope our far-flung family will be able to rally here, but are realistic about their chances. Not an ideal location, but we work with what God have given us.

We own 60 acres, mostly wooded with some pasture, up and three miles out of town on a dirt road. Our home is close to the middle of the land, at the end of an 1,100 foot driveway and it is not visible from the road. The driveway could be easily blocked if necessary. We have cleared good areas around the house without giving up our privacy. We heat with any of three sources, wood, pellets, or oil. Our neighbors include a medical doctor and a nurse/midwife and two miles down the hill is a dairy farm with 400 head.

We have three spring-fed ponds, (one is stocked with trout), a deep artesian well and a developed spring with a concrete cistern. We use a small greenhouse to extend our short growing season and have apple trees and blueberry, raspberry and blackberry bushes. We can and dry fruits and veggies, I hunt and we both cook. We have about 18 months of food in storage (dehydrated, canned, frozen and grains) and expand our larder as we are able. We used to be cold weather tent- campers and have all of the equipment that goes along with that sport in both propane and white gas.
Our arsenal is varied, deep and redundant. It includes four muzzleloaders and supplies; they are hunting and hobby rifles, but they will still put food on the table or provide defense in a pinch.

We have much on our “things to do” list. Fuel storage is a problem in quantity due to permitting issues. We do have the fuel oil tank in the cellar for the tractor, but gasoline will be limited to our cans. Our only generator is small, only able to power the pellet stove, a couple of lights and a radio. We do hope to add solar in the future. Our home is not as defensible as I would like due to glass windows and doors and we lack man-power for long term survival.

We will never be as ready as want to be, but we will be as ready as we are able. Our greatest assets are Jesus and each other. - B.C.

Friday, October 30, 2009


While scanning through iTunes U, I found a television (or audio) series from University of California TV on disaster preparedness. They are professionally produced and contain a wealth of information about about emergency response systems are intended to work. Included here are four of the fifteen or so shows that they have put together. The ones I have included are Natural Disasters, Chemical and Biological Agents, Pandemic Influenza and Emerging Infections and Disaster Volunteerism

They go over several case studies that happened in California, but talk about organizations generally enough that it is applicable to most areas with advanced emergency response systems. At the end, I have included links to more shows in UCTV disaster preparedness series.

Here are some video links and excerpted brief summaries:

Disaster Preparedness: Natural Disasters

Transportation and care
Multiple disasters co-existing (earthquake, fire, flood)

Wild fire
-larger then expected

Family Preparedness
-Family network - getting everyone involved
-List of material that needs to be packed to go
-Long distance phones can work (call to foreign county, deliver message, foreign county calls to local number you could not reach), calling local people sometimes doesn't when the disaster is local. This would appear to be a failure of the phone system to update their routing tables dynamically.
-Define a meeting place for your family
-Stores and supplies at home
-Tent, stove, propane, water
-72 hour critical supply of food, medicine and water
-Laundry - Something I had not thought about
-Communications and information management, one of the most difficult things
-Real time information systems - where the fire is, what the evacuations plan is
-After action report - learn from what worked and what didn't
-Reverse 911 only works for land lines.
-Multiple layers of communications, multiple contacts per person
-"Alternative care sites" shelter, Fairgrounds, school gymnasiums, arenas, animal shelters
-Special needs patients, elderly, dialysis
-First day great, everyone helping one another - Day 2 short tempers - social workers and behavioral specialists needed, neighborhoods forming
-It is mentioned *many* times that people will not leave their pets behind. Include them in your preps.

-Single point of contact - single voice speaking for a set of resources
-If you build it, they will come. Where lights are on, people go there.
There are several phases
1. Immediate injuries - Crush injuries, Amputations, Head injuries, airway obstruction
2. Secondary illnesses - Blood pressure medication, diabetes medication, increased rate of heart attack and child birth
95% are rescued by local responders and volunteers in the first 24 hours.

Disaster Preparedness: Chemical and Biological Agents

Disaster Preparedness: Pandemic Influenza and Emerging Infections

Disaster Preparedness: Disaster Volunteerism

More Programs in Emergency Preparedness / Emergency Medicine

Regards, - Ben M.

Friday, October 23, 2009

You've had two good letters on woodstoves recently. I'd like to add a few thoughts based of heating and cooking with wood for a couple of decades in the Colorado mountains. I have never been more contented than when there's a blizzard raging outside and I'm inside next to a nice warm woodstove. That being said, woodstoves and chainsaws account for the vast majority of domestic emergencies in many rural areas and a constant source of amusement for EMTs.

As has been written, the importance of a properly installed chimney cannot overemphasized. Do get a quote for a good professionally installed chimney and then source the woodstove based on how much money you have left, not the other way around. A semi-okay chimney may not be a problem for years, but eventually that rafter up in the ceiling crawl space that's been getting too warm all those years will eventually cook off one cold winter night when the woodstove is nice and hot. Also get the chimney top nice and high and serviceable. Downdrafts will occur even if they are built to the 2'/10' rule if you have a higher addition near by and the wind is in the right direction. Smoke will also condense on the chimney top spark arrester and clog it up so figure out a way to brush that clean in a safe way. Best to do that as regular maintenance and not in the middle of the night when you find your chimney won't draw and the room is filling with smoke. Lightning will also find the chimney one day. Get a lightning rod installed before you're hit. Do attach a magnetic chimney pyrometer to the chimney. It will tell you how the stove is doing by just glancing at the meter and will also alert you if things are getting too hot. My house did survive my youthful learning curve, but only just. Hopefully, some of your readers will profit from my experiences.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the area around the stove. I've seen red hot coals from resinous pine fly through a small slot in the air intake and all the way across the room. You'll never get a good night sleep if you just have a small fireproof pad around your stove. Woodstoves and carpet don't mix well. If nothing else the dirt tracked in from carrying wood will drive the wife crazy. If you do have carpet, pull it up and put down tile or stone flooring. If you have a modern springy framed plywood floor, a couple of layers of 1/4" plywood glued and screwed in alternating directions to the existing ply will stiffen it enough for tile.

Also, the wall behind the stove is equally important. Unless you're several feet away from a framed wall do something like this:
Cover the wall behind the stove with fire stop drywall a couple of feet above the top of the stove (or chimney if it exits through the wall). Install a steel lintel at floor level using large bolts screwed into the studs. Leave an inch air gap between the lintel and drywall using spacers. Lay up a brick wall on the lintel and tile over that. The air gap behind the brick wall allows a cooling draft. The brick also provides a good source of thermal mass which leads to a final point.

There's nothing much worse than getting out of a warm bed in the morning to start up a cold, dead woodstove. The stove that I owned when I lived in Colorado was made of Soapstone by a company in Woodstock, Vermont. They aren't cheap to buy but they are worth ever cent they cost. Once that stone gets warm, it stays warm for hours, even if the stove runs out of wood. I used to load my stove in the evening with whatever wood I had, generally pine, aspen or even hem/fir framing offcuts, not oak or hickory by any means and yet that great little stove heated the entire second floor of my house and the stove was still toasty warm well into the next day. Although I had been told this, I still was amazed at how a small properly built stove could heat such a large space and still not cook me out of the room it was in.

I cannot recommend highly enough the use of thermal mass over cast iron in a stove. There are other manufacturers of soapstone woodstoves but if and when I move back to a cold climate, I'll be getting another Woodstock Soapstone Stove. Thanks again for the interesting blog. - LRM, Perth, Western Australia

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In September, 2008, Hurricane Ike--a Category 4 hurricane--pounded the Gulf Coast of the southern US. Some coastal communities like Crystal Beach no longer really exist. Inland, life was severely disrupted. For those of us on the South Coast hurricanes are a frequent reality. We were quite well prepared, but used the disruptions and dislocations as a test and opportunity to tune up our preparations.

1. Be ready to help others and to accept help We didn't need much during Ike, but the power went out before a neighbor finished boarding up his house. My 1 KW inverter, hooked up to his idling truck provide the juice for a Skilsaw and a few lights; allowing him to finish. Usually it is skills and not "stuff" that helps others and yourself. Besides strengthening a neighborly friendship, the number of damaged houses was probably reduced by one.

2. Keep your stuff squared away.. I repaired a few generators during and after Ike. I observed that every one suffering from lack of use; i.e. gasoline that resembled turpentine in the carburetor. People were at a complete loss to understand this. My daugher-in-law owned one of the generators that I repaired. She ignored my admonition to change the dirty oil ASAP and then once every 50 hours. Early in the next week it [ran out of oil and] threw a rod. She was in the dark for another week. Just a $2.99 quart of oil would have saved discomfort, ruined food, etc.
My portable genset, loaned to my daughter, was ready to go;  fresh oil, filters, valves set, exercised, load tested. It started on the first try. I came to check it and change it's oil as soon as it was safe to travel. The first thing that I did was turn it so the exhaust faced away from the house! She had placed it so that the starter rope was in a convenient spot. At least she had, like I had asked, chained and locked it to a foundation pier.

After every hurricane Darwin gets a few through accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Don't join them. If you have a generator, get a carbon monoxide detector in case the wind changes and wafts exhaust in your windows.

Our own [permanently-installed] genset uses natural gas (a tri-fuel generator) which in the majority of cases is superior and much cheaper to operate. Over the 11 days that we didn't have power it consumed $100 worth of natural gas. I estimate that an equivalent amount of gasoline would have cost more than $300. I stopped it every 75 hours for oil and filter. If your genset doesn't have an hour meter, then add one. There are some inexpensive self contained hour meters made for lawn equipment that work very well and require no hard wiring. It's really the only practical way to keep track of operating time, without which, intelligent maintenance is impossible.

I noticed that many generators, some still in the box, on Craigslist following Hurricane Ike at bargain basement prices. I recommended to a friend he latch onto one of these and purchase a dual-fuel gasoline/natural gas carburetor] kit. Ants can profit from short-sighted grasshoppers.

It goes without saying have all your vehicles filled up and serviced so they can be depended upon with out much attention. Pay particular attention to cooling systems, oil changes, tire pressures, belts and battery terminals.

Develop a pre-event SOP: When we hear of a hurricane in the Gulf, we pick up loose items like branches that can be thrown by high winds and cause damage (aviators call this rubbish FOD), trim trees, check prescriptions, recharge everything rechargeable, treat the swimming pool with "shock" chlorine, get all the laundry and dishes done, get all the trash out for pickup, take “before” pictures, etc., etc., etc.

3. Have backups for your backups. The portable generator above was our backup to the natural gas-fueled genset. Then an inverter and ups. After that is a 100 Watt solar array I've been tinkering with to provide power for security lighting,etc.

My daughter spent up to two hours a day foraging gas, mostly waiting in lines. She found out that the problem with gasoline-fuel generators is gasoline! It's expensive, in short supply (when it is needed most), and it takes gas to go and get gas! Needless to say I rounded up the parts and the portable is now a dual fuel machine. Had it been able to use natural gas then she could have stayed home and been one less person waiting in line. And the machine still retains the capability to burn gasoline!

Since gasoline became hard to come by (it was impossible to get for a week after Rita) but diesel fuel was plentiful we did any necessary traveling in my old diesel Mercedes (which is EMP proof, BTW).

One important word on generators: Treat yours like it is the last one you'll ever get. Try and get a good one, I prefer either a Honda or Briggs Vangard engine. My Vangard portable is approx 10 years old and absolutely dependable. The difference is methodical maintenance. Keep the manuals, and read 'em ! Keep the oil changed, keep a fresh spark plug, keep spare [oil, air, and fuel] filters. Most importantly run it under load once a month. Unless it's new, pull off the cowling and clean all the dirt and dust from fins on the cylinder jug. Closely examine the starter rope, the fuel lines, et cetera. Replace 'em if they ain't perfect.

If you get a permanently installed generator carefully consider installing a manual transfer switch and other upgrades. With the exception of automatic "exercising" fully automatic generators these add a layer of complication and cost.

Don't store gasoline in the machine other than enough for one periodic test run. Develop a ritual on test runs: such as every other payday, or the last Saturday in the month, to reduce it to a ritual. I run mine monthly whilst cutting the back yard lawn. (The mower makes more noise.)

For storage between test runs: On portable gensets [with the ignition off, slowly ] pull the cord until you can feel that the engine is at the top of the compression stroke. This is where the engine feels like you are pulling it through a "detent". It puts the piston at the top of the bore and closes both valves. This protects the cylinder from moisture. If you store gasoline then use stabilizer, after six months burn it in your car and replace it. Few experiences are worse that trying to clean out a carburetor by a dim flashlight whilst being consumed alive by salt marsh mosquitoes. Trust me on this. BTW, I've had better results storing "winter" blended gas, since t has more light fractions and starts easier year round.

If you use gas cans; stick with metal, preferably safety cans. Plastics are slightly permeable and it will go bad much faster in a plastic can. On that note, [in humid climates] don’t keep spare spark plugs with the machine. This is because in outdoor storage the insulators can absorb moisture [and the metal parts can corrode]. Keep them inside or in a sealed can with some silica gel. An old one-quart paint can is ideal.

If you have a dual-fuel machine, then break the engine in on gasoline and make sure it operates properly on both fuels under load. Keep the necessary connectors for gas operation on the machine so that you don't have to go searching for that 3/8ths-inch pipe nipple with a flashlight.

Use high quality oils, and have enough. Don't forget to also store plenty of 2-stroke [fuel mixing] oil and chain oil if you intend to use a chainsaw. Maybe store some extra for your neighbors that are less prudent. I use Rotella brand synthetic oil and Wix brand filters, and have had good results with them.

Make sure you have enough oil, filters and plugs for at least two weeks (336 hours), or longer. Don't forget about your equipment after the crisis is over: There are valves to set, oil and plugs to change, etc. Even if you own two generators and have enough flashlights, automatic emergency lights, et cetera, things can, and may likely go wrong. Small children usually do not take kindly to being plunged into total darkness. Unless it is TEOTWAWKI, keep the candles in the cupboard, especially if there are small children about.

4. Double your plans for helping other people. Several relatives from coastal areas evacuated to our house (approximately 50 miles inland). I keep a 55 gallon drum of stabilized gasoline to fill up their cars to get them home. This was a lesson learned after the Rita evacuation cluster. How much food you will go through will surprise you. It finally dawned upon us that we almost always eat dinner (lunch to you Northerners) and sometimes breakfast away from home. So what we consumed whilst hunkered down seemed out of proportion.

We also sent some food home with people to hold them over. I was able to "lend" a retired neighbor enough generated power to keep his freezer, television, and fan going. He was genuinely happy. This also meant that he was one less person in line for ice, food, and so forth.

5. Keep a dial up phone line around, after 24 hours the cell phone tower generators started running out of propane, the cable modem (and the cable) went down with the power. Remember how to make that dial-up modem work.

If you're not a Ham radio operator, then find out where the local hams conduct their emergency nets, and listen on your shortwave radio (HF) or scanner (2-meter and 440 band) and you'll know a lot more that the local television news truck can find out.

If you have cable television, then keep a traditional antenna handy. If you live near a major market the local AM news station, then it is probably a good bet. Have a good UPS, plug the computer and the desk lamp into it. If you have a cordless phone, plug it into the UPS too. The UPS will take the "bumps" out of the generator's power; your computer will thank you. Make sure you test the UPS periodically by plugging in a 100 Watt lamp and pulling the plug on the UPS. I find I need to replace that UPS battery about every 2-to-3 years.

6. Plan for the guests. Have plenty of soap, have a small flashlight (preferably with rechargeable batteries) for each guest. Have things other than television to keep youngsters occupied. Try and get plenty of rest. You'll probably be plenty busy after you can poke your head out again. In this vein don't forget dishwashing supplies, laundry supplies, baby supplies, etc. If it's a predictable event such as a hurricane, have all the dishes and laundry done. before it hits.

A television in a room by itself will keep the racket contained from those who want to read, play games or just sleep. If you have the space, then a “quiet room” where  people can just rest, read, be alone, have some privacy or get a fussy to baby to sleep cuts down on contagious stress.

7. Make sure you are medically prepared. Have a rather complete first aid kit that includes a backboard and splinting materials. There will be plenty of cuts,scrapes, bruises, sunburns and sore muscles in the aftermath. Have Band-Aids, 4x4s, neosporin, peroxide etc. Have plenty of acid reducer and immodium on hand (stress and unfamiliar cooking), have at least two weeks of prescription drugs on hand [and preferably much more for any chronic health issues]. Have a good assortment of Tylenol, cold and sinus preparations, BenGay [muscle ointment], good  multivitamins, etc.

8.Be extra, extra, extra careful. You getting sick or more likely injured can really mess things up for everyone you have prepared for. Not to mention that the local fire/ambulance is probably already overtaxed. Be extremely careful handling fire and fuels. A lot of us are not entirely fluent in using chainsaws, small engines, fixing roofs, trimming trees and moving debris.[JWR Adds: safety equipment including heavy gloves, kevlar chainsaw safety chaps, and a combination safety helmet with face shield and muffs are absolute "musts"!] Don't get in a hurry unless there is a threat to life. Be hyper cautious, be very aware of your surroundings and things that can go wrong. Don’t toil alone. Make sure you have a clear path to beat a hasty retreat if things go wrong. Wear those gloves, safety glasses, boots and maybe a hard hat.

Don't overtax yourself. Getting a fallen the tree off of the roof today avails you little if it triggers a heart attack or heat stroke. Ask God's assistance and start over tomorrow.

Keep fire extinguishers near the gas generator, in the kitchen, and near the camp stove.

Avoid using candles at all costs, and absolutely prohibit smoking indoors for the duration. Have more than enough battery smoke detectors around.

9. Be ready to make temporary repairs.. The missing shingles, damaged windows, etc. Have some plywood, a few 2x4s, some Visqueen polyethylene sheeting, batting boards, duct tape, a tarp, some nails, and so forth around. If you happen to have a good cordless drill, then you'll find sheet rock and deck screws are very superior to nails. If you're squared away then you already have this stuff , but a neighbor might be in need, so buy extra.

Debris creates flat tires for quite some time after many events. Have a tire plug kit and a 12 VDC compressor in each vehicle. Repairs to structures, especially roof repairs guarantee nails in tires. Be ready for them..

Have everything rechargeable recharged. Make sure you have some traditional non-power tools, I have a handsaw that I've had for decades, a good bow saw, ax, maul, sledge and an old eggbeater style hand drill still get regular use.

10. If I had my choice of just one utility it would be running water. Fortunately where we reside is served by a well run rural utility district which has prepared well for hurricanes. Failing this, in addition to stored water I have a portable gas utility pump (Robin brand) that can pressurize our water system from our pool and has sufficient capacity for a fire line. The pool got a good jolt of shock a day before the storm hit.

11.Keep some cash money handy. For a few days [with no utility power] there were no functional ATMs, and no way to use credit or debit cards.

12. Keep a low profile. About a week after Ike a passerby indignantly asked "How'd you get your lights turned on?" This showed his ignorance on several levels. He seemed to think someone just had to flip a switch downtown and "shazam!" his lights are on. I couldn't make him understand there has to be an unbroken physical link between a power plant and consumer, this seemed to aggravate his obvious helplessness. Telling him that we had been making our own juice seemed to irritate him. I wonder who he voted for? People with this mindset (that the world owes them something) could be a genuine liability in a real catastrophe. (BTW on a news show during a piece about energy, I actually heard a lady refer to natural gas as “just another dirty fossil fuel”) and not be challenged on the facts. Little minds scare me. I think that the hyper-liberals would love to use the heavy hand of government to force the ants take care of the grasshoppers.  Keep a low profile. The best advice I ever heard on the subject (I believe it was Howard J. Ruff ) was to "keep your principles public and your actions private".

13. Keep a notebook, keep a record of what happened, but especially keep a record of preps you overlooked or screwed up, or stuff you ran out of, or skills that need to be added or honed. That's where most of the preceding information came from! Also keep tabs on what's scarce after an event. Gas was scarce, but diesel plentiful after Rita. In contrast, after Ike there was plenty of fuel, but few operating stations due to lack of power. (There was a "mandatory evacuation" during Rita which turned out to be a fatal traffic jam for a few poor souls which quickly emptied the filling station tanks.) Out our way the local Wal-Mart made a heroic effort and opened up on locally-generated power, two days after Ike. The sheriff’s department was there to “maintain order”. (Let’s just say that they actually wear brown shirts here.). This event was a lifetime opportunity to study the varied behaviors of people under stress.

There were plenty of canned goods and auto supplies. But fresh fruits and veggies were a little thin, no meat due to lack of refrigeration for a few days, batteries, Coleman fuel, trash bags, paper plates, disposable diapers, formula, and nails evaporated. The pharmacy was closed.

Even with the numerous mistakes we made, we were able to stay safe, secure and comfortable and help others while "victims" were standing or idling their car engines in lines. It was an opportunity to try things out under more or less controlled conditions. WTSHTF there will not be controlled conditions!

Dear Jim,
Several years ago my wife and I were resident managers of a self-storage facility. Here are some useful facts:

Check them out first with the Better Business Bureau. The company we worked for, sad to say, was and still is rated very poorly for failing to respond to customer complaints. They operated on a model of "Get every penny they have." The rent was reasonable, and we were on site as "Security" with the usual corporate garbage that we never have anything resembling a weapon in the office or on duty.

The problem came with late fees. As soon as the doors closed at the end of the three day grace period, the computer would apply a penalty. On the 15, another penalty would apply. After 30 days, a "Collection fee," and rent, and more fees. A month late would cost a customer about $100 (in late 1990s dollars) in addition to rent for each month. Their lock would be cut to determine if the space was abandoned, and then overlooked, with a fee to have the lock removed. (All this was handled by the corporate office. We had no choice and no authority or ability to help anyone on hard times.) We were not allowed to provide any contact info except the P.O. Box number to complainants, who'd of course sometimes threaten to "inform our bosses" who made it clear they didn't want to talk to customers. They would never respond in any fashion to a customer unless lawyers were involved.

At one time they stripped and auctioned property through a local auction house, then switched to the "Bid on the open box" plan. So the result of three months lost rent, lots of filing, certified letters, late fees and loss of the use of the space in the meantime would typically be $20 or so.

Keep in mind that almost every place writes leases from the first day of the second month and pro-rates the remainder of the first month. So if you move in on the 20th and pay a full month's rent, you will owe the pro-rata for ten days (20th to end of month) on the 1st. If you miss that you will be in arrears.

Be aware that even the reputable ones do not provide trash service. If you are caught tossing trash into their dumpsters, you will be fined. Obviously, you shouldn't be paying to store trash, but it's amazing what we cleaned out of abandoned units:

A mo-ped
A laserdisc player
A new recliner (Still wrapped)
A new microwave
A case of mixed liquor, sealed bottles
Various tools
A full set of fine china
Car stereos
Construction materials
Literally tons of good clothes, shoes and books. (Which we donated to the local Goodwill.)

All of which were left in unlocked, unpaid units, often with the customer's blessing to help ourselves.

Which would be my last point: don't fall into the trap of just tossing stuff into the warehouse. Get the smallest one you need and plan for (as you mentioned) cold, heat, wet, vermin, and occasional fires. Never store anything crucial with personal value or legal value in one.

I can concur that property stored at these facilities is generally safe. Most of what is stored is not worth stealing, and what is worth it is too hard to sort. However, keep in mind that in grid down or other disasters, the facility may be closed, or wrecked by rioters. And once the first goblin figures out there's "Free" stuff, then all such properties are at risk. So I would not recommend using them except on a short term basis, while transporting your gear to a more secure location. - Michael Z. Williamson, SurvivalBlog Editor at Large

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

James Wesley,
We have heated our current home with a wood stove and a pellet stove for ten years now. I disagree with one aspect of the recent article on your web site.

Our wood stove in the basement is set up to burn coal as well as wood. Where we live in Colorado there are a large number of dead trees -- from pine beetles -- that we can and do burn for free. However, with pine wood even the best stove will not hold the coals overnight. Hence the ability to use coal is a godsend. When the weather is only a little bit chilly we can place a basketball sized lump of coal in the stove and the stove will hold the coal -- burning slowly -- for up to five days. Hence in the mornings all we have to do is toss on a few pieces of wood and they will catch right away.

During the coldest part of the winter we can load the stove with a five gallon bucket of coal and it will heat the whole house for three days. Given the cyclic nature of our weather here (a couple of days of stormy weather, followed by a couple of days of biting cold, then a couple of days of sunny and warmer weather) we can clean out the stove during a sunny day as coal produces lots of ash.

Burning coal does one other thing as well. Pine wood has a tendency to produce a lot of creosote. But by using the coal, the creosote deposits in the chimney are burned off leaving a hard discoloration. Not burned off as in a chimney fire but apparently one of the chemicals in coal smoke reacts with the creosote and chemically burns it off of the inside of the chimney. At least this is how our chimney sweep has explained it to us when he shows up and inspects our chimneys every year.

Our pellet stove (upstairs) is good for those cool cloudy days in the spring and fall when firing up the wood stove in the basement will heat the house too much.

Now one warning -- our wood stove is designed to burn coal. Your typical wood stove is not designed to do this and the coal will burn through the sides/bottom of the stove. - H.D.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Heating with wood has been a “necessary” tradition for thousands of years, but with the advent of the industrial revolution, and the advancement in methods of heating homes and buildings, heating with wood became less and less popular.  During the 1970s Energy Crises, there was interest in seeking “alternative” energy sources, and people started to rediscover the benefits of heating with wood. In the early 1990s, gas stoves and inserts took the place of traditional wood burning.  People were just too busy to deal with the time and energy required with wood.  In the last few years however, wood has come full circle, yet again.  It’s funny how people go back to things that are simple, reliable, and secure, in times of uncertainty.

I am a former Technical Administrator for a Wood and Gas Stove manufacturer, and thought I might be of some help by passing on some of my experience and knowledge. Basically, I was the guy who trained “the stove professionals” at the places that customers buy their stoves.

Heating your home/retreat with wood can be very rewarding, especially in a SHTF scenario. It can literally mean the difference between barely surviving, and comfortably thriving.  If a wood stove is not installed, operated, and maintained properly, there is a very real possibility that there can be substantial loss of property, and or life.


While fireplaces do add warmth and comfort, they are far from being efficient.  Most fireplaces are only about 10% efficient, in other words, 90% of your fuels’ BTUs are going straight up the chimney.  If you do have a fireplace in your home, and would like to make far less trips to the wood pile, please consider installing a wood burning fireplace insert.

Selection of a wood burning stove

There are many types of woodstoves, and not all woodstoves are built alike, and there are a few features that are highly advantageous. Most stoves will burn wood effectively, that is, yes the wood does burn, but there is a bit more to it than that.

Catalytic Stoves – The king of wood stoves

A catalytic stove utilizes what is called a “Catalytic Combustor”.  This combustor is similar to the catalytic combustor (converter) in a cars exhaust system. Its’ size can differ, but usually is 7” round, 7 x 9 oval, or rectangular, and about 2” thick. The combustor is a ceramic or stainless steel honeycomb on which is coated a catalyst. The catalyst may be a combination of one or more precious metals, including the following: platinum, palladium, rhodium and cerium.  The catalyst chemically lowers the combustion temperature of the smoke from a wood fire, thereby allowing more smoke to burn, resulting in higher efficiency, and less creosote buildup.  The active operating range is approximately 700-to-1,400 deg. F. The unit will glow red around 1,000+ deg., but is operating properly as long as it is in the active range. Catalytic Stoves come with a “Cat Thermometer” When operating properly; all that should be exiting the chimney is a white, steamy plume.

Saves Time and money
Dramatically longer burn times. Up to 40 hours on low setting (Blaze King Brand)
Much higher efficiency
Fewer trips to the wood pile
Chimney stays much cleaner, less chance of chimney fire
Greater burn control, resulting in more even temperatures in the home/retreat
Uses less woods
More expensive than traditional non-cats
Average life of converter is 5-9 yrs, depending on use and type of fuel burned
Replacement Cat’s are expensive. (This cost is made up by time and money saved)
Note:  In worst case scenario (i.e. TEOTWAWKI) and the cat is no longer working, the by-pass door (not the loading door) can be left open and the stove will still operate. The EPA will say that it is illegal to operate the stove without the use of a properly operating catalytic combustor. If it is TEOWAWKI, I’m sure you will get a pass on this.

Non-Catalytic Stoves

Non-cats are more commonplace, yet they too, are not all the same.  You have your basic type, that is, a box with a hole in the top, and you have others that employ what is called “secondary air”.  Secondary air aids in better combustion of smoke, resulting in lower emissions.
Less expensive than Catalytic
Fewer parts to wear out
Shorter burn times (cold mornings?)
Less efficient
Uses more wood
More trips to the wood box
Woodstoves with thermostats are much better at controlling the burn, and maintaining a more even temperature in the house.  They are incorporated into the stove itself. (Not on the wall) A thermostat is comprised of a “flapper” that is controlled by a wound, bi-metal strip. As the stove gets hotter, the flapper will start to close, thus controlling the amount of fresh air given to the fire, and conversely, will open up as the fire dies down.
A stove without a thermostat will generally have a manual air intake control, in the form of a plate that you can move to control the volume of air coming into the firebox.

Positioning of stove in the house

It is generally best to place your stove in a centralized area in the home.  Natural air flow is a large consideration.  Most average sized homes can be heated sufficiently with a quality woodstove, based upon layout and natural air flow. It is preferred to have the chimney within the envelope of the home and not routed on an outside wall.

Pre-Manufactured Chimney Systems

Most installations will utilize a pre-manufactured chimney system.  It is important to understand that there is two different systems, one is standard residential, and the other is High Temperature Mobile Home/Alcove/Close Clearance. Normally, single wall pipe called a connector, is used to come off of the stove. This pipe must be 24/26 MSG Black/Blued steel stove pipe. (Do not use aluminum or galvanized pipe) Once reaching the ceiling, it will transition into a “ceiling box” that has Triple Wall (actual chimney), that runs the rest of the way.
  Always follow the manufacturer’s installation requirements, and local codes.  DO NOT MIX DIFFERENT CHIMNEY SYSTEM.

Never use more than a total of two 90 deg. turns in an installation.  Any more than that, will significantly reduce your draft.  If possible, use two 45’s instead of a 90. Furthermore, never slap a 90 deg. elbow right off of the top of a stove.  Preferably, you would go a minimum of 36” up, before turning.  Furthermore, if a horizontal run is needed, it should be 36” or less, AND have a slope of ¼” per ft., downward into stove. It is important and required, that the chimney extends a minimum of 3 ft. above a roof, and is at least 2 ft. higher than any area of the roof within 10 ft.
Note:  Chimney sections should ALWAYS funnel into the stove collar, meaning the crimped end faces down into the stove. This allows for condensation/creosote to drain into the stove, and not leak outside of the pipe

Masonry Chimneys

If you have an existing masonry chimney, and are able to route your stove pipe into it, you can save a lot of money. A masonry chimney must be lined; the liner is usually made out of clay 5/8” thick min., and appropriate cement. A chimney liner should never be smaller than the cross sectional area of the stove collar, example: An 8” collar is approx. 50 square inches.  A visual inspection of the chimney is needed prior to the installation of the stove.  Look for cracks/holes, loose field stones/bricks, and mortar that is crumbling/deteriorating.  Creosote patches are signs of fresh air being introduced through these cracks.  Have a professional chimney sweep inspect and repair the chimney if you feel that this is beyond your capabilities/judgment.  Overly large, unlined, existing chimneys often will not draft properly, will accelerate the buildup of creosote, and usually violate code and installation requirements. All installations require a thimble when the pipe enters the chimney through a combustible wall. It may be constructed of brick, or pre-manufactured.
Note: Make sure the ash clean out door on the outside base (if installed) of the chimney is closed.  This will keep cold air from being introduced into the chimney, and reducing draft.

Creosote and chimney cleaning 
Creosote is basically caused by smoke cooling and condensing on the chimney walls. It can be built up with the addition of ash and other large, unburned carbon particles. It can present itself as hard and shiny, or thick, light and fluffy. You should inspect your chimney and connector system twice a month during burn season. Pay close attention to the appearance of creosote patches inside of the chimney. The existence of these patches is an indication of fresh air leaking into the chimney, and should be repaired or replaced immediately.

Use only a tight fitting chimney brush to clean your chimney. Getting “Bubba” up on top of the roof with tire chains, hoses, and the pool skimmer, will not only result in unsatisfactory results, it can potentially damage your chimney. Remove the first section of pipe off the stove, and attach a plastic bag to the open end of the pipe. Again, follow manufactures cleaning instructions, if available. You cannot expect to get every speck of creosote cleaned off, so don’t lose any sleep over it.  Just do your best to brush as much of it out as you can. 


“Magic” Chimney Creosote Cleaning Logs/Products

My experience has shown that nothing can substitute a tight fitting chimney brush for cleaning a chimney.  While there are several products out there that claim to “clean” or otherwise break down the buildup of creosote, I would not recommend them.
Safe Operation of Stoves
Always follow the manufactures operating instructions, and procedures. If none are available, please consider the following:

Never leave the stove unattended
with the loading door left open. Leaving the loading door open, then getting distracted by a phone call, or knock at the door, can have disastrous results.  Once a loading door is opened, there is virtually an unlimited supply of combustion air available for the fuel. If left unchecked, especially if the stove has just been filled, the stove can reach temperatures exceeding that in which the stove is designed.  This can warp the stove, or worse, cause a house or chimney fire.

Never use gasoline, kerosene, lighter fluid
or any other type of accelerant, to start a fire, or to “freshen up” a fire.

Never mix, or substitute chimney brands/systems
.  If you are trying to save money by mixing and matching stove pipe, you stand the chance of losing so much more. Chimney Systems are just that, “systems”.  They have gone through extensive testing for a reason, to save lives and property.  Many have gambled and lost on this issue. Do not use aluminum or galvanized “duct” piping, they cannot withstand the high temperatures of burning solid fuels.

Use only solid, seasoned wood as fuel
, unless the stove has otherwise been designed for such fuel. Do not burn coal, oil, plastics, wrapping paper, charcoal, railroad ties, particle board, and sawdust, painted wood, or anything else that is not dry, seasoned wood. Using unseasoned “green” wood will increase production of creosote, and make for poor draft up the chimney. Seasoned wood is wood that has been cut and allowed to “season”, or sit, for a period of usually at least 8 months. Saltwater driftwood can be death for a stove; it will [cause rust that will] eat right through it

If you are experiencing a chimney fire
and it is safe to do so, then make sure the loading door is closed, turn down the thermostat all the way (or manual air control), evacuate your home, and call 911.

Check Loading Door Gasket
twice during each burn season.  You can do this by opening the door and positioning a dollar bill on the area where the door gasket meets the opening on the stove, now close and latch the door.  There should be noticeable resistance when pulling the bill out. Try this in different areas around the door.

Ensure proper combustible clearances
to the stove are maintained.  Refer to your owner’s manual on distances.  If your stove is bought second hand, and does not have the clearances and certification agency labeled on the unit itself, contact the local authority having jurisdiction, to verify code requirements.

I have gone through most of the basics regarding wood burning stoves, and I’m sure that I’ve missed a thing or two. What I have presented are just general guidelines. I cannot emphasize enough that you follow the manufacturer’s Installation and Operating Instructions, doing so will ensure best performance, with the lowest risk of danger. - Kevin K.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Often in reading survivalist material, one comes across instructions on how to use fire in a camping or retreat setting for cooking, cleaning, sterilizing, and the like.  There is also quite a bit of information on how to protect ones self and belongings from the threat of fire, particularly wildfires.  Much of the information I have found is good information, and will be useful in a The End of the World as We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) scenario.  The purpose of this writing is not to further expound on those things most of us already know, but rather to use us to think about the other ways fire will impact our lives during TEOTWAWKI and look at some possibilities for actions that we should take now.

Without question, fire has played a vital role in shaping every ecosystem in existence on every land today.  That being said, it has to be true that fire, or the lack of fire, will continue to change and/or maintain the lands and ecosystems available into, and beyond TEOTWAWKI.

For centuries fires that started naturally, usually by lightning, and even fires started by native populations, burned unchecked across the landscape.  These fires were generally of low intensity because fire and the fuels they consumed were in harmony due to their long and virtually unhindered relationship.  Nature was in sync.  Around the turn of the 20th century, people began to see fire as a bad thing that was destroying timber, crops, and occasionally buildings.  With that mindset, and with the rapid advancement of technology, man’s capability to contain and control wildfire improved greatly, and we began to save the precious resources once doomed to destruction.  Unfortunately, it was a long time before it occurred to many people that fire is as necessary to the health and vitality of these areas as rain and sunlight.

Fast-forward a hundred years and the results of our extinguishment efforts are clear.  Many forests and wild lands have gone without God’s built-in cleaning for far too long, and now the fuels available to burn generate high-intensity, fast-burning fires that human ingenuity cannot seem to compete with.  I have managed wildfire on both coasts, and numerous places in between, and I want to assure you that this situation exists in many, if not most, of the wild lands, in every state in our Country today, and therefore, should be a consideration in locating and maintaining a retreat or GOOD location.
All wild lands are going to burn one way or another.  We can allow (or mimic, through the use of prescribed fire) naturally occurring fires to burn, or we can exclude fire from an area until the conditions finally come together to generate a conflagration that humans cannot control.  Choosing the former will go a long way toward maintaining these areas in a state where life will flourish.  These fires consume dead fallen debris which provides much needed nutrients back to the soil.  This in turn, encourages the growth of supple young plant life which provide browse and forage for different wildlife species, and opens up areas close to the ground for new growth of overstory species (of trees) to start over.

The exclusion of naturally occurring fire usually has adverse and devastating effects, which interrupt the “circle of life” for years, and sometimes changes the ecosystem forever.  Older, less healthy trees and shrubs are not “thinned out”, allowing the canopy to grow together and shade out nutritious young plant life.  This discourages wildlife browse, which allows the shrub layer and the fallen debris layer to become thicker and heavier.  Once fire does return, it burns with greater intensity and longer flame length, causing the entire tree canopy to be consumed, and large areas of soil to be sterilized, thereby inhibiting regeneration.

Certainly these illustrations are an oversimplification, but nonetheless they do provide an accurate representation of how these forested ecosystems can work.  And while the fire regime is not the only thing that affects forest health, I believe it is the most prominent aspect of these ecosystems which are affecting forest health in our country today.
So, what should you do when considering, building, or maintaining a retreat locale?  First of all, it is important to note that forests vary greatly from one area to the next.  Being a native of the southeast, my intuition and understanding of what a healthy forest looks like does not always apply in say, the northern Rockies.  I think you should choose a location based upon other factors that you have learned, and then begin to study and learn the fire regime for the ecosystem that you have chosen.  To do that, talk to the locals, the scientists or forestry personnel who work in the area, as well as the firefighters.  Farmers also have a good handle on the land and what is happening.  Pay particularly close attention to the old-timers who “grew up around here”.  Ask them these questions:

  • Have the forests changed in their lifetime?  Are they thick and overgrown?
  • Have the fires really gotten worse over the years, or is it just more “hyped” due to the increased population and the sensational media?
  • Is there more or less wildlife than years past?  (Again, this can be hyped by the media, but the local old-timers will have a good feel for the “truth”.)
  • Who owns most of the large tracts of land?  Do they ever log it?  Do they conduct prescribed burns or “controlled burns”?

Other sources of such information include libraries, museums, and town halls or community centers.  Often they will have old pictures.  Look at the background of those photos.  Do the natural areas look significantly different than they do now?
Once you have begun work on your locale, I believe as good stewards we are responsible to at least learn about the basic fire history and behavior in our area.  Those with tracts of land large enough should also learn how to use fire (prescribed fire) for the benefit of the land we use for our survival.  You may also need to get involved in the political process (as long as there is one to be involved in).  Currently, there are laws in many areas that prevent landowners from using fire in a useful and productive way.  While these laws are probably intended to provide for public safety, many of them are old and work against the public good in the long run by adversely affecting forest health.

Work to protect your property against loss due to wildfire.  You can have the best intentions in the world, but if you loose your home because you chose the wrong landscaping or building material, you will become a statistic that many will use to prevent responsible fire management. is a great resource to start looking for information on how to do this

Let me state now, unequivocally and for the record, fire in the wrong hands is extremely hazardous to life and property, and must be treated with the same respect one would give a loaded bazooka in a crowded church.  I am in no way advocating that everyone who owns or manages a rural piece of property go out and set it on fire.  Doing so, without the proper knowledge and safety measures, can cause loss of life and property in a disaster, for which you may be held wholly and personally liable in a court of law.  By the same token, allowing a natural fire to “burn unchecked across the landscape” without the proper knowledge and available resources can also have the same disastrous affects, and is illegal in some areas.

For those of you who believe, as I do, that the stuff will most certainly one day hit the fan, and are planning to make it “out here”, I assure you that these are important issues.  It cannot be overstated that if you intend to live off of the land, then the health and productivity of that land is vital.  Although done with the best of intentions, we have gone a long way to making our forests unhealthy through fire exclusion.  Continue to do so after the SHTF, and your once safe and beautiful homestead, could quite easily become a burned-out, barren wasteland that can no longer sustain you and yours.

JWR Adds: The sound practice of tree clearing to establish "defensible space" has been previously discussed in SurvivalBlog. See, for example, this 2007 article: From the Memsahib: Developing Wildfire Defensive Space at Your Home or Retreat. Don't just think about it, get out you chainsaw and accomplish it!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dear Editor:
The suggestions of where to hide money prompted me to write about my experiences with storing cash. I keep on hand a few hundred dollars in small denominations in the event of an interruption of cash supply . I keep the cash in a small home fire/water proof lockbox from Sentry (just large enough on the interior dimension to fit an 8.5x 11 sheet of paper, and about 2 inches deep) along with other papers I want to protect from fire. The small size obviously offers no theft protection so to secure it, as well as up the fire protection, I put the lockbox into a fireproof gun safe. I always felt that this was the best way to store it until I ran into a little problem.

I infrequently open the lockbox just because the nature of what’s in it isn’t needed often. Once after a couple of months I opened it to find that the currency had molded (not mildewed) while sitting in the lockbox. It was my first experience at laundering money.

I take two steps to avoid this problem. First I place the money in an envelope and vacuum seal it. Secondly I place in the lockbox, about a half cup of silica gel desiccant, with indicating beads, in a coffee filter and check the condition every few months replacing as needed.

I’ve never had any corrosion problems with any of the firearms in the safe so I have to assume that the issue is with the lockbox. In my mind either the rubber seal allowed the currency to draw moisture from the humidity in the air, or the currency had enough moisture in it to cause problems when it first went into the lockbox.

I thought this was something that could save someone a little heartache. - Kentucky Possum

JWR Replies: If your document lock box is marked "fireproof" then it probably has a moisture-bearing insulation, typically Calcium Silicate. The moisture is part of what makes it fireproof.) This insulation BTW, will eventually induce rust on your guns if stored in the same vault, unless you take precautions. Place in the vault either a large (1/2- pound) bag or canister of Silica Gel (rotated by drying in an oven or in a food dehydrator at 160 degrees F overnight, four times a year), or use a Golden Rod dehumidifier, continuously.

The same types of linings are used in "fireproof" file cabinets at gun vaults. And coincidentally, because these linings eventually lose their moisture, their "fireproof" ratings expire after a few years.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The American healthcare system is collapsing and it will continue to do so no matter what comes out of the current debates in Washington. As a result, healthcare in the United States will continue to rise in cost. Worse, healthcare will become difficult to obtain; specialty care is already scarce in some areas and many rural counties do not have even one doctor who will accept Medicare patients. There are many reasons for these developments that are too complicated to outline here but it’s important to be aware of these trends because they will affect your ability to obtain care when you need it.

Directly related to the healthcare system is the health insurance system which is equally a mess. Following are what I’ve learned in the past 30 years as a health insurance broker in a western state:

Why You Need Insurance

As an insurance broker, I constantly meet people who tell me that they don’t need medical insurance. Most often I’m told “I’ll just go down to the emergency room where they gotta treat me no matter what”. While this is technically accurate it doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get the care you need. A lot depends on the tax base of the city, county, and state where you live. If your region is financially solvent, the local hospital will probably take good care of you. However, if your local government or state are in trouble, healthcare is the first thing that gets cut, leaving hospitals underfunded and understaffed. Compounding the problem is the fact that reimbursements from HMOs, insurance companies, and the various federal and state entitlement plans (Medicare, Medicaid, county welfare, et cetera) are in many cases lower than the actual cost of delivering care. As a result, the system is starved for funding and providers are in revolt. Older doctors are simply retiring and dropping out of the system. Many of the physicians that remain in practice are canceling their contracts with insurance plans and government schemes and moving to cash-only business models. (In a major city in my state, it’s getting very difficult to find a pediatrician who accepts insurance. Most are now cash only.) As for emergency rooms, it’s becoming difficult for some hospitals to staff their ERs, especially with specialists and surgeons because the outside docs have no assurance that they’ll be paid for treating the un-insured. This results in delays in critically needed treatment as ER directors frantically try to find doctors who will provide care to injured but un-insured (or government-insured) patients.

These trends are causing a serious physician shortage that’s going to get worse as more doctors exit the system. As mentioned, many of the physicians who stay around are limiting their offices to patients who pay cash or have insurance that adequately reimburses them for their time and expertise. A group of surgeons in my town recently constructed their own private hospital about two miles away from the regional medical center. Since it’s private and does not accept government funds, the doctors can limit who gets in. If you don’t have insurance, they send you over to the medical center.

The fact is that the US healthcare system can no longer afford to provide care to everyone who needs it. Most federal, state, and county systems are hopelessly bankrupt and there are 50 million baby boomers now entering their highest-cost years of healthcare needs. In the coming years, who gets treated will be primarily be decided by a person’s ability to pay the bill and private, comprehensive insurance will be one of the few keys that will get you the care you need. Like it or not, in the future the people who have insurance will get treated and those that don’t will be sidelined to long lines for tests, appointment with specialists, and needed surgeries.

How to Get Covered

Aside from cost, the biggest problem with private medical insurance is getting approved. Most states allow insurance plans to decline individuals who have prior medical problems. The debates going on in Congress now include guarantee-to-issue mandates for insurance carriers. However, these mandates – if approved – are years way from implementation. Meanwhile, people with existing medical conditions need insurance now.

Some states in the eastern US mandate guaranteed coverage for all applicants but most states don’t. If you have a pre-existing condition, the only way to get medical insurance is to be part of a group plan, either as an employee or as a business owner. The regulations vary from state to state but most states require insurance carriers to issue group coverage to eligible businesses no matter what the health of the participants. In other words, insurance companies cannot refuse to cover employees of a legitimate group. However, you can’t just call yourself a group and get covered – eligibility for a guaranteed group plan is strictly defined. In most cases, eligibility requires an established business (typically in operation at least 3-to-6 months), with two or more W-2 status employees, working at least 30 hours per week, for at least the local minimum wage. All of these requirements must be satisfied to qualify and carriers require detailed verification of these parameters in the form of business records and payroll reports. So you can’t just call yourself a group and get coverage – you have to have a real business with at least two people on a legitimate W-2 payroll.

For most people, this is a dead end. However, there is a loophole in some state laws that can get you around most of these requirements. The insurance regulations in some states allow corporate officers to count as employees for the purposes of qualifying for group insurance. If your state has this provision you can form a corporation, name yourself and your spouse (or family member, or friend) as corporate officers and become eligible for guaranteed-issue medical coverage no matter what your health history. In my state there is no requirement that the corporation actually engage in a trade or business or have revenues, nor is there a requirement that the officers be on payroll or take a salary. All that’s required is a corporate structure and at least two officers named on the filing documents. Carriers hate this loophole but there’s nothing that they can do about it if it’s part of the state’s insurance code. It’s the law and they have to abide by it.

Cautions: The corporation must be filed in your state of residence and the officers typically have to be state residents as well. Other requirements may apply depending on where you live so discuss the details with a local attorney who works with small businesses and a local insurance broker who is familiar with the group plans available in your area. Also, don’t submit a filing with 10 or 15 family and friends named as officers because they all need coverage. Keep a low-profile. You may technically be within the law but I’ve seen carriers find one excuse after another to postpone approval of a plan because they didn’t like the group. You are much more likely to get five separate corporations approved, each with two officers, than a single filing listing 10.

In my state, creating a corporation costs about $2,000 for the legal work and filing fees and there may be annual taxes levied by the state depending on where you live. Note that these outlays do not include the cost of the insurance plan; the corporation is merely the vehicle that will allow you to obtain coverage. However, once your corporation is in place, you will be able to obtain insurance and maintain coverage for the rest of your life irrespective of your health or your employment.

Pre-Existing Condition Exclusions: Even though you can obtain guaranteed coverage through your corporation, the insurance plan will not necessarily cover pre-existing health conditions. Unless you have prior insurance in place within 62 days of the start of your group insurance (“Prior Credible Coverage”), existing medical conditions may have a waiting period before they are covered. Here’s the general rule:

A pre-existing condition is a medical issue for which you saw a licensed practitioner, had tests or treatment, or for which you took a prescription medication in the six months prior to the start of the new plan. If you did not see a practitioner or have treatment, tests, or took meds for the condition in the prior six months, then you are covered for all conditions immediately. If you did have treatment of some sort, then that condition is not covered until you have been on your new plan for six months. But after six months-plus-one day, the pre-existing condition is covered just like any other illness. And once you’ve satisfied the six-month wait you won’t have to do it again even if you switch carriers or plans as long as you move directly from one group plan to another.

Finally, don’t lie about your medical history thinking that you’ll get past the pre-existing condition exclusion. Insurance carriers investigate every claim that comes in during the first six months that a plan is in effect. They can do this because the authorizations you sign when submitting a claim allow the company to obtain any medical records about you no matter how far back. Meanwhile, you’ll likely forget that during a prior office visit with your doctor he asked you about the problem and you mentioned some treatments in the past. That will be in your doc’s notes and the insurance carrier will see the note and start tracing back. If they find out you lied on the application they’ll refund all your premiums, hand you back all your claims, and rescind your coverage. People try to cheat insurance companies every day and the carriers know every lie, every scam, and every trick that people try to pull. They’ll find out if you try to cheat them and they’ll pull your coverage if you do.

Low Cost Medical Coverage

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as "Low Cost Medical Coverage" but there is lower-cost coverage. We tell all of our clients to select a plan with the highest deductible they can afford if they get sick. High deductible plans have lower premiums but still provide comprehensive major-medical coverage in the event of a serious accident or illness. In most states carriers now offer plans with annual deductibles of up to $5,000 and that’s what we recommend.

While $5,000 may seem like a lot to pay if you get sick, you can always work out a payment plan with the hospital once you’re on your feet again. For example, let’s say that a heart attack and bypass surgery cost you $50,000, with the insurance company picking up about $43,000 of the cost. You owe the hospital $7,000 for the deductible and various co-payments and you can’t afford to write a check for the full amount. First off, thank them for taking good care of you – the hospital’s billing people get yelled at all the time about how high the bill is. Meanwhile, the hospital’s docs and nurses probably saved your life, so be respectful and grateful. Then, offer to pay $600/month over 12 months. Another strategy is to ask for a discount in exchange for immediate payment by cash or by credit card. Providers want to collect payments and close out accounts as fast as possible so many will make a deal for quick payment. If you owe the hospital $7,000 tell them that you’ll settle the bill on the spot for $3,500. They may counter at $4,500 or $5,000, but whatever figure you settle on will be a significant discount. The key here is immediate payment – have your cash or credit card ready because it’s the only enticement you have to get a reduction in your balance.

Insurance That’s Not Insurance

I occasionally get a call from someone that goes like this: “I bought insurance from a guy and then got sick and now the hospital says I owe $30,000. What can I do?” Some insurance contracts have limits on how much will be paid for expensive care such as surgery or hospitalization but those limits are buried in fine print on the back page that no one reads. These plans typically have lower rates that the local Blue Cross/Blue Shield policies and it’s tempting to purchase the cheaper coverage. However, like anything else, you get what you pay for with insurance. Plans with similar benefits all cost about the same from carrier to carrier because they pay out about the same amount of money if you get sick. So a plan that promises lower rates for high benefits is impossible – somewhere along the way, the insurance company has figured out a way to make a profit even though they charge less than their competitors. Most of the time they do this by capping the payout in some way, usually by “internal limits” on expensive benefits. For example, a company located in the Southwest has been very successful in marketing a “special” policy designed specifically for the self-employed. Their sales people tout the great coverage and low premiums and they sell a boatload of this junk insurance all over the US. What they don’t tell you is that the policy benefits have caps on the payouts. The agent will explain that the policy will pay 80% of your hospital bill but what he doesn’t tell you is that the hospital payout is limited to $10,000. (This is an actual case that I dealt with last year. A young women was diagnosed with cervical cancer about seven months after buying insurance from this company. She now owes the hospital $37,000 because her contract limited the hospital payouts to $10,000.)

Here’s what to look for: Be very suspicious of insurance plans that are connected to some sort of official-sounding “association” or “union” for the self-employed. I’ve rarely seen a plan like this that provided good coverage. Some of these plans don’t even have a real insurance company behind them - the association or union is just a front for the sales guys who sell cheap insurance, collect a pile of money from the premium payments, and then close the plan down and skip town, leaving all their customers with no coverage. (I’ve personally seen two such "plans" in my area.) Also, do not complete an application if you have to initial every page of the form. When you initial a form it means that you have read, understand, and agreed to everything on that page and doing so is legally binding. That means that you can’t sue the agent or the company if there’s a dispute later about the terms of what you signed. That’s what happened to the girl with cervical cancer - she got stuck with a $37,000 hospital bill but couldn’t sue the agent because she had initialed the page with the fine print about the $10,000 payout cap. And because of this initial-each-page scam, that guy is still out there selling his junk policies to unsuspecting people.

Before buying insurance, read the fine print. Ask questions. Listen carefully and take notes. Talk to agents from different companies. And be very suspicious of any plan that’s not insured by a major, well-known insurance company. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

Premium Increases: Whatever plan you choose and whatever the monthly rate, your premium will go up every year. Yep, every year. By how much? That depends on your location but in our state it’s averaged 10% per year. Some years were higher than that, some lower, but 10% is the long-term average we’ve seen and we thing that will continue. There are lots of reasons for this – too many to discuss in this posting - but it’s a fact and you need to plan for it. In addition to the annual increases, your rate will also get bumped up as you move into higher age brackets (e.g. 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-54, 55-59, 60-64). Fair or unfair, right or wrong, that’s the way the system works. The cost of healthcare and the cost of health insurance is going to rise in price every year. If you want access to good medical care you need to understand and plan for this reality.

The one offset to these increases is to raise your deductible from time to time. A $5,000 deductible was unheard of a few years ago and now is common. In a few years we’ll start to see deductibles of $10,000 or more. Moving your deductible up every few years will help control your premium outlays. But doing so will place increased importance on maintaining your health. In the coming years as medical care gets more costly and you raise your deductible your personal lifestyle will increasingly impact your household finances. If you lead an unhealthy life your medical expenses will ultimately bankrupt you unless you’re very wealthy. Therefore, a healthy lifestyle is now a financial decision. Cut out the tobacco, get more exercise, eat right, and get your check-ups. In short, do all the things we all know that we should be doing. If you follow though, you’ll be healthier and there will be less danger of you depleting your family’s monetary reserves by $10,000 per year for deductibles and co-pays because of a chronic illness.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Last Sunday night my family drove home to the sight of a pillar of smoke that looked like it was coming directly from where my house should be. It turned out to be the next door neighbor’s home. The blessing is that no one was home, so no one got hurt. The downside is that no one was home so everything owned was lost. I mean everything – clothes, food, water pump, furniture, bedding, cash on hand, tools, toys, games, appliances, equipment, books – everything.

The Red Cross put the family in a hotel for a few days. But after that they came home with a rented shipping container that they are sleeping in. Did I mention they lost everything? The local churches have provided clothes, the neighbors are providing meals. The local funeral home director of all people is donating an old trailer as temporary housing. They will eventually rebuild. But in the short term it is a post-SHTF situation that we can all learn lessons from. Here are the top three:

#1 for me is a profound sense of gratitude and appreciation for everything I own that might have been lost had it been my home. We shouldn’t take our blessings for granted. The end of the world as we know it could happen on a personal level at any time.

#2 This is the opportunity to share supplies meant for starting over in a post-SHTF world. You learn by doing. No matter how much I thought I was ready, I failed to think through the details. For instance one of the things I gave them was boxed mac and cheese with a kettle to boil it in. They had no stove to cook it on, or milk or butter that the directions call for. My bad. I just didn’t think it through.

#3 Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I can not get over the idea that if my home had burned while we were away – they only possessions that we would have left would be what was stored away from home. If you don’t have a couple of caches. Get them in place ASAP.

Prayers for those in need are never wasted – thanks in advance for them, - Mr. Yankee

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Grandpappy isn't comparing apples to oranges correctly. His reloaded ammo pricing is for premium self defense bullets, which cost $150 or so per thousand. Most people are going to reload cast lead, which would cost $50 or 60 per thousand for a .40 S&W for example. If you price new premium self defense ammo, like Doubletap, it is going for around $700 a case. If you purchased new brass (why?) Hornady or Speer premium SD bullets, you would still be able to build your own (which we supposedly should not due to legal concerns) SD ammo for half the cost. And practice? Much, much cheaper with lead bullets.

Recent online ammo vendors (who have in stock) are trying to charge almost $500 for a case of .45 ACP 230 grain hardball (look at Natchez). You can load 230 grain lead roundnose (LRN) and duplicate the factory load for maybe $130 or so with good hard cast bullets included. Compared to today's ridiculous ammo prices, you can make up the cost of your reloading setup in a case or two of ammo. Anyone who wants to shoot more than 500 rounds a year should be reloading. Thanks! - M.S.

Grandpappy had a great article on reloading, but what about time? Time is money. Reloading is very time consuming. Between [the time required for] collecting the fired brass, sorting the brass, cleaning [or tumbling] the brass, de-priming the brass, adjusting brass specs to factory (sizing, case length, primer pocket, etc…), this alone is a huge labor and use of time.

This, and my worsening eyesight that keeps me from enjoying precision hand loads, is why I gave up on reloading and sold all my equipment and supplies. BTW, I made a bundle of cash selling my new and used brass and primers. Wow! I quadrupled my money.

No one seems to factor in time. I don’t know about you, but have a long list of to-do projects and brass prep is not one of them.

I’m sure glad I bought hard and heavy in ammo back in the old days. I’m set for my life and probably the life of my kid too. - Robert

JWR Replies: I agree that reloading is time-consuming, but it is a valuable skill. For anyone that makes a six-figure salary, it is probably not worthwhile as a hobby at the present time. But for the rest of us, that don't make that much money, and a have a bit of time on our hands, it is well worth doing. It is particularly worthwhile for students and retirees. I love listening to music, and find that since it is a relatively quiet activity, reloading is a soothing, almost cathartic experience. But, of course, "your mileage may vary." Regardless, it is a valuable skill. I recommend that SurvivalBlog readers at least take the time to learn how to do it, and lay in the appropriate tools and supplies. Reloading capability might prove invaluable in a long-term collapse.

OBTW, don't overlook taking the same humidity precautions for powder and primers that you do for loaded ammunition. On that note, I should mention that I prefer using used Tupperware boxes for storing primer and percussion caps. They are airtight, yet they pose less of an explosion risk than metal ammo cans, in the unlikely event of a house fire. (I look for Tupperware containers whenever I go to garage sales, thrift stores, and farm auctions. Powder cans seal quite well by themselves. Again, for the sake of fire safety, they should be stored in a "blow open" plywood cabinet. Again, resist the temptation to store it in something confining like a 20mm ammo can.

Monday, March 2, 2009


The need for usable skills in tough times, goes without need for embellishment. The grand question is: which skills are the most valuable? In any situation the basic needs are obvious – food, shelter, and clothing. Choosing what I would concentrate on learning, became predicated on what I could do, and what the community could provide in stressful times.

I moved some time ago from the gulf coast to Tennessee to retire and begin preparing for the coming events. I moved into a community which is pretty much self sufficient, mostly by religious choice. Livestock husbandry ranges from cattle (mostly for milk), goats to chickens, hogs and horses.

I began to raise goats several years ago, starting with Boer cross. After several discussions I have crossed them with a strain of milk goat to reduce the size (and therefore the quantity of meat to be preserved) and gain the benefit of milk products. I researched the process of cheese making and using products initially supplied from New England Cheese Makers, learned the processes. It was very interesting to discover that the rennin (for assisting in cheese making) actually comes from the stomach of ruminators, another by product of the goats.

Preserving meats became my next concern. When talking to many folks, they believe that they will just run out and kill fresh meat when needed. Not only will the game be decimated in no time, but without a method of preservation it is wasteful. Preferred methods around here are smoking, honey and salt boxes for curing and preserving. The use of honey as a preservative turns out to be one of the very best. Honey has a natural bacteria inhibitor, and curing smoked meats in honey just makes life better. This in turn has determined the need for bees – My neighbor already has a couple of hives which produces enough for now. The use of honey reduces the dependence on obtaining sources of salt. In addition they are many maple trees in the area which folks tap during the winter and early spring. Many families have ponds a raise fish, which are canned by cold packing or salting and drying.

Having fresh water is a paramount concern. Even with a spring the water quality can change with the amount of rain causing algae blooms. These can range for digestive distress to just foul taste. The stream water cannot be used without treatment, as we have otters, beavers, coyote, foxes, and a whole range of other critters, so amoeba type problems are probable. Boiling water is the surest, but is often not the most practical. Any numbers of excellent water filters are available, but the Big Berky is the most popular here. In any case the water has to be pre-filtered to remove organic matter. This can be done by straining through a clean cloth, then passing through/over a disinfecting agent such as a silver compound, or the addition of non-detergent bleach. The next best is a cistern collecting rain fall, but even this can have issues as it tends to clean smoke dust and pollen from the air on its way down.

As for the vegetable gardens the goats do help with the fertilizer which is composted and added to the garden. The area I live in is pretty much a “rock farm” so there is a constant need to remove the rocks from the garden areas and add in soil from the hills behind us. This soil is usually pretty acidic with all of the hardwood trees. Most folks use lime from the feed stores – haven’t found a good substitute yet.

Clothing is one of the details that I have struggled with. The ability to produce cloth is beyond most of us. Wool makes for great outer wear, but lousy underwear. Goat hair can be made into quite durable garments, somewhat at the expense of comfort. We have chose to use GI surplus wool socks, sweaters, BDUs (because they are very durable) and purchase and store long and regular underwear. We do have a real cobbler in the community that does make very nice shoes/boots, but I still have a back up pair. Many women here weave or quilt (using discarded clothing as well as new cloth). I do keep some “unisex” clothing on hand for whomever – mostly in the form of overalls. They are fairly cheap and commonly worn in the area, and during the cold weather are an additional layer. We have had most days at or below freezing and night down to zero. I have looked into tanning leather – it is a noxious process and can be done. I am choosing to have the hides tanned while I still can and store them against the future need as clothing.

Our cabin is solid cedar timbers, and smells great! The downside is that there is a constant need to stay on top of the chinking and calking, to reduce drafts – I’ve used 22 tubes already this winter. We thought that pellet stove would be a great idea – wrong. First it requires electricity. With the power out you have to fire up the generator which is noisy and uses expensive fuel. Second the stove can burn corn or compressed hardwood pellets. Corn is food or the animals and us, and tough enough to grow enough as is. Besides using the corn leaves the odor of burned popcorn as exhaust. Compressed wood pellets are used on an average of 80# per day at a cost of ~$9.00 / day. Pulling the stove this spring and going to a straight quality wood burning stove that can be used to cook on. To back up a wood burning stove an axe, buck saw, splitting wedges or a maul, and or chain saw are required based on how much free time you can devote to it. Setting aside wood requires a year round effort to keep from killing yourself. Although we have electricity I do have a pitcher pump ready to install in the event it is needed. And have simple kerosene lanterns for light. I prefer the straight wick models, as the mantels have become very had to come by recently.

Health concerns in rural living also means, that you have to have a working knowledge of first aid and basic medicine. The Red Cross has good courses on first aid and the older Boy Scout manuals give an acceptable knowledge as well. Around here there is a good deal of herbal medicine practiced. This is good for preventive and minor issues. I have chosen to invest in some older college texts on anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology, and a physician’s desk reference. These books help in diagnosing, but will be of minimal help if/when the main line drugs are not available. They are great for showing how to stitch and bandage wounds more severe than the first aid books cover. We keep a well stocked medicine chest with off the shelf medicines, and rotate them as needed. As we find local remedies that are effective, we also include them (i.e. willow bark tea as a substitute for aspirin).

I have learned rudimentary blacksmith skills, and collected some of the tools as well as books on the subject. I can fashion horseshoes, wheel rims, forge weld, make cut nails and a few other tasks as required. There are many better skilled in this community and it will be more time efficient to trade/buy their services.

I have a full time gunsmithing business which has been sorely needed in this area – seems like everyone has one that they need fixed. So much for a retirement business….

The acquisition of books, and how to reading material can spell the difference between existence and some degree of comfort. In addition it is my considered opinion the education of young people is severely unbalanced. The possession of text books, classics, and recreational reading allows one to educate children when contact is limited. The community has a long history of home schooling. These kids routinely pass the high school exit exams (same tests as the state requires for graduation) with higher scores, and at an earlier age. Most parents seek out folks whom are well versed to teach the children. Oh yea, one by product is that the kids are very respectful, and thoughtful.

In conclusion I thought that preparation for tougher times meant more beans, bullets, and bullion. As it turns out, the retraining of my mind and attitudes has presented the larger challenge. Understanding how you store food, is nearly as important as what you store. What you can make is as important as what you can do without (toilet paper?) Knowing that one person cannot do all that is required, only means that you learn the skills to assist your community which will supplement everyone’s survival/ quality of life. I thought that being retired would allow me to kick back and enjoy some good libations. It has turned out to be the greatest learning curve of my life – and I love it. Jim’s preparedness course is a great place to start. But the real preparedness is in the doing! - Dennis S.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Yesterday, in Part1, I discussed the "safe" and counter-cyclical occupations for the unfolding economic depression. Today, I'd like to talk about one specific approach: self-employment with a home-based business.

I posted most the following back in late 2005, but there are some important points that are worth repeating:

The majority of SurvivalBlog readers that I talk with tell me that they live in cities or suburbs, but they would like to live full time at a retreat in a rural area. Their complaint is almost always the same: "...but I'm not self-employed. I can't afford to live in the country because I can't find work there, and the nature of my work doesn't allow telecommuting." They feel stuck.

Over the years I've seen lots of people "pull the plug" and move to the boonies with the hope that they'll find local work once they get there. That usually doesn't work. Folks soon find that the most rural jobs typically pay little more than minimum wage and they are often informally reserved for folks that were born and raised in the area. (Newcomers from the big city certainly don't have hiring priority!)

My suggestion is to start a second income stream, with a home-based business. Once you have that business started, then start another one. There are numerous advantages to this approach, namely:

You can get out of debt

You can generally build the businesses up gradually, so that you don't need to quit your current occupation immediately

By working at home you will have the time to home school your children and they will learn about how to operate a business.

You can live at your retreat full time. This will contribute to your self-sufficiency, since you will be there to tend to your garden, fruit/nut trees, and livestock.

If one of your home-based businesses fails, then you can fall back on the other.

Ideally, for someone that is preparedness-minded, a home-based business should be something that is virtually recession proof, or possibly even depression proof. Ask yourself: What are you good at? What knowledge or skills do you have that you can utilize. Next, consider which businesses will flourish during bad times. Some good examples might include:

Mail order/Internet sales/eBay Auctioning of preparedness-related products.



Medical Transcription


Repair/refurbishment businesses

Freelance writing

Blogging (with paid advertising) If you have knowledge about a niche industry and there is currently no authoritative blog on the subject, then start your own!

Mail order/Internet sales of entertainment items. (When times get bad, people still set aside a sizable percentage of their income for "escape" from their troubles. For example, video rental shops have done remarkably well during recessions.)

Burglar Alarm Installation

Other home-based businesses that seem to do well only in good economic times include:

Recruiting/Temporary Placement

Fine arts, crafts, and jewelry. Creating and marketing your own designs--not "assembly" for some scammer. (See below.)

Mail order/Internet sales/eBay Auctions of luxury items, collectibles, or other "discretionary spending" items

Personalized stationary and greeting cards (Freelance artwork)


Web Design


Beware the scammers! The fine folks at have compiled a "Top 10" list of common work-at-home and home based business scams to beware of:

10. Craft Assembly
This scam encourages you to assemble toys, dolls, or other craft projects at home with the promise of high per-piece rates. All you have to do is pay a fee up-front for the starter kit... which includes instructions and parts. Sounds good? Well, once you finish assembling your first batch of crafts, you'll be told by the company that they "don't meet our specifications."
In fact, even if you were a robot and did it perfectly, it would be impossible for you to meet their specifications. The scammer company is making money selling the starter kits -- not selling the assembled product. So, you're left with a set of assembled crafts... and no one to sell them to.

9. Medical Billing
In this scam, you pay $300-$900 for everything (supposedly) you need to start your own medical billing service at home. You're promised state-of-the-art medical billing software, as well as a list of potential clients in your area.
What you're not told is that most medical clinics process their own bills, or outsource the processing to firms, not individuals. Your software may not meet their specifications, and often the lists of "potential clients" are outdated or just plain wrong.
As usual, trying to get a refund from the medical billing company is like trying to get blood from a stone.

8. Email Processing
This is a twist on the classic "envelope stuffing scam" (see #1 below). For a low price ($50?) you can become a "highly-paid" email processor working "from the comfort of your own home."
Now... what do you suppose an email processor does? If you have visions of forwarding or editing emails, forget it. What you get for your money are instructions on spamming the same ad you responded to in newsgroups and Web forums!
Think about it -- they offer to pay you $25 per e-mail processed -- would any legitimate company pay that?

7. "A List of Companies Looking for Homeworkers!"
In this one, you pay a small fee for a list of companies looking for homeworkers just like you.
The only problem is that the list is usually a generic list of companies, companies that don't take homeworkers, or companies that may have accepted homeworkers long, long ago. Don't expect to get your money back with this one.

6. "Just Call This 1-900 Number For More Information..."
No need to spend too much time (or money) on this one. 1-900 numbers cost money to call, and that's how the scammers make their profit. Save your money -- don't call a 1-900 number for more information about a supposed work-at-home job.

5. Typing At Home
If you use the Internet a lot, then odds are that you're probably a good typist. How better to capitalize on it than making money by typing at home? Here's how it works: After sending the fee to the scammer for "more information," you receive a disk and printed information that tells you to place home typist ads and sell copies of the disk to the suckers who reply to you. Like #8, this scam tries to turn you into a scammer!

4. "Turn Your Computer Into a Money-Making Machine!"
Well, this one's at least half-true. To be completely true, it should read: "Turn your computer into a money-making machine... for spammers!"
This is much the same spam as #5, above. Once you pay your money, you'll be sent instructions on how to place ads and pull in suckers to "turn their computers into money-making machines."

3. Multi-Level Marketing (MLM)
If you've heard of network marketing (like Amway), then you know that there are legitimate MLM businesses based on agents selling products or services. One big problem with MLMs, though, is when the pyramid and the ladder-climbing become more important than selling the actual product or service. If the MLM business opportunity is all about finding new recruits rather than selling products or services, beware: The Federal Trade Commission may consider it to be a pyramid scheme... and not only can you lose all your money, but you can be charged with fraud, too!
We saw an interesting MLM scam recently: one MLM company advertised the product they were selling as FREE. The fine print, however, states that it is "free in the sense that you could be earning commissions and bonuses in excess of the cost of your monthly purchase of" the product. Does that sound like free to you?

2. Chain Letters/Emails ("Make Money Fast")
If you've been on the Internet for any length of time, you've probably received or at least seen these chain emails. They promise that all you have to do is send the email along plus some money by mail to the top names on the list, then add your name to the bottom... and one day you'll be a millionaire. Actually, the only thing you might be one day is prosecuted for fraud. This is a classic pyramid scheme, and most times the names in the chain emails are manipulated to make sure only the people at the top of the list (the true scammers) make any money. This scam should be called "Lose Money Fast" -- and it's illegal.

1. Envelope Stuffing
This is the classic work-at-home scam. It's been around since the U.S. Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, and it's moved onto the Internet like a cockroach you just can't eliminate. There are several variations, but here's a sample: Much like #5 and #4 above, you are promised to be paid $1-2 for every envelope you stuff. All you have to do is send money and you're guaranteed "up to 1,000 envelopes a week that you can stuff... with postage and address already affixed!" When you send your money, you get a short manual with flyer templates you're supposed to put up around town, advertising yet another harebrained work-from-home scheme. And the pre-addressed, pre-paid envelopes? Well, when people see those flyers, all they have to do is send you $2.00 in a pre-addressed, pre-paid envelope. Then you stuff that envelope with another flyer and send it to them. Ingenious perhaps... but certainly illegal and unethical.

From all that I've heard, most franchises and multi-level marketing schemes are not profitable unless you pick a great product or service, and you already have a strong background in sales. Beware of any franchise where you wouldn't have a protected territory. My general advice is this: You will probably be better off starting your own business, making, retailing, or consulting about something where you can leverage your existing knowledge and/or experience.


In closing, I'd like to reemphasize that home security and locksmithing are likely to provide steady and profitable employment for the next few years, since hard economic times are likely to trigger a substantial crime wave. After all, someone has to keep watch on the tens of thousands of foreclosed, vacant houses. (If not watched, then crack cocaine addicts, Chicago syndicate politicians, or other undesirables might move in!)

Monday, February 9, 2009


For starters I would like to say that Jim you are dead-on with your Delta Junction recommendation. I live near Delta. And it is some of the finest farm land in the world. everything grows amazing here. Some of the information in the previous letters is wrong and I would like to clarify them . The growing season may be a little shorter in days of light, but in total hours of light it is much longer than other places. It gets light here in May and gets dark at night again in late August. Some vegetables will grow great, some don't do so well, Corn doesn't like it, but potatoes grow without trying. And as for isolation, that's the idea. Things are harder to get, but you learn to live with less and enjoy it more. As for power, at least in the Delta area you do not need to worry about that in the winter, solar is awesome here in the summer, but in winter the wind is ever present. I have four wind generators that I built from old car alternators and Fan blades. I never had a loss in the battery bank. I live off of their grid anyway, so I am used to adapting.
As for the wood situation, certain types of trees do incredibly well here, And they grow faster not slower, I have trees that I know weren't there ten years ago and are over twelve feet tall, Spruces grow well here, and birch is my main heat, I have a fair sized house, and a new, catalyst stove and burn 5-to-7 cords of wood per winter.

Fuel is more expensive here, but it fluctuates like anywhere else, buy when the price is low, and stockpile it. In this area it is common for people to have a couple of 1,000 gallon tanks buried in their yard, Moose and caribou ar always around as a meat source, as with buffalo in this area. (Yes we have buffalo in Alaska). Along with Many other species of flora and fauna.

On the other hand Alaska is not a place for those who can not take care of themselves. In this area it is not uncommon to see the temps dip below -60,F. I have seen -72. It is dark all winter, And the stores never have what you want. There is plenty of water though, my well is thirty feet deep, and the pump is set down to twenty feet, My suggestion for people who are thinking about moving to Alaska is simple, Unless you have lived a subsistence lifestyle for a while, are used to constant extreme weather changes, and can do it on your own, stay where you are, or find some place else. As for me, I will never go outside [Alaska] again, you can keep it. - Z. in Alaska


Mr. Rawles
I too am a long time reader and this is also the first time I have written. I urge all of your readers to take head to Mr. Galt's letter concerning Alaska as a retreat locale. It is harsh up here. I live in Delta Junction area and love it. We have been here for over 10 years now and have our place set up pretty well. We live off grid and in the bush, hunt, fish, trap, mush dogs etc. etc. I wouldn't encourage anyone to try to move here and set up a retreat this late in the game. We just went through a couple weeks of -50 to -60(Tok recorded -78) temperatures then 70 m.p.h. hour winds that blew down many trees and damaged a lot of structures. These things are a regular occurrence. A lot of Russian immigrants have moved from the lower 48 into the Delta area. Most of the ones I have met seem to be good people but most live off welfare. When the welfare stops we'll have problems. The bad bunch of them are thieves already not just the Russian but Americans also. The Russian community has a bad reputation for it though. Anyone planning to move here and find a job might be in for a rude awakening.

The local jobs don't pay enough to live on the grid and the government jobs stay filled mostly. Delta is profiting from a small military bubble economy brought about by the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program but with you know in office now all that could come to a screeching halt at anytime. Because of the GMD program everyone around here thinks their land has gold on it and prices it accordingly.

Yes, Delta does have a big farming community. Most of the farmers get buy living off of government programs and are deeply in debt. The ones that don't live off the program hurt. Most farms lay dormant wile collecting CRP checks. I have heard that there will be no more new CRP contracts in the future. The fertility of the farm land has gone way down too because of the climate here. The cold doesn't allow much time for plant matter to decompose plus it's hard to have crop rotation with only Barley. (Barley, hay grasses, potatoes, and carrots are the main crops grown here.) For the last three years we have had a frost in the middle of August that pretty much killed any vegetables that were not in a green house.

Wells in Delta are any where from 40 to 450 feet in depth. If you buy land where there is bed rock you may drill 450 deep and still get mastodon pee to drink. Wells are at $50 a foot this year. Better plan on how to get water out of the well when the power goes down. Currently heating oil is 2.23 at the pump in town, more if its delivered. Diesel is currently $3.69. It hit $5 last winter. Fire wood from Delta Lumber is $180 per cord until they run out for the winter other sources are up to $250. The people from Delta lumber are great people and will work themselves silly trying make sure no one goes cold. I have seen one add for firewood for $300 per cord. Dry firewood is a must because -50 the soot form green wood builds in the chimney thus creating chimney fire. A friend of mine got burned out at -50 for that very reason. They didn't get in enough dry wood for the winter. Luckily they were able to run to separate garage and no one suffered any cold injuries. Finding a place to cut fire wood now is getting hard to find.

Most people here are enjoying high power bills now since Golden Valley increased their rates. The average size house power bill is running $300- $400 [per month] in the winter maybe less if your really frugal. You have to keep your vehicles plugged in. In a diesel that is like running a 1,500 watt electric heater. Wind power is a possibility if your turbine can withstand the wind. Closer to the mountains it has been 100 mph. The wind here isn't steady it is really gusty, not good for turbine. Rent is running around a $1,000 and up for a three bedroom home. Certified sewers are from $6,000 to $16,000 depending. Cost to build is running around the $150 per square foot range and going up.

If you don't know how Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) will affect you, then you's better find out before you try to make a permanent move here. Cabin fever has been the demise of many people who move here and plan to live the wilderness experience. The only cure for it is to be outside. It don't matter what the the temp is you got to get out side when it's light. SAD has be the cause for suicide, alcoholism, and drugs. People do the latter two to cope. I personally have never had it. I have too much work to do. People who don't procrastinate and get all there chores done and food stores in order for the winter and plan to stay in the cabin for the winter suffer the worse. We don't procrastinate but we don't stay in either. The cabin is only a place to warm up, eat and sleep. Living is done outside the cabin. We trap, mush dogs, care for the horses, cut more fire wood when it's not too cold, fire up the blacksmith forge, build some log furniture. It is easy to get lazy and lethargic during the winter. You have to fight the urge daily. We had a couple move in not to far from us. I told the lady to make sure she kept the windows uncovered in the winter. Well, they were the lazy type and didn't ever have enough wood cut so they covered the windows and blocked out some of the cold but mostly the light. They made it though one winter but the next one they didn't. They pulled up [stakes] and left middle of the winter.

As much as I love living here, if I were looking for a retreat locale this late in the game then it would be some place more hospitable. We did move here for the lack of people and when things get even worse I expect people to start migrating out of Alaska especially the interior. It requires a lot of hard work to live here more especially so if your living off the land. How would you like to cut 20 cords of wood with a hand operated saw and axe when you run out of gas and or you saw goes down? Running chain saws in the sub-zero weather is hard on them. Better get extra clutches for them. What about when the mosquitoes bloom and you have run out of bug dope?

Hunting is decent here. The Russian community poaches a lot of the moose in the Delta management area. They do it to eat. I am not knocking them for that. When the SHTF it will be even worse therefore even we will have to start going further into the bush to hunt using sled teams to get there. If you plan to have dogs and sled they require a lot of food. [Here they eat mostly] fish. The salmon that makes it this far inland is [best -suited for] dog food. It is pretty beat up by the time is gets here. The flesh is a faint pink to gray color as they are close to the end of the life span. Anyone planning to come to Alaska to survive the upheaval better have there you know what together or they won't make it. This land is unforgiving and the least mistakes get big in a hurry. Sorry that my letter has gotten so long but I want people to know what they are getting into if they come here thinking it's paradise. It ain't. but it's the life we love. People here are willing to help if you are not stupid. Our favorite saying around here is "If you gonna be dumb then you'd better be tough" - C.B.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I followed a link from your site and ended up at the DBC Pyrotechnics site, looking at a lot of 10 Thermite "all weather fire starters".

It seems like a very handy tool to have - cold weather fire starters like that. I wonder if any other readers of your novel might find them useful. A lot of 100 of those might be just a very useful thing to add into someone's retreat supplies.

Now if I can just find a place that offers pre-mixed bulk thermite, I might build some nice #2 can-size thermite devices, in case I ever have a need to do some "off grid welding", or whatever. A smaller [one quart] can [at the bottom of] a larger can filled with sand (along the sides) tends to direct more of the molten metal down through the bottom. Just the thing if you need to put a nice, fairly round hole through some steel plate for a special construction project. - Bob B.

JWR Replies:
I describe how to "mix your own" thermite as well as how to make thermite igniters in my novel "Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse". Thermite itself is quite easy to make, with black iron oxide and aluminum powder. But the igniters are a bit harder to improvise. So it might be easiest just to buy the small readily-available DBC Pyrotechnics fire starters with integral igniters, and use them to start larger containers of home-made thermite powder for those big cutting and welding projects.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hi Mr. Rawles -
I've been reading, and enjoying, your survival blog for some time now. There has been a recent thread on home invasions, which has gotten me to upgrade my home door security. While surfing the web reviewing door frame reinforcing products, I came across a link to an interesting article on the techniques used by firemen to breach your doors and gates. While the steps I am now taking would defeat most "kick in" assaults, stopping a determined crook with a [police or] fireman's "Hallagan" tool seems unlikely. Thanks for your Blog, and Happy New Year. - Tom from Chicago

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Howdy James,
I thought that this article was interesting in the fact that the US Forest Service is calling for a prescribed burn [in order] to locate weapons, ammo, and explosives (sounds like reloading powder) that a fugitive may have stashed around his camp site.

This got me to thinking, how safe are your caches? You will want to make sure any caches you have are buried well if they come looking for your cache and burn the area. Also consider that those landmarks/trees that were there may be gone after a burn, so locating it again may be difficult if you are basing it on 'sight' only! Be sure to have other methods to recover your cache. Later, - Mark in North Carolina

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mr. Editor:

I have been a reader of this blog for a little while now and one of the earlier postings I read caught my eye: In regards to a vehicle “bug out” kit. That list was certainly a good place to start, but it was missing a few items, so I thought I would put my “two cents” worth in.

To give you a little bit of background, I would describe myself as essentially being a realist. I watch the news, I read the papers. I know what is going on around me. I am aware of today’s political and economic climate, and I understand what that does (and can) mean; not only for today but for tomorrow as well. In my opinion preparation and knowledge are the keys to not only surviving, but for nearly anything in life.

I have worked both white-collar and blue collar jobs. I have been a soldier (an NCO – I worked for a living), and I have been what I term a “survivalist” for a little over a decade now. Along the way I have managed to learn some of the lessons the easy way; reading books, talking to people, experimenting, and practice, practice, practice. While other lessons were learned at the school of “hard-knocks”; try sitting on the side of the road in the middle of a blizzard for six hours on Christmas Day with three children praying for someone else to come along to help (I’m not kidding about that one) – all because you thought “it could never happen to you”. I am an active outdoorsman; camping, fishing, hiking, small game, etc. To date I have been lucky enough to live through them all. Sometimes with a few bumps and scrapes along the way, and sometimes with little more than a bruised ego; but I have survived nonetheless. Not surprisingly on my journey I have picked up a few things: “must have” items, advice, knowledge, and most of all experience.

As for geography I have lived in the cold and wet of Washington state; the extreme cold of Colorado; the hot and dry of West Texas; and now the hot, wet and hurricane-prone area of East Texas; and this list contains items that have literally saved my life on more than one occasion, while making crisis situations a whole lot easier to deal with in others.

While I am not going to lay claim at being an expert on the subject of survival or preparations; I have seen a done things that may genuinely surprise some people (while possibly boring others) and could probably go on for hours on end; but that is not my point here today. I now possess [what I feel] is enough knowledge that I can speak with at least some authority. My point in this is to allow others to learn from my own mistakes in the hopes that they don’t find themselves forced to repeat the same errors that I have made. Learn from others – that is the point in all of this.

As I write this I am proud to say that none of my vehicles are ever without the bare essentials. In my opinion it is one of the things that everyone should do, survivalist or not. I rank properly equipping my vehicles right up there with having them registered, insured, and inspected, to me it is simply a necessity, a requirement. In an attempt to make sense of this I broken the lists down into four basic areas:

Vehicle Supplies
Personal Supplies
Glove-Box Miscellaneous (loose throughout the vehicle)
General Miscellaneous

While there is some repetition between the 4 areas, this is done so for a reason – it is always a good idea to have a backup.

1. Vehicle supplies (most will fit in a small “duffle” or reasonably sized “tool bag”, kept in trunk, cargo area, or under the seat)
Jumper Cables (get the good ones)
Tow Rope (at least 1)
2 cans of “fix-a-flat”
Air compressor (cigarette lighter plug in)
Roll of Duct Tape (if you can’t fix it, duck it)
100ft of parachute cord (550 cord)
X style lug-wrench (more torque, safer, and more versatile than the ones that come with cars today)
2 1⁄2 ton bottle jack (again safer, and more versatile than the ones that come with cars today)
Roadside Flares (3 minimum)
Hand-held spotlight, plug in type is fine
Electrical Kit with:
Spare Fuses – vehicle specific
Spare Bulbs – vehicle specific
Small roll of Red Wire (14-16 GA)
Small roll of Green Wire (14-16 GA)
Small Assortment of Butt Splices
Circuit tester (Screwdriver type)
Electrical tape
Spare belts – vehicle specific
Spare hoses – vehicle specific
Spare thermostat – vehicle specific
Assortment of hose clamps, at least two large enough for your coolant hoses
Flashlight (2 minimum – generator type are best, LED Generator types are better)
Spare batteries – 1 set for each flashlight in the vehicle (if needed)
Tarp (8 x 10’ is usually sufficient)
Hand Tools:
Screwdrivers (4 minimum, 2 standard 2 Phillips-head)
Crescent Wrenches (2 minimum, 6” and 12”)
Slip-Joint Pliers
Needle-Nose Pliers
Wire Cutters
Channel-Locks (12”)
Socket set (basics only, 3/8” drive, SAE and Metric)
Combination Wrench set ((basics only, SAE and Metric)
Allen Wrench set
Small Hammer
Hatchet (axe)
Folding Shovel
Plastic Trash bags (2 minimum)
Coffee Can full of Cat litter (with lid)
Basic First Aid Kit, with the following additions:
Antacid Tablets
Water purification tablets
Small tube of Neosporin
Additional alcohol pads
Additional band-aids (common sizes)
Razor blade
Can of Sterno (large)
Wire coat hanger
Roll of bailing wire
Box of matches (at least 1 box)
Cigarette lighter (disposable, spend the buck and a half and get the Bic brand, you can’t beat them)
Water bottle
Small notepad
A small stash of cash ($50 to $100)
Spare compass
Rain poncho – 2
Emergency Blanket (foil type) – 2
Candles – 6
Basic Fishing kit:
Fishing Line

2. Personal Supplies (with a little patience and forethought, this will all fit inside of and/or attached to a medium sized book-bag, i.e. backpack)
Basic First Aid Kit – duplicate of the aforementioned kit
1 pair of socks
Flannel shirt
Baseball cap
“Swiss Army” knife
Fixed blade knife
Basic Camping Mess Kit
Travel Toothbrush
Toilet paper
Flashlights (2 minimum)
50 ft of parachute cord (550 cord)
Can of Sterno (small)
SPAM – 1 can
Tuna fish – 1 can
Rice – 1⁄2 lb
Lintels – 1⁄2 lb
“Gorp” (Trail mix) – 1⁄2 lb
Packet of powdered Gatorade
Zip-lock bag with:
Sugar packets
Salt Packets
35mm film canisters full of All-spice
Tea bags
Bullion Cubes
Vitamin Pills
Energy bars (3 minimum)
P-38 can opener
Rain poncho
Poncho Liner
Tarp – 5 x 8” is usually sufficient
Candles – 3
Cigarette lighter
Emergency blanket (Mylar foil type) – 2
Signaling mirror
Basic Fishing kit:
Fishing Line
Small Hikers Trowel
Plastic trash bag (2 minimum)
A small stash of cash ($40 to $50) [JWR Adds: I recommend that be in rolls of Quarters, so you can also use pay phones.]
Water purification tablets
Canteen cup
Web Belt

3. Glove-Box Miscellaneous (kept loose in the glove box, in the vehicles console, or in door pockets)
Package of Tissues
Cigarette Lighter
Small Multi-tool
“Button” or other small compass
Map of local city you are in, and the state(s) you are traveling – or expect to travel.
Small tube with a mix of aspirin, Motrin, and Tylenol.
Small notepad
A small, durable pocket-knife
Small Flashlight
One $20 bill

4. General Miscellaneous
Fuel can – store empty; you never know when you will run out of fuel two miles form the nearest gas station. If you are evacuating, fill up as you leave – this will reduce your risk of fumes/explosion.
One gallon of potable water
1 Qt Engine Oil (minimum)
1 Qt Transmission Fluid (minimum)
1 Pt Power Steering Fluid (minimum)
Assortment of “bungee” cords

Now I am sure that I have probably missed a few items here, but this list is fairly comprehensive. Please feel free to add items to it – I am always eager to learn more.
If you look through it, you should be able to think of one (and most of the time multiple) uses for each and every item on this list. With this setup you basically have what you need whether you are accompanied or alone and whether you stay with the vehicle, leave the vehicle, or are for some reason forced to separate your party (never a good idea – remember there is always strength in numbers). But you get the point.

In colder climates, add more food, and more warmth items (sleeping bag, snow boots, candles, or a heavy coat?). In warmer climates add more fluids and more shade (bottled water, additional hats, or maybe an umbrella?).

On to the next topic – How much does all of this cost? Well that can vary widely. Many of these items can be had at the local dollar store, while other may take a little bit of searching. Check Wal-Mart, your local Military surplus dealer, the flea markets, and pawn shops. You might be surprised just how far you can make your dollars go. Plus don’t try to do it all in one shopping trip – you will just frustrate yourself. Keep your eyes open when you are at the grocery store or out doing your normal shopping; pick up a few items here and there, and just slowly equip your vehicle. Within a month or two you will suddenly find your vehicle is much better equipped than it ever was before.

As to the vehicle preparation mentioned in the earlier post, this is all good advice. But again I would add to it. Create yourself a short checklist of items that you check weekly and monthly. Follow the owners manual that came with the vehicle, they tend to be fairly comprehensive.

Some tricks I have learned include:

Remember to check the air pressure in your spare tire regularly. A spare doesn’t do any good if it is flat too.
Don’t forget to check the brake fluid, power steering fluid, and windshield washer fluid too, these are often over looked.
Never, ever overfill any of your vehicle’s fluids.
Keep all of your lights clean, headlights, brake lights etc. The better they work, the better you see, and are seen.
Whenever adding accessories to your vehicle: make additions that work, and that matter before you worry about “pretty”. Think of it this way - which is more important (and useful) on a full-size truck – a good trailer hitch, or a pair of fancy mud flaps? You get my point.
When adding electrical accessories, always use the next heavier gauge wire, it will handle to load better, last longer, and prevent not only short circuits, but fires as well.
A good CB is always a wise investment, but make sure that it is installed properly.
Engine and Transmission oil cooler can extend the life of your vehicle – and mean the difference between getting there and getting stuck – especially in hot weather and heavy traffic. They are definitely worth the money.
Own a truck, van or SUV? Look into an oversized fuel tank and/or a spare fuel tank with a transfer pump. It may be expensive, but it will pay for itself over time; between having the ability to fuel up for a cheaper price per gallon, combined with the extended range the vehicle will now have – it is definitely worth at least considering.
Consider installing an aftermarket, oversized fuel filter. Cleaner fuel means longer engine life. Plus some of the newer vehicles don’t even have an inline fuel filter – they are mounted inside the tank itself. Who was the genius that came up with this gem anyway?
If your vehicle doesn’t have them, install tow hooks both front and rear. They do not have to be conspicuous, but they need to be there.
Don’t skimp on wiper blades, buy the good ones and replace them often. If you can’t see, you can’t drive.
Keep the engine bay clean – it makes finding a leak a whole lot easier, and makes life a whole lot more pleasant when making repairs.

It also it isn’t a bad idea to add seasonal items to your kits. For example if you live in area prone to snow, you should probably have a set of tire chains/cables with you in the colder months, but then why would you want to carry them in July?

Lastly a few words of advice:

First: know how to use everything you put in your kit. Practice with it before you put it in the vehicle – few tools are as dangerous as the ones in the hands of the uninformed.

Second: check your local laws on exactly what is considered a weapon, and what is considered concealed. You may want to think twice before you run out and buy that shiny Rambo knife with the 12 inch blade and have it strapped to the outside of your back pack sitting under your seat.

Third: in regards to knives, multi-tools, hand tools and the like – you generally get what you pay for. That cheap knife at the flea market is normally just that – cheap. It may be better than nothing at all, and the truth is that if that is all you can afford – then fine. But understand that up front.

Fourth: when choosing the storage bags to put these items in – think about the size, shape, and color of the bag you buy. There is not a right or wrong here, get what fits your situation. And think about the straps. There may be a situation where you find yourself forced to carry these bags, so good shoulder strap are important. And just as with knives and hand tools – you generally get what you pay for.

Lastly, a word about any and all foodstuffs you keep in your kit: remember that all food expires sooner or later – a even water can only sit for so long before it is no longer fit to consume. Trust me when I tell you that yes, even SPAM can and will go bad with time (you really, really don’t want to know how I know that). So rotate your foodstuffs regularly.

The long and the short of it is that some sort of vehicle kit really should be in each and every car, truck, SUV, or van on the road. With a little bit of thought and not a whole lot of money we can all prepare ourselves better. No traveler should be without what they consider to be the basics. - David H. in Southeast Texas

[JWR Adds: Thanks for those great lists! The only additions that I'd make to your lists are a fire extinguisher, and depending on whether off-road travel is anticipated, more robust pioneer tools. These should include an ax, pick, shovel, and if space permits, a Hi-Lift jack.]

Hugh D. sent in a good letter about using his trailer as a large bug-out kit. The concept isn't bad (as long as he's on the road and off again before the masses figure out something is wrong) but then he said this:

"This has been overcome with careful planning on our part. First, we have mapped out likely hide spots for ourselves and the trailer – mostly campgrounds on National Forest lands," and then regarding some cabins near the campground, "...we can move into a nice, if rustic, survival retreat."

No offense, but I wouldn't exactly consider this careful planning. If Hugh doesn't think that for every marked camping site in America there aren't 100 guys (who also own guns) already thinking about that same site, he's crazy. Worse, he has no claim of "right" when it comes to those cabins. He is no more entitled to a cabin there than the next guy that comes along and wants to evict him and take it for himself. Furthermore, he's got kids in diapers (I do too) - he isn't going to be able to defend both his family and his "stuff" in a public campground whose location is published on every map and travel guide in America.

I'd suggest that Hugh reconsider his plans. The trailer is good but find somewhere else to go. As an example, I live in the Dallas area and have friends who own a ranch about three hours away in central Texas and can be reached using a number of combinations of country roads and state highways. It's on 500 hilly acres twenty miles from the closest town, whose population is a couple thousand people. You can't see a single building on the ranch from the state highway - you have to drive a winding county dirt road a few miles to get to the houses and barns. My friends who own the ranch think I'm nuts (they aren't survivalists by any means, but retired city folk who wanted to run a peach orchard in retirement). Nonetheless, they have agreed that if I need to get out of town I can come down there with no prior notice. - Matt R.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I've put together a few ideas on retreat security that I haven't seen on your great site. I may have missed them but I think they would bear repeating. I presently live near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but will soon be moving to my 280 acre ranch in central Nevada. What got me to write this was a realization during my semiannual chore of servicing the emergency generator. Changing out the gas (It is also set up to run it on propane) changing the oil, and testing the circuitry, I realized that what I thought was a good setup was actually lacking. I have always made the preparedness of our home priority. If a storm knocks out the power, I go start the generator and switch the control box. My "Ah-ha" moment came with the realization that if the power were ever cut intentionally, all security would be off until after I'd expose myself to go start the generator. Needless to say corrective action projects (remote start, auto control panels, and UPS battery backup for the security system) are now underway.

Education has been mentioned but I realized that I hadn't seen much about basic electronics. Learning how to make small circuit boards is really rather simple, and allows you to make a lot of toys (equipment) for the homestead. A simple IR detection circuit to let you know if someone is coming in under cover of night. A display can show which sensors are being activated. This way you have a choice, whether or not to let someone know you are alert to their presence. Pressure [sensing] pads you can make yourself to show if someone is standing behind that large boulder, by the barn, or shed. [JWR Adds: Commercially-made pressure sensing pads are far more reliable weather-resistant. Used ones are sometimes sold as surplus by alarm companies.] How about a simple circuit that is connected to motion/heat sensors in the house that light an LED array that not only shows someone is in your house but on which floor or in which room. There are electronics parts vendor sites like Jameco and DigiKey and web sites like, Makezine and similar hobby and hacking sites that show all sorts of projects and skills.

When I get my next batch of wire I am setting small speakers to exploit a bit of human nature by creating a brief sound to get intruders to look in a particular direction and then two seconds later turn on concealed 500 Watt floodlights for a blinding effect. These floodlights will be good for general use as well. I mentioned pressure pads for detection earlier. One of the ideas at the ranch was to place large cover objects at strategic points to funnel a potential intruder to a place he could hide and I could remote view the opposition at the same time. Mini cams and mikes and alarm pressure pads will give you a heads up.

Since my ranch a long way from law enforcement protection, a remote defense is also installed. Behind two of the boulders I had moved with the rented dozer, I placed a small outcropping of rock in the ground so as to leave nothing to hide behind but left a cavity in front to set plastic bagged SKS rifles (sans stocks) [in mounting frames with solenoid-actuated triggers and] cameras at the scope (which by the way is a great way to aim around corners) and the aiming is done by remote control units from the hobby shop (or eBay). Solar power and small batteries keep things operational. (I am sure the liabilities and legalities will be questioned, so let's say the property is set up for installation after TSHTF). Safety is important so the units are double switched, one to turn on the power and the other to control and fire. The third unit is similar but I made a small bracket on the tree behind the third cover position, laid in my controls, made a cloth skirt at the base to allow movement and then used the foam insulation in a spray can and made a foam cover to look like a branch and spray painted with a couple of colors . This made it so invisible that a visiting friend couldn't detect it even after I told him where it was. The cost for cameras, microphones, controllers, and sensors is really small--from under $2 for sensors to perhaps $25 for the others. What you pay big bucks for is the labor and knowledge. But you you get that by turning off the television and exercising your brain.

[JWR Adds: Consult your state and local laws on "trap guns" before considering any such installation. Also keep in mind that any semi-auto firearm that is triggered via solenoid might be construed to be a " machinegun" if there is any way whatsoever that more than one cartridge could be fired by a single press of the remote "trigger". Also, keep in mind that in the US, Federal law that restricts not only barrel length but also overall length for a firearm. (Rifles and shotguns must have a minimum overall length of 26 inches.) Multiply-redundant safeties should be designed, as a well as a safe backstop for any bullets fired. In my opinion, installation of a remotely-fired gun should only be considered in absolute "worst case" situations. Their use in any lesser situation might very well land your in court, on trial either criminally and/or civilly, in a very bad light that would doubtless be exploited by hostile attorneys.]

Before I leave this topic I would add that on the previous mentioned web sites and and Google video you can learn how to pick locks, scavenge old camera parts, make and run a forge, start fires, throw flame, make thermite, generate smoke and just about anything else you can think of. Its like having a couple hundred mischievous people in your R&D department.

How about remote cameras? There are gadget sites, military and defense corporations, and especially university sites have many ideas, for free, such as GizMag, DARPA, and MIT. One topic of interest is remote viewing. You can launch a hand held and nearly silent electronic plane and view all points of the ranch in very short amount of time without exposing yourself. It could also be used to find wild game. [This is called "First Person View (FPV) piloting.] Try a web search on "remote FPV flying" and watch a couple of videos. The aforementioned hobby web sites are also a resource on model aircraft information. [JWR Adds: Radio control aircraft servos have numerous uses for folks with creative minds.] Prices range from $300-to-$400 to as much as $1,500 This can be applied to rc cars adding remote microphone and speaker, and rc helicopters as well. It only took a couple of hours to get a real good feel for it,. But I should add that I haven't yet flown it in high wind.

To set up [for security at] the ranch property I mapped out GPS way points and used a range finder for all the prominent features. I would also suggest a picture of the property and the surrounding properties from Google maps . At several strategic spots I planted some damaged concrete sewer pipes on end--I had obtained these free for the asking--and made large lids for them with a plastic base and the aforementioned spray can foam to look like the landscape, with a hollow center so you could look out small holes without moving the lid. Inside is water and there are a couple of ammo cans for food, and a small seat and space blanket, iron oxide hand warmers which are also good for emergency in your car and coat pocket or keeping vigil at a remote hide--[a small heat source] can be the difference between bearable, frostbitten, or dead. I've requested more of the free concrete pipes be saved so that I can bury them between the house and the barn and run a little shuttle between the two buildings. Why not,? The price is right.

For structure fire suppression and prevention, I'll just mention these two products as a one-time fire insurance policy: ThemoGel and Barricade. Perhaps at some point this could also be made a remotely-triggered function. I hope you find some of this useful. - Erik

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dear James:
I came across this table in a reference book and thought it may be useful to everyone. Note: This chart should not be used as a guide to combating fires. Remember all fires are dangerous, and you should call the fire department, if that is a possibility, when you see flames. All degrees are in Fahrenheit below.

450 degrees Fahrenheit
Brown to Purple
550 degrees Fahrenheit
Blue 600 degrees Fahrenheit
Faint Red
900 degrees Fahrenheit
Dark Cherry Red
1,100 degrees Fahrenheit
Full Cherry Red
1,400 degrees Fahrenheit
1,600 degrees Fahrenheit
1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
2,200 degrees Fahrenheit
Sparkling White 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit

Regards, - Mikael

JWR Replies: Of course all the usual torch and metal-working shop safety rules apply.

That chart, BTW, is handy companion piece to the Combustion Temperature Reference that was posted previously in SurvivalBlog. I recommend printing out hard copies of both posts for your shop reference binders. Keep in mind the standard provisos that the true measurement of the volatility of a stored material is its "flash point", which in most cases is considerably lower than the flame point figures noted in the Combustion Temperature Reference.

Also, when using color as a reference for gauging the temperature, keep in mind that the ambient light available can skew the color observed. Holding up a piece of metal in the dim light of a blacksmithy will not show the same color as holding up the same piece of metal heated to the same temperature in bright daylight. This can lead to heat-treating errors. This was best illustrated in the classic book "Hatcher's Notebook." In it, Colonel Julian Hatcher recounted the story of the "Low Number Springfields", that many shooters in the current generation might not have heard: Here it is in a nutshell: The smiths at the Springfield and Rock Island Armories were manufacturing Model 1903 Springfield rifles. One of the steps in the process was heat-treating the receivers to a certain color of redness. This was before the days of precise industrial pyrometers--back when heart treating was judged "by eye".) It was found that some of those receivers failed--due to the heat treating being of insufficient hardness. The Board of Inquiry discovered that some receivers that were heat treated on overcast days, lacked sufficient heat treating (and blew up dramatically when fired), while those made on sunny days had the specified strength. This was because on overcast days, the heated receivers showed the correct "color" when they had not yet actually reached the requisite temperature. This failure in process control was of course soon corrected, but ever since, "low number Springfields" have not been trusted for full-pressure pressure .30-06 loads. (The manufacturing transition BTW, was with Springfield Armory M1903 rifles that had serial numbers below 800,000 and Rock Island M1903 rifles with serial numbers below 285,507.) Just an interesting historical tidbit...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Dear Mr. Rawles,
I read the two letters that were posted on September 27, “Advice for City Folks on a Budget”. What struck me was how similar Mike H.’s situation is to mine. I too have a wife similar to the Mike H’s.
At first my wife thought I was out of my tree when I began preparing years ago. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, she came to believe that what I was doing was prudent, but somewhat overkill. Now that we have entered this period in history, she’s starting to pay attention, and has become a participant. I empathize with people in Mike’s predicament, and I have several suggestions to add to yours:

Before one starts with your recommended “List of Lists”, I would encourage everyone to do a complete inventory of what is currently in one’s household. I understand that sounds overwhelming, but it can be accomplished within a week or two, if one room or closet is done every evening. I’d leave the larger spaces such as attics, garages, and basements for a Saturday or Sunday. I would encourage people to do this as a family group so that people will have an idea where things are when all is said and done.
I’m going to make some suggestions of things to add to one’s preparedness supplies as I go along.

Start by going through your clothing closets with prejudice. Do the same with your children’s closets. Set aside the clothing in a pile that is no longer worn or that is out of fashion. Heavy coats, jackets, etc should be checked for fit. If they don’t fit, place them in the pile. If they do fit, even if you or your kids hate the way they look, put them back into your closet. If you are unable to heat your home, you won’t care what you look like when you’re cold. Keep in mind layering and hand-me-downs [for younger children] when checking fit.

Next, do the same with shoes. Fashion footwear that is little more than eye candy, if it is no longer being used, it should be placed in the pile. Go through your dressers and chests of drawers as well.

Now that you know what you have in your closets, and they’re cleaned out, this makes room for your needed additions. Depending on your climate, you may find that you will need to add things like sweatshirts, sweat pants, gloves, scarves, hats, long underwear, wool socks, heavy boots or more rugged shoes, etc. I live in sunny Central California, and during the winter, it can frequently still fall into the single digits overnight. Most people never notice it because of modern conveniences like central heat. That will change if things really get bad.

Keep in mind your bedding and bath towels. Extra towels, blankets and sheets are good to have if everything has to be washed manually and hung to dry. Make sure you have a way to string a clothesline, even if it’s just above the bathtub.

Now is the time to buy. Many retailers are having sales as their revenues continue to fall, and others declare bankruptcy. Keep an eye out for sales, and don’t be afraid to visit the Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift stores. If you’re worried about fallout from mortified spouses or kids, do it alone, pack it up, and label it. I sincerely doubt that you’ll hear any complaints from people who are cold and miserable.

Next, go through your clothing discard pile. Donate things that obviously will serve no practical purpose in a survival situation. Polyester skirts and pair of pumps that were in fashion in the 1980s really won’t help much. The rest box up and label. There may be neighbors or others who can benefit from your charity if things really get bad.

If you are like I was, you probably had eight pairs of old jeans that had holes in the seat and the like. Save several pairs to cut patches out of to repair the one’s you have now, and to help filter coarse debris from water. Discard the rest. Get a sewing kit capable of handling heavy fabrics. Buy some glue for your shoes, like Shoe Goop.

Next stop is the kitchen and pantry. Go through all your cabinets and drawers. Pull out everything that is food. Go through it. Check the date codes. Things that are way out of date, use or discard. Just because something is past the date code, doesn’t mean it is bad. A little time spent on the web will show you how to interpret date codes and their meanings for various foods.
Set aside things that you know you will never eat. You may have received a Christmas basket that had pickled pig’s feet in it, and you know that even if someone held a gun to your head, you wouldn’t eat it.

Put everything you will eat back, and make a list of things to add to your larder. Buy them as finances permit. When adding to your larder, remember to [FIFO] rotate your stock.
The things you won’t eat, put them in a box to use as charity, or donate them to a food bank now.

Next go through your cooking utensils. The non-stick Wolfgang Puck Bistro set isn’t going to hold up if you’re forced to cook in your fireplace, so you'd better lay in some cast iron or at bare minimum plain stainless steel. If you can only afford one piece of cast iron, then get a Dutch oven with an iron lid. Some are available with a glass lid. If the lid breaks, you’re SOL. Try to purchase brands such as Lodge. There are a lot of inexpensive pieces out there that come from China, and I’ve heard that they warp and sometimes shatter. Check garage sales, and the Goodwill etc. Even if they’re rusty, as long as there aren’t huge pits in the iron, they will clean up and re-season well.

You’ll also need a manual can opener, a “church key” [beer can opener], a manual bottle opener and corkscrew. If you can, get an extra or two of each because sometimes they break or wear out. Your neighbor may not have one, come the time [of need]. Good will between neighbors goes a long way when things are difficult. Extra pot holders and kitchen towels are good too.

Get a set of real knives. Those fancy ceramic ones are awesome, I know, I have a set. They won’t hold up if you have to carve up game, such as a rabbit or duck. Don’t forget a whetstone or some way to manually sharpen your knives. A dull knife is far more dangerous than a sharp one.

As you continue through the garage and attic, use the same critical eye. Discard things that you won’t use to make room for things that you will.
When you finish you’ll have a good idea of what you do have, and can accurately gauge yourself against the “List of lists”.

Here are some additional thoughts:
If you should find yourself with a collection of things that can generate some cash after going through your house, consider a garage sale, and use the proceeds to buy needed supplies.

If you have the time,storage space, and finances, then add hand crank drills, hammers, a “Yankee Screwdriver” and other manual tools to a small kit. Get some nails, wood screws, and a couple of sheets of plywood, a few 2x4s, and heavy poly sheeting. This will help you contend with broken windows and doors. If civil unrest becomes a problem, the 2x4s can be used to reinforce exterior doors. Make sure you have appropriate fasteners such as lag screws or nails between 40d and 100d. (The “d” means penny.) A 40d is about 5 inches in length and 100d is about 10 inches in length.

Buy several large fire extinguishers and position them through the house. Make sure everyone knows where they are and how to use them. Best Regards, - J.H.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Do you have any idea where I can get a 50 gallon fuel drum with a manual pump like the one that your previous writer discussed? - SF in Hawaii

JWR Replies: You should first consult your local fire code, for capacity limits. This is generally not a problem outside of city limits, but laws vary widely. Needless to say, you should store any fuel cans or drums in a detached storage shed that is away from your house, not in an attached garage!

In North America, the fuel drums that the reader mentioned are usually made in 55 gallon capacity. Your local fuel distributor should have new ones, or you can scrounge used clean ones locally if you post a query on Craig's List. The fuel-rated pumps are often D-handle design, like these. Again, used ones are less expensive.

Or, of course you could also use a 12 VDC electric fuel transfer pump, like the ones that I make. (OBTW, every family should keep one of these pumps handy.)

Unless you are certain that you will be using the fuel within a few weeks, be sure to se stabilizer, such as Pri-G.

It is best to buy winter-formulated gas, and rotate it annually. (Also in winter.) This is because winter gas has extra butane added, o aid cold weather starting. This formulation extends the storage life of gasoline.

Drums that are 20 gallons or smaller can be moved with a standard dolly and lifted off a pickup tailgate by two men. But moving anything larger requires special handling equipment, and is a back ache waiting to happen. Filling (or re-filling) a large drum that is kept at home can best be accomplished discreetly by using your vehicle's fuel tank and a 12 VDC fuel transfer pump. Just make several trips over the period of a week, and it won't be noticeable.

Buy the materials for camouflaging your fuel drum(s) in advance. I generally recommend scrounging an appliance box (such as a small refrigerator box) so that the drum won't be noticed by visiting workmen or meter readers. Or you could build a false wall at the end of a long shed. One other alternative is to use a "hide in plain sight" (HIPS) approach. This might be to re-paint the drum white, with herbicide markings. This won't look too out of place for drum up to 30 gallon capacity stored in the corner of a gardening shed. You can also leave a full two-gallon lawnmower gas can in the same shed, as "bait" for burglars, to distract their attention. Re-painting a fuel drum is a fun and creative family stencil cutting and painting project.

Friday, September 19, 2008

To follow-up on the last two e-mails that you posted from me, here are some random thoughts that I'd like to share on preparedness for when the Schumer Hits the Fan (WTSHTF):

Use an eyeglasses "leash" (lanyard) to prevent the loss of glasses and reduce the risk of damage.

Buy janitorial-size rolls os toilet paper, without perforations. Each roll is 1,000 feet long, and a box of 12 rolls measures about two feet square. These take up just a fraction of the room required to store the same length of toilet paper in standard household rolls.

Use a kiddie-type pool to collect water from rainwater downspouts. The pools with hard-plastic sides and vinyl bottoms are fairly durable. A six foot diameter pool that is 15 inches deep holds 211 gallons of water.

Light-emitting diode (LED) lights are superior to traditional [filament] bulb designs. They last much longer and are much more resistant to impact. When used LEDs, batteries last much longer. LED headlights are close to ideal for doing chores, since they keep your hands free. Tactical use requires a hand-held or weapon-mounted light [with an intermittent switch.]

Krazy Glue [cyanoacrylate adhesive] is great for closing small cuts [after they have been properly cleaned.] Steri-strips are the next step up in holding ability.

Water Filters - Culligan's new EZ-change Level 4 [under-sink] filter [cartridge] is rated to treat 500 gallons. That is five time the volume of most compact backpacking filters. With a self-contained design, it would be easy to attach a pump. The are available for $38 through Most [other] under-sink filters could be used the same way, but the Culligan design is preferable because it is fairly compact.

For "ready made" backpacking filters, I prefer the First Need brand filters. These are rated to remove viruses and radioisotopes.

Ball-shaped pin on magnetic compasses are compact, but they are more fragile that the type designed to clip on to a watch band, such as the Brunton and Suunto brand compasses.

Dental health is very important for long-term survival. Wal-Mart now sells a dental kit including a mirror with scaling tool and pick, from Dentek. They also sell Temparin temporary filling repair kits. These come in three-application containers. Temparin is far superior to the old standby of packing a lost filling void with zinc oxide.

A big part of survival is preventing injury. In a post collapse word, an injury will reduce available manpower, and something that would be considered just relatively minor in the present day could prove fatal. Proper safety equipment and training in the safe use of hand tools is crucial. Gloves, eye protection, preventing falls, fire safety, and so forth should be stressed. Hygiene and proper sanitation are equally important.

I believe that a good foundation for long-term family preparedness is learning the basics of wilderness survival. Having a solid understanding of the first four critical basics--water, food heat and shelter--helps set priorities in developing a larger plan for long-term preparation. It is also the final "fall back" position [in the event that you are forced to abandon your retreat or in case you never make it there]. These basics are also foundational in making important decisions.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Last weekend my town was threatened by a pretty big fire. Dozens of homes burned, thousands of citizens were evacuated. My neighborhood was among those ordered to flee the advancing flames. (Drama!)

My family was prepared to leave ahead of time and evacuated safely in large part because of the advice and encouragement I have found at SurvivalBlog. Thank you.

I did learn a few things. Theory flies out the window when panic is in the air. What is organized and prepared ahead of time actually works, what is thrown together at the last minute tends to fall apart. I had my Bug Out Vehicle (B.O.V.) fueled and standing by the night before but many did not and I saw long lines at every gas station as people were struggling to flee. The major exits were all jammed with vehicles and as tensions rose, tempers flared. Several collisions were reported, slowing down the evacuation further. People generally remained orderly, but my spouse reports that as fire trucks and other emergency responders were making their way via siren through the crowded roads, opportunistic tailgaters would follow them. I saw none of it, as I took the less known and less traveled back woods roads out of town.

I hauled all the usual checklist items; important documents, tangible savings, family photo albums, firearms and ammunition, fuel, genset, med kit, food and water supplies, camping gear, etc. With all normal routes into and out of town barricaded we had no idea when we would be allowed back in or what we would find when we got there.

Communications broke down when concerned calls flooded in. The local paper did a bang-up job of keeping us informed using Google Maps, but when the power lines burned it was tough to get on the Internet. Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone lines tied to cable service fail when the cable service substation is dependant on local power. We are considering putting in a backup "Plain Old Telephone Service" (POTS) line for emergency communications. Cell systems were overloaded as well, and it seemed the only way I could communicate with my spouse who had left work to head to our pre-arranged Bug Out Location was by relaying through an out of town relative.

I also discovered that trying to organize your assets solo while simultaneously keeping track of a small child and keeping an ear out for updates is much harder than when you have time to think in peace. Finding a way to contain the child safely and keep him entertained became a prerequisite to having my hands and mind free to load up our gear.

I am thankful that the fire was managed and most folk returned home safely. Our prayers and thoughts go out to the firefighters who saved our town and to those neighbors whose homes were lost. - Anonymous

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hello James:
I came across these ignition temperatures in a reference book and thought they might be of use to others,. This may be useful for whatever folks may be doing with flammable materials or fuels at their retreat or at home. All ignition temperatures noted are in Fahrenheit:

Cut Newspaper 446 degrees
Cut filter paper 450 degrees
Straw and sawdust 450 to 500 degrees
Gasoline 536 to 800 degrees depending on octane rating
Kerosene 480 degrees
Natural Gas 1,000 to 1,200 degrees
Propane 871 degrees
Butane 806 degrees
Paints and Lacquers (the flammable part isn't the pigment, although the metallic chromate pigments are flammable) 475 to 1,000 degrees
Amyl Acetate 715 degrees
Acetone 1,000 degrees
Linseed Oil 650 degrees
Mineral Spirits 473 degrees
Turpentine 464 degrees
Alcohols 750 to 900 degrees
Petroleum Naptha 475 degrees
Magnesium 1,204 degrees, but if material is finely ground then as low as 900 degrees

Regards, - Mikael

JWR Adds this Strong Proviso: Reader Jim. H. in Colorado has pointed out that the full potential fire hazards of stored materials should not be evaluated according to the preceding chart. The chart was based on direct contact of a solid material with a heat source. The true measurement of the volatility of a stored material is its "flash point", which in most cases is considerably lower than the figures noted. It is explained at this Wikipedia page. Essentially, Mikael's chart was correct. Any of those material that are heated to those temperatures will combust (without the presence of any flame). However, the essential definition is: "The flash point of a material is the point at which the material will give off gasses that, when mixed with oxygen, can support combustion if exposed to an outside heat source."

Also note that combustible gasses, dusts, and vapors (such as gasoline vapors) can sometimes travel long distances and still be combustible or explosive. Over the years, SurvivalBlog has stressed safety, particularly with stored fuels. I've written this a dozen times, but this bears repeating: Stored liquid fuels should never be stored in a typical attached garage. Most suburban garages also have a natural gas-fired or propane-fired hot water heater with a continuous pilot flame. That is a very dangerous combination of a vapor source and vapor ignition. Read: Kaboom!

Also beware of any processing operation that produces combustible dust, such as grain milling or even metal grinding. There have been countless news stories over the years about grain mill explosions. As I illustrated my novel "Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse", ounce-for-ounce, fuel-air mixtures can be some of the most potent explosives imaginable.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dear Mr Rawles,
Just wanted to thank you for SurvivalBlog, and I especially like the useful tidbits from the troops overseas. I was a Navy Corpsman / combat advisor with a Marine [Corps] Police Transition Team (PTT) in Hadithah six months after the alleged massacre, interesting times for sure.We got in-country in August 2006, and the Nomex suits were just catching on [with Marines]. We managed to snag a set for each of our 10- man team. The only real reg[ulation]s were that at Al Asad or any large Garrison type Base they wanted you wearing camouflage [utilities], otherwise they fine with the Nomex, the big deal [with IED flash burns] was the synthetic Under Armor type shirts that are great for staying dry and cool(er) but [in a flash fire] will melt to your skin. the Uniforms weren't really the problem. I prefer the uniform especially on patrol, it goes back to training, with my uniform I know where all the pockets are, and most importantly I can wear a belt and not feel like I'm wearing a dress.

I hit one IED in Hadithah, which means I was a lucky b****rd., I was in the back [of the vehicle]. Two other [Marine]s got med-flighted out. We had been totally engulfed in the blast and flames but no one got burned. Thanks again, - Matt B.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hi Mr. Rawles,
I read your reply reharding "EcoBeam Construction for Ballistic Protection".

Three years ago, a friend of mine and I shot a concrete wall until we made a nice size hole in it. This was just to see how much small arms fire it could take. [We used handguns.] Here is a web page I made about it with photos.

Readers will get a idea what you meant about sand and and gravel being better at stopping small arms fire than even reinforced concrete.

Take care, - Wes

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Given that liquid fuel costs are climbing dramatically, and likely to continue rising, I would like to share some of the practices for fuel storage we employ. For our homestead, liquid fuel equates to four items, namely: Propane, diesel fuel, kerosene and last but not least gasoline. For each fuel, there are specific uses, distinct storage requirements and longevity considerations. Let me discuss each in order:

The primary furnace in our house runs on propane. Currently, we use electricity for water heating and cooking. Our annual propane usage is between 500 to 800 gallons per year depending on the weather and how much wood we burn in the small heating stove in the living room. My goal when we bought the house was to have one year of supply, so I had installed two 500 gallon (nominal water capacity) above ground propane tanks (800 gallon capacity at 80% fill). I have the tanks filled during the (typical) summer price drop. Below grade tanks, while preferable for several reasons (ballistic protection etc.), are problematic (i.e. expensive) because of the rocky soil and high water table. Nonetheless, I would like to expand my capacity to two years, and will likely bear the excavation expense and install a 1000 gallon underground tank as well. For the grill and portable propane appliances (stove, lights etc.), we keep a supply of 20 and 40 pound tanks available. Small one pound propane bottles are refilled from these tanks. (Note: US DOT regulations prohibit transporting refilled “disposable” cylinders). Storage life is not of concern with propane, but price and availability are of paramount importance.

Diesel fuel is used on our homestead for the generator when the power fails and for the tractor. My little tractor just sips fuel and only uses about 20 gallons per year (mowing etc.). Our storage capacity consists of a 100 gallon “belly” tank on the generator and a 275 gallon fuel oil tank (i.e. heating oil tank) set up beside the generator shack. This leads to the problem of low use during normal times, where longevity is of concern, and problems with fuel transfer between the tanks. Diesel fuel, being lightly refined, has a relatively long storage life (5-10 years reported) if properly cared for. This includes relatively stable temperature, commercial fuel preservative/algaecide (I prefer Pri-D) and above all else keeping it dry. Again, underground storage would provide the stable temperature, but rocky soil and US EPA regulations have precluded me from doing that. Water is the big problem. Humidity condensing inside the tank collects in the bottom under the diesel fuel (oil-water layer) and provides a nice environment for oil eating micro-organisms. These little bugs make acid (anaerobic metabolism or vinegar fermentation) which will destroy the metal tank and other byproducts which clog filters and injectors. An algaecide limits this but removing the water is even better. To provide for this and allow fuel transfer, I set up a plumber’s nightmare of supply and return lines with valves to a water-separating filter and a fuel-oil circulating pump. The pump is rated at 45 gallons per hour (GPH) and was bought on-line (~$100) and the filter was bought at the local farm supply. The pump runs on 12 VDC and draws only 2 Amps off the generator starting battery. Since this pump only runs part-time, a 1.5 A trickle charger makes up for the difference during down times. Diesel powered boat owners call this “diesel fuel polishing”. My supply lines are set up at the low side of the tank, so water will preferentially be pumped out of the tank. About once a month, I set up a “polishing” operation during the weekend, letting each tank circulate for 24 hours each. Every year I add an appropriate amount of Pri-D to each tank. Fuel transfer at 45 GPH is relatively slow, but it only takes 7 minutes to fill the 5 gallon portable tank for my tractor. Any transfer between tanks needs to be watched closely so you don’t overfill the receiving tank. While the generator will siphon its own fuel while running, by adjusting the valves one can provide a little pressure feed to the injector pump and polish at the same time. I would like to increase our storage capacity of diesel fuel for more reserve generator use, but in the absence of a diesel powered vehicle, our annual consumption would not permit enough rotation to keep the fuel usable.

Kerosene is used in our homestead for the portable kerosene heater, Aladdin lamps (power failures) and in real hard times the Prize stove. Annual use is 10 to 20 gallons per year during normal times. Our storage capacity consists of a 50 gallon drum and ten 5 gallon jugs kept in a dry room in the barn. I prefer the round drum-shaped jugs since they are stackable. Kerosene, like diesel fuel, is lightly refined and has an approximately 5-to-10 year shelf life if stored properly. To keep the fuel rotated, I use a bulb siphon pump attached to a 4 foot piece of copper tubing that I can place in the drum and siphon from the bottom. This permits removal of any moisture collected in the drum. The transferred fuel is drained into a 5 gallon jug for routine use. The height difference from the drum to the jug permits siphon action without hand pumping, so long as the drum is nearly full. New replacement fuel is added to the drum as needed.

Gasoline storage is a real problem. First, it is volatile and very dangerous to handle. Second, it is the one of the most commonly used liquid fuels at our homestead. Third, its storage life is extremely limited. And fourth, it is desirable to have a portable supply in a Get Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D.)scenario. These are competing and contradictory considerations. During normal times, our use is between 7 and 10 gallons per week (350 – 500 gallons per year). For normal use, 6 months would be considered a typical shelf life, but this can be extended for up to a year with a good stabilizer (I prefer Pri-G). Gasoline stored longer may be usable but problematic. Problems include filter and injector/venturi port clogging and loss of volatility (may require starting ether). The most difficult aspect is keeping the fuel rotated, since if you store fuel but continue to fill up your vehicle at the pump, the stored fuel is never rotated. To address this problem, I have a tiered system of storage. Weekly use of gasoline comes from a supply of 5 gallon gas cans (currently 20). I strongly prefer the metal NATO ratchet clamp style. Consumer quality plastic jugs are just far too fragile in my opinion and the newer military specification HDPE jugs too expensive. Don’t waste your money on surplus or old style “Jerry” (Blitz) cans. I have never had one that did not leak while pouring, even brand new ones. The NATO style cans may be stacked and even laid on their sides without leaking. They are tough enough to handle a GOOD situation in the back of a pickup. When emptied, these portable tanks are filled from two 100 gallon “transfer” tanks in a fixed location. Fuel transfer is handled in a similar manner to the diesel fuel setup except that the pump is more expensive since it is rated for gasoline. The fuel is also pumped through a water separating and particulate filter. These tanks are periodically refilled from a transfer tank in the back of the pickup. The routine is as follows: Weekly, I top off all vehicles with portable containers. Since full, the vehicles store more than 100 gallons total. These 5 gallon cans are refilled, to keep an additional 100 gallons in easily portable containers. About once every two months, I fill the transfer tank in the truck with added Pri-G stabilizer and refill the “fixed” transfer tanks in storage. This provides me with 400 gallons of stabilized fuel in constant rotation with my nadir being 320 gallons, when it is time to buy more gasoline. All gasoline is in a well ventilated “shed” and weather/sun protected. There are several nearby fire extinguishers.

Besides the above “four-horsemen” of liquid fuels, we keep some additional fuels available. There is a supply of liquid paraffin for odorless burning in the oil lamps. Any oil lamp we keep filled with fuel for immediate access has liquid paraffin in it since it doesn’t vaporize and “disappear” leaving wick-killing varnish like kerosene does. There is also some mineral spirits for the Prize stove (mineral spirits was the original fuel for oil lamps and stoves prior to the “invention” of kerosene). Additionally, we keep some naphtha (white gas/Coleman fuel) despite the fact that all of our gas appliances/lanterns are “dual fuel”. I do this because it provides for the best longevity for the “generator tube” in these appliances and may be a good barter item for people using white gas only appliances. These could be considered part of the respective kerosene/gasoline inventory, but I consider them as un-inventoried extras.

Fuel storage is problematic because the fuels mostly needed during TEOTWAWKI, namely diesel fuel (for electricity generation and tractor use) and kerosene (for heating, lighting and cooking) are the most infrequently used during routine times. Our homestead gasoline consumption will likely drop dramatically in bad times. Propane storage is mostly an economic and availability issue since the furnace won’t run without electricity and we can heat (at least part of our house) with wood or kerosene. By limiting he running of the generator, we should have close to a years’ worth of diesel fuel. Aladdin lamps use about a pint of fuel for 8 hours, so 100 gallons of kerosene may keep us with light for up to a year. Gasoline storage should be adequate for up to the useful storage life of the fuel.

I have tried to strike a balance between annual consumption, storage capacity, rotation and shelf life in my planning. Basic information would include baseline consumption data for your homestead, anticipated consumption in bad times and available storage mechanisms or space. Running these calculations for your own situation will be enlightening and encourage you toward further preparation.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

If you are a regular SurvivalBlog reader, the odds are that you already have the majority of your key logistics squared away, like food storage, tools, guns, communications gear. So now it is time to stock up on "soft" and perishable items. These include over the counter medications, vitamins, chemical light sticks, matches, paper products, cleansers, spices, liquid fuels, and so forth.

You need to exercise caution when stockpiling soft items, for several reasons:

1.) Shelf Life and Deterioration. Some items like pharmaceuticals, batteries, and chemical light sticks are best stored in a refrigerator. Keep in mind that items like matches are vulnerable to humidity. (BTW, do not store matches in Mason type glass jars! Resist the urge, or else you'll inadvertently make a glass shrapnel bomb! Instead, use a vacuum sealer, such as the Tilia FoodSaver sealers sold by Ready Made Resources. This is also a great way to keep rubber bands (including elastrator bands) from deteriorating. Exposure to sunlight, or heat, or moisture can all be deleterious to soft goods.

2.) Bulkiness. Paper products like paper towels, toilet paper, and paper napkins are extremely bulky, per dollar value. If you have limited storage space then you will need to budget that space carefully.

3.) Flammability. You should think of your stored paper products as house fire tinder, and your stored liquid fuels as potential fire accelerants and explosives. One mistake that that I've heard mentioned is storing numerous gasoline cans at home, in an attached garage. Most garages have a hot water heater, often fired by natural gas or propane. Uh oh! Store gas cans, oil-based paint cans, and bulk lubricants only in a well-ventilated outbuilding that is well-removed from your residence. Be sure to check your state and local fire code for permissible limits.

4.) OPSEC risk. The aforementioned bulk of stored paper products also makes them obtrusive to casual observers. This present s an OPSEC risk. If you have 500 rolls of toilet paper and paper towels in your garage, someone is likely to notice. OBTW, one item that I've stored as a potential barter item is sheet plywood. Those extra plywood sheets, if properly positioned can keep prying eyes away from your stockpiles.

5.) Abundance-Inspired Waste. Human nature dictates that when something is scarce, it is used frugally, but when it is abundant, it tends to get used more wastefully. I've seen this happen with my children, in target practice with .22 rimfire ammunition. If they know that they have just 50 rounds apiece available for a shooting session, they make every shot count. But if there is a full "brick" of ammo sitting there, it soon starts to sound like a day at Knob Creek.

In his book The Alpha Strategy, John Pugsley mentioned some friends that "invested" in stocking their own home wine cellar. They determined that it would be less expensive to buy wine by the case. But they soon had so much wine that they got in the habit of having a bottle with dinner almost every evening. So even though the per-bottle cost decreased, their monthly expense on wine actually doubled! OBTW Pugsley's The Alpha Strategy is highly recommended. It is available for free download, but I recommend also picking up a used copy, for reference. They are often available through for less than $5.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Mr. Rawles,
The recent article on alcohol stoves made me think of these ultra-lightweight, portable alcohol stoves made out of soda cans, See this Wikipedia article.

I have successfully built the original Pepsi-can version using epoxy glue, as well as the Heineken-can "penny" version. I have not tested them "in the field" but both work very well indoors, and they have impressive performance, boiling 2 cups of water in 5 minutes using only 2 tablespoons of alcohol. Those who have actually used them outdoors say they outperform other small stoves even in the most extreme of conditions. Even for indoor use, they are a compact, easily stored backup for cooking.

The stoves are easy to build, but expect to build a few to get the hang of it and make a well-burning version. Many web sites are available that cover different versions of the stove and various accessories to go along with it.

For fuel, you should only use methyl or ethyl alcohol. Don't use isopropyl alcohol in these stoves, as it will cover the bottom of your pots and pans with soot. Methyl alcohol burns hot and clean, but it is poisonous. It is available, among other places, as HEET brand engine fuel line de-icer in auto parts stores in the red bottles. (Don't get ISO-HEET, since that is isopropyl alcohol). Denatured ethyl alcohol is cheapest, and of course Everclear 190 proof grain alcohol works as well, but it is quite expensive. Sincerely, - Chris S.

JWR Adds: Denatured ethyl alcohol ("grain alcohol") is much less expensive if bought in quarts or gallons. It is available at paint stores. Don't buy methyl alcohol (Methanol or "wood" alcohol"), because of its toxicity. Long term exposure to the fumes or just brief contact with the skin can be toxic and can cause irreversible liver damage.

LeAnne's article today has some bad advice and some misstatements in it - potentially dangerous.
First of all, alcohol will produce Carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (not carbon MONoxide, CO) only in a perfect (ideal) combustion, with exactly the correct proportion of oxygen - called the stoichiometric ratio. Any deviation from that will produce imperfect combustion and CO. Even a perfect combustion will result in CO2 being produced, the carbon atoms in the alcohol have to go somewhere. And perfect combustion only happens on chemistry examinations. A buildup of CO2 can be just as deadly as CO.

Secondly, 70% alcohol is 30% water....and before you get any heat out of burning the alcohol you need to heat up and boil off the water. Half of the energy of the alcohol (by volume) is wasted getting rid of the water The water vapor added to a shelter could be significant. A better choice would be 91% alcohol, if you had to use isopropyl alcohol. A better choice IMO would be alcohol available from paint stores, boating shops, etc.

For people travelling (backpacking, etc) a higher energy density fuel (gasoline versus alcohol, with roughly twice as much BTU value per pound of fuel carried) makes more sense. Alcohol stoves have their niche but LeAnne's reliance on them can lead one to dangerous reliance on them in inappropriate conditions. - Flighter

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

In any situation, small electricity outage, or large-scale grid-down disaster, a simple homemade alcohol stove and a Wonder Box slow cooker can simplify your life and add the comfort of cooking and warmth.

Why alcohol?
Alcohol is the one fuel that can be burned indoors without any chimney or any objectionable fumes. The only byproduct is water. [JWR Adds: Keep in mind that for safety, even with an alcohol stove, some ventilation is needed, sine the combustion will consume available oxygen.]

Isopropyl alcohol (70%) is cheap. A couple of quarts can be purchased for about $3.00 at Costco or Sam’s Club.
The small alcohol stove burns about a pint of alcohol in eight hours. It can be used to cook food. It can also bring the temperature of a small room up to reasonable levels without any fumes. In a larger room, you might want to use three of them.

How to make one?
You need a larger can, such as a clean empty steel one gallon paint can; and a smaller can, such as a clean empty quart paint can. These can be purchased clean and unused from a paint store, or a store like Home Depot, for $1.00 to $4.00 each. You also need a roll of cheap (not quality) toilet tissue and your alcohol. The reason you don’t want quality toilet tissue is that it won’t fit into the can. However, you can overcome that problem by just removing some of the tissue.
First, you remove the cardboard tube from the inside of the tissue with a knife. Then scrunch up the roll of tissue and stuff it into the smaller can. Then take the larger can and punch holes all over the side of the can, so that air can flow through it. You can do this with a hammer and nails. You can draw designs on the can with a dry-erase marker and pound holes along the lines, if you wish. If you fill it with water and freeze it before punching the holes in it, you won’t smash it while you are making the holes. If you need it “right now,” you can fill it with ice pieces and snow, tamped down, before pounding, or just find a way to make holes without smashing it.
Fill the smaller can with 1-1/2 cups of alcohol, so that you can see the alcohol at the top of the tissue. Put this can into the larger one, and light the alcohol. You can put a pan on the top of it to cook your food. I would be careful to put it somewhere where nobody will knock it over accidentally while it is cooking.
One pint of alcohol will burn about eight hours. However, if you extinguish the flame, before you can light it again, you have to pour in more alcohol to bring the level up to the top of the toilet tissue again before you light it.
You should not plan to store the alcohol stove with the alcohol in the can, since it could rust.
It isn’t an extremely hot flame. It may take a bit longer to cook your food. We took quite a while one day to cook pancakes for four hungry people using alcohol. But it is easy, cheap and safe. And it requires materials that you probably have on hand.

* * * *

The Wonder Box

Ideally, if you have an alcohol stove, you have a Wonder Box insulated slow cooker to go with it.
If you bring your stew to a boil over your alcohol stove and then put it into a Wonder Box and cover it carefully with its lid--six hours later, it will still be so hot that you will have to use hot pads to take it out. It has been cooking all of that time, and saving you fuel.
If the food has been hot and cooking all of that time, it did not need to be refrigerated. So you could cook your stew and eat it hot for lunch, then put it boiling hot, nestled down into the Wonder Box, and take it out still hot for dinner. No refrigerator needed.
The fabric must be 100% cotton to prevent it from melting from the heat of the pan. The pan must be one that has small handles on each side and it must have a lid. A pan with one long handle extending out from under the Wonder Box lid, will lose too much heat through the handle, and it will not work as well.
The Wonder Box is much like two small bean bag chairs, one being the lid for the other. You can get the pattern in a fabric store. The larger one is 24” in diameter and the smaller one about 16”. You make it in sections, like orange sections, just the peeling part, made out of 100% cotton. Denim is a good fabric. Even old jeans stitched together would work. You stitch it together, leaving an 8” hole for turning. Turn it right side out and fill with seven gallons of Styrofoam beads. Make the lid in the same way, using four gallons of beads. Don’t let the static electricity of the beads bother you. Pin your seam, then try nestling a pan down inside to see if you have enough or too many beads. Sew up the seams, and you have a Wonder Box.

The Styrofoam beads can be purchased at stores such as Smith’s grocery stores. They come in a four-foot long tube that holds enough for two Wonder Boxes, for about $15.00.
Nestle a covered pot of boiling food down into the Wonder Box bottom, and carefully cover with the insulating Wonder Box top. It is a good idea to put a layer of aluminum foil between the pan and the Wonder Box just to keep the Wonder Box clean. Let it sit for up to seven hours, and it will cook with no additional heat.
Whatever method you use to bring your food to a rolling boil before you put it into the Wonder Box, it can save valuable fuel in a time of no electricity or other services. * * * *

Variations on The Alcohol Stove:

What if you need an alcohol stove “right now,” and you don’t have clean empty paint cans?
Some people have used #10 cans like the ones that food storage wheat or rice or beans, etc. come in. They have also used a “church key” type can opener to make the holes in these cans, since they are lighter. I would prefer the gallon paint can if possible, because it is heavier and therefore more stable with a pot of boiling food on top of it. Also, it has a lid and a handle for carrying.
You can also use the #1 cans that come with the larger size canned peaches and hold about a quart, for the inside of the stove. The problem with these is that it is harder to extinguish the flame down inside the can, because you don’t have a lid to put on it. This can be overcome, of course. Just don’t singe your arm while doing it.

You could also use something like the “Pirouettes” cookie cans. The problem with these is that you have an extra inch of can. Not a terrible problem.
If you need more room heat, you could use three #303 cans like you get with canned vegetables, and put all three down inside one of those large $5.00 popcorn cans that you get at Christmas. Don’t forget to put the holes in the sides of the can. You would have to take off more toilet tissue from the roll, and you would have to use a sharp knife to slice off about 1/2 inch of the end of the roll of tissue, so that it would not extend past the top of the smaller can. But it can be done. You then have a nice little warming “furnace” with a lid on the top.

When terrible things happen, people need something simple, dependable and comforting. They need something easy to use and fast. After they have had time to adjust, they can get on with more complex tools and equipment. But for that first little while, an alcohol stove is easy, simple, lightweight and comforting, as well as safe, and it won’t make any harmful fumes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dear Jim,
I found this article on the safest states to live in, based on major crime rates. Compare that to this article from "Parents" magazine, who['s author] seems to rate states by the number of socialist laws they have.

This is the [same] magazine whose solution to children fearing fire, after seeing the attacks of Sep 11 [2001], was "therapy." I used the expedient of starting a small brush pile out back, dousing it with an extinguisher, and leaving a new extinguisher in their room. $30 is a lot cheaper and less stigmatizing than "therapy," and had the practical benefit of teaching them how to control small fires.
Along the same lines, here's an article from England.

I was being partly facetious when I suggested in my novel "The Weapon" that fire extinguishers would be banned like guns because "firefighting should be left to professionals." It seems that I wasn't too far off.

I am so very glad my parents made the decision to relocate from the UK to Canada, and then to the United States. Just keep in mind there's nowhere left to retreat to at this point. Liberty must make its stand here. - Michael Z. Williamson

Monday, March 3, 2008

I read with interest the inquiry about, what I term a "Bug out Boat". I made this recommendation several years ago, in numerous survival forums. Most readers seemed unable to process the potential for this kind of plan or it seemed to be impractical to them compared to hunkering down or egress by vehicle. I would advocate that the more eclectic methods of egress from chaos may hold greater potential for success than some mainstream ones. Traditional modes of travel in the modern age are easily controlled by the powers that be, accidents, infrastructure break down, computer problems, electricity (can you say "grid down"?), etc. How many have actually considered (much less planned?) on using the following practical means of getting from Point A to B (whether a short or long distance).

1. Walking- hard work but very quiet and stealthy. Drawback- slow.
2. Bicycle. As long as you can keep your tires inflated, you can travel [at least] three times as fast than as on foot. Drawback- awkward to carry equipment unless you buy a trailer or stroller for the back.
3. Boat/canoe- Who is going to blockading the river or watching it? The river does the work for you if your are going down steam. The preferred method of
choice for hundreds of years by Native Americans, trappers, traders, frontiersmen, market hunters, settlers and soldiers.
4. Snowmobile- Don’t worry about the roads being open. Just try to follow me in/on anything else. Drawback-seasonal.
5. Skis- No trail, no problem. Drawback-seasonal.
6. Motorcycle- Easy to get around that road block isn’t it? Just try to follow me through the woods in your squad car.
7. Ice skates- many frontiersmen/trappers traveled this way up river systems. Drawback-Seasonal.
8. Roller blades-the modernized society equivalent of ice skates. Drawback-Seasonal and depends upon roads and sidewalks being in place.
9. Horse/Horse and wagon/Horse and sleigh - has both advantages/disadvantages, accessibility issues, and disadvantages, but you won't need electricity to keep them going. Drawback-you have to pay to feed/house them.
10. Dog sled- For those in the far North. Drawback-Seasonal.
11. Para-planes –fuel efficient, no license needed, can land in small areas.
12. Light aircraft- expensive but they are what they are.
13. Freight trains/barges/cargo ships- It seems no matter how much chaos a country descends into, occasionally a train, barge, cargo ship goes somewhere. Drawback-Can be Seasonal depending on low water levels, ice, snow.An undependable mode of transport to plan on using.

The reason you haven’t considered these methods is because we as Americans are too d--n lazy and we carry around too much stuff. If your supplies are pre-positioned, you will need very little physically on you.

We as Americans are pre-conditioned to think first and foremost of the family vehicle almost exclusively. Unless you have a full tank of gas when the grid goes down or an EMP-resistant vehicle, you're screwed for any number of reasons. Your going to be thrust down a channelized highway of horrors (just ask anyone who has fled a hurricane inland). This highway can easily be barricaded by law enforcement, the military, gangs, or a group of local idiots. Accidents, traffic jams and lack of fuel will prevent you from getting out of the area at the speed which you anticipated.

Not only may you be stripped of your dignity, you may be stripped of all your supplies, valuables, clothes and chastity. If you are counting on the herd to protect you from harm, I have news for you, they will readily look on while you are assaulted (and hope it doesn’t happen to them) and/or they will participate in plundering your belongings (see Katrina stories). If psychologically less than 5% of the population is prepared to act as a warrior or protectors of the flock, which leaves potentially 95% of the population as someone who will not come to your aid or will prey upon you given the situation. I prefer to believe that there is a percentage of 20% of Christians, rural or generally good people, that may not physically risk their life for you, but are none the less, good people who might assist you in other ways. Your car may be a false hope that ends up getting you into a more dire situation or delaying critical choices that need to be made before you start out.

For our purposes I am going to concentrate on canoes and Jon boats. Those heavy ski boats, yachts and sailboats will only work for limited distances or in limited places. If you live near the ocean or the Great Lakes , they will work just fine. If your only using you ski boat to go across the lake or 20 miles down the river, it may work out for you. Do not, however, plan on using them to navigate the Missouri , Mississippi , Ohio River 's drainage basins. Those rivers have locks and dams aplenty that you may not be able to portage or pass through in a worst case scenario. Many of the rivers in the Northwest and Southwest are in a similar state except the dams are bigger and often not designed to accommodate navigation (Think of the Bonneville Dam at the Columbia River Gorge, Grand Coulee Dam and over 225 others in the Columbia River Basin . Hoover/Boulder Dam. Upper Mississippi has 38. The Ohio River has around 30, but the Lower Mississippi has none. Missouri River has none from St. Louis to Sioux City Iowa, but the headwaters have numerous Dams and Reservoirs). If the locks have no electricity or they have been told by the military or police not to let anyone through, you’re a sitting duck and it may be game over.

In many parts of the country the boat may be a preferred method because it is stealthy, uses little fuel, can be suitable entirely without fuel, will never be subject to the same amount of usage demands as the highways, will be noticed less by the public/looters/law enforcement/military. The majority of motors out there should be 2 cycle. These are more EMP-resistant and easy to work on.. Most boats will still remain functional even while leaking or having holes shot in them. You would have to be taking on a lot of water from holes below the waterline to make it untenable to remain afloat.Many boats will contain buoyant materials designed to keep the boat afloat. A Marina may be more likely to have fuel available than any gas station. (Note: Kevlar was sometimes used as a hull material for some larger and more expensive ski boats, since it stronger than fiberglass.)

Most of the major river systems are about a half mile across. If you stick to the middle of the channel, anyone trying to shoot at you will have make a shot of an average of a quarter mile. Call me optimistic, but most of the people shooting at you from that distance are more likely to hit you by accident than on purpose. An old USGI Kevlar vest will provide some ballistic protection for your motor or fuel supply. Most bridges will not be suitable for either looters/military/police to set up on, and fire directly down upon you, unless the entire bridge is shut down to traffic. In most cases, anyone trying to get at you will not have any guarantee of actually boarding your vessel. Even if they managed to kill you, your supplies would continue to float down stream and out of their reach. This may discourage any but the most criminally motivated elements of society. I happen to believe that I have a better chance to survive in the water as on any interstate or major highway. If you should happen to run into a motivated criminal element in speed boats, either flee, beach your craft and run, or turn and fight with everything you have. Chances are they won’t want to mess with heavily armed elements on a flat surface with virtually no cover. A bow-mounted belt-fed Browning [Model 1919A4 machinegun or semi-auto equivalent, mounted on a larger boat] would chop any attackers watercraft into matchsticks in no time at all. (I am not endorsing it. I’m just saying it’s a nice idea to consider.)

In the first two weeks of a catastrophe, a miniscule number of people are going to be watching the rivers or lakes. They will be down looting televisions and liquor. The cops will be at roadblocks and chasing looters and arsonists. Your main antagonists are likely to be; federal employees manning the locks/dams, Conservation Officers (since they already have lots of boats, the military (probably a naval reserve unit) or in certain instances, the US Coast Guard. None of this group is usually looking for trouble on the water and Conservation Officers are notoriously cautious when working alone. It's too easy for them to just "disappear".

The larger the body of water (in square miles or distance from shore), the more distance or greater buffer you can put between you and anyone who may wish you harm. Night travel by water with no running lights and your motor off, will make you nearly invisible to 99% of the population. Watch out for logs, snags and sand bars and keep a watch out for other boats or you might well be sunk. Night vision might be handy if traveling at night. Many duck and goose hunters have metal supports for blind materials that could come in handy for camouflaging your boat if you choose to lay up during the day at some creek or island.

Your average inner city gang member doesn’t know how to operate a boat and cant swim anyway, but don’t count on it. Even criminals near a resort/sailing/boating area are sometimes familiar with boats. Ever heard of pirates and drug runners?

You could potentially carry much more equipment or personnel with you by means of a boat. Several Jon boats/canoes can be lashed together or roped in parallel (with the front boat pulling all the others in line). In this way you save fuel and have spares engines at hand in case a motor conks out. A boat can theoretically carry quite a load (much more than a car or small truck). However, remember anything you put into a boat may have to be portaged across any barrier. If you don’t like the idea of lugging it in and out of the boat many times, then don’t take it along. If you read a book about fur traders or Lewis and Clark, they often spent an entire day (or days) at a portage site.

Say you come to an inoperable lock/dam, you find an area to unload, carry the boat across land to a suitable location, carry the supplies to the boat, and resume your journey. This will be fraught with peril and hard work. You will need a crew. A minimum of one individual is needed to watch both locations (point A to B) and you will need the individuals necessary to carry everything between those points. The only way to avoid that is to do it so fast nobody notices or take a canoe and only what's in your pack. If you try to navigate smaller rivers, you will find yourself having to portage across every log jam. It's no fun, it's frustrating and it's slow. You might be better off walking at that point unless you will break through to a larger body of water that will make the endeavor worthwhile.

In a freshwater area, you will have a supply of drinkable water (albeit full of herbicide, fertilizer, and pesticide or toxic waste depending on the area). This is why you have a water filter, right? Food can be supplemented by fishing or trolling (dragging a line behind the boat as you go). A small island might be a good place to stop and cook lunch or dinner. Waste can be dumped over the side or [better yet] buried p[when you go ashore.]

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

We just just learned that the beautiful house we had built on our 20 acre Michigan property burned to the ground. I want to urge all readers to have their chimneys checked yearly. The house had a wood furnace in the basement and a well-built 3-flue chimney yet in a state with deep frost, foundations can settle. The new owners never spent the money to have the chimney cleaned/inspected yearly as we had advised them to. Yet they just spent over $40,000 on granite countertops and all that fancy stuff. "Penny wise and Pound foolish!" My brother-in-law lives next door on property he bought from us so he got the full picture. Apparently they hadn't upgraded their insurance either after renovating.

When we moved to the Ozarks and bought this old farmhouse we didn't trust the wiring or chimney...and inspection showed the chimney had been struck by lightening and was dangerously damaged. So we put in a stainless steel liner which makes all insurance companies smile! Wiring was original cloth-covered well chewed by rodents! If we'd have light a fire or turned the power on we could have been looking at a smoldering pile of rubble, too. Which is why we opted to put in a wood-fired outdoor boiler and only rarely use the back-up stove in the kitchen on zero degree days. Since we've lived here five different houses in this area have burned down--all due to chimney fires. Don't think fire can't happen to you. - Diana S.

JWR Replies: I recommend that readers practice cleaning their own chimneys, and buy their own set of brushes and rods. Even if you eventually get lazy and pay someone else to clean your chimney, you need to know how to do it, and you'll have the means to do so.

Unless you already live at your retreat year-round, WTSHTF, you will likely be burning far more wood than usual. This necessitates inspecting your chimney at least twice a year. My philosophy is, as long as you are pulling things apart to inspect, you might as well a go ahead and de-gunk the spark arrestor and brush the chimney. If you have a proper removable bottom clean-out for your chimney, then the whole job should take less than an hour. Be sure to wear gloves, goggles, and and a dust mask.

OBTW, be particularly vigilant if you switch to burning soft woods, such as pine. The creosote build-up can be very rapid!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Start your retreat stocking effort by first composing a List of Lists, then draft prioritized lists for each subject, on separate sheets of paper. (Or in a spreadsheet if you are a techno-nerd like me. Just be sure to print out a hard copy for use when the power grid goes down!) It is important to tailor your lists to suit your particular geography, climate, and population density as well as your peculiar needs and likes/dislikes. Someone setting up a retreat in a coastal area is likely to have a far different list than someone living in the Rockies.

As I often mention in my lectures and radio interviews, a great way to create truly commonsense preparedness lists is to take a three-day weekend TEOTWAWKI Weekend Experiment” with your family. When you come home from work on Friday evening, turn off your main circuit breaker, turn off your gas main (or propane tank), and shut your main water valve (or turn off your well pump.) Spend that weekend in primitive conditions. Practice using only your storage food, preparing it on a wood stove (or camping stove.)

A “TEOTWAWKI Weekend Experiment” will surprise you. Things that you take for granted will suddenly become labor intensive. False assumptions will be shattered. Your family will grow closer and more confident. Most importantly, some of the most thorough lists that you will ever make will be those written by candlelight.

Your List of Lists should include: (Sorry that this post is in outline form, but it would take a full length book to discus all of the following in great detail)

Water List
Food Storage List
Food Preparation List
Personal List
First Aid /Minor Surgery List
Nuke Defense List
Biological Warfare Defense List
Gardening List
Hygiene List/Sanitation List
Hunting/Fishing/Trapping List
Power/Lighting/Batteries List
Fuels List
Firefighting List
Tactical Living List
Communications/Monitoring List
Tools List
Sundries List
Survival Bookshelf List
Barter and Charity List

JWR’s Specific Recommendations For Developing Your Lists:

Water List
House downspout conversion sheet metal work and barrels. (BTW, this is another good reason to upgrade your retreat to a fireproof metal roof.)
Drawing water from open sources. Buy extra containers. Don’t buy big barrels, since five gallon food grade buckets are the largest size that most people can handle without back strain.
For transporting water if and when gas is too precious to waste, buy a couple of heavy duty two wheel garden carts--convert the wheels to foam filled "no flats" tires. (BTW, you will find lots of other uses for those carts around your retreat, such as hauling hay, firewood, manure, fertilizer, et cetera.)
Treating water. Buy plain Clorox hypochlorite bleach. A little goes a long way. Buy some extra half-gallon bottles for barter and charity. If you can afford it, buy a “Big Berky” British Berkefeld ceramic water filter. (Available from Ready Made Resources and several other Internet vendors. Even if you have pure spring water at your retreat, you never know where you may end up, and a good filter could be a lifesaver.)

Food Storage List
See my post tomorrow which will be devoted to food storage. Also see the recent letter from David in Israel on this subject.

Food Preparation List

Having more people under your roof will necessitate having an oversize skillet and a huge stew pot. BTW, you will want to buy several huge kettles, because odds are you will have to heat water on your wood stove for bathing, dish washing, and clothes washing. You will also need even more kettles, barrels, and 5 or 6 gallon PVC buckets--for water hauling, rendering, soap making, and dying. They will also make great barter or charity items. (To quote my mentor Dr. Gary North: “Nails: buy a barrel of them. Barrels: Buy a barrel of them!”)
Don’t overlook skinning knives, gut-buckets, gambrels, and meat saws.

Personal List
(Make a separate personal list for each family member and individual expected to arrive at your retreat.)
Spare glasses.
Prescription and nonprescription medications.
Birth control.
Keep dentistry up to date.
Any elective surgery that you've been postponing
Work off that gut.
Stay in shape.
Back strength and health—particularly important, given the heavy manual tasks required for self-sufficiency.
Educate yourself on survival topics, and practice them. For example, even if you don’t presently live at your retreat, you should plant a vegetable garden every year. It is better to learn through experience and make mistakes now, when the loss of crop is an annoyance rather than a crucial event.
“Comfort” items to help get through high stress times. (Books, games, CDs, chocolates, etc.)

First Aid /Minor Surgery List
When tailoring this list, consider your neighborhood going for many months without power, extensive use of open flames, and sentries standing picket shifts exposed in the elements. Then consider axes, chainsaws and tractors being wielded by newbies, and a greater likelihood of gunshot wounds. With all of this, add the possibility of no access to doctors or high tech medical diagnostic equipment. Put a strong emphasis on burn treatment first aid supplies. Don’t overlook do-it-yourself dentistry! (Oil of cloves, temporary filling kit, extraction tools, et cetera.) Buy a full minor surgery outfit (inexpensive Pakistani stainless steel instruments), even if you don’t know how to use them all yet. You may have to learn, or you will have the opportunity to put them in the hands of someone experienced who needs them.) This is going to be a big list!

Chem/Nuke Defense List
Dosimeter and rate meter, and charger, radiac meter (hand held Geiger counter), rolls of sheet plastic (for isolating airflow to air filter inlets and for covering window frames in the event that windows are broken due to blast effects), duct tape, HEPA filters (ands spares) for your shelter. Potassium iodate (KI) tablets to prevent thyroid damage.(See my recent post on that subject.) Outdoor shower rig for just outside your shelter entrance.

Biological Warfare Defense List
Hand Sanitizer
Sneeze masks
Colloidal silver generator and spare supplies (distilled water and .999 fine silver rod.)
Natural antibiotics (Echinacea, Tea Tree oil, …)

Gardening List
One important item for your gardening list is the construction of a very tall deer-proof and rabbit-proof fence. Under current circumstances, a raid by deer on your garden is probably just an inconvenience. After the balloon goes up, it could mean the difference between eating well, and starvation.
Top Soil/Amendments/Fertilizers.
Tools+ spares for barter/charity
Long-term storage non hybrid (open pollinated) seed. (Non-hybrid “heirloom” seed assortments tailors to different climate zones are available from The Ark Institute
Herbs: Get started with medicinal herbs such as aloe vera (for burns), echinacea (purple cone flower), valerian, et cetera.

Hygiene/Sanitation List
Sacks of powdered lime for the outhouse. Buy plenty!
TP in quantity (Stores well if kept dry and away from vermin and it is lightweight, but it is very bulky. This is a good item to store in the attic. See my novel about stocking up on used phone books for use as TP.
Soap in quantity (hand soap, dish soap, laundry soap, cleansers, etc.)
Bottled lye for soap making.
Ladies’ supplies.
Toothpaste (or powder).
Fluoride rinse. (Unless you have health objections to the use of fluoride.)
Livestock List:
Hoof rasp, hoof nippers, hoof pick, horse brushes, hand sheep shears, styptic, carding combs, goat milking stand, teat dip, udder wash, Bag Balm, elastrator and bands, SWOT fly repellent, nail clippers (various sizes), Copper-tox, leads, leashes, collars, halters, hay hooks, hay fork, manure shovel, feed buckets, bulk grain and C-O-B sweet feed (store in galvanized trash cans with tight fitting lids to keep the mice out), various tack and saddles, tack repair tools, et cetera. If your region has selenium deficient soil (ask your local Agricultural extension office) then be sure to get selenium-fortified salt blocks rather than plain white salt blocks--at least for those that you are going to set aside strictly for your livestock.

Hunting/Fishing/Trapping List
“Buckshot” Bruce Hemming has produced an excellent series of videos on trapping and making improvised traps. (He also sells traps and scents at very reasonable prices.)
Night vision gear, spares, maintenance, and battery charging
Salt. Post-TEOTWAWKI, don’t “go hunting.” That would be a waste of effort. Have the game come to you. Buy 20 or more salt blocks. They will also make very valuable barter items.
Sell your fly fishing gear (all but perhaps a few flies) and buy practical spin casting equipment.
Extra tackle may be useful for barter, but probably only in a very long term Crunch.
Buy some frog gigs if you have bullfrogs in your area. Buy some crawfish traps if you have crawfish in your area.
Learn how to rig trot lines and make fish traps for non-labor intensive fishing WTSHTF.

Power/Lighting/Batteries List
One proviso: In the event of a “grid down” situation, if you are the only family in the area with power, it could turn your house into a “come loot me” beacon at night. At the same time, your house lighting will ruin the night vision of your LP/OP pickets. Make plans and buy materials in advance for making blackout screens or fully opaque curtains for your windows.
When possible, buy nickel metal hydride batteries. (Unlike the older nickel cadmium technology, these have no adverse charge level “memory” effect.)
If your home has propane appliances, get a “tri-fuel” generator--with a carburetor that is selectable between gasoline, propane, and natural gas. If you heat your home with home heating oil, then get a diesel-burning generator. (And plan on getting at least one diesel burning pickup and/or tractor). In a pinch, you can run your diesel generator and diesel vehicles on home heating oil.
Kerosene lamps; plenty of extra wicks, mantles, and chimneys. (These will also make great barter items.)
Greater detail on do-it-yourself power will be included in my forthcoming blog posts.

Fuels List
Buy the biggest propane, home heating oil, gas, or diesel tanks that your local ordinances permit and that you can afford. Always keep them at least two-thirds full. For privacy concerns, ballistic impact concerns, and fire concerns, underground tanks are best if you local water table allows it. In any case, do not buy an aboveground fuel tank that would visible from any public road or navigable waterway. Buy plenty of extra fuel for barter. Don’t overlook buying plenty of kerosene. (For barter, you will want some in one or two gallon cans.) Stock up on firewood or coal. (See my previous blog posts.) Get the best quality chainsaw you can afford. I prefer Stihls and Husqavarnas. If you can afford it, buy two of the same model. Buy extra chains, critical spare parts, and plenty of two-cycle oil. (Two-cycle oil will be great for barter!) Get a pair of Kevlar chainsaw safety chaps. They are expensive but they might save yourself a trip to the emergency room. Always wear gloves, goggles, and ear-muffs. Wear a logger’s helmet when felling. Have someone who is well experienced teach you how to re-sharpen chains. BTW, don’t cut up your wood into rounds near any rocks or you will destroy a chain in a hurry.

Firefighting List
Now that you have all of those flammables on hand (see the previous list) and the prospect of looters shooting tracer ammo or throwing Molotov cocktails at your house, think in terms of fire fighting from start to finish without the aid of a fire department. Even without looters to consider, you should be ready for uncontrolled brush or residential fires, as well as the greater fire risk associated with greenhorns who have just arrived at your retreat working with wood stoves and kerosene lamps!
Upgrade your retreat with a fireproof metal roof.
2” water line from your gravity-fed storage tank (to provide large water volume for firefighting)
Fire fighting rig with an adjustable stream/mist head.
Smoke and CO detectors.

Tactical Living List
Adjust your wardrobe buying toward sturdy earth-tone clothing. (Frequent your local thrift store and buy extras for retreat newcomers, charity, and barter.)
Dyes. Stock up on some boxes of green and brown cloth dye. Buy some extra for barter. With dye, you can turn most light colored clothes into semi-tactical clothing on short notice.
Two-inch wide burlap strip material in green and brown. This burlap is available in large spools from Gun Parts Corp. Even if you don’t have time now, stock up so that you can make camouflage ghillie suits post-TEOTWAWKI.
Save those wine corks! (Burned cork makes quick and cheap face camouflage.)
Cold weather and foul weather gear—buy plenty, since you will be doing more outdoor chores, hunting, and standing guard duty.
Don’t overlook ponchos and gaiters.
Mosquito repellent.
Synthetic double-bag (modular) sleeping bags for each person at the retreat, plus a couple of spares. The Wiggy’s brand Flexible Temperature Range Sleep System (FTRSS) made by Wiggy's of Grand Junction, Colorado is highly recommended.
Night vision gear + IR floodlights for your retreat house
Subdued flashlights and penlights.
Noise, light, and litter discipline. (More on this in future posts--or perhaps a reader would like to send a brief article on this subject)
Security-General: Locks, intrusion detection/alarm systems, exterior obstacles (fences, gates, 5/8” diameter (or larger) locking road cables, rosebush plantings, “decorative” ponds (moats), ballistic protection (personal and residential), anti-vehicular ditches/berms, anti-vehicular concrete “planter boxes”, razor wire, etc.)
Starlight electronic light amplification scopes are critical tools for retreat security.
A Starlight scope (or goggles, or a monocular) literally amplifies low ambient light by up to 100,000 times, turning nighttime darkness into daylight--albeit a green and fuzzy view. Starlight light amplification technology was first developed during the Vietnam War. Late issue Third Generation (also called or “Third Gen” or “Gen 3”) starlight scopes can cost up to $3,500 each. Rebuilt first gen (early 1970s technology scopes can often be had for as little as $500. Russian-made monoculars (with lousy optics) can be had for under $100. One Russian model that uses a piezoelectric generator instead of batteries is the best of this low-cost breed. These are best used as backups (in case your expensive American made scopes fail. They should not be purchased for use as your primary night vision devices unless you are on a very restrictive budget. (They are better than nothing.) Buy the best starlight scopes, goggles, and monoculars you can afford. They may be life-savers! If you can afford to buy only one, make it a weapon sight such as an AN/PVS-4, with a Gen 2 (or better) tube. Make sure to specify that that the tube is new or “low hours”, has a high “line pair” count, and minimal scintillation. It is important to buy your Starlight gear from a reputable dealer. The market is crowded with rip-off artists and scammers. One dealer that I trust, is Al Glanze (spoken “Glan-zee”) who runs STANO Components, Inc. in Silver City, Nevada. Note: In a subsequent blog posts I will discuss the relationship and implications to IR illuminators and tritium sights.
Range cards and sector sketches.
If you live in the boonies, piece together nine of the USGS 15-minute maps, with your retreat property on the center map. Mount that map on an oversize map board. Draw in the property lines and owner names of all of your surrounding neighbor’s parcels (in pencil) in at least a five mile radius. (Get boundary line and current owner name info from your County Recorder’s office.) Study and memorize both the terrain and the neighbors’ names. Make a phone number/e-mail list that corresponds to all of the names marked on the map, plus city and county office contact numbers for quick reference and tack it up right next to the map board. Cover the whole map sheet with a sheet of heavy-duty acetate, so you can mark it up just like a military commander’s map board. (This may sound a bit “over the top”, but remember, you are planning for the worst case. It will also help you get to know your neighbors: When you are introduced by name to one of them when in town, you will be able to say, “Oh, don’t you live about two miles up the road between the Jones place and the Smith’s ranch?” They will be impressed, and you will seem like an instant “old timer.”

Security-Firearms List
Guns, ammunition, web gear, eye and ear protection, cleaning equipment, carrying cases, scopes, magazines, spare parts, gunsmithing tools, targets and target frames, et cetera. Each rifle and pistol should have at least six top quality (original military contract or original manufacturer) full capacity spare magazines. Note: Considerable detail on firearms and optics selection, training, use, and logistic support are covered in the SurvivalBlog archives and FAQs.

Communications/Monitoring List
When selecting radios buy only models that will run on 12 volt DC power or rechargeable nickel metal hydride battery packs (that can be recharged from your retreat’s 12 VDC power system without having to use an inverter.)
As a secondary purchasing goal, buy spare radios of each type if you can afford them. Keep your spares in sealed metal boxes to protect them from EMP.
If you live in a far inland region, I recommend buying two or more 12 VDC marine band radios. These frequencies will probably not be monitored in your region, leaving you an essentially private band to use. (But never assume that any two-way radio communications are secure!)
Note: More detail on survival communications gear selection, training, use, security/cryptography measures, antennas, EMP protection, and logistical support will be covered in forthcoming blog posts.

Tools List
Gardening tools.
Auto mechanics tools.
Bolt cutters--the indispensable “universal key.”
Woodworking tools.
Gunsmithing tools.
Emphasis on hand powered tools.
Hand or treadle powered grinding wheel.
Don’t forget to buy plenty of extra work gloves (in earth tone colors).
Sundries List:
Systematically list the things that you use on a regular basis, or that you might need if the local hardware store were to ever disappear: wire of various gauges, duct tape, reinforced strapping tape, chain, nails, nuts and bolts, weather stripping, abrasives, twine, white glue, cyanoacrylate glue, et cetera.

Book/Reference List

You should probably have nearly every book on my Bookshelf page. For some, you will want to have two or three copies, such as Carla Emery’s "Encyclopedia of Country Living". This is because these books are so valuable and indispensable that you won’t want to risk lending out your only copy.

Barter and Charity List
For your barter list, acquire primarily items that are durable, non-perishable, and either in small packages or that are easily divisible. Concentrate on the items that other people are likely to overlook or have in short supply. Some of my favorites are ammunition. [The late] Jeff Cooper referred to it as “ballistic wampum.” WTSHTF, ammo will be worth nearly its weight in silver. Store all of your ammo in military surplus ammo cans (with seals that are still soft) and it will store for decades. Stick to common calibers, get plenty of .22 LR (most high velocity hollow points) plus at least ten boxes of the local favorite deer hunting cartridge, even if you don’t own a rifle chambered for this cartridge. (Ask your local sporting goods shop about their top selling chamberings). Also buy at least ten boxes of the local police department’s standard pistol cartridge, again even if you don’t own a pistol chambered for this cartridge.
Ladies supplies.
Salt (Buy lots of cattle blocks and 1 pound canisters of iodized table salt.)
(Stores indefinitely if kept dry.)
Two cycle engine oil (for chain saw gas mixing. Gas may still be available after a collapse, but two-cycle oil will probably be like liquid gold!)
Gas stabilizer.
Diesel antibacterial additive.
50-pound sacks of lime (for outhouses).
1 oz. bottles of military rifle bore cleaner and Break Free (or similar) lubricant.
Waterproof dufflebags in earth tone colors (whitewater rafting "dry bags").
Thermal socks.
Semi-waterproof matches (from military rations.)
Military web gear (lots of folks will suddenly need pistol belts, holsters, magazine pouches, et cetera.)
Pre-1965 silver dimes.
1-gallon cans of kerosene.
Rolls of olive drab parachute cord.
Rolls of olive-drab duct tape.
Spools of monofilament fishing line.
Rolls of 10 mil "Visqueen", sheet plastic (for replacing windows, isolating airspaces for nuke scenarios, etc.)
I also respect the opinion of one gentleman with whom I've corresponded, who recommended the following:
Strike anywhere matches. (Dip the heads in paraffin to make them waterproof.)
Playing cards.
Cooking spices. (Do a web search for reasonably priced bulk spices.)
Rope & string.
Sewing supplies.
Candle wax and wicking.
Lastly, any supplies necessary for operating a home-based business. Some that you might consider are: leather crafting, small appliance repair, gun repair, locksmithing, et cetera. Every family should have at least one home-based business (preferably two!) that they can depend on in the event of an economic collapse.
Stock up on additional items to dispense to refugees as charity.
Note: See the Barter Faire chapter in my novel "Patriots" for lengthy lists of potential barter items.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Winter Home Inspections
Although winter time retreat shopping can afford many positives like reduced prices and motivated sellers, there can also be a few downsides as well. While purchasing your retreat during the winter, especially when there is a considerable amount of snow on the ground, extra care must be taken during your inspection period. Many surprises may await you when the spring thaw arrives. Among them may be hidden trash and slash piles that will have to burned or removed, road grading and repair work, downed frost free spigots, fencing repairs, vegetation removal and major grounds keeping issues that are hidden under the snow. That nice rock flowerbed may be a heap when the snow melts due to falling ice/snow off the roof. Also, varmints and pest infiltration can be a major issue especially in unoccupied dwellings. On a side note a recent home inspection report here stated “The woodpeckers appear to have mounted an attack on the front porch eve”. Funny? Absolutely! But not to the new owner. Beware of unoccupied dwellings for sale, especially in the winter. Snow hides many maintenance items that may need to be addressed and could be quite costly. Asking the seller to plow the driveway may be one thing but asking them to remove the snow load all the way around the house and each out building so the inspector can complete a thorough inspection may be an issue, especially with upwards of three solid frozen feet of snow on the ground here in the mid-range elevations of northern Idaho. This cost may range upwards of over a thousand dollars and sellers who have had their property overpriced and on the market for a while will not be motivated to incur such costs unless you release some earnest money to pay for it, and the fee reimbursed should you actually purchase the property. Why? Who knows, it makes no sense to me, but some sellers are very stubborn, to their own detriment.

Here is a list of items to make sure are working and not damaged during a winter time purchase: Well and well pump(s), all water lines (have they burst?), septic lines and tank, any generators and off grid solar components (have the batteries been neglected or are they due for replacement or upgrade?), wood decking (has the snow cracked or otherwise damaged the decks/railings/steps), wood stoves and piping/flues (creosote build-up or other deferred maintenance like loose flashing at the roof seal?), roofing (has the snow load loosened or ripped off any shingles?)--a good reason to have metal roof (for fire protection as well), any appearance of water intrusion into the basement or crawl space in winter is really going to be an issue in the spring. It is recommended that the buyer be present at the home inspection and normally a good inspector will let the buyer follow them around the home for most of the inspection. Most inspectors will be happy to let you tag along, as you’re paying them and they will explain certain details of demerit or merit, as you go.

If the retreat you’re buying has been on the market for a while, then your agent should have visited the property during the summer/fall months and therefore should be aware of any issues regarding road, vegetation, downed timber, and landscaping issues that wouldn't be obvious under snow cover. This is one more reason to seek out a qualified retreat real estate agent in your desired locale.

Survival Supplies Storage
Once you have closed escrow, the work begins at your new retreat. As I have stated before several times, before TEOTWAWKI the threat of fire will be either first or second on the list of major threats, next to theft. Speaking with a client this morning I was very specific that they should store their supplies ‘assuming’ that the retreat was going to burn down. Yes, having just spent a bunch of money on a retreat one may feel a bit annoyed, but storing expensive supplies under the house or hidden in walled over closets and crawl spaces is at best mediocre and dangerous at worst. If there is not a full concrete built basement under the house where a bunker can be walled off to survive a fire and water damage then an alternatively located underground bunker must be built, period. It would be better to put a bit less cash down on the property and save $15,000 for building a self contained storage bunker than to lose it all during fire season, or worse yet from a small propane heater malfunction-- the heater that must be left on during the winter in order to keep your water pipes from freezing while the place is not attended. Not living at your retreat full time has its issues, none of which cannot be overcome with a little forethought.

A simple excavated 12'x12' (finished size) underground concrete room--typically insulated concrete form (ICF) block--with proper drainage on the sides/underneath and a small CONEX container placed on top would probably be enough for anyone’s basic storage of supplies. (Clothes, storage food, medical supplies, tents, sleeping supplies, guns, and ammo). These supplies would be needed to survive if you were to find the main retreat structure just a smoking hole, upon arrival. Note that the CONEX should have a secured internal vertical entrance door leading to the shelter. [JWR Adds: in addition to a stout lock and equally stout hasp, the trapdoor should be concealed beneath something that doesn't look worth stealing, such as burlap sacks full of rags, prominently marked "Extra shop rags".] The rest of the less essential and less valuable supplies can be hidden in the retreat itself, but always have a reserve in place. Owning a retreat is a blessing, and very few have the opportunity. Just be diligent about your supplies, since storage consideration are as important as the retreat itself.

If you have any questions about retreat real estate in northern or north central Idaho, then please contact Todd Savage via e-mail at:

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hi Jim,
I have set out on an experiment in heating my home that has been interesting and is important to relay to other readers as their are many questions about using Soft Maple as a heat source. My experiment follows nearly a lifetime of wood burning, tree felling, splitting, chimney cleaning lifestyle and is of course not from a "professional", so ask a professional when experimenting with home heating.
I have used wood only heating in my current home for five years with 100% safety and 1,000% enjoyment. Before that, I had 11 years of consistent home heating by wood. I ran into a project on my property that involved felling some gigantic Soft Maple trees in order to adjust fencing and grading issues. These trees also became a looming headache about falling on my building. This past early summer was the project.

The trees were about 48"-to-60" in diameter. With all the overhead limbs that were as big as most trees appearing to start to hollow out, I felt it necessary to drop these trees with a large tracked excavator. In this scenario, we ripped the roots out from around the tree on three sides with a gigantic frost tooth/ cement tooth attachment. After ripping through the 16" diameter roots, we used the machine to drop the trees by guiding them to the ground with the hook. I could not justify being under any one of those limbs while felling the tree as it would have been instant death upon impact.
Now that this job was complete, it was saw time. I had everything cut into lineal length for the saw mill in two days and the brush cut and stacked for burning. There was no way I could fathom attempting to split the wood with the enormity of the trunks. I decided early on to sell the largest logs to the mill and "deal with the limbs" at a later date. When talking to an old boy at the mill, he recommended against all other advice. He said to split the wood late season and burn it right away. Conventional wisdom would tell you to never burn un-seasoned, (wet) wood in a stove/fireplace or dangerous deposits of creosote would form in the chimney causing a chimney fire. I decided that with my project I had over three years supply of soft maple right in front of me, so I might as well try it given my understanding of how important it is to monitor the burning, I felt completely comfortable with this experiment.

I started heating intermittently in October, exclusively with soft maple. Here are my observations:
-It starts amazingly well given an air space under it. In fact, I have been able to rekindle the fire without any matches for most of the winter by using the bark from the soft maple placed directly on the very small coals and propping up what I would call “Extremely large tinder”, (i.e.- 2” – 4” odd split off fall), give it lots of air and it is going.
-Given its properties, it does not overheat my chimney near as often as hardwood, but did not lend itself to any signs of buildup in my chimney. For the first month and a half I would add “anti-creosote” granules when the chimney was warmed up to keep things clear.
-With fewer BTUs than hardwood, I have gone through about 10% more wood than the previous winter of hardwood burning and have used my electric blower about 20% of the burn time compared to not needing it with hardwood. This was for comfort, not necessity.
-I have cleaned out the ash box and chimney 3 times as much this year compared to hardwood burning. These ashes seem to quickly choke the coals if not monitored when you first get up in the morning.
-I have decided to not use the granules any longer and keep monitoring the chimney. For the past month I have not noticed any change in buildup in the chimney. It is amazing how clean my chimney is for burning a softwood. It has yet to truly need the brush this year, but I have as habit.
-If a long burn is needed, it is imperative that you stack the wood in the fire box in a manner that would not aid in air flow to the fire. In other words, try to stack wood exactly upon itself in the exact same direction creating very small places for the flame to lick out upon the upper wood which allows the wood to smolder in the ash below and keep a more consistent burn albeit at a lower temperature. At least when you get home you have coals and a comfortable abode.This experiment has been fun as I am glad to not waste that much cordwood. I have not cut up the additional logs that were limbs from those trees yet as I did not want it to dry up and not create any heat next year. I will monitor the results and fill you in when that season is upon us. I hope that in 20’ lengths of logs, that it will still retain its moisture without rotting. Soft Maple really does not do well for any outdoor exposure in lumber form.

I wanted to share this experiment as it is against what I have known and could prove useful to someone else when dealing with a soft “nuisance” tree like Soft Maple. Please understand that other soft woods don’t share this property to my knowledge. Cottonwood plugged my chimney faster than I have ever seen before. But Cottonwood and hardwood mix allowed me to get some benefit out of that tree that could not be used at the mill. (I don’t recommend using Cottonwood, after that experiment).

A tidbit of value before cutting up your tree post-SHTF. After felling a tree, look at the rings. If you notice a sizeable, (thumb size or larger) deposit of graphite toned discoloration, then you have a tree with metal inside. Maybe it’s just a nail, but maybe it is a fence post! This is extremely important if you own the sawmill or you don’t have spare chains or teeth for your saws and you can’t get them without UPS [parcel delivery service continuing] as we know it. I would venture this to be very common among fence row trees on the property lines or near pastures of yesteryear. Avoiding that part of the tree could mean the difference between keeping your home heated for the year, or looking for a new saw at the barter faire!

Last bit of advice, the sawmill was happy to see that I over sized the logs by 5” to allow them to trim the ends. They were also glad to see the large logs compared to most customers who split the trunks and sell the limbs. What a mistake as the profit lost could put food on the table! The limbs burn 30% longer than an equivalent size and weight log that is split. I love burning round stock that is properly cured!
In my project, I did have logs that were too big for the mill’s equipment. In those cases I had to saw the logs in half. I guess that is better than trying to axe a 48” diameter log, or roll that widow maker up onto the log splitter!

A little asking around might serve us all better before the need arises. This well seasoned man just heated my family this Winter,…. Maybe he’ll heat yours too! All the Best! - The Wanderer

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Recent comments in SurvivalBlog provided excellent advice on using the public library. You can gain lots of knowledge with no expense, then purchase only those books you want to keep on hand for personal reference. Also, many colleges and universities loan to local residents, so you can use them too, even if you aren't a student.

If your local libraries participate, a great resource is Worldcat. It lets you search for books from home, then go check them out, or get them through interlibrary loan.

What will happen to the Internet when the SHTF? There's no guarantee it will survive. Even if the World Wide Web endures in some form, most of the individual computers connected to it will not. Hopefully by then you will have already downloaded all the free info that's going to help you cope with the new world.

You may want to download a copy of information on this web site or any other web site with useful content. It would be a shame to face some disaster when all the resources of the internet are no longer at your fingertips.

 In preparation for a worst case scenario, it's a good idea to begin now to collect the knowledge that will come in handy later. You can download whole books, save them to jump drives, and keep an entire library in a very small space. All kinds of free manuals, guides, tech tips, and schematics are available on the internet; for everything from firearms to furnaces to computers to appliances.

All of the downloads listed here are in the public domain or allowable for copying. Stay away from sites that may involve copyright infringement. If you use a file-sharing site such as Limewire, Kazaa, or any site that uses bit torrents, you are not only downloading, but also uploading. Your participation involves automatically uploading to other users. If the file is illegal, you are distributing illegal material, not just downloading it. Stay away from these and stick with the legitimate sites listed below.

Keep in mind that some of this information you download might be illegal to use at the present time. You can't practice dentistry on your neighbor just because you have the book. Nevertheless, you have the right to possess this very vital information. After TEOTWAWKI, all bets are off. The information you collect today might save your life or the life of somebody you love.

Many downloads are in Portable Document Format (PDF) form, so to read them you must have a suitable program such as Adobe Reader, which is the free version of Adobe Acrobat. There are alternatives to Adobe that can read PDF files, if you prefer. Some of these files are very large. If your internet connection is slow, it's better to right click and download rather than try to read a huge file online.

Some documents you may want to print out. Others you can just leave on disc. Just be sure to store your drives safely. Not included in this list are the many web sites that are very good resources in themselves. Rather, these are the files you can download for offline viewing at a later time. Download them while you still can!

Project Gutenberg was mentioned as a good place to go for eBooks.

The Smithsonian Institution is another great resource. They have digitized many older books, maps, and documents in their collection.

Wikisource has a nice collection of free eBooks.

One way to search for books no longer in copyright is to use Google Book Search. Check "full view." If it comes up in the search, it can be downloaded as a PDF file.

A good alternative to Google is the Internet Archive which includes books, images, audio, and more. The Internet Archive also hosts the Wayback Machine, which archives copies of an incredible 85 billion pages from the internet of years past.

Over 100,000 free eBooks can be accessed through Digital Book Index

2020ok is a directory of free online books and free eBooks

The British Columbia Digital Library has an impressive Collection, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, and most importantly, the Holy Bible. It also has a Guide to other digital libraries.

Scribd is an online document library of free research articles, eBooks, and other content.

A great resource for home schoolers is the Internet's largest directory of free audio & video learning resources maintained by

Check out the postings of Home Schooling On-line Resources on the The Mental Militia Forums, as well as the "Must Have" Books/reference material topic.

More than 3,200 pages related to the U. S. Constitution can be downloaded from The Founders' Constitution

Firearms For any firearm you own or plan to own, you should have a drawing of its Exploded View, which will help identify parts and how they fit together. One of the most comprehensive collections of Exploded Views is the paper edition of the Numrich Arms Catalog, which in itself is a gold mine of information and very inexpensive for a volume of over 1200 pages.

But if you only need certain Exploded Views, there are many places on the internet where you can download them for free:

Gunuts is a good place to start with hundreds of drawings. Another source is The Okie Gunsmith Shop, which is apparently no longer operating, but you can still download drawings and parts lists from its web site.Big Bear Gun Works has another good list. For pre-WWII firearms, check out Gunsworld. For examples of specific firearms manufacturers, see Remington, Browning, and SKB Shotguns

The book, The Defensive Use Of Firearms by Shane C. Henry is available as a download from rec.guns. An enormous amount of additional gun information is available on the rec.guns web site.

There are several good sources for Military Publications: has a huge collection of Military manuals.

Try Integrated Publishing for access to millions of pages of engineering manuals and documents.

The U.S. Army Materiel Command maintains the LOGSA web site for access to thousands of Army technical manuals.

The U.S. Air Force maintains the Air Force e-Publishing web site.

As mentioned recently, The Small Wars Journal has a Reference Library of downloadable military documents.

The Brooke Clarke web site has a good guide to accessing military field manuals

Surviving War and Nuclear Attack For a basic guide, download How To Survive A Chemical Or Biological Attack.

Nuclear War Survival Skills, along with some other very interesting books, can be found on the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine web site. This book includes plans for the Kearny Fallout Radiation Meter (KFM). If you have not bought a radiation meter, you should at least download the book for future reference. You can also get the Free Plans from The Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Nuclear War Survival Skills is also available on the KI4U web site as an online book, but not as a download.

The Equipped To Survive web site has some free ebooks, as well as books for sale: Survival, Evasion, and Recovery and U.S. Army Survival Manual FM 21-76.

The Volunteer Center of Marin County, California has prepared A Guide to Organizing Neighborhoods for Preparedness, Response and Recovery which you can copy from their web site. 

Medical Resources The Disease Net has a library of downloadable manuals on survival, weapons, emergency medicine, and less serious subjects.

Virtual Naval Hospital is a digital library of naval, military, and humanitarian medicine

The very important field manual, First Aid For Soldiers FM 21-11 can be downloaded here.

One of the best medical handbooks available is the U.S. Army Special Forces Medical Handbook ST31-91B. It can be downloaded free (as well as additional essential guides) from Delta Gear, Inc.

A newer version of the Medical Handbook, plus more great material can be downloaded from NH-TEMS (New Hampshire Tactical Emergency medical support).

The American Red Cross has some of their disaster guides online for download. For most of their material, you have to go to the local office. Some of it can be copied from the Earth Changes Media Survival Tips page. 

The Red Cross Book, First Aid in Armed Conflicts and Other Situations of Violence

The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency book, The Ship Captain's Medical Guide

Hesperian makes available free downloads of its books for medical treatment in primitive conditions. Two highly respected guides it publishes are Where There Is No Doctor and Where There Is No Dentist.

Here is a direct link to the must-have book Survival and Austere Medicine: An introduction. Australian Survivalist Online has several additional Files for downloading.

The Department of Agriculture has a treasure trove of information for free download. This agency maintains The National Agricultural Library, a collection of free information on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition, and other related subjects.

Another USDA web site is the Cooperative Extension Service. Click on the map to navigate to various Extension offices around the country. Don't limit your search to just your own state. Many of them have invaluable information on animals, crops, construction, food preparation and much more for free download.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) offers downloads about preventing plant and animal diseases, among other topics.

The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) offers Fact Sheets about food handling and preparation, and emergency preparedness.

Other Important Reference Resources The classic outdoor guides, The 10 Bushcraft Books by Richard Graves are available on the Chris Molloy web site. Free manuals for electronic equipment can be downloaded from Another source is For Ham Radio and Test Equipment Manuals, the KO4BB web site has Free Downloads, as well as LINKS to many other web sites with free downloads. A few examples of repair information for outdoor equipment are Penn Reel Schematics, and Mercury outboard parts.

Paid Services In the unlikely event that you can't find free information on the Net to fix that generator or whatever you need to repair, there are web sites that charge for information. As a last resort, you can check Sam's PHOTOFACT service manuals, or Hopefully, that won't be necessary.

The foregoing just begins to scratch the surface. Some of these free downloads are also available as books or CDs from eBay, Amazon or from some of the survivalist web sites. That is fine. Sometimes it is easier to just pay the money and buy the book. But nobody can afford it all, and downloading gives you access to millions of pages - much more knowledge than you could acquire through any other method.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In the event of a disaster (I live in New York City) I intend to shelter in place until all the riotous mobs destroy each other or are starved out. I am preparing for up to six months. I have one liter of water stored for each day (180 liters) and about 50 pounds of rice to eat as well as various canned goods. I have not seen on your site anything about heat sources for urban dwellers who intend to shelter in place. I'm assuming that electricity would go first soon followed by [natural] gas and running water. Do you have any recommendations for cooking rice and other foods in this event.
I am considering oil lamps or candles, methane gel used for chafing dishes, or small propane tanks. Because of the small size of my apartment and potential hazards of storing fuel I'm unsure which would be best. Please advise. Thank You, - Michael F.

JWR Replies: I've heard your intended approach suggested by a others, including one of my consulting clients. Frankly, I do not think that it is realistic. From an actuarial standpoint, your chances of survival would probably be low--certainly much lower than "Getting Out of Dodge" to a lightly populated area at the onset of a crisis. Undoubtedly, in a total societal collapse (wherein "the riotous mobs destroy each other", as you predict) there will be some stay-put urbanites that survive by their wits, supplemented by plenty of providential fortune. But the vast majority would perish. I wouldn't want to play those odds. There are many drawbacks to your plan, any one of which could attract notice (to be followed soon after by a pack of goblins with a battering ram.) I'll discuss a few complexities that you may not have fully considered:

Water. Even with extreme conservation measures you will need at least one gallon of water per day. That one gallon of water will provide just enough water for one adult for drinking and cooking. None for washing. If you run out of water before the rioting ends then you will be forced to go out and forage for water, putting yourself at enormous risk. And even then, you will have to treat the water that you find with chlorine, iodine (such as Polar Pure--now very scarce), or with a top quality water filter such as a Katadyn Pocket water filter.

Food. For a six month stay, you will need far more than just 50 pounds of rice! Work out a daily menu and budget for an honest six month supply of food with a decent variety and sufficient caloric intake. Don't overlook vitamin supplements to make up for the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. Sprouting is also a great option to provide vitamins and minerals, as well as aiding digestion. Speaking of digestion, depending on how your body reacts to the change in diet (to your storage food), you may need need a natural laxative in your diet such as bran, or perhaps even a bulk laxative such as Metamucil.

Sanitation. Without water for flushing toilets, odds are that people in neighboring apartments will dump raw sewage out their windows, causing a public health nightmare on the ground floor. Since you will not want to alert others to your presence by opening your window, and no doubt the apartment building's septic system stack will be clogged in short order, you will need to make plans to store you waste in your apartment. I suggest five gallon buckets. A bucket-type camping toilet seat (a seat that attaches to a standard five or six gallon plastic pail) would be ideal. You should also get a large supply of powdered lime to cut down on the stench before each bucket is sealed. You must also consider the sheer number of storage containers required for six months of accumulated human waste. (Perhaps a dozen 5 gallon buckets with tight-fitting o-ring seal lids would be sufficient.) Since you won't have water available for washing, you should also lay in a supply of diaper wipes.

Space heating. In mid-winter you could freeze to death in your apartment without supplemental heat. As I will discuss later, a small heater or just a few candles can keep the air temperature above freezing.

Ventilation. If you are going to use any source of open flame, you will need lots of additional ventilation. Asphyxiation from lack of oxygen or slow carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning are the alternatives. Unfortunately, in the circumstances that you envision, the increased ventilation required to mitigate these hazards will be a security risk--as a conduit for the smell of food or fuel, as a source of light that can be seen from outside the apartment, and as an additional point of entry for robbers.

Security. The main point of entry for miscreants will probably be your apartment door. Depending on the age of your apartment, odds are that you have a traditional solid core wood door. In a situation where law and order has evaporated, the malo hombres will be able to take their time and break through doors with fire axes, crow bars and improvised battering rams. It is best to replace wooden apartment doors with steel ones. Unless you own a condo rather than lease an apartment, approval for a door retrofit is unlikely. However, your apartment manager might approve of this if you pay for all the work yourself and you have it painted to match the existing doors. Merely bracing a wood door will not suffice. Furthermore, if you have an exterior window with a fire escape or your apartment has a shared balcony, then those are also points of entry for the bad guys. How could you effectively barricade a large expanse of windows?

If you live in a ground floor apartment or an older apartment with exterior metal fire escapes, then I recommend that you move as soon as possible to a third, fourth, or fifth floor apartment that is in a modern apartment building of concrete construction, preferably without balconies, with steel entry doors, and with interior fire escape stairwells.

Self Defense. To fend off intruders, or for self defense when you eventually emerge from your apartment, you will need to be well-armed. Preferably you should also be teamed with at least two other armed and trained adults. Look into local legalities on large volume pepper spray dispensers. These are marketed primarily as bear repellent, with brand names like "Guard Alaska", "Bear Guard", and "17% Streetwise." If they are indeed legal in your jurisdiction, then buy several of the big one-pound dispensers, first making sure that they are at least a 12% OC formulation.

If you can get a firearms permit--a bit complicated in New York City , but not an insurmountable task--then I recommend that you get a Remington, Winchester, or Mossberg 12 gauge pump action shotgun with a SureFire flashlight forend. #4 Buckshot (not to be confused with the much smaller #4 bird shot) is the best load for defense in an urban environment where over-penetration (into neighboring apartments) is an issue. But if getting a firearms permit proves too daunting, there is a nice exemption in the New York City firearms laws for muzzleloaders and pre-1894 manufactured antique guns that are chambered for cartridges that are no longer commercially made. It is not difficult to find a Winchester Model 1876 or a Model 1886 rifle that is in a serial number range that distinguishes it as pre-1894 production. (See: for exact dates of manufacture on 12 different rifle models.) You will be limited to chamberings like .40-65 and .45-90. You can have a supply of ammunition custom loaded. A Winchester Model 1873 or and early Model 1892 chambered in .38-40 might also be an option, but I would recommend one of the more potent calibers available in the large frame (Model 1876 or 1886 ) rifles. Regardless, be sure to select rifles with excellent bores and nice mechanical condition.

For an antique handgun, I would recommend a S&W double action top break revolver chambered in .44 S&W Russian. None of the major manufacturers produce .44 S&W Russian ammunition. However, semi-custom extra mild loads (so-called "cowboy" loads, made specially for the Cowboy Action Shooting enthusiasts) in .44 S&W Russian are now available from Black Hills Ammunition. The Pre-1899 Specialist (one of our advertisers) often has large caliber S&W double action top break revolvers available for sale. The top breaks are very fast to load, and you can even use modern speed loaders designed for .44 Special or .44 Magnum cartridges with the stumpy .44 S&W Russian loads.(It has the same cartridge "head" dimensions.)

Firearms training from a quality school (such as Front Sight) is crucial.

Fire Detection and Contingency Bug-Out. A battery-powered smoke detector is an absolute must. Even if you are careful with candles, lanterns, and cook stoves, your neighbors may not be. There is a considerable risk that your apartment building will catch fire, either intentionally of unintentionally. Therefore, you need to have a "Bug Out" backpack ready to grab at a moment's notice. Although they are no proper substitute for a fireman's compressed air breathing rig, a commercially-made egress smoke hood or a military surplus gas mask might allow you to escape your building in time. But even if you escape the smoke and flames, then where will that you leave you? Outdoors, at an unplanned hour (day or night), in a hostile big city that is blacked out, with no safe means of escape. (This might prove far too reminiscent of the the 1980s Kurt Russell movie "Escape from New York.") By the time this happens, the mobs may not want just the contents of your backpack. They may be sizing you up for a meal!

Fuel storage. Bulk fuel storage has three problematic issues: 1.) as a safety issue (fire hazard), 2.) as a security issue (odors that could attract robbers), and 3.) as a legal issue (fire code or tenant contract restrictions). I suspect that New York City's fire code would not allow you have more than a week's worth of propane on hand, and completely prohibit keeping more than just one small container of kerosene or Coleman fuel. From the standpoint of both safety and minimizing detectable odors, propane is probably the best option. (The odors of kerosene and chafing dish gel are both quite discernable.) But of course consult both your local fire code and your apartment lease agreement to determining the maximum allowable quantity to keep on hand.

Odds are that there will be no limit on the number of candles that you can store. If that is the case, then lay in large supply of unscented jar candles designed for long-burning (formulated high in stearic acid.) I suggest the tall, clear glass jar-enclosed "devotional" candles manufactured in large numbers for the Catholic market. You can even heat individual servings of food over these if you construct a stand with a wide base out of stout wire. Watch for these candles at discount and close-out stores. We have found that the large adhesive labels slip off easily if you soak the jars in water for an hour. Since their burning time is approximately 24 hours, and since you might need two of them burning simultaneously for sufficient light and to stay warm, that would necessitate laying in a supply of 360 candles! (This assumes that the worst case, with the outset of a crisis in October, and your having to hunker down for a full six months.)

Fire fighting. Buy at least two large multipurpose ("A-B-C") chemical fire extinguishers

Cooking odors. In addition to the smell of fuel, cooking food will produce odors. I recommend that you store only foods with minimal spices. In situation where you are surrounded by starving people, just frying foods with grease or heating up a can of spicy chili con carne could be a death warrant.

Noise discipline. Just the sound of moving around your apartment could reveal your presence. For some useful background, see if your local library has a copy of the best-selling memoir "The Pianist", by Wladyslaw Szpilman. (If not, buy a copy through Amazon or request a copy via inter-library loan. It has been published in 35 languages. The US edition's ISBN is 0312244150.) The book describes the harrowing experiences of a Jewish musician in hiding in Warsaw, Poland, during the Second World War. Following the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising and forced deportation, Szpilman spent many months locked in a Warsaw apartment, receiving just a few parcels of food from some gentile friends. In his situation, the power and water utilities were still operating most of the time, but he suffered from slow starvation and lived in absolute fear of making any noise. His survival absolutely defied the odds. There was also an excellent 2002 movie based on Szpilman's book, but the memoir provides greater detail than the film.

Light discipline. If you have any source of light in your apartment, it could reveal your presence. In an extended power blackout, it will become obvious to looters within a couple of weeks who has lanterns or large supplies of candles and/or flashlight batteries. (Everyone else will run out within less than two weeks.) And I predict that it will be the apartments that are still lit up that will be deemed the ones worth robbing. So if you are going to have a light source, you must systematically black out all of your windows. But sadly these efforts will be in direct conflict with your need for ventilation for your heating and/or cooking.

Heat. With the aforementioned restrictions on fuel storage, heating your apartment for more than just a few days will probably be impossible. Buy an expedition quality sleeping bag--preferably a two-bag system such as a Wiggy's brand FTRSS. Under the circumstances that you describe, don't attempt to heat your entire apartment. Instead, construct a small room-within-a-room (Perhaps under a large dining room table, or by setting up a camping tent inside your apartment, to hoard heat.) Even if the rest of the apartment drops to 25 or 30 degrees Fahrenheit, your body heat alone will keep your demi-room in the 40s. Burning just one candle will raise the temperature another 5 or 10 degrees. For the greatest efficiency at retaining heat, your demi-room should be draped with two layers of mylar space blankets.

Exercise. While you are "hunkered down", you will need to maintain muscle tone. Get some quiet exercise equipment, such as a pull-up bar and some large elastic straps. Perhaps, if your budget allows in the future, also purchase or construct your own a quiet stationary bicycle-powered generator. This would provide both exercise and battery charging.

Sanity. .Hunkering down solo in silence for six months would be a supreme challenge, both physically and mentally. Assuming that you can somehow tackle all of the aforementioned problems, you also need to plan to stay sane. Have lots of reading materials on hand.

In conclusion, when one considers the preceding long list of dependencies and complexities, it makes "staying put" in a worst case very unattractive. In less inimical circumstance, it is certainly feasible, but in a grid-down situation with utilities disrupted and wholesale looting and rioting in progress, the big city is no place to live. But, as always, this is just my perspective and your mileage may vary (YMMV).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A few hours after I wrote the most recent Weekly Survival Real Estate Market Update (Fri 12-14-07) I was awakened at 2 a.m. Friday morning with a page out to respond as a member of our local volunteer fire department to a fully involved structure fire with multiple occupants trapped. Like I stated in my update it takes us 15 to 30 minutes to arrive on scene as we respond from our homes to the station then on to the scene. As far as I can estimate there were emergency personnel on scene in about 14 minutes and we arrived at about 19 minutes from the initial page out, as the roads were icy and slippery. Obviously without going into details the outcome was devastating for the family, for us, and for the community as a whole. We have gone without a structure fire fatality for about 11 years according to local sources.

Remember, it's not the actual flames that will kill you, it's the poisonous smoke and fumes from the fire that will incapacitate you in seconds, stopping your escape and or rescue effort of your loved ones. I moved from a higher end subdivision in California where the city building code called for a water suppression system in every room with hard wired smoke alarms. Although I disagree with government mandates about building codes (none in our north Idaho county outside of city limits!) I did appreciate the system we had in that particular home. In closing, whether you'll be building a retreat, buying a stock one or still living at your home in the perilous 'burbs, spending the cash to install some kind of fire suppression system may seem nuts but the chance that you'll be very thankful. Smoke detectors are worthless without a system to suppress the fire so that you can escape!

The bottom line is that having a fire suppression system in place, no matter the cost, would have saved one very precious child last night. Most of us concentrate on tactical gear, growing veggies and ammo purchases rather than taking the time to run the odds. Realistically speaking if you figure the odds of needing such a system versus needing your firearm in an actual defensive situation, I'd take my bets on the fire. - Todd Savage


I am on the local Volunteer Fire Department here in the communist state of New Jersey. Instead of posting things that will compromise your OPSEC outside of your home. Find out when your local fire department has drills and go down and talk to the Chief or one of his officers. Invite them over for a walk through. They will most likely do this just because they are good people (we also appreciate a case or two of beer). Show them where your water supply is (if you have one on your property). They most likely know where the water supply is on the roads (Hydrants, Stand-pipes, Drafting sites). Show them where to shut off your gas and electric, because if your house is burning they need to shut it off. If you have ammunition stored please explain to them that it is in a certain part of the house so if it's on fire nobody gets injured from rounds cooking off. What I have outlined seems a lot better in my mind than ruining OPSEC by posting things like that outside of your home. - TD


Mr. Rawles,
Having been through a few fires, I have the following suggestions: A sign or placard near the driveway with instructions to the firefighters has some merit. If you have a NO TRESPASSING sign, it should read something like this: "Absolutely NO Trespassing except for Emergency Personnel, Delivery Personnel, and Invited Guests. Others by appointment only. Call 555-5555." This implies that the house is occupied, which is a good thing, and it acknowledges the possible need for Firefighters or Paramedics. The phone number is important so they can call you if your house is burning. Your instructions to firefighters should include the location of every fuel tank, propane tank, or any other volatile substance. This is very important to them for their own safety as well as their strategy in fighting the fire. If you have a large cache of ammunition, it could be a problem in a fire. I've never known anyone to get "shot" by loose ammo in a fire, but I've seen some real meltdowns. The intense heat just makes a bad situation even worse. I would suggest that however you store your ammo, make sure it's totally fireproof. - K.L. in Alaska

JWR Replies: The risk posed by stored ammunition during a house fire is often exaggerated by the sensationalistic mass media. It does indeed "cook off", sounding like firecrackers. But when ammunition that is not contained by a firearm chamber, the bullets don't go anywhere. It is the cartridge cases that move, not the heavier lead bullets. Typically the brass will fly no more that 10 feet, and at fairly low velocity.

Friday, December 14, 2007

This week, after a personal experience with a house fire in a rental property I own, I want to cover how to secure your retreat from fire when your not living on site. Although the fire department was on scene and had the fire out within 10 minutes of the 911 call (the property was inside city limits) you can expect a 15 to 30 minute response time to your unoccupied retreat (in good weather), and that is if you have an automatic notification system or if a passerby sees the smoke and flames, and pray the fire is not during 'open burn season' in your area, otherwise just consider it a "burn down"! Fire suppression is probably the most important item next to the secure storage of your supplies and one of the most overlooked as well. You'll need to budget some extra cash to install a moderately priced automatic system to guard your valuable supplies.

I'm not too familiar with high end waterless automatic fire suppression systems, as we simply do not have these in place in our jurisdiction, with the exception of several commercial buildings and they are the very simple pressurized type water based systems. [JWR Adds: These typically using a gas. Older systems often used Halon (an alkane with linked halogens), but that was considered unfriendly to the environment ("ozone depleting") so many of the new systems use HFC-like gasses]. For a retreat though, I would highly recommend that you do not use a water based suppression system (in the house), it will simply create as much if not more damage than the fire will and you will lose your supplies with the exception of your guns, assuming that they are stored in a highly rated safe. The keys to a successful fire suppression action inside your retreat will be two-fold: One, the fire will need to be detected early, the waterless system will need to be able to discharge enough retardant to put the flames out and Two: The local fire department will need to be paged out to respond while the system is activated.

With a plethora of different waterless suppression agents and systems on the market the best advice I can give out is to make sure that the system is activated by a thermal and chemical detection system and that it is completely off the grid so a power loss will not disable it. If you Scroogle 'waterless home fire suppression system', you can read all day. The second issue would be to purchase a waterless system that uses a compound that can either be easily recharged or you can purchase the extra retardant/gas/particulate et cetera, and the equipment to recharge the system without having to have a 'tech' come out and do it, since post TSHTF it may of course prove futile. The retardant should also be non-toxic to humans as you'll want to keep it on a manual override switch once the retreat is activated for any last ditch suppression during a major siege on the property. Of course, standard fire extinguishers should be as prevalent as loaded firearms in your retreat once your there and living full-time, like the American Express card "never be home without it!".

Most of the clients I've met this year through are technically savvy enough to build a monitoring system that would notify them via page or email that there was an issue at their retreat and should be incorporated along with the multitude of motion sensors and cameras in and around the property for long distance oversight when your half a country away. Another item of interest would be to make sure and package all of your supplies inside waterproof bags or containers. Imagine you either have a water based sprinkler system and/or the firefighters arrive and dump three thousand gallons of water inside your retreat while fighting the fire! Although half the home was lost the basement survived and yet was two feet deep in nasty contaminated water! If none of the supplies were burnt would they be salvageable if you merely stuck them inside wall lockers and plastic tubs without first vacuum sealing them in bags? Probably not, they would all be destroyed. Do you seal your ammo before putting it inside the .50 cal ammo can(s)? You should. It's not necessary to seal the bag so tight that it rips when you drop it in the can, just enough to keep water out if the cans seal is compromised. What about all those wool blankets, BDUs, toilet paper , medical supplies, et cetera? Yes, that's right, the toilet paper, keep it dry at all costs, it'll be worth more than bullion should TEOTWAWKI happen! Every survival item deserves extra protective packaging, even the books stored for that rainy day on OP/LP duty! You'll thank yourself later!

One last item would be to have a placard made with Fire Department instructions near the house, NOT on the house of course. A simple reflective 2'x3' sign near the driveway/walkway explaining to the responding volunteer firefighters what type of system you have in place, how to turn it off (especially if you go with a water system!) and any other information, like the location of any hydrants or standpipes on/near the property (yes, they are out here) and your immediate contact info. Although completely against all rules of OPSEC you could post a copy of the floor plan as well (not showing all the secret bunkers of course), this would be well appreciated and will help if they need to make entry.

As covered last year in SurvivalBlog you'll still need a good gravity-fed water suppression system with decent head pressure without a pump to cover your home from the outside and to protect from wild land fires as well. That article is a good read when considering how to handle your retreat firefighting procedures.

To recap, think 1. Waterless suppression 2. Remotely and/ automatically activated 3. Cost effective and available recharging 4. Supplies secure from water damage. 5. Fire Department instructions near the house

If any readers out there have additional technical comments or experience that would be helpful for a subsequent comment, please e-mail them, especially anyone who is a full-time firefighter or that works for a company that manufactures or sells these waterless suppression systems. - T.S.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I have the rest of the day off due to the wildfires in the area so I am at home. The firefighting aircraft have been grounded due to wind until a couple of minutes ago. The evacuation zone is currently a 1/4 mile east of me. My northeastern and southeastern escape routes are currently out of the question. I figure that by the time I get told to Get Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D.), the Northern route will be closed off or too crowded to take. Going South into Mexico is currently not an option due to the makeup of my G.O.O.D.kit ([which includes] military caliber firearms and ammo.) Probably will head to the beach area if I need to G.O.O.D.. I have a couple of friends in that area. I do not want to G.O.O.D. until the last minute due to security reasons. [For fear of looting of my household goods.]. One positive thing is that there were several small brush fires pretty close to me several months ago so the underbrush is already burned away. The fire department is spending too many resources arguing with the people who refused to evacuate to get them out of harm's way and they are not able to allocate the resources to fight the fire.

I had my low profile small duration G.O.O.D. stuff loaded in my vehicle within 15 minutes. I had parts of the kit stored in multiple locations in my place and it took only 15 minutes to gather my stuff. Only things missing were my Baygen radio and toilet paper. (That's what the liberal newspapers are for.) I was planning on getting a solar/hand crank radio and had put my hand crank radio into storage. My low profile kit is configured so that anyone looking into my vehicle will not know that I have gear in my vehicle, yet enough for me to live out of my vehicle for a few days.

I topped off my gas this morning before I went to work. Not surprised to find out that no one else at work had packed their essentials in case they are not able to make it back to their abode due to road closures. A lot of people were bugging out early from work due to the spreading fire so we decided to close down the company. I really didn't care since I was already equipped to survive. Later,
- "Dan Fong"

JWR Adds: In case you are wondering, yes, the writer of this letter is my real life friend of 25+ years, upon whom the Dan Fong character in my novel "Patriots" was directly drawn. And yes, he really says "Oh maaan!"


First, I must say after reading you for a while now almost every thing on television I see, or disaster, or shopping excursion my mind wanders to " What would Jim say?" Thanks for your wisdom and guidance.

What if you have to abandon your fixed position? like the 500,000 - 1 Million good folks in Southern California?
Obviously one should have copies of all pertinent documents on an encrypted portable drive on their person and if possible all the family photos and originals of those docs not too far away in a briefcase ready to move at a moments notice. What about my arms collection and ammo ? a real house fire will cook a safe and ruin the guns. I have many coworkers and friends in the San Diego area are that are affected and may be homeless soon. please pray for them. If you live in an affected area please have you gear ready to go this time of year (October Santa Ana winds in so cal, hurricane season in the south, tornado season in the midwest, blizzard season in the north east and any earthquake area). ( as an aside, notice no stories yet of rapes at the football stadium or looting?)
I was at Hearst Castle this past weekend and we went on the tour that included the wine cellar. recently you suggested that if you were building a custom home, use non-local contractors.But if you were pouring a nice all concrete basement, I would suggest that you just tell the local guy that its a wine and root cellar/ pantry. Of course Hearst had real steel safe doors for locks and his was compartmentalized, his excuse that they told us on the tour was that if a basement fire broke out it could be contained. One could make an interior room of the cellar their armory / reloading room and then the outer part of the cellar their wine cellar and pantry. Anyway, this is food for thought.
Lastly, with Halloween season upon us, you may have noticed all the stores have all kinds of candies in bite size packaging for sale. For the last few years, I have bought several bags of my favorite chocolate bar and vacuum packed them and then kept them in my camping box (for camping treats as well as long lead time BOB food) and my BOB. Rotating them annually hasn't been a problem if you keep it out of any heat. A real grinch could then give away the year old candy on 10/31.. or just eat it. if you wait until 11/1 your choices may be limited but you can get the candy for 1/2 price. if anything, trade barter or making the kids happy and its some quick energy.

Along these same lines, I was also at the beverage superstore lately and saw all the little 50 ml single serve 'airline' bottles. Me thinks a case or two of these of various hard liquors could be tucked away for future trade barter or medicinal purposes. Your thought?
Thanks, - Tim L.

JWR Replies: As a Baptist, I don't personally stock any liquor for barter. But many folks see the wisdom of doing so. OBTW, if you do buy any liquor, one variety stock up on is the 190 Proof variety of Everclear grain alcohol, which also has medicinal purposes (for sterilizing instruments and for making tinctures) and can be used as lamp fuel.

I write this to you as I communicate with my family still in the fire zones in San Diego. I am a former San Diego resident who happily relocated to the wet and soggy Pacific Northwest. I still have family and memories of the region. My step mother reports that she is on alert to bug out with minutes notice. She is sleeping tonight with a packed car in the driveway and in street clothes so she can go fast to G.O.O.D.. However, there are serious concerns and issues my family has expressed.

1) Main travel ways, arterials and so on are clogged. Fire and emergency vehicles going in, folks evacuating out. As a kid in San Diego, I watched some friends get seriously burned in their vehicle when they were trapped in a blow over, caused by them staying too late. Burning to near death in their car was horrific enough. Over 250,000 people ordered to evacuate. San Diego has an excellent highway system but when you have that many moving . . .
2) Many folks have been reluctant to leave. Family has stated that they are aware that looters and burglars have worked some mandatory evacuated neighborhoods to their benefit. If your house doesn’t burn, it could get robbed.
3) What people are packing for evacuation in their vehicle is insane. Everything but what they really need (documents, photos, family bible, etc.). I was listening to a cable news program tonight in which a producer admitted that she evacuated her house, taking important things like her Emmy [Award Statue]s. For the love of goddess!
4) Fire is a sadly common event and yet people in that area still have homes with shingle roofs and land that has not been disaster proofed (ice plant, sprinkler systems, etc.). Several years ago, my dad rejected a shake shingle roof system to replace the old one. He now has good ole terra cotta and stucco sides (gee, odd how the early settlers knew how to mitigate fire damage to their buildings).
5) Telling statement from a local television report: “ The mayor's office put out a call the public to help provide for the evacuees at the Friars Road sports arena. The following items, which should be taken to the stadium's "P" gate, are needed: tents, cots, water, blankets and prepared food.” Oddly enough, these residents knowingly live in fire and earthquake zones and yet they don’t have supplies. Worse yet, the city is unprepared for the numbers of evacuees. Makes the preps we do seems at that much more intelligent.

Anyway, some thoughts for the SurvivalBlog readers. My thoughts and prayers go out to those affected, my family and those fire fighters and cops going into these zones to put down the fires and help the people out.
- MP in Seattle (a 10 Cent Challenge subscriber)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Don't know if the callow-youth angle is of interest to your readers, but I dashed this off after a recent wildfire alert: This evening around 5:30 there were reports of a fire very near my
home. Wildfires around here can get interesting quick, especially this late in the year with plenty of dry fuel waiting around. I thought we might have to Get out of Dodge and so I ordered the wife to pack up the paperwork and prep the munchkin for a few days field trip.
Error. Wife does not respond well to orders, and she judged the threat to be considerably less than I did.
I then went to grab my bug-out bag and load it in trusty escape vehicle. Mixed results. My Bug Out Bag (B.O.B.) was in pieces all over the garage and house, as parts of it had been used in recent camping
trip, some for vacation travel, or in my guru-bag for my work.
Assembling the kit under time pressure and while checking in on the radio/tv/internet news, hounding the wife to follow through on evacuation was not going too well. Stress induced
tunnel vision slows people down and invites errors.
A few hours later the fire was under control and we wound down and turned in for the night.
Lessons learned:
Discuss relative priorities ahead of time, so when the time comes to move out there is less wasted effort in communication.

Rechargeable batteries are great for daily use, but useless in a bug-out situation. Not enough extras were charged and ready to go, so my two-way radios, extra Mini-Maglites, and backpacking GPS were useless. Keep a stash of copper-top [Duracell]s or lithiums on hand for when they are needed.

Keep your evac vehicle ready to roll. My escape vehicle was in moderate condition. The truck bed was loaded with junk I’d slated for a dump run, and only one of the two fuel tanks was full. Better to be empty of junk and topped off. Other minor problem: Not road-legal for three bodies.

Keep your B.O.B. packed with dedicated gear. If you can’t grab and go, it isn't a B.O.B.Yeah, your best flashlights live there. So what. Make the second rate gear take the daily wear and tear.

Gear to make life bearable and the more readily portable valuables / memorables could have been collated and loaded, but it would have taken quite some time. Lesson: Get some Rubbermaid bins. Number them. Stow gear numbered by load order so as to make finding things easier. Items not likely to be needed in the short-term get loaded first. Print up inventory list and tape to inside lids, along with
a cheapo LED keychain light. This way important equipment gets loaded quickly and my loved ones can find what they need in my absence, even on the side of the road in the dark. Keep a few
extra bins for rapid-load of household items such as family photo albums, insurance paperwork, etc. Keep the weight manageable by the weakest person likely to be helping load.

I had I planned to haul off any fuel or ammo I had, for the safety of any rescue workers. Since I do not yet have a large volume to move, I thought it polite. Having a garage explode or a case of
ammo cook off could ruin somebody's day. Remembering where all gas, kerosene, Coleman’s, fuel canisters, target ammo, real ammo, gopher-killer ammo were stored and getting it all together was a
minor challenge. Lesson: Keep ammo stored centrally and securely. Keep fuels stored outside garage in locking cabinet.

Alternate evac routes were planned, but only in my head and on screen. Should keep paper maps in all cars. Review routes in advance. Two alternate routes, two alternate rally points. Practice them in advance by taking the 'scenic route' to 'grandmas house'.

[My original] plan was for her to head out very early in this scenario on with our precious cargo and take shelter at our fallback place while I loaded gear and stood ready to defend the home front against fire or looters until such time as I needed to bail out. With everything but property already secured, I know I would not spend much time playing hero. In the future, I want to plan on a one
vehicle evac, so I know where my most important cargo is and have a second set of hands and eyes to help in getting there intact.

Planning and wishful thinking don’t go very far to securing the safety of your family and property. It can all fall down fast with sloppy execution. I now intend to finish my summer by being able to pack up with a few minutes notice and be safely out of town. Thanks for all the good advice and references I have found here. - The Hushmailer

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

As long as I can remember, I have felt that someday the comforts of a modern American lifestyle would vanish, at least temporarily. So I have made small mental preparations for some time now; keeping my mind and body fit and strong, staying informed, dropping hints to the wife, etc. Recently, and mostly after reading Patriots, I have a renewed interest in preserving my life and protecting those I love.

After educating myself on the subject of survival, I felt, as I’m sure many others have, very vulnerable and even overwhelmed. I needed to take action, immediately. Many thoughts spring into one’s mind during these moments. “What will I feed my children; oh man, water is essential; what about all those crazy people in the city, I need a gun, I need several guns; I need to move to North Dakota!” Sloooow down! These are daunting items. Once you quiet your mind and restore some sense of calm (it may take a couple days), you realize that you must be realistic. It’s not feasible for most of us to pack up an arsenal and move to a remote retreat in the hills or forests of the upper Midwest. We have jobs and responsibilities, relatives and friends; lives that at least for the time being, limit our options. And there is also the feeling that hundreds or even thousands of dollars spent on preparations could be wasted if The Schumer doesn’t ever Hit The Fan. (Doubtful, but it does cross one’s mind) A sense of urgency is implied; however, a caution against panic is warranted. It’s easy in this post 9/11 age to let fear control your life. Don’t! Simply take comfort in the fact that doing something to prepare for various scenarios, however big or small, will most importantly increase your odds of survival in the worst of emergencies, but also increase your comfort in the less dire situations and even improve your life now.

You Don’t Have to Move to Idaho--Survival Mindset for City Folk

I wanted to write an article for people like myself who are in the beginning stages of survival preparation. People on limited budgets, who may not live on farms, or maybe have never served in the military or had experience with guns. Those people who live in or near a city, particularly congested east coast cities. I write for those city dwellers and suburbanites in less than ideal regions; students, urban professionals, everyday people. However, it can apply to just about anyone who is not already well “squared away”. I will attempt to provide ideas on where to begin, how to prioritize and how to prepare mentally and with limited monetary resources for a multitude of events. I will try to focus on things that can be useful now and for a lifetime. My intent is not to instruct on what exactly is needed for every particular individual; there are more capable advisors for that. I aim to get people thinking and to provide a more general approach to surviving the times.

Get Your Mind Right
First and foremost is your mindset. Think about your values, your morals. What is most important in your life? Who is most important to you? How far are you willing to go to protect them? In the most serious situation, we would do anything, right? Why let it come to that? There’s good reason to get motivated. Put yourself and your family in the best possible position for survival now, so you don’t have to act out of desperation later. Also, think about what you spend your money on and where you spend it. Do you really need that big screen plasma television? What are you teaching your children about spirituality, health, money? Just as important, what are others teaching your children? You see where I’m going here. It’s not all about beans, bullets and Band-Aids. It’s about your mentality. Only the strongest-willed individuals will make it through tough times, be it TEOTWAWKI, high school, or simply life as an adult in the 21st century.

Beginning Logistics

Now think about tangible items to have on hand. Make a list. Just jot down ideas, then categorize (based on cost or type) and prioritize later. Your location and climate will impact your list. Set up your inventory and storage on varying degrees of threat and length of time of crisis. For instance a blackout that lasts 30 days vs. a full scale economic collapse. Will you be staying put or escaping to a safer location? What criteria will you base your decision on? What would you miss most if something tragic happened? Put yourself in that situation. The obvious answers are food and more importantly, water. If you are human, you already eat and drink water, so this is nothing new. You just need to think about having more of it on hand. In turn, storage is needed. We find room for other items; we can find room for potentially life saving sustenance. Package enough easily transportable food for 30 days. A durable plastic tote should work well. Then store enough for much longer periods of time. Buy a little extra food with each grocery shopping trip and date it. Not extra chips or TV dinners, get extra items such as dried fruit or granola that will last for an extended period of time, without electricity. Buy in bulk and incorporate raw grains into your diet. Start a garden. Not only will you know how to prepare these foods now, you will be more accustomed to eating them later, not to mention the health benefits. Think about buying a food dehydrator. They are reasonably priced. Keep a few five gallon containers of water in your garage, basement or crawlspace. If you live in an apartment, do you have a spare room or a patio? For long term situations, any amount of water that can be conveniently stored in most homes will be consumed surprisingly fast. Think about other sources and get a good water filter. Again, this is prudent to have anyway. A [compact] portable filter might come in handy also. With both food and water, as much as possible, use your storage as supplement, not a main source.

Little by little set aside money and acquire items you will need. Keep an extra supply of first aid items on hand. Don’t forget some of the less apparent items like toilet paper, sanitation, batteries, tools, candles, medications and fuel. Keep some spare 5 gallon containers of stabilized gas in your shed. It’s not wasteful as it can be used in your vehicles at any time. And with the rising gas prices it may prove to be a worthwhile investment. Don’t forget to rotate [your stocks]. Consider buying a generator. In a full scale crisis, drawing attention to yourself and home with a loud, light-producing device is not going to be very smart, but when power goes out and the masses aren’t yet rioting in the streets, a generator will be nice to have. Get a portable model. Study maps and plan different routes to and from your home. Keep an emergency kit in your car. This is by no means a complete list, it’s designed to get you started. Yes, the preparations are abundant. Don’t get overwhelmed into thinking you have to get it all at once. The key is minimization. Minimize the chances that you will be taken by surprise, wondering why you didn’t do something earlier. Start small and with things you can use in everyday life. The wealth of available information on specifics is immense. This web page is a great resource. It’s up to you to educate yourself and determine exactly what and how much you will need.

Help Others Help You
Working together will be to your advantage during crunch time. Find strength in numbers. Seek out others who share your values and have skills you lack. How can you help each other? Build relationships and share ideas. Educate others, but be careful as you can imagine the funny looks you might get if you start prophesying doomsday. And guess who’s doorstep they’ll be standing on come crunch time. I am a firm believer that the more people around you that are prepared, the better off all of us are. If your neighbors can take care of themselves, then it’s more likely your preparations will be preserved in the event of crisis. In short, at least fewer of your neighbors will be knocking on your door the same day of an event.

Securing Your Castle
I’d like to take a moment to discuss security, specifically firearms. If you have studied survival even a little, then you are aware that arming yourself ranks high on the list of recommendations. Perhaps some of you share my reluctance to build an armory in my home. I have children, and being married to someone who is strictly against guns makes security a particularly difficult element in my survival preparations. While I recognize security as an absolute must, I have reservations about keeping a device designed to kill in my home. Ironically the reasons not to own a gun are the very reasons why I feel I should own gun. The reasons are aged 2-11, not including the Mrs. In a volatile scenario that could spiral out of control; I would feel helpless without weapons to protect my family. All the stockpiling of food and water will be futile if some thug can easily take it from you (and maybe your lives with it). If you do decide to own a firearm (or firearms), don’t flaunt it and please educate yourself and practice. Keep a chamber or trigger lock in place and store the ammunition in a different location if necessary. In addition, don’t rule out other ways of defending yourself. Albeit, less formidable, they are less expensive. These include pepper spray, knives, batons, stun guns and martial arts. I don’t think I need to remind people that these are mostly ineffective against attackers with guns, or even large groups of unarmed evil doers. However, they may prove useful in that they are very portable and can be used in less dire emergencies. Deterrence in the form of dogs, fencing, motion detection, alarm systems and location should also be considered. Protection from those who intend to harm is imperative and yet another item that is useful even today.

Back to Basics
Take an assessment of your skill sets. What knowledge do you posses that would be of value in a crisis situation? Don’t worry, if needed, your survival instincts will take hold, but some basic skills can make you an asset and will help you survive. Develop and hone these skills now. Start simply; make your own bread, catch your own fish, grow your own vegetables, prepare healthier, less processed meals. I enjoy beer, I brew my own. It’s rewarding and I’ve learned much from it. Learn basic plumbing, carpentry and electrical skills. You don’t have to be a master mechanic, but any vehicle owner should know the basics; how to change the oil, filters and spark plugs. Having a skill can be just as valuable as having an inventory; you never leave home without it and could earn you a spot in a group if needed. Maybe you are a dog trainer or electronics engineer. Don’t forget your kids. Teach your children to swim, hunt, split wood or sow a garden. It seems that all too often, in our frenzied lifestyles, we focus all our energy on skills that will get us fat paychecks and forget the simpler but more important things. Ge