Land Navigation & GPS Category

Monday, January 20, 2014

Route Security by Chuck S. was a good article, but I would add a few things:
-          Newer cars will have daylight running lights and some basic tools may be needed to disable them for real covert night travel.
-          If you can afford them, and practice using them, NVGs are great for covert night travel.
-          Relying on Fuel en route is a gamble. Ideally, carry the fuel you need to get to your destination. For that, you should have a fuel supply stored and rotated. Use proper storage containers and procedures for safety. Use fuel stabilizer to ensure freshness of fuel and protect your engine.
-          Have tools and experience siphoning gas from abandoned cars.
-          Plan to use up to double your normal fuel consumption in a car evacuation due to:
o   Detours to avoid road blocks and traffic
o   Engine running in idle in a traffic jam situation
o   Higher than normal vehicle weight due to supplies carried
o   Charity fuel donation to stranded strangers (exercising proper operational security)

-          Carry tools and equipment to clear obstacles from roads:
o   Good bolt cutters
o   Chain saw and tow chains
o   Broom for glass or nails removal
o   Shovel
o   Snow removal equipment or chains if appropriate to your environment

-          Add a battery jump-starter with air compressor to the tools list
-          Plan for a good balance of persons to vehicles. You don’t want to overload your vehicles and if you can, you should have redundancy in case a vehicle becomes disabled, however you do not want to stretch your gas supplies to the limit just to have vehicle redundancy. For example, a family with 3 drivers and 3 smaller kids may want to leave with 2 vehicles instead of squeezing into one.
-          If possible, travel in a group of vehicles (Convoy) to increase security and provide redundancy. Ensure communications that do not rely on the grid (CB, or even better – FRS/GMRS with privacy codes). Perform proper briefing to establish procedures and responses to various events.
-          When bugging out of an urban area, traffic gridlocks are your biggest enemy. LEAVE EARLY! Having vehicle, equipment and personnel ready to go will make all the difference. Any advanced signs or warnings, interpreted correctly, will give you an advantage over the panicked masses. 1 hour can be the difference between getting to a safe destination or spending the night inside your car with hungry, panicked masses all around you. While the grid is still up, use traffic and road status data sources such as online/mobile navigation software to identify problems on route. Assess your urban area's ability to evacuate on a large scale.
-          Do not rely on GPS – as mentioned in the article, paper maps are a required backup to any electronics that can be damaged or disabled.
-          Be able to leave your vehicles if needed and still survive and travel effectively. Packing your cars with supplies doesn’t mean that a bug-out bag or bug-out stroller is not needed. You should be able to leave your car, carrying or rolling supplies on foot, on a moment’s notice.
-          Do your best to camouflage your supplies. Towing an open trailer with a cornucopia of goodies such as water tanks, gas tanks and boxes of food just shouts “rob me”. Try to use closed trailers, tarp covers, or other more creative methods to disguise your supplies and eliminate yourself as a juicy target.
-          Many of us spend 1/3 of our lives at the office. Route planning, communications and supplies for travel from the office to your house are just as important as bugging out from your house to a bug out location. - H.P.

A recent article on Route Security by Chuck S. in your blog mentioned:

“Road Atlas / Maps:
Purchase a large road atlas and use wet erase or permanent markers for marking of primary and secondary routes using different colors.”

I have a problem with that statement. 
After a High School football game a family discovered their car had been broken into.  One of the items stolen was the car’s GPS.  When the family arrived home they discovered the house had been burglarized too.  It was theorized that the thieves pressed “Home” on the stolen GPS which lead them straight to the car owner’s house!  Instead of entering your home address in the GPS as “Home” I would recommend entering the local Police Department or in my case the small town three miles from my house.
Having a road atlas with your destination clearly marked could lead undesirables straight to you!  What I would suggest is ending your marked route at the town before your BOL or at least 20 miles before.  Then if your map is taken from you [or circumstances force you to abandon it], the marked location will take the thieves to where you are not. - Robin in Indiana

Monday, December 2, 2013

If you’re reading this blog you are no doubt already well along on preparedness spectrum, finding yourself someplace between never in America and not if but when, more likely you’re nearer the latter.  You’re probably well versed in all aspects of food procurement, preparation and storage, water purification, providing shelter and security for yourselves and your families as well many of the other nuances related to preparing for future contingencies.  There is a world of good information available on all these subjects and more and, for most of it you need look no further than right here on the SurvivalBlog.

One key question is how we will communicate when land lines and cell phones are no longer dependable.  There is precious little available on the traditional information sources relating to communications, especially communications specific to person-to-person private communications.  This article is one person’s attempt to mitigate that void.

Walkie-Talkies and Ham Radios

Whenever interests do seem to drift to communications, walkie-talkies and ham-radios seem to be consensus topics of discussion.  Don’t get me wrong.  Some 2 Meter handie-talkies should be a part of everyone’s inventory, as should a good general coverage short wave radio receiver.  Transmitting via HF shortwave comes with its own set of complications.  It requires course instruction, licensing, a sizeable capital investment in equipment [especially for high power HF] and it may also necessitate significantly compromising one’s privacy and anonymity. (The home addresses for most hams are available online.)  Again, there is already considerable information out on the Internet and in the SurvivalBlog archives, relative to these subjects so I’ll not delve any further into it here. 


A Short History of Portable Satellite Communications                         

Satellite communication technology has evolved over the years not unlike the evolutionary progression of other technological innovation.  Take computers for example.  Early computers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and required a degree from MIT to operate them.  They filled complete rooms, even requiring their own air conditioning systems.  Only the largest of corporations could afford them.  Now computers are small enough to fit in your pocket.  They can be operated by small children and they are affordable by nearly everyone.

Similarly, just 30 years ago a satellite communication terminal would have cost tens of thousands of dollars to purchase, it would have required the same MIT degree to operate and it would have taken several strong backs just to transport it. 

In 1995 the MSAT constellation was launched with a footprint covering North and Central America and with it came the first portable satellite terminal.  Eye popping at the time, the MSAT constellation supported the briefcase sized Mitsubishi ST151, weighing in at 30 pounds and costing approximately $3,500.  While representing a significant breakthrough in satellite communications, the ST151 would dominate the portable satellite terminal market for less than one year.  Hand held, as in “hand held satellite telephone”, was not even in our vocabulary yet.

1996 ushered in a truly revolutionary phase in personal mobile sat comms with the launching of the mini-M terminal, supported by the Inmarsat satellite constellation, the first commercially available constellation with a world-wide footprint.

Priced about the same as the ST151, the mini-M weighed in at less than 6 pounds.   Virtually plug and play, the laptop sized mini-M also supported slow speed data transmission, heretofore unheard of in personal satellite communications.  Perhaps the most significant advancement of the mini-M was the improved quality of the voice transmission.  Also, unlike the 151, which had a North America footprint only, the mini-M could be used virtually anywhere in the world.  As significant a break through as the mini-M was, and it was significant, it would dominate the portable satellite communications market for less than two years. 

In 1998 Iridium launched its worldwide canopy of 66 satellites and rolled out the first handheld satellite phone.  Slightly smaller than the early bag cellular phone, the Iridium handheld would again revolutionize personal portable satellite communications.  Just a few years later that bag sized phone would shrink in size and cost less than $1,000.00.  Iridium, for the first time, made personal satellite communications affordable to the masses.  Now just about anyone who had reason to travel beyond land line or cellular service had an affordable communications option.    

As with the development of many industries, there have been breakthroughs and advances to satellite technology followed by failures and set-backs.  Not every constellation has been successful from the outset.  Competition remains fierce as satellite providers vie for market share.  The ultimate beneficiary of all of this will be, as it always is, the consumer.  There are currently 4 Satellite Networks available, Iridium, Inmarsat, Globalstar and Thuraya.

There are pros and cons to each constellation.  The purpose of this article going forward is to help you evaluate those pros and cons so that you can determine the best choice for you.  It’s not difficult.  There is overlap.  There’s no right or wrong to this process.  It’s just a matter of understanding what’s available and how the choices mesh with your needs.  A comparison chart has been provided which includes technical specs on each phone.










140 x 60 x 27 mm

143 x 55 x 30 mm

170 x 54 x 39 mm

128 x 53 x 26.5 mm


247 g

266 g

279 g

193 g


Glare-Resistant LCD Display

Glare-Resistant LCD Display

Monochrome Display

Glare-Resistant Color Display

Antenna Design

Retractable Omni-Directional Antenna

Retractable Omni-Directional Antenna

Fold-Out Directional Antenna

Retractable Omni-Directional Antenna

Durability Specs

Military Grade (MIL-STD 810F)



IK 03 (for shock)

Ingress Protection

Dust proof, jet water resistant (IP65)


Dust resistant, splash resistant (IP54)

Dust resistant, splash resistant (IP54)


66 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites orbiting 485 miles from earth

66 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites orbiting 485 miles from earth

3 Geostationary (GEO) satellites in fixed orbit 22,000 miles from earth

2 Geostationary (GEO) satellites in fixed orbit 22,000 miles from earth


Global, pole-to-pole coverage

Global, pole-to-pole coverage

Coverage over 3 regions

Coverage over 2 regions


Talk and move freely 66 Low Earth Orbit satellites overhead

Talk and move freely 66 Low Earth Orbit satellites overhead

Talk with regional mobility limitations 3 Geostationary satellites in fixed location

Talk with regional mobility limitations. 2 Geostationary satellites in fixed locations

Phone Registration

Network registration

Network registration

Requires GPS fix and network registration

Requires GPS fix and network registration

Time to Power on and Make Call

Under 30 seconds

Under 30 seconds

72-120 seconds

Up to 1 minute

Ability to receive incoming calls

Capable of incoming call notification

Capable of incoming call notification

Capable of incoming call notification

Capable of incoming call notification

Ability to send/receive SMS Messages 

if antenna extended or retracted

if antenna extended or retracted

if antenna extended or retracted

if antenna extended or retracted

Ability to send/receive SMS Messages





Ability to connect to laptop





Battery Talk Time

3.5 hours

4 hours

8 hours

6 hours

Battery Stand By Time

30 hours

30 hours

100 hours

80 hours



If you know anything at all about hand held satellite telephones no doubt you have heard of Iridium.  It’s become almost a generic term for the product.

The 66 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites comprising the Iridium constellation were commercially rolled out for service in 1998.  Initially the Iridium business model failed and Iridium filed for bankruptcy, going off line for a year or so.  Although hard to see at the time, this may have been a good thing for the industry in the long run in that it resulted in much more competitive pricing and a much simplified model for usage pricing, two things that survive to this day and apply to all handheld options.  Although the Iridium constellation is older the satellites continue to function efficiently. 

Characteristics of a low earth orbit canopy of satellites:

  • Satellite’s position with respect to the users location on the earth surface is continually changing as the earth rotates under the fixed canopy of satellites.  During extended conversations this dynamic can result in the user being passed off from one satellite to the next as one satellite exits proximity and the next enters.  It happens infrequently but this passing off can result in a call being dropped.
  • Quicker set up and registration process when initiating a call.
  • Less latency during conversation.  Latency refers to the amount of time that passes between the time you stop speaking and the time the other party hears what you said.
  • Iridium is a fully duplex terminal meaning, even if both parties talk over each other both ultimately will hear what the other person said.
  • Direct over-head satellite access facilitating usage particularly when operating in populated areas, among buildings or in mountainous regions where clear line of sight to the satellite could be obstructed.  (More on this later when we discuss the comparison with geosynchronous satellite orbits.)
  • Better coverage at the higher and lower latitudes.
  • The Iridium 9555 and Extreme 9575 are unquestionably the most ruggedized of all handhelds.


Inmarsat is the oldest of the commercial communications constellations having been operational for over 30 years.  It is perhaps the most financially viable of any of the constellations.  Arguably the most powerful of all communications satellites, Inmarsat’s three new F4 birds, in service for just over 3 years, enjoy the longest remaining “projected” useful life of any constellation in operation.

Unlike the LEO Iridium constellation, Inmarsat’s high earth orbit (HEO) satellites orbit the earth at 22,000 miles directly over the equator.  The users position with respect to the satellite remains fixed, much the same as television satellites do.  Consequently the Isatphone Pro remains attached to the same satellite for the duration of the call.   No system is perfect so, while the Isatphone Pro may occasionally drop a call, it will not be caused by transferring a call from one satellite to the next.

Because all satellite terminals require clear line of sight between the antenna and the satellite, issues can arise which affect the ability to see the bird.  This is particularly true if operating at extreme high or low latitudes where clear line of sight to the satellite might be obstructed by the horizon or even buildings or terrain. 

Another feature, which might be considered a double edged sword, is the fact that the Isatphone Pro requires a GPS fix prior to operating.  Obviously this can be advantageous in an emergency situation when it would be helpful to automatically transmit your position via SMS.  There is also the possibility of compromising security in the event the user does not want his position known.

The Isatphone Pro is the most recent addition to the handheld market, having rolled out commercially just over three years ago.  It’s compact design, affordable price point and ease of use has contributed to its commercial success. 


I’ll mention Globalstar only briefly.  Re-launched in 2006, the LEO Globalstar constellation initially endured a myriad of problems and equipment failures resulting in a reputation for unreliability.  I know that Globalstar is diligently working to re-establish its credibility in the marketplace. [JWR Adds: On August 28, 2013, it was announced that after a one billion dollar investment, Globalstar has resumed full operations, with their second generation constellation of satellites. So it is now functionally comparable with Iridium. Time will tell if they've successfully worked all of the kinks out. Most industry analysts are confident that they have.] 


The Thuraya constellation consists of two high earth orbit (HEO) satellites in similar orbits to those of Inmarsat.  Since there are only two satellites (compared with Inmarsat’s three) Thuraya cannot provide worldwide coverage.  The Americas are not within the Thuraya footprint.  Thuraya covers most of Europe, Northern Africa, Asia and Australia.

Thuraya is not without its attributes.  It supports high speed data.  The actual handsets are considerably smaller than either the Iridium or Isatphone Pro.  Thuraya handsets are comparably priced with the Isatphone Pro. 

None of us know what is going to happen, if it’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, how long it’s going to last or how bad it’s going to be.  Neither do we know how much warning we’ll have, if any.  We only know this can’t end well.  We prepare for the worst but we hope for the best. 

Now I know that preparing is about establishing self-reliance, off the grid self-reliance.  Don’t need anyone for anything.  Yet man is not an island.  We are social animals and that is not going to change regardless of what does or does not happen.  It may have to take a back seat for a while but we’re not going to change. 

Imagine for a moment, not being able to personally communicate with anyone outside of shouting distance.   Just because things might go to hell in a hand basket doesn’t mean we no longer will need to communicate with our kids on the other side of the country, or our parents in Florida or Arizona not to mention our “group”… which just may not be where we need them to be when it hits the fan.  Again, if we had a clear road map as to how this will all ultimately go down, well, we may not need a lot of things.  But we don’t.   

Handheld satellite telephones (even the more expensive models) are a fraction of the cost of ham radio equipment.  They require no license or registration.   They require no formal instruction in fact, if you can operate a cell phone you can operate a sat phone.  Perhaps most importantly, they allow for personal and private one to one communications with anyone on the planet, at any time, for any reason.

I know we’re not all in same place on the preparedness spectrum and it can be almost impossible to talk with family or friends who may not yet see the world as we see it, but people change.  We did.  They will too. 

Make a list of those folks with whom you would like to remain in contact.  It may be a short list to start but it will grow as more and more people become enlightened.  Exchange satellite phone numbers with each other.  Establish a list of contacts.  Consider the possibility of someone maintaining a discreet list of like-minded satellite phone owners.  It’s not far-fetched.  It may be a new idea to many of us but not to all.  Lists like this already exist all over the country.

About the Author: I'm a survivalist and an entrepreneur with a passion for blue water sailing.  My wife and I founded International Satellite Services in 1996 while living on a remote island in the Northwest Caribbean. Our company provides portable satellite Internet and voice solutions for individuals and businesses operating in remote areas off the grid.  We provide services via the Inmarsat, Iridium, Lightsquared and Thuraya Satellite Networks.

Monday, October 28, 2013

I've been out of the military for a long, long time now. However, I still remember many of the things that were taught to me back then. Those Drill Sergeants, bless their hearts, really knew how to drive home the lessons they were teaching us. Looking back over the years, I can see they were teaching us lessons that would save our lives in combat. I can still remember our map reading and compass orientation course, and the drill sergeant told us "a good soldier never gets lost, they just get disoriented." At the time, I wasn't sure what that actually meant, I mean, "lost" is "lost" isn't it - no matter what you might call it? And, map reading was a very important skill to learn, not just for a means of finding you way back to the base camp, but for calling in artillery on an enemy position, if needed.
I love the outdoors, and don't get out there as much as I'd like to these days. However, I'm happy to say, I've never been lost - not in the wilderness, nor in the big city. I have an uncanny sense of direction - always have. However, I've run across some hunters, who were "misoriented" and couldn't remember where they parked their vehicles or where their hunting camp was located. Before heading out to go hunting, in terrain that I'm not familiar with, I'll take the time to study a topo map of the area - all the various road in the area, as well as sources of water, too. It's just good sense, to have an idea of where you're going in the wilderness - and the big cities. I don't know how many people I've run across, who can't even read a compass, and if they can read a compass, they haven't set it for the declination in the area they're in. When my girls were younger, I taught them how to use a map and compass, and how to learn which direction was north, south, east or west, too.
Many people die each year, because they lost their sense of direction and get lost in the wilderness. Also, boaters who might have a problem out on the ocean or a large lake, can get lost, and they have no means of finding their way back home. Here in Oregon, we have several people each year die while attempting to climb Mount Hood. It looks like an easy mountain to scale, but it's not. And, more often than not, those who get killed climbing Mount Hood are "experienced" climber - they take unnecessary risks - where an amateur won't take those same risks. Climbers get caught in snow storms - and they can't get rescued because no one knows exactly where they are at. Sad!
Today I'm reviewing the Rescue Me PLB1 (Personal Locator Beacon) from Datrex. Now, a lot of people think I'm pretty smart - while that may be true, I'm just not smart all the time. It took me a while to put two and two together, to come up with four - Datrex makes those tasty life boat rations. And, for the life of me, I don't know why most folks consider these survival rations just for use on boats. My wife and I carry them in our emergency boxes in our SUVs - so they are good for helping your survive on land and sea.
Datrex was kind enough to send me one of their PLB1 units for testing - well, I didn't actually want to test it, and have the local sheriff's department Search And Rescue (SAR) team coming knocking on my door, when I activated the PLB1. They also sent me a dummy unit to play with, and the entire set-up is so very simple to operate, no practice is needed! A quick run down on the specs of the PLB1 are in order.  The PLB1 is the world's smallest Personal Locator Beacon - it's 30% smaller than other similar units. It has a 7-year battery life, with a 7-year warranty - the longest in the industry, and it provides fast and accurate positioning information to a SAR team. Best of all, unlike other similar units, there is NO subscription fee. Other places may charge you by the month, or by the year, to have a subscription - which means, once you purchase one of their units, you can't use it, unless you've paid the fee - which can get expensive over the years.
The PLB1 operates on the COSPAS/SARAT System which uses two satellites to provide distress alert and location data to SAR authorities. The GEOSR system can provide immediate alerting within the coverage of the receiving satellite. To put it simply is to say, once you activate your PLB1, the distress signal goes out immediately and help will be on the way to you. And, needless to say, you only activate the PLB1 in a dire emergency - not when you can't find your way home from the local McDonald's restaurant!
The unit only weighs 4-ounces, and is 3"x2"x1.3" and it safely fits inside inflatable life jackets, small pockets on trousers, on a belt or strap - just about any place. The PLB1 also comes with all the accessories you need, flotation belt pouch, snap in clip with universal mounting strap and high tensile lanyard. Of course, you can stuff it in your backpack, too, or even a shirt pocket.
Now pay attention here, this is the "complicated" method for operating the PLB1 in an emergency. Pull out the retractable antenna, push button down for one second to activate the unit, and.........well, that's it! Can't be easier to operate if you ask me. And, one nice thing about the PLB1 is, the retractable antenna - you can roll it back up into the unit - much like a tape measure. Other units have to be returned to the factory to have their antennas replaced - and they charge you for it, too. Datrex recommends that, if you have used the unit, that you should replace the small battery - just in case. I mean, the battery is good for 7-years, but it's just smart to replace the battery if you've activated the unit.
The PLB1  is waterproof, per se, down to 15-feet so they recommend that once you activate the unit, you keep it above the water - if you're out to sea. And, ensure that the antenna is held vertically while operating the unit. The unit will send out a signal for at least 24-hours, and there is also a small strobe light that will start flashing to indicate that the unit is activated. The high brightness, low profile strobe light has 1 candela - it is bright and can be seen from quite a distance, especially at night - aiding the SAR in finding your location, once they get close to you.
Now, in order to use your PLB1 properly, you are required by law to register it - there is no fee for this - just a simple form you can fill out - that's supplied with each unit - or you can do it on-line. The SAR would like to know who they're looking for and can also alert family that you've activated the unit, too. Oh, one other thing, once you press the button to activate the unit, it takes about 50-seconds before the unit actually starts sending out a signal - in case you hit the button by mistake. Good idea. The PLB1 will operate in temps from -4 degrees, up to 131-degrees.
I know a lot of Survivalist or Preppers, have the idea of heading to the mountains, when the SHTF - and I wish them well, and hope they have pre-positioned supplies there. Many folks just want to disappear off the grid, which is harder to do than they think. I've had times in my own life, where I just wanted to "go" and disappear - and not be found. However, what if you were out on a boat, and the engine quit on you, or you're out hunting, and something happens to you - you get lost, or break a leg? These are situation where you will want to be found. And, cell phones don't work every place - here in Oregon, where I live, we have quite a few areas in our state where you can't get a signal to use your cell phone.
My youngest daughter is in the US Army right now, however, by the time this review appears in print, she'll be out. She has a plan to fly down to New Zealand, and she wants to trek 2,000 miles across that country. Quite a feat, and one I wouldn't willingly want to do, and she plans on doing it alone, too - ever wonder why dads have so many gray hairs? Enough said! Well, I told my youngest daughter that she will get a PLB1 and take it with her on her trek. This will give me quite a bit of peace of mind - knowing that, if something happens along the trek, she can just push a button, and help will be coming her way. I can't think of a better endorsement, than wanting my little girl, to carry a PLB1 with her when she's on that long trek. It probably won't stop the few remaining hairs from turning gray, but it might slow them down on my head.
If you're a hunter, boater, hiker or even in the military, having a PLB1 with you is a great idea if you ask me. the PLB1 can be purchased directly from Datrex, at the web address given above, or from any of their retail walk-in stores, for $369 - you might think the price is a bit high - I don't! What is your life worth, or the life of your loved ones? When you can't help yourself - for whatever reason, the PLB1 can direct help to your location. To me, I don't think you can put a price tag on this! And, if my youngest daughter doesn't purchase a PLB1 for her 2,000 mile trek, then I'll purchase one for her - that's how strongly I feel about having this means of being rescued. If you spend any amount of time in the outdoors - especially hiking, camping or hunting - you absolutely must have a PLB1 with you - it can make the difference between life and death! - SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Despite years of reading valid arguments for moving to the American Redoubt or other remote area, of the hundreds of preppers I've met I can count on one hand those who made the move and most of those were retired.  I meet relatively few preppers living at a secluded retreat, a few with secondary retreats, many planning to bug out to property they do not own (hopefully by agreement), and the majority still living in and around cities with no alternative plan to shelter in place.  Only one of those four types I just described is unlikely to be on the road at some time after a trigger event. According to NOAA, 39% of Americans live in counties directly on the shoreline.  It is for those who are not already where they intend to weather the long emergency that is to come that I share my experience.    

I am blessed to live in what has been described by many publications as one of the best small cities in the U.S.  Not only are we hours from cities with populations over 30,000, but our infrastructure is designed to withstand the occasional two-week power outage which happens every few years.  When our local grid goes down water still flows from large tanks perched high on the surrounding peaks.  We are close enough to the natural gas wells that even the elderly do not remember a time when gas stopped flowing to our homes.  We are surrounded by rivers and lakes with standing dead timber and wild game so prolific they are both considered nuisances.  While this is great for localized disasters it is still too population dense for comfort during a long-term world-changing event at 274 people per square mile, I purchased acreage in a secluded and gated community about an hour away via the highway, a couple hours via secondary roads, and a few days walk via mostly rail trail with caches buried along the route.  Deep in a holler on a dead end gated road off a dead end paved road off a township road I built a wood-heated, solar-powered cabin with hot and cold running water which my neighbor looks after in my absence.  Outbuildings and other infrastructure scatter the hillside.

Just when I thought I had everything squared away, my wife came home excited about an opportunity for professional advancement.  This new position would be closer to her parents which had become important because we recently had our first child.  My concern was the location.  It was in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia which sits on a Peninsula between Naval Station Norfolk (the world's largest naval base) and Surry Nuclear Power Plant.  Traffic on I-68 is a bear in both directions on an average day and horrendous around the holidays.  Remote controlled gates shut down Eastbound on ramps so all lanes serve westbound traffic in the event of a hurricane or other evacuation.  State studies show that it would take 36 hours to evacuate South Hampton Roads in the event of a hurricane and that is less than half the 1.7 Million residents of the metropolitan area.  Rob Case, principal transportation engineer for the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization stated "that means you'd be sitting in your car for up to 30 hours, then you'd probably run out of gas.”  If we didn't leave early we would have to bug in until the crowds thinned.  This close to such an attractive military target that meant nothing less than a hardened bomb shelter would suffice.

Fortunately my wife did not get the job so it cost me nothing to be a supportive husband to someone who, although she is not at all interested in preparedness, is supportive of my spending tens of thousands of dollars and much of my spare time pursuing it.  Although I did not have to implement the plan, the thought process I went through in developing a way to get back to my mountain retreat from such a desperate locale helped me to improve my existing plan for the much shorter distance from this small city.  I share it here in hopes that those who cannot relocate pre-incident will find it helpful in making an assessment and developing an evacuation plan.

SWOT Analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats
This term I learned pursuing my MBA in the nineties is an appropriate way to consider the strengths and weaknesses of both the location and the person in that location.

S = Strengths:  As it is on a peninsula, the only good thing I could find about Hampton Roads is that it borders the James River on one side.  There are probably more, but since I never had to actually move there I did not discover them.  In the interests of humility I will limit the explanation of my personal strengths to those relevant to that fact.  Part of my job when I worked for the Boy Scouts of America was to pilot a boat ferrying scouts from typical camps to my high adventure outpost.

Weaknesses:  Hampton Roads is an overcrowded peninsula and even during “normal” times traffic is often at a standstill on I-64 in various spots between Hampton and Richmond.  As I explained earlier, even if all lanes are going NorthWest experts believe it could take days to cover that 75 mile stretch.  My relevant personal weakness is that I absolutely hate traffic!  I somehow managed a commute of six lanes each way when I was a graduate student in Atlanta, Georgia.  As I've grown older, however, I'm on edge the entire time I'm in traffic.

Opportunities: I could buy a boat which is not only enjoyable during good times.  Since as you say, two is one and one is none I would get both a cruiser and a dingy.  Although much farther away moving close to my wife's family would provide the opportunity for more time at the retreat since I'm the primary care giver of our toddler.

Threats:  Greater cultural diversity in the Hampton area has resulted unprovoked attacks.  A newspaper reporter was recently dragged from his car and beaten by a mob merely because of the color of his skin.  This friction could escalate following a trigger event because people need someone to blame and these differences are the most apparent.

Since this essay is about getting out of the city I will dispense with all the preparations I would need to make based upon identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats because these are going to change substantially.  I will instead focus on the subject of this essay which is escaping from a crowded city to a preplanned safer location.  Here in Appalachia I buried my first cache with essentials similar to a bug out bag within a day's walk in case we have to leave with only the clothes on our back. In this hypothetical example, however, we will leave from home fully provisioned and experience several setbacks so as to explore the greatest number of possibilities:

I'm home with our daughter when normal programming is interrupted news of a trigger event.  I immediately text COME HOME NOW SHTF to my wife at the nearby university.  She heads for home before most people realize the intensity of the situation while I slide out Coleman Scanoe onto its rack on the roof of our Jeep Liberty.  After filling the back with our bug out bags, the electric trolling motor in its EMP resistant metal box, and the portion of my armory I keep at the house, I slide the motorcycle rack into the hitch receiver and roll my Suzuki DR350 into place.  My wife makes it home in time to change change clothes and grab something for us to eat on the road before we head out the door.

Traffic in our residential neighborhood is not much different than during Trick-or-Treat, but once we get onto the main streets traffic is heavy and the radio reports it is already getting messy on the Interstate.  We decide to take the two-lane secondary road which we are familiar with from trying to avoid stop-and-go traffic while visiting the in laws.  I creeps along for a while until it stops completely.  We hear on the CB that there has been an accident up ahead, but unlike before we do not hear the sounds of sirens converging on their location.  They must be tied up elsewhere meaning the sea of vehicles isn't going anywhere.  People are still civil, but we do not want to be trapped her when darkness falls.  Doing the math, we decide we have to leave the Jeep behind.  We consider rolling the DR350 off it rack behind the Jeep and winding our way through the traffic, but we are still far down the peninsula and although I've seen families of five weaving through traffic on similar motorbikes in third-world countries, they weren't trying to carry as much stuff as we do.  Fortunately, the great majority of the traffic is trying to leave and while there are people waiting at intersections to enter this mess, no one is driving away from it on the streets perpendicular to the golden horde.  There are several cars in the other lane prevent me from turning toward the James River so I make a deal with the neckless behemoth in the truck next to me to give him the motorcycle if he can clear a path.  Under normal circumstances that would be a foolish trade, but I can't take it with me.  Within a few minutes we are at the James River and shortly thereafter the Scanoe is in the water with the trolling motor attach and the hull filled with the supplies from the Jeep.

It's decision time again.  Do we head twenty miles down river in hopes our cruiser does not pass us coming up river along the way?  I know if I had no other options I would have stolen one myself.  Maybe I should have headed there to begin with, but hindsight is 20/20.  Since we want to get as far away as possible before dark and the nuclear power plant on the other side of the river is still stable, we opt to head upriver in the Scanoe to the first asset I pre-positioned in a more rural area on the other side of the river.  We arrive just after sunset at the place I pay a monthly fee to store my farm truck.  I could get by with driving a 1989 Ford F250 Diesel with rust holes and no exhaust muffler in the back woods of West Virginia, but when we moved to the big city I had to leave it behind.  Instead of leaving it at the retreat I opted to strategically place it within walking distance and on the other side of the James River.  One weekend a month on my way back and forth to my retreat I stop and maintain this and my other caches which I will describe later.

It doesn't take long to get the truck loaded and on the way because I did not have to use the alternate starting procedure necessary in the event an EMP disables the ignition and glow plugs.  Traffic is still heavy on this two-lane rural highway, but with very few people trying to enter the flow from side roads it moves along at a good pace, but it still takes three hours to get to our next asset, a small self-storage unit near the small town of Farmville, Virginia population 8,200.  We arrive physically exhausted so instead of the two of us taking shifts sleeping we back the truck up as close to the roll-up door of the unit as possible, lock the doors, and set the portable motion alarms stored in the unit before locking the outside hasp open with the padlock, rolling down the door, and securing it with a chain.  I would prefer a guard, but I'll sleep in the bottom bunk with my battle rifle on my chest while my family rests up top because we want to get on the road before day break.

At 5:00 AM the battery powered alarm clock I've had since I lived in a tent for a living screams me awake.  While my wife tends to the toddler and prepares a simple breakfast, I replenish our water supply from the 50 gallon food-grade plastic barrel and load the canned food (rotated monthly due to high heat) into the back of the Jeep.  I empty the remaining contents of this 5' x 10' self-storage unit onto a large tarp which I wrap up like a burrito and place into the back of the truck.  I also top off my tank with stored diesel and ratchet down the gasoline cans that I moved from the unit to the back of the truck when we arrived. 

Except for some trepidation when we passed under I-64/81 in the middle of nowhere, the remaining 250 miles to our retreat is largely uneventful.  I remembered how foolish I felt driving up and down the Interstate with my GPS mapping road that go under the Interstate, but without off ramps. We stopped at our buried cache in Mon National Forest and added those items to our load.  More people seemed to be open carrying then usual, but it's legal here and we may just be extra sensitive.  It's not unusual and according to at least one survey we have the highest rate of armed households East of the Mississippi.  By keeping the truck registered in our retreat state, sticking to back roads, and crossing under Interstates where there are no exists, we were able to avoid road blocks.  We arrived back at our retreat community with twenty-four hours of leaving Hampton, before the bridge to our community was closed, and within the nine meal buffer before anarchy.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My story begins as another closet prepper.  As many of you, I did not have the support of my spouse for my new found drive to prepare for the unknown. Often I would attempt to sneak items that I planned to lay up long-term into the grocery bill without her noticing. I would even have online purchases delivered to a neighbor claiming to him that it was for her birthday or our anniversary. Needless to say, I usually (always) got caught, which would lead to long discussions about me "wasting money."  As fate and the good lord would have it, I finally got my window of opportunity to prove what I was doing had merit. 

As I recall, it was late February. Pennsylvania had another one of its wonderful snow storms topped with ice. We awoke without power to a somewhat chilly house and a few feet of snow.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  The morning, afternoon, and early evening went as they usually would without power.  However we were starting to become concerned because power is usually restored in no more than 16 hours. My son was only about a year old at this time so his needs were a little more than our own. The house was becoming colder and as a new mother, my wife was starting to become unglued.  Although I upgraded our home with multiple heating sources (not without protest and a little help from the bank), all of them required electricity to operate the circulating pumps. A major new prepper mistake. Our refrigerator was slowly starting to warm, making us concerned about his supply of milk. Lucky for me, I made one of my "secret" purchases a few weeks back.  I had attended an estate auction in town and purchased a small gasoline operated generator.  At the time, I had no idea if it was large enough to run anything other than the drill I used to test its function ability.  I was also afraid of somehow burning my house down with a electrical fire.  It was around hour 36 of the outage when her meltdown occurred and she looked to me to fix the situation as she always has.  In her eyes I am the man of the house, the provider.  It is my job to fix and solve the things that end up over her head.  I bundled up and headed out the back door to the shed, hoping my plan would work.  Lucky for me it did.  About 45 minutes later I had the coal stoker and the refrigerator up and running.  We had heat.  As I returned to the house, I could easily read the look in my wife's eyes.  It was her classic "I don't know how you did it, but you did and I love you for it" look.  I was their hero. I saved the day. That is when the dimly lit light bulb went off in my head.  After a long discussion and a few confessions on where the generator came from, I had her convinced.  Without my purchase, we would have had no choice but to brave the roads to a unknown family members house, with our son in the car, in the middle of another wave of storms.  This is when she saw the light and realized that not all of the "wasted money" was really wasted.  I drove this entire concept home throughout the entire 4 days without power.  Without my inexpensive siphon, I wouldn't have been able to use some of the gas from the vehicles to keep the generator running.  Without the powdered milk, what would the little man have had?  Without the bottled water?  Without the small propane burner?  The list kept going.  Needless to say, I was in a bit of trouble with all of these "secret" items I had hid from her view, but I was forgiven quickly.  After all those months of trying to get her on the bus, it only took 36 hours without electricity.

Now that I had her partially on board, I was looking for opportunities to teach her skills that would benefit us in the future. The following summer provided several occasions for just that. My wonderful wife was raised by her grandparents who grew up in the classic "oldest of 12 kids during the depression" scenario. (In my humble opinion, this generation is one of the best untapped resources for learning new and useful skills and knowledge for a post-TEOTWAWKI situation.) Needless to say, they waste nothing and are avid gardeners. During one of our normal visits, her grandfather had mentioned to me that canning season was upon us and the next few weekends would be consumed by the task.  I volunteered us to give them a few extra sets of hands.  My wife was more than happy to give something back by helping out, and she had no idea she was learning a valuable skill.  After 3 consecutive Saturdays, she was canning like she had been doing it for years. During our weekly work parties, I got a chance to get some serious feedback from her Grandmother on the importance  of stocking up for the uncertain.  The advice from someone who has been there multiple times, some times worse than others, was truly priceless.  Coming from her grandparents, my wife took every word to heart.  She is now an avid canner, storing every small bit from our tiny undersized garden, and "clearance" farmers market deals.  Once she seen the savings of doing our own canning, this lead to more.  She now typically buys items in bulk from the warehouse stores.  Once you break the price of the item down per ounce and compare, the savings are obvious.  We now go looking for sales on food goods instead of the new Abercrombie store at the local shopping mall.  I can't complain a bit. We now have enough food in our pantry to sustain us for about three months.  All the savings have also started her into extreme couponing. She has created a sizable larder of things like tooth brushes, tooth pastes, soap, shampoo, deodorant, and razors.  She has even mentioned these would be great for charity or even barter for other comfort items. (I was so proud.) 

During a trip to an local amusement park, I inadvertently discovered my wife was incapable of reading a simple map accurately.  Before our trek into the park, I picked up two maps to help us get around.  I marked three separate and simple rally points (RPs) on the map. When something as simple a pre-determined RP has saved you in the past, it kind of sticks with you.  I often worry about an active shooter scenario when in a large group of people. My wife volunteered to go to the vehicle to retrieve some items for our son.  As the two of us continued around the park, my wife called me to find us.  After a quick scan of my surroundings, I noticed we were practically on top of rally point three.  After a few gripes, we hung up the phone and with the aid of her map, she headed off to rally point three.  Fifteen minutes later my phone rang again.  With her nowhere in sight, claiming to be at the RP, I asked her to describe her surroundings.  I was easily able to determine her location and meet her. She quickly became aggravated and defensive when I accused her of being lost. That is when I realized our bug out plan had a fatal flaw.  After a quick landmark recognition land navigation class, she led us around the rest of the day.  She still needed a little more advanced help.  Motivating her to learn something she has no interest in is extremely tough.  Lucky for me, I found Geocaching.  For those who are unfamiliar with it, Geocaching is where someone hides a cache (Usually an ammo can) with clues and coordinates on where to find it posted online. Inside the can you typically find a visitors log, and items to trade. A lot of newer GPS units have a feature built in for this from the factory. Some caches are entry level easy, increasing in difficulty to the multi-caches where only one point is published and once you find it, it gives a second location to find another.  During a family camping outing, I introduced it to her. After her first find, she was hooked.  Armed with my GPS, she was off to the next cache and I was playing catch up.  Once she had that mastered, I threw her a curve ball.  After obtaining a topographic map from the park office and making sure my compass was in my pack, her GPS batteries mysteriously went dead.  She had to find the last of her two day trek multi-cache.  After teaching her to plot to paper and correct for magnetic north, she found it easily.  (She actually did much better than most of the guys with whom I went to the Platoon Leader's Development Course (PLDC.) She also learned how difficult it was with a pack on your back and a baby strapped to your front.

Now that she is on the same page, knitting needles as mother's day gifts excite her.  She has started knitting and sewing some items for our boy.  Her ability to re-purpose items amazes me.  She even suggests going to the rifle range for our monthly date instead of dinner and a movie. She is even becoming a little obsessive about accuracy, taking over my reloading press for hours at a time.  Even showing her uncle how to "properly" shoot with a sling.  She is now constantly coming up with new ideas on how to store more stuff and other items we may need in our bug out bags. Her job as a bank teller even has her starting to stack pre-1965 silver.  Face value is the best way to buy! I highly recommend if you have a stubborn wife like I do, take any opportunity that arises to be used as a teaching opportunity. Be creative, and be persistent. Identify areas where they may not have the appropriate skills to carry out your plan, and find a way to get them involved.  I know this sounds cheesy, but you must be able to seize the opportunity.  If you can make it fun, they will learn without them even knowing it.  Some of these would also work great for kids.  With your spouse on board, two minds are better than one.  Wait for your opportunity to show them how awful it could be without prepping and the real reason behind it.  Be ready.  Molon Labe.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Is it true, what the rumors have been saying about the [magnetic] north pole shifting 161 miles in just the past six months? can that be true? Is it possible that there will be a pole reversal in the next few years? Should I be worried? - Elaine T.

JWR Replies: This topic has been discussed before in SurvivalBlog, but mostly vis-a-vis the need to keep maps updated with current magnetic declination data. (The difference between magnetic north and true north.)

The geomagnetic north pole moves laterally because of shifts deep in the Earth's core. It is presently in far northern Canada, but it is gradually shifting to the northwest and it is presumed that it will probably be in Siberia in a decade or two. (Although it is notable that the auroral toroid is pushing more toward the southeast.) Many credible sources, like Polar Endeavour, show the "walking" or "wandering" (or more properly "progressing") of the pole position at about 35 miles per year. Wikipedia states: "Over the past 150 years the poles have moved westward at a rate of 0.05° to 0.1° per year, with little net north or south motion." National Geographic confirms that the movement of the pole has accelerated since 1989 to as much as 37 miles per year. (Ditto for progression of the antipodal geomagnetic south pole, though it is not tracked as consistently.) This is confirmed by NOAA's National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC.) But I can't find any credible source that mentions a figure anywhere near "161 miles in six months"! And the web site you mentioned shows an inverted map of pole progression that might lead a casual observer to believe that the geomagnetic north pole is shifting to the south.

Based on an iterative method that relies on historical ship's logs, it has been determined that the geomagnetic north pole actually shifted southeastward from around 1600 to the 1830s. But since then it has been progressing in a more northwesterly direction. The chances that the geomagnetic pole will shift below 68 degrees of latitude or above 88 degrees of latitude in this millennium are miniscule. Granted, the longitudinal shifts could be quite large (because of Great Circle geometry, the closer that the geomagnetic pole progresses toward 90 degrees), but the substantive issue is the measure of latitude shifts. We need to be content to sticking to observable science. Let's leave emotion and hyperbole out of the conversation.

Full geomagnetic reversal has not occurred in recorded history. But geologists who are believers in Ancient Earth theories assert that several polarity reversals have been recorded geologically in rock formations at the mid-ocean tectonic ridges, and that these reversals happen roughly once every 450,000 years. Citing some geologists who have studied the geologic record, Wikipedia states: "The Earth's field has alternated between periods of normal polarity, in which the direction of the field was the same as the present direction, and reverse polarity, in which the field was the opposite. These periods are called chrons." It has also recently been asserted by some German scientists that a brief reversal--called a "geomagnetic excursion"--lasting only a few hundred years may have taken place 41,000 years ago.

Could there be a magnetic pole reversal in our lifetime? Not likely. Should we be worried? I don't think so. I'm much, much more worried about the statist Democrats shifting out of the White House. (Or worse yet, failing to shift.) I'm also concerned about incipient cataclysmic shifts in the value of paper currencies. Not magnetic pole shifts!

My advice: be very leery about what you hear on late night radio shows or what you see on web pages that don't cite any reliable references. (There are even some idiotic cranks out there who claim that the physical tilt of the Earth has shifted! My GPS receiver tells me otherwise.)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Please let your readers know that GPS jammers are illegal to own, operate, and market in the United States. Here is a link to the FCC
consumer alert on GPS jammers

While I can understand that someone could make the personal decision that their personal privacy justifies blocking GPS tracking, please be aware that these GPS jammers are very effective and can jam an area up to a mile in diameter.

There was well-publicized incident of a personal GPS jammer that shut down the aircraft landing aid at the Newark, New Jersey airport. And there are documented cases of organized crime using GPS jammers in Europe to hide their theft of high-value cargo trucks. Due to these incidents, and other reasons, the government is actively pursuing effective GPS-jammer locator systems.

I would propose to you and your readers to consider the risks before considering such a device. While it may make a great plot device for a novel, I would not personally own one.

Respectfully, - S.G. in Virginia

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I thought you might be interested in this new mapping tool. It is much faster than Google Earth.  Is there nowhere to hide?

After opening the link to, type in the address you want slowly, letter by letter, space by space, and watch where it takes you, incrementally.

It located our home in the whole world after just seven strokes of the keys. - Rip

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) is mapping using satellite images, digital elevations, transportation networks, land use classifications, vegetation classifications, weather data, demographics and much more to help the decision making process for any activity a corporation, army, or group wishes to undertake.

Unfortunately much of the best data, the highest resolution and degree of accuracy, is only available to large corporations and nations. This does not mean it is not possible to create your own GEOINT solution.

A small scale solution is constrained by data storage and computing power, in every GIS (Geographic Information System) user's dream is to be able to have all the data and use it too! To make this possible we are only concerned with the area around a BOL or a route to a BOL, thus keeping the data storage and visualization processing low.

Open source data is available to satisfy most of what a small company or group needs to create their own GEOINT system. As well the software is also free. By accepting a small error in position and quality the job can be accomplished. First we are going to take a look at the hardware needed. Minimum is a laptop of medium quality. Most laptops today come at reasonable prices and have sufficient hard drive space and processing power, but please keep in mind that this setup cannot be used for surfing the web for music and apps or gaming. All the resources of the computer must be dedicated to the GEOINT problem. To make this a bit better we add a second wide screen, 23 inch will do, and a USB 3.0 external hard drive. The computer should have two internal hard drives, preferable a SSD (Solid State Drive) as the primary drive to hold the operating system and the GEOINT programs. The second drive is a normal drive to hold programs that are not used often and the datasets. The external drive is for holding more data if the user wishes to extend the areas of coverage.

Next we need to choose the software, some is free and others come with a small licensing fee. The two most important software packages are QGIS (an open source free fully capable GIS package), and Global Mapper (fee based but cheap and extremely useful) the Swiss Army Knife of GIS software. With these two most tasks can be performed.

Quantum GIS (QGIS) is open source community supported software that rivals ESRI ArcGIS quite expensive GIS solution.

Global Mapper

A tutorial on how to use these software packages can run volumes but that is not our goal here today. We are here to see how it is possible to do what the big boys do, and most certainly will use against you.

GEOINT starts with the collection of datasets, overlaying the data in the GIS, and on the very beginning seeing all the information around your locale. The data sets are:

Real colour imagery from Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, Bing Maps, or many other online sources.

SRTM (Shuttle Radar Terrain Mission) digital elevation grayscale imagery

ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer)

OpenStreetMap (Free road network mapping) and transport mapping.


The key point to remember we want to collect the data and have it resident on the laptop because when the data stream ends with the closure of the internet for any reason your system will be able to continue to function. This is where Global Mapper comes in. This software is capable of downloading the online data to softcopy and stored on your hard drive.

Next we begin the process of analysis, for this we use the best ever processor and imaging device, your brain and Mark I Eyeball. As you are downloading the imagery the process of analysis can begin right away. Our brains are superb at spatial recognition and immediate storage of relevant information. We have completed the download of our first full colour image from some online source.

Stare at it for a while, just letting your eyes scan the picture and very soon you begin to see features in the picture that are in some way connected to your location or planned travel route. We do this with or without the GIS programs. There is stuff to see that you had no idea was there and it will have an effect on what you thought was the right thing to do. Keep scanning those images so that you know them and can picture them in your mind's eye so that when you see from ground level you experience that "Aha!" yes now I know what that is, and the wheels and gears in your head will begin to turn because in some way those previously unknown locations have relevance to your task at hand.

Once we have looked over all the downloaded images we assemble them in the GIS by overlaying. The GIS allows the user to see through one image to the underlying image. The two or more images can now be analysed for relevant information about buildings and road access near your BOL or route. Next step up in analysis is the drape. We want to drape the full colour image on to a 3D surface such as the SRTM data to give the colour image shape of the land. The SRTM data stores elevation and can transfer that to the colour image. We now can see how the landform effects road access, travel to buildings, possible hunting areas, access to water sources and who your potential competitors for that water are.

The United States has the best online sources of free data for CONUS and few other places. Many data types can be integrated into the GIS such as vegetation, biodiversity, population density, agriculture productivity and soil types, mines and mineral occurrences, old mines and ruins, and so much more.

To make it work we need to be realistic about how much data we want to collect because it can get crazy quickly. A reasonable size database can be the extent of your patrol radius. You need a buffer around your locale to cover all possible patrol routes, and twice that to give your some "analysis space" to see what is beyond your area. If possible you can build a dataset to cover routes to and around your closest towns.

I have only teased you today with the ability to build your own GIS and GEOINT system. In the next article I will instruct you on how to design your own patrol routes, how to add visual information such as AAR to the GIS and digital camera snapshots to the GIS.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dear Jim:
A reminder to folks who don't have good topos of their local area - get some.

Just went to get updated topo maps of my local area in the 1:24,000 scale.  Little did I know that the 1980s vintage map I currently have is superior to the current maps!  The US Geological Service, decided in their <sarcasm on> "infinite wisdom" to update topos with roads added since the 1980s, but delete much of the vital information like pipelines, fencelines, gravel pits, radio towers, etc., etc. that make a topo useful.  It must have been just too difficult to add new road information to existing data. <sarcasm off>. 

The new maps show roads and elevation but are otherwise very sparse on actual on the ground details.   If you want the detailed map features, plus all the modern roads you have to get the old and the new maps!  Take a close look at the actual map before buying.   Is there anything the Federal government can't screw up?

By the way, you can laminate maps for durability but they are heavier and hard to fold (they must be rolled). 

And BTW , does anyone have experience with the Map Seal product?

Regards, - OSOM

JWR Replies: Older generation maps might be better, but be sure to update their marginal information with the latest magnetic declination data. (Magnetic North does drift!)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Preparedness is well within the top ten subject matters of interest today.  Most everyone is thinking about it and many of us are well under way toward some level of advanced planning.  Groups of like minded families are common but it would be a mistake to fail at making preparedness attractive to our children.

Our pioneer ancestors invented creative games to teach their children skills of survival in an unfriendly world.  Games were simple and fit for most occasions.  If they were weathered in at a cabin, there was a game where one child was the subject and the others would take turns trying to make the subject crack a smile or laugh.  While the children thought it was just a game, it taught them to control their emotions.  Should a raiding party attack their home, it could save their life to remain emotionless and silent.  That skill could prove valuable today if you needed to escape detection by blending into a crowd or lay motionless in brush.  When it comes to extracting information, skilled interrogation derives as much from emotional response as it does verbal.
There are many other skills that we could teach our children by having them play interesting games.  Games need to fit the age and ability of our children but you would be surprised at how quickly they learn advanced skills.

My daughter was one of the youngest females to qualify for the Washington State Explorer Search & Rescue (ESAR) program.  At fourteen years old, she completed her equipment, classroom, and first-aid training and accomplished a final exercise that included a three day map & compass orienteering course.  She carried a fifty pound pack of standardized equipment, food, and water.  Objectives were to use map & compass and orienteering skills to locate designated cans on a stake that was painted bright orange.  The locations were marked on their maps but getting to those points was dependent on their skill.  As the teams found each target they were to remove the lid and mark the notepad inside with their name and time of day.  The course was designed to place the two person teams at expected locations for each night.  Senior ESAR members watched from a distance and checked up on them with a nightly camp visit.  On the first night, leaders had lost track of my daughter and her teammate.  A full scale search started and they began checking the targets for signature.  These two girls had located and signed in at more targets than had previously been expected for one day and the leaders found them on top of a hill that was reserved for the middle of day two.  They were in great spirits and enjoyed a truly “hill top” experience under the stars.  My daughter and her teammate were not only the youngest two qualifying females in Washington ESAR history but they completed the three day course a half day ahead of the second team in.  One of the challenges of the event is not told the recruits.  Day two put them on what is called “Magnet Mountain.”  Because of local iron deposits, magnetic north cannot be located with a typical compass.  They would be required to adapt and read their maps according to terrain.  ESAR has learned to teach through exercise which makes the entire learning experience a fantastic game.  It works.

A variation of the orienteering game can make it progressive.  Each team has a different set of targets to locate with each target providing a necessary part or clue to completing a task.  An example might be to start with a recorded tape or CD at the first target; followed by a tape or CD player at the second target; followed by earphones at the third; and finally the batteries.  The recorded message would guide them to the final prize that all teams are looking to win.  The prize for our youth is both something fitting to their effort and a fun filled event.  The prize for us as parents will be watching our youth learn valuable skills while having a ball doing it.

We can create many great games for our children.  Among groups of like minded families where many youth are represented, the potential is awesome.  We can make afternoon, day, or weekend events that will teach and sharpen skills.  As parents, we will learn as much and have as much fun planning these events as our kids have doing them.  “Hide & Seek” could be modified to emulate our military Escape & Evasion training.  They don’t have to “play Army” and the game can be called “Rabbit & Fox.”   They learn escape & evasion if they are the rabbit and they learn tracking if they are the fox.

My children have done things like this on a grand scale with their friends.  Weeks of preparation went into an elaborate all night game of “Capture the Flag.”  This involved a kickoff barbeque, camouflage clothing, and full face paint.  It ended with a pancake breakfast.  I have family pictures of my son and daughters as proud of how they looked that night as if they were going to the prom.  They were serious tacticians and they still share stories of those nights with dozens of their friends on their cousin’s farm. The excitement kept them up all night and after breakfast the next morning; they were already planning the next event.

At a well disciplined shooting range, we could teach our children how to safely handle firearms.  If there isn’t an Appleseed group near you, I’m sure they would help you with both ideas and perhaps a pathway to forming your own group.

Other practical events on a smaller scale could be a timed event at digging a Dakota Hole, starting a fire without matches, and bringing one cup of water to a boil in a standard soup can.  My youngest daughter invited several of her friends over for Smores around a fire pit.  It was sad that so many of her friends didn’t know how to start a campfire even with the use of matches and newspaper.  After several poor attempts they were all interested to learn how to do it right.  Imagine that?  Teens interested in learning a skill from one of their dads. 
Our children want to be a productive part of the group and what better way for them to demonstrate their worth than to be in charge of starting the campfire or a host of other suitable skills?
I am part of a group of families that meet each month and share training on various skills.  We describe it as 4H for adults.  At one event we explored how to make a bow & arrow from PVC pipe and a fiberglass rod used for temporary horse fencing.  It was amazingly good and the bow’s delivered forty-five pounds of thrust.  That would be perfect for teaching our teens an important skill and what would be more appropriate than hosting a “Robin Hood” shooting event with those home-made bows and arrows?

The movie “Hunger Games” cast the heroine as a young provider for her family and could be used to encourage our youth to participate.  She was an accomplished archery hunter but more importantly, she provided her family with food because of her skills.  In a grid down world, our children will need to become proficient at many things.  A problem is that many daily tasks necessary in a ‘grid down world’ are manually intense and tend to eliminate younger bodies.   When looking for a “Well Bucket” to manually draw water from a four inch well casing, I was amazed to find most were sized at several gallons and would be very heavy to draw.  Seeing a need to include our children in as many tasks as possible, I designed a light weight “Bullet Bucket” that holds only about one gallon per draw.  This is light enough that a young teen could draw water for a family and not be excluded from serving an important role.

Practicing skills can be a group event.  Our group was formed after reading an article in SurvivalBlog forum regarding Colloquium (CQ) Groups.  We have grown into our third year and have affiliated groups in three other cities.  Once each year we hold a CQ Field Day.  We camp out at a city park or privately owned field that is visible and accessible to the town.  This year we will be in a three acre field owned by our church and right in the middle of town.  Along with practicing our skills and having a great time of fellowship among ourselves, we will be hosting the local 4H group, Boy Scouts, and the city Youth in Action group.  We will be demonstrating outdoor cookery, amateur radio field operations, fire making, making your own laundry detergent and other skills of interest.  There are several merit badges available to the Boy Scouts and we have men qualified to approve those badge requirements.  This will be our second such Field Day and it is capturing some very good attention from our city.  Our group is not promoted as a “Prepper Group” and that is with purpose.  Since we are promoting skills that can help a family save money and that make us better prepared for storms and associated outages, we are cast in a very different light than with the mockery that is painted on “Preppers” as a result of sensational media attention.   Since the skills we teach and practice can and do serve both hurricane preparedness and TEOTWAWKI, we prefer to remain hidden in plain sight.  Even at our meetings, nothing is ever shared about how much any of us has stored.  We are all about skills and the subject of personal inventories never comes up.

The importance of training our young people will make a profound difference to the future of our nation.  As they learn skills of survival, they learn principles of living.  Including them in such an important part of family preparedness teaches them responsibility and recognizes their significance as a contributing member of the group.  Children are often marginalized by our system of education and teens especially may lack the confidence to stand shoulder to shoulder with adults in preparedness training.  It is easy for them to feel overwhelmed and left behind as their parents become serious about making preparations.  We can unintentionally push our children aside because we want to demonstrate and practice abilities newly learned.  Reaching them and encouraging them to join in is a worthy effort at the very least.  An important note is that all of us like to play games and that is the key to teaching skills and including our youth in sharing the future.   When we teach skills by the media of games, we discover a love of learning.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hello Mr. Rawles,

I wanted to share a great web site for calculating distances, etc. on several different mapping systems: You can overlay your results on Google Maps or any of a bunch of different map types, including Google Terrain, which I like. It will compute range rings from a lat/lon or an address, great circle distance from an address / lat/lon to another address / lat/lon... etc. Great for showing folks exactly how close they really are to a large population center or other nasty place! - Rick in New York

Monday, January 21, 2013

Brother Rawles,
I read your blog every night and appreciate what you stand for, and the way you live your life. My question is on the Garmin Rino 655t GPS. My family is large, but we all live somewhat close to one another just outside of Cleveland Ohio. Although this isn't optimal, the majority of us work as either firemen or policemen, so relocation would be difficult. We are trying to find the perfect radio communication system that our family could use during a SHTF scenario to communicate during a bug out to the compound. I have tried the MURS radios, as well as Midlands GMRS radios and have found them insufficient. During testing in our area, they only were able to transmit around a mile and a half. That being said, we have been looking for alternatives and I ran across these units. Although expensive, they have peer to peer GPS capabilities, allowing us to at least see where each other are. Even if we are too far to transmit, we would be able to find each other during the carnage. My question is whether or not the GPS capabilities on these Garmin units would still work during a grid down scenario? The units have a lot of other bells and whistles that would be of value including preloaded road maps and topographical maps, but if the GPS was incapacitated during a SHTF event,  there are much more affordable alternatives one can purchase to get maps and weather alerts.

Keep doing what your doing. Your work has put me on the path of clarity, and my eyes are now "open". - Andrew G.

JWR Replies: I've been told that GPS accuracy would be unaffected for at least a year, even if there is a total societal collapse in North America--that is, of course IF that societal collapse were not caused by a Carrington Event Scale solar storm! (That would wipe out most satellites.) But if there is a truly global collapse and there are no corrections from the ground control stations on any continent (very unlikely), then the accuracy of the GPS system would start to gradually degrade, within hours.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Mr. Rawles,
I've browsed your site for about a year off and on, and have read Patriots, and am just starting Survivors. Great work I must say, keep up the good work!

My question for you is one I've tickled in my mind since heading to a camping trip this last summer. While we were driving, and I was mindlessly staring out the side window, I noticed the large power grid high tension lines. (you know the ones I'm talking about with the large steel towers, holding a dozen or so lines high above the earth). I had a day dream while watching them about bugging out on foot, and I was following them to our bug out location, which is quite near where we were going camping.

What started out as a small day dream actually got me thinking that following the right-pf-ways for these transmission lines wouldn't be a bad way to Get Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D.) on foot, since they're off the beaten path, and are easily mapped, using Google maps/earth. The only problems I foresee with using them as G.O.O.D. routes are that they are somewhat exposed, as the ground below them is often well trimmed (though this could be an advantage for faster movement to G.O.O.D. quicker), and that they can and do, span locations that are not easily traversed on foot, such as rivers and crevasses. 

I browsed your site and did not see any information on the power grid (though admittedly your archives are huge and I wouldn't be surprised if I missed anything) with respect to getting out of Dodge. I live in the northern Seattle metro area, and planning G.O.O.D. routes is a nightmare, but following the power grid lines appears to be a relatively good option for me, as they ironically to run close to two of my bugout locations.

What are you or your reader's thoughts on following these power grid lines, good or bad, and do you happen to know of any resources that would have an actual map of them, as opposed to using Google maps? Or do you have any other ideas that I may have not thought of, such as utilizing storm drains? They were mentioned in your novel Patriots.

Thank you for your time Mr. Rawles. - Jesse

JWR Replies: Depending on the locale, most high tension lines pass over private property, using easements. This would make following the lines dicey, at best. I generally wouldn't recommend it. (This could be a great way to run into confrontation after confrontation.) But to be ready for a true "worst case' where roads are impassable, I suppose it would be wise to at least map out these routes. Google Earth can be a handy tool for doing so, particularly in forested areas, where the swaths of cleared trees for the power lines stand out distinctly.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dear Jim,

I have found an invaluable free tool for your pre- and post-SHTF operations that allows you detailed and accurate mapping for your location(s) within the U.S.  Here is a link to the U.S. Geological Survey Map Store where you can download at, no cost, detailed topographic, contour, road maps, etc. even including satellite images. These newer maps usually are around 20 megabytes, so if you have a slow Internet connection, be aware of that.
 First navigate to the USGS Map Locator and Downloader Web Page
Now Double-Click to Zoom-In and Click-and Drag to Re-center the interactive map until you get to the area you want.
Next Select “O  MARK POINTS: “ instead of “O  NAVIGATE: “ on the right side of the window. If you are not zoomed in too tight this will cause grid lines to appear. These indicate the approximate borders of the most recent maps available.
There is a Pull-Down window near the middle of the right side of the window indicating either “30 Minute and larger” or “7.5 to 15 Minute”.  The “30 Minute and Larger” refers to maps covering about 30 miles by 30 miles or larger. Always use the “7.5 to 15 Minute” selection. I will explain why in a minute.
Click on the map in the center of an area you want to map out. The map will then refresh with a marker pointing to your spot.
Move your mouse pointer to this marker and left click on the target dot.  This will create a popup window showing all maps available which include the spot you selected.
The left column shows the location name for each map listed. Do not use this hyperlink unless you wand to purchase a hard copy of the map. The maps with a place name followed by “US Topo” have the best details.
The second column indicates the geographic size of the map in minutes of longitude and latitude (roughly one mile per “Minute”).
The third column indicates the date the map was made (Very Important).
The fourth column is a link to show you a compressed preview of the map.
The fifth column shows the size of the PDF file of the map. It is also a link to allow you a free download of a zipped PDF version of the map.!
The icon in the last column of the map list is a link allowing you to add multiple maps to a download cart. I recommend against using it.
Find the most recent map for the area you need and click on the file size for that map.
This action will generate a “Save As” window with a generated .zip file name which you can download to a folder on your PC.
Once Saved, go to the folder where you saved it.
Right click on the name of the .zip file, and select “Extract all…”.
Be sure to use the browse function to place the final map in the folder where you want the actual Map stored on your PC.
The unzipped file will be in a PDF format (readable with Adobe Reader).
The newest maps (2010 and later with the “US Topo” following the location name) actually contain multiple map information layers including satellite images, roads, hydrographic features, contours, etc.  If you download and install the TerraGo software (available free at the lower left corner of the interactive google map window) you can select and manage which layers to include or exclude when you’re viewing the map with Adobe Reader.
I recommend against using the download bundle icons for obtaining a collection of maps.  The process for using it successfully is not user friendly, and can cause a lot of confusion. If you want multiple maps, simply repeat the process that is described above.

Whether you are looking for a suitable or alternate routes when traveling from one location to another, scouting your own area, or looking for a suitable location, these maps are great and free. 

God Bless You and Yours, - Scott S.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Never mind the high tech paper that is bound to help increase a corporations quarterly profit margin and deplete your limited prepping budget.... Here is my input.   Tyvek used to make  various sized mailing envelopes and has replaced the old tan manila envelopes in many cases will work as a waterproof paper.  Granted you might need to use a sharpie or other permanent ink pen, but you can get these Tyvek's  free of charge or close to it in many cases...If the outside of the envelope contains printing of some kind, turn it inside out and cut the paper to fit your needs. 

Also if you want to make a poster or make something to be seen by an airplane, then get a roll of House Wrap used to insulate houses and structures from air infiltration at Home Depot etc.   This could be cut down to smaller sizes as well. Once you have a roll you can actually make clothing or find other uses as it strikes your creative fancy.

Tyvek also has a wide variety of uses among them disposable painters coveralls and the such.  Tyvek is commonly known by the fact that it can be made from recycled plastics like milk jugs.

In the broadcasting business its common to take a thick plastic page protector and insert a piece of cardboard inside to give it rigidity.  Then we use a grease pencil to mark on the outside surface.  Most commonly we use this for weather forecasts and current temp conditions.  This technique might also work for maps and the like.  In a case like this map segments could be laminated ahead of time and a grease pencil could be used to mark locations and routes.  Any adaptation of this might be useable to the Prepper on a budget.

I am going to include on a separate email the Wikipedia page for you to possibility use..... as a link for those so motivated to learn more.

Take Care, - R.B.S.

Dear JWR:
Writer PNG observed in: Letter Re: Durable Paper For Printing Maps and Crucial Documents that the printer paper he had been using has been discontinued by his supplier.

My own choice for cartographic and similar uses is Mylar drafting film, usable as a "tracing paper" for map overlays, and perhaps suitable for use with at least some printers. My supplier for this and other surveying supplies is Ohio-based
PO Box 613
Springfield, OH 45501
Toll Free Order Line: 877-268-4427
Here is a link is to their catalog/price list page for 7-mil mylar, probably the most durable and suitable thickness for cartographic work, but their offerings are far more comprehensive than that. - George S.

Regarding tough paper the company I work for, PPG Industries makes a product called Teslin.  It is currently used in US passports, security IDs and thousands of other paper applications.  National Geographic sells Teslin "paper" in their online store.  When you print anything on it: maps, lists, etc they are then waterproof and durable (after the ink dries).  I use it for all of my map printing.  Sincerely, - R.K.M.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Some time ago, I sent you an e-mail about durable printer paper. Since then, the HP LaserJet Tough Paper that I then recommended has been discontinued.

I found this out when I tried to order some more, and this forced me to do some research. I found a replacement for the Tough Paper (in fact, I suspect Graytex may be the original supplier of Tough Paper as well as iGage Weatherproof Paper), and a few more options.

So here's a summary of what I found:

There are some good "paper" products for printing documents that need to survive exposure to the elements—emergency contact lists, customized topo maps, equipment operating instructions, radio frequency lists, etc. I use the quote marks because some of them are plastic, not paper.
Rite in the Rain makes paper that is chemically treated to be water repellant, but it’s still paper so it can still tear and abrade fairly easily. On the plus side, it’s available in subdued colors.
iGage’s Weatherproof Paper is actually made of plastic. It’s very strong, to the point that you can’t really tear it without cutting it first, but it’s still compatible with laser printers, Sharpie markers, and Fisher space pens:
Graytex’s Power Paper appears to be similar (and may indeed be exactly the same stuff), but I haven’t tried it.
They also sell a treated paper that seems similar to Rite in the Rain.
Finally, note that none of these synthetic papers can be written on with pencil; the surface is too slippery. Pencils work fine on Rite in the Rain and presumably Graytex’s Ruff-n-Tuff, but if you need a pencil-compatible synthetic paper, then I can recommend Yupo. Used with pencils made from plastic rather than wood, this creates a solution that can be used and even stored under water. Best Regards, - P.N.G.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Know your environment - getting the maps ready now

In a world full of google, yahoo and portable navigators, the art of using maps kind of gets lost. In a SHTF situation, you will probably not have much of a technological tool kit for navigation, or planning. Knowing how to use maps from a tactical perspective then becomes critical skillet. Sand tables are not the most portable item to help identify and understand a terrain, but using plastic layers over a map can be very portable, and useful for viewing an environment. The layers I talk about below are a starting point, you can add whatever you want or remove those that are not important to you.

On a side note the Army has an excellent manual that contains instructions on mapping: Combined Arms Operations in Urban Terrain (ATTP 3-06.11/FM 3-06.11) don't let the title fool you, "Urban" to the Army is a settlement 2,500 people or more.

  • Using maps and clear plastic layers
    • Map Basics
      • Start with a basic terrain map of area; if you are in a rural or homestead area include one of nearest town. 
      • I recommend hard copies for all, but you can start using downloads from google/yahoo maps, and using the terrain and other options. This map should have both land elevations and man made structures on it.
      • Also available are software tools such as Visio, OmniGraff, and some near free diagram generating software programs, if you choose to create your own maps from a computer first.
      • Don't forget to think three dimensionally - subways, sewers, basements, high-rises etc.
      • When mapping out layers, it is key to have an index including category (layer name), location (grid, street, landmarks), common name, and supplemental information for that specific item documented and easily referenced.  Having a number next to the item on a map will also aid in the lookup.
      • Check colors for map layers against your chemical light sticks, or your red or blue flashlight filters - make sure you can read them at night [under a poncho].
      • Mark layered items with icons based on categories: triangle for first responder buildings, x'ed boxes for restaurants, etc.
      • Have a map protractor to help identify distance, and bearing 
    • Creating overlapping layers
    • Use clear plastic layers for each of the following to aid in area understanding. Using plastic layers allows for easy removal or adding, one onto of the other, to gain a better understanding of the environment, and to remove clutter from information that is not currently important. For neighborhood resources you might want to think about not using a corner to corner overlay, but for known locations this might not be a high risk.
      • Infrastructure layer - highway, streets, service roads, hiking paths, fire breaks, electric line easements, bridges, dams, main water pipes, electric power lines and sub stations, water towers and primary connection pipes, and local/state evacuation routes. 
      • Subterranean layer - If town, urban or congested: subterranean infrastructure such as water and drainage pipes, location of manhole covers, underground garages. If marking subterranean infrastructure and you do not know if two manhole covers are to the same pipes use a different line from known when mapping. 
      • Areas of Gravitation layer: these include any stationary location where you think people might congregate during a SHTF. Remember, in the world of google maps, many of these locations will have a street view. For high risk/high congregation areas you might want to include a side folder of street view images.
        • First Responder locations: local fire stations, police stations, hospitals and clinics, national guard posts
        • Food distribution centers:  supermarkets, restaurants and other stores
        • Fuel: public gas stations, public works fueling locations
        • Hardware and tools: Home Depot/Mom&Pop hardware stores, automotive shops, electrician shops, etc.
        • FEMA (possible and known): state fairgrounds,  sports centers, high schools, large fields, etc.
        • Population centers: apartment buildings, townhouses, high density neighborhoods, etc. 
      • Wild Game layer - location of game, type, time of day and time of year where spotted. Animals tend to move in cycles, so keeping note throughout the year is a great reference point. Don't just go by location during hunting season for post SHTF.
      • Environmental layer -  including time of year changes for common drought and flood locations, seasonal water holes, streams, marshes, and ponds. Also mark down farms, ranches, common hunting areas, etc. Also any area with a clearing of more that 100m square (potential helicopter landing site). If possible, note changes in background colors, locations of good concealment and at what time of year.
      • Neighborhood resources -see "Neighbors skills and immediate neighborhood resources" below.
      • Technology layer - using both google/yahoo maps and a car navigation system place the starting point on the major highways around your town, and see what routes it will take you to your local hospital, supermarket, and police station. If traffic stopped, how would you expect to continue on foot? These are bound to be hot roads and short cuts.
      • Keep blank layers - also non-permanent markers for use with the blank layers. 
      • Remember, when using a hard copy of a map on a table, you can use other items for mobile reference points, and adjust as they move.
    • Using maps to generate "hot zones."  
      • Depending on population you may choose to adjust the distances for red, orange and yellow zones, however I recommend using rifle ranges, likelihood of population congestion and probability of violence as the main lines of demarcation.  Remember, in a city and congested suburban, line of site dictates rifle range, not always ballistics.
        • Red Zone:  draw a circle around any object in the "areas of gravitation" layer. Depending on your environment, it should be around 700 meters to 1 mile. Do the same around highways, streets, and other areas of traffic out to 200 meters on both sides of the road. If roads have a line of site from them to any item in the areas of gravitation layer, mark those red too, out to 200meters on both sides of the shortcut. Remember, when people are walking, they will take shortcuts. 
        • Orange Zone: these are the areas that people start 'grouping' together on their way to or from an area of gravitation - easements where power lines are, should not be forgotten. Also any potential helicopter landing sites not covered in a area of gravitation layer. I map these out to 2 miles from any red zone. 
        • Yellow Zone: this is basically anything not covered in Red or Orange.
        • Personally, I color coordinate these areas based on Jeff Cooper color code, that way when planning movement, it is clear what alert level someone should be at.
    • Identify possible areas of interest and possible scouting routes
      • For areas where you might not have a choice, but to go to, it might be best to outline potential ingress/egress routes, ORP's, location for security halts, all within the context of "hot zones". At least in a pre-SHTF environment, you can print out pictures of possible routes ahead of time. Having a layer for each objective could be very useful. Most common areas to map out a scouting route are:
        • Hospitals/Clinics
        • Food distribution centers
        • hardware and tools
        • Fuel
        • High ground / observation points
        • Around your retreat


  • Neighbors skills and immediate neighborhood resources
  • Most of this is more applicable to suburban landscapes, however knowing ahead of time who has what experience will aid in any kind of SHTF organization. Each of these items and locations should be on a map layer. I really want to be clear on this though. The intent is to identify key people for skill set training and possible organization and consolidation of efforts.  
    • Identify neighbors skill sets
      • including location/address on map being marked.
        • Medical: nurse, doctor, dentist, veterinarian, pharmacist, health care workers 
        • Electrical 
        • Automotive
        • Engineer  
        • Green thumb; raise livestock; gardens - even just ornamental gardens.
        • Hunters/Fisherman  
        • Hikers, campers, those used to living without normal public services
        • Prior Service (ex and current military/law enforcement)
        • Armed to various degrees
        • Teachers 
        • Canning, and non-refrigerated food preservation skills
        • This list could just keep going on, but those are the main points
    • Identify neighborhood resources
      • Location of private/public wells, rivers and other water sources including pools
      • Location of common areas for cultivation
      • Natural food sources: fruit and nut trees, berries, etc.
      • Natural barriers for use in defense
      • Manmade barriers 


Collecting information post SHTF

Future "current" information is the one thing you can't stock up on. Deciding on when and where to collect information from your surrounding area, and what risk it is worth, is bound to be a major area for debate. OPs only let you know when someone is about to or has discovered where your group is. The only way to really avoid the "detection" is to put small teams out at a greater distance.  This also allows for possible flanking maneuvers, or spoiler attacks, beyond the immediate defensive location. It also requires an exceptional level of stealth, and perseverance. Far from complete, here are a few tips on scouting/ reconnaissance: 

  • Post SHTF Map updating considerations
    • When updating maps post-SHTF, mark any changes with a date/timestamp - even if it is on a notepad only. Historical changes may present a pattern over time that will be useful. 
    • For defining routes, keeping historical records becomes even more important. Over time you might loose track of previous routes and start creating a pattern of action that becomes easily predictable by the op-for.
    • Identify the following while planning a route: security stops, objective rally point, should the objective rally point (ORP) be compromised or team dispersed a fallback rally point, return path different from initial ingress, and extraction points if applicable (with redundant positions). Also, identify bearings/distance between different points. 
    • Document using a range card from an identified point. Each team member should do this once observing the objective. This allows for comparisons between different scouting trips, and changes during sleep cycles.
    • When scouting an area and observing people use the S.A.L.U.T.E. format:
      • S - Size - how many people
      • A - Activities - what they are doing - what direction are they moving? is a guard moving between two points and if so how often? etc.
      • L - Location - grid location or other reference points you are using
      • U - UNIT - if applicable, unit, uniform or other group identification
      • T - Time and date
      • E - Equipment - weapons, personal gear, and vehicles
  • Post SHTF Scouting Rules 
    • Never use goggles/scopes/binoculars with the people being observed between you and the sun - (always try and have the sun either directly above or behind you). Glare off of the glass may give away your position. Keeping at an angle or using a KillFlash can be good, but I wouldn't bet my life on it. Just be careful not so silhouette yourself.
    • Know your pace count: for slow movement, normal and fast walking
    • At night, try not to look directly at something being observed with the naked eye, there is a night blind spot that will interfere with looking at an object if you stare at it. Look at the objects sides and around it to see the object more clear.
    • Also at night, always give yourself at least 30min to get used to the lack of light before moving around.
    • If it looks good to you, it looks good to someone else too: a bush next to a thick tree is more likely to have someone behind it than a bush by its' self. Note that professionals understand this - so that could be a cat and mouse game.
    • Never observe from the crest of a high point, this will create a silhouette 
    • After identifying an objective to scout try and see if from a defensive viewpoint - where would you be worried about someone approaching? Where would you place the highest number of people in a defensive perimeter? What area would you think only a nut would try and move through? Then as long as it isn't a vast open field, be the nut.
    • Cary what you need, not necessarily what makes you comfortable - weight makes long walks harder, short runs much slower, and in time you will focus on your overloaded pack more than what is going on around you.
    • When scanning an area try and look deep into the shadows, scan very slow. Look for the slightest difference. Start with a rapid scan, for the obvious: left to right up to 100 meters deep then back to the left in a S formation. Then the same for the next 100 meters deep, and so on. Followed by a slow scan: same process but much more time is spent on each pass - looking for items out of place.
    • Always move from one position of cover and concealment  to another. Know your next position before you take your next step.
    • Always know where you are and how to get out. Egress should be planned with positions of defense along the way.
    • Always use camouflage from the immediate area. Don't rely on just generic patterns such as BDUs or Multicams  
    • Someone must always be awake and alert (three person minimal is best)
    • There is no downtime on a patrol
    • Birds will give you away: avoid nesting and perching birds
    • Know your rifle inside and out: know how to range with your glass and front site, know your drops for your ammo, have basic gunsmith skills at least for the rifles you own.
    • Know the military movement techniques and use them (bounding and traveling overwatch, ranger file, rolling egress, etc)
    • Develop good hand signal communication with your team
    • Crossing lines - i.e. leaving and returning to your location where friendlies are on watch, is one of the most dangerous tasks for a patrol, scout or otherwise. Practice this, and have a proper challenge and response with identified return routes known to both sides of the line (that change per patrol).  
    • There are two really big give-aways when scouting: sound and movement. Consider a deer. God didn't make them in a camouflage pattern yet can still be unnoticed with it's counter-shaded brown even against a green background. Chances are, you noticed it because a tail flicked or light reflected from it's eyes. Our eyes are designed to be attracted to movement more than from any other giveaway that is natural in color. Slow, graceful movement, and lack of sound are the two most critical methods of not being detected; it's even more important than camouflage and counter shading. 
    • No glass on a rifle used for scouting - flaps make target acquisition too slow, and glass reflects light. Use iron sights or [deeply hooded] binoculars. [JWR Adds: A Killflash sleeve requires no flap.]
    • Remember the time-honored Rules of Roger's Rangers.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hi James,

I came across these maps today and they may be of interest to your Canadian readers. The parent web page Natural Resources Canada has a key sub page with a lot of great info like GIS map data, insolation calculations, photovoltaic potential, et cetera.

Thanks for your great blog! - John R. in Canada

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mr. Rawles,
My wife and I don't have a lot of money and we didn't want to pay to have a smart phone so we chose to have basic phones.  A friend recently upgraded to a new carrier and gave me his Android X with a 16GB SD card in it for $25.  I was happy cause we could use to entertain the kids on road trips or what have you.  But I recently found out that I can download Offline maps onto the SD card.  I'm sure you've seen an SD card for these phones.  Its about the size of your fingernail.  The phones battery wouldn't keep a charge that well, but I bought a brand new battery online off amazon for $5 shipped to my door.   I've downloaded a map for every state that I would travel, or walk through if TEOTWAWKI happens.  But even more impressed I am finding out that I can get Topographic maps downloaded offline onto my SD card as well.  This could become very helpful in case of a long hike, to be able to navigate terrain. 
Even if I had to pay $100 for this, it would be a good investment.  With a portable solar charger the battery would only need to charge for a few hours and the battery unless used continuously will last for several days.  I'm going to get an extra phone and keep it in an ammo can to protect it and get the biggest card 32gb that will fit in it and prep it for WTSHTF.  I don't get a lot of time to read your blog anymore due to the bad economy and the necessary increase of hours in order to make up the loss of income.  But I hope that you and your readers find this information helpful.  I have informed my family and will help as many people as I can to get this squared away as an aid. 
We can also put medical information and color schematics on the phone.  Almost anything and everything that books can provide can be produced to a format for smart phones.  This is really exciting for me. Thank you, - Justin C.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mr. Rawles,
While trying to automate my Google Earth into an offline cache, I found this blog.
As it turns out, this man has described ways to load several types of maps offline, including topo maps and Google Earth.
To download Google Earth offline, you will need software from a companion site (free to use, $20 to donation) called Dr. Regener
I am now in the process of creating high resolution offline Google Earth caches that can be placed onto an external thumb drive and viewed as needed without access to the Internet. - Dan in Florida

Friday, May 11, 2012

I am a victim. I am a spectator. I am luck incarnate. You would think based on my chosen career for over twenty years as a US Navy SEAL that I would be the poster boy of preparedness. You would think that now retired from the military and currently a security professional that I would have stockpiled food, weapons and supplies in preparation for the next Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 or other mass casualty causing disaster. Instead, like so many others I have assumed luck is on my side. I have assumed that because I have lived a life on the edge, constantly under the stress of death as the alternative to mission success that I am impervious to harm. I have stood by so many times like a spectator and watched as others suffered through earthquakes, tsunamis or terrorist attacks with little concern that it could be me next.

Sad and Disgusted
I have tragically lost well over twenty friends, teammates and compatriots [in combat and in training accidents] and still I didn’t feel the overwhelming need to prepare. I have become self reliant and so used to working with a team that has my back that little phases me now. I believed my self to be Mr. Lucky, to be luck incarnate.

That was until I had a family. I don’t mean the twentieth century kind of family, a wife, two dogs and a condo. I mean a real family, a lovely wife and two precious young sons and all that comes with it. A family that whether they know it or not relies on me to protect them. That regardless how liberal we have become the man of the house is still supposed to check on every bump in the night. I am now that guy, that husband, that dad the one who must be able to tell between a spider that will kill you and one that catches flies or stink bugs for us during summer. I have to be able to do more than recite my favorite sports team’s season stats or what new “app” we can get for our phones. My wife is a foodie and intent on buying some land and doing some small scale farming, perfect, I have the best kind of supportive and understanding wife. I have a 6 year old son who has to convince the neighborhood kids to play outside for more than 10 minutes, during spring and fall let alone winter. He knows how to shoot a traditional recurve bow and skies better than most adults. My youngest son is only 9 months old but he’s stout, strong and totally engaged with his environment and radiates confidence that belies his months. I have been blessed with the perfect supportive family. Several years ago it became apparent to me I can no longer afford to be a spectator, a victim and luck is not a preparedness plan.

No matter how perfect my family appears to be and is it is no SEAL Team assault element, nor do I want them to be. But, it has become clear that my family needs guidance, training and nurturing in reference to disaster preparedness. Any parent knows that a well thought out plan can easily go awry when you infuse young children into the mix. It is one thing for me to be self reliant, for my wife and me to discuss our future on a farm, it’s another thing to get small children to find the “fun” in preparedness planning, to become self-reliant themselves. It’s even more difficult to have them become willing team players in what seems to them an arbitrary endeavor. Ironically it was my 6 year old who has given me the greatest inspiration. At 3 years old he would yell out, as he sat snuggly in his car seat what we would later call “waypoints”. My son had, through a game we would play developed the, sometimes eerie ability to identify landmarks (buildings, towers, parks, ponds, restaurants, playgrounds, etc) and could tell you where we were in relation to home or other important establishments. As the “point man” for many years in SEAL platoons, forever being oriented was of the utmost importance not only to me, but to my teammates and to mission accomplishment. My son had clearly picked up this innate interest in knowing where he was either from me, his mom or he had it instinctively. But, where he got it from was unimportant to me. What was important was that I wanted to encourage him to refine this talent and use it as a stepping stone to discover other similar talents.

This is where the trouble started and where a major life lesson took place for me. How do I make disaster, death and mayhem look attractive and not scary to a child? How do I relate my oldest son’s love of the outdoors, chess and legos to hunting, self-defense and problem solving? Ok, admittedly that makes it sound pretty easy. In fact in the beginning it was pretty easy because where ever I went my son went. Whatever I did my son wanted to try which is the reason my son has been skiing for four years and he’s only 6. But, as he got older and the challenges or maybe the learning curve got steeper I found myself struggling to make it happen. The crazy thing is I have a background in education. Albeit it was training SEAL candidates, but I spent nearly 6 years of my life trying relate, convey and transfer life saving skills to what amounted to a bunch of kids. How then did it not come naturally when it came to working with my own son? That’s what this article is about, how to teach your kids essential life skills.

Being Oriented
In the remainder of this article I will go through the concepts and steps that I believe to be essential to nurturing our children’s natural desire to protect one another and their family and to be generally safe in daily life. The concepts are more child psychology and motivational methods than direct practical preparedness steps, but I believe them to be imperative to our children’s complete understanding of why they must prepare. The steps on the other hand are…

The first word in any parents training vocabulary should be encourage. We have all experienced that parent that believes he or she must instill drive in his or her children. That children need to be pushed from time to time or in some cases all the time. Encourage is the optimal way to build a lasting interest in, well pretty much anything. This seems like a very obvious concept but as my own experience has shown me, our best intentions to encourage can often wane as we the parent see our children lose interest in something, get distracted or even rebel against the activity altogether. I have a tendency to come in a little too intense when my son shows interest in something I believe to be highly beneficial. For example, my son showed considerable interest in wanting to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow. Great I thought he will take down his first white tail by the time he’s 8. I had it all mapped out. I went out and bought all the gear. Set up a 10 meter range in the backyard. For the first week he was into it, again it was easy. I didn’t have to do anything but say lets go shoot and he was ready. But, the interest soon subsided and out of frustration seeing my dream of a 7 year old taking down the families Thanksgiving turkey fading I started to use poor tactics. It was my amazing wife who reminded me of our family values, that we would never be derogatory with our children. If they showed an interest in something we would support and encourage them. The only steadfast rule we had was that if our sons started something they would see it through. For example if my eldest wanted to play soccer he would play the season not quit halfway through. If he didn’t want to play soccer again the next season so be it. And so it went with archery. I backed off, relaxed a little and when he did want to got out back and shoot I was full of encouragement and took the opportunity to connect with my son as much as pass on skills.

The next concept I believe to be essential to raising self-reliant, confident and skilled children is appreciation. I always like to say appreciation over compliance. If our children learn to appreciate how important being prepared for a home invasion or a fire is they are much more likely to act appropriately. By contrast, if a child has been taught to be compliant with the rules of what to do in case of a fire the compliant child will generally be devoid of freewill. Freewill you say? Yes freewill, I want my children to be problem solvers. I don’t want them to freeze when mom and dad are incapacitated and my oldest son needs to get his little brother out of a second story bedroom that’s on fire. My oldest has always wanted to know “why”. Once again he has taught me some valuable lessons by way of continually challenging me to help him understand how things work. He would sooner jump off a bridge than be immediately compliant on most anything especially if he doesn’t understand the importance of the task. I am sure he is not the only 6 year old that fits this mold. But, I am positive that it presents some unique challenges when trying to teach a child something that we as adults believe to be so intuitive. To promote appreciation be willing to “work with” your child. My wife is the queen of analogies. She can relate most any idea to an example, to illustrate an idea. I lack this skill, but I have worked to develop it. It’s just as important to help my sons appreciate how they can be of considerable assistance in even the most mundane things, like taking out the trash or peeling the carrots. It is even more important to show them how they are integral to the safety of their family. Think of ways to help your children see the importance of being an active part of planning, preparing, and getting through a stressful, life threatening situation. Your child’s appreciation and understanding of his/her role in your family, to problem solve and think on their feet may save your life.

The third and final concept of my philosophy towards teaching our children preparedness and self-sufficiency is for us as parents to be less objective oriented. Children, especially young children are experience oriented. That experiencing may take place at the beginning of an outing or lesson, at the middle or towards the end. For example, there is a 50 acre nature preserve two blocks away from my family’s house. My oldest son has dubbed this forested area the “spooky woods”. Although the woods have never scared him, from the age of 3 they have reminded him of the many fairy tells his mom and I read to him. It seemed to him that all fairytales took place in scary forests. My son and I have spent hours exploring the woods. A couple times I tried to plan and organized an outing with clear objectives (i.e. build a debris hut, a wood bridge over the creek, a solar still to collect water). I soon realized my first mistake was to plan anything, to organize anything. What I wanted to do was of little concern to my young son once he found a dead raccoon to poke with a stick, a frozen creek to throw rocks through or if he just wanted to sit and pick the bark off some deadfall. What I learned from this was to be ready. I learned to carry a pack with the makings of a bow drill fire starter or a snare. I became less interested in learning a specific skill, meeting an objective or making a particular destination and more about the experience. I allowed my son to drive where we went and what we saw and experienced. I stayed open enough to use the opportunities my son presented me to pass on knowledge. On one outing we were discussing the merits of being observant. I wasn’t using any specific examples from our outing, just relaying the idea of stopping every so often and taking a real look around. I was trying to extol the ideal that you miss a lot when you put your head down and just follow the trail. Within 15 minutes of the end of our conversation my son spies what he thinks looks like the tip of a spear poking out of the fall leaf pack. As he digs through the leaves he finds the right antler of an 8 pointer. My sons still proud of that find and reminds me often how he used his superior observation skills to find such a treasure. The other amazing attribute of this concept is that for us as parents being less objective oriented is much less stressful, much more peaceful and once again affords the us to connect with our children on a much more intimate and personal level.

It’s probably comes as no surprise to any of the readers that orientation is vital to survival, preparedness and sustainability among many other things. The following are

Steps to Orientation

- Start with learning land marks and their importance – situation awareness
- Fun with maps
- Give them the tools to navigation
- Observation drills
- Relate to other activities
- Travel

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hello James, 
Our contribution to being prepared was a Sunday drive. Here is what we did:
An essential piece of equipment for anyone contemplating any kind of emergency relocation are good maps.
If your relocation is a "bug out" due to deterioration of local conditions you need to have a plan.
In consideration that my current well placed rural residence might be a point of contention for those who want to 'borrow my belongings and harbor unnatural urges about the occupants I have taken to making exploratory trips about my county.
Even though we are sheltering in place an alternative potential must be considered and planned.
My place: Oklahoma west.
That's the only description I will give of my location.
I rely on a copy of the Oklahoma Atlas & Gazetteer. (A DeLorme detailed Topographic Map in large book form).
The scale of this map is one inch to 3.2 miles or approximately 1/3 inch to 1 mile.
It is not large enough to show any details other than gross features.
But the main usage of this map is to have an index of roads that could be used to provide a retreat or controlled movement to a place of safety.
Most of the roads are identified at corners with a street/road sign like you see in towns.
A second major source is a product of Shearer Publishing, 406 Post Oak Road, Frederickburg, Texas 78624 (1-800-458-3808).
It is titled: The Roads of Oklahoma (from "The Roads of..." series) and was printed in 1997.
Note: These map books are no longer available at your local Wal-Mart store. They are gone gone gone. But can be purchased on line from the publishers or through They just contain too much information that could be used by people who want to cause damage to the citizens of USofA.
The DeLorme maps have only seven symbols listed for identifying roads. The Roads of Oklahoma has eleven symbols.
On May 6th my wife and I set out in our 1986 Ford F-150 pickup with 450,000+ miles on it to explore an area of remote rangeland along a very large major river. This river valley is perhaps 2 to 3 miles wide on the flats.
It's total width from divide to divide is on the scale of 20 to 30 miles.
The unoccupied areas of hills, draws, canyons are in some locations covered in dense trees, mesquite, plum bushes, sagebrush and the phreatic Tamarack tree (water waster).
Wildlife and feral hogs abound.
We drove some 110 miles on this trip with a stop for lunch in about 4.5 hours.
Using the DeLorme map we located the closet town and state highway.
Then continued into the river valley on county roads often crossing ranches under open range conditions.
Finally the differentiation between road, oil field service road and ranch access road became muddled.
The map was not sufficiently detailed and google map indicated it was wrong in several cases.
Misidentifying ranch trails for roads.
I did not have a GPS in my vehicle so cannot comment on the potential for GPS systems that potentially could have helped us identify the correct road.
We continued on towards the river looking for the cross over road that would loop back the way we came but several miles on east.
Somewhere along the line we missed our crossover road.
Now up to a point we were able to absolutely tell our location using the road signs in the corner of the sections.
But we soon moved past them into an area of miles and miles of unmarked roads.
Many of which were not show on the DeLorme map.
Our local sheriff is a friend who we exchange confidences with to a point.
Several years ago I mention that our county was really isolated by this river on our one side because only one bridge crossed it.
The river is sandy and you just do not cross it in even a four wheel drive vehicle.
ATVs at some point, yes.
When it is dry it looks easy but will sink you to the frame of your vehicle in a twinkle of the eye.
But he mentioned to me that there was 'another' bridge 'up their' that the oil companies had installed so their pumpers could get pickups across to service wells.
He said, it is kinda a secret and not well know out side of a small area.
Otherwise they would have to make a detour of some 40+ miles just to get 1/2 mile to the other side of the river.
Well, lost and still on a good solid road suddenly we broke out of the Tamarack trees and here was that bridge he had described.
We drove across and eventually came out on a US highway, 43 miles north of where we started and on the other side of the river.
I failed to take with me "The Roads Of Oklahoma" book of maps. Of course I consulted it when I got home.
The scale is 1 inch = 2.5 miles.
A much larger scale that includes a more detailed legend of kinds of roads.
It also contains topographic lines that give an appreciation of the lay of the surface.
The Roads Of Oklahoma does show the road that leads to the bridge.
But the bridge is not marked on that map nor the DeLorme map.
It does show the blacktop road changing to a gravel graded and drained road to an unimproved road.
This information was not on the DeLorme map nor on Google.
At home I brought up the Google Map URL.
Looking at the Google map I could see exactly what we did to get to the locations we visited.
But Google did show the road leading to the unidentified bridge although the bridge was not show on the map.
The kinds and conditions of the roads were not indicated on the Google map either.
But we had a successful trip. I believe in knowing your area for miles and miles in all directions. Only driving roads will provide you ground truth.
This is what the Recon Scouts in the military provide. They collect information for the decision makers.
In the future I and others may not have the time to collect detailed information. That can only be gathered now.
My three mistakes:
1. Not taking with me and utilizing the additional source of information in The Maps Of Oklahoma.
2. Not comparing the DeLorme map, The Maps Of Oklahoma and my Google maps before I left.
3. Assuming that the maps were absolutely correct....they were not...but the lack of details is in the scale and misjudging oilfield access roads for public roads by the publishers.
We had a cell phone with us. We experienced no mechanical breakdowns. And we treated this excursion like a trip to the parking lot of a big box store. We should have played "what if" this was real.
Recommendation: Gather as many sources of maps as you can about your area.
I did have a plain paper copy of our whole county which shows where roads are closed.
But this information is also on the other two maps.
I also have a plat book of the county that shows ownership of the land detailed section by section.
An additional source of information are Soil Conservation Service (now dubbed the Natural Resource Conservation Service) soil surveys.
They are usually only published once but are based on actual aerial photographs.
Copies of them can get real scarce quickly.
Especially if they were published back in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s.
Usually they are free to local land owners upon request.
As previously mentioned in SurvivalBlog, the USGS is having a $1 sale for selected topographic map quadrangle sheets.I have a few for my area.
But plan tomorrow to purchase a complete set for my surrounding area if they are still available.
The mile square sections and the 6 mile a 6 mile square Townships are a maze or roads that are without parallel in the world.
The central part of America is gridded off in this huge maze of roads.
It is a maze that is virtually uncontrollable.
It is your friend if you know how to access it and use it.
But it requires extensive ground truth of road trips correlated with all the map information you have.
While driving note where there are abandoned house sites with storm cellars. There are many here.
Mark where the large watershed structures are ( good for fishing, duck hunting, camping and riding out a civil storm for short period of time).
Note where there are working windmills as a source of water.
And there are hundreds in this area.
Old abandoned houses, barns and sheds could be temporary shelter in a time of great need.
Visit all of the public campgrounds near lakes and wildlife refuges that are near.
They may be a refuge for you for a critical period of several days.
But get to know your territory. Do not be afraid to get territorial if you need to protect your family.
Planning, intellect and sound thinking can and will defeat those with a B.A. degree in barroom babbling. B.A = bad **s.
You must be smarter than you adversary and better informed. - J.W.C. in Oklahoma

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Regarding the post of the guy in California that Google can take a photo from the public street, and see his electric meter and objects in his open windows: the problem is not so much Google as his choice to live so close to a public road that anyone could do this.  I used Street View to "sorta" see my gate, and that is all you can see--just a gate. Google Map's satellite photos show far more detail about the layout of my "spread", though the detail is fairly fuzzy. - Andy G.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dear Editor:
A few years ago I blocked out the views of my house from Google Street View.  However, I recently discovered that the Street View vehicle had taken updated pictures of my street, and my house was again visible, and in much greater detail!  I was actually able to read my electrical meter from Street View and view objects inside of my house by zooming in on windows that were open.  It also appears that the Street View cameras are much higher than the previous vehicle; based on the height of a pedestrian on my street, the cameras look to be at least 8 feet off the ground.  So your 6 foot tall privacy fence may be mooted by the camera being able to peer over your fence.  

I would suggest to fellow readers that they should periodically review Street View and other services, like Spokeo, to ensure that they are not being displayed for all the world to see.

I have noticed that in the last few months there has been an increase in suspicious activity on my street, and I thwarted a break-in attempt a few months ago - oddly enough, after the time the updated street view pictures were taken!! (thank the Lord I had a pistol on my person).  A thief no longer needs to case your house out from the street - Google Street view does it for them!

To remove your home from Street View:

1) Find your address on Google Maps, and then zoom until the map flips from top-down to the 'Street View'
2) Center your house in the street view
3) Find the very hard to read "Report a Problem" text on the lower left corner of the Street View & click
4) A new screen should popup (a new tab for me, you may need to turn off a pop-up blocker).
5) Click "Privacy Concern", and then "My House" and then "I have found a picture of my house and would like it blurred"
6) Fill out the description field - I've cited recent theft attempts
7) Fill in an e-mail address - I would suggest using a fake e-mail address so that you are not telling Google what e-mail address lives at your house.  (Side Note: Make sure your wi-fi is locked down, as they are probably sniffing this at the same time as well).
8) At this point you will see why we centered your house earlier - there is a red box around the center of your house in the image.  Please note that you can adjust the red box from this screen as well, but the view is much smaller.
9) Fill out the word verification, and then hit submit
10) This is the most important step: you need to move the Street view up and down your street, and repeat this process from every part of the road that can see your house.  I had to make 8 separate privacy submissions to fully block my house from Google Street View.  To move the street view, there should be two or more white arrows on the road - click them, and you should see your location change.

- Nate in California

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Thank you for creating your wonderful SurvivalBlog site; it is a much-needed voice of sanity in a world of foolishness and denial. We value your site for the shared experiences of your contributors and the working knowledge that many have volunteered. I hope we can also contribute in some small way, but maybe from a different perspective.

My wife and I have been full time live aboard boaters in the northeast for the last 20 years or so. The core tenants of prepping have always been near and dear to us - not just because we have a special interest in prepping, but because long distance sailors and other self-reliant mariners use the same pepper concepts, not just when the SHTF, but as constant concerns of every day life when underway.  Provisioning, access to potable water, communication, navigation, maintenance, weather, sanitation, protection from the elements, first aid, safety and physical security; expertise in all these areas is needed in order to remain self-reliant and maybe even to stay alive when cruising. The names and implementation for preppers and sailors may be different but the basic concepts are the same. For instance a preppers "G.O.O.D." bag is our "Ditch" (boat sinking) bag. Maybe we can share insights between our different prepper/cruiser cultures and learn from each other's experiences.

I'd also like to present a case that if you live near the coast in a congested area, then a well-found sailing vessel can represent an excellent bug out location, and in many ways it may be the only viable option for continued survival if some truly horrific event occurs. But first, let me give you an overview of where we live and some of the problems a typical prepper might face in our area.

The northeast where we reside is very crowded, with much of the population concentrated along the shore. In many ways it is a fragile place. Power is generated locally, but fuel and food have to be shipped in continually and the process can only be interrupted for a short amount of time. As far as I can tell none of the states in the region have any sort of rational, long-term emergency measures in place. Most of the people here, just like everywhere else it seems, do not have even a bare minimum of emergency supplies on hand. If some condition or event were to upset our delicate supply chain, electrical grid or communication system for more than even a few days, the resulting cascading "systems failures" would quickly convert our affluent and well ordered society into a chaotic, lawless place. Many of the cities here have rotting cores filled with thoughtless, brutal people, and these would be the first to take advantage of the situation. Concern would quickly give way to panic and even the typical law abiding citizen might be given to reckless and even irrational acts. The order of events in a severe emergency are not hard to imagine if you consider that most people would be living off of body fat and pond water within a few short weeks.

The fact of the matter is that there are just to many people here. You might be ready to bug out, but to where? The roads are often a congested mess even on a good day, let alone in an evacuation emergency (as an example, the Long Island Express is often affectionately referred to as "the longest parking lot in the world"). Unless you are in the northern parts of these north eastern states, such as upstate New York, your only other option would seem to be to bug in, not always the best option while the world is disintegrating around you.

So what could cause such a catastrophe? Many things, and readers of this blog probably already have a pretty good idea what they are. For me, a coronal mass ejection (CME) or a deliberate electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated by a high altitude nuclear device heads the list of my nightmares; these are followed closely by a deliberate ground level nuclear event or a Category 5 hurricane hitting the coast (at high tide). Once the power goes out many of the nuclear reactors in the area, deprived of adequate cooling, would meltdown in the same fashion as Japans Fukushima Daiichi plant. This would poison vast areas of the most densely populated parts of our country. Deadly flu, economic collapse, social upheaval, loss of imported fuel - all seem tame in comparison, but experience has taught many of us never to underestimate the power of "chaos and cascading failures". Especially in power, communication and supply systems created to work as cheaply as possible but with little thought to resilience or redundancy.

Because of these challenges along any crowded coastline. I'd like to suggest that your readers consider a small sailing vessel as your bug out retreat. The greatest advantage is that you could get away in short order and with a minimum of sophisticated technology. The power of the wind can take you anywhere in the world. There are many cheap, capable smaller sailboats out there, but just as one example I'd like to present the sturdy little Pearson Triton. At 28 feet this is just about the smallest boat one can use for long distance cruising. Designed by the venerable Carl Alberg this well built little boat is fully capable of safely crossing an ocean (if not quickly or comfortably), and is small enough that it can even be rowed under dead calm conditions. 750 Tritons were made in the 1950s and 1960s and most are still around. In almost every way these "classic plastic" boats are much better than their contemporary counterparts and much less expensive too. In good condition with useable sails and a fairly new diesel engine the Triton can be had for $8,000 to $10,000 USD and sometimes much less. Maintenance, dockage and haul outs might be another $4,000 a year. This isn't chump change, but it is still much less than a land-based bug out retreat in this area.

So when and how do we use your little bug out boat? Well that depends. If the power is out and is not going to come back on as with a CME or EMP then you would have little choice other than to leave, and the sooner the better. If emergency conditions are less severe, then your choice of whether to leave or not may not be so simple. You can always stay on the boat until things settle out, one way or another. You don't have to leave on an impulse, after all the open ocean can be an uncompromising taskmaster especially to the novice sailor. But at least you can leave when you want. Just as a side issue, a small sailboat like the Triton can be great fun to sail even if the world is not coming to an end.

So how would you prepare your little Triton for TEOTWAWKI and how might the order of events unfold? Lets run through a possible scenario. Imagine that one morning there was an impossibly bright spark in the southern sky and now nothing works. The power is off and the car wont run, even the radio is dead. The neighbors are all scratching their heads in confusion, where you understand what just happened along with the grave implications. You and your family fill your backpacks with essentials and then peddle your bicycles like crazy heading to the marina where the boat is kept. Once there you set your priorities and prepare to bug out.

First and foremost, the greatest overriding concern for all small cruisers (and preppers in general) is availability of potable water. Your little ship only carries 20 gallons of fresh water in an internal tank, supplies for a few days at best. On deck you lash an other half a dozen or so 5 gallon plastic jerry jugs, this is the tried and true method used by all small boat cruisers. Still not enough water, every drop counts. The wife sends the kids up to raid the trash for any other bottles, cans or buckets, anything that can hold water including ziploc bags and trash bags. You'll sterilize everything later with bleach once you are underway. Finally fill the cockpit, bilge and galley sinks; even fill your old sea boots with fresh water. Better a pair of wet feet than a dry mouth. The scuppers (deck drains) have already been rigged to collect rainwater, but you can't count on a rainy day to save your life.

At the beginning of the season you squirreled away dozens of cans of food in the bilge, but what exactly is down there now is a bit of a mystery, as the water and high humidity have freed up and dissolved away all the labels. No matter, the calories are still in there, even if you are not really sure what is what. You'll have some interesting meals ahead, and not just because of the anonymous cans in the hold. There is almost always something to eat in and around the sea, especially in the biologically rich northern waters. Most people only think in terms of game fish like striped bass or bluefish, but for every large fish there are a hundred smaller ones. We are also surrounded by dozens of types of "unconventional" protein. Crabs, shrimp, clams, snails and other mollusks, as well as sea grass and seaweeds are all edible - palatability is another matter. Just remember, hunger is the best sauce. How about Minnows with rice and seaweed anyone?  A seining net and simple hook and line fishing gear are cheap and essential.

Food and water - check, now for security. Instead of buying something like a single AR-15 you spent your gun budget on three AR-7s. This is the survival rife that you first read about as a kid. The barrel, receiver and even two 8 round magazines all stow within the stock, and most of the parts are even Teflon coated, a great plus on a small boat in a salty ocean. When you first picked them up you thought that maybe the gun dealer was playing a trick on you. Each gun weights only two and a half pounds and is a little over 19 inches long when the parts are stored in the stock. The AR-7 looks a bit like a toy but it will kill just like any other .22 rimfire gun. Chambered in .22 LR, you can hold a thousand boxed up rounds in the palm of your hand and those thousand rounds are easy to stow in a watertight container. (Now just where did you put that spare ammo?). The philosophy here is that three small semi auto weapons firing at close range will trump a single weapon of higher caliber. Longer-range weapons would also be much less of an advantage while pitching and rolling about in the open ocean. Frankly, anything beats fending off desperate pirates with a boat hook and harsh language. [JWR Adds: Another advantage of the AR-7 is that it is is one of the few guns that float if it is dropped in the water.]

Suitable clothing and foul weather gear are already stored aboard and the meds kit is ready including a good selection of fish antibiotics and a minor surgery kit. You are ready to go (a relative term), but go where? Your first thought is to head toward Bermuda. At 700 nautical miles away it is relatively close. But on second thought, perhaps not. An EMP powerful enough to take out the eastern seaboard would probably get Bermuda as well. Maybe you could head north. The Canadian Maritimes are far enough away that the power is probably still on. There is only one problem, if the nuclear reactors along the eastern seaboard begin to meltdown, then he prevailing winds will carry this nuclear material to the northeast. You would be sailing into clouds of radioactive smoke and dust. The wife consults the Pilot chart for the north Atlantic and places her finger on a tiny dot that is two thirds of the to the way to Europe. "The Azores? That's over 2,000 nautical miles away!" You give her a sick grin. The GPS is properly packed away in a shielded box, but if it didn't make it you'll have to find your way using the sextant (and luck). Many of the GPS satellites have probably been destroyed in any case. "How is your celestial [navigation]?" you ask. "About as good as yours," the wife replies, with the same sick grin. Celestial navigation is not one of our competencies and we don't even have a working timepiece in any case. "Well, you always wanted to have a sailing adventure" the wife continues.  True, but this isn't exactly want you had in mind.

Monday, March 12, 2012

James Wesley:
I would like to let everyone know about an application called Cabela's Recon Hunt. It has a very low cost, gives access to every map that is offered to the public. Lots of maps can be stored off line (depending on the memory capacity of your device) and one of the best features is that you can make notes that say where you saw game at certain GPS coordinates. (Or perhaps where there is a cache of supplies stashed. Though I wouldn't label it as such.) But on a hand-held device enclosed in a Faraday cage this could be very a very useful way to plan several routes to several potential bug-out spots. I know reliance on electronic items is a liability (needing a way to provide power and such) but this liability can be overcome with any variety of hand crank, solar, or even wood heat USB chargers available. Further, it provides the ability to store large number of [PDF] manuals, guides and references. It can also provide a much-overlooked commodity touched upon in the movie The Book of Eli: music. Music is an excellent way to avoid being overtaken by a foul situation. But I digress.

Cabela's Recon Hunt, its available for less than $12 USD. Simple and compact, access to a large amount of maps, but the real use would be to store what you need because if the grid goes down you probably won't be able to access anything you don't already have stored, so make your choices and key considerations wisely.

I hope I haven't sounded too much like an advertisement. (I don't have any financial interest in this product or in Cabela's.) Be well, - Albertus

JWR Adds: I would call this software "Redoubt Friendly." It has pre-loaded public land boundaries and big-game hunt unit maps for 11 western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. (Yes, that includes all of the American Redoubt states. Tres cool.)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I'm sending you a link to some detailed maps of the world based on detailed data: several basic variables such as average precipitation, temperature variables, population, earth lights (and change in earth lights over time), biomass maps (vegetation) and more. Some linked pages contain data that can be used in virtual globes such as NASA World Wind.

If you explore the various links, you can find a wealth of high quality data that could be used in a long term grid down/other scenario where this basic world information could be very useful for travel, and more. This can also be used to "homeschool" children and adults in some basic high quality facts about how this planet operates.

Here are some examples:

Google Earth KMZ file for the whole earth colored topo in detail.

Highly detailed climate data that can be imported into a GIS program.

Explore with web searches for more.

Other data is out there, such as the TRMM detailed rainfall data from NASA.

Their references to "millions of years ago" are unscientific, but the data is very helpful.

Sincerely, - Calvin R.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The following are my observations based upon my experience with the care and processing of small livestock, living in a hot and humid climate on the Gulf of Mexico


Chicks of all species need warmth for their first few weeks, but on the Gulf Coast, and anywhere else with a hot climate, it's easy to overheat them. If you're keeping the birds outside, and it's anything over 80F or so, they probably do not need additional heat from a heat lamp or other source. Generally, I would take away a heat lamp and use a regular incandescent bulb if the temperatures were regularly over 65ish. If it is cool enough to still require external heating, keep the lamp off to one side of the enclosure. Be very careful to "round out" any corners the enclosure may have, particularly when the chicks are very young. Chicks pile up on top of each other and suffocation is a common cause of death in the early days. Ensuring there is enough room for all of the chicks also helps decrease the chance of suffocation.

[JWR Adds: In our experience, an oval galvanized steel livestock water tank works quite well for raising chicks. Add a screen of chicken wire across the top to keep out curious cats and to restrain hopping chicks. By placing a 200 watt heat lamp at one end of the tank, allowing the chicks to choose a place with a comfortable temperature.]

The food and water should not be under the lamp, to help minimize fouling or tipping of either. It also encourages chicks to move out from the heat. If the chicks are very young, and aren't a waterfowl species, marbles can be placed in the waterer (or bowl) so the chicks do not trip and drown. On account of their absolutely tiny size, quail chicks are particularly susceptible to falling into water sources, even despite marbles, if there is anything much more than a finger's gap between the marbles, as are guinea fowl chicks. Keep quail chicks in wire cloth enclosures for a very long time – some of the species are so small at adulthood, they can still easily slip out of standard chicken wire.

Some sources recommend treating the water with tetracycline and electrolyte additives – I personally had mixed success with that course of action. Some breeds and species seem to fail to thrive without it, and some fail to thrive with it. My best advice is to – if you choose to purchase and use the powdered additives – do so sparingly and not for long periods of time. And if you turn the water a bright yellow from how much you added – dilute it!

Chick starter, which is a higher-protein chicken feed with very small granules, can be used for most chicks with a fairly high rate of success. Some of the smaller quail species are actually too small for even that – cornmeal can be used for these, if you discover they are having issues, or grind some of the chick starter more finely.

While I have, at times, raised regular poultry and waterfowl chicks together, ducklings and goslings are very, very messy, and will make all the other chicks rather dirty, smelly, and sickly on account of how wet they'll get. The best course of action is to generally keep them separated, particularly since ducklings and goslings are happiest when they have a tiny "pond" to swim in from the get go. While very young, a pie pan will suffice for a pond (glass is better, as it is usually too heavy to tip over). The only real concern is "can they climb into it and climb out of it." If you do not keep a small swimming area for them in their enclosure, a kiddie pond is plenty acceptable, provided they have supervision (aka, "rescuers" for when they've tired themselves out). Stopped up bathtubs or sinks work, too, but as waterfowl defecate while swimming, you may want to pass on that option.

Should non-waterfowl chicks get wet, getting them warm and dry again is a priority if at all possible, as even in warm temperatures, they will catch cold and basically freeze to death. If you have a lot of chicks to dry, a heat lamp and a hair dryer (on low, held at a distance) works, but a dry towel and rubbing is better for the chicks (just be gentle!).

I have generally had poor success when grouping chicks of too disparate ages together – two weeks makes a huge difference in size for most birds. The older chicks will suffocate the younger ones, simply by being large enough the younger chicks can get underneath them and then get trapped.

Most chicks will begin to get their first real feathers (along their wings) within a week – unless it is unseasonably cold, or these are winter chicks – it is generally safe to remove a heat lamp (and sometimes even a regular lamp) once the chicks are about half feathered over their bodies. Naturally, common sense should be employed when deciding whether chicks still need their heat source or not.

Depending on the purpose and breed/species of the chicks, the methods of feeding and care after this point vary in detail, but not in the basics. All birds should have enough feed to "free feed" (unless range – these may or may not need supplementation, depending on your situation) and access to plenty of clean water. For chickens and turkeys, meat breeds can be grown at a quick rate by regulating their daily light exposure and feeding a high protein selection with added corn gluten (for that bright yellow color). Long periods of light and artificially cold temperatures are how the best "market" birds are produced. If you don't particularly care that it'll take twelve weeks instead of eight weeks for a similar size, I suggest skipping building an insulated and air conditioned enclosure. The birds turn out healthier, anyhow.

For waterfowl, if you don't provide them with a place to go for a swim, they will find one – usually another pen's waterer, based on my experience. Their food and drinking water should be kept fairly close together, as they generally need to water to help them eat standard crumble-based feed.

Once the birds are older than a month to six weeks, the care is basically the same. Adult birds should have access to grit – which is also a calcium supplementation for the laying hens. If you have guinea fowl (be careful about purchasing/acquiring these, as because of their volume and constant racket, they are generally banned in urban areas, even the urban farming friendly ones), be sure to keep them penned until they're about six months old, so they know where "home" is. The moment you let them range, if you intend to, they will spend time flying about and generally being a nuisance. On the other hand, they do tend to keep the hawks from dining on too many of your birds, as well as alert you that running outside with a weapon to scare off whichever predator was a-hunting maybe a good idea at that point.

If laying hens are your intent, be sure to build a coop with easy access for egg collecting. Our first coop had two wire doors that allowed for human entry (basically crawling into the coop) near both ends, on the same long side, the better to catch birds with. It later was modified, when we built a chicken wire enclosure with a wire roof (because of hawks), to include a chicken-sized exit in the middle of the long side without human-sized openings. The laying boxes were built into the ends of the coop, so that it was easy to reach in to collect the eggs. The coop had a solid floor, as did the nest boxes, and was raised a couple of feet off the ground to help discourage the rats. (This did not always work.) The coop was effective, but had its limitations. If you are unfortunate enough to have a cock that grows up to be violent and frequently attacks, having to crawl face-first into a coop is rather daunting. (As an aside, if any of your birds become human-aggressive, regardless of their age and quality, I strongly suggest culling the bird. An old rooster, even if past the point of being edible for your pot, makes good dog and/or pig food.)

Nest boxes should be large enough that the largest of your hens can sit comfortably in them with a couple of inches to spare. Because of this, if you intend to keep turkey hens for layers, I suggest the smaller breeds such as the Cannonball, although the Bronzes will also work.

Raising chicks from eggs laid by your own birds can be rewarding – and heartbreaking. It is a combination of equipment, practice, and luck. Research the topic thoroughly before attempting – and you may just want to let a broody hen (who will valiantly guard a nest of eggs from being taken) go through the trouble.

Chicken manure will burn plants if added straight to a garden. Let it "age" before considering adding it to a garden. I recommend adding it to the compost pile, first, so it cools down enough to not burn the plants.

A note on pigeons and squab: while squab is a fairly tasty meat, attempting to raise the chicks yourself is not something that should be undertaken. Purchase adult birds, and let them hatch and raise chicks. Squab should be "harvested" before the chick can fly, and the size will depend on the breed. The nest boxes should be placed a few feet above ground, and can probably be a little bit smaller than a chicken hen's nest box. If penned, they will need standard poultry fare. If allowed to range after they've learned where "home" is, they will pretty much take care of themselves.


Rabbits are small, relatively easy to keep livestock. The meat is lean, if that is a concern for your family, and the hides can be tanned for either fur or just skin. There are many breeds of rabbits. I do not suggest the long haired breeds for at least the Gulf Coast unless you intend to keep the animal as a pet or in an air conditioned facility. Californians (white rabbits with dark colored ears, nose, and feet) and New Zealands (mostly found in solid white, but sometimes red or black as well) are the two most popular "commercial" breeds. They mature fast and are fairly prolific. The does I kept often had litters of eight kits or more. I also raised Satins, which are so named for the satin sheen to their fur – very beautiful creatures, and lovely soft furs. We tried Palominos (colored much like palomino horses), which are supposed to have excellent growth rates for their fryers (butcher sized rabbits) but had issues with their feet being torn up in cages that the New Zealands had no issues with. However, don't overlook a doe and/or buck of totally unknown pedigree. Our first doe, Attack Rabbit, and the one who produced the largest kits, although often not the largest litters, was bought at a feed store who had gotten her from someone-or-another. She was a great producer for early Spring cash – she mostly threw spotted babies, regardless of the buck, and spotted baby bunnies sell very well as Easter bunnies and pets in general.

Rabbits are best kept in multi-cage hutches, with one adult rabbit per cage (except for breeding, which is not a long-term activity for a rabbit). Commercial rabbit food is certainly sufficient – it is a mostly alfalfa pellet with some additives. Roughage, such as grass, corn stalks, lettuce, alfalfa cubes, hay, or the like, should also be provided. Chewable items, like blocks of wood, should be readily available, as rabbits have to chew on things to keep their teeth from growing too long. Salt licks (small round discs of salt) should also be made readily available. There are plain salt licks (usually just white), and mineral salt licks (usually brown in color). My rabbits always seemed to prefer the mineral blocks to the plain. Rabbit feeders can be metal containers that fit into and through the side of the cage or crocks (heavy based bowls) sitting on the floor of the cage.

Like any other living creature, water should be readily and easily available. Rabbit waterers are bottle-fed gravity metal tubes with a ball-bearing that prevents too much water from coming out until the rabbit licks it to get water. These are generally attached to the outside of the cage. There are similar "nipples" for water lines, for larger rabbitries. Some breeders prefer to offer both food and water in crocks – I personally had issues with the water crocks being knocked over more times than not, particularly once a litter of bunnies was bouncing around in the cage along with the doe.

Despite the ease of growing and raising them, rabbits have a few "issues." Rabbit urine is highly acidic and corrosive. It will, eventually, damage cages to the point of requiring repair. Rabbit feces are rather "hot," and cannot be placed directly on a garden – the exception here being blueberry bushes, which love them. Worms, however, are often grown immediately under a rabbit hutch, as they break down the waste rapidly, and thrive on it. Allow rabbit waste to "sit" under the worms' tender care for a bit before attempting to add it to a compost pile or garden directly. Adding it to compost to finish cooling down is a better option than adding it straight to the garden.

Domesticated rabbits are descendants of the European cottontails, and thus, are not terribly heat tolerant, and, in the Gulf Coast's climate, are prone to heat exhaustion and heat stroke during summer. They are also not very productive during the summer months, because of this heat intolerance.

Despite their heat intolerance, rabbits can be successfully kept in the high temperature and high humidity climate of the Gulf Coast, with a few caveats. When selecting an area for the hutches, pick an area with decent air flow and shade to help keep them cool. The hutches should not be 100% solid sided, but be at least half hardware cloth, as well as having wire bottoms. Do NOT use chicken wire as the primary material – some rabbits like chewing on it. It can be used to wrap around any wooden posts (double wrap it and secure with U-nails; it's a pain to do, but works better). A piece of wood or sheetrock should be provided as a place to sit that isn't the wire bottom. Failure to do so can cause sores on the rabbits' feet. The nest boxes should also be constructed with wire bottoms, with an ability to mostly enclose them for winter litters. The hutches should also be located in a relatively quiet area – constant loud noises will stress the rabbits and increase the chances that the does will reabsorb their litters before birth, or even eat the kits after birth.

If you build the hutch, each enclosure within the hutch should be at least two feet square plus a reasonable height – it may look like a lot of space, but a nest box should be at least 12" wide by 18" long and 12" tall. Also make sure to construct the openings large enough to easily get the nest box into the pen.

After selecting a shady area with good airflow, the next caveat is this: if you intend to breed rabbits during the summer, for late summer or early fall litters, the buck will need, at minimum, a large bottle of ice to rest beside to maintain his fertility. Bucks lose their fertility when the temperatures get into the upper 90s F. I recommend two liter bottles mostly filled with water and then frozen solid for the purpose. You should probably have at least two bottles per buck – the first bottle will probably have thawed completely out by the end of the day, and he'll need cooling even overnight often. A fan in addition to the bottle of ice certainly would not hurt the buck, nor any doe in the area. One of the more serious show rabbitries I interacted with had an entire barn for their rabbits, somewhat insulated and could be enclosed during the worst of the summer heat for air conditioning, and in all but the coldest of winter, large livestock style fans ran from every roof-corner in the barn. The reason for this was that it ensured the rabbits' fur was not thinned out in reaction to the temperatures. As I was not involved in showing rabbits, and the furs and hides were kept for home use only, we usually made due with ice bottles and fans for our bucks – or forwent litters from June to September.

Breeding is done by placing a doe in with a buck for a short period of time. We generally kept ours separated unless breeding, because neither of our bucks were very bright (we only kept two bucks at a time). I had to occasionally move the buck to the correct end of the doe. Unless it is midsummer, if a doe does not produce kits after a couple of breedings (approximately 3 months), it is probably time to cull her from the colony.

The gestation period of a rabbit is approximately 30 days, with the resulting litters being 4 to 12 kits. Place a clean nest box in her cage a couple of weeks after breeding. The doe will start nesting a few days to a week before the kits are due, and she'll do this by pulling tufts of fur from her belly to make a nest with. Fill the nest box with a mid-quality hay (not too scratchy) for her, and she'll take care of the rest. Try to ensure her toenails have been trimmed, so she doesn't hurt the babies when they're born. When the kits are born, the doe will eat the afterbirth.  Occasionally, a doe may accidentally "eat" part of one of her babies – remove the corpse as soon as possible. An over-stressed doe may eat, or partially eat, an entire litter. Some … very few … seem to acquire a taste for doing so. If two litters are destroyed in such a fashion, cull the doe immediately. I have only had two does, in all the rabbits I've raised, acquire this "habit" – they both were violent rabbits to begin with. One was named Rabies, the other Rabies II. Rabies II left claw marks on my arm that took the better part of five years to fade. Does are likely to attack as they get close to birthing up until the kits have been weaned (4-6 weeks). In my experience, the ones to keep an eye on are the ones who attack without kits in the cage.

The kits are born furless and blind, but start putting on fur nigh immediately. Their eyes open between 8-12 days, and they start getting into trouble shortly thereafter. They can be safely removed from their mother's cage by eight weeks of age, and butchered from eight weeks to four months without any influence on the flavor – size and how long you want to feed them are the real factors here.

If you are attempting to grow your colony, select the best doe and/or buck from the litter. "Best" can be the largest, the most docile, the most wildly spotted, the most interestingly colored one, or what have you. If none of them meet your fancy, cull the whole litter. Sexing rabbits is an acquired skill, and not easily described with words alone. The pictures here are pretty good. Does are more useful than bucks, but raising an extra buck isn't always a bad thing. My personal preference, however, is to usually bring in a buck from another breeder, to keep from causing problems for the later generations. If you do keep any of the babies for breeding stock, make sure to keep a breeding book to track them, so you don't breed a doe to her grandfather-and-daddy – that's pushing it. Skip a generation at that point. Two unrelated bucks would be a minimum for raising breeding stock does. (If you want to get really complicated, you can also tattoo the ears of rabbits, to better track them. This is particularly useful for single-breed rabbitries which may not be able to distinguish animals by sight alone.)

Does can be bred at 6 months of age, and bucks at 7 months of age, but all the experienced breeders and books I read on the subject strongly suggested waiting until a doe was a minimum of 10 months old prior to breeding her. While a doe can theoretically be bred back to a buck the day her litter is removed from her pen, it is generally suggested to give her a short break between litters, for her own health.


I was introduced to the "art" of butchering chickens at the age for 12 or 13, when I raised my first set of market chickens for 4-H. It was messy, I cried, and hated it. I wasn't a stranger to death (one of the dogs had slaughtered, rather methodically, all but the birds that had been penned up as "the best" for show, two days before), I just wasn't comfortable with me being involved in it. Not to mention, there's something terribly savage and horrifying about seeing something's head cut off with an axe blade in real life, regardless of how many horror movies you've seen growing up as a kid.

By the time I was fourteen, and for the next twelve years, I performed almost all of the butchering. My father assisted with the larger animals (goats and pigs). He slaughtered and butchered one cow, while I assisted – I was too short to do that one primarily. When I visit now, I still lend a hand with the task if needed.

My father quickly established that I severely lacked the hand-eye coordination to use the axe to butcher chickens, and that I also lacked the upper body strength (and distance) to use the "standard" pull the neck method of breaking a chicken's neck. We cast about for a better option for a short girl in the 6th grade. We settled on tree branch clippers, the sort with handles about 2 feet long, and a short, curved blade, with a scissors like motion. It was my idea – the leverage gave me enough mechanical strength to make a clean kill, and the blades were long enough to pin a bird (and later rabbits) for the duration. My experience has been that clippers can be used successfully on birds below the size of geese and turkeys, and on rabbits as well. If the blade is sharp, the animal may be almost entirely decapitated, which allows for it to bleed immediately. I do suggest that, for rabbits, it be a two person job, to hold the rabbit's ears out of the way – their ears are extremely sensitive, and the commotion is enough to scare them a bit anyhow, no need to taint the meat. For geese and turkeys, I strongly suggest that the bird's wings be restrained (we did so by cutting a turkey-head sized hole into the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket, and having the body of the bird be inside the bucket) and a .22 bullet be used. It's fast, it's still cheap, and by pinning the bird's wings, the post-death twitching/flapping/etc. cannot break the wings.

When selecting a site for processing, I recommend access to clean water, buckets for offal, and fresh air. A flat surface is necessary for poultry; a place to hang the carcass is necessary (or at least vastly more convenient) for most mammals. A sharp knife or two is important; my preferred for butchering is a skinning blade with a gut hook.

From this point, there are three methods for finishing poultry: dry plucking, wet plucking, and skinning. Frankly, in my opinion, none of them are particularly easy to do, but wet plucking takes my number one most-hated spot.

Dry plucking involves pretty much exactly like it sounds. I strongly recommend this method for quail, squab, and young broilers. Remove the head and neck of the bird, as well as the lower scaly part of the leg. Generally I remove the first wing joint, as well, because it is far more hassle than it is worth to do otherwise. You may need a pair of pliers to remove the primary feathers on older chickens, turkeys of any age, ducks, and geese. Grab a handful of feathers (starting on the breast of the bird is easiest), pull against the "grain" of the feathers. On smaller or younger birds, such as quail or broilers, the skin is very tender and can be torn very easily, even when plucking. Start off with a lighter hand than you might think you need, and work up in force from there. Continue to do this until the carcass is as completely de-feathered as you can get it. You may prefer to leave the tail feathers on, and remove the tail during the next step.

Wet plucking involves a large pot of very hot water. If you are going to wet pluck waterfowl, a few drops of dish soap is recommended, to break the oil barrier on the feathers, so it is possible to do so. Prior to removing the head/neck, lower legs, and wing tips, dip the carcass into the pot of very hot water for 15-30 seconds, using the lower legs as "handles." Bring the bird out of the water, and give an experimental tug on the feathers. If they pull out fairly easily, continue plucking the bird. You may have to re-dip it if it is a large bird, or it cools off too much. Be careful to not over dip the bird, as when this occurs, the skin scalds and starts peeling. You will notice that wet feathers are very clingy, and like to stick to everything – you, the table, the bird, the pot, the post one landed on when you tried to get some off your hands. Wet feathers also don't smell particularly wonderful, which is why I rather intensely dislike this method. Once again, remove all the feathers. After this, remove the head/wing tips/lower legs.

Skinning is pretty much like how it sounds. It is trickier on poultry than it is on a mammal, however, as the skin attaches in odd seeming places. On chickens, it attaches rather firmly around the leg-thigh joint, the chest bone, along the back, and very firmly attaches at the base of the tail. The skin also tears easily, so instead of larger chunks, you generally end up having nearly strips. It can be a bit frustrating, and does remove some cooking options later. Remove the head/wing tips/lower legs before commencing; it makes the task easier.

Once the bird is plucked or skinned, very carefully cut across the abdominal cavity, effectively thigh to thigh, and then approximately down the middle (there is often a sort of ''seam" here, it may just tear a bit under tension). Only use enough pressure with the blade to cut the skin, not any more than you have to use. Scoop the offal out, being careful to not touch more of the exterior of the bird than necessary. At this point, you can try to either remove the tail entirely, so as not to risk fecal contamination, or, once you have some practice, you can detach the anus from the tail with minimal problems. Rinse the bird out and off with fresh water (as well as yourself), and get the bird into refrigerated conditions as soon as possible, preferably before you start on the next bird.


Mammals are more or less the same process, regardless of size. The tools necessary may differ – I don't have the strength to crack the hip bones on a cow or pig, or most goats, and need at least a hacksaw to do that job, but I can do so with a rabbit or other small mammal with my bare hands. Rabbits make for good practice animals for larger animals later, and the process is effectively the same for anything smaller.

Hang the rabbit from your chosen point. I either used bailing wire wraps around the hock of the back legs, or twine from hay bales tied into slip knots, tightened around the hock. Either way, the hock is a good place for an anchor point.  The rabbit's head should now be pointing at the ground, and all directions from this point are referencing the current up-down direction.

Run your knife in a circle just below the anchor point, all the way around the leg. Pull the skin taut with one hand, and gently run the blade down the middle inside of the thigh to the pelvic area. Repeat on the other leg. Very carefully cut across below the vent area, making the two cuts meet. Peel the skin down the legs, and work a finger under the skin, just below the tail, until you can get the knife through to cut the skin. Leave the tail on the carcass; it'll be a useful handle later. At this point, you should be able to peel the skin down the body slowly. Don't peel it down completely yet.

Finish removing the head from the carcass; there is usually a good bit of blood at this point. In a method similar to the hock area, cut the skin at the forefoot area, and then break the bone at that point. Use the knife to cut through the ligaments, and discard the forefoot into the offal bucket. Repeat with the other front foot. It's now possible to continue peeling the hide off of the rabbit without impediments. If it sticks at any point, very carefully cut through the offending tissue, as you don't want to pull the hide out of shape (if you intend on keeping it). If you don't care, just remove it as necessary. If this were a larger animal, you would have sliced the hide all the way down the belly of it, and pulled the hide off that way. You can do that with a rabbit, but it's just as easy to split the hide after it's off as when it is on. If you intend to keep the hide for other uses, feel free to take a moment to lay it out on a wooden board, flesh side up, and sprinkle it with salt to start the initial curing process.

To break the hips easily, grasp one thigh in each hand, and bend them backwards. You will hear a crack, and possibly even see the pelvic bone fracture through the muscle, which is very thin. This should be more or less directly below the vent. At this point, very, very carefully cut around the vent area to open it, and down across the fracture. Using the gut hook, if you have it, or a very delicate touch with a straight blade if you must, cut the abdominal muscles all the way down to the ribcage. Cut through the tail bone, and use it as a handle to pull the intestinal tract down/away from the body of the rabbit, to prevent contamination. Then carefully remove the lower organs. You can remove the heart and lungs without cutting through the ribcage, but as rabbit is generally cut up instead of served whole, there is rarely reason to avoid doing so. Cut through the ribs and scoop out what remains. Rinse the rabbit, your hands, and knife (or knives) thoroughly. Then, gripping the thigh and foot of one leg, break the leg as close to the anchor point as you can. Repeat with the other leg. Hold on to the carcass, and cut through the remaining tendons and ligaments on one leg and then the other to bring it down from hanging.

Place the carcass into a refrigerated area as soon as possible. The meat can be aged for a day or so, if you prefer, frozen immediately, or even made that night.

Again, this is roughly the same procedure for almost any mammal. I've even used it on raccoons that managed to get caught in the traps set up to stop chickens from being stolen. (On a side note, to get rid of the really gamey taste, cook raccoon with onion, sliced apples and potatoes. The apples and potatoes won't be human edible afterwards, but the raccoon will turn out tasting rather like beef. Just be sure to cook it very well done.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I’ve been seriously prepping for a decade and consider myself a prepared and competent guy.   Y2K got me started, but the events of the past few years have kicked my preps into higher gear.   I’m confidant with my guns and food storage.  I have alternate power and heat sources established at both our home and retreat location.  I have a co-worker who includes me in his prepper group’s  meetings.  My family (immediate and some extended) is on board with our plans for TEOTWAWKI.   Although I’m not where I want to be, I’m know I’m better off than 98% of the sheeple out there.
After my travel experience today, I’m not so sure I’m as “practically” prepared as I should be.
Today was a beautiful day.  52 degrees in Nebraska… January!?!?    What a great day for a road trip.  My daily driver is a late 1990s Subaru.  It still gets great mileage and is all wheel drive which is nice in this climate.  My wife drives a newer minivan and we have a low mileage 2001 Dodge Durango for our spare/bug out vehicle.   My car’s odometer read 168,508 when I filled the tank this morning.  It was getting close to ½ empty so of course, as a prepared guy, it was time to fill up. 
I finished a sales call just after noon in a small town about 30 miles North of the City where we live. I decided to take the scenic route on the way back to the office.     I chose to travel a paved road that ran west from the main highway.  From this road I took a number of  gravel roads headed mostly southbound .   Besides the fact that I enjoy the windshield time, I’d like to buy a piece of rural property and these road trips are an easy way to look for them.  It was on one of these roads that my car’s timing belt failed.  In a disabled car on a quiet country road is not a place you want to be on most January days in the Midwest.  I was very thankful for the mild weather today.   I had no clue how much I would learn from this slight diversion from the highway.  
My first thought was…”Where am I?” Situational Awareness is something I’ve read about on Survival Blog dozens of times.  But, I didn’t have a clue what road I was on.  What was the intersecting road had I crossed a mile or so back? How far off the highway was I?  I could see a small town about 2 miles to my south west.  What town is that?  It was too far to read the writing on the water tower.                     

Lesson #1:  Pay attention!  Know where I am all the time. 

Lesson #1.5: Get a GPS for this car.
There were two houses in view, one was about a mile behind me and one was about three quarters of mile ahead.   It was time for a hike.  Note:  Rockport semi-casual dress shoes are fine for sales calls. They are not however, intended for walking on gravel.  Same goes for dress socks or dress pants.  Good news:  I keep wool socks and my Vibram boots in my “Get Home” bag.   I love those boots!  I picked them up at a local Army Surplus store for about $25.   Too bad that my “Get Home” bag wasn’t in the trunk.   I took it in the house to update it last night!  I did not put it back in the car this morning.                                       

Lesson #2: It’s called a “Get Home” bag…not a “leave it at home” bag for a reason.
Not knowing If I’d be coming back to the car or not, I grabbed my laptop in its backpack, my cell phone and my keys (I double checked that I had the keys) and locked the car.  As I walked down the road I was pleased to see I had great cell reception.   I called my wife to tell her what was going on.   She offered to come get me, but she is directionally challenged and doesn’t  trust the GPS . Besides, I couldn’t tell her where I was anyway.   I was in the process of telling her that I would figure out where I was and then call her back when my cell phone battery died.  This just gets better all the time. 

My plan was to walk down the road to the next house or intersection to determine where I was.  I could see the cross road about two miles ahead was a paved road with quite a bit of traffic.  I guessed at what highway it was, but still couldn’t think of the name of that little town.   The farmhouse ahead was set back from the road with a long driveway. I did not want to approach the house.  It seemed a little to ‘cliché: traveling salesman with a broke down car down the road….  No, there had to be another way to figure out where I was.   Their mailbox was on a post along the road but there were no numbers on it. The mailbox door was ajar and I could see that there was mail inside.   I hope I didn’t break and postal laws, but I pulled out a piece of mail and wrote down the address then returned the mail to the box.  At least I had pen and paper with me. 
As I walked back to my car, I plugged my Goal Zero Guide 10 into my cell phone. This is a great little AA (4) battery charger/power supply. It has three different power input ports, a USB output port and a built in LED light.  I keep this and necessary cords in my computer backpack.   I plug it once a week to insure it is charged.  I have set up a reminder on my outlook calendar to remind me to do this.  See, I wasn’t as unprepared as I had thought.    After my phone re-booted, which seemed to take forever, I called my anxious wife and told her not to worry and that I’d just call AAA roadside assistance.   The walk back to the car was colder due to the wind in my face.  52 with wind chill is still nippy.  I had no gloves, no hat, and was only wearing a light jacket.  My “Get Home Bag” has gloves and stocking cap…. oh yeah, I left it at home.                                                                                                                                                             

Lesson #3: It’s fine to wear the light jacket on a nice day, but bring the warmer one, too.  This is Nebraska in January for crying out loud.
Once I reached the car again I called AAA.   This AAA membership is one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.   I understand that my auto insurance company offers roadside assistance at no cost too, but I’ve neglected to sign up for it.  I’ll do that tomorrow….really, I will.   The agent on the phone was very nice but had a hard time finding the address I’d pulled from the nearby mailbox.  It took about 10 minutes to get the tow order set up.  She said the tow truck driver would arrive in about 30 minutes and that He would call in route.  The agent also said they would call again to check on me.
I powered up my laptop (plugged onto the car 12 v), I plugged the cell phone into the laptop USB and used my Air card to get on the Internet. I pulled up MapQuest and determined exactly where I was, the name of the nearby town and settled in for the wait. The net is great but, what if I had not been able to get on it?                                                                                                                                                           

Lesson #4:  I own a good State Road/ Topographical map.  Put it in the car.  
AAA called back and told me that the tow truck driver was going to be more like an hour away.  Good grief!  I gave them a much better description of my location and told her I was content to wait.  The driver called me about 15 minutes later and I also gave him better directions as he had not received the updated information. 
I’d only seen one car go by on the road and that had been right after the mine had died.  That driver didn’t even slow down.  Two utility trucks drove by without stopping before a farmer finally stopped.  I told him I was fine and waiting for a tow.  The next vehicle made me very nervous.  This beater pickup approached from the highway,  slowed as he went by then turned around and came back. There were two guys in this truck and they pulled over dangerously close to my window. The “less than professional looking” passenger leaned out and asked if I needed help. I replied that I was fine and waiting on a tow.  He asked how long I’d been waiting.  I (lied and) answered that the tow truck would be there in just a few minutes.  He asked what I thought was wrong and if I was a salesman.  I remained friendly and answered.    He said “Well I didn’t think you were a farmer, you got them ‘out of county” plates.”  I thanked them for stopping then thanked the Lord when they drove away.     I’m happy to say that I have a concealed carry permit.  I even had it with me… the permit that is.  I did not have my handgun.   I did not have my knife.  I did not have my “truck tire thumper.”  I had nothing for personal protection – on me or in the car. I’ve not felt that vulnerable (or stupid) in a really long time.                                     

Lesson #5: A Concealed Carry Permit does you no good if you don’t carry. 
I now know that I was 24 miles from home.  If I had walked, I estimate the walk on this nice day would have taken me close to six hours (at four miles per hour).  That pace would have gotten me home about 9 p.m. when the temperature would have been in the low 30s and it would have been dark for four hours.  The only thing of any use in the car was a wool blanket which I probably would have improvised into a poncho for the walk.  Obviously, I had communication capability so I would not have walked the entire distance.  But, that was this time.  What if this had been an EMP?  What if the weather today had not been so nice?
The tow truck arrived when expected. Technically, I got myself home ‘all by myself’ and it all turned out fine, except for the upcoming car repair bill.     My “Get Home” bag is restocked, updated and at the front door ready to put in the Durango in the morning.    Lessons learned!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Good Morning Mr. Rawles!
 I had to share this link with you: Maryland Hiker Uses iPhone App For New Year’s Eve Rescue. In brief: a man out hiking on New Year's Eve Day got lost in the wilderness.  He used his cell phone to call rescuers, and then used his "flashlight" app on the cell phone to shine a light so that the rescuers could be lowered down to him on the trail and lead him out.
My sons, who are both experienced scouters and back country hikers who teach wilderness survival watched this news story in disbelief  last night.  (They were honestly chastising the television so much, I had to turn it off.  They were upset beyond words by the man's thoughtlessness that could have endangered people out searching for him.)
"He didn't have food and water with him?"
"No jacket?"
"NO MAP!!!!???"
"No flashlight?"
"He didn't tell anyone where he was going?"
He was fortunate to be rescued quickly and not to have suffered any permanent damage. 
But, the article is a reminder that we should ALWAYS be prepared: with a map, a flashlight, extra food and water, and a jacket....
.... just in case.....
Happy New Year to you and your family! - B.L.W.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I design and operate databases for a living.  The newest of these are assembled on analytic platforms structured to “draw conclusions” for clients in a wide (and formerly random) variety of scenarios.  One of my developers is an analytic tools assembly expert who also works for some “security, emergency, and enforcement” government agencies in Washington, DC – all formerly separate agencies, and because of advancements in the technologies -- now “interoperating”.  I am also a prepper with a Bug Out locale that fulfills my “survival vision” and inherently has most of the natural survival essentials on site, but one which needs some structural work that would be visible to aerial mapping when implemented.  Another prepper colleague of mine who is part of our group has skills that I will generally classify as “ravine and bluff engineering”.  Together we have tried to develop plans to address the visibility problem, and in doing so have hit a “snag” and have come to a conclusion that might be useful to many readers.  So, it is with some expertise and some insight that I pose some thoughts for you today, with the hope that, if you are already knowledgeable on this subject, you might use these to simply update your information, or if you are not, that I might help to guide some of your decision making as I understand that your survival is at stake.

Two ideas:  Presume for the moment that databases have already classified you as a threat or even a likely insurgent. Presume that your resources and assets are already known and well-catalogued, and that access, use, seizure, and in a worst case scenario, potential counter-insurgency plans are in the “system” that can be implemented against you -- precisely directed at what you have been “certain” all along are the excellent and generally secret attributes of your plans in rural and remote areas. 

Most readers might agree somewhat with the first proposition, as previous military experience, FOID cards, post office signatures for receipt of gun parts and ammo, on-line purchases of water treatment, first aid gear, food storage etc. might be among a thousand other data points on-file somewhere with some kind of classification about you suitable to draw this conclusion.   Fair enough.  However, most preppers I have talked to argue that the second of these presumptions defies logic because they are so invested in how they see their retreat and in their belief that their “survival vision” is correct – a vision which can be generalized to be dependent on remote, defensible, small, self-sufficient, off the grid, and stealthy living.   On the surface such strategic plans seem great.  These might be the product of years of thinking, investing, and hard labor.  The location is likely to be vast and rugged or heavily forested.  It’s far from town.  Nobody’s around.  The prepper just wants to be left alone, poses no outward threat, and although he or she can and will defend themselves, they mean no harm to anyone.  These plans are defensive and to be successful, they rely on distance, infrequent communications, and private activities.  “Hard to find and not worth the effort” to take your stuff when TSHTF is the basic assumption.  This is the snag we have run into.   This may be a very false conclusion as I will detail below.

The facts are that local, county, regional, state, and federal database engineers, their supervising bureaucrats, and the analytic tools that they use every day have things sorted out quite differently.  On the basis of regulations and new standards for inter-operability, the whole system may operate on the basis that your “resources” are “not yours” and, when associated with other large scale “emergency planning” scenarios, that your resources may be classified as public resources that can be and are likely to be acquired and controlled. 

At the local level, this assumption is embodied in a concept now well developed into legal reality that the bureaucrats call “custodial responsibility” of your land.  Because in times of crisis some natural resources may become scarce and thus more valuable (you did choose your retreat well), and because they have granted you a “permit” to occupy and use the land, and because you do, then you are more vulnerable to an “intervention” than you may have thought.  And, worse, because this land information data is “integrated” and now “shared” and, in some instances, already merged with other personal data (perhaps your “threat” status?), when TSHTF, emergency management measures may go into effect that allow, and may even direct, emergency access to and use of your land.  Like opening river floodgates with the knowledge that whole communities will be inundated and destroyed, geographic information system (GIS) data often drives decision making and therefore, regardless of property rights, the gates will open and the torrent will roll out across the countryside.  The analogy is apt.  Rural and remote geographies may deliberately be used in emergency management situations to absorb some of the impact of civil disaster, to provide material resources, to disperse the energy of the unrest, and to reduce as much stress as quickly as possible on more densely inhabited areas and infrastructure.

This is a tough scenario for preppers, as it runs counter to much of our planning, and therefore this idea of public access and use may be dismissed by those who are betting that they are safely out of the way and that the riots and mayhem will be contained in urban areas.  But it is one which can be more easily understood and perhaps accepted after a cordial and scheduled visit by you to your county zoning office (or web site).  More on this in a moment.  First, some additional and quite prepper-sympathetic context.

Many of us have our remote retreats ready or almost ready.  Most of the money has been spent.  We have completed our “lists of lists” with some degree of satisfaction (there’s always more to do).  And now we are increasingly confident that we were “right” and that our efforts make sense.  Economic, political, and violent events are reaching crisis status worldwide and many of these now occur much closer to home.  We find ourselves in a departure mode, just trying (before we leave) to encourage previously skeptical relatives and friends to understand the inevitable outcome of these events; to join us, and to answer the call to perpetuate and perhaps defend our God-given freedoms.  We have come to a “final” acceptance that the world is going to cataclysmically change and that TEOTWAWKI is upon us. 

However, we may be quite mistaken about this.  TEOTWAWKI has already occurred!  And not in a way that we might have expected with the lights going out and cities on fire.   It happened in a small office in a rural or remote American county when the final little corner of a gridded digital foundation layer within an ArcGIS® and ArcView® database was scanned in and added after 30 years of data development – one that finally incorporates (perhaps) your own remote parcel of land.

Unaware (perhaps “untroubled” says it better) of the long-term “land planning” effort to complete of ubiquitous federal, regional, state, or county “mapping initiatives”, preppers have worked to gather their resources.  We may have even used GIS tools in order to acquire our land, set up our survival plan, and implement our survival vision.  And now, because all the indicators of genuine conflict are imminent, preppers feel that it is finally time to finally occupy and use their land – to retreat from people and events – to fortify and guard those second homes, retreats, and redoubts.  Thus, operational or tactical (rather than strategic) conversations about high ground, fields of fire, virtual and physical moats, sensors, buried propane tanks, sentry duty, and keeping marauders at bay more frequently occur. 

Our final preparation discussions may go further (now that most resources are in place) about how to care for other family members and trusted friends who may be ill or disabled, and how to provide assistance to elderly parents.  Yet, because some tiny bit of data was added to a database (even as far back as 1980 in some counties), the implementation of some of our own acquisition, defensive, and operational plans may be too late, and even unnecessary for reasons outlined below.  Building and burying concrete bunkers may not actually be a good idea… and setting up “tank traps” and defensive barriers may be a waste of time and resources and best put aside while we turn to more collaborative strategies and address more immediate needs such as tending woodlots, raising chickens, planting square foot gardens, networking with like-minded neighbors, and perhaps learning to do dentistry in case there are no dentists (Yikes!  Unlikely, but you gotta have some sense of humor in all this.)

The facts are that there are present in county offices in many small towns “experts with plans” that may surprise and even shock many preppers.   When you meet them on a friendly and professional basis, you will conclude that they are generally well-meaning and think their work for various government agencies is vitally important for the common good (think of rapid responses to 911 calls or management of hazardous waste disasters).  But, after all the good will, legal argument, and fuzzy feelings are expressed, they will tell you and may even show you what they have been doing and what they can actually do under the common rules for zoning: referred to in some states as Land Information Planning (LIP). 

LIP can be summarized as integrating and sharing data in “layers” of GIS data about the precisely-located Bug Out Place you think is your own – all of which is designed to fulfill and support the afore-mentioned custodial responsibilities by authorities.  The GIS digital system works by assembling “foundational” and common data elements, by establishing inter-agency government agency training, communications, and education programs, and by facilitating “technical assistance” for all kinds of authorities at the local, state, and federal level.

The simple truth is that they know where you are.  They know who you are.  They know what you have.  They may already know what you are doing or may be capable of doing (think of all the county departments that have your records digitized -- Deeds, Tax Rolls, Land Records, Surveyor, Planning, Zoning, Sheriff, Emergency Management, Agriculture, Forestry, and IT just to name a few).

Among the GIS layers (some scanned-in and digitized decades ago) are “new” and very sophisticated GPS-controlled geographic reference frameworks developed for parcel mapping, parcel administration, public access (including back roads and even footpaths if well used via Regional Road Directory (RRD), soils mapping, wetlands mapping, land use mapping. (Got a garden?  Hobby farm?  Spring?  Pond?  Shoreline? Serious acreage?, then “natural resources”, infrastructure and facilities mapping may already have you mapped. (Think in terms of electric grid, phone and computer services, gas and oil pipelines, water, septic, sewage, pumping stations, dams, bridges, etc.) There is also something called Forestry Reconnaissance, and “institutional arrangements and integration” (think police and emergency access).  Much of this foundational data across the USA has been completely compiled -- and nearly all of it is now updated by aerial observation on a semi-annual or more frequent basis.  You can’t hide what you are doing.  And, if you can’t easily do it now, you may not be able to do what you want to do later when TSHTF without a lot of help, time, and energy.

Want a visit from an “inspector”?  Then dig a hole.  Clear a field.  Add a roof.  Cut a fence line. Plant. Irrigate.  Mound dirt from an underground excavation.  Drive across dusty open land.  These visual and sometimes thermal “changes” on base layer information clearly appear on the GIS updates.  They are computer-compared and professionally observed.  They are automatically evaluated then flagged.  The flagging may prompt “interventions” at any time (think EPA) and may prompt other more unexpected activities once TSHTF (and possibly much more importantly and nasty) once these GIS databases are hacked and the core information is distributed to “unfriendlies” who are smart enough to want it and get it.    

This observation on our technological vulnerability suggests that building our “castles and moats” and spending our energy and money in hopes to hide out, get off the grid, and live peacefully in small tribes is not nearly as rational as we might wish, and that a secondary strategy should be adopted which recognizes that they can easily “see us”, that well-established, redundant, and hardened technology is our enemy, that TEOTWAWKI has already occurred, and that for some very good reasons we better rethink about what our “survival vision” really should be. 

Since our assets are easily observed and already ranked and prioritized by “value”, our survival preparation may more effectively depend on revealing and then linking these resources among ourselves, and by establishing new networks and creating closer relationships with others in our geographies with whom we can communicate, get to quickly, and achieve the advantage of mass in either defensive or offensive actions.  An understanding (maybe acquisition and use?) of GIS technologies and mapping can enable preppers to make more flexible plans and be much more “mobile” and responsive to threats.  With LIP as a controlling factor, using the information and technology may be more valuable than barbed wire and bullets to stem the tide.  More like-minded people must easily be gathered when authorities may be overwhelmed or when those authorities bring their own action against us as we are flagged as perceived or real threats. 

Summary and Conclusions
:  We may reluctantly concede that as individuals we may already be digitally classified as threats and therefore potential insurgents.  The bigger issue is that we may also have to agree that our hide-out survival vision may be incorrect and need substantial modification.  It is a fundamental mistake to think we are not “visible” in our retreats in the mountains or the woods.  Knowing that even small local governments have generally completed LIP initiatives, that the data is transferable and shared with  other databases, that authorities have assumed or have been legally granted “custodial responsibilities” for our property and our resources, we must contemplate modifying our vision from one where success is no longer entirely based on distance, infrequent communications, and on trying to create and carry out “invisible” private activities to one where closer proximity, more frequent communications, common use of data tools and technology, and more open and direct action can hold back the tide when TSHTF.

A personal note and an excellent example:  Throughout history there are countless examples of successful survival strategies and tactics, but one family story comes to mind that is worth telling as it relates to the use of geography and local resources, and to the development of a perception and a reality for an enemy that a fight they wanted was not worth making – where the battlefield was well understood by the defenders, where communications and mobility were key factors, and where the outcome was a great conflict successfully avoided and everyone survived. 

The setting was Cincinnati in 1862.  Confederate General Kirby Smith had arrived on the scene with a formidable, well trained and well equipped army, capturing Lexington Kentucky.  Smith ordered his junior officer, General Henry Heth to cross the Ohio River and capture Cincinnati.  With a real battle looming, Ohio was in an uproar.  Defensive resources were slim.  The Governor and Union Officers called for volunteers.  Riders went out to the surrounding counties and armed men responded to their call.  Nearly 16,000 civilians would come into town carrying “antiquated” weapons, and this body was properly and proudly referred to as the Squirrel Hunters.  These men had no military training, but “they could shoot the eye out of a squirrel at 100 yards”.  My own great-grandfather was among them.  The name and size of the group said it all, and within a few days, the Confederate forces withdrew and left the area.  Crossing the river under the fire of back country sharpshooters was not an option.  Well-understood geography, quick communications, and responsive people saved the day.

Citations, Locales, and Sourcing
: [Deleted by the Editor, for OPSEC.]

Friday, November 18, 2011

Letter Re: Planning Alternate Routes

Thank you for your blog, your service to our country, and the info you provide. I recently moved away from the Denver metro area to a more “rural” area in northern Colorado.  There are still lots of people, but we are not surrounded.  I have done my share of preparing and believe my “tribe” could survive for possibly a year or more during a breakdown in society.  After a year I would have to change direction in my quest to remain above ground.   A nuclear attack would be a different story for us. 

We travel a good deal between Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska with an occasional trip to Idaho.  This said, the reason I am writing is to challenge your readers to always find alternate routes to “home”, “bug out destination”, “safe spots”, etc.  I carry my day pack and BOB everywhere I go.  On any given day I am from 7 to 125 miles from home.  Rarely do I use the same route to get to my destination or return trip.  There is an abundance of paved roads in this area and well maintained gravel roads.  I know my local grid well.  Even at a distance of 125-250 miles away I am able to use several different routes to get to my destination and most are not highways.  The highways I try to use are two-lane and minimal travel (too slow for most people).  Luckily, I have lived in this three state area since the early 1960’s.   I kinda know my way around these parts!!!  I have been blessed (or cursed) with a somewhat photographic memory.  This blessing has diminished somewhat as I have aged but my recall is still very sharp and I practice my recall to keep it as useful as possible.

As I drive alternate routes I watch for landmarks for navigation and other “specific things” of interest.  Any landmark will be useful for travel especially at night.  I watch for towers, bluffs, silos, water tanks, tree rows, electrical substations, unique structures (including farm houses)—anything that can be spotted at a distance.  Looking for and finding sources of water along your “routes” is a must!  Creeks, ponds, stock tanks, windmills, drainage ditches, oil wells (watershed), abandoned farms--all are potential sources for water.  On the plains many houses and buildings had tanks and troughs under the roof line to collect water from rains and snow melt off.  Almost all these farmsteads had cisterns.  In your search for water you will likely come across wild game as they are driven to water also.  Truly abandoned farms can provide water, shelter, and food if the need arises.  I keep track of the miles between water sources just in case I may have to walk to the next source.  Remember, your next source may be frozen in winter so you have to be able to thaw it.  I am assuming you have ways to start a fire in your day pack or BOB.  Sorry...  I always carry food and water for four people to hopefully survive for 72 hours.  If we are not at our destination in 72 hours my plan B is to hunker down where we are and revise our direction of attack.  The plan may require finding food or water, finding fuel, and finding a different direction home.  I have two GPS systems, but I prefer to use a compass.  As long as I can spot one of my landmarks I can figure out which direction I need to go to reach my destination.  This may require waiting until daylight or waiting out a storm to find my bearings.  Thank the LORD I have never been lost on the plains or in the mountains.  I have been lost in a mall and a skyscraper, so I avoid them as much as possible.

A side note:  As I travel I find routes to avoid “major” intersections—especially on highways.  Even on paved roads and gravel or dirt roads I look for other ways to go around these major intersections, “T’s” in the road and dead ends.  In times of collapse these would be places of roadblocks and getting ambushed. So, being able to avoid them (especially at night) will greatly enhance your chances of getting home.  HOME: no matter what it may look like, or be, is where you want to be when things turn ugly.

Keep your vehicle stocked, your mind sharp, your thoughts positive, and your Bible handy.  Your destination can only be reached through the journey! Peace, - S.F.H.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I live about 30 miles north of Denver, Colorado – where there's a metropolitan population approaching three million.  I own a 4x4 vehicle, but rarely go to the mountains and decided it was time to find a bug out location without having to go there.  Perhaps I should mention that I’m a 60 year old female, and my husband thinks the whole concept of survival is complete rubbish!  And while I own a GPS, I’m going to show you how to do this for free so you can prepare for a TEOTWAWKI situation.

The USGS has maps that are scaled at 1:50,000.  The “New Generation” maps are not good at all.  These maps will have “information” and “ads” over part of the map.  That’s where you want to target….places where most people won’t be able to see on the maps they buy in the local stores.
I recommend you start with something that you know.  I’m going to start with my childhood home.  Once you can find something familiar to you, then we will advance to looking for a BOL that is unknown to you.
But first, here are the basic steps we are going to use, the examples will be below this.  Click on this link
Pick your state, then under “scale”, click on  24000 and search.   Note that there is a column for the date the area was surveyed.  The older the better as you want to be looking for mines, caves and springs.  Some of these survey maps go back to the 1800s!
Where it says “map name”, type in a city close to where you want to go.
Click on the far right hand column and the map will download.  Be patient, it takes time.  I have found that the circa 1980 survey maps are probably the best.   Note:  if the city you are looking for is not on the map, scroll to the outside perimeters of the map and look for other map names along the borders or in the corners, then download that map name.
You will want to download the USGS topographic map symbols and make note of the symbols for mine entrances and caves which looks like the letter “y” laying on it’s right side.  Don’t confuse mine shafts with mines and quarries. Next, find the symbol for spring or seep.  A spring is a blue dot and a seep is a short blue squiggly line.  Maps older than 1980 will probably not use these same symbols.
An older map, such as an 1893 map, will show you where towns were that are now ghost towns.  A great place to look for earth covered log cabins or ground cellars.  These maps will also show you roads and railroad beds that are no longer maintained. 
Once you have found the spot on a topographical map, you can then find the coordinates, plug them into google earth and zoom in to see exactly what’s there today.
Example # 1, my childhood home.  

(Click the links to follow along)
I grew up just northeast of Noblesville, Indiana, so I picked “Omega” as my town name.  As you can see, there are maps dated 1962, 1977 and 1994.  I picked the 1977 map to download.  Remember, it takes time to download these, so just be patient.
These maps are in PDF format, so you will need to download Acrobat’s PDF reader if you don’t already have it on your computer.
Next, I zoomed in to 200% and found my childhood home at the corner of East 266th Street and Cornell Road.  Funny, when I was a kid there were no such street names.  I lived on the Arcadia pike at the “6 mile jog”.    You can even see the little black square where our home was, right at the jog in 266th street where Cornell goes to the south.
My childhood home.
From here, we want to obtain the GPS coordinates.  To do that, simply scroll all the way to the left or right, to the end of the map and pick up the number which in this case is about 10’. But it’s a little north of the 10’ lines, so I’m going to estimate it at 10’ 5”  Scroll to the top to pick up the degrees which is 40.  So my latitude is about 40°10'5"N
Go back to the home location and this time scroll straight to the top or bottom of the map. This finds me between 54 and 55’.  Scroll to the left where it shows the degrees at 85.  So I will estimate my longitude is about 85°54'5"W
Next, you will need to download and install Google Earth.  In the box where it says “fly to” enter:  40°10'5"N,  85°54'5"W
I came up about ¾ mile south of where I grew up, but close enough on Google Earth that I can track back and find the actual spot!
Once you have the spot on Google Earth, you can scroll around, look at terrain, find old mine entrances, look for old roads, paths, trails…just have fun exploring the area by air.
If you look on the Google Earth map of my childhood home, there is a woods just south of the place.  You can see the creek going up to the right hand side.  There’s a pond located at 40°09'50/-6"N,  85°53'57.54"W.  In the photo, I’ve put white arrows to the pond.  But look to the west with the small lines – there’s an old wagon trail going east off Cornell Rd.  In the winter when the trees are bare, you can actually see the path, but with the leaves on, you can still see an indentation where the old path is.  You can actually follow it on the left side of the creek north to where the George and Lucy King homestead was where it crossed the creek, then follow it on the east side up to E 266th Street.  It’s these old abandoned trails that you want to be looking for.  Places that are no longer traveled, that are not on any current maps.  I do have this “road” on an old 1835 map of this area.  But the path is still there today.  (Please note that this is all private property that is no longer owned by my family, so don’t trespass, just enjoy from Google Earth!)
You may want to download all the different maps for your area as I found that none of them show 2 cisterns (overflowing wells) that were in this area.  One was just ½ mile south of where I grew up, on the west side of Cornell Rd.  There’s a house there, but nothing marking the well.  Interesting.
Now try to do these same steps for a place that you know.  It’s a great way to learn how to do longitudes and latitudes and how to find your way around Topo Maps and Google Earth.
Next, we’re ready to find a but-out location without ever going there….in a place that you don’t “know.”
Example # 2:

Here’s an example you can easily follow to get you started.  I wanted to find a place I went camping nearly 35 years ago.  So I clicked on “Colorado”, set the scale to 24000, and the map name of “Garfield”.  I then downloaded the pdf for 1982 and I zoomed in to about 200% to get a better detail.
The latitudes are on the far left and right side of the map.  Scroll down to 38° 32’30”68 N. (Because I’ve already completed the steps, I can give you exact locations to make this easier.) Longitudes are across the top and bottom (you may need to zoom out to find the spot) and go to 106° 17”30”.  You should have the town of Garfield in view.  Zoom in to 200%.  You will see a 4x4 trail going north up “Taylor Gulch”.  Be aware that many 4x4 roads on the map are literally ATV trails, but can be maneuvered in a narrow 4x4. 
As you follow this trail north, you should see the Garfield Mine.  Notice that this is the “Y” on the side, so it is a mine or tunnel opening.  Just north of that are 3 more mines, then the “Lilly Mine” with an opening, another mine above that….several mines with tunnel openings in this area.  That Lilly Mine is where I used to camp.
Pay attention to the elevation.  Garfield is at 9509 feet and the Lily Mine is at 11,300 feet – way too high for a BOL.  You should see a creek coming down Taylor Gulch.  This is a dash/dotted line, so it is a seasonal creek from snow runoff.   But if you look just to the north and east of Garfield, you will see “Hermit Springs.”  Water!
So now, let’s look at this on Google Earth. In the upper left hand corner, under “search” click on the “fly to” tab and enter
Latitude: 38°33'5.36"N
Longitude: 106°17'28.94"W
Enter it as simply:        38°33'5.36"N  106°17'28.94"W (You can simply cut and paste.)
This will take you to Garfield at the opening on Hwy 50 for Taylor Gulch.  Pretty close to the above coordinates from the topographical map.  Now, zoom in until the road numbers show up. (be sure to click “roads” on “layers” on the left side in Google Earth.)
You should now see that the road is numbered Co Rd 228 and you can travel north on that road and you will see that each of those old mines are now being re-mined.  Not a good BOL.
But while we’re here, let’s find Hermit Springs.
Enter:    38°33'20.40"N   106°16'25.21"W
Today, the springs is in a nice tree covered area and there’s an old mining road going up the ravine to and past the springs.
Being 60 years old I’m certainly not going to bug-out to this altitude.  But there are thousands of mines in the Colorado mountains and many are at much lower altitudes.  I simply wanted to show you how you can find mines and springs without spending money on a GPS. 
The last thing you should consider in preparing your bug out location are road closure gates.  We have many on Colorado highways that simply say “test location.”  My personal opinion is that they are there specifically for a TEOTWAWKI event.  Know where they are between your home and your BOL  If they are in your “path” – find an alternate route.  When I tried this out, I found out that I literally cannot get out of Denver without bypassing numerous gates!  I simply need to be out of town before the TEOTWAWKI event, or plan to break through the gates.  And I thought about that, but what if there are guards at each gate?  Great way to keep everyone in town.  But with my BOB packed and ready to go, I’m willing to take a risk and G.O.O.D. before the gates go down!

PS.  I tested this last week – took a drive and went to the actual place that I had picked out.  Drove right to it.  I found a nice seeping spring with water.  My surprise was a cistern just down the road that was not on the map.  The location has an abandoned mine that BLM has not closed off at this point.  It is also about one mile from a good running creek.  Great location!  I hope you can find one with this method, too!

Saturday, August 6, 2011


I'd like to add just a couple points to the excellent "Lessons from the Road" article by R.W..

One key item that I feel is important is to involve everyone in the planning of your escape route. If you are the primary driver, and end up incapacitated, it is essential one of your other fellow travelers be able to take up the mantle and get the BOV to the BOL. In families, route planning can be a great way to get everyone involved and on-board with the preparations process. It also allows everyone to contribute and point out things a single planner may miss.

Next, I firmly believe for long-distance bugouts, a family or prepper should have a primary route and four secondaries, each ranging out from the primary while taking natural and man-made barriers into account, so as to give enough pre-planned options that the performance of the bug-out does not suffer during the stress of driving the actual event. This is one reason why a good deal of over-the-road trucking and aviation involve a lot of time spent prepping the vehicle and planning the route, so that surprises are minimized and all available resources (such as fuel sources, secure overnight/rest locations, etc) are utilized efficiently.

This is one of the first steps I took at the beginning the preparedness journey, and it was instructive. I was surprised at the difficulty of creating a route that took me away from large and medium-sized cities while not increasing the distance traveled by half. It was easy to create a short and fast route through the cities, or a slow and long one through the country, but finding an intermediate one was more difficult.

Finally, I would second  RW's opinion that slower is safer and more efficient. My relatively new pickup with a few hundred pounds of cargo in the back will get 24mpg on state highways at 60mph, whereas on the interstate at 70mph that fuel economy decreases to 20 m.p.g. or less. That's a big hit in economy for a small gain in speed. Towing a trailer at 65 earns a paltry 14 m.p.g. By taking advantage of an early bug-out and not having to race to your retreat, you can reduce the number of fuel stops and also reduce the total fuel required to reach your destination.

I'll end with a Bible verse: "Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath." - Matthew 24:20

Regards, - G.R. in Texas

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I believe that the ultimate survival strategy for the ultimate collapse of civilization goes far beyond simply fortifying and stocking a retreat and locking yourself into a potential box canyon, I believe that the last resort for survivors is to develop the skills and knowledge to exist for years, or even for the rest of your life, in the most extreme and remote areas as a hunter-gatherer with nothing in terms of equipment except what you can carry on your back.

So, here I will present part one of my must-haves for total self-sufficiency: self-contained electronic tools that can be run indefinitely on inexpensive photovoltaic panel roll-ups and [hard] panels that can be folded into pocket-sized packets.

All of my power and interface connector cords are broken down into two pieces, with red and black Anderson Power Pole connectors.  That way, I can mate any [matching voltage] device-specific plug to any energy charging plug.  So, for instance, I don't need separate miniUSB to USB, miniUSB to cigarette lighter,  miniUSB to AC-to-DC power cube, and miniUSB to gel cell battery cords.  All I really need is a  particular jack on one end of a cord, and Power Poles on the other. I have a variety of cords for specific devices and for specific power sources, like USB, cigarette lighter, gel-cells, and so on, each ending in the Power Poles.  I simply mate any device-specific power cord to any power supplier cord.  Keep two of each and you have the optimal capability with minimum weight and size.

[JWR Adds: I'm also a committed user and evangelist for Anderson Power Poleconnectors. Keep in mind that the specification for USB is 4.4 to 5.25 Volts, DC. The unit load was specified at 100 mA in USB 2.0, but increased to 150 mA in USB 3.0. To avoid any confusion, I recommend using different color Power Pole connectors for different voltage ranges. For example, you can use an odd color combination for the 15 Amp connectors for the 4.4–5.25 VDC USB voltages and red and black 30 Amp connectors for 11 to 16 VDC (car battery) voltage. Oh, and remember, in-line fuses are inexpensive insurance for your valuable electronic gear.]

Any items in my kit that run off of internal, external, or rechargeable AA or AAA NiMH batteriescan be charged with light, small, relatively inexpensive roll-up or foldable PV panels.  At the very least, the USB Charging 4 Watt Solar Pane should be included (available for about $100 from Ready Made Resources.)  Since it has a USB port, it can be used directly with any device that can charge through USB, and my Power Pole arrangement allows me to mate any of my [4.4–5.25 VDC USB voltage range] devices to the solar panel's USB port. It weighs just over 6 ounces and folds up small enough to put in a pocket.  It puts out a voltage just slightly less than a powered USB port and can charge anything from cell phones to [a pair of] NiMH AA or AAA batteries.  It is also rainproof.  In peak sun, it produces not only enough power to charge batteries, but, simultaneously generate enough power to act as an active power supply directly connected to most devices. This model has been in use for a decade and has proven its reliability.  I carry two of them and, whenever possible, a larger and more powerful roll-up. (I own several variations.)

So, given my simple, but lightweight and efficient power sources, what battery-operated devices do I include as must-haves?

First and foremost, a Kindle ebook reader with wi-fi for my unit, depending on whether you care or not about the screen savers and a homepage banner showing ads, or prefer the artwork screen savers.  Note that the less expensive ad-based Kindle is the same as the other, and that none of the ads show when you are actually reading a book.  My Kindle weighs only 8.5 ounces, can store up to 3,500 books. With the wi-fi turned off, it will run for a month on a charge if you read an hour each day (Two months if you only use it a half-hour a day).  It has a 6" (diagonal) screen and displays pages that are virtually identical to printed material (they refer to this as E Ink). It is only a third of an inch thick and height and width are 4.8" x 7.5". I can easily carry it in a back pocket of my jeans and still have room for my passport and a notebook.    It can let you carry around a massive library of books covering every facet of survival as well as a lifetime worth of books for enjoyment while adding negligible weight and taking up practically no space.

Second, I include my Samsung Charge 4G Android phone (I'm due for an upgrade to one of the anticipated second-gen 4Gs in the fall).  I leave the battery out when not actively using it to be absolutely, positively, belt-and-suspenders sure that I can't be tracked through it.  It can provide a wide number of functions besides phoning (which will be impossible anyway if the power to cell towers go off).   However, it has full GPS capabilities, including maps equivalent to my car-mounted Garmins. BTW, I recommend using GPS in very small doses, whenever necessary, and only while you are on the move.  The GPS satellites will probably be functioning long after the grid goes down, because they are self-powered and probably will not be destroyed by an EMP attack. 

The second major function I use the phone for is that it will accept microSD cards.  I have a number of 32 MB microSD cards that I use to store additional books, as well as music, audio books, and other audio and video entertainment.  The third advantage is that it is capable of acting as a wi-fi hot spot, so I can use it to transfer books from my microSD cards to the Kindle via wi-fi.  This is a 'force multiplier' in that it gives me the ability to carry a very large library of reference and resource books.  The entire package is lighter and smaller than a single paperback book.  If you don' have a GPS-enabled cell phone, then at least get the Garmin eTrex handheld for less than $75. It doesn't let you be traced, since there is no identifying information included in the transmission.  This is a powerful waterproof unit with WAAS (which gives you accuracy to less than 10 feet), but it doesn't have maps - just compass and GPS readings, though it is easily programmed for destinations and waypoints, and leads you to them via the compass and distance-to-travel indicator.  If you want a map, the Garmin Legend H has all-terrain four-color grayscale maps in storage for only $50 more.  Color maps are available in higher-priced models, but IMHO are not worth the extra bucks except when driving on the highway.  Both models are just over 5 ounces with two of my NiMH AA batteries, and are waterproof. I carry a Legend H as a backup to my cell phone GPS.

Next comes my communications gear.   I carry a portable Yaesu FT-817 QRP (low power) transceiver that can handle USB, LSB, AM, CW, VHF, UHF, PSK31 and a number of other operating modes.  It covers every ham band from 160m to 10m in the HF region excepting the newer 30 and 60 meter bands, which are really not necessary (a newer model includes at least the 60m band, and possibly the 30m band if you absolutely, positively  have to have them), as well as covering 6m, 2m, and 70 cm on VHF and UHF FM bands.  It runs on an internal NiMH battery which I upgraded to an after-market NiMH battery with a higher mAh rating and can also be powered by external AA batteries and an available Ni-Cd pack as well as from one of my solar packs.  I also installed a 500 Hz bandwidth Collins filter for CW operation.  It also has an internal keyer that can handle CW speeds from 4 WPM to 60 WPM. (I usually copy about 30 WPM - 35 WPM if I'm working CW regularly).  I carry around two keys. One old navy-style Bencher hand key, and a Kent single-lever paddle key (having first learned Morse in the mid 1960's using hand keys and 'bugs,'  I have never felt comfortable with dual paddle iambic keys, but YMMV).  In extremis, the up and down buttons on the mike can be used to transmit Morse code. The FT-817 has a maximum output of 5 watts, but can also dial that back dramatically.  The ham rule has always been to use enough power to make the QSO - but no more.   Given the right antenna, I've had CW QSOs with hams all over the world - including in Antarctica, as well as several shuttle crews and the International space station using only 500mW output.   You don't need 1,500 W PEP to work the world. Though the lower the power, the more you have to rely on skill, experience, knowledge of propagation characteristics of each band at any given time of day or stage in the sun spot cycle, and antenna-craft.

Today, you can get any grade of ham license with either no Morse requirement or the old novice requirement of 5 WPM (which anybody with an IQ above room temperature should be able to master inside of three weeks if they use the Farnsworth learning technique).  Still, given that Morse is the most efficient means of post-SHTF communications, allowing communication at greater distances, with lower power, and much narrower bandwidth usage that any other mode that will still be operating, it would be of advantage to at least develop 13 to 15 WPM abilities. PSK31 and other digital modes are even better in all respects and are primarily why the ARRL has stopped requiring a trained emergency backup collection of hams with CW skills up to 20 WPM, however, digital modes require a computer and an interface box, and are only usable if you and the people you are trying to contact have similar gear.  Even the smallest laptop is too heavy to cart around in a backpack solely to run a PSK31 program.  Morse will be the best bang for the buck and has the advantage of requiring that anybody monitoring your radio transmissions must be at least as skilled and as fast as you - unlike voice communications that anybody can understand.  For use with other survivalists you are associated with, you might want to decide on an encryption scheme and then encrypt your messages before sending them.  Try to reach the Amateur Extra grade as soon as you can, since only the top grade of license gives you legal rights to operate on any legal ham frequency.  Lower grades have significant restrictions.

Another critical feature of the FT-817 is that it has an expanded frequency receiver that covers both of the major VHF and UHF public safety bands used by police, fire departments, EMTs, etc. as well as AM coverage of the entire civilian and military air bands, and even the commercial FM radio band.

I also have two HTs (handy-talkies or handheld radios) for myself and two matching ones for my wife.  One can fit into a shirt pocket and covers 6m, 2m, and 70cm - along with a wide-frequency receiver capability.  The other is a bit larger and only covers 2m and 70cm, but it does have APRS capabilities.  Both can run on a variety of power sources.  I have a mobile 50w dual-band unit in each car covering the same two bands with dual-frequency mag-mount antennas as close to the ground plane center as I can get them.   All of my handheld and mobile radios are capable of functioning as cross-band repeaters, and, in fact, one of my mobiles was parked at the Red Cross tent at Ground Zero, cross-banding both the police and fire bands so they could communicate despite their very different frequency ranges, for the first month after the attack.   Also, all of my emergency ham transceivers are 'freebanded' to provide two-way coverage of the VHF and UHF public safety bands.  Note that, in order to do this legally, you must have a very good justification.  I have worked as a volunteer communications first responder for 30 years with ARES, RACES, the state Office of Emergency Services (OEM) [in my state] run by the State Police and the American Red Cross, so I can freeband legally as long as I only transmit on public service frequencies in a dire emergency.

I carry two kinds of antennas for the FT-817.  The first is a batch of extremely light-weight homemade dipoles.  I carry two for each band I expect to be using, with one tuned for resonance in the CW portion of a band, and the other tuned for the SSB portion (except for VHF and UHF, which are FM voice - where my dipoles and small vertically polarized 'sticks' are tuned to the middle of the band.) I also have what IMHO is an ingenious modular kit for creating a long-wire antenna on any frequency the 817 supports.  It consists of a number of different length antenna wires, each terminated with a different color of Power Pole connector. I believe they come in 11 or 12 colors, so they can be color-coded.  The shortest one is resonant at 70 cm and all of them plugged together make an antenna resonant on 160m.  Various single wires and combinations of wires cover all of the other bands.  I use the colors to match the configurations to a laminated pocket chart that I created years ago.  It is easy to put them up in the trees if you use a string tied to a rock you can throw, and even easier if you have a slingshot.

When I want a radio scanner with wide reception coverage, I use a Yupiteru MVT-9000.  The Yupi is sometimes referred to as a "DC-to-Daylight" receiver since it receives on a continuous range from 0.1 MHz to 2,000 MHz with no gaps.  This means that, while the radio is legal to buy in every other country of the world, it is illegal in the United States because it does not block the cell phone frequencies. I bought mine when working on a consulting job in Europe and 'forgot' to leave it behind when I returned. Oops! The customs officer was clueless about its capabilities and passed it right through. (BTW, it is a good idea to select an FM radio frequency on each receiver or transceiver before going through US customs or TSA checks.  They will often ask you to turn on the device, and there is nothing more harmless and non-threatening than discovering that it is just a fancy FM radio. 

The Yupi has an external BNC connector and there are literally a thousand different antennas you can use with it, including single and multi-band.  It has everything one can want in a hand-held scanner, except for several recent capabilities: it has no PL/CTCSS and it has no trunk-tracking.  It does support decoding voice inversion, but doesn't have support for Motorola APCO digital trunked systems or any of the analog trunking systems (Motorola type 1, type 2 and type 1/2 hybrid as well as EDACS and LTR).  If continuous unblocked coverage is not important to you, but trunking, CTCSS, and/or digital capabilities are, then I suggest something like the Uniden Bearcat BCD396XT, which covers all analog trunking systems, both 3600 and 9600 baud digital trunk tracking, CTCSS and DCS decode. I use both in different contexts.  Note that the 800 MHz systems were 'rebanded' in 2008, so it is far better to buy this or similar radios produced after the rebanding, so you don't have to modify and reprogram the unit. If there is radio transmission going on anywhere after TSHTF, I truly believe that it is of inestimable value to be able to monitor it.

Proviso: Anybody putting a radio or scanner capable of receiving the VHF and/or UHF public service frequencies in a vehicle should check with the laws in their state (as well as any other state they will be driving through).  Some states have varied restrictions, and at least one (Minnesota) bans them outright.  This is another reason to get a ham license, as hams are licensed by the FCC and are exempt from [some] state regulations.  Keep a copy of your operator's license in your wallet and be prepared for a trip to the police station when you encounter local yokels who are clueless about the Federal communications laws. You might want to keep a copy of the pertinent FCC regulations in your glove compartment as well.

Monday, June 27, 2011

In March I was traveling on business when the earthquake/tsunami struck Japan.  My brother was in Japan at the time on business travel.  My brother finally made it home five days after the earthquake struck.  Meanwhile I was in Israel when the rockets from Gaza started up again, and a bombing occurred at the Jerusalem bus stop.  We both travel considerably throughout the world, and have often discussed preparations during travel for emergencies.  My brother is less concerned about preparations at home, but our experiences have convinced him over time on the need for backup options when away from home.  We have learned several lessons over the years that might be worth considering if work or pleasure takes you far from home base.

I like to travel light, so the amount of gear I carry is carefully evaluate and screened.  The other factor is that I often travel to foreign countries which scrutinize or control what articles I can or choose to carry.  Many times I’m in environments where theft is a major concern, so I’ve also learned to minimize the temptation, and have chosen gear that is inexpensive but reliable.  Over the years I’ve found several items and ideas that have worked well for me in surviving tsunami threats, earthquakes, and civil unrest. 

I keep several small sources of light – all of them LED-based, with spare batteries.  I prefer pen-lights with single LEDs which run on the very small coin batteries, and a larger, aluminum “fist-pack” lamp that runs on a few AAA batteries.  Smaller batteries provide long lifetime while minimizing weight.  I also buy (and confirm) that the lights I carry are waterproof.  Power outages are common around the world, even when no natural disaster has occurred.  Stumbling about in the dark in a strange room or building will slow you down and invite injury.

Security is the main concern in my travel, so self-defense options are given attention in my travel preparations.  Most countries do not allow non-residents (or even their residents, for that matter) to carry firearms, and I don’t trust prying eyes in my bags to keep my weapons secure, so traveling with a firearm is not an option.  Instead, I keep two simple knifes with me – one utilitarian for everyday carry and use, the other more defensive in purpose.  Both are small, discrete, and functional.  A small knife sharpener is also valuable and easy to include.  The utility knife is used daily and fortunately the defensive weapon has never been deployed.

I used to carry a small, two ounce canister of pepper spray for security as well but have not bothered with it in the last few years.  Some countries have restrictions on sprays such as this so spend time investigating local laws before you enter.  Instead, I often will move furniture around and position a chair at the door to help in an unwanted room entry. 

A small bottle of water purification tablets is also standard carry for me, while my brother carries a small filter “straw” device for purifying water.  These are very important and priceless when natural disaster strike, even in a well developed country like Japan where citizens are often less prepared for the unexpected.  I believe a traveler is most vulnerable to water availability and should keep this item in the forefront of their consciousness, even in modern countries.  Bottled water was the first item to disappear from stores in Japan within minutes of the March earthquake.

The only other “must have” emergency gear I carry includes: plenty of reading materials, my camera, ear plugs, packages of Tic-Tacs or gum, extra toilet paper, and a small compass.  A couple of cheap, disposable, paperback books that are interesting and easy to read are invaluable after the initial emergency when circumstances keep you in a “hurry and wait” holding pattern.  I also keep a small copy of the New Testament (and Old Testament when in Israel).  I keep at least one Louis L ‘Amour novel because they are small and easy to read, and because when I’m done they have wide appeal to someone else waiting with me, even in other countries.  The tic-tacs and gum keep my mouth occupied and refreshed after stale, purified water and also are a valuable pacifier for children in a traumatized crowd.  The tic-tacs are small and numerous, so many children can be quieted for little expense or hassle.  A small gift in my opinion always works better than scolding looks from others to quiet a youngster, and always brings a very heartfelt smile from a distraught mother or grandparent.  Orange tic-tacs are the best option as they resemble candy more than medication. 

The compass is another no-brainer for me when trying to sort out location or travel.  It is very helpful in keeping a bearing when in a strange city, and doesn’t require batteries.  GPS receivers are useful, but too needy for me in an emergency.  My brother travels with his, but in Japan he couldn’t work it reliably for him to navigate with and so it became dead weight.  He also discovered that in some countries, the GPS automatically reverted to local language options, and since he can’t read Japanese or Czech, it took some time to fiddle with to revert back to English.  If you do carry GPS, get to know it well – especially it’s most basic and most exotic features. 

I love maps, and have the curious habit of gathering them up as I travel – to help me move about and to help me remember the trip.  Most hotels have basic, complementary maps available.  If your hotel doesn’t, one of the other hotels in the area will, and they are often eager to give them out to future customers.  I’ve never found good maps in English at local bookstores in the area I’m staying.  If you want a detailed map of the area, I suggest buying one in the United States before you travel.  At the end of a trip, I’ll file my best maps away for future travel, and also make notes about favorite things or places I went, as well as a list of places to visit if/when I return to that area.

I always carry a camera with extra memory and battery for obvious travel use, and to help me improve my memory in the field.  A snapshot of a street sign, posted map, or storefront is a big help getting directions from a 50 year old Chinese man who speaks little English.  The extra memory also is important for saving business data.  Most of my international travel is for business, and in an emergency I am not willing to carry my laptop around unless it is easy to do so.  I keep important data backed up on a small flash-drive, and in a real pinch, can quickly remove the hard drive from the system if I do have to get out lightly so I don’t loose the important information.  Remember to keep the camera discretely tucked away when not in use to avoid drawing the label as tourist.  I’ve never had problems with taxi drivers when I first snap a picture of their cab’s license plate before getting in.

Finally, I keep several quart and gallon size Ziploc bags with me at all times.  The bags protect my camera and batteries, and also work well to protect my wallet, maps, and other fragile items in normal, daily outings.  Their value in an emergency should also be obvious for carrying/treating water, food, and other necessities.

I travel with a shoulder-bag that doubles as my BOB on daily excursions.  Unless I’m to be in-country for an extended period of time, I do not carry a cell phone.  In an emergency they usually don’t work reliably, and if I do need to make a call, I have easily found help from someone nearby who has always lent me their phone.  This probably doesn’t make sense to everyone, but it is my personal preference.  It has also forced me to become better adept at using local phone services, phone cards, and communications options.  I believe a little extra effort and experience are much more valuable than convenience.  Maybe I just had too much trouble figuring out the foreign cell phone operations.

Besides these emergency items, I also make it a point to carry plenty of prescription medication and pain relief medicines – at least twice as much as my trip would call for.  For years I carried a small tube of oral numbing gel, and when I finally needed it I was happy to have it.  Ear plugs are another valuable item I keep, to help sleep and just keep out noise in general (the tic-tacs don’t last forever!).  Finding a pharmacy is very difficult when afflicted in a foreign land.

I also carry plenty of cash, and keep half in US Dollars and half in local currency.  As bad as the US Dollar is getting lately in world economics, it is still the currency of choice in 99% of the world’s local markets and has more power in negotiations than most local currencies.    One last suggestion is to keep a small phrase book of the local language handy.  It is good practice to pickup conversational skills with the locals and is very rewarding.  The phrase book will make it easy and quickly expand your ability to enjoy where you are at.  Find one you can use and operate well.  Most books I’ve seen are not well designed for constant, daily use.

Other honorable mentions for gear are 10’ of paracord, a few feet of rescue tape, and a small inflatable pillow (the type that fits around your neck).  None of the showers I used at any of the 8 hotels I stayed at on my last trip to Israel worked properly.  All of the rooms had the “wand” showerheads in them which all seemed to work, so for the entire trip I used the paracord to tie the wand up to the main showerhead.  The rescue tape worked even better to hold the wand in place.  A nice shower is critical to enjoy extended travel.

While gear is important, plans, behavior, awareness, and trust in the Lord are vital. 

Once I’ve arrived in country I take several steps to prepare before beginning my work.  I secure several liters of bottled water in my room.  Most hotels are willing to provide free water, and at the end of my stay I return the extra bottles not consumed.  Many local markets will also sell bottled water, but be aware sometimes they are not bottled sanitarily or reliability.  Getting extra water on hand – at least twice what I’d normally use in a day is a big, first priority.  Another suggestion is to get a bottle or two of soda.  I prefer Sprite, which gives a little more than just hydration, and works well to sooth an upset stomach.   Also, I ask for an extra blanket from the hotel to keep in my room, wither I need it or not.  I also gather some extra calories to keep on-hand.  I have a big family, and when I travel it is now customary for Dad to bring home candy from the country I visit.  It is a simple treat for the kids.  At my first option during my trip, I go out and buy this load of candy and keep it on-hand.  I expect I could easily get buy on the candy for several days in a real pinch.

This candy/calorie loading was an important step for my brother in Japan.  On his arrival, he took this water and food step immediately and had a good cache on-hand when the earthquake hit the next day.  After the hotel stopped swaying and he finished his prayers, he headed down to the street to look around and get more food.  The convenience stores all around Tokyo were swamped, and shelves empty within an hour.  Fortunately the Japanese are known for their patience and calm personalities, so there was little panic other than the frantic search for food.  That night, his hotel was full of stranded business people sleeping on the floor in the lobby, restaurants, and hallways.  His meager room felt like a palace.

My first trip in Israel, arriving at the airport on a Saturday I’d underestimated my ability to get a meal in the less populated area I planned to stay that first night.  I had arrived at the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath which is observed throughout the country and by many of the hotels, too.   The candy bars I had on-hand was good enough for the day and the lesson learned has lasted much longer.  The trains had also stopped running, so my backup travel option was needed.

As I mentioned before, personal security during travel deserves highest consideration.  In general, keep aware of your surroundings, keep a low profile (even as a tourist), ensure your own security in your room and hotel, and mind your back.  One idea is to keep a couple of the small, adhesive alarms on your windows and door.  They are easy and disposable if you want to do more than keep chairs in the hall between you and the door.  Hotel security and location should be considered thoroughly.

Whenever staying at a hotel or when I find a good restaurant, I always collect a business card from the front desk.  I keep these cards on-hand as I travel because they are very valuable to communicate with a taxi driver.  The cards typically have the business’s name, location, and information in the local language, and so in a new taxi I simply pull out the appropriate card to indicate where I’d like to go.

My most important resource in traveling (besides contact with the Almighty) is to have several “quality” contacts locally.  Usually my travel is sponsored – with locals expecting and needing me to be there.  Upon arrival, I work hard to create and maintain a good relationship with various people, not just those I work with.  This takes some tact and discretion, because often some locals are looking for an easy mark.  I try to take co-workers and others I’m fostering contact with out to dinner – they often know the best local places to eat any way which works great for me, and the extra expense is a pittance.  When we are comfortable working together I ask about using them as an emergency contact, and keeping daily or regular contact with them during my stay.  Usually they are very flattered and agreeable with this.  I cannot stress enough how valuable even a single local person can be to keep on top of local factors, and as an immediate source of help in an emergency.  People are people everywhere, and quality people throughout the world are eager and willing to help others in a crisis.  Find some common interests, beliefs, or experiences.  Many of my foreign contacts have also traveled previously to these United States, so my efforts screening and fostering mutual trust can begin here on native soil.

Working with Chinese and other Asian cultures, guan zhou (sp?), “giving face” is very important in relationships.  This consists of giving honor, notability, and recognition even in small ways to a friend or host.  Working through friends is very important.  Look for ways to let your local contact help you, and then thank them in front of their peers and supervisors, but also let them see you mention their help in front of your peers and supervisors.  In a small village of 8 million people an hour’s distance from Shanghai, I planned to buy pearls locally for my wife and daughters on a trip.  I asked my local contact to find a source for me, which of course he had already.  Not only did I get high quality merchandise brought at my convenience, but with my poor Chinese language skills coupled with my contact being involved in the transactions (he was on my mobile phone, while I negotiated with his friend who spoke no English) I received very good “friend” prices on the goods.  The best part was that both the seller and my local contact were very pleased with their side of the transactions.  I took my co-worker out to dinner with his family and supervisor at a fantastic restaurant they knew of, and the extra cost to me came to $7 USD.  I also made sure to recommend both men to other co-workers interested in similar deals.  Win-win and they were very happy.  This is just a simple example but went a long way to my safety and the quality of my stay that trip.

Middle Eastern cultures are more subtle to understand, but everyone loves food and asking locals to take me to their favorite falafel or local cuisine has worked well to help me build working relations of trust.  Most folks I’ve worked with have friends or family that drive taxi, so as I need a car I work with those I know.  This can be very tricky, though, so make sure you have enough confidence in your local friend before ever opening that door.  Many family members drive taxi, but many are also unreliable, undirectionable, and more expensive than they are worth.  My recommendation is to stick with food as a means of establishing a relationship that you can rely on when an emergency strikes.

I do not drink alcohol but travel with colleagues which do, and I have always been grateful for the trouble and risks I’ve avoided by abstaining.  Alcohol is a high-risk factor in life, and even more so during travel.

One other thought is to pick up a sack of small candy bars at Wal-Mart before your travel, and when you find local co-workers have children (or if invited to meet their families), you have a small, simple present for the kids.  This really endures parents to you.  Make sure only to have just the right amount with you, though, because the children will not let you leave with leftovers! 

One trip in Mexico we took small bottles of bubbles and candy bars for the kids, and made the mistake of opening them up in a semi-public area.  The six children and their parents (family of the local friend we were staying with) rushed us, to get handfuls of each.  Some neighborhood women must have sensed the presents, and soon we were literally surrounded – we counted at least 25 people!  Of course soon the goods were all gone, and some kids didn’t get any.  Mothers and fathers got testy, and wanted something – the situation started to turn ugly.  Our host was very distraught by his neighbor’s behavior, but couldn’t do much.  The adults wanted paper, pens, even our dirty laundry in a bag – something for their child!  Fortunately we didn’t have our belongings or equipment with us (keeping a low profile) and finally the group left, disgusted.  Instead of being a gesture of friendship the situation backfired and while our friendship remains, I don’t rely on that contact for an emergency need.

Two notes of caution here – I never establish these contacts with females (being a man, myself), and I rarely will rely on local help for medical issues.  The female part goes without saying – I’m happily married and any questionable contacts add to personal risk.  Medical advice, even from ‘professionals’ in many countries can be very risky, too.  So many local remedies or “Aunt Bibi’s herbal poultice” can add up to real hurt in a hurry.  For example, I had an upset stomach in the Philippines - nothing extremely serious, though very uncomfortable.  My sprite at dinner had come with a lot of ice that I didn’t take notice of (it was the first night in country).  Ice is made with local water, and local water is a no-no.  Working with my local co-worker, he put me in touch with their family’s “doctor”.  This doctor informed me that my troubles were not caused by the ice/water (which she said was very safe), but was caused by my eating both oily food with sweet food.  She was horrified that I had eaten both oily food (fried chicken) with sugary sprite, and had used salt in the same meal! That made me smile.  After all, I’m an American – most of our meals are based on these key ingredients.  Thanking the doctor for her sage wisdom, I found a pharmacy with Imodium AD and any international crisis was averted.

Much more could be said about emergency needs and tips during travel; these are a few ideas that have worked (and are currently working in the field) with me.  In closing I will disclose the greatest piece of gear I carry and that is of faith.  No hardware (gear) or software (knowledge) are as valuable as the Lord.  Trusting in His arm is the surest chance of safety and peace in this life and the next.

When not traveling overseas it is easy to keep my travel bag in my daily commuter vehicle to have on-hand while in-country.  It makes for good practice in using and relying on these items, and keeps my perishable stocks up-to-date.  Hopefully these ideas and experiences have given you food for thought.  My travels have been very rewarding, enriching, and gratefully very positive.

Mr. Rawles,
Thanks for the extraordinary services you provide and for being so generous with your time.

The subject of this letter has to do with a recent article on survivalblog in which the author explained the benefits of searching for homesteads using free, online resources such as Google Earth.

I recently bought and moved to a rural property. This was the culmination of over two years' hunting for good homesteads at a fair price. So when I came across this place, I knew it was a bargain.

In my searches, I found other rich sources of information: especially interactive maps provided by county governments, with detailed info on specific properties. Such as the name of the owner(s) of record.

Real estate sites such as provided lots of information about specific properties, especially the locations and photos of homes and lots for sale. In my searches, I viewed many pics of people's living rooms, bedrooms, rec rooms, offices, bathrooms, driveways, basements, back yards, decks, garages, and so on. Descriptions written by sellers and their agents provided additional info such as "seller is motivated" and "house cannot be seen from the road."

So I agree with the author that free, online resources are a great resource for us preppers.

But there is a dark side of this technology. The resources I used to find my homestead are available to anyone else, right now. Think about that. I don't even want to state the implications of that, outright.

How can one "disappear" a property from the ever-growing online database of aerial photos and data? - Dubya in Tennessee

Monday, May 30, 2011

Two Letters Re: Maps Can Save Your Life

My Topo is a web site where you can get custom topographic or aerial view maps centered on whatever point you want.  The laminated ones are good quality (I haven't seen their other offerings up close).  Seems like it might be useful. Sincerely, - Colby M.

At you can download a digital copy of  maps in whatever scale you want and with whatever information you want for free. You will need to print it out yourself or take it to someone who has a plotter to print the large scale maps (i.e. 24" x 36"). The best part about it is unlike the DeLorme Gazetteer, it is free and you can download only the maps you want.  - Hal D.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How often have you heard yourself or others along with you on a road trip mutter four letter words when your GPS unit directs you to a road that isn’t there?  Or worse yet, you end up on a trail in the wilderness that your brand new hand held GPS unit does not have on it?  The next question that comes to mind is, where am I and how do I get to where I need to go?  In the best of circumstances there are detour signs and friendly road side workers that can direct you back to a known route.  However, if you are stuck relying on yourself and those around you, knowing some basic land navigation and orienteering skills can be of the utmost importance.  There are several important reasons to take maps along with you even when in familiar territory, and they can be a versatile tool or a life saver in a sticky situation.  Maps can indicate your position in relationship to the territory and offer a source of information for routes to a planned destination, as well as give you an indication of significant features along the way.  Knowing which maps to have, what tools to have with them, and how to employ them could mean the difference between your head stone being in the place of your choosing or being in the hands of Mother Nature and her husband Mr. Murphy.

The most basic terrain maps, such as those found in road maps (Rand McNally is a common one) are generalized and tend to show terrain on a higher scale, meaning the “zoom” is way out.  This means that although you see a larger area, the map will not give much detail about any specific point or location.  While these are great for interstate and highway navigation, they often will leave out valuable information for someone traveling on foot or by less-traveled routes and local roads.  They will also rarely give a grid of latitude and longitude by which to find your location given GPS readouts or by less technical means.  More detail can be found in state or local atlases and gazetteers such as those published by DeLorme, which will have a basic area map split into a grid, and detailed maps for each grid.  These books are inexpensive and offer a far greater detail (larger scale) for any area the atlas covers.  (Note: small scale means that the ratio of the distance on the map to the true distance on the ground is small, e.g. that the denominator is very large.  The commonest example of a small scale map is a world globe which it has a diameter of one foot has a denominator of about 5280x4000 or 22,000,000. ) They will have latitude and longitude markers, rural or seasonal roads, and may have some major hiking trails listed, such as the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail.  However, smaller waterways, gradual elevation changes, and lesser known terrain features will be omitted from the map, possibly frustrating the traveler looking for a water source or place of refuge.  Perhaps the most detailed (excluding the awesomely powerful and all seeing-eye of Google Satellite Maps) will be those from the United States Geological Survey.  These maps can provide  scales of up to 1:24,000 which will show all local terrain features, to include known springs, mines, caves, and several other markers that would often go unnoticed to the average traveler.  They will also indicate changes in elevation with contour lines, showing how a hill or valley is shaped and how steep or gradual the terrain is.  While it is nearly impossible without modern technology to carry any number of these maps, and would probably not be advisable unless one had a need for extra rough toilet paper, having one for the planned travel areas or habitation location is a resource without rival. 

Table of map scales with pros and cons for each type:




Small (1:250,000)

-Shows large area
-Helpful for longer distance estimation
-Shows full extent of large terrain features (mountain ranges, rivers, deserts)
Usually has latitude and longitude grid

-Shows only major land marks
-Little to no specific detail


-Potentially shows entire area of operations/travel
-Has most major terrain features marked
-Will show primary routes (interstates and highways)
- Usually has latitude and longitude grid
longitude grid
-May have northing and easting grids
-Usually has township and range grids

-No specific terrain details beyond well known or major features
-Difficult to use for foot travel
-May not have alternative routes or local roads


-Has most specific area detail
-Will show most terrain features including seasonal ones
-Will show private roads and utility corridors
-Good for both foot and motorized travel
-Will have local declination listed
- Usually has latitude and longitude grid
-May have northerling and easterling grids
-Usually has township and range grids

-Small field of view for each map
-Difficult to carry enough for a large area
-Contains more symbols and unusual markings

Note: Scale depicts map units to actual units; 1:50,000 would be one inch on the map is equal to 50,000 inches on the ground.

Once the desired scale is determined for the map to be used, there are several things to be done before using it.  Foremost, if the map does not contain a legend for what the various symbols mean, it is haphazard at best.  Imagine a map that used happy faces and sad faces to mark flowers and land mines, but did not indicate which was which.  One might have a bouquet or a tourniquet depending on interpretation of the symbols.  Fortunately there are many common symbols on maps, and while not universal, will help familiarize the reader with what the markings mean.  The USGS web page, at, has a large catalogue of common symbols found in most types of maps.  Another consideration before placing the map in use is a means of marking and navigating with it.  It is recommended that the map be laminated or placed in a clear plastic cover that will not shift in relation to the map.  If the map is covered in a medium that allows the map to shift, the markings made on the cover will not hold their relationship to the map and could cause errors in navigation.  Additional points of reference or changes can be added to the map as well as routes marked without permanently marking or altering the original map once it is laminated.  If this were a map you trusted your life to, exposure to the elements would also be a consideration for how it is handled and protected.  Folding will degrade the legibility and may remove grid lines, so rolling would be the preferred method for storage.  Fly fishing rod cases, especially when you plan on fishing as well, are ideal weather resistant places to store a map without risk of damage.  A clear plastic protractor can function to find grid coordinates, work as an improvised compass (the marking kind, not the north finding kind) and determine distance both in a straight line and over a route.  Most of these protractors work with a wide scale of maps, but insure that the proper scale is used when indexing on the map.

Proper employment of the map can also be a problem, with orientation done automatically for us with modern GPS devices.  There are two distinct times when a map is employed, and both require different orientation positions in relation to the reader.  When planning a route or debriefing a situation, it is far easier to read the map with the legend and grid right side up.  Reading and locating grids are easier and faster if you are not doing it up-side down or from the left or right.  However, while using the map to navigate, always orient the map to the ground; i.e. the “compass rose” on the map (the north facing arrow) should face north.  This is not always right side up and depending on the location and map; the rose may be skewed in any direction.  Always find true north and face the map accordingly.  There will be declination marks on any USGS or official map that instructs how many degrees off the “true North” bearing is from the “magnetic North.”  Be sure that when the map is oriented that this adjustment is made.  Declination is given in a positive number when true north is east of magnetic north, and given in a negative number when true north lies to the west.  Most compasses will have a bezel ring that allows the user to set declination while the compass is at rest.  (Note.  Declination changes with time so make it a practice to check the date(s) of the map(s) that you are intending to use and then look up the current declination.  Many other map features such as roads, trails, water courses etc. may also change with time so check you maps carefully to ensure that the critical features have not change between the date of the aerial photography and the present time.) Practice taking out the map and orienting it to your direction of travel and take notice of how your perspective can change.  When your situation changes and the world is stricken with an epidemic of killer bunnies, knowing how to employ the map properly and being able to quickly relate your location to the map and where your planned direction of travel lies on the ground will be especially useful.

You can never be lost, as long as you know where you are.  Where you are is always going to be determined by your relationship to other objects and terrain features around you, whether it is an arroyo in Death Valley or a mountain crest in the Cascades.  With any map of the area you are in, you can find your location using this relationship and a compass.  If, for instance, you find yourself off a known trail in a heavily wooded area, find the closest large terrain features.  This could be a large creek, or a hill top higher than the others surrounding it.  Whatever prominent land marks you have identified, orient the map to true north and shoot an azimuth to the identifiable points.  An azimuth is an imaginary line from you to the known point starting from the center of the compass.  Where the line exits the compass and crosses the degree marker (or mils if your map is in mils, most are not) on the compass is your azimuth.  Once you have two azimuths, and you have located the two land marks on the map, draw lines from the known points along a reverse azimuth until you can see a point of conversion.  The reverse azimuth is a bearing from the known point to you, 180° off from the original azimuth.  For example, if your azimuth to Mt. Rainier is 107°, the reverse azimuth from Mt. Rainier to you is 287°.  Remember to add or subtract the declination when going from magnetic degrees to grid (or true north) degrees.  The point of conversion will be your location, which will be more exact if the two objects are at right angles from each other in relation to you.  A protractor will also be of great use when plotting these lines on the map, and can do reverse azimuths for you, no math needed.  There are other methods for finding your location with just a map and compass, research and try each one to find the fastest and most easily applied one for the circumstances you plan to operate in.  If you ever do find yourself lost in the wilderness, and help is on the way, staying in place will be your best bet.  However, when the vampire gold fish hybrids are gorging themselves on the blood of emergency responders, it will be comforting to know that you are able to locate your position on a map.

Maps are one of the foremost planning tools, used for routes, defensive positions, and reconnaissance among several other things. While using the map to determine a route, take into consideration first what your objective is.  If the aliens were to invade and start slaying humanity with trans fats and bio-engineered tomatoes, what are you looking for in the route?  It might be slightly different than one you might use to evacuate from a hurricane or tsunami.  Every route will have common features such as your rally point, where a group of individuals can converge into a team, typically centrally located and along the way towards the objective.  While it can be advantageous to have the rally point at a well known or established land mark, mission may dictate that it be well concealed and offer cover.  As long as each member of the group can find the location on their own, the rally point need not be the intersection of I-5 and I-8.  Another commonality will be rest points, where there should be a source of water and shelter.  This could be a cache point, but if you end up on an alternate route, dependence on a pre-staged source may become a serious short fall.  This is another situation where the small scale maps will be of assistance, allowing alternate and primary routes to pass small springs or year round creeks.  Mountainous terrain or terrain that has steep hills and valleys can prove a problem for travelers, more so when confined to roads due to the mode of transportation.  It may be best to avoid these places completely as alternate routes are often not readily available.  Passes, bridges, and other bottle necks are encountered far more often in these types of terrain as well, leaving a traveler with no alternate route.  Occasionally, through well established interstate corridors, maintenance roads and Forest Service or logging roads will follow the course of the public routes.  Forest Service roads and other decommissioned roads will still be marked on current USGS maps in many cases, however while conducting route recon you might spot several that have been purposefully removed.  Placing these items back on your map is one more ace in the hole if the need arise.  Keep in mind that the map used in planning is not perfect, and may omit a detail that your planning might deem essential information.  This is one of many reasons why reconnaissance goes hand in hand with mission planning, long before the execution order is issued.

Reconnaissance is another area where a map is one of the most critical tools.  If the planned route is not properly researched, both on the table and in the real world, it is a plan to fail.  When using a map for route recon, focus on the mission priorities first.  While the map may indicate a choke point or a danger area, these may turn out to be safe and passable areas based on a practiced movement through them.  Other terrain features not described properly on the map may turn into hazards, such as a road cut through a large rock formation, creating an artificial valley that would leave a group vulnerable to ambush.  Ensure that the map used in planning, or an exact copy, is used while making these observations.  Another valuable insight that recon can provide is changes in terrain.  After a flood, earthquake, or other major natural disaster, rivers may change course and what were once passable bridges may now have become obstacles.  If patrolling around or near your position, always denote on the map what differences are observed, even if they seem unimportant.  Proper reconnaissance and detailed map review can change the direction of an operation from doomed to successful based on a few simple observations.  Once the reconnaissance is completed, all members of a group should be briefed in detail for all primary and alternate routes, most importantly, the rally points and check points where a group can converge if members become separated.

Maps can indeed change the outcome of your survival, and are critical tools for preparedness.  With proper selection and implementation, they become an essential part of everything from a camping trip to a well planned and executed route out of danger.  However, the best tools in the world are only as good as the hands that wield them.  This being the case, become familiar with the map you choose and how to read it quickly and assess the terrain in relation to what is printed.  Know how to use a compass and practice finding locations using it and the map, research which way works best for you.  Identify what your objective is and what considerations first before assigning the route, and carefully reconnoiter every step of the movement.  Orienteering meets and competitions will offer a large area to practice and several knowledgeable individuals to draw experience from.  Most of all, prepare for everything, and know that your preparations will only go so far before being able to think on your feet saves the day.  Improvise, adapt, and overcome.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The following is intended to introduce some free computer resources to use for disaster planning. Topics covered are Bug Out Route planning, neighborhood  resource identification, and offline data back up.

My background includes growing up in the Arizona desert. Living forty miles from town and two miles to the nearest neighbors encourages one to be self reliant. Later in life I moved to and still live in the Pacific Northwest. During most of this period I was in complacent consumer mode. After the birth of my two children I began to question my abilities to provide for my family in an emergency or tough time. Around the time of the tech stock crash in 2000 I began to question the path of our nation and its political and economic choices. Fast forward to the pop of the housing bubble. That event spurred my quest for answers and leads us to today.

There are two free programs I will cover using for disaster preps and planning. One is Gadwin Systems PrintScreen. The other is
WinHTTrack, an open source offline browser.

Gadwin PrintScreen has the ability to save images to a file or capture portions of anything viewable on your screen to a JPEG.
These can also be saved in a numeric sequential order for ease of identification.

WinHTTrack allows the user to assemble entire web sites for offline  use. This is a powerful tool that comes with responsibilities. Sites such as offer an archive of their site for purchase but also encourages offline backup by other means [as long as it is for private, noncommercial use.]. The other consideration is the usage of bandwidth. Whomever is hosting the site your are considering downloading is paying to keep their site up and may have bandwidth caps or fees based upon the amount of data transmitted.

Setting up Gadwin PrintScreen will only take a few moments after installation. Get to the properties or options menu in Gadwin while it is running. Set your hotkey. The hotkey is what will be activating the capture. A common hotkey is the "Prt Scr" button. Check the preview captured image box. Under the source option box check rectangular area. Under destination option box check copy captured area to file. Also check automating naming and set the filename to the number 0. Doing this will begin naming files as 0001, 0002, 0003 an so on as you save them. Set the Capture  Directory or destination folder as well. Under image menu set as JPG. Hit "OK". Upon pressing the hotkey an instruction should appear showing you how to size the area to be captured. 

This only covers web browsing map interfaces as I have chosen not to use Google Earth.

One use for this tool is probably already obvious to many of you.

Go to your favorite online mapping tool or web site. I use Google maps. Personally I began from a regional view and began setting and saving files/pictures as I zoom in. You may get to a point where everything you want will not fit on one JPG. At this point I find my focus point and using the map tool move it to a far lower or higher corner and screen capping that. Keep moving your focal point around your four corners and capturing those images until you have made a satisfactory assembly of images. For vehicle route mapping I tend to use a standard map view. For area specific maps I use the satellite view. These settings are visible in the upper right area of the map.

Clearly making a bug out map is one use here. The following is of the most use to those of us living in major metropolitan areas. While browsing a specific map area to the top and right of the screen there will be a menu to check a few selections. The one that will be most valuable to the bug out in a vehicle is the traffic box, put a check mark next to it. An overlay will appear showing the live traffic flows for the viewable area. To the bottom left there should be a box saying live traffic and small text saying "change". When you change the times you can cycle by day and time to simulate morning or evening rush hours in your area. I have had varying effectiveness with this setting.

Many have said it before but here it is again: If you and yours are going to relocate, then do it before the majority of the population decide to flee in a panic.

Google Maps also enables one to type in the starting point and destination for a suggested route. The information given by this auto trip planner is valuable. You can set it for car, bike, or foot travel. It also notes car travel minimum and maximum predicted times with traffic. You are easily able to interface with the map and "drag" your route away from areas you wish to avoid and toward predicted safer lanes of travel. Every time you do this it will refresh distance and predicted travel time. It is easy to create several folders of screen captures on your pc to hold individual routes and means of travel. The wise choice here is to verify as many of these routes as you can physically. It may be as simple as a picnic with the family or a new route to the hunting camp. To put ones trust in an untested route is asking to get stuck in a bad spot.

Another valuable use for the browser maps is scouring your neighborhood, region or retreat for visible resources, threats, and unknown avenues of travel. An example is a friend just moved into a new house and looking online at his house showed me his neighbor owns a pool, relatively uncommon for the Northwest but an item of note. Several blocks away but invisible from the street are a few homes with large undeveloped backyards. In time of shortages, the owners of those parcels might me agreeable to someone planting that ground with vegetables, in exchange for a share of a crop.

During neighborhood walks you may notice fruit or nut bearing trees and berry vines on public land. These can be noted on your map with a simple mark in the Paint program that comes with many operating systems. Resource awareness and becoming friends with your neighbors at the same time. There may be areas or neighbor that receive a mark for one or more reasons. Perhaps evidence of unsavory activity or even the presence of arable land. Fresh water is worth noting, especially if it is not visible from the street.

The next step is for intermediate users. GIMP is an open source photo editing program that uses layers just like a well known photo editing program. With it you can now take your captured images and combine them to build large medium resolution images.

 You see where I am going with this. Four screen captures assembled into one image comes to 19"x13" at 72 dots per inch on my pc. This covers 3 block to the North and South and 6 blocks to the East and West. At this resolution viewing at 100% cars can be identified by their color but not make and model. Houses, driveways, and greenspaces can be seen but not in great detail. An additional benefit of Google maps is the auto labeling of businesses, parks, and streets.

For the budget minded prepper consider printing out sixteen 8"x11" black and white pages and pasting them on some cardboard. The next step up is a 25"x25" b+w laminated at Kinko's for $16. A 25"x25" color laminated is $41. The final destination is a 50"x50" color laminated map that runs $184.

This is not my area of expertise but I am also attempting to define perceived threat or awareness areas. Part of this includes lines of travel, fields of fire from my home and block, as well as effort required to seal off areas from vehicle traffic.

For the more advanced computer user let us consider WinHTTrack. Part of the power of this program is the ability for it to set filters for file type and size.  In the help menu of this program you will find a robust  "how to" that will allow you to download portions of web sites for personal use. There are examples of good/bad scan rule interactions as well. WinHTTrack will not download Flash or Javascript well or at all.

It is up to the individual to use good judgment when using this tool. When set on below dial up speeds you will be able to assemble large amounts of text and pictures over the course of one nights sleep.

At the end of the day it should also be considered what to do with and how to manage this data. Consider printing, burning a CD or purchasing several USB flash "thumb" drives for data redundancy. Every member of the family could easily carry 4+GB of information for as little as $12. That might be most or all of the families pictures, documents, plans, maps, and collected reference material. This article does not cover data security but it is a major consideration if personal, financial, or medical documents are digitally backed up.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mr. Editor:

I was wondering if you could tell us a resource online where to find the locations of caves/mine shafts, or other underground shelters around the country.  I have tried to do this unsuccessfully, maybe a reader knows?  Thanks. - Robert R.

JWR Replies: That goes a bit outside my expertise. I'm not a spelunker. Perhaps some SurvivalBlog readers have bookmarked some good web sites or could recommend a few books.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My foray into prepping began over a decade ago after I became hopelessly lost in the Adirondack Mountains.  My birthday falls on October 24th and on this particular year, the day was uncharacteristically warm.  I felt the urge to take advantage of my good fortune by scouting out some new area for the upcoming deer season.  Telling no one of my intentions that day, I jumped into my four-door beater sedan that I fondly called “The Kevorkian” and resolved to boldly go where no man had gone before.  I went off the beaten path and drove the Kevorkian down some back roads that snaked their way through the Adirondack’s 6.1 million acres of woods.  I parked along the side of the road, locked the door, and walked into the woods wearing a T-shirt and jeans. I did not have a map, a GPS, or even a compass. I had no food, water, or anything remotely resembling survival gear.  I made up for this by carrying mass quantities of hubris and I would almost pay for my youthful indiscretion with my life. I wandered the rugged terrain for a few hours when I came to the base of what could be interchangeably termed a large hill or small mountain. After reaching the top I stopped to look around and catch my breath. The trees at the top were so crowded that there was no view to speak of.  Having walked for several hours now, I decided I had gone far enough and it was time to go home. I tried to find the side of the mountain that I came up to retrace my steps and panic suddenly welled up in me as I realized that I couldn’t.  In case you have never experienced the initial feeling of fear that comes with realizing you are lost in a 6 million acre forest then it is worth a superficial description. There is a characteristic lump in the throat that makes swallowing as difficult as getting conjoined twins into a kayak. Then there is the very fascinating sensation of your sphincter muscle loosening without your express or implied permission. This gives way to sweating like your diffusing a grenade and a heart rate that is higher than…. Well.. Something that is really high. The initial shock and fear passed after several minutes and gave way to a moment of clarity. I sat down and developed a plan. I oriented myself using the sun and walked in as straight of a line as I could until I found a river. I followed this river until I saw some posted signs and then, after about 15 miles and several hours of walking, I came upon a house just before dark. I knocked on the door and was almost in tears when a man opened it.  I explained that I was lost and had been walking all day. After conferring with the man as to my location, I determined that I had been walking parallel to the road I parked on for the last 12 miles.  I walked back to my car and returned home that night more exhausted than I’d ever been but with a tremendous sense of relief. The seeds of a prepper lifestyle were sown that day and I’ve thought long and hard about how different the outcome of day’s events could have gone had I chosen a different azimuth.

Over the years I have researched survivalism in great depth.  The bug began with wilderness survival but has since branched out to disaster preparedness. I have made numerous bug out bags and mini carry kits in altoid tins and small cigar tins. The issue is that every time I wake up and get dressed I must make a conscious decision to place that item in my pocket and inevitably, it would be forgotten and left at home. My philosophies have since changed to try and incorporate survival and preparedness items into my every day carry items. Lets discuss everyday wear or carry items common to most people and what can be incorporated into them:

: Merrill hiking sneakers are my everyday shoe. I removed the laces and measured out an identical length of seven-strand 550 [nylon parachute] cord and melted the ends with a lighter so that they don’t fray. These laces have held up extremely well and they represent almost 50 feet of usable cordage with the strands removed. 550 cord comes in numerous colors to match your shoes or boots and is an indispensable asset to have in many survival situations. Next, I purchased several ferrocerium rods of varying lengths and diameters through an Internet wholesaler. These rods are also called “Swedish steel” or “metal matches” by some and they are able to create sparks when scraped with a sharp edge. I removed the inserts from my Merrill hiking shoes and cut out the outline of a small rod roughly 1/8 inch in diameter and 2.5 inches in length into the bottom of the sole. The rod fits perfectly in place and after the sole was reinserted, I couldn’t feel it at all. I duct taped a small two inch piece of jig saw blade to the bottom of the other shoe underneath the sole in the heel area. I made sure the duct tape fully covered the blade and that the blade lay perfectly flat on the heel portion so that when the arch flexed the blade did not try to dig into my foot. The square edge of this small jigsaw blade is what will be used to scrape the metal match to create a spark. Both additions add virtually no noticeable weight and did not change the feel at all. This will enable me to start a fire almost anywhere and they work even after being submerged in water.

: My wallet contains a Victorinox Swiss Army Card. These are the same dimensions as standard credit card but a little thicker. These great little gadgets give you scissors, tweezers, a knife, pen, light, toothpick, and magnifying glass. In addition to this I carry some individually wrapped water purification tablets and an unlubricated condom. In a crunch, you can place the condom inside a sock to hold a quart of water and then add the iodine tablet to it.  A few Band-Aids and packet of triple-antibiotic ointment finish off the wallet. If you happen to be a woman and you carry a purse on a daily basis then you are not nearly as limited as the average guy. Man bags and fanny packs seem to be an assault to the masculinity of most of us men but if you are willing to sacrifice your dignity for the sake of preparedness, then God bless you. Purses or Maxpedition bags can carry a huge amount of survival gear to include some food and water. These can be set up more like a small bug out bag. Comprehensive lists for bug out bags can be found all over the Internet and as such it is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that a purse gives a woman a huge opportunity to prepare for almost any need i.e. First aid, self defense, food, water, shelter, communications, etc.

KEYCHAIN: Key chains may not be the most discreet way to carry survival gear but they are one of those ubiquitous items that we always seem to have on our person regardless of where we go. This makes them an ideal candidate for our discussion. I recommend using a carabiner to hold your keys since they hold more gear and are a valuable survival item. Make sure they are rated to handle a load. The spine will typically say “not load bearing” or “not for climbing” on the spine if it is not. Let’s discuss the gadgets you can have on your keychain         

FLASHLIGHTS: There are numerous flashlights to be found that are designed to be small and fit on a keychain. With the advent of the LED and their improvements in technology, there is no reason not to carry a small LED flashlight on your key chain. It is an inexpensive and inconspicuous way to ensure that you have enough light at night to cope with a survival situation. A caveat is to ensure you only purchase a light that be locked or switched into the on position. I made the mistake of purchasing a small light that would only illuminate if I held the button down. This meant that I would only have one free hand to start a fire or engage in other life saving tasks. Having a light that can be switched on ensures you can free up both hands.  Some of these lights even have little clips that can mount to your hat so you don’t have to hold the light with your teeth.

MEDICINE: Waterproof pill bottles designed for your keychain can found all over the internet and in most drug stores. These can house critical medication like nitroglycerin tablets if you have a heart condition. I have water purification tablets in one, aspirin and anti-diarrheal in another and a small fishing kit in a third. Of course waterproof matches can be fit in these containers as well.  I warn you not to place so much gear on your keychain that it creates the temptation to remove things. The entire idea behind this is to seamlessly integrate survival gear into your everyday lifestyle so that it is there when you need it and it does not involve consciously deciding to carry it. You may have to create a cover story for your friends when they ask why you carry so much “junk” on your keychain but remember that it is only “junk” to the uninitiated we call “sheeple”.          

MISCELLANY: You can also carry a small compass, multi-tool, whistle, pepper-spray (where legal), pocket knife, or Swedish steel (redundant to what's in your shoe) if you so desire. My advice is to conduct a web search on the phrase “Keychain survival kit” and see what is out there. You will be amazed by what your find.

There are numerous plans on the Internet for making your own belt out of 550 cord. They look great and involve using a “double cobra stitch”. It took me about 15 minutes to learn the technique from the Internet and then about five hours one evening to make my first belt. I have since made three and they are an awesome piece of gear. The belt will give you about 75 feet of 550 cord depending on your waist size. There are two other belts that have survival value. The first is the rigger's belt. These can be found at most Army/Navy stores or easily on the Internet. They can be used with your carabiner keychain (if rated for load) and some cordage to belay you if necessary. The second is the money belt. These belts have hidden pockets inconspicuously sewn in and you can hold emergency money or small items of survival gear.

I have a Timex compass watch, which as the name implies, has a built in compass. The triple sensor watches like the Casio Pathfinder give you a compass, barometer, and altimeter in addition to the other functions. If you don’t own a compass watch then consider adding a compass to the band as an afterthought. [JWR Adds: If your watch has a steel case, you will of course need to remove the compass from the watchband before using it, to avoid a directional error.] My favorite watch is my Polimaster PM1208. It serves as a radiation detector and dosimeter in addition to telling time and looks just like any other watch. I am an active duty Marine and it is comforting to know that I have the ability to tell if I am being exposed to radiation and how much. This watch is very sensitive and actually detects the increase in background radiation I experience every time I fly.  There is a newer version out currently called the PM1208M. These watches are pricey but I have been thoroughly impressed with all my dealings with Polimaster and I believe they are worth the cost.

My wife would occasionally ask me why I needed something that I was carrying. My response was always the same “You don’t need something until you need something”.  My mind inevitably wanders back to the day I was lost in the woods and I think of how different things would be today. Set up your gear so that you will have it with you by default and you will never find yourself in a situation where you are kicking yourself for leaving it at home when your need it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dear Mr. Rawles,

With the proliferation of smart phones, as well as advanced cameras with GPSs installed, people may be giving away more information than they intend to when they snap and distribute pictures. This can be an operational security (OPSEC) issue.

Embedded in the Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) data on the picture, the GPS coordinates of the picture location may be stored for anyone to access. This is especially a problem as people post these pictures online (for social networking, emailing to friends/family, or for online sales, etc.).

This embedded GPS data can reveal the exact location of your home, work, and enable an individual with nefarious intent to build a profile of your movements. A threat to OPSEC to say the least!

Adam Savage, co-host of the popular television program "Mythbusters" inadvertently did exactly this.

Tech gurus and electronics manufacturers are touting it with that famous line - "It's not a bug, its a feature"

Accessing the data is exceedingly simple if you know that its there.

At least the U.S. military has recognized the OPSEC threat that this geolocation data represents on phones and cameras.

Stay safe, - Christopher T.

Friday, October 15, 2010

In the modern world more and more people are dependent upon their electronic devices to get them from point A to point B. But what happens when those devices stop working? It can happen either through a natural cause such as a geomagnetic storm, or something man-made like electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a terrorist [cyber] attack, or war. What the majority of people do not realize is that the GPS satellite network is owned and operated by the US Department of Defense. In a case of martial law or an act of war on US soil, civilian access to GPS may be restricted. There are also times when you may be going on an adventure where clear line of sight to the GPS satellites is not possible, such as heavy forest, mountains and jungle locations; all cause problems acquiring GPS signal. And there is always human error that has to be considered, such as leaving the GPS turned on and running the batteries out, breaking the GPS unit, or losing it. Without the knowledge of how to use more traditional navigational methods, your likelihood of survival is decreased.

This article has been broken into several sections, proceeding from the simplest compass navigation to the more complex issues of dealing with maps and magnetic declination. Also included is a section on primitive navigation, which is the worst-case scenario when you have no gear at all with you. The objective is to take my military and survival knowledge on navigation and put it in an easy-to-use guide for anyone from an absolute novice to outdoor enthusiast to use.

Compass Only
Learning how to use a compass is easy and could one day save your life.
Every compass has the four directions, North, East, South and West, which are represented with N, E, S, and W on the compass dial. There are a lot of different types of compasses out there, but regardless of their design and purpose they will always have the four directions on them.
The easiest compass to use is a simple map compass that consists of a dial and direction of travel on the base. Within the dial will be the four directions N, E, S, and W, an orientation arrow, orienting lines, and the compass needle. It does not get much simpler than this. Most compasses will have two different colours on the compass needle: some are white and red while others are red and black and some are white and red with a dot of white at the tip of the red. So which way is north when there are so many colour variations?

  • Red & White with glow-in-the-dark white – White is north.
  • Red & Black – Red is north.
  • Red & White with white dot at tip of red – Red is north; the white tip is glow-in-the-dark material.

For this tutorial red and black will be used for the compass needle, keeping inline with the basic map compass. The red portion of the compass needle will always point to magnetic north, no matter which way the compass is facing.
To go in any other direction other than to the magnetic north, you will need to move the direction of travel arrow to the direction you wish to go. The compass dial will have a scale; most are from 0 to 360 degrees, but there are compass dials that range from 400 to 0 degrees. The degrees are used for navigation between the four directions. For instance if you wanted to go half way between N and E on a dial with 360 degrees it would be a direction of 45 degrees. This sounds easy enough, now how to do it:
Hold the compass out away from yourself but in a position that is comfortable and where you can still read the compass. You will want to make sure there is no metal around the compass as metal will throw off the reading.

With the compass held as flat as possible, let the needle find magnetic north; then turn the dial, aligning the N with the tip of the red part of the needle.
Carefully turn the base of the compass to align the direction of travel arrow to the desired direction you wish to go in. Be sure to keep the red part of the compass needle pointed at the N or else you will go in the wrong direction. It is a common mistake to turn the whole compass rather than just the base. It is often a good idea to redo the reading to make sure you come out to the same location on the compass twice before heading off.

Now that you have a reading, walk in the direction of the direction of travel arrow, while keeping the red part of the compass needle pointed to the N. Always be sure to check your course several times to avoid getting off course. Ideally a check should be done at around 80 meters (262.46 feet); checking frequently means less course correction.
Don't make the mistake of staring down at the compass and walking through the wilderness; you will find that you will walk into something, off something, or trip and get hurt. By checking frequently you will be able to navigate the wilderness, reducing the risk of injury. The easy way to do this is to use landmarks that are in your direction of travel. That way you can look at the landmark to keep you close to your course.

How do I really know I am going the right way? There are primitive navigation methods that can be used to ascertain the four directions. When using a compass but when doubt still remains, look at the position of the sun. In the northern hemisphere where I am located, at noon the sun is in the south; if you are on the southern hemisphere, for you the sun would be in the north. So if you are in the northern hemisphere and need to be heading north but the sun is blinding you, then stop! You are going south, the wrong direction! Just reverse this for the southern hemisphere; if you are wanting to go north and the sun is on your back, then do a 180 degree because you are facing the wrong way. Using these primitive navigation tricks with a compass will give you the confidence you may lack.

So remember:
In Northern Hemisphere sun at noon is South
In Southern Hemisphere sun at noon is North
Easy way to remember is the sun is pointing to the equator.
This method will help you get out alive if you are in the wilderness without a map, but yet you know that in a given direction from your current location there is a road, town, river or another object that is big and hard to miss.

There are inherent issues with this method of navigating. It’s not very accurate: if you were looking for a small campsite deep in the wilderness, this method would not help you. But it will keep you from going in circles, what happens to most who are lost in the wilderness; the key to getting out is going straight. A good rule is to bring an accurate and appropriate-scaled map with you to any location you are not familiar with.

Compass with Map

You have your basic compass that was used in navigating with just a compass, but you were smart and also brought a map; this section will teach you how to use your compass with that map, to find small sites with precision navigation.

When using a compass with a good map, your odds of survival and making it out greatly increase. You can look at the map to determine major navigational obstacles as well as most likely areas of rescue or self-rescue. This is an important lesson that should be learned by anyone going into the wilderness; not only will you be able to safely navigate the terrain and make it precisely where you meant to be, but you will make it there alive.

In this example to navigate using a map you will be on a wilderness trail at point Alpha kilometer / mile 0, and your objective is to reach point Charlie kilometer 43 / 26.71 mile without going through Bravo point. This will mean you will have to leave the trail and go cross-country. To determine your course, lay out the map and take the edge of the compass that runs parallel to the direction of travel arrow (the longest edge is usually the parallel edge) placing the bottom corner of the edge on point Alpha and the upper corner of the edge on point Charlie. Point Charlie can be located any place along the edge and not necessarily at the corner. An alternative easy-to-remember method is to use the direction arrow of travel as a way to line up the compass so it points from Alpha to Charlie. It is very important to make sure that the direction of travel arrow is pointed towards the other checkpoint, in this example point Charlie; failure to align the direction of travel arrow to your checkpoint will result in going the wrong way. There is great debate on whether or not one should draw a line on the map to mark the direction of travel. When I was in the military, my maps were placed in a waterproof map case, and with a special waterproof pencil I could draw lines, make notations, etc. without damaging the map, but since most people likely will not have such luxury it is not a good idea to draw a line; it does not add anything to the precision and often puts the map at risk of being damaged and covers up important details. You should make the investment in a waterproof map trail case; it will keep your maps dry and you can further tie it to your pack so you won't lose it on the trail.

No one will complain if you take the time to recheck your work; it is very important even with a map to redo the reading and make sure it is right.
With a direction of travel set you might think you are ready to head cross country. That would be a wrong decision; the compass has to be oriented to the map before it is useful. To do this lay the map flat or stabilize your map case.

On your map there will be lines that run North to South; these lines are called meridian lines. On your compass dial you will see similar lines that run from the N to the S; these lines are called orienting lines. To orient the compass to your map you will need to line up the compass orienting lines to the map meridian lines. In order to do this, carefully turn the dial of the compass while keeping the edge / direction of travel arrow aligned from point Alpha to point Charlie. Ignore what the compass needle is doing for now. Be absolutely sure that the North on your map is also N on your compass dial when the orienting lines have lined up to the meridian lines; if not, your reading will be wrong. Both the meridian north and orienting north have to match up; all maps designate the direction of North; find it so you know which way to line up the lines. It is also important to make sure the edge of the compass base or the direction of travel line remains in alignment between the two points. Failure to check these things will result in course navigation errors.

With the meridian and orienting lines aligned properly and our compass edge or the direction of travel arrow still aligned on the two checkpoints, we have our compass bearing. I like to make a note of the compass bearing; it is a personal preference, because it is extremely important that once you have the bearing, the compass dial or base not move; movement results in a different bearing and consequently navigational errors. With a compass bearing you can store your map safely and navigate using the compass only, as in the first section. The difference here is you are actually navigating with a bearing to a precise location.

Holding the compass as flat as possible, you need to turn your whole body until the red part of the compass needle aligns with the N on the compass dial. Do not turn the dial or the base of the compass. Remember always make sure red is in the north position, or you will never reach the destination. To walk with the compass and navigate, take a minute or two; hold the compass out in front of you while keeping the red compass needle pointed to the N and not turning anything on the compass; look down the direction of travel arrow and pick out something that stands out that is in line with the compass bearing. This will be your landmark so you can walk safely through the wilderness. It is important to pick something that is easy to see in the middle-ground. Repeat and check your direction like before at around every 80 meters (262.46 feet) and you will make it to checkpoint Charlie without having to go through checkpoint Bravo.

Compensating for Magnetic North

The compass needle points to magnetic north, which is where the magnetic fields of the earth align at the northern magnetic pole. This is often mistaken for the North Pole. The North Pole is actually very far from the magnetic pole. It is important to note that the magnetic pole moves often from year to year. The difference between magnetic north and true north is called “magnetic declination”. Because the location of magnetic north moves, it is important to figure out the magnetic declination before leaving home or see if there is a notation on your map as to what the magnetic declination is.

Why should you be concerned with this? Topographical maps are situated to true north rather than magnetic north, so your compass bearings will be off by the amount of the magnetic declination. As well, most modern maps, especially hiking and trail maps, use a grid called the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM). This UTM grid is used for charting a location that lies between 84 degrees North and 80 degrees South, which covers most of the earth's surface. Note that the UTM grid does not have a real north pole; however, the orientation of the grid matches closely to the meridian lines of maps.

How this grid correlates to your map is pretty clever: typically the average hiking map will have a 2 centimeters grid setup; with this distance the map scale is 1:50,000, therefore on a 2 centimeters (7/8ths of an inch) grid distance the actual distance is 1 kilometer (0.62 miles). This is very useful when planning an extended tour in the wilderness to determine how far a person can go in a day or where resources or locations are in terms of distance from your current location.

As great as the UTM grid is, to use it properly as a navigational tool you need to know how much difference there is between the UTM grid and magnetic pole. Plotting a course is the same as in the Map with a Compass section, with the added complication of making sure not to align the orienting lines to the east – west UTM grid lines. Now for the tricky part … once you have your compass bearing, you need to account for the number of degrees of magnetic declination. Sometimes this will mean adding degrees, and other times it may mean subtracting degrees. These degrees come from the angle between the UTM grid lines / meridian lines and the magnetic north location.
By now you will have concluded that magnetic declination varies by your geographical location; this is why it is important to figure this out ahead of time before departing. If you have forgotten to do this before heading out to the wilderness, don't panic.

To figure out the magnetic declination in the wilderness, look at your map grid from your current location and note the grid azimuth. Did I just lose you? Okay, here is what you need to do: find where you are on the map, then measure the angle from the nearest north meridian / UTM grid line to your location. To do this ideally you should have a protractor.

Now that you have found where you are on the map and have your grid azimuth, now look for a very distant distinctive feature; the further away the object is, the more accurate your declination will be. With your compass, aim the direction of travel arrow at the landmark. Now turn the compass dial so that the red compass needle points to N, and when the compass needle is correctly aligned, look at the degrees on the compass dial where the base of the direction of travel arrow is. Note this number, for it is the magnetic azimuth.

To find magnetic declination, take your grid azimuth and subtract your magnetic azimuth; the result is the magnetic declination.
If visibility is an issue in determining a landmark, there is still a way in which to find the magnetic declination. A method used in the military: with your compass edge, draw a straight line passing through your current location on the map and your destination and extend the line across any of the map borders. Now take your compass to where the line you just drew intersects with the map border, positioning the direction of travel arrow in alignment with the line you drew, then align the orienting line with the map edge while making sure that map north and compass north are both in the same direction. The magnetic declination will be the distance from the north orienting line to your direction of travel line.

If the map marker for magnetic north is to the right of the true north line, then subtract the declination value from the magnetic north bearing you took for your destination. If the map marker is to the left of true north, then you will need to add the declination value to your magnetic north bearing for your destination.
For example, in my location the declination is 6 degrees easterly; if my bearing for my location was 140 degrees, I would need to subtract 6 degrees from 140, which would give me a bearing of 134 degrees, which would allow me to use the map that has not been adjusted for magnetic north. If I were in the west and my declination was -10 and my bearing was still 140 degrees, I would need to add 10 degrees to my bearing, making it 150 degrees.

On a lot of modern maps there will be located somewhere a line that points to MN (Magnetic North) and another line from the base of the MN line that points a star symbol (True North), and between these two lines will be a number in degrees, which is the magnetic declination at the time the map was made. You may also notice a GN symbol; this represents the UTM grid ("grid north") , and the line with the GN indicates the declination of the UTM in relation to true north. Because magnetic declination changes, it is important to make sure your map is up to date with the correct information.

How bad can it be if you are only off a few degrees? Well, it can be downright disastrous; an error of 1 degree after 16.09 kilometers (10 miles) will result in you being off course by 280 meters (920 feet). If you compound this error by ten degrees after the same distance you will find yourself off course by 2.79 kilometers (1.73 miles); in a wilderness situation that is the equivalent of being on the moon and will be completely devastating to the person.
Using the methods described here, anyone should be able to navigate their way through the wilderness safely and confidently, but it is important to practice, navigating at home while you can rather than trying to learn these skills when you are in the wilderness and lost.

Primitive Navigation

What if the worst-case scenario happens? You are so lost, with no hope of finding your way without your trusty compass and maps. It now has become a real issue of survival. It may seem as if there is no hope of ever getting out of the wilderness. I will explain various means of finding your way when you have absolutely nothing to navigate with.
The shadow-stick compass is a very old and tried and tested way to get a general direction, much like navigating with a compass and no map. Put the stick in the ground free of vegetation, take a small stick or stone, and mark the end of the shadow. Now wait 10 - 15 minutes and then mark where the end of the shadow is now. You will notice it has moved. Draw a straight line between the two small markers that mark the end of the shadow. This will tell you the east - west line. The first small marker is the west direction and the second small marker is the east direction.

To find the north - south line, look east and draw a line perpendicular to the east - west line. To the left will be north and to the right will be south. Or if you can't remember what is left or right … the line moving away from the sun is north in the Northern hemisphere, but if you are in the Southern hemisphere, the north and south direction is reversed and the line moving away from the sun is south.
The longer you wait to place the second marker, the more accurate the shadow stick compass becomes.
If you find you have to travel at night, the shadow compass will still work with a bright moon. The advantage of the night shadow compass is that you can further verify your observation with the use of the stars.

Stellar navigation is not that hard and it is a fun time to learn about the various constellations and the stories behind them, which makes this a great activity in which to include children in the learning process. In the Northern Hemisphere to find north you need to locate a star called Polaris, which is the North Star. To find Polaris is simple: find the Big Dipper (just about everyone can find that), and the two stars that close the dipper part furthest from the handle point to Polaris, which is the first star in the handle of the Little Dipper. Polaris will also be a fairly bright star. However, this method will not work if you are above 70 degrees latitude or are in the Southern Hemisphere. The cool thing about the stars that even in the Southern Hemisphere there is a way to navigate. You will need to find the Southern Cross, which is a constellation of four stars called Crux. Two of the stars in Crixa constellation point to the Southern pole. The Southern Cross looks like a cross with a fifth star off center from the lower portion of the cross. For people in Australia, this is depicted upon the flag of Australia.

To find your east – west direction, you need to find the constellation of Orion, which can be seen in both hemispheres. In Orion's belt are three stars: the lowest of the three stars is West and the highest is east. On a clear night one can see the whole constellation of Orion including the bow; his bow always faces west; therefore, just remember Orion always looks west.

Should you find yourself unable to find Polaris either because of heavy cloud cover or because the terrain works against you, there are other methods that can be used. The first method is using a single stick. Find a bright star that will be easy to find later. While lying on the ground, look up at the star and point the stick directly at it; since it is important to repeat the same observation position several times, you may wish to use a rock to mark the placement of your head when you observed the star the first time. Ideally you will want to wait an hour, checking on your star every 15 minutes and noting the direction of travel. If the star is tracking to the left, you are facing north; if the star tracked up, you are facing east; if the star tracked right, you are facing south, and if the star tracked down, you are facing west.

This same method can be done using two sticks like the shadow stick compass. You will want two large sticks that are a meter to a meter and a half in length (3 to 4 feet). It is important to have one stick larger than the other. Place the larger stick in the ground. With the first stick in place, sit on the ground by the stick. You now take the shorter stick and aim the top of it in line to the top of the bigger stick, which will in turn aim at a bright star. As in the one-stick method, wait an hour, checking the star positioning every 15 minutes. The second stick in this example takes the place of the stone and provides you with the exact same observation position. Just as in the one stick method, if the star is tracking to the left, you are facing north; if the star tracked up, you are facing east; if the star tracked right, you are facing south, and if the star tracked down, you are facing west.
Another method that can be used to determine direction is called the “Watch” method. If you have an analog watch, hold it out in front of you as you would hold a compass. Use a twig or something to cast a shadow directed to the center of the watch. Now for the tricky part: you need to turn the watch until the shadow splits the distance between the hour hand and 12 in half. When this happens 12 will be pointing South and 6 will be pointing North. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, this would be reversed: 12 would be pointing North and 6 would be pointing South.

Should you find yourself out in the world without your trusty analog watch or you just have a digital watch, this method will still work for you. Simply draw yourself a clock face on the ground. With your big circle in the dirt draw a line that points to the sun; this will be the hour hand. When you have done that, draw a line to the 12 position where it would be in relation to your hour hand on your dirt circle. Halfway between your dirt hour hand and 12 is South.

Any of the methods described in the foregoing will get you going in a general direction; when done properly they are as accurate as navigating with just a compass with no map. So if you know your survival depends on going in a particular direction, for example if the interstate highway is to the east of your location about 4 miles away, this will get you there. It won't help you find pinpoint locations.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Taking a page from my Marine Corps training from way back and utilizing the civilian environment which we are in I believe I have come across a fun way for groups/families to practice land navigation (land nav) and stealth/concealment at the same time. I have two young teen age children and have been trying to teach them land nav which is somewhat fun for a short time but they haven’t really gotten it yet. One thing kids really like is hide and seek another is to camouflage up. I liked it and in the past become very proficient and blending in and disappearing in the woods. While in the military we would hone land nav skills with practice and occasionally refresher classes. After the class the unit would break down into 1-4 man teams. At that point each team would go to the 100 meter course and verify your pace count then verify the accuracy of your compass on a known azimuth. As each team was ready they would head out into the bush on any number of courses to known/designated points. Each team would rotate the various tasks of plotting, pace count, follow bearing etc. It was a fun day to learn or hone skills. But at times we would also incorporate patrolling into the class. Still in fire teams, the training would involve multiple team on team ambushes and evasions while completing the course. Any other group encountered would be considered the “enemy”. The idea wasn’t to practice tactics at this point but land nav and stealth. So laying in ambush was not the point unless the opportunity presented itself. It could really be a challenge during darkness. These courses covered large areas. There were often 10-15 points each team needed to find and a leg may be only 2-400 meters or it may well be 1 mile or more.

In the novel "Patriots", the [retreat] group trained in a wooded area where they could possibly encounter hikers/campers unexpectedly. Here in Colorado if you are in a national forest wearing the official hiking clothes (no cotton allowed, must have moisture wicking shorts, shirt, hiking boots, floppy hat, day pack and hiking poles ) you won’t get a second look. Same area but off trail in cammies (BDUs) and web gear with map and compass you might get a good sideways look because you’re not in the official hiking attire and you’re not on the trail. Then again, same area but in full combat gear and your paintball /airsoft guns the hiker passing by on the trail may give the local ranger a call whether you are seen [training] or not if there is evidence of activity (wet paintball splats everywhere). So a team seen doing the same action wearing the same clothes but is obviously unarmed then the observer is more apt to think you are only a couple of nuts not necessarily a scary threat (been there and seen it). This training isn’t for tactics and concealment but stealth, concealment and land nav.

So, to make a short story long use the military style land nav training to teach camouflage/stealth/concealment and as many land nav skills as you can. Depending on your situation have the family(s) or group break down into 1-4 man teams so everyone can practice all the land nav skills. As a good prepper there are enough radios so every team can have one and are all on the same freq. Every team has a map or strip map of the area and of course a good compass. Preferably a very large area with some type of easy to identify boundaries (road, trail, lake, ridge, swamp, cut) so should someone get lost or turned around they will recognize the boundaries to stay within.

As stated in other posts paintball/airsoft guns have very limited range. However, line of sight can go for quite a way and in the real world if you are seen even at a relatively long range it could mean your time is up. Again, a big part of the purpose of this training is camouflage/stealth/concealment. The reason for the radios is simple. You’re not shooting someone with a paintball. You nail them with the radio. If the other teams are family and friends you should be able to identify them by their posture, gait, clothes, size etc. If not, then perhaps each team could be marked with some sort of specific colored tape or cloth or number. You observe your best bud 300 meters off exhibiting an unbelievable amount of poor judgment by standing next to a fine bit of concealment in the open looking at his map instead of kneeling down behind it. If he had concealed himself you may not have seen him as you glassed the area as you traveled on your own land nav leg. So you get on the radio and nail him (Hello you, this is me. Freeze. Observe to your 4 o’clock. You are toast. Gotchya.). Clean shot.

Again, this does not necessarily teach threat left, right, ambush fire-team or squad drills. Though it certainly can reinforce fire-team positions and movement. It can of course be modified any number of ways to suit the situation. This can be a very fun way to teach kids, wives/girlfriends valuable skills without breaking out the artillery. And remember. No matter what color clothes worn the lack of movement in itself can be camouflage.

Camouflage clothing isn’t the last word on concealment. Some work better than others in different environments and times of year. Know what works in your area. Often times a single drab color can do better than a pattern. The plain earth tone may accept the highs and lows of the surroundings as opposed to a pattern being forced into the scene (while slowly moving in tall grass plain green army jungles do better than BDUs). If going all out and using camo face paint don’t forget inside and behind the ears, under the nose, neck, hands, wrists. Throwing a few stripes across the face is a “NO GO”. Do it right. Gloves or shooters type gloves with finger(s) cut out help conceal exposed skin. Put your collar up and sleeves down. I always have an old GI green triangle bandage around my neck. Not just for sweat but sized and positioned that if need be at a moments notice I can pull it up bandit style and have my face almost completely covered for concealment without always wearing cammie paint. Bush covers (hat) are a wonderful thing.


  • Land Nav gear
  • Reliable compasses
  • Map(s) and strip maps
  • Protractors
  • Grease pencils [or Vis-aVis pens], pencils, paper
  • Comm gear
  • Walkie talkie with ear bud for each team (preferably the same brand and model)
  • Extra set of batteries
  • Extras
  • Plenty of water and snacks
  • Camouflage veil or dark colored triangle bandage.
  • Camouflage face paint
  • Gloves
  • First-aid kit

Regards, - K.B.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It’s one thing to prepare for an unexpected event that you can ride out in the course of a week or two; secure, defensible shelter that functions without the grid, a store of food and water, and stockpiles of essentials such as ammo and medical supplies may be more than enough to last until the disaster passes and social order is restored. But what about long-term survival in the face of TEOTWAWKI

I’ve always found it instructive to study how we lived before 20th-century innovations such as electricity and refrigeration and potable water piped right into the kitchen. It wasn’t that long ago; my dad’s folks didn’t have electricity until he was a teen and his grandparents spent most of their life in a home where going to the bathroom at night required boots and a lantern. When great-grandpa shot a mink that was threatening the chickens, his wife didn’t think twice about making gloves and a stole from the pelt. Could you produce gloves from a rabbit pelt? Or, for that matter, turn a sheaf of wheat into a loaf of bread? They had skills that we have forgotten; knowledge that we need to relearn should our technologically-enabled lifestyle be unexpectedly set back a century or two.

Mechanical Arts is an obsolete and archaic term from the European Middle Ages; it referred to the practical skills required of the lower class, as opposed to the Liberal Arts and Performing Arts mastered by the upper crust and intelligentsia. The eight mechanical arts make a good springboard for reviewing the skills that we need to re-master if we are to live – not just survive – in the face of long-term social collapse. The eight mechanical arts of medieval tradition are weaving, blacksmithing, war, navigation, agriculture, hunting, medicine, and theater.

Modern weaving encompasses everything from basic sewing skills – on a non-electric machine – to the production of thread, cloth, and yarn from basic agricultural products. The latter requires quite a long-term view, but it isn’t out of the question to make sure that your group has a functional antique sewing machine and people with the skill to use it. Knitting and crocheting are fine hobbies that might prove to be useful skills should the need arise. And basic hand-sewing is a skill everyone needs; in a crisis, cloth may not be the only thing that needs a bit of emergency stitching. I would include tanning in this category; make sure someone in your group is able to turn a deer hide into useable buckskin.

Traditional blacksmithing is also a fine hobby that becomes a useful survival skill. In the modern view, competence with cutting and welding equipment falls into this category as well. The ability to cut and shape metal – however you do it – will put your skills in constant demand. I would include basic mechanical skills as well. If you have useful, non-electric machinery (windmills and well pumps and that antique sewing machine come to mind) and animal-drawn farm tools that you can keep in good repair, you’ll be in better shape than most of your neighbors.

Much has been written about home defense in the face of chaos. Every member of your group needs to be trained in the basics. Again, this makes a fine diversion here in the real world; I am continually astounded as to how readily the girls take to occasional outings to the local shooting range. Advanced skills range from leadership training and gunsmithing to tactical surveys of your terrain. One acquaintance (and this is an example of extreme and probably illegal preparedness) has located the most likely spots where an assaulting force might take cover and has not only set up lines of fire into those locations but has run underground wires so he can quickly connect and conceal his Claymores. I’ll hail his bunker from a good safe distance should the need arise!

Navigation by the sun and stars is an art that most of us GPS-enabled survivalists have never learned. It’s probably not necessary; chances are you’re already quite familiar with the locale around your refuge and establishing north from the stars or tree moss runs a distant second to a good pocket compass. But it wouldn’t hurt for your group to master some basic wilderness trekking skills. This makes for a fun activity; take a day class, or set up a course of waypoints and instructions yourself, with a prize (or food and beer!) at the end.

Agriculture and hunting are probably among the most necessary and most varied of these skills. Your group may already include avid hunters who can not only bring down food but prepare it in the field. This may include gunsmithing and bow hunting; it does not include recreational fishing, which is fun but usually calorie-negative. Agriculture in the face of adversity is actually more difficult than hunting. If you already have a hobby farm (and you should, in conjunction with your survival compound), think about how you would get water to your plants and animals without the electric pump at the bottom of the well. Raising fruits and vegetables is one thing; can you turn your wheat and corn into flour? This is a skill that will stand you in good stead in the face of long-term separation from the local grocery store. I would place cooking and food preparation in this category as well, where the big question is: can you prepare and store food for long-term storage without electricity or refrigeration? And for those with large enough lots, keeping animals – whether they be chickens, pigs, goats, or cattle – will be a great benefit over the long run. Sadly, agriculture as a hobby is almost always a money-loser – you simply cannot produce eggs for what they cost at the store and I weep every time I see corn at five ears for a dollar – but you may find home-grown tomatoes and free-range eggs sufficiently tasty to give it a try. And, while illegal, running a home still is both educational and entertaining – and good moonshine whisky might be as valuable a trade item as gold as well as useful as antiseptic or emergency fuel. In a real emergency, you can drink it as well.

A doctor in the group is pure gold, but the problems of long-term survival without access to modern health care are numerous and difficult to overcome. Are there diabetics in your family? Insulin will be impossible to find. Do members have high blood pressure or severe allergies? Your stockpile of medication will not last long and lifestyle changes will be required. Survivalist medicine runs the gamut from medical diagnosis and emergency surgery (do you want to lose a child to something as routine as appendicitis – or mistakenly cut into a belly when the problem is merely heartburn?) to growing and processing your own medicinal plants. Willow-bark tea is a far cry from oxycodone, but it may be all you can get. But at the least every member of your group needs to be trained in basic first aid, including dressing wounds and setting broken bones in the field. And for the long term, a good class in childbirth for the potential mothers and midwives in your group.

Like it or not, you and your group will have to interact with those around you – if for no other reason than to get news and barter what you have for what you need – and good social skills are a must. Fortunately, most of us work and play in large groups and the isolated hermit is a curiosity of the past. However, it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on your negotiating skills; the day may come when your life depends on it.

One could not expect any individual to master more than a handful of these; indeed, one could argue that the advent of individual specialization was the beginning of modern civilization. But even a fairly small group can cover most with relative ease. And practice of these arts as hobbies may lead to a good deal of personal satisfaction as well as the comfort in knowing that you are prepared for the worst.     

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dear Editor:

I am writing this hoping to let others learn from my families’ ordeal. Our summer camping trip almost became a search and rescue operation.

From July 8th to the 18th, several friends and I ventured into the mountains of Arizona for a leisurely cooler [high country] camping trip. During the first half of this trip I had my three daughters with me, while my wife had stayed home near Phoenix. She planned to come up the last weekend of the camping trip as she is not a big fan of camping.

I had planned ahead for her and made arrangements with a family member for her to borrow their [Toyota] FJ Cruiser [compact SUV] with four wheel drive. I did not want her to have to drive the almost 30 miles of dirt road to our camp in her minivan. Along with the FJ came a GPS system.

I was even courteous enough to my wife and met her at the beginning of the dirt road and let her follow me back to camp so she would not get lost with my directions.

Everything so far had worked out great. On Saturday afternoon my wife became bored with the whole camping idea and decided she wanted to drive into Payson, Arizona and do some window shopping and just goof around in town.

I went to the GPS and looked up the directions for Payson for her. I knew she would have to drive at least 20 miles on a different dirt road and then follow the signs on the highway to Payson. Altogether a 50 mile drive or so. The GPS was indicating it wanted my wife to travel a different route that would add many more miles onto the trip.

To overcome this I gave her verbal directions to the Rim Road and told her to go East on it. At that point the GPS would recalculate and tell her to follow the known route to Payson. Or so I hoped. I kissed the wife and sent her on her way with two of my daughters, a GMRS radio, and her cellular telephone. She left camp at about 1 p.m.

At about 3:30 pm I decided to drive to the edge of the Mogollon Rim and make a cellular call and see how she was doing and make sure she arrived safely. I figured the trip would have taken maybe just over an hour without heavy traffic.

When I made the call she answered and sounded upset. She explained to me she followed the GPS directions from camp and the GPS had taken her to Payson through Winslow. Her trip took 2½ hours. She also explained to me that she only had a ¼ tank of gas when she left (plenty to get to Payson on the Rim Road) and had almost run out of gas following the route through Winslow.

My wife was very upset and said she was not planning on staying too long as the majority of the afternoon was now over. I began to tell her how to get back to camp and give her directions. She was still upset from her first trip and said she would just follow the GPS back to camp. When I tried to give more directions she hung up on me.

I went back to camp but worried about her and the girls for the rest of the afternoon. I was not sure what time she was planning on leaving Payson and therefore had no expected time of arrival for her. I decided that I would attempt to call her at 7 p.m. if I had not heard from her or seen her arrive.

At 6:45 I was worried and chomping at the bit. My friend drove me to the edge of the Rim to make a cellular call and attempt to reach her. I made 4 separate calls. Each time I could hear the phone connect but did not hear anyone on the other end. Shortly after the call would be lost. The fifth time, the phone connected and my wife’s upset and concerned voice was finally heard.

She begged me to come find her. She said she had followed the GPS and was lost somewhere on the Mogollon Rim. My own concern set in and I asked her to provide me with some kind of direction she was could be found. She was only able to tell me that the GPS said she was on the forest road #91.

I knew that road; it was not too far from our camp. The problem was that this road continued for several miles taking her possibly farther back into the woods. I immediately told her to stop the truck and sit in it and wait for me. The call was then lost. I was getting pretty panicked at this point and my buddy knew I was.

I told him we needed to go and find her. We went to where the 91 began and headed north. After driving 3-4 miles we began to hear what sounded like a “call” tone on the mobile GMRS radio in the truck. The bad part, the trucks radio could pick up the distant call but she would be unable to hear us if we called to her. We tried and got no response. The “call” tone continued over and over and eventually stopped. We didn’t even know if it was from my wife.

After driving almost 10 miles on the 91 I heard my wife’s voice come across the GMRS radio. She asked if I was out there. I cleared her back and she heard my transmission. I knew that with the small handheld radio she was using we had to be within 2 miles or so from her.

I talked with her on the radio back and forth to calm her as we continued down the forest road looking. Eventually we came out of a canyon and right on top of the ridge was the FJ parked in the middle of the road with the headlights on. I was overjoyed and calmed.

During the drive back to camp, I asked my wife what had occurred. She said after speaking to me and hanging up on me, she drove to Show Low, Az. She said she thought I had told her to drive there and then use the GPS to drive back to camp following its directions.

She drove to Show Low and then followed the GPS through Taylor and Snowflake and back to Winslow. There the GPS took her through the forest roads for over an hour. She was still following the GPS directions but felt she was lost.

She had made numerous attempts to call me on my cell phone but either got no response or had no service. She had all but given up when her cell phone rang and it was me calling her. The GPS directions were correct, that is to say it was taking her back to our camp, over a hundred miles out of the way.

My wife blew the whole ordeal off and blamed me for the whole issue. As we were driving to find her I began thinking and my thoughts fell on how little prepared she was for this ordeal.

I have her minivan at home set up with a full emergency kit/BOB kit. The kit could sustain her and the girls for at least 72 hours had they needed to use it. When my wife borrowed the FJ she left this kit in the minivan. I also knew that the FJ did not have any such kit in it. They had no food or shelter aside from the truck. I believed they may have had several bottles of water.

The Mogollon Rim is a large escarpment that extends from Flagstaff to the New Mexico border in a crescent shape. The Rim is the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. The elevations range from 7,000’ to 8,000’. This area is crisscrossed with innumerable forest roads. She could have been anywhere in eastern Arizona.

What made matters worse; my wife is not a prepper. She thinks I am loony but allows me to continue with our families preparations as she believes I will be around to do it all if the SHTF. I know that had I not found her, and she would have wandered off the 91, she and the girls could have been lost for a long time and needed further professional rescue.

In the end everything worked out but it could have turned out very bad. I am trying to make my wife realize how bad it could have been. I am also trying to plan on ways to keep this from happening again in the future.

By the way, my wife has a new acronym translation for GPS: Giant Pile of S***.

Regards, - J.M.J.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The following describes my recent "dry run" at bugging out on foot.

I’ve been thinking that someday soon I will be in need of backpacking over to my group’s retreat. So I created a plan to make a dry run. I grabbed my basic day pack (a Camelbak hydration pack with the minimum goodies in it.) My load included, three liters of water, simple folding knife, space blanket, fire starter, single pen of bug stuff, a few Cliff bars, and speed loaders for my Ruger .357 Magnum. I also had spare batteries for my head lamp, and a bottle of polar pure water treatment –that I’ve just purchased. I also had my cell phone and a 120 pound Labrador Retriever keeping me company for this trip. I did this at night for two reasons, one because it’s been hot here in the day –northeastern United States in summer, and two because I’ve been switched to night shift at work and needed to get used to being awake later.

I decided that this was a test to see that I make the night hike, to a trail head six miles away, then from there I would work out getting on the main road and hike the road back down to my town six miles away.

I left at 9 p.m. at night. I gave my friends my itinerary for my trip. I leashed up the dog and away I went. I didn’t print or bring a map with me because I had done a 10 mile hike on these trails in the light of day last fall and had a pretty good idea as to about where I was going. (that being said everything does look different at night!)

The first thing I noticed is it was a full moon, I didn’t really need my head lamp on unless I was in dark tree cover. Aside from the head lamp I carried a small $3 laser/light from Wal-Mart. So if I really needed to see rocks I just pressed a button for a few seconds.

I made no attempt to be covert or do anything tactical. I was just thinking of speed, and safety. Moving at a good pace was easy on the old railroad to trail conversion. The dog didn’t mind at all as I stopped and gave him a water stream from my hydra pack at intervals when he seemed to be panting more than normal. It started out as a hot July evening, so both of us were warm at the start.

I made the first six miles of trail with few issues, Most of the hard part going on this trail was rough going in to dark tree cover hidden from the moon light. I used my head lamp when I needed to do things like water the dog but for the most part I kept the head lamp off conserving batteries. I heard a few coyotes on this part of the woodsy trail. The only animal I was worried about was skunks. I could handle most things but getting sprayed was not one of them. This is the main reason I would at intervals light up my area looking for eyes and trashing my own night vision. At times I couldn’t see the trail it was under shadows from the trees. In the heavy areas of wash out and larger rocks I used my head lamp, figuring I’d rather see the rocks then break an ankle. It was safer than moving like a guerrilla and having the scars to later prove it.

The trail crossed a back road and continued on, I decided to try and move to my left and locate my main road south –I had been traveling north and kept on the trail (and confirmed north movement with my compass on my watch when I thought things like forks in the trail might take me the wrong direction).

My first mistake was turning left to link up to a highway that I was unsure about. I walked about a mile down a development road, and then hit about four cul-de-sacs before hearing a car in the distance and going past the trail and back to the right, then on to the main road. I saw a road sign that said six miles south to home. The turkey hill was still open, and I was starving, but I decided eat what I was carrying. I slowly ate down a cliff bar. Hiking just six miles was enough to make me really hungry.

Now it was after midnight and the area was more urban so the dog and I walked the sidewalks on our southbound trip towards home.

I had worn a button up shirt over my tee shirt and since we both started out hot I was surprised at how much the night wind cooled things down. I rolled down my sleeves and buttoned up I was sweating at first and this cold with caused me to chill a little.

It was about this point in time I started really to pay attention to the cars, and noises around me. If for no other reason that I was in a more urban area, carrying a small pack, my Ruger GP100 in a Kydex holster on my side. The shirt tail hid the Ruger from view, and the dog walking on my left kept my right hand free just in case. At 12:30 at night in this sleepy town on a Tuesday night. I didn’t see anyone out – and I was ok with that. Here is also where I started noticing that age old question boxers or briefs? And having chosen badly my legs were starting to chafe badly. On another positive note the way back was almost all downhill so both the dog and I walked along the highway without much trouble. I did use the little laser/led light as a flasher each time I heard a car. I didn’t want to be run down by any of the drunks out there being as we were walking along the guard rail on the road side.

At about the two miles from home mark, I stopped at a closed gas station/Laundromat and sat for a while on a bench. I rubbed my legs, and the dogs- gave him more water at this point and he wanted very much to lay down and sleep on the ground. I think at this point he probably hated my guts for making this trip! I ate my last cliff bar and shared it with the pooch. I was raw, my legs hurt a little bit, low on water but not out.

I pressed on – it was now about 2:00 a.m. and the local bars in town had closed, so I was extra alert when a van riding on the double yellow lines almost wiped out a phone pole. It was a close call for DUI in progress but the dog and I were defensive and keeping out of the way of all cars and trucks we were safely away from this crazy drunk person.

Back home and time to feed the dog and take a shower- about five hours of walking to do almost 13 miles, due to being turned around in the suburbs up north…

Items that I would have loved to have and will likely take next time:

1. Hiking poles- some places on the trail were rocky and in the dark had I lost footing and got hurt I’d have been in trouble, poles would have helped on the rough patches.

2. Baby wipes – I didn’t bring enough toilet paper. That is a big fail in my book.

3. I’d have got more, high calorie food bars, some trail mix or other high cal food- it’s amazing how hungry you get moving fast and are even a little chilled from the cold night air.

4. Foot powder/extra socks. I didn’t stop and wait for swelling, but I also didn’t have blisters at all either.

5. Vaseline - my legs rubbing my inner thighs really hurt at about 10 miles. I used bag balm on the brush burn part when I got home, and it was only sore a day- this is something that should be mentioned to everyone who thinks they are in good shape as I’d been doing 4+ miles a day for a long time and never had issues like this –this was a complete surprise and the level of pain at the end made hiking almost unbearable .

6. Fleece jacket or wind breaker. Okay, it’s summer time, but what if the cold night air dropped below 50? I did get sweaty. I got soaked and then in the cold night air froze. Hypothermia is a killer even if it’s in the 70-80s out – a little rain and then cold could have been really bad.

7. Wool watch cap - I could have used one.

Things that really worked for me- and that I would bring again for the next adventure trip/ self readiness test.

Good cross training shoes/boots- broken in. I should have changed socks, but even skipping it- my wool socks in cross trainers didn’t cause me to blister up. No matter how hard it is to find good wool socks – it is better than cotton and worth every penny.

The carry more than one light and a few spare batteries - cheap piece of mind carrying a $3 junk LED light on a snap link on the belt loop.

Head lamp-

The items in my pack that I didn’t use like a knife, fire starter- would have been used if I stopped, but also had limited room and no canteen cup or similar items to cook in. – but again this was a pack out test basically to see if I could physically cover the distance of going from my place to a retreat (nine miles away)- and I did over that compensating for not carrying a heavy backpack with more gear, a [more capable] weapon and I did it alone (if you don’t count the dog.). I made no plans on camping, looking for wild plants in the dark, or really cooking on the trail. I figure if I’m bugging out in real life it’s probably not going to be too safe to stop and eat or relax on the trail.

Something else to think about is my buddy Arf. I kept him leashed the whole trip. or his safety, he’s had run ins with skunks and porcupines. I wish I had carried more food for him, and I was constantly keeping an eye out on the main road and in the urban areas for glass on the sidewalks. You’d be amazed at how much glass is around in the urban areas from broken beer bottles. It is everywhere and the last thing I wanted to do was carry the dog the rest of the way home. I couldn’t imagine fleeing after a major disaster without getting him some type of dog booties or paw protection. I really wonder how the MPs, SERE, and K9 units deal with a dog's paw issues after a disaster. I wouldn’t consider him lucky as I am very alert about what my friend is walking on and keeping him leashed helped me control his stepping on very unhealthy pieces of broken bottles.

Anyhow it was a good learning experience, one that if you have never hiked any long distance and you need to consider foot travel to get to your retreat. You’d better get out and attempt it before you need to do it in real life because until you do it you will be left with the question of can you do it?

Can you make the trip if it is 8, 10. or 25 miles?

(Any 11B will be able to answer this question but that’s not why I’m saying to do it here.) I am saying to do it here to prove to yourself that you can and will accomplish your goal before you are forced t o try in real life when the stakes are higher than giving up and going home. - Fitzy in NEPA

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Having the equipment and skill necessary to travel cross-country can prove to be very beneficial in a number of survival scenarios.  A key component to cross country travel is map reading and orienteering.  The equipment that you will need for this is a map, a lensatic compass, and a US Military Square 5x5 protractor.

The first item of equipment that we will cover is maps.  Different maps serve varied purposes.  A map used for navigating cross country will look very different from the maps that you are familiar with for use with travel on highways and paved roads.  For cross country travel a topographic map with marked grid square lines in a scale of 1:50,000 is the general accepted standard.  The 1:50,000 scale provides a good compromise between detail/accuracy and area covered.  If your plans include bugging out you should have 1:50,000 topographic maps that cover your entire route as well as a straight line distance between your start point and your destination.  Map coverage of your retreat area should include a 1:250,000 scale topographic map that can be mounted on a wall or table along with enough acetate paper and alcohol pens for operational overlays to include, but not limited to property boundaries with known occupancy rates of adjacent properties and buildings, fortifications, caches, and historical records of game animals taken by type/time/season/location.  Be sure to practice good OPSEC by taking down and storing your overlays when they are not in use.  You should also have 1:50,000 scale topographic maps covering the same area as your stationary 1:250,000 scale map.  A site that I am in no way affiliated with that will print a map for any area you desire is

The second piece of equipment that you need is a clear (not colored or frosted in any way) US Military Square 5x5 Protractor with a few aftermarket modifications.  Using a needle make a hole at the intersection of the crosshairs in the center of the protractor.  Now take a strand of 550 cord guts and route it through the hole that you made in the protractor and tie a knot in both ends so that the string stays in place.  Use the scale on your map to mark off 100 meter tick marks on the string starting at the center of the protractor with an extra fine tip black permanent marker.  The final modification is to carefully cut the excess material off of the interior of all of the grid scale triangles.

The last piece of equipment that is absolutely necessary when traveling cross-country is a quality lensatic compass.  You can find a brand new “Military Issue” lensatic compass with tritium illumination for between $70 and $100.  There are imitations that use phosphorescent material for illumination. Do not buy one of these compasses.  The phosphorescent material needs to be “recharged” using a flashlight when navigating at night and they are of poor quality compared to the compasses that are tritium illuminated. [JWR Adds: The genuine article has a Nuclear Material "tri-chop" symbol and NRC warning stamped into the bottom of the compass casing. Make sure those markings are there, before you buy, and make sure that all seven tritium vials built into the compass glow properly. Also, buy a compass that is less than 15 years old. (Tritium has an 11.2-year half life--so tritium vials lose half of their brightness every 11.2 years.) The model to look for will be marked: NSN 6605-01-196-6971. If you buy one that is marked with the contractor name "Cammenga", then it won't be older than 1992 production.]Once you have the proper equipment you need to learn how to use it.  This is best accomplished using the "crawl, walk, run" method.: 

Crawl:   The very first thing that you must always do is to turn your map until the north seeking arrow is pointing north.  Accomplish this by placing your map on a level surface and then open your compass and set it down next to the Magnetic North seeking arrow on the maps declination diagram.  Now simply rotate the map until the needle of your compass and the arrow on the map are pointing in the same direction.  This is called “map orientation”.  The best way to learn to read a map is to get a map of the type that you will be using, preferably 1:50,000 topographic, that covers an area that you are very familiar with.  It is even better if that area is where you are currently located as this will help you to match the graphic representations on the map with the real world places that they represent.  This will enable you to look at the landscape and your map at the same time and will give all of the lines and symbols on the map more meaning.  Unfold the map on a level surface, I rarely just hold a map in my hands and look at it while standing or walking.  While orienteering the time that it takes you to unfold that map and orientate it is a very helpful pause that allows you to get your bearings and make sure that you are on the right path.  I have been doing land navigation since I was 10 years old first as a Royal Ranger (a Christian faith based version of the Boy Scouts) and then in the military and during my time in the military I have never gone over time on a course or failed to find all of my points day or night, so don’t worry about the time this will take you, it is worth it.  Now begin by studying the map legend.  The legend will tell you what every color and symbol on the map represents.  Next, with the help of the information from the map legend, locate on the map any major intersects and/or landmarks that you are familiar with.  The entire purpose of the crawl phase is for you to match places that you know or can physically see with their graphic representations on your map.

Walk:  Now you will learn how to use your map and protractor to determine the distance and direction from one landmark or feature to another landmark or feature.  Center your protractor on any feature, building, or landmark on the map.  Now with the protractor centered over your first feature move the string along the degree scale at the outside edge of the protractor to determine the azimuth (direction) in degrees to your destination.  Write this number down, it is the “grid azimuth” and must be converted to a “magnetic azimuth” that you can use with your compass.  To convert a grid azimuth to a magnetic azimuth you must locate the Grid-Magnetic (G-M) angle found in the declination diagram of your map legend and do some simple math.  To find your magnetic azimuth if the Magnetic North line lays to the left of the Grid North line you add the G-M angle.  If the Magnetic North line lies to the right of the Grid North line you subtract the G-M angle to find your magnetic azimuth.  Before you move your protractor or map count the tick marks on the string between the two features to determine the distance and write the distance down. 

Run:  Plot a point on a map when given an 8 digit grid coordinate.  Determine the grid size you are working with by consulting your map.  An eight digit grid will look like this:  7840 0060.  From this grid coordinate 78 is the number of the horizontal line and 00 is the number of the vertical line.  You will find the intersection of Horizontal line 78 and vertical line 00 and place base of your grid scale triangle on that intersection with the vertical leg (right side) of the triangle aligned with the vertical 00 grid line.  Now slide your protractor to the right until the vertical 00 grid line intersects the 4 on the base of the triangle, ensuring you are keeping the base of the triangular cutout aligned with the horizontal grid line.  Now without moving your protractor, make a mark beside the 6 on the vertical leg of the grid scale triangle.  You have now plotted the point 7840 0060.  If the last number of either four digit set of numbers is not zero, say 0065 instead of 0060 then you would simply put your mark halfway between the 6 and the 7 on the vertical leg of the grid scale triangle.  An eight digit grid coordinate is accurate to within ten meters.  You can use this same method to determine the grid coordinate of any feature on the map.

Moving through the brush can be disconcerting for a lot of people, but that feeling will go away the more you get out and practice your land navigation.  Before you attempt any land navigation you must determine your pace count.  To do this measure off a 100 meter course through an area that is typical of the terrain that you will be navigating through.  Now walk the course leading with your left foot and keep count of every time your right foot strikes the ground.  Do the same thing walking the course in the opposite direction and the average of the two times is your pace count.  Remember that when walking uphill your pace count will be higher than if you are walking down hill.   Most people if told to walk in a straight line with no reference points will eventually end up walking in a very large circle.  To mitigate this move from object to object along your path by shooting an azimuth to each object and then moving to that object. Repeating this process while you navigate should keep you from walking in circles.

 To use your compass to “shoot” an azimuth there are two methods, compass to cheek and center hold.   The compass to cheek method is preferred when moving during daylight hours.  To use the compass to cheek method open the cover of the compass until it forms a 90 degree angle to the base.  Make a pistol with your hand like a child would do with your index finger and thumb extended and the rest of your fingers curled.  Place your thumb thought the thumb loop and your index finger along the side of the compass base.  Steady the hand holding the compass with your other hand.  Position the thumb that is through the thumb loop against your cheekbone.  Look through the lens of the eyepiece and move the eyepiece up and down until the dial of the compass is in focus.  Rotate your entire body until the proper azimuth is achieved.  Now align the sighting slot of the eyepiece with the sighting wire in the cover and find an object that is intersected by the sighting wire.  Now you will move to that object keeping your pace count and once you have reached it shoot the same azimuth and find another object and walk to it.  You will repeat this until you have reached your destination.  For night the center hold method is preferred. 

Open the compass so that the cover forms a straight edge with the base and move the lens of the compass out of the way.  Make a pistol with your hand like a child would do with your index finger and thumb extended and the rest of your fingers curled.  Place your thumb thought the thumb loop and your index finger along the side of the compass base.  Take your other hand and place your thumb between the eyepiece and the lens and extend your index finger along the remaining side of the compass.   Now with your arms at your sides with elbows bent at a 90 degree angle turn your body until the correct azimuth is attained and walk making sure to maintain that azimuth by checking you compass every few steps.  When using this method and stepping around small obstacles go first to the left or right of one obstacle and the around the next obstacle on the opposite side.   If you have gone the appropriate distance and direction and do not see your destination take the following steps.  First, lay your map on the ground and redo all of your plotting and calculations from the very beginning.  If you verify those calculations as correct then mark the spot where you are and walk 100 meters in the same direction that you were previously traveling keeping an eye out for you end point.  Once you have walked 100 meters turn around and go back to the point that you marked.  Now add 90 degrees to your direct of travel and go for 100 meters returning to the point previously marked on the ground.  Repeat this process, adding 90 degrees each time, until you are back at your original azimuth.  I tend to drift to the left when navigating so will typically find my point when I add 90 degrees and walk for 100 meters.

Nothing will ever replace repetition when it comes to developing and maintaining your map reading and land navigation skills.  Start off with short distances of 100 to 200 meters and work up from there.  In closing always remember:

  1. Take the time to lay your map out flat and study it
  2. Always orient your map
  3. Write down your azimuth and distance
  4. Map Reading and Land Navigation are perishable skills
  5. Carry a GPS for backup (while the satellites are still working)
  6. Re-certify your pace count often

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It was the summer of 1985 and I was deep in the rain forest near the ruins of the ancient city of Tikal in Guatemala. Talking over the cries of howler monkeys, the guide showed us a small cave that had been uncovered on the side of the road. He told us this was one of many caches archeologists had found around the outskirts of the crumbling city. Some had contained only empty containers, and some had been full of grain and other food items. Could some of the citizens of Tikal, preparing for what they saw as the inevitable collapse of their civilization, been preparing by caching supplies around their doomed city? Whether they did or didn’t the fact remains that caching can be an extremely effective survival tool. It is my understanding that the Apache Indians had several caches in the Guadalupe Mountains and elsewhere when fighting U.S. Cavalry units at the end of the last century. Caching allows you to spread out supplies so if any one area is hit, you have a fallback position and have not lost all of your resources. However, caches have other benefits as well. In finding and placing caches you learn your area inside and out. You can also learn how to navigate with or without a map and compass. In short it is good preparation and teaches you good skills.

I live in a small town in Central Texas (we call it "The Hill Country") near a large river. I live in an average suburban house. As a teacher I cannot afford to pay for the perfect retreat. I can only do my best to prepare for the worst right where I am. However, I know I can hedge my bets by getting to know my area of operations as best I can before disaster strikes. In so doing, I can also place caches of supplies and have fallback camps if my home becomes endangered. The best way I have found to do this is through the modern art of geocaching.
Geocaching is aptly described on the web site as follows:

“Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online.
Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment.”

And that same web site is probably the best place to get started in your geocaching adventures. Geocaching is a great way to learn your area. It will also train you to effectively place and find caches around your area of operations. It does, however, depend on a high tech (global positioning system (GPS) network and satellites that may be susceptible to destruction or an electromagnetic pulse. Therefore, after learning with a GPS you may want to start using map, compass, and landmarks to locate caches. A great book and a true classic on orienteering is "Be Expert with Map and Compass: The Complete Orienteering Handbook" by Bjorn Kjellstrom.

I could go into all these skills but you really just need to explore the resources mentioned above and practice, practice, practice! What I want to spend the rest of this article on is where to cache, how to cache, and what to cache. Although caches can and are placed in the middle of cities, I prefer placing mine on public lands with heavy cover or on my own property. I also have permission from friends to place caches on their property. This avoids potential conflicts with law enforcement; the discovery by “muggles” (non-geocaching folk); and respects the rights of private landowners.

Containers should be watertight and a color that matches the landscape. I like using ammo cans. I wrap the seal with camo duck tape and add additional protection by placing my items in Tupperware or sealing them in vacuum bags. That way, if the can is penetrated by water, my items are still safe and sound. For this article, I recently went back to Houston where I placed an above ground cache along Buffalo Bayou right before Hurricane Katrina. The ammo can was still intact and everything inside looked just like it did when I placed it. I then took the opportunity to cache it in my new area of operations. Keeping caches small and portable is a big advantage!

What you put in your cache really depends on what you anticipate your needs will be. I usually place food, emergency blankets, water, and water purification systems in my caches. I have found that the Katadyn water filter systems have held up the best on my backpacking trips. A cheaper and smaller alternative is water purification tablets or straws. A good collapsible water container is also a must. Those new water purifier bottles make a good addition to any cache or G.O.O.D. pack. Make sure to write down any expiration dates on food, water, glow sticks, etc. on your cache location sheets and rotate out items as needed.

Another good choice for your cache is non perishable medical supplies such as bandages. But until the Schumer hits the fan, you should not cache anything that could be considered the least bit dangerous such as firearms or ammunition unless it is on your own property. Even then, you may want to break firearms down and cache the pieces in different locations. Boxes of ammunition store great if vacuum sealed. I don’t even presently cache fire starting materials for the sake of safety, although I sure keep them ready in my G.O.O.D. bag.
One thing geocachers don’t do but preppercachers (my own term) can do is bury your booty. This makes it almost impossible for others to find. If you do this make sure to camouflage your dig site well with natural materials until time and rain make things less obvious. Also, make sure to record your cache locations on paper. I keep a coded list of my locations in my wallet, another in my G.O.O.D. bag, and yet another in my gun safe at home. A cache is worthless if you cannot find it again. I also visit my caches once in a while to make sure I can find them and that they are still intact. Because I do this I can usually locate my caches without a GPS receiver or map and compass. I simply navigate using landmarks. A great book on landmark navigation is "Finding Your Way Without Map or Compas"sby Harold Gatty. Once again, make sure you write expiration dates on your list. That way you can rotate items out and use them before they expire.

In conclusion, I enjoy geocaching with my family, it has allowed us to learn to work as a team. We all now know how to navigate with GPS units, map and compass, or by using landmarks. We also have learned how to travel quietly through the landscape without being detected by muggles. Geocaching is not only fun but allows you to practice some very important survival skills. Also, preppercaching is a great way to spread out your resources and not put all of your eggs in one basket. But please, when you are caching remember to avoid dangerous items and respect the rights of private landowners! A carefully thought out and placed cache may very well save your life someday!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Howdy Mr. Rawles,

I had two comments to add to the conversation about thieves using Google Earth to steal koi.

First, when we typed our address into Google Earth, it popped to a house about a 1/4 mile from us (we checked that fact many times, not just once, so it was not a typo on our part). That was just ducky with the family, as it helped our farm stay invisible. After reading about the koi thefts, I decided to check on Google Earth again. I was so disappointed when it popped right to the farm this time!

The good thing is, since we live on a 40 acre farm, it puts the cursor right dead in the middle of the farm, in the biggest pasture. It's still hard to determine which house goes with the farm.

So if you too were rural and formerly invisible because Google Earth didn't know where you address actually was, you might want to check it again.

Second thing is when I was messing around with Google Earth I discovered how vital trees are. Specifically evergreen trees.

There are a series of pictures you can look at of the farm, dating back to 1998, taken by Google Earth.

My husband sells and delivers CONEX containers (also called cargo boxes and sea cans). My hubby installed our own 40 foot CONEX container right next to our house. We specifically picked a brown one to bring home for ourselves. My husband has legally held a CDL since he was 14 years old, and is an excellent driver, able to get the CONEX containers into difficult spots. Ours is next to the house, under the evergreen trees, and just a few feet from our propane tank.

The under the evergreen trees is the important part. In the latest pictures taken by Google Earth, you positively cannot see that an entire 40 foot CONEX container has been added to our property.

So look at Google Earth, and determine the best spots to plant evergreen trees to help camouflage your property and buildings. Sincerely, - Garnet

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In response to what Art A. wrote about the koi thieves. I want to add an aside that I don't know if you covered in your Google Earth piece. I work for a municipal police agency. Google Earth is widely used with the agency to be able to view locations of potential suspects. It is particularly informative when serving search warrants on large compound-like properties as it alerts officials to the location of all building, etc., as well as other things located on the property. When chasing criminals it seems a good tool but when the government decides that preppers, Christians, anti-abortionist, etc. are the biggest danger to the United States Google Earth has more ominous overtone. Here are a couple of links describing how Google Earth and GPS are used. Think about the possibilities.

How the police use Google Earth

Cops Find Pot Farm Using Google Earth

Thank you for your site. - Adnil

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dear Editor:
I often find myself visiting family in the mountainous areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky. I can't believe how incorrect my TomTom can be. I first got it because I'm a bit of a gear junkie and I've got one on a boat in the Canadian Great Lakes area which has always been very accurate.

This Christmas, I was blessed enough to be able to be off work from the fire department and went to visit my mother in North Carolina. Little did I know that I-40 has been shut three miles into North Carolina from the Tennessee state line due to an 18 story-tall rock slide that happened in October. BTW ,they say that it'll be open in March or April. My GPS hadn't been updated and I found it hard to get it to navigate me around the mess.

It turns out that my emergency kit I always travel in has [hard copy] state maps for all the states where I generally travel and I was able to follow an un-posted detour that saved me over an hour over the posted route which has to accommodate large trucks, wide loads and such.

I am constantly surprised how my preps for The End of the World always seem to help me out with the lesser or even non-emergencies. What a convenience to be preparedness minded!

I love your site. - T.T. in Kentucky

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I have several books, folded sheet, and other type maps. I wanted to purchase or acquire a good satellite image map with roads and terrain. After thinking, big mistake, I realized I already had the answer loaded on my computer.

I have Google Earth. On Google Earth you can add lots of legend material, Miles/ Kilometer, parks, etc, I went to the area I was in and printed out several elevations. In some areas you can zoom down to 100 feet elevation. I then went to the nearby office place and had the sheets laminated, and spiral bound. Keep you print outs in order or in the word processor program number your pages and add N,S,E,W tags. Then I got the bright idea that 8”x 11” was rather large so I made new print outs ½ size, laminated spiral bound, with a cover. Now if you do not have a color printer it is possible to save your handy work to disk and at an office place like Kinko's have them print it out for you. The cost is slightly more but well worth the effort. I you don't have a computer you local library has one and if they don't have Google Earth, then use Choose your area and then pick “wundermap” function right click to copy then paste into your document.

One other item I will suggest is a journal. Write down your thoughts and dreams. Later in life it may provide some laughs, good information or just having reading material. The “Marble” type bound notebook is fine or if you are so inclined a mole skin type bound or there are lots of other options just not spiral bound.

Jim, you and your family are in our Prayers and thank you for writing your new book, "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It". I'm now only several chapters into it but I'm already certain the information will save me several thousands of dollars in mistakes. - Jeff B.

Monday, September 7, 2009

First, as promised earlier I wanted to follow up and describe the kit I take with me on my trips. As I have mentioned in the past my job takes me overseas all the time, so for the past decade I have spent 80-90% of my time in third and second world countries. As a result the type of kit I take with me becomes important – it has to be packable and lightweight (especially now that the airlines are limiting you to 50 lbs. per bag versus the old 75 lbs. per bag). I have built up a kit that fits inside a one quart water bottle that goes in my suitcase whenever I travel. In the kit I have:

1. A folding knife (not a one hand opening one … just a plain old Buck style knife). When asked (four or five times in a decade now) I explain that this is for cutting my food.

2. A pocket knife (Swiss Army knife) [JWR Adds: Per FAA regulations, edged weapons may only be carried in checked baggage--not in carry-on bags,.]

3. A fork and spoon (titanium)

4. A small (AAA battery size) LED flashlight

5. Several packets of sugar free hydration mix

6. Water purification tablets and a water purification straw

7. A compass (Marble's Brand Pin On)

8. A waterproof container with matches in them (while technically not allowed I have packed them for years with no problems)

9. A length of 550 cord

10. A map of the region that has been waterproofed after various routes out of the area have been marked on it.

11. A waterproofed copy of my passport front page, driver’s license, and birth certificate, and contact number.

12. A couple of Krugerrands

I also have in the suitcase:

1. A small SW receiver (Grundig)

2. A first aid kit

3. A medical kit with various antibiotics, cold medicines, etc. in it.

4. A sewing kit (scissors come in handy and the thread and safety pins can be used for fishing)

I also use a backpack to carry my laptop and business stuff in. I have in the past pulled the hard-drive from the laptop and left it sitting there when I have had to evacuate. The survival kit goes into the backpack in this case. Just because the backpack is a 5.11 RUSH24, it has not raised any eyebrows by customs officials. In addition to this I have always carried a packable raincoat or poncho and a cold weather jacket in my suitcase along with a good pair of hiking boots and a couple of pairs of wool hiking socks.

Notice that other than the items in the water bottle, they are all items that one would use on a long business trip anyway.

I make it a habit to never pack and carry anything with me that I would not be willing to dump if the need arose.

I am sure this list will cause all sorts of heartache and discussion but I have used this kit or something very similar since I was a teenager (my father was posted all over the world) and unless we are talking about a complete breakdown of order it has enough in it that I can make it out of an area if need be.

Second, we are using this weekend as a chance to go enjoy the great outdoors and practice our load out at the same time. As mentioned in the past we plan on using a camping trailer to get out of our area if we are forced to. So this weekend (as we have in the past) we are practicing our load out and go skills. The kids look at it as a game, and now while the world is not as bad as it could be, we can survive if we forget something basic – and have time to add it to the trailer.

Third, when it comes to a bug-out many of us are tied to our computers and would want to take them with us. While I plan on taking one laptop with me if we ever have to leave our house (plus the K-12 educational CDs that we have for it) along with vital records, there is another way to keep your records with you. I have started to use products from a couple of different sites for many reasons – portability and security are chief among them. allows you to load a basic set of applications onto a USB [memory] stick and use it in “stealth” mode on any computer with a USB port. This allows you to keep your records and a basic set of applications with you at all times (things like money management software and email are critical). I also frequent and have a USB stick set up with a virtual linux image that allows me to do the same basic things as with the windows portable applications. I would urge you to set up several USB sticks like this so that you can get by with a single laptop/PC per family versus multiple ones. I also have the same sort of setup (using the windows briefcase function) for my critical business documents – while pulling the hard-drive does work this is a much cleaner solution.

In this way if I need to walk out of an area, a small USB memory stick is a whole lot easier to carry than a laptop. Plus with the large number of companies that are placing tracking software on your laptops these days, being able to keep certain things private has a great deal of appeal. - Hugh D.

Monday, August 31, 2009

[Introductory note from JWR: I normally send detailed letter replies only to their intended recipients, but in this case, I thought that this letter was a great example of terrain and obstacle analysis,a s well as "outside the box" planning, so I'm positing it for the entire SurvivalBlog readership to ponder. Do you have similar plans for off-road mobility, and contingency plans, folks?]

Mr. Rawles,
A note for Diane about her relative living on-post at Fort Riley, Kansas: First thing to obtain if you want to bug out of Ft. Riley is to get a Kansas Atlas & Gazetteer map book from DeLorme. [JWR Adds: These books are a key tool for "Get Out of Dodge" (G.O.O.D.) planning. Get one of these for your state, and if your intended retreat is in another state, for any states in-between!]

I trained for some years on the Ft. Riley reservation, lived in Kansas and have canoed many streams in the area. I have these comments on how to get out of that location.

The Ft. Riley Military Reservation is bounded on it western side by the very large Milford Lake. The water body of this lake is 14+ miles long and has a wildlife area upstream that extends some 5 to 6 miles north to Boughton, Kansas. At Boughton you can access a good Highway that will take you to Clay Center then west on Highway 24 to get across the Republican river.
Only one road crosses the lake body proper at Wakefield [Highway 82]. The river running into the lake is the Republican River. It is runs through an area of heavy soils making the banks steep, the bottom of the river soft and the stream depth non-fordable. To ford this river channel without a bridge you would have to travel many miles upstream approaching Cloud County Kansas [county seat Concordia] where the river changes from a deep soil bed to a sandy bed. Even in this area no one crosses the river in a four wheeled vehicle. ATVs do, but it is just too soft and sandy. I worked for the Department of Agriculture in this area and am very familiar with the farm community and the river channel areas, as a hunter. The transition zone from solid soils to sand is rather mucky.
I have canoed much of the river from well above Concordia to near the lake. Other than the road crossing at Wakefield and the southern end of the dam where Highway 244 skirts below the dam the west side of Ft. Riley is only a restricted bug out route because of the few escape routes. Near Salina Kansas the is the junction of the Solomon River [consisting upriver of two large streams, the north fork and the south fork]; the Saline River and the Smoky Hill River. Saline is west of Ft. Riley. At Ft. Riley the Republican River joins this conglomeration of rivers that come together at Saline to form the Kansas, River. This river is big. You will not cross unless you can find a bridge. This river runs west to east for many miles and gets much bigger the further east you go. Bugging out south of Ft. Riley is possible only if the Highways are clear to get across this river system.
Consult your maps for details.

There are large tracts of land south and southeast of Junction City, the southern portal to Ft. Riley that do not have a fully-developed [typical Plains state township] mile on mile road grid system.
Why? It is range land supporting large ranches. The roads were never built on a grid in this area. It has restricted assess to state Highways and county farm to market roads only. Consult your maps.
Unless the major Highways are open to the south it is a restricted zone for escape some 15 miles south and 20 miles east due to the lack of a road grid system.

Yes, I-70 does run by the south. A good exit if it is open. To the east is the large metropolitan city of Manhattan. It is a block if you want to bug out to the east. North and further NE of Ft. Riley is the huge Tuttle Creek lake some 16 miles long with its accompanying wildlife land area extending another five miles or so upriver. It is a huge block to getting out east or NE. Only one road crosses the lake on the dam [Highway 13].

The only well developed open grid section of mile on mile of county roads and state Highways is north. The Ft. Riley Military Reservation is some 14 mile long to the north. There is a military road system through this area. This road system is accessible from the bedding area for troops on Custer Hill--or it was some years ago. Check this out.

The huge training area north of Ft. Riley is, or was controlled from a single building called "Range Control". The assignment and use of the training areas was scheduled from this area. They monitor the areas mostly by radio. My suggestion is to get a military map of Ft. Riley with the range control markings showing the designations of each of the training areas. They all have numbers.
Now, since I was there a large construction and upgrading has proceeded at the tank gunnery range. But in an emergency I would think military families wanting to exit through the training areas to Bala Kansas and Riley Kansas or to get to the Highway to Milford would be possible. [JWR Adds: It also bears mentioning that artillery range impact areas are to be avoided at all times, since they are often littered with unexploded ordnance (UXO). Most of the "back gates" of large military reservations are kept locked and often unmanned except during major field training exercises (FTXes). In genuine "worst case" times of Deep Drama, a large pair of bolt cutters may be an indispensable friend of last resort. Before taking such extreme measures, however, consider that cutting the last link on a chain on such a gate is a Federal crime! Bolt cutters are a crucial tool that every well-prepared family should own, for many purposes.]

Note: large areas of the north are tank training areas. There are trails there marked tank trail. Under no circumstances try to negotiate a tank trail in a civilian vehicle. You will become mired down in no time. I have driven M60 tanks and tracked bridge units all the way from the bird bath to tank training headquarters. Trust me on this. I have seen tanks mired down on those trails that looked like it was going to take an act of God to get them out.

Ft. Riley present a core of access problems anyone wanting to bug out from there. It is possible if you make a good plan. Have the maps. And please, in advance drive all the routes to familiarize yourself with them. Most of all explore the roads through the training areas. Visit Range Control and talk to the people there and get a map of the military reservation area. [JWR Adds: This can often be done on the pretense of scouting a hunt, since some military training areas are open for specific hunting seasons.] Make a plan! Cordially, - JWC in Oklahoma

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hi Jim,

I enjoyed that excellent GPS article [by Mike S., "GPS for Day-to-Day Use and Survival".] It squares well with my personal experience.

GPS on-board mapping has many errors. Seems worse in the hinterlands. Also pretty bad where new construction is concerned. I was amused while driving in MA that for about a half mile my GPS unit thought I was driving down railroad tracks.

While snowshoeing with friends, my buddy had to demonstrate the GPS on his iPhone. All it showed was a dot in the middle of a blank screen. We were beyond the reach of cell phone towers and his phone could not access a map. We had a good laugh about it, but it's a good thing we knew our way through other means.

Many people who totally rely on a GPS for driving seem to lose their innate sense of direction. I asked a cousin for directions to a place and he said. "Huh . . . I've been there a hundred times but just follow the GPS directions. I really couldn't find my way there without it."

I do enjoy having GPS in my car. It came in handy when my speedometer cable broke and I could get my mph off of the unit.

Just be aware of its limits and don't forget your other navigation skills. - Raymond

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Reading accounts of people who had evacuated the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita was a sobering experience. Evacuees who took to the interstate highways effectively ended up in giant parking lots. In contrast, those who used the back roads fared much better and were able to evacuate in a timely manner. I live sufficiently inland that hurricanes do not pose a serious threat to me, nor do other foreseeable regional natural disasters such as earthquakes pose a serious risk. However, I live in the middle of a major metropolitan area where man-made disasters and localized natural disasters can and do happen. Similarly, a disaster can impair my ability to even get home. I also know from personal experience that even "normal" weather-related events such as ice storms can turn the major highways into near-parking lots, and knowing the back roads can save precious time.

Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers have come a long way since they were first introduced to consumers in the 1990s. My first GPS receiver, purchased in 1995, had no inherent map capability. It provided position (latitude, longitude, and elevation) information, along with a bearing while traveling. It had the ability to store way-points, and to record tracks for later review or backtracking. Way-points and tracks were displayable on the graphical display of the unit, but it only showed where you had gone or places where you already knew the coordinates. Using it to its full potential required that it be used in conjunction with a high quality map, such as a United States Geological Survey (USGS) topographical map. By the mid-2000s, GPS receivers with mapping capability became available for a reasonable price. Today, GPS receivers with mapping capability are available for under $100.

There are competing systems to the US GPS system. The Russians have their own operational global navigation satellite system (GNSS) called Glonass. The European Union is currently developing their own GNSS, Galileo, expected to be operational in 2013. And, the Chinese are promising to deploy their own GNSS, called Compass, announced to be operational in 2015.

Further, there are regional satellite based position augmentation services that improve the accuracy of GPS. In North America, the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) is operated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Europe operates the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS). Japan has the Multi-functional Satellite Augmentation System (MSAS). Other regional GPS augmentation systems are under development or being deployed.

This discussion is going to focus on hand-held and automotive GPS receivers - receivers I believe would be useful in an emergency situation. Hand-held GPS receivers run on batteries and are intended for outdoor use. Automotive GPS receivers are intended for use in an automobile, and provide turn-by-turn route navigation capability. Some hand-held GPS receivers have route navigation capability. I don't consider a GPS receiver that relies on a computer or PDA for display of data to be practical for emergency use since there are too many pieces to be forgotten, lost, or damaged in the "fog" of an emergency evacuation.

Many cell phones also have GPS capability, and while GPS-enabled cell phones are useful during normal times, they rely heavily on the cellular network to provide map and routing information, and should not be relied upon during an emergency when the cellular network may be overloaded or compromised.

Automotive GPS receivers

Automotive GPS receivers provide astonishing capability for their price, but they are not truly portable. For example, the TomTom ONE 125 unit has been readily available for around $100. It comes with a fairly detailed pre-loaded map of US streets and highways, and has a built-in lithium-ion battery which will power it for about three hours. It is intended to get its power from a vehicle. The map mode display is nearly as good as that provided by Google Maps which contributes significantly to its usability. More expensive units will provide larger displays, larger maps (e.g. all of North America), and more points-of-interest (POI) in the map database. (Several of the automotive GPS receiver manufacturers have started providing free or reasonably priced map update services for their road map products. This may or may not be important to you depending on how much the streets and roads change in your area of interest.)

Automotive GPS receivers are known for providing turn-by-turn directions from your current location to your destination. Destinations are either selected from the POI database, entered as a street address, or even entered as a latitude-longitude coordinate. Many reviews of automotive GPS units will complain that the unit does not navigate you to the exact address entered, but may be off by a house or two. My automotive GPS receiver misplaces my home address on my street - it appears to assume that addresses are numbered proportionally from 0 to 99 along the block with 50 being the mid-point of the block, and estimates the position along the street from the numerical address. I don't consider this a significant issue. My automotive GPS receiver is also capable of generating a route to a known latitude-longitude coordinate position, so long as that position is close to a street or road in its map database. However, it won't generate a route to a previously stored location hundreds of feet from a street or road, such as a location in the middle of a large parking lot.

Handheld GPS receivers

Handheld GPS receivers fall into several broad categories. Bare-bones units whose functionality consists of storing some small number of way points and the ability to direct the user back to one of these waypoints. Basic units whose functionally is not a whole lot dissimilar to those produced in the mid-90s in that they can record tracks and waypoints, and provide coordinate information. And, mapping units that have pre-loaded/built-in maps and usually have the ability to upload additional map information (many caveats here).

Bare-bones: I am only aware of one GPS receiver on the market with this limited feature set. This unit is the Bushnell BackTrack. It has the ability to store three waypoints set by pressing the "Mark" button when you are at a location you want it to return to later. There is no ability to enter waypoint coordinates. It provides a bearing and distance to direct the user back to one of the three previously stored waypoints. The bearing is displayed via one of 16 triangular points spaced around the perimeter of its round display being energized. The three-digit range is displayed in yards (or meters) or miles (or kilometers) depending on the magnitude of the distance to the waypoint. The BackTrack is intended to help a user return to their car in a large parking lot or find their way back to a hotel in a strange city. It may also be useful in helping a day hiker return to his vehicle, or helping a hunter return to a stand. I see little practical utility for a receiver with this limited capability in a SHTF scenario.

Basic: There are many basic GPS receiver models on the market, the most common being the yellow Garmin etrex (not to be confused with the many mapping etrex models). These models generally provide a compass display, velocity displays, position displays (latitude, longitude, and elevation), and can display a map-like plot of your route tracks and way points. They do not contain any type of base map. They have the same basic capabilities of units sold in the 90s, with updated hardware. They must be used in conjunction with high quality maps to be utilized to their full potential.

Mapping: There are many mapping GPS receiver models on the market. They range from units having a limited base map containing major roads, major streets, and larger bodies of water, to units that come pre-loaded with topographical maps for the entire US. Units containing a limited base map generally have memory for uploading additional map data. Some models use a memory card (SD, or micro-SD) to store the uploaded map data, and some models rely on internal memory. The big caveat is that map data can expensive - on the order of $100 for detailed maps of North America - and generally these maps cannot be shared among multiple units.

No matter how new the map, it will contain old and erroneous data. This is a frequent complaint in the product reviews of electronic map products.

Some hand-held mapping GPS receivers have routing capabilities. With the addition of routable maps, the receiver can function as basic automotive GPS receiver. It will beep and display a message to alert the driver/navigator of upcoming turns. At best, a hand-held mapping receiver is a compromise relative to an automotive GPS receiver due to the small screen size and lack of voice prompts. (Do not underestimate the value of voice prompts when traveling in heavy traffic or in a dense urban environment with numerous streets and exits.)

The Garmin user community has developed open source (free) map products using US Government data and other data unencumbered by use restrictions. For US roads, the Ibycus map is very nice, but lacks the metadata utilized by the routing software built into some Garmin GPS receivers. Further, there are open source topographical maps of the US derived from US government data. The Ibycus and topographical maps are available online from GPS File Depot.

There is another site ( that has routable street maps for Garmin GPS units. As of this writing, I have not tried the maps available on that site.

Some mapping units also have the ability to upload satellite images and other image data from the internet. I have not studied those units in any detail.


Supportability relates to the resources required to support the ongoing operation of the GPS receiver. For automotive GPS receivers, this means gasoline to power the vehicles within which they are used. For hand-held GPS receivers, this is largely its battery consumption. In anything other than a short-term emergency situation, I don't consider an automotive GPS receiver to be sustainable because of the dependence on gasoline supplies for its host automobile.

Currently marketed hand-held GPS receivers have widely varying battery consumption rates. Some are as low as 10 hours on 2 AA cells (many models), while others claim to be as long as 50 hours on 2 AA cells (Lowrance GO and GO2). Most hand-held GPS receivers use AA cells, while a few use AAA cells. Whether disposable alkaline batteries or rechargeable batteries are used, I am interested in units that have longer battery life. Further, I do not consider hand-held GPS receivers with built-in rechargeable batteries or a proprietary battery pack to be supportable since recharging the battery in the field would be impractical.

Mapping GPS receivers, whether hand-held or automotive, are generally dependent on a personal computer (PC) for map installations and updates. Some GPS manufacturers also sell their maps preloaded on memory cards for their GPS units that accept memory cards. Once map data is loaded onto the receiver, it can be utilized without further updates by a PC.

Position Accuracy & Chipset Sensitivity

The typical GPS receiver specifications will state a position accuracy of less than 15 meters (49 feet) RMS 95 percent of the time, or less than 3 meters (10 feet) 95 percent of the time with WAAS. WAAS is a system for North America with two geostationary satellites that transmit GPS correction information to dramatically improve the position accuracy of GPS receivers. (See the Wikipedia entry on WAAS for more information.) Most WAAS capable GPS receivers also support EGNOS and MSAS.

Even when GPS receivers have the same position accuracy specifications, receiver sensitivity and other design parameters make a big difference it the actual position accuracy. Position accuracy is a function of the number of satellites the GPS receiver can receive and the quality of the satellite signals. Three satellites are the minimum required to get a two-dimensional position fix, and four satellites are required to get a three-dimensional position fix. The more satellites that are received, the better the position solution will be. In practice, obstacles like mountains, buildings, or trees are going to attenuate the satellite signals and affect the position solution. But, software and chipset sensitivity also have a big influence on position accuracy.

Most GPS receivers sold now have WAAS capability, but just because the receiver is advertised as being WAAS capable does not mean that the WAAS feature actually functions. In 2007, the FAA moved their WAAS transmissions to new satellites. Magellan GPS receivers had hard coded the WAAS satellite data in the firmware for their hand-held GPS receivers, and many of these receivers did not transition to the new satellites. The firmware for many of their older hand-held receivers (pre-Triton models) can be hacked to update the satellite data and re-enable WAAS. As of this writing, WAAS does not work on the lower-end Triton models, and nobody has yet figured out how to hack the Triton firmware. The Lowrance iFinder GO receivers appear to have a similar firmware problem.

Not all GPS receivers have the same sensitivity. Chipset sensitivity is important. My mid-19s90s vintage GPS receiver has noticeably diminished sensitivity under many trees. In contrast, a modern high sensitivity chipset will pick up most satellites visible above the horizon, even when the signal travels through the brick walls of a typical residence.

So, how important is position accuracy? Well, it all depends on what you want to do with the receiver. If you are trying to return to a camp site, a one-hundred foot position error is probably close enough. If you are trying to find the location of a buried cache, one hundred feet probably isn't close enough. However, a position error of less than ten feet will probably be close enough to locate the cache.

Using Your GPS Receiver

Start up. When a GPS receiver is first taken out of the box or after it has been stored for several months (a "factory start'), it requires upwards of 15 minutes with a clear view of the sky to download the almanac and ephemeris data necessary to compute an accurate position. (Some GPS receivers come from the factory preloaded with almanac data, and if that almanac data is current the receiver can get a first fix out of the box in seconds.) Older consumer GPS receivers produced in the 1990s that do not have parallel receivers can take far longer (up to several hours) to produce an accurate position result from a factory start.

Subsequent power-ups of the receiver, after having been off for a few minutes ("hot start") to a few hours ("warm start") will produce an accurate position result in a few seconds to less than a minute if it has a clear view of the sky. If the receiver is left off overnight or for several days ("cold start") the receiver should produce an accurate position result in a minute or so if it has a clear view of the sky.

Antennas. Most consumer GPS receivers now have internal antennas. Some are patch antennas and some are "quadrifilar helix" antennas. The patch antenna is normally facing up when the GPS receiver is lying on a flat surface. The quadrifilar helix antenna is normally facing up when the GPS receiver is standing vertically. It is beneficial to know what kind of antenna your receiver has and the orientation of that antenna to achieve optimal results. Some owner’s manuals will tell you what type of antenna the GPS receiver contains or suggest how to hold the receiver for optimal performance.

For example, the Garmin etrex Legend and Legend HCx have patch antennas. In practice, I have had excellent reception having them standing up at about 60 degrees on the dashboard of my vehicle.

Satellite Status Page. Most GPS receivers have a satellite status page that will provide information about the position of the satellites in the sky and the relative signal quality from each individual satellite in the form of a bar graph. Some GPS receivers have a dumbed-down "normal" satellite status page, and an "advanced" page - you want to use the advanced page. When I have seen my estimated position error degrade or I get a "satellite signal lost" message unexpectedly, the satellite status page can be very helpful in determining the source of the problem. No signal from some satellites could suggest that their signal is being blocked by a mountain or a building. Uniformly low signal quality could be the result of the signal being attenuated by tree cover.

Roadway Routing. GPS receivers with routing capability  have preferences that allow you to select the type of route you want it to generate. Typical options are fastest route, shortest route, avoid freeways or highways, walking, or on a bicycle. Some receivers further have options for the type of vehicle (e.g. automobile, bus, truck) you are driving - this option can dramatically change the route generated. Most routing units will automatically recalculate your route to reach your destination if you deviate from the planned route (e.g. you miss a turn), unless you disable this option.

Updates. The major GPS receiver manufacturers occasionally make firmware updates available for those models that can connect to a PC if that PC has internet access. With rare exceptions, it is worthwhile to keep your GPS unit's software updated to the latest firmware version available from the manufacturer. These updates will correct bugs and may introduce minor enhancements.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Use your GPS receiver. Practice with it. Get to know how it works in different environments, how fast it starts up, how to navigate through its various menus. Figure out now how to mount it in your vehicle - windshield suction mounts work very well.

Paper Map and Compass.  A GPS receiver is not a substitute for a paper map and compass. GPS receivers, especially the mapping variety, are just easier and faster to use. Use your GPS receiver to help refine your map and compass skills. (You can also use your GPS receiver to help verify that your compass reads true by obtaining the coordinates of some prominent feature, and then computing the magnetic bearing from your compass test point to the feature. Yes, even a genuine military lensatic compass can be off by several degrees.)

For information about using GPS receivers with maps (specifically topographical maps), I'd recommend the book GPS Made Easy , by Lawrence and Alex Letham. While the book is directed at hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts, it provides a good discussion, using real-world examples, about navigating with GPS receivers using topographical maps with different coordinate systems. The book is now in its fifth edition. The fifth edition omits a discussion about the use of a map and compass for backup navigation, in the event of GPS receiver failure, found in the previous editions.


I believe GPS receivers have a place in emergency preparations. While probably not useful in a long-term TEOTWAWKI scenario where the GPS constellation will most likely have failed, they certainly have a place in many SHTF scenarios.

I have used GPS receivers from several different manufacturers. For hand-held units, I have a definite preference for Garmin units – they work as advertised. If you get a Garmin handheld unit, I recommend that you go for a “high sensitivity” model that accepts SD or micro-SD cards for map storage, uses AA cells for power, and connects to a PC via a USB cable. The only caveat, and this applies to all manufacturers, is to avoid newly-introduced models. Give the manufacturer some time to work out the bugs.

For automotive GPS receivers, I have had the most experience with the TomTom ONE 125, which is TomTom’s low end model. TomTom’s more advanced models just add features to this basic model. The Garmin automotive GPS receivers are well respected, and I know several people who are happy with their units.

If you can get only one GPS receiver, get a hand-held mapping unit with routing capabilities (e.g. the Garmin etrex Legend HCx), and load a routable map package (e.g. Garmin City Navigator NT) onto it. A handheld GPS receiver can continue to serve you if you are forced to abandon your vehicle, or are otherwise forced to travel on foot. If you can get more than one unit, add an automotive GPS receiver from a major manufacturer.


Below I provide opinions of several currently available mapping GPS receivers that I've personally been able to use. My simulated forest canopy is my traditional single-story wood-frame house with asphalt shingles and a brick exterior. GPS receiver performance in my house is similar to that which I have experienced under a tree canopy. Position accuracy is verified by entering the coordinates provided by the GPS receiver into Google Maps with satellite images, and comparing the position plotted by Google with the actual location on the satellite image. Further, position accuracy is only measured after the GPS receiver has had sufficient time to download almanac and ephemeris data from the satellites. All of these GPS receivers perform well outside, including when placed on the dashboard of a moving vehicle.

Garmin etrex Legend: The Legend is a hand-held mapping GPS receiver with a high level base map that contains major streets and highways, larger bodies of water, and cities. The four-level gray-scale display is very readable under most circumstances, and it has a back light for night viewing. It has 8M bytes of memory for storing map data, which will not hold a lot of map data. Battery life is advertised to be 18 hours on two alkaline AA cells. I have not timed the battery life, but I have no reason to believe that the advertised 18-hour run-time is unreasonably optimistic. The GPS receiver chipset is not "high sensitivity" but I can pick up many of the visible satellites under my simulated forest canopy. This receiver also has WAAS capability, which dramatically improves its estimated position error. I have seen estimated position error values as low as 6 feet from this unit. In early 2009, this model was replaced by an upgraded model called the etrex Legend H, which utilizes a high sensitivity GPS chipset, has 24M bytes of map memory, and connects to a computer utilizing USB.

Garmin etrex Legend HCx: The Legend HCx is a hand-held mapping GPS receiver with a high level base map. The color display is very readable under most conditions, with an excellent back light for night or low-light conditions. It accepts micro-SD memory cards. Battery life is advertised to be 25 hours on two alkaline AA cells. It utilizes a high sensitivity chipset that picks up virtually all satellites in the sky under my simulated forest canopy. It is WAAS enabled, and can produce position solutions with estimated position errors under ten feet. It connects to a computer utilizing USB. The USB port in the unit can also provide power to the receiver in a vehicle if a cigarette lighter USB power supply is used.

With the purchase of the Garmin City Navigator NT map package ($100) and a 2 GB micro-SD memory card, routable maps can be loaded into the Legend HCx allowing it to function as basic automotive GPS receiver. It will beep and display a message to alert the driver/navigator of upcoming turns.

Lowrance iFinder Go2: The Go2 is a hand-held mapping GPS receiver with a high level base map containing major streets and highways, large bodies of water, and cities. The base map contains many smaller bodies of water not found in the Garmin base map. What makes this unit intriguing is an advertised battery life of 50 hours on two alkaline AA cells. The GPS receiver chipset is not high sensitivity, but it can pick up some satellites under my simulated forest canopy. This receiver also has WAAS capability, but this feature may not be functioning properly since I have not seen estimated position error values below 16 feet. While this unit has 64M bytes of storage, the manufacturer does not support upload of map data into this unit.

Magellan Triton 200: The Triton 200 is a hand-held mapping GPS receiver with a high level base map that contains major highways, larger bodies of water, and cities. After performing a necessary firmware upgrade, a significantly improved base map is loaded in the unit. The color display is difficult to read under many circumstances without the back light being turned on. With the back light turned on, the color display is beautiful. It has 10M bytes of memory for storing map data, which will not hold a lot of map data. Battery life is advertised to be 10 hours on two alkaline AA cells, which seems to be rather optimistic (6 hours is a more realistic estimate). It utilizes the high sensitivity SiRF Star III chipset, which picks up virtually all of the satellites in the sky under my simulated forest canopy. It is WAAS capable, but the WAAS capability may not be functioning (postings on several forums indicate it is disabled) since I have not seen estimated position errors below 13 feet.

The Triton 200 connects to a PC using a proprietary USB cable. However, there are many reviews, substantiated by my personal experience, indicating that many users have difficulty connecting their Triton GPS receivers to their computer. I could not get it to stay connected to my main computer long enough to even start the firmware update. However, it worked flawlessly with my wife's computer. (Note: My Triton 200 came with the USB cable, but the manufacturer's web site suggests Triton 200s do not come with the cable.)

TomTom ONE 125: The TomTom ONE 125 is a  basic automotive GPS receiver. It has a nice 3.5 inch color display. It provides voice prompts and warnings, but does not speak street names. It only contains street maps for the US. It has 1G byte of flash memory built into the unit for map and software storage. Memory is not expandable. The auto-route capability makes some surprising choices - choices I would not have made and that are not optimal based on my driving preferences. However, auto-routing will get you to your location. As mentioned above, this receiver is also capable of generating a route to a known latitude-longitude coordinate position, so long as that position is close to a street or road in its map database. Its GPS chipset is incredibly sensitive, capable of picking up virtually all satellites above the horizon under my simulated forest canopy. While I cannot find any information from the manufacturer stating that it is WAAS enabled, its performance and information displayed on the satellite status page lead me to believe it is WAAS enabled. It also has a built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery that delivers the advertised 3 hour battery life. This GPS receiver is readily available for $100 - a tremendous bargain for the features it provides.

Definitions and Notes

Almanac and ephemeris data - Almanac and ephemeris data are used by the GPS receiver to precisely compute satellite positions, and hence your position. All GPS satellites transmit almanac data providing coarse information about the orbital position of all satellites in the GPS constellation. Each GPS satellite further transmits its own ephemeris data which provides precise position information about its orbit. The almanac data is generally considered to be good for several months, but is updated daily. The ephemeris data is considered good for only about five hours. Almanac and ephemeris data is continuously transmitted. Full download of the almanac data takes 12.5 minutes, after the receiver has locked onto a satellite signal. Each satellite retransmits its ephemeris data every 30 seconds.

Base (or background) map - A base map is the default map built into a mapping GPS receiver. The base map typically contains interstate highways, US and state highways, four-lane city streets, incorporated towns and cities, lakes and rivers, and shoreline information. The detail of the base map varies from receiver to receiver, and can be a differentiating feature between two seemingly similar receivers. GPS receivers are typically regionalized, and will be loaded with base maps for the region (e.g. North America) where the GPS receiver is expected to be sold.

Patch antenna - A compact flat antenna, with a metal "patch" positioned above a ground plane. The greatest sensitivity is perpendicular to the plane of the antenna. The typical patch antenna in a GPS receiver is less than one inch square.

Quadrifilar helix (or "quad helix" or "quadrifilar") antenna - A cylinder shaped antenna with four spiral elements. The greatest sensitivity is parallel to the axis of the cylinder. Modern quadrifilar helix antennas in consumer GPS receivers can be as small as 10 millimeters (3/8").

Selective Availability (SA) - A currently disabled feature of GPS designed to deny an enemy use of civilian GPS receivers for precision weapon guidance. SA was designed to intentionally induce errors of up to 100 meters in the unencrypted GPS signals available to civilians. SA was turned off May 1, 2000.

Recent news stories have reported with alarm that the GPS system could fail in 2010. The facts are that GPS Block IIF satellites being built are almost three years behind schedule, and that the probability of maintaining a 24 satellite constellation between 2010 and 2014 falls below 95-percent. The US Air Force's objective of having a minimum of four satellites visible 95-percent of the time may not be met. As a practical matter, this means that there may be occasions where insufficient satellites are visible to get a 3D position fix. However, there are currently 30 healthy satellites in orbit, and three older satellites that could be reactivated if necessary. The chance of the GPS system failing is infinitesimally small.

This author has no affiliation with any manufacturer, distributor, or retailer of any product mentioned in this article. All brand names and product names used in this article are trade names, service marks, trademarks, or registered trademarks of their respective owners. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. And, as always, your mileage may vary, so use this information at your own risk.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dear James
Regarding Matt R.'s letter, I have been a survivalist and self-sufficient minded person most of my adult life. I live at my retreat in a prime western state. I have been reading your site for the last 18 months. I have learned some new useful information (never too late to teach old dog new tricks) from your site. I have also purchased quite a few supplies from your advertisers.

For most scenarios my home/retreat is a perfect place to be if the SHTF and I can just stay home. However I do not like to have all my eggs in one basket. I have three very different SHTF plans. One of my contingency plans is to get out of Dodge using aircraft. I keep a Cessna 206 in my back yard. My back up location is remote and has a place to land the plane. I was surprised by the pilot [in the subsequenty-posted letter] who so negatively responded of the use of aircraft as a get out of Dodge mode of transportation and strongly disagree with a lot of what he said.

I made my living for the last 30 years as a bush pilot, flying everything from Piper Super Cubs to DC-6s. I have flown over 12,500 hours as Pilot in command operating in the USA, Canada and Africa.

Cessna 172 Aircraft as a G.O.O.D. Vehicle
A 172 would not be my first choice in a plane to get out of dodge but the C-172 could carry the pilot along with one passenger and 300 pounds of gear nonstop for 400 miles. For some scenarios a C-172 or similar aircraft could be a life saver. [JWR Adds: I agree. It would be great if every pilot that reads SurvivalBlog owned a Pilatus Porter, but alas, we live in the real world, where budgets demand compromises. OBTW, one fairly inexpensive upgrade is having a spare set of extra large "Tundra" tires. These will greatly expand the improvised airfield possibilities of many high-wingers..]

I would not rely on any one plan to work if SHTF but for 1 of 3 contingency plans a small aircraft could be just the ticket. During a local disaster or to get to your well stocked retreat a C-172 or similar plane could save the day and be the best transportation option.

A 172 will land very short, a lot shorter than it can take off. In a worst case scenario for one trip to get to your retreat the pilot may not care if the plane ever takes off again. I have landed and taken off on thousands of beaches, roads, gravel bars, ridge tops and every other unimproved surface that you can think of. There are a few books, videos and specialized classes for bush flying that a pilot can learn from but it takes years to become proficient in off field bush flying. But even the average pilot has many options to land off airport. Just be honest with yourself and fly within your ability. The biggest hint I can give any pilot for off airport landings is check out the landing sites from the ground before attempting a landing. Fly over your retreat and look for possible landing sites, then land at the closest airport drive/walk to the prospective landing site, check the approach, escape routes etc. before you ever attempt to make a landing. If you are not 100% positive you can safely land do not attempt it and go find another spot. It would be better to walk an extra 10 miles to your retreat than be ½ mile from your retreat with a broken leg!

Auto Fuel in Aircraft
Auto fuel will work fine in any piston aircraft and most turbine powered aircraft for a limited time. Many Piston aircraft including 172s can legally use Auto fuel for private use. There are three issues with using auto fuel in piston aircraft.

First you need to make sure the auto fuel is clean and free from all water and particles. This is easy to do, just buy a MR Funnel (around $50) that has the micro screen filter in it and run the fuel throw it. If you have any concern let the fuel settle for ½ hour then run it through the filter a second time.

The second issue in using auto fuel is the engine life over the long term. Auto fuel will/may reduce the engine life of piston aircraft engines. How much will the life of the engine be reduced is hotly debated among experts. 0% -50% reduction in the life of the engine is the range the different experts claim. Piston aircraft engines are designed to go 1,400 to 2,000 hours between overhauls so even losing 50% of the engines remaining life should not affect a plane in a SHTF situation where you have to get out of Dodge.

The third issue is auto gas with ethanol is hard on aircraft hoses and gaskets and seals and will reduce the life of a bladder type fuel tanks. Again this is a long term affect and for a few flights and should not affect the safety of a flight. But if you let auto fuel with ethanol stay in the aircraft system it could cause big problems in certain aircraft.

To be legal the use of Auto Fuel in any aircraft the specific plane must have been approved for auto fuel and you must follow the STC. In a true emergency a few fights using clean auto fuel in a aircraft will have no affect. In many Third World countries that I have worked Avgas was not always available so we would occasionally be forced to run a tank or two of auto gas in our piston aircraft.. If you are using auto fuel in a plane that has 8.5-1 compression pistons keep the mixture a little rich and run the max power setting 5% below normal and you will be fine.

I operated DHC-2 Beavers and Piper PA-18 Super Cubs a on a steady diet of auto gas for years. The Piper Super Cub uses the same engine as most 172s. On one occasion I have even used auto fuel in a Twin Otter with PT-6 turbine engines.

If the plan is to use a plane to get out of dodge the biggest problem pilots may face is navigation. These days most pilots rely on nav aids and never practice using only a chart (map), compass and stop watch. In the last 15 years I have not checked out one single commercial pilot or flight instructor that could use a map and compass well enough to pass my company’s standards.

If you plan to use a plane in a SHTF situation be prepared for all navigation aids including GPS to be off line. I suggest using a Map and compass and practice that a lot. In a SHTF situation if you count on nav aids you are very foolish. Most pilots that have learned to fly in the last 20 years are not able to navigate worth a hoot using only a Map and compass and are way too dependant on nav aids. I suggest anyone planning to use a plane in a SHTF situation pre fly the route as often as possible while times are good. Take a chart and highlight the whole route. Make notes as to what the actual compass heading is that you need to stay on course. Have a check point every 5 miles and learn to recognize them. Have the average time it takes between check points written on the chart. Fly this route at both altitude and low level as the check points will look totally different. Practice your route without nav aids so you get use to using the compass and stopwatch.

Avoiding Small Arms Fire
As for getting shot out of the air by small arms fire that is unlikely. The part of the world I now work our planes get shot at a lot by small arms fire. It is rare that a plane ever gets hit. If you are 5000’ above the ground small arms fire will not hit you. The danger is the climb out and the descent. A very steep spiral or figure 8 descent will drastically reduce your chances of getting hit. A power off setting during a descent is very quiet and will not attract attention from very far. It can be hard on the cylinders because of shock cooling but in a SHTF situation do you really care.

The most vulnerable time to get hit by small arms fire is takeoff and climb out. The trick here is to wait for a clear night and perfect VFR conditions. Take off early morning just before first light so you will be at altitude just as it is getting light. People with small arms cannot hit what they cannot see so if it is a SHTF situation remember to leave all the aircraft lights off.

Another technique that can be used is to stay as close to the ground as possible ([as little as] 25 feet AGL) [in flat country] for the flight. This limits exposure and does not give people on the ground much time to react, locate and fire at you. Using the low flying method you must never fly near the same route twice as the second time you fly that route people on the ground will recognize the sound know a plane is coming and will be ready. A second low level run is far more likely to get you shot. I do not recommend this for most pilots and do not attempt the low level flying unless you have been trained for low level operations.

James, Please Keep Up The Good Work! You are providing a fantastic service and giving a tremendous amount of good sound advice. - Old Dog

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mr. Rawles,
[To follow up on TANSTAAFL's letter,] I have worked for several engineering firms as a GIS technician, then manager. Counties will advertise when they will be re-flying parts or all of the county. Most county engineers, auditor, or Property Valuation Administrator (PVA) offices will tell you what the schedule for mapping is out a couple of years (usually the department in charge of tax assessments). A give away that it is happening is when you see large X's painted in intersections with a metal spike sunk in the middle of the X (these are control points), with survey trucks with GPS receivers sitting in intersections or other open ground. Most orthophotography is done in late winter or late fall, when the leaves are off the trees and there is no snow on the ground. Evergreen trees are good for masking what lies on the surface. Not much you can do to hide any earth work that changes contours. There is another means of gathering contour information, LIDAR. Basically a laser that oscillates and paints the ground. Even trees won't fully obscure it.

On a side note, the old USGS quadrangle maps are now almost supplanted by FEMA's flood insurance rate maps, which are all digital. There is all kinds of info available through those maps for interested parties.

On the non-government side, Google Earth is getting better resolution all the time, farther and farther away from population centers.

Your best bet to avoid attention is anonymity. That is true for all sorts of things. - School Dude

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dear Jim:,
All this recent discussion by SurvivalBlog readers about hot-wiring airplanes, and cutting fences and locks is missing some basic, well, let's just say "applied ethics".

Recall the Golden Rule "Do unto others as they have done unto you". Flip the situation around and look at it from the property owner's view: How would you feel if you saw someone stealing your airplane? (Your life savings in an aircraft.)

How would you feel upon noticing someone cutting the fence or gate that keeps your cattle off the road?

Granted, in a life-threatening emergency you may morally take liberties with other folk's property that are not normally available. If a rancher saw someone drive through their fence because they were being hotly pursued by criminals - they would probably be understanding of the circumstances.

If a rancher or farmer saw someone with bolt cutters working on their fence - someone who has obviously premeditated trespassing - at the very least they are going to be confronted. In a really bad situation, perhaps after dark, it could easily end up in a situation where they will be shot.

The wise and honorable person will pre-plan ethical actions. The obvious macro solution is getting out of Dodge early. If you are going to pre-plan using an airplane, then preplan by becoming a trusted rental customer, know how to contact the owner on short notice and rent for cash, with a security deposit in gold coin.

The suggestion to cut a link and add a lock to a gate rather than cutting the lock makes sense so you have not destroyed the property owner's lock. But be extremely cautious about planning on trespassing on other folk's property... I wouldn't imagine country folk are going to take trespassing lightly in an emergency - I can't see how it could be done safely unless you can hail the farmhouse for permission. Any ranchers out there with an idea how this scenario could be handled ethically and safely? Regards, - OSOM

JWR Replies: I concur, wholeheartedly. It is just one small step from applied ethics to applied ballistics. It is of the utmost importance to respect the property of others. While utilizing BLM or or other public land in an emergency is a given, simply cutting across private farm or ranch land in the midst of a disaster is likely to get interlopers well-ventilated rather quickly. Put yourself in the position of a rancher. If in the midst of a societal collapse you saw someone breaking open your locked gate, what would you do? For many, the answer will be "shoot first and ask questions later."

As I have emphasized time and time again in my writings, the very best approach is to live at your retreat year-round. That is great for retirees and the self-employed. But for many folks that is impossible, because or work and family obligations. So the next best approach is to have a very well-stocked, very secure retreat, and maintaining your readiness to get there on very short notice. Nearly all of your key logistics should be pre-positioned at your retreat. Do not think in terms of finessing your gear into the cubic feet available in your vehicle. If you take the time to shoehorn things in, you are probably wasting precious time that should be spent on the road, getting out of town in advance of the Golden Horde. Just a one hour delay could mean the difference between smooth sail and ending up in a a monumental traffic jam that soon becomes a linear parking lot. You should simply keep one Bug Out Bag (typically a backpack) and a supplementary duffle bag ready at all times. Be ready to grab them and go. Pre-positioning your gear eliminates much of the worry and confusion of a Get Out of Dodge situation.

Needless to say, you'll need a Plan B and a Plan C. You may end up on a bicycle, or on foot.

Think things through, plan ahead, and act morally. If and when things fall apart, you want to be part of the solution, rather than contributing to the problem.


In response to our reader's suggestion of using a Cessna172 for escaping. That is probably one of the poorest choices I could imagine. It has many faults and I'll list them FWIW.
First of all I have over 2,500+ hours flying Air Charter and Air Taxi under Part 135 FAA Regs. I took the same tests flying single and twin engine aircraft as any airline pilot did with the only exception was that I was not required to have a first class medical as they did. So I am twin engine, Commercial and Instrument rated.

Problems with a Cessna 172:

It does not have a big payload especially when fully-fueled and the tendency to overload it would be great and dangerous. Automotive fuel should not be used, i.e. I would not fly one filled with automotive fuel. Tests were done with using it years ago and many problems were found.

Aircraft weather [data] would most likely be unavailable.

VOR and other navigation aids would probably also be unavailable. Okay, If you had a GPS unit you might be able to navigate.

Our lifeblood, gasoline would most likely by unavailable, especially aviation gas since it can be used in automobiles and would be subject to being stolen if the electricity to pump it out was available. I used to run a tank of 100 low lead aviation gas through my motorcycle about once a month.

Runways could and most likely would be obstructed or otherwise cluttered from looting, fuel, oil theft, etc., etc..

Without weather information what would be your chances of finding a suitable landing strip or even an open highway strip if you found yourself approaching thunder storms, icing conditions fog, or a large [weather] front. If you could or did land, especially under power, would attract the looters for the fuel and whatever else you have in the plane.

ILS, VOR or even ADF stations could or would be off the air making a bad weather approach deadly.

You could, literally, be shot out of the air by angry looters thinking the plane may contain supplies they want or just by some idiot with sufficient ammo angry at their situation. I know of a glider pilot shot through the arm by a guy who lived by the airport.

The preceding is just a drop in the bucket. I could go on.

I did consider "borrowing" an aircraft to get home should the SHTF while I was far from home but it would be just to get home and all conditions would be carefully considered and near perfect. It would not be a bug-out option should I need to bug out.

IMHO an aircraft might be an option very early on in a SHTF situation but again conditions would have to be very favorable. - Larry in Pennsylvania

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mr. Rawles,
Concerning the article: Escape From (Fill in Your City Here), 2009, by Bill in Chicagoland, I would like to add to these comments. My 20 years experience driving the county roads and the farmer ranch roads with the Soil Conservation Service have given me a perspective of the potential for choice this road system presents.

I have a considerable amount of experience driving cross country.

I have driven from the Northern Texas panhandle across the Oklahoma Panhandle into southeastern Colorado and north to the Colorado Springs area on mostly gravel and dirt roads.

Several times I have driven the 250+ miles from Denver Colorado to Salina Kansas mainly on dirt/gravel roads or county blacktop roads. This particular trip is paralleling the major river valleys throughout this area. The interstate roads basically follow the uplands/highlands avoiding the river/creek valley bottoms. That portion of the drainage system between rivers called the upland or divide area. Up on these area you have minimum drainage systems to cross. Only when the rivers and major creeks make a jog south or southeast do you find a major drainage system to cross.

Why are drainage systems death to bugging out? You can cross them only on bridges, and bridges are [logical ambush sites and hence potentially] death traps.

Here is an example: West of Oklahoma City, you'll see that I-40 strikes out to the west.

Now, let's clarify something. [Even in most plains states,] there are no paralleling roads to interstates that extend for extensive distances. Yes, there are some that may parallel for 20 to 30 miles. But as soon as the interstate jogs you get the paralleling road intersecting the interstate or its diverting away in a direction you may not want.

If you do not know your area well, you can get boxed in quickly.

West of Oklahoma City striking in a southeasterly direction is the Canadian River. The interstate crosses the Canadian river in the Hinton/Geary area. That is some 35 miles west of Oklahoma City. The next Canadian river crossing on the north side of the interstate is just northeast of Thomas. That is 23 miles west and 13 miles north of the interstate.

So…you come barreling out of Oklahoma City and find the interstate clogged. Look again at the map. The city of Oklahoma City has a major river running through it. The North Canadian River. You cannot get on the Interstate. The bridges going over the North Canadian River south are filled with traffic. You opt to set out west through Oklahoma City on a street that will take you west to El Reno and then on to points west following the Interstate. But you cannot do this on the north side of the interstate.

And the south side of the Interstate is closed off because of the bridges across the North Canadian River are jammed full.

The road system on the north side is a maze of closed roads, dead end roads that all end up down in the Canadian River valley. And in the 60 miles west of Oklahoma City only one bridge crosses the Canadian River on the north that can keep you on any kind of westerly tract. That’s at Thomas. The closer bridge only gets you down to the interstate and it will be clogged full at that point.

So you make it to Thomas overland on the secondary roads.

What now?

You now have a dozen or more large creeks all running southerly into the Washita River. You have to cross them if you continue cross country.

Yes, you can get on Highway 33 west but I would guess that many others will have the same idea.

You also have Foss Lake complex and its National Wildlife Refuge area to get around.

Another major obstruction.

Going west now on secondary roads you will notice the interstate drifting in a SW direction. You are getting further away all the time.

Backtrack: What did you miss on the map? By the way, what map am I now looking at?

A copy of a DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer [Get one for your state, and contiguous states].

You missed the railroad bridge. Where?

Find Bridgeport between Hinton and Geary. See the railroad track symbol where it crosses the river.

Now, the following separates the men from the boys. When I was 16 my buddy’s father was the Missouri Pacific’s depot agent in Larned, Kansas. We knew the train schedules. We conquered our fears and put my 1948 Dodge car on the rails. Yes you can drive down the rails. You do not have to let the air out of the tires. Just slow down when you go over road crossings and switches. We rode the rails for miles. We even crossed over the Arkansas River railroad bridge. That was scary to think about the wheels coming off the rails way out over that 150 yard long bridge. But we drove this way, and so can you.

You will need to be very cautious doing this. Sending people ahead with radios to the top of a close high point so they can see the tracks some miles away. Giving you time to cross. What speed can you expect to make? We used to cruise 10 to 15 miles per hour. My 1948 Dodge had a traditional hand throttle that you could set.

[JWR Adds This Proviso: Hy-rail pickups and dedicated speeder vehicles have been previously discussed in SurvivalBlog here and here. Please read those article and heed the safety and liability warnings. Riding rails on car tires without supplementary alignment aids is foolhardy. There is a lot that can go wrong in a hurry! Don't attempt improvised rail travel this unless it is an total SHTF disaster situation and there is absolutely no alternative, and only then with someone playing "ground guide", and with certain knowledge of the train schedule (or by doing so only on a rail line that is known with certainty to be inactive.)]

This is dangerous. Be careful. It is also illegal.

The thesis of this presentation is several fold:

1. There are no extensive long parallel roads along most interstates.

2. You must have a set of the DeLorme atlases or similar detailed maps for where you are going. Better to have a set for every state that surrounds you. If you live in the prairie states get a set for every state within two states in every direction.

3. You also need to have a map showing just the counties and the river systems.

4. You must drive you routes in advance on both sides of the interstate.

Note that Item #3 above is necessary to have a map of the rivers. You can plot a general route that will keep you on the uplands/divide between the river/creek systems when you cross country.

The system described here is good only for the plains states between the Rockies and the Mississippi River. It will work in the area between the Missouri and Mississippi further north in most of those areas. But once you get into the Ozark highlands, the southern deserts off the Rocky Mountains and in the swampy country next to seashores and the Southern States it does not work.
Nor in the Appalachian mountains. The west coast is another whole problem.

The central portion of the US, the prairie states have a grid road system laid out in township and sections. This allows a great amount of choice for travel. Areas that do not have this system are much more constrained as to overland travel.

Driving cross country you will find [some straight] dirt and gravel roads that can be negotiated at 45 to 60 miles an hour. Be cautious and slow down at every road junction and at the crest of all hills that you cannot see over. Some where out there you will crest a hill and find a slow tractor pulling a swather or a large combine with a 20 foot wide head on it suddenly in your way. You must use caution on these back roads. Do not assume that all dangers are marked. You may find dead end roads just over a crest with a 4 foot tall wall of dirt and a deep ditch in front of you at 55 mph. Crash, end of journey. Be careful of bridges. There are still may bridges out there with wood decking. It can be weak, have nails sticking up and or tire wide gaps in them. I have also seen concrete bridges built by the WPA in the 1930s with holes in the deck more than two feet across and not marked with any warning signs.

Vital equipment for cross country driving:

1. Binoculars or spotting scope

2. Weather scanner

3. Maps

4. Jacks with wooden blocks to put under them for support.

5. Shovels

6. Tow chains

7. Tire chains.

8. Bolt cutters and wire cutters

Beware of sudden rain showers on dirt roads. Soils high in clay particles will shed rain and appear to be shiny. They are called ‘slick spot’ soils. You will not sink into them. But rather your vehicle will just want to slide over into the ditch if the road is not flat. These roads are slick! It is possible to put a vehicle into a low gear; get out and walk along the side steering and pushing or pulling sideways to keep it in the center as you walk along. Better when there are several people to help. I have accomplished this for stretches of road further than one quarter of a mile when I worked as a District Conservationist with the Soil Conservation Service.

Avoid showers in the distance. Drive out of their way if possible. Stop on a stable section of road and wait for the sun to come out. Slick spot roads can dry out in one hour or less and be drivable as if no rain fell there for days.

Genuine cross country driving:.
If you find roads blocked with wreckage, power poles, washed out bridges, trees and or a group of freebooters who demand tribute, then you need to have thought of an alternative.

There is an alternative to simply turning around and being chased.

Cut the wire on the fence and drive away out across the land. Best done out of site of the freebooters. Wire the fence back up so it is not too obvious that someone has exited the road at that point. You will need bolt cutters. A 24 inch pair will suffice. For chains at gates or locks you need a 36 inch-long set and a hacksaw blade with extra blades. Carry along several locks. If you cut off a lock replace it. If you have to come back you can open it quickly and lock it putting a good barrier between you and any belligerents that want to discuss the situation with you.

If you lack a lock that looks like the one you have cut. Super glue it shut. You can always re-cut it a second time if necessary.

Carry with you two 2x4s that are 10 feet long, each pierced with 20 penny nails arrayed close together. Drill holes that are just small enough to provide the friction to seat the nails so they will not come out easily. Drill two 5/8 inch holes in each end. Cut half inch rebar stakes 12 to 16 inches long and sharpen then to a decent cone shape on one end. You will need a 4 pound hammer to seat them into a roadbed.

So, say that you approach a hill crest slowly and glassing the road ahead, you see a group of freebooters down the road. They see your heads and cab of a pickup sticking up over the crest. Whooom, here they come. Get out the spiked 2x4 and nail it down across the road with the rebar. Leave and when they come roaring up over the crest their tires will have lunch with the spikes. Flat tires have a way of ending pursuit.

If you encounter groups of people who are belligerent but appear not to be shooters. Place a spiked 2x4 across the front of your steel safety grill and make a run for them. They will not want to get spiked as you go by. It will keep them away from the windows and doors.

[JWR Adds This Proviso: Caltrops have been used as a defensive measure for centuries. I have my doubts about their utility in daylight, but they might prove useful at night. To be useful in daylight for defense against vehicle-borne looters approaching a retreat slowly, caltrops or tire spikes would have to be concealed, which is a huge legal liability. Because we live in very litigious times, I DO NOT recommend using caltrops or tire spike strips in in anything but an absolute worst-case TEOTWAWKI situation, where you are completely on your own to defend your retreat, and there is no longer a functioning law enforcement or court system. Using them in any lesser situation is an invitation to a hugely expensive civil lawsuit and possible criminal sanctions. An ambulance-chasing attorney would have a field day, and the likely result would be that you would lose everything that you own in settling a lawsuit. Ironically, this is an example of where using deadly force against an intruder (namely, a firearm) is less likely to result in a lawsuit than a non-lethal weapon. Civil court juries tend to be very sympathetic to "maimed" plaintiffs, and are prone to award disproportionately huge "pain and suffering" damages. Caltrops and tire spikes are banned in some states in the US, and Australia. With all that said, commercially made caltrops are available, as are tire spike strips, although most manufacturers will only sell them to law enforcement agencies ordering on department letterhead. The best of these use hollow spikes, so they can defeat even self-sealing tires. And example of this type is the HOllow-Spike TYre Deflation System (HOSTYDS), manufactured in the UK.]

Crossing Interstate Highways
All interstate roads will have at some point a significant water gap.

It will be big enough for you to drive through. Be very careful. These can have plunge basins formed on the down stream side that are many feet deep. Can be clogged with old fence wire and tree limbs. They can be swampy and full of washed in silt that is solid on the top and unstable to support weight underneath. You can get stuck and never get out.

Scout these places carefully.

Remember you may be driving under the interstate that is packed above with people who have gotten desperate.

And you may be able to just drive up to the interstate, cut a fence on one side and drive across weaving through parked cars, perhaps, if you are lucky.

Get the maps. Study them. Drive the [primary, secondary, and tertiary] routes. Anything less is a modified death wish.

Rule #1: Leave early.

Rule #2: Remember, you can never schedule an emergency.

- JC in Oklahoma

Friday, June 12, 2009

I think as a boy my favorite stories were always about epic journeys or quests. I always saw myself as the lone hero; bravely making his way through a barren landscape overcoming impossible obstacles and having fantastic adventures along the way. As preppers I think many of us still believe that WTSHTF our trip to “Get out of Dodge” will be an adventure such as those we read in books. I’m afraid however; the reality will be much grimmer than we can imagine. I fear that it will be more like The Road by Cormac McCarthy or the recent novel One Second After by William R. Forstchen , than anything else.

I live in the Chicago metropolitan area, yes far behind enemy lines so to speak, and have been a prepper for most of the last 10 years. Like many of us I must live in a big city because of my job. I need money to survive. Living here is no big deal if you learn to ignore the local politics. My kids are grown and I have no long-term attachments here. If the world falls to pieces I always felt I could leave in an instant. I have the requisite pick-up truck, keep it full of fuel, pre-positioned much of my supplies with my son at a relatively safe location in a small town (population 5,000) about 600 miles from here. I’ve got my G.O.O.D. bag packed and I’m ready to go when ever things go south. Or am I ready?

Let’s review my bug-out plan. Wait a second, I have no plan! This blinding flash of the obvious hit me as I was stuck in rush-hour traffic last Friday evening on my way to my son’s. It took me nearly three hours to get from my apartment on the far north side of the city to I-80 on the far south side. This was the route I assumed I would take to skedaddle. Think about that; I was on Interstate highways the whole time, leaving at 8:00 PM, and it still took me nearly three hours to go less than 80 miles. What’s really scary is that I was thinking all along how light the traffic was. I had no alternative routes in mind. Yikes!

Well, I’ve got to tell you this dear readers, that realization scared the bejeebus out of me. I was so unready to bug out. I had the stuff, the means, the mindset, etc., however, in a meltdown near-panic situation, I would’ve have been just one more member in a stream of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the big city. This experience got me off my duff and forced to review what I will do when the next shoe drops in our ongoing economic nightmare.

I drew up a list of what was necessary to implement an action plan to “Escape from Chicago 2009”

1. Have a bug-out kit ready at all times
a. No problem I have a bug-out bag packed and ready to go. No last minute packing required. However; I hadn’t checked it in quite some time and when I did I found plenty of things to replace and replenish. Batteries lost their charge. Foods had expired. So did many of the common medications I packed. BTW, I also now have a 72 hour bag with me whenever I leave the house. You can never be sure when the worst thing you can imagine will happen.

2. Bring as much as you can with you.
a. Unlike many of you, I am not a man of any particular religious belief system. However, like most of you, I feel what makes us truly human beings is our compassion. I have to say that I don’t think while bugging out, I could look a frightened hungry child in the eyes and say no - nothing for you. Bring more than you need. If you don’t need to share then all the better; there’s more for you when you reach your destination.

3. No stopping to buy last minute items.
a. If it’s so bad you need to be bugging-out do you really think others don’t know that and are at that very minute stripping the local Wal-Mart clean? During the Los Angeles riots in 1992 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the grocery stores were near impossible to get to and if you could, it didn't matter; they were closed, or had been looted, and were empty. Also, shop owners, for example, may attempt to defend their stores with firearms (a la the Los Angeles Riots) and you don’t want to be caught in the crossfire. <Sarcasm on> I know, I know, Chicago has very strict gun laws so there won’t be any shooting except by a few gun-toting NRA/survivalist types <Sarcasm off>.

Finally, one interesting image comes to mind when I think of someone “liberating” goods from a Wal-Mart. During the Katrina emergency I recall seeing a video of a very obese woman wading through chest deep flood water, polluted with who knows what, holding a Dyson vacuum cleaner she had “liberated” over her head. No electricity, no home, no floor for that matter, but she had an expensive vacuum cleaner she had probably always wanted. Also, an interesting side note is the lack of bookstores looted.

4. Be sure to “Right size your bug-out vehicle
a. Simply put, don’t try to put a 10 gallon load in a 5 gallon bucket. Have a big enough vehicle to accommodate what you need to bring. If you have too much stuff, try to pre-position the bulkiest and heaviest items ahead of time. Be sure to leave enough room in your vehicle for people and pets. If you can’t pre-position the bulkiest stuff at the far end; consider renting storage space in some small town along your intended bug-out route. If necessary, keep a small trailer at the midpoint as well. Also remember that unexpected things may/can/will happen and you will need to change your plans accordingly. Therefore, only the non-essential “nice to have things”, not the essential for survival things, should be stored at waypoints along the way.

5. Don’t oversize your bug-out vehicle
a. A corollary to the above is having a vehicle that is too big. Big is not always better. We’ve all seen in footage of the highways during the Hurricane Katrina and Rita emergencies. Massive Gridlock. If/when you need to get off the highway onto a secondary road you’ll need to know if your Jumbo Superbago or SUV with the extra-long Airfoil trailer can negotiate any tight turns and/or low clearances on your Plan B, C, and D routes. I don’t even want to discuss how much fuel bigger vehicles consume.

6. Expect no fuel to be available along the way
a. My Dodge pickup gets 18 mpg fully loaded and I have a 22 gal fuel tank. For those of us who are lacking the math gene; that works out to 396 miles per tank and my destination is 600 miles away. Hmmm. That means I need an additional 10 gallons or so. Three options present themselves; get a larger fuel tank, carry gas cans, preposition fuel along the way.
b. Option one is too pricey $1,000 plus in my case.
c. Option two means using three 5 gallon gas cans. The problem here is that in order to be prepared to leave at any moment; I’d need to keep them all full. My biggest problem here is where to store them. As I mentioned, I live in an apartment so that’s really not an option I’d use except in the direst circumstances and I’d hate to leave them in my truck either. I’ll have to figure this one out.
d. Finally, Option three requires storing them at waypoints along the route. This is a so-so solution. The primary route may change and you can’t count on being able to get to it before you run out of fuel. Secondly, most storage faculties have a serious prohibition on the storage of flammable, toxic, or explosive items.

7. Enough cash or “realistic” barter goods for a few weeks
a. This is one area that I can’t really give any solid advice. Who knows what’ll be acceptable legal tender or barterable goods. You always read in the “Survival Canons” that certain barter goods will be useful. Honestly, I can’t imagine some 7-11 or Wal-Mart clerk accepting pre-1965 silver or ammo for the loaf of bread or gallon of gas I want to buy. Not in the first few days first anyway. I’d suggest that initially, good old greenbacks will do. How many to bring is the big question ($500 $1,000? Fives, Tens, or Twenties?). I can almost bet that by the time the Schumer hits the fan, most, if not all, banks will be shuttered for a "Short term-bank holiday” and ATMs will likewise be shut down . “No checks please.” Inflation may be rampant and gouging will be the name of the game. Remember Dan and TK's trip in "Patriots" ? $50 a gallon for gas may not be too farfetched.

8. Route selection
a. Take your time starting tomorrow and carefully route the best escape route you can. Note that best doesn’t always equate with fastest. If the shortest route takes you through, or by, a major urban center, you’re just jumping from one frying pan into another. Use your GPS en-rote to see what other routes are nearby. Use on-line mapping software, on-line (Google or MapQuest) or a PC or Mac-based routing program. Test different routes and compare times and distances. Most of better routing software also shows gas stations, food, Wal-Mart’s, etc., along your route. Learn to use the software now; not when it’s crunch time. Again, Dan and TKs trip in "Patriots" . Parallel routes to the Interstates perhaps?

9. Expect Societal Breakdown
a. Don’t count on your neighbor’s good intentions. Yep, you know which neighbors I mean. They’re the ones down the block with all of the expensive toys who had nothing put aside for an emergency and now are demanding you provide them food, water, and even transportation. Be prepared for incidents of aggression, attempted assault, and theft of supplies. You may need to resort to serious means to defend yourself and your loved ones traveling with you. (I hate to keep referring to "Patriots" but the description of the Laytons' harrowing trip out of Chicago will be much truer than we care to think. )
b. Be especially wary en route. When you stop for whatever reason, you may be approached by others wanting food, or fuel, or other essentials. Help those you feel are truly desperate to the best of your ability. However, you may have to be rather aggressive to deter insistent requests by overly aggressive fellow refugees. This is a good time to be traveling with like-minded, security-conscious friends, so that all concerned can provide mutual security and back-up.

10. Trust but verify
a. I was originally going to title this section “Trust no one”, however, I feel that is just a bit to cynical. There will be those you meet along the way who are true Samaritans. But, there are also those may have few if any compunction related to “liberating” a few of your items as a donation for their efforts. Or, in the worst case, there will be some full-blown predators out there masquerading as shepherds waiting for the sheep to come to them. Be wary of all help; including that from our friends in the government.

11. Be wary of Government help.
a. I don’t know what will happen if I need to bug-out; but one thing I can be sure of is that if you should stop for help at any government facility; the first thing they will do is ask if you have any weapons with you. This is pretty much standard police procedure in any case. The second thing they will do is take any weapons you have from you. It’s as simple as that. They will claim they are doing it for your own protection but you can be certain you will never see your weapons again. Confiscating weapons was illegally done in New Orleans and few of the confiscated weapons were ever recovered. As unconstitutional as it was, they still to this day, justify taking the weapons as being in the best interest of the public. Forgetting of course that they were seizing the weapons of people least likely to use them against the forces of law and order an all the while never venturing near the danger zones in New Orleans where the actual goblins with illegal weapons resided. Additionally, you can probably also be sure that they will also take whatever food, or other goods you have that they deem necessary, to redistribute it among others who weren’t quite so well prepared as you. How dare you greedy selfish people who prepared have more than others who didn’t?

I hope that you will think about what I have presented here and do your best to be prepared. I hope you all make it to your destinations safe and sound.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I read the letter from Grant regarding free topographic maps and I have an even easier method [if you don't need to download data into a GPS receiver.] You can go to the USGS web site and use the GoogleMap API to find the area that you want a map of. Once you find the area, just click the "MARK POINTS" Radio button and click on the map. The marker that shows up will have the option of ordering paper copies of the map for $6 or free download. You can download your standard 7.5 minute topographic map in PDF format and if you also use the free TerraGo Desktop (the USGS site has a link to it) you can use Adobe's free reader to compute distance, calculate area, find elevation, find lat/long, compute bearings, etc, all for free.

I've downloaded numerous maps and they're all excellent quality. It's the best source I can find for free maps and it's courtesy of the US Taxpayers. - LexNaturalis

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Maps are something I have a lot of fun with. I wrote up a blog post on free online mapping centered around topographical maps that if you haven't already encountered these tools you might find it interesting. In a post at Gear Addicts, I cover how to acquire free topographical maps, as well as using the topo maps in conjuncture with programs like Google Earth, and NASA World Wind. Making a free and in some ways superior replacemnt for expensive software by National Geographic and Garmin. Regards, - Grant

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dear Mr. Rawles,
I was in Kingwood Texas, a suburb of Houston, and as keeping an eye on the Hurricane Rita projected tracks. When the "yellow cone of death" was centered squarely on Houston, I started to seriously access my situation. That Tuesday evening, everything still seemed sort of normal. The wife came home from work about 5 p.m. and we took the dog for a walk around 6 p.m. When we passed the local gas station that normally has 0-1 cars in it and there was a line 10 cars deep, I knew it was "time." I told the wife we were now implementing our "vacation" plans for Tennessee, and would be leaving as soon as I had the trailer re-packed. I brought the essentials and things I couldn't live without if there was no Houston to come back too. For example, I brought the computers but left the monitors. (Monitors are replaceable, the hard drives and info on them, were not.)

We were wheels rolling by 9 p.m. Tuesday night, straight up Highway 59, with hardly another vehicle in sight. Just us and about 200-400 deer through the night, all headed in the same direction, that was weird... By Wednesday morning we were eating a lovely and peaceful Cracker Barrel breakfast about 20 miles East of Nashville and the waitress told us that Houston was basically having a riot on the freeways. Timing is EVERYTHING! We were 12 hours ahead of four million people leaving on the same roads, headed in the same direction.
I learned that deciding to bug out is like deciding to take in a reef in your sails when sailing that is: if you're seriously considering it, then you should actually be doing it.
All the best and God Bless, - Edward T.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mr. Rawles,
I appreciate everything you do to keep everyone working toward preparing. To that end I would like to supplement your notes with a product I have been using for a few weeks now that have greatly improved my Get Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D.) plans.

Along with US Geological maps I have used the excellent Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer to plan my back road escape routes. Recently I found that they now offer ($29.95 plus the cost of the software) an "all you can use" annual subscription to their entire map collection in digital format.

Unfortunately you do need software (Topo USA or XMap) to utilize this product but many hikers use this software so it is not a "one trick" software product. With the software you can trace routes and save them for printing and uploading to the Delorme GPSes. Software is pretty complicated so I recommend setting aside some time to learn it to get the most utilization.

These innovations have significantly improved my escape plans with alternate and fall back routes. Aside from the GPS routes I have printed out high resolution color maps using iGage water proof laser paper.

Once you have timed the routes in various traffic conditions. Put a detailed map copy in each BOV and another in the family BOB. These give us options, as well as providing the all-important putting a plan in writing step.

One Tip: The departure rush from major sporting events [at large sports venues] are not bad for simulating the traffic snarls in an emergency. you can improve your options to lock down agreed upon routes.

Regards, - JNC

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I’ve recently been brushing up on some skills; one of them was navigating by the stars. If you’re not sure what you’re looking at it can be difficult to test yourself, I found a web site that is very useful for double checking your knowledge. - Edward K.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Situational Awareness has a number of definitions, from the rather complex to the "simple". They include:

  • The process of recognizing a threat at an early stage and taking measures to avoid it. (Being observant of one's surroundings and dangerous situations is more an attitude or mindset than it is a hard skill.)
  • The ability to maintain a constant, clear mental picture of relevant information and the tactical situation including friendly and threat situations as well as terrain.
  • Knowing what is going on so you can figure out what to do.
  • What you need to know not to be surprised.

This comes to mind because of my recent reading of your novel, "Patriots". (An excellent book. A must have for any "prepper".) The book is primarily about a group of people who joined together to survive in the "days after". The daily requirements of surviving in times of roving bands of criminals and martial law enforcers were covered rather forcefully. Many of the challenges they faced required an armed response, and situational awareness was often discussed. For the kinds of situations in which the "Patriot" folks found themselves, the extremely helpful explanations of such matters as OPSEC and LP/OPs are very helpful to anyone facing what is soon coming for many of us. As the book describes, situational awareness is absolutely vital to survival and success in our near future.

But, while situational awareness is most commonly thought of as a conflict skill, there are also other kinds of situational awareness. On Yahoo Groups, there is a discussion group about surviving in the days after. One of the most prolific writers has several times recently warned the readers to "Get out of the cities now !". He's even suggested moving to very unpopulated areas and using wood pallets to erect shacks. IMHO, this is a suggestion that will cause many people great harm. Folks, with little or no preparations, suddenly moving to the land to escape the "Golden Horde", will likely fail or die. Just reading the stories of the many pioneers who moved west, will quickly sober you up from any "can do/don't know" thinking.

I have lived nearly all my life on a farm. I have developed a deep knowledge of the land. It has come at the great expense of many missteps, failures, successes, hard work and time. I call it having situational awareness of the environment. I know what certain kinds of clouds mean when forecasting tomorrow's weather. I know that the vine-like plants with three shiny leaves aren't so good to eat or touch. I know a dead snake can still bite. People just coming to the land for the first time will have little of that knowledge.

For untold years and many generations, the knowledge of how to live on the land and be self-sufficient was passed down thru families. In farm country, school was often found at the back fence. If you or your Grandfather didn't know something, the farmer next door often did. I remember many times in my youth when I'd be out working the land and the guy next door would be out on his. Often as not, we'd stop and stand by the line fence and talk. ...And I learned lots. But, now, much of this passing on of knowledge is lost. Farmers more commonly sit 12 feet in the air, driving an air conditioned combine, following the turns suggested by the GPS receiver on the dash. Your parents most likely worked in a factory or a shop, than on a farm. What was common family knowledge just a couple generations ago, such as maple syrup making, canning, gardening, butchering, animal husbandry, etc., etc., is gone. The "chain" is broken. Without this great deal of passed on knowledge and experience, nearly any farm endeavor can, and often will, lead to unexpected disaster.

This is where Situational Awareness comes in. "The need to know, so as not to be surprised." The list is endless, but for starters:

  • Knowing the good bugs from the bad in the garden
  • Knowing fresh horse manure will kill a garden, fresh chicken m. will help
  • Knowing only 3 or 4 ounces of yew leaves--a common landscape plant in much of the US--can kill a horse
  • Knowing how to split wood so that the axe won't glance off and chop your leg
  • Knowing that burning certain kinds of wood in your wood stove means you need to clean the chimney twice a winter so you don't burn down your house [with a chimney fire]
  • Knowing the nice, fresh, clean, free flowing, mountain stream may be full of giardia.
  • Knowing that, when plowing with a horse, you should never tie the reins together and put them around behind your back so your hands are free to handle the plow. (This was the way it was done in the novel "Dies the Fire" [by S.M. Stirling). If your horse happens to shy and takes off running, you will be dragged along the ground and be seriously hurt. The proper way to plow is with the reins over one shoulder and under the other. Then, if your horse runs, you just duck your head and the reins slide off.
  • Knowing that crows in the garden are bad because they eat the new planted seeds, but crows around your chicken coop are good because they keep away the hawks that will eat your chickens.
  • Knowing that if your tractor suddenly starts making a new sound, this is not good. Stop immediately and figure out what's going on, before something breaks.
  • Learning to look around you when walking, instead of only staring at the ground for your next step, (as most people do).

And on it goes. I have lived decades on the land. There's not a day goes by that I don't learn something. But even with all my handed down knowledge and hard-fought experiences, I'm not even sure I could make a go of suddenly heading out to the "country" to build a cabin and barn, till the soil, cut fire wood, store food for man and beast, and more. It's just awful hard without lots of prep's. And I can tell you, without an extensive knowledge of what the "environment" around you is telling you, it's darn near impossible. ...(Taking a walk in the woods can hurt just as much as a walk on certain inner city streets.)

So what are you to do ? Well, having a "G.O.O.D." bag and great escape vehicle is a start. Having supplies, tools and seed already in place really helps. But once you get to your retreat site, have a plan, have some knowledge of how to do, what to do. Practice now. If you think you're going to learn while living in a wood pallet shack, you won't. You'll most likely die. If there's no more Elders to ask, get to know the other "elders"--books. Go to local farms and ask to spend time just helping, so you can learn something. Go to a school to learn skills; like tracking, orienteering and fire building without matches; (one of the best, imo, is Midwest Native Skills Institute). Never take charcoal or lighter fluid on a picnic, learn to gather what burns. Go camping in winter, instead of just when it is "pretty" outside. Find a "big animal" vet. and ask to attend and help when birthing a calf. Most especially, turn off your tv. Use your time to learn to sew, or knit, or make soap. Pick up (fresh) dead animals on the road and practice skinning them and then tan the hide. [JWR Adds: Needless to say, consult your state Fish and Game laws before doings so!] Find local crafts people and acquire a skill, such as weaving, or candle making, or tin smithing, because having a survival trade in a cashless society may keep you alive. Learn to listen. Throw away those darn ear plug music things. Learn situational awareness. What is the wind telling you about the day ? What does the sudden and not normal crowing of a rooster warn you of ? What does the setting of the moon in a certain place on the horizon tell you about the season ?

Learn what it takes to live on the land, before you have to suddenly move there. Learn what nature, the land, and new tasks are telling you, before you find yourself in a difficult situation, ...(un)aware.

- Jim Fry, Curator, Museum of Western Reserve Farms & Equipment, Ohio

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

”Wherever you go, there you are." And hopefully so are your clothes. Therefore it is vital to think of your wardrobe as part of your survival gear on a daily basis. It’s not good enough to have a closet full of BDUs and a piles of high-tech gear if they aren’t near you when you need them. Most of the crises that people face do not rise to the level of TEOTWAWKI and these emergencies don’t come at convenient times. Events like building fires, car wrecks, or muggings come at you when your just out living your life. A firearms instructor once told me, “if I knew I was going to get into a gunfight if I went out, I wouldn’t bring more guns, I’d stay home.” The point is this: you don’t know when bad things will happen, and you can’t stay home all the time, so a well-planned wardrobe and pocket gear are essential at all times!

It is amazing to me that many people interested in survivalism will assemble BOBs, GOOD kits, and build retreats in the hinterlands, and yet give almost no consideration to the clothes on their backs. I have a friend who routinely runs errands in his pajamas and slippers with nothing but his car keys and wallet with him. I’ve seen men at the shooting range in beachwear! What will they do if life throws them a curve? They will suffer, that’s what. But why suffer if, by following a few simple guidelines, you can dress for survival success?

Choosing your clothing
Most people have different clothes for different events, but the rules for clothing selection are the same whether you’re at a formal wedding or at a summer barbecue. First, select clothing of high quality and good fit. Second, always choose comfort and utility over fashion. Finally, think of clothing in tactical terms. How would they aid or hinder you in a crisis?

You want to ask yourself, “would I wear this to the apocalypse?” If the answer is no, start over. On 9/11 thousands of New Yorkers were forced to walk miles, in dirt and filth, with only the clothes on their backs and the contents of their pockets and satchels. Think of them while you plan your wardrobe. When they went to work that morning they could never have imagined what they would face that day, and most were horribly prepared. Men and women alike were forced to walk barefoot because their dress shoes were not suitable for what amounted to a several mile forced march. Most had no food or water. Their clothing, particularly in the case of women, was more a hindrance than a help. Learn from their mistakes.

The single most important consideration is footwear. Always choose a sturdy shoe in which you could comfortably walk several miles over unpredictable terrain. An above ankle hiking-style boot with a waterproof liner would be preferred in most cases. Be sure to wear good socks made for hiking and suitable for the time of year. Carry and extra pair of liner socks in your satchel in case you must walk a distance on a cold day. Do not wear cotton socks! They hold moisture next to your skin which will diminish your comfort and can speed hypothermia if the temperature is low. If you are at an event that requires dress shoes or flip-flops or some other tactically undesirable footwear, be sure to bring good shoes and socks with you. Keep them in the car so that you will have them in case of emergency.

Your undergarments should comfortable and weather-appropriate. Again, this typically means no cotton! Wear silk or synthetics intended for athletic use. If you must wear a tie, wear a clip on so that it cannot be grabbed by an assailant and used to strangle you. For this same reason, avoid necklaces, earrings, and other jewelry. If it is attached to your body in such a way that having it yanked out would cause pain, then lose it!

Pants and shirts should be loose fitting for mobility, well made for durability, and have lots of pockets for gear. A number of companies make casual “tactical clothing” that is very suitable. Choose styles that mimic normal street clothes so as not to attract undue attention to yourself. Avoid bright colors and striking patterns. Earth tones and simple patterns may offer a degree of camouflage without screaming out, “look at me, I’m survivalist!” You don’t want to attract attention to yourself if you can help it. Wearing military styled clothing sends a loud signal to others so unless you want to be thought of as the local John Rambo, stick with civilian clothes. If you must wear camouflage and live in a rural area like I do, you can easily get away with the civilian hunting patterns like RealTree or Mossy Oak.

Always have seasonally appropriate outer wear with you or close at hand. You may not think it will get cold, but unless you can predict the weather infallibly, it is better to be prepared for the worst. Where I live in northern Minnesota, people die every year because they get caught outside at night without appropriate clothing. Hypothermia is a real threat in all seasons, not just winter! Have a hat, gloves, and jacket nearby at all times. Choose a hat with a brim to block the sun. This can be a boon in both summer and winter. Also make sure the jacket repels moisture. As always, avoid cotton in favor of wool or synthetics. Choose clothing made for outdoor activities such as hiking or hunting.

Choosing your gear
Gear falls into three categories: wallets, widgets and weapons. Each category should be covered whenever you leave your home. It is tempting to overdo it when trying to decide what to take with you when you head out of the house, but there is a limit to what one person can carry! You don’t need to carry your BOB with you wherever you go, just enough useful stuff to get you through in a pinch.

Your wallet should not be thought of as a single accessory to your wardrobe, but rather as a series of places to put important pieces of paper and plastic. You will want to keep these things in separate places, and you want to keep them to a minimum. There is no need to haul around a year’s worth of receipts, business cards, and shopping lists. Routinely clean out your pockets! Most people’s wallets contain far too much information about their owners. Neither criminals nor the government need this information.

Ditch it.
As to the necessities, I keep it simple: money, driver’s license, CCW permit, a few discount cards for places I frequently shop. You may need to carry a few more items depending on your lifestyle. Spread this stuff around, don’t keep it in all in one place on your body. I use a money clip for small amounts of cash and my discount cards. My driver’s license and CCW permit are clipped together in another pocket. As a side note, while driving it is advisable to have your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance in your breast pocket for quick access in case of a police stop. You don’t want to have to dig around for this stuff and possibly call attention to your “car gun” while doing so! Larger amounts of cash should be carried in a money belt or a hidden pocket. A money sash worn under your shirt can also be a great place for cash and important papers. Do not place your cash in anything that may be left “off body” like a purse or satchel!

The only actual wallet I carry is a decoy containing some of those phony credit cards that come in the mail along with a few bucks. This is what I would give to a mugger by tossing it to the ground in front of me. Most criminals are opportunists and will take a dummy wallet and leave you alone. If they don’t, you can always resort to what I refer to as “Plan G.” I think we all know what that is.

In addition to your important papers, you’ll want to be sure to carry a variety of useful and fun widgets. The following are indispensable: a multi-tool such as a Leatherman, a folding lock-back knife, a flashlight, and a lighter, and a bandanna. I also always carry a Swiss army knife on a chain with a Swiss army pocket watch, a pad of paper and a “write anywhere” pen like the Uniball Powertank, and a compass. It is amazing how many people think I’m nuts for carrying a compass everywhere I go, but after taking a short hike off-trail in an area I thought I knew well and becoming hopelessly lost for a couple hours, I think it is indispensable. Other things that I typically carry are small foam hearing protectors, a 3’ measuring tape, a bore light (you never know when you’re going to encounter someone selling a gun!), an athletic band to hold my glasses up, and a tiny back-up flashlight and a few feet of paracord. One final thing that most people must always carry is a set of keys. I like to carry my keys in a key silencer that hooks on to a clip that attaches to my belt. It is really amazing how loud a set of keys can be, and a key silencer of the sort used by police can quiet them right down. I sometimes carry a spare house and car key in one of my pockets. Keep the number of keys on your key ring to a minimum. Do you really need to carry the key to your dad’s garage when you only use it once a year? Leave it in your car!

There are many electronic devices that you may want to add to your supply of personal widgets. The only one that I consider indispensable is a cell phone. If you carry a cell phone you may find it useful to use its security feature to require a code before it can be used, but keep in mind that this means it can’t be used by someone else if you are incapacitated! Other items that may be carried include small digital cameras, GPS units, and PDAs. If you value security and privacy, you will want to remember that some cell phones and GPS units can be used to trace your location. Obviously individual criminals can’t use these features to track you to your retreat, but government criminals certainly could.

For longer trips away from home you may want to include a few other items. On the top of the “extended trip” list is a small pocket first aid kit. They are available in a small size that will tuck nicely into a cargo pocket. Consider including a few custom items that you may need but are not included in a basic kit. Keep in mind that pills or tablets tend to turn to dust when carried, so replace them frequently. Extended trips also call for spare batteries for flashlights and other electronic devices. It is very frustrating to suffer from dead batteries while away from home and have no replacements. Some flashlights use batteries that are not readily available at convenience stores. If you carry this type of light, spare batteries are a must. And don’t forget to get a spare bulb!

When selecting your widgets, always choose high quality gear. The last thing you want is a broken tool right when you need it. Buy the best, buy once. Well, in some cases you’ll want to buy twice or even three times since redundancy guarantees that you’ll have a functional specimen when you need it. I typically carry three knives, two flashlights, and two guns. “One is none, and two is one,” is a good principle to keep in mind. Select your gear carefully and don’t be distracted by the dizzying array of options we now have when it comes to pocket tools, flashlights, and electronics. Think though your personal needs carefully, and choose accordingly. For instance, many flashlights come with an aluminum case and a crenulated (ridged) bezel so that they can double as blunt striking weapons. Do you need this type of flashlight? Are you trained in this style of hand-to-hand combat? If not, perhaps a different style of light may suit you better. One thing the manufacturers won’t tell you is that these hardened aluminum bezels will saw through your pocket in a few days. If you select such a flashlight, put it in a nylon belt carrier!

As to weapons to be carried for self-defense, much has been written by those far more knowledgeable than I am. Read and study the experts and decide what is best for you. I have decided that my self defense needs are met by a Smith & Wesson stainless steel J-frame .357 magnum revolver carried strong side in a paddle holster paired with a lightweight J-frame .38 special rated for +P cartridges carried in my off-hand front pocket. That way I have a gun accessible to each hand. If you choose pocket carry, you should use a good quality pocket holster and you must not carry any other item in the pocket with the gun! I carry at least one, and sometimes two, speed loaders of good +P .38 ammo that can be used to reload either gun. If you carry speed loaders or spare magazines in a pocket, do not put anything else in that pocket. You don’t want to be digging around in a pocket full of junk when you need a quick reload. As a backup to my firearms I also always carry a Cold Steel folding knife in my strong side pocket. When I go to the “big city” I change up the .357 to a Glock .45 Model 30 with a couple of full-capacity 13 round backup magazines.

You may find that other weapons in the “use of force continuum” are more suitable to your needs. Defensive pepper sprays, Tasers, stun guns and kubotans form an important part of many self-defense kits. You may even consider a defensive cane or walking stick. Whatever your personal protection strategy may be, keep in mind that anyone who chooses to carry firearms, knives or other weapons for personal defense absolutely must know the legal implications of the use of deadly force, and they must observe all safety rules all the time. Do not become lazy and take shortcuts!

Satchels, packs and pouches

So how are you going to carry all the gear I’ve suggested? I find that I can carry all my gear in a good pair of cargo pants and one belt pouch that holds my flashlight and multi-tool. Most quality cargo pants have at least six big pockets and a smaller pocket for a cell phone or backup magazine for your semi-auto firearm. If I’m going on a trip and need some more extra gear, I throw on another belt pouch and that solves the problem.

It can take a little time to become accustomed to carrying all this stuff. I carry several pounds of stuff with me all the time, but since I’m used to it, I hardly notice the weight. You may want to build up to a full load one or two items at a time. Once you’re used to the extra weight, you won’t notice it either.
Why not use a satchel, pack purse of some kind? Simple: You will leave it behind. No matter how conscientious you are, it will happen eventually. Not only that, but such off-body carrying devices provide tempting targets for thieves. Why risk it? The only exception to this rule relates to food and drink. I always try to have a water bottle and an energy bar close at hand, either in a fanny pack or backpack. I don’t carry food and drink on me at all times, but I’ve never regretted having a little sustenance close by!

What about one of those snazzy “tactical vests” with about 100 pockets? These vests are admittedly very handy and cool looking. You can really load them up with gear. The problem is that when you wear one, you look like a body guard or a photographer who lost his camera. I prefer to keep a low profile, so even though I love my Sig-Tac tactical vest, I usually leave it in the closet.

I also find that getting dressed in a ritual fashion helps me to keep everything in order and keeps me from forgetting anything when I change pants. I empty pockets in order, one at a time. I place my gear into clean pants in the same order. Have a place for everything, and keep everything in its place. Once you develop a pattern, stick with it.

Maintaining a “survival wardrobe” is a lot of work, and it costs a lot of money. But it only makes sense that if we spend endless time and energy preparing for the big, epic crises we should also put some effort into preparing for the mundane emergencies that we are much more likely to face. Lots of little things can go wrong in life. When problems strike, having the right gear in your pocket can make a huge difference. Not only that, but I find that all my gear allows me to help those around me, and that brings a reward all its own. So fill your pockets with good gear, and dress for survival success!

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 8, 2008

Here's a beginner's list I made for my [elderly] father today:

{Brown pearl] rice does not store well. Neither does cooking oil so that needs to be fresh. No, Crisco doesn't count.
Coconut oil would be your best bet.
Wheat berries - 400 pounds - bulk order at your local health food store
Beans - 400 pounds - bulk order at your local health food store
Mylar bags
Country Living grain mill
propane tanks, small stove and hoses to connect
freeze dried fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat if you can find them.
500 gallons of water [storage capacity. Rainwater catchment is a common practice in Hawaii]
Water filter

Cast Iron Cookware

FN PS 90

10 PS 90 magazines

5.7 handgun

10 FN 5.7 handgun magazines

5.7 ammo

Training: Front Sight four day defensive handgun course. (Note: eBay sometimes has course certificates for $100!)

Body armor: Nick at

Personal medications
Augmentin antibiotic
Up to date dental work
Anti-fungal spray

$10,000 cash in small bills
100 one-ounce silver coins ( or

Gasoline in 5 gallon cans or better yet, this.
Gas stabilizer
Mountain bikes
Air pump

Rechargeable Batteries
Battery charger
Hand held walkie talkies
Topographical map of your area
Spare eyeglasses
Shortwave radio
Home generated power
12 volt battery system
Good backpack
Good knife
Good compass
Good shoes
Bar soap
Dental floss
Toilet paper
Fishing kit
Salt licks
Connibear traps

Regards, - SF in Hawaii

JWR Adds: The following is based on the assumption that SF's father also lives in Hawaii: Because of the 10 round magazine limit for handguns, I recommend that Hawaiians purchase only large bore handguns for self defense--such as .45 ACP. Both the Springfield Armory XD .45 Compact or the Glock Model 30 would both be good choices. The "high capacity" advantage of smaller caliber handguns is not available to civilians in Hawaii, so you might as well get a more potent man stopper, given the arbitrary 10 round limitation.

Friday, August 8, 2008

In answer to the recent inquiry: I can't speak for other manufacturers, but Garmin's Mapsource software has a setting for the road types along routes. I took my family on a camping trip a few weeks ago and we were on a single-lane dirt road for several miles between paved roads. We saw a group of wild turkeys cross the road and numerous deer bounding away as we passed.
Since this trip, I found the setting in Mapsource that the software uses to determine road types. Click the "Edit" menu and select "Preferences" and in the resulting dialog, select the "Routing" tab. There is a slider for "Road Selection" adjusting from "Prefer Highways" to "Prefer Minor Roads".

I personally have the Garmin GPSMap 60CSx and wouldn't trade it for anything else. I have had the unit just over a year and updated maps once from City Navigator North America 2008 to City Navigator North America NT 2009. NT is a smaller file-size allowing you to hold more maps on a single Micro SD card. I use a 2-gigabyte card and have both sets of City Navigator and Topo 2008 for a good portion of the Eastern Seaboard. Updated maps are imperative as roads are always changing, but Garmin does a good job of software releases and bug fixes. - Reid

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Okay, the stuff has hit the fan, you have made it to your retreat, and you are geared up, stocked up and ready to survive. Inner security has been established, with LP/OPs located at likely avenues of approach. You at some point will start to wonder what else is out there, how far away it is, and what it means for your group. You might want to start implementing the recon patrol. While I could write what may very well be a small manual on the subject, I will just put out the basics that will point you in the right direction to successfully run a patrol. As most retreats will not be in the desert, I am using the normal type terrain expected in a well selected retreat. Your mileage may vary. I will also not go into detail on certain subjects that can easily be researched. If I did, I would surely exceed any limit on how large a document on the subject should be. Rather I will concentrate on things learned in the field, not in any manual.

What exactly is a recon patrol?
Field reconnaissance is the gathering of information of your surroundings in a stealthy manner. You will use this information to determine the safety of your current position and it will most likely be a determining factor for your daily operations planning. Information gathered can give you an idea of opposing force (OPFOR) strength, intentions, direction they are traveling and the likelihood of them coming in contact with your base element.

While much of the doctrine is the same a standard patrol, the recon patrol is a bit different than a regular patrol. The recon patrol is to gather information on your surroundings without making contact with other elements. That being said, I have on occasion been ordered to use harassing techniques to slow down or try to change the course of an element, which I will touch upon later.

Patrol Size
The size of a recon patrol is going to be smaller than the standard squad patrol. You are trying to be invisible and the more boots you have on the ground the more noise you will make. In my experience, a four person team is the size limit which I would recommend. Three is the optimal number, and two being the least that should go out. This is in comparison with the standard squad patrol size of nine (if you are lucky enough to have that many in your squad. [Even active duty military units are often short of manpower versus their authorized strength under their table of organization.]).

Patrol Equipment
Travel light, flee the fight. Unless you come across a solo element, you will most likely be outnumbered and if compromised you will need to hastily retreat. The preferred engagement ratio is 3:1, so bear that in mind.

Take light carbines such as the M4 or Mini-14. I choose the AK-47 for myself as I believe it has a lot to offer for this type of mission. Should you get compromised, you will need to lay down a furious wall of fire to make the enemy think they just encountered a platoon or a least squad sized element so semi-auto is in my opinion a bare minimum. Larger weapons such as the M1 Garand or long barreled assault rifles will slow you down as they are heavy and cumbersome, but if that is what you have you will have to make do. Even though I sometimes carried a sidearm, it would be better just to take a couple of extra mags for your primary. This is much better added value weight. You should pack two reloads for your combat load just in case you keep getting paralleled by OPFOR and have time to refresh magazines.

The “light” part seems to be getting to be a stretch with this type prep, which is why I stress lighter ammo such as 5.56 or 7.62x39. The 7.62 NATO ammo gets pretty heavy with this type of packing and does not add much value in a reconnaissance mission. If you do have a mule in your team (a human one) and he has skills with a sniper rifle, you may want to consider taking it along in an appropriate style carrier as a target of opportunity may come up that may be just way too good to pass up. This does violate the "no contact" premise of the recon patrol, but proper escape route planning can be implemented to help with this scenario. Just a thought and should only be done by experienced personnel.

Optics such as binoculars or [spotting] scope are pretty much necessities. The further that you can stand off and observe your objective the better off you are. Binoculars with some type of "flash kill" device are recommended. Also make these quality optics that you are comfortable using. I don’t mean you have to buy a $1,000 pair of Steiners. For under $40 at WalMart you can get Bushnell’s 10x42 hunting binoculars that are clear as a bell and very rugged. You can use a sheer sniper veil over them as a kill flash. Rifle scopes are okay, but require that you expose yourself a little more than with binoculars. Generally, you also have a better field of view with binoculars. In my opinion binoculars are a better choice.

You need to travel light, so try to keep this to a minimum. A recon patrol should be fairly short, a day or two probably at most. If it is going to be extended,then pack 2-1/2 times the food you think you will need. Utilizing light foods like jerky that you can carry a lot of will go a long way. I learned that one the hard way. When a two day patrol turns into six days that extra little bit of "Pogey bait" is worth it and can be rationed. Also learn what is edible in your surroundings as this can help sustain your mission without being a burden on your supplies. Take foods that need little or no preparation. Jerky, trail mix, MREs and foods of that nature are recommended.

Try to avoid foods that are particularly aromatic, such as curry, onion, garlic, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I have found an OPFOR element’s area of operations (AO) just by smell. While in Korea, I could find Korean [troop] elements by their body odor due to their diet of kimchi sometimes up to 400 meters away, depending on the wind and how long they had been out. This odor discipline also includes cigarettes, No smoking! Obviously colognes and other “smelly goods” have no place on a recon patrol.

Radios should be carried but utilized only when absolutely necessary. Chances are your patrol might take you out of radio communication reception distance especially if you don’t have high power equipment. This is risky, but sometimes necessary. You need to know the operating limitations of your comms equipment and operate accordingly. Designate times and places to transmit from if you cannot [continuous] maintain radio contact during the patrol.

Camoflage should go without saying. The type will obviously be determinate on your terrain and season. Burlap with proper color spray paint is a great way to make cheap [outline] breakup for weapons. It can be manipulated to just about any terrain out there. You can use [burlap strips] to throw off scent-detecting animals such as dogs by using fox urine or other types of masking scents. A very useful item indeed.

Helmets and body armor are optional, but I do not recommend them on a recon patrol. The body armor is heavy and can impede your quick getaway. It merits are known factors in the safety of soldiers, but in this mission you need to be able to flat out run if compromised. The ballistic helmet is also heavy, but its main downfall is the fact that it masks your environment. It can impair your vision and it mostly covers your ears and keeps you from hearing sounds that may be the enemy. A boonie cap is the first choice, patrol cap is second for traditional headgear.

Plan the Route
Route planning is essential. Pick a route that will minimize danger area crossings and contact with high traffic areas. Do not use roads, rivers, trails or any other obvious routes of travel. You may skirt these areas to view them. Never plan a straight route. Use various patterns of travel such as zigzagging or button hooking. This keeps the enemy off guard as to where you came from. Also, should you think you are being trailed, do a wide 360 until you come back on your own tracks. If you encounter more tracks than yours, then you are being followed. React according to your [contact] SOPs.

Learn to use a compass and map. While GPS systems can be useful tools, they are not always reliable and in a Grid Down situation may not even function. Know this: the US Department of Defense owns all the GPS satellites and merely provides data to GPS companies like Garmin so their GPS devices will work. Should the government choose to, they can encrypt them at will and leave your commercial GPS worthless. Learning how to use a compass and map can be a fun experience for everyone. It can give kids and adults alike a great sense of accomplishment and help get you or keep you in shape. Map and compass skills can trump a GPS any day, and on many occasions I have been right on the mark while the guy using the GPS has been wandering around waiting for the satellites to give him a decent grid. Rely on basic navigation skills. Technology is a crutch for the weak.

Plan Actions
Make sure to plan out the time you are leaving, time to be on the objective, time you will transmit information if necessary, and time you expect to be back. Plan for contingencies, such as what to do if you make contact, where to meet if you get separated, and what frequencies to be on at what time of the day. Most of these will be dictated by your groups prior established SOPs. Follow them.

Preparing for the Patrol
If you follow proper procedure when you leave the base of ops you will conduct "stop, look, listen, and smell" (SLLS). This is to get you oriented to your environment. However, I have found that a short 10 minute halt like this is not nearly as effective as having the recon team acclimate [to the natural environment] over a day or so without distractions such as television, radio, or any other man-made devices that are not essential to ops. In a grid down situation this will most likely not be a problem. Your sense of smell, hearing, and vision get better the longer you are out. If possible, do this and you will be much more inclined to pick up on enemy positions and movement long before they pick you up.

Make sure all equipment gets inspected, including weapons and optics. Make sure all equipment is quiet and free of protruding gear or things that will snag on foliage. This includes weapons that have a multitude of “Mall Ninja” gear hanging off of them. While it may be value added in a MOUT situation, it is just more junk to hang up on vegetation and obstacles. Have each patrol member jump up and down and run in place with their gear on to identify anything noisy and use 100 m.p.h. [olive drab duck] tape or 550 [parachute] cord to lash it down. Make sure food and water are easily accessible as you may be eating on the fly. Check for proper and complete camouflage. Get ready to roll, get your mind right.

On the Patrol
Use your wits. Be aware of your environment, and anything that may not be right. Learn to use nature to warn you of potential danger. Have you ever been close to a squirrel’s nest in the woods? He will let you know you are too close by making a lot of noise. This type of natural warning device can serve you as well as hinder you. Be mindful of nature and learn to move in the woods as part of your surroundings rather than against it. This takes time, is a learned behavior, but can be done by just about anyone. Avoid sandy terrain where you will leave an obvious trail. Use rocks and other terrain to move while minimizing [leaving] sign and making noise. Be mindful of how loud your footsteps are. That is a common mistake I see soldiers make all the time. They don’t listen to how much noise they are making. Learn to roll your feet. This can be practiced around the house while doing chores. Just learn to walk quietly.

On the Objective
If you are doing an area recon, which is a specific area you want to check out, make sure you spend the time you need on the objective to properly gather intelligence. Walk a zigzag pattern to cover as much terrain as possible.
If you are doing a point recon, which is a recon of a specific target such as a house or a point on a road, lay your team in collect as much info as you can. Include info you would normally not consider important as later on down the road you may find it useful. Remember, you can never collect too much intel, but you can collect not enough. You can sort through what is important later on when you have time to analyze the intel.
While glassing your objective, make sure only one member of each buddy team is using binoculars, while the other keeps an eye out for anyone who may be using a clandestine approach to your location. Use a notebook to write down everything you see.

When the allotted time on the objective is complete, always leave the objective in a different direction [than from which you approached]. Pick up any trash or tell tale sign of you being there. Brush over where you were laying, cover any foliage cuts you might have made. Try to leave no sign at all that you were ever there. Maintain noise discipline on the way back just like you did on the way in. You are in just as much danger going home as you were going out. Don’t get complacent.

Well, there you have it. You can research the patrol by using military manuals and implement what I have written here for a successful mission. This will give you a heads up on what’s out there and give you an advantage over any element that may be inbound on your location. Knowledge is power, and if you have solid intel on your enemy and surroundings, then you have the tactical advantage. I hope this is of use to you.

Friday, June 27, 2008

One of the constant knocks by the mainstream media on the preparedness movement is the oft-touted canard that preparedness, indeed the “survivalist” mindset is nothing more than an excuse by far-right loons to engage in Rambo-esque fantasies of firearms, firefights and macho posturing. While there is a scintilla of truth to this in some far dark quarters of doomsday lunacy, it is for the most part fiction. (This matches JWR’s caveat on discussing unregistered suppressors [in the US] or other illegal preparations). So that we bring no discredit on what is nothing more than prudence, perhaps a few short observations can be proffered here so those of a serious nature can learn to assume a proper martial mindset without resorting to hysteria.

Preparedness, survival, or any other euphemism one can assign to our interest is as much mindset as gear, land or other physical manifestation of prudence. It is in itself a way of life that incorporates simple daily teachings, practice, and when training, the incorporation of real-life situational aspects that can better model an actual emergency scenario or a situation of social unrest. Any competent defense professional will say that greatest advantage in warfare is information, followed by logistics, then combat power. It’s no use having the greatest army in the world if you don’t know where the enemy is nor if you can’t you feed your troops. As Napoleon so famously postulated, an army marches on its stomach.

So with those adages in mind, how does one prioritize daily living to more readily understand these concepts? We all have things we do on a daily basis, so the question of incorporation becomes one of time management, especially given the marvelous source of information now available in today’s 24 hour “always on” culture. For instance, instead of perusing the morning newspaper or watching the morning breakfast, find several reputable financial news sources such as the online versions of the The Wall Street Journal or Barron’s. Start educating yourself on how markets move, how seemingly insignificant moves in commodities or futures, such as pork or wheat can have a direct impact on your daily life. This also gives you markers to start creating your own scenario planning data for acquisition planning, and in the worst case, a timeline for moving to your retreat. American’s are notorious for living in a bubble, in what is now a deeply materialistic culture, and missing the obvious signs of downturns both in the US and abroad. This new discipline has an upside as well, in that by becoming a more financially-aware individual, you can make more informed decisions on how to manage cash flow or even become a day-trader, freeing up capital for other, more serious purposes. Understanding the world around you, looking at information as intelligence rather than simple factoids and being aware of the bits and pieces that can provide a different and in many instances, a more accurate picture of what is really going on, is a skill that will pay one back in spades. Think outside the box!

Next, personal fitness is a must. In any crisis situation, adrenalin levels, stress, even physical injury can manifest themselves in a variety of ways that can cripple or terminate the best laid plans. It is therefore mandatory that anyone considering a preparedness strategy baseline their family health. The advantages of this are twofold: first, it gives one an idea of how much exercise they will need to incorporate into daily life to bring them to a level of basic fitness of a recruit in the US Army, ideally the Marines, which is not as hard as it may appear. Second, this will aid in identifying a medicine acquisition plan for family members so you are not caught short in a crisis situation. There won’t be heart or blood pressure tablets around if the mob has burned all the Walgreen [Pharmacies]. Gun shows are great places to get surplus, mil spec-quality first aid equipment, along with catalog houses that supply paramedics or EMS personnel. The best book on the subject is the US Army Special Forces Medical Manual, available anywhere, along with “Where There is No Doctor” and “Where There is No Dentist”. (I will cover medicine in a survival situation in greater detail in another post.) Learn how to take your blood pressure, especially pre- and post-exercise so you understand the difference between resting and active pulse. The various military physical fitness programs are all available on the web. Pick one that you can realistically follow upon consulting your physician, and then be rigorous in its application.

You want lean, endurance-based conditioning – not necessarily big bulky SEAL-like muscles. I can remember from my [USMC Force] Recon days watching these guys while with them at dive school, getting all bulked-up and then not being able to run worth a damn with my fellow Marines. You want endurance, endurance, endurance. Muscles will come, and remember: shooting skills are as much a kata as a karate movement and are technique-based on a solid, lithe platform. Incorporate a martial art into your training regimen if possible. This can be a speed bag, or large punching bag, dojo work, sparring with a partner or any other self-defense program. These teach discipline, respect for the art, and most importantly, stamina and situational awareness, all priceless skills in a crisis situation. These types of activities begin to solidify the warrior mindset, and in solidifying this mindset, you now assume the duty, indeed the responsibility to only use these skills in the protection of kith and kin, and not as a license to bully, cajole, or simply show-off. Many years ago my first sensei gave me an axiom that rings very true: “One warrior may spot another in an instant. Be it by the way he moves or by the way people avoid him. The problem lies when would-be warriors and/or fools attack a true warrior. The fool may seem to back the warrior down, but the warrior knows by instinct that he outclasses the opponent and does nothing, or just kills.” By increasing you martial acuity, you will soon learn to spot fools, an invaluable skill not only in crisis situations, but in life in general.

Learn to live in the outdoors. Go camping or hiking with your family as much as possible. Carry weight when you hike, so you get used to load bearing. Increase it, and record you accomplishments. Not only is it great exercise, but it allows for team-building activities and provides an avenue to understand group dynamics and how task-oriented your family is or is not and what your personal and familial endurance levels are and should be. Bring map and compass and learn orienteering skills, and if possible, find the local orienteering club and go on organized compass courses when you can. Land navigation is an invaluable skill along with map reading (topographic – not your normal service station map of greater Canton…). This was the greatest challenge when I attended [US Army] Ranger school, the skills of pace-setting and azimuth shooting, particularly at night. Remember, you may not have the luxury of G.O.O.D. as a family unit, so it is imperative everyone know how to find your retreat, rally point, or rendezvous site by azimuth and location. Moreover, in fleeing, you may need to alter your route intentionally if pursued, and you will want to keep your bearings so you eventually end-up where you need to be. This will help bond your family unit, and help in math skills with kids. Thinking on your feet and being able to understand where you are without navigational aids is the ideal. Hold a rehearsal drill with a prize or incentive at least yearly. Also have a vehicle plan that works on the same level – and here any of the relatively inexpensive commercial GPS systems can be a great help. However, don’t become reliant on them, as they fail, they require power, and they can be tracked. Map and compass are best – master them. Have your kids join the scouting movement in your area as this will also provide an inroad to appreciating living rough. I learned more about outdoor living in my 10 years of scouting than was ever taught to me in the many schools (with the exception of S.E.R.E. – Survival, Evasion, Rescue, and Escape) that I attended whilst in the military. Lastly, get local guidebooks that identify edible plants and animals indigenous to your potential egress/retreat area. Again, take the family out and do some plant, bird, and animal spotting. Knowing how animals behave – particularly what they eat – can give you insight into how they react around humans, particular those humans not know to them. Understand the ebb and flow of the environment around your egress and retreat area. The warrior knows his terrain intimately and it is a force-multiplier in a crisis situation. From the Art of War, on the Varieties of Terrain for the commander: “if ignorant of the conditions of mountains, forests, dangerous defiles, swamps and marshes he cannot conduct the march of the army…”

We’ve now started to look at incorporate an intelligence gathering outlook on life, followed by a fit state of readiness for the unexpected, now what about conflict? Unless you live in a state that allows concealed carry, you most likely will not have much experience in the carry of, or more importantly, the skills of living with loaded firearms. The old soldier’s adage of training as you will fight is key here: living with live weapons does not impart a casual familiarity that can lead to tragedy, more so the understanding of levels of readiness depending on the scenario. Combat pistol and rifle craft will be followed in another post and there as many philosophies as there are gurus. I subscribe to the school of Jeff Cooper and Mel Tappan, and readers are encouraged to seek out their writings. Suffice to say, in regards to our emerging warrior ethos, the idea is mastery, as a weapon is only as effective as the mindset and situational awareness of the person wielding that weapon. Begin to think of becoming one with your chosen piece; don’t choose a combat handgun, rifle or shotgun simply on caliber and aesthetic appeal. You want to ensure you have good grip control, eye relief (for rifles) and for shotguns, that the stock fits snugly when snapping the weapon to your shoulder. This is especially critical when fitting weapons for women and children. Your martial mentality is the platform for that weapon to be effective so it is imperative it feel comfortable. Next, find an air pistol and air rifle that resemble your chosen battery. Rather than wasting ammo “snapping-in” on the range (and fielding potential embarrassing and/or curious questions), use these tools to get the feel for breath control, trigger pull and eye relief. Use toy soldiers to simulate range. If you pick a particularly loud air rifle, check local ordnances prior to beginning your training. I have used air pistols in my garage for many years with no problem. Just ensure you have sufficient target backing. You will be amazed by how well you shoot your live weaponry once you’ve disciplined your stance, breathing and bench positions with the air weapons.

One of the reasons I stress familiarity with a martial art is that all involve a relatively similar pre-contact stance. That is, feet slightly wider than shoulder width, a light bend in the knees coupled with a straight back and slight relaxation in the elbows in a punching position. This easily translates into the FBI “A” (“triangle,” “apex,” etc.) shooting position when using a pistol. There are a variety of shooting stances; find one you’re comfortable with and practice it until it becomes rote. I like to shoot on BLM land where I can set up a loose range with a variety of targets that can simulate a variety of situations. Moreover, one can carry side arms “live,’ the most important part of the exercise. Always use caution and appoint one of your group as range master. I cannot emphasize enough the importance in warrior thought of acclimation to daily use of one’s weapons. Each pistol, rifle and shotgun, and the associated ammunition and accessories, all have specific, indeed quirky, characteristics that are best discovered and addressed in a benign environment. Another advantage of the informal range is practicing contact drills in the form of fast draw and point shooting; again, topics for another time, but key to the mindset. In conjunction with the mechanics of the draw and basic tactical levels (safe – elevated – hostile), there is the consideration of dress and load-bearing equipment. We’ve all seen pictures of militia-types and airsoft rifle enthusiasts kitted-out to the nines, but in reality, no warrior worth their salt dresses in such a poseur fashion.

Kit should be scenario, then mission-driven. It’s ok to mix commercial and military gear, as it gives you the best of both worlds, along with adaptability and more importantly, a covert OPSEC profile. One need not run around in camouflage with chickenplate-enabled body armor and all the other stuff that goes with such a mindset in order to present a hardened, tactical, preparedness profile. Try running 10 to100 yard wind sprints with what you consider to be “appropriate” gear, along with running up and down hills, pausing frequently to set-up a shooting position, and you will soon see what gear is needed and what quickly proves superfluous. Moreover, one quickly grasps the need for constant conditioning, proper diet, and rest – again, train with the gear you intend to use in your preparedness planning. Crisis situations entail short-burst energy requirements, breath control, noise and movement discipline and a host of soft-skills that are much more important than having “cool” gear. You may have the slickest web gear, a trick battery of personal defense weaponry, and way-cool “digital” cammies, but if you’re too winded to hold an aim point, too thirsty sucking down water like there’s no tomorrow (and at that rate, there won’t be…), or cramping and puking for lack of salt, you are now ineffective as a resource, a drain on those dependent on you, and more likely dead, as you were not sufficiently aware tactically, as you were too troubled sorting yourself out… The warrior is ready at all times, and uniformly effective, regardless of time, place, or contingency.
I rarely wore the same load bearing equipment (LBE) configuration twice, as operational contexts were always different.

The axioms I lived by were simple enough: keep your [front] belt area free of any pouches or protuberances; this allows you to lie flush when rounds start flying; next, position you main weapon’s magazine pouches on your side, slightly behind your hip or ideally, over your kidneys, as again, when prone, they are easier to access without elevating your profile. You drink more than you shoot, so canteens can be located at the traditional hip pistol position; use [CamelBak-type water] bladders where possible, as they are less noisy, hold more, and can double as a pillow, rifle rest or anything else you can come-up with. 1 qt. plastic mil spec canteens are fine, but I normally carried them on my main LBE framed knapsack or butt back. Use mass to distribute weight (your hiking with weight pays off here). If you do use them on your waist belt, ensure they are positioned in such a way that you won’t injure yourself collapsing quickly on the deck, nor are they in the way of your weapons carry. Never attach a side-arm to an LBE belt that leaves your body. Drop-leg pistol holsters seem all the rage, and for Close Quarters Battle (CQB) and urban warfare, they have a place. In a retreat scenario, less-so, as they will hang on fencing, drag on brush, and hamper quick ingress and egress from vehicles. Use good quality leather or black nylon (i.e. low-profile, non-martial appearing) pistol dress when not in tactical mode, and again, wear it as often as possible so it becomes second-nature. Shoulder holsters are good for this as well; just ensure it fits, can carry spare magazines, and that you have practiced drawing from the holster so it is not a liability. As to holster location, again, this is personal preference, as some like to cross-draw (i.e. a right-handed shooter holsters their piece on the left hip, magazine facing the target, and draws across the body) or use the simple hip draw. [JWR Adds: The disadvantages of cross-draw rigs have been previously discussed in the blog.] Concealed carry is much in the same vein, although by its very nature, you normally carry a smaller weapon, using a variety of purpose-built holsters on the arms, legs, inside the belt, or small of the back. I like the small of the back myself. Constantly experiment with your LBE until it is no longer “fiddly” and fits and works the way you desire. Run in it, dive on the ground in it, get it wet, understand how it behaves in a variety of circumstances. Use black electrical tape, or ideally, mil spec“100 mph tape” (in reality, olive-colored gaffer tape) to secure loose straps and to cover metal or plastic tabs or sharp edges that might become noisy or otherwise problematic in use. Don’t use black duct tape as it is too sticky and leaves a residue that gets on everything.

In recapping the warrior mentality relative to equipment, remember that less is indeed more; the more you pre-place, the less you need in a bug-out kit. Blend in and look "conformist" as much as possible, using situational awareness, concealed carry, and normal attire when going about your business in urban and non-conflict rural areas. Don’t depend entirely on surplus or new mil spec gear; use the best kit for the job, but more so, maintaining a martial “look” may draw the authority’s attention or encourage other fools of a tin soldier mentality to take you on. Adjust your kit profile to the appropriate level of security and risk and you should be fine. Lastly, you must reconcile in your mind the concept of deadly force. Regardless of how prepared your scenario, you may be forced to confront those that wish you harm, and you will die if you start the mental ethical thought process at the contact point. Knowing your tools, knowing where to shoot, and understanding the need to shoot will allow you the upper hand when dealing with fools. Concise action can often abrogate the need for violence; so again, preparedness can be as much a tool of avoidance as much as kinetic action. Deadly force will comprise several upcoming posts and I will also provide a topical reading list in the next few weeks, addressing not only use of deadly force, but the warrior mindset, how to plan and what constitutes strategy, tactics, and conflict. In the meantime, start thinking about times you’ve been scared, or in a heightened state of anxiety, or even shot at. What went on in your mind? How perceptive were you? What physiological signs manifest themselves? How did you compensate? In short, begin to analyze things from an angle of what you would do, say in an airplane crash or severe auto accident – I call this reaction planning, and it will save your life. Understand that danger has constants, just like any other natural phenomena. The more you think of “what-ifs?” the more you will be ready for crisis.

In closing, preparedness, like any other skill, is much, much more mental than physical. The successful preparedness planner is in essence a renaissance thinker, as you must understand and appreciate a variety of skills, and master the most critical at least at a basic level. In creating this series of articles, I will be working with a variety of assumptions: many of my readers will have had some military or scouting background, and possess a passing familiarity with firearms. You may have only just started to think about contingency planning, and I encourage you to mine the marvelous resources of SurvivalBlog. Next, that you have families, and you intend to incorporate your family or immediate friends or relatives into your planning; also, you are in the early days of simply trying to sort through the myth and reality of what the preparedness movement and mindset entails, along with the commiserate moral, ethical, and practical considerations one must entertain to not only thrive in a crisis situation, but also maintain the social mores of being a good citizen, neighbor and staying within the remit of reasoned law. And like a good scout: Be Prepared… Stay tuned! - "Jeff Trasel"

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.]

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I found some depressing analysis on G.O.O.D. for those of us near US population centers: Read this PDF.

For further information on the ineffectiveness of G.O.O.D. when times get bad, US DOT generated this report: Using Highways for No-Notice Evacuations.

In addition, there is no shortage at the US DOT web site of well-intentioned and theoretical research reports on disaster planning.

For many of us, last minute G.O.O.D. plans are likely to be characterized by a high probability of failure along with its associated human costs. One might guess that the chance of failure is an exponential function of the distance to the retreat. I need to remind myself that it is not a simple matter of just getting in the car or BOV and heading out to the safety of my retreat. Might work, probably won't.

Thank you again for your hard work, - The DFer

JWR Replies: I concur that "Eleventh Hour" G.O.O.D. is a bad idea. Even if you have 90% of your gear pre-positioned at your retreat, there is the prospect of never making it there safely. (Or, arriving days or weeks late, on foot, only to find your retreat occupied by armed squatters that are gleefully eating from your carefully planned deep larder.) As I illustrated in my novel "Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse", being forced to abandon a vehicle and traveling on foot is a dicey proposition, at best. I strongly recommend that readers live at their retreats years round--even if it means giving up a high-paying big city job.

You mentioned: "One might guess that the chance of failure is an exponential function of the distance to the retreat." I would qualify that by saying: "...the distance that you need to traverse in a high population density region to get to the retreat". It is best if one can get away from urban regions fairly quickly and then take secondary or tertiary back roads. For those that are forced by circumstances or family obligations to live a long distance from their intended retreat, I recommend doing some detailed map studies, and then some test drives with a GPS receiver in hand, to establish five or more G.O.O.D. routes--some quite circuitous--to stay away from high population regions and expected refugee lines of drift. Needless to say, always, always, have enough fuel on hand, to make the drive from your home to your retreat without buying any fuel. Depending on the fire code in your town, that might necessitate caching some fuel along your route. (Ideally, with relatives or friends.) Along with that comes the further complication of systematically rotating that cached fuel.)

If and when "The Day" comes, do not hesitate! You need to get out of town well ahead of The Golden Horde, while roads are still passable. It is better to be ultra-cautious and run the risk of burning up some of your hard-earned vacation hours in the event of a few false alarms, than to be complacent and thereby end up stuck in traffic, staring at the tail lights and back bumpers of the enormous horde that left town ahead of you. (Just ask the folks that tried leaving the Gulf Coast cities just before Hurricane Katrina arrived. It was a monumental traffic jam.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Throughout my life I have been caught unprepared several times and while nothing seriously bad happened, it easily could have.  I have been lost hiking.  My car has broken down in very bad neighborhoods - twice.  I have been close enough to riots that I feared they would spread to my neighborhood, been in earthquakes, been too close to wildfires, been stuck in a blizzard, and have been without power and water for several days after a hurricane.   I managed to get myself out of each situation, I thanked God, and tried to learn from my mistakes.  I could have avoided these situations or made them much less unsafe and worrisome if I had been more aware and prepared.  I have also tried to learn from the mistakes of others so as to not learn everything the hard way.  One group I assisted was a two hour drive into the mountains, out of gas, wearing tee shirts, and had empty water bottles (at least they kept them) (I have made each of those mistakes but not all at the same time). 

I aspire to be more prepared the next time.  My preparedness includes many different aspects.  In my opinion, the most important thing I have done is to learn as much as possible about what to expect and how to deal with those situations.  The other important thing that gives me some piece of mind is that I carry and stock away water, food, ammo, books, and other tools and equipment that should help me survive a bad situation.  Be prepared!

The other inspiration for my preparations is my family.  Seeing my family suffer from lack of water or food would be very hard for me, especially if some easy and cheap preparations could have made a big difference.  Recently, a few friends and family have asked me about my preparations and how they might prepare.  I didn't have a good short answer because I have spent years learning and stocking away.  I thought of myself as more of a student than a teacher in this area, but now I think I do know enough to give some basic advice and refer them to good sources for more.  Hopefully, they (and you) can learn from my mistakes without having to waste time, energy and money on things that don't work.  Of course, I haven't been through every situation or disaster but I have made it through a few tough spots without losing my head.  My advice is based upon what I know to work and also what sounds like it would work with the minimum fuss.  I always prefer the cheap, easy, home-made solution, but sometimes it is worth the cost to get a quality item that is just too hard to improvise or where the manufactured solution is much better (such as a knife).  Keep it simple stupid (KISS) when you can.  With persistence you can get a lot done $20 at a time.

The purpose of this document is to give an overview of preparedness and the first steps to take.  I focus more on the why than the what so that you can tailor your preparedness to your own situation and budget.  I will also cite the best sources I have found for more information.  There is a lot of information out there in books, classes, web sites, and forums. Most of it is good but it is also really repetitious and overwhelming.  This document is only about 15 pages printed out (you are printing important information (not necessarily this) aren't you - since in an emergency you may not have power and need to take the information with you).  I try to keep my important preparedness documents in an expandable file folder with a tie inside a plastic crate.

What are you preparing for?

No one really knows what will be the next survival situation they will face or how it will play out (will it get worse before it gets better?).  It could be getting lost hiking, the car getting two flats in the middle of the desert, a hurricane, a home invasion, an earthquake, or a terrorist attack.  You must assess your own situation and determine what you need to prepare for.  Of course some preparations will be useful in many situations including everyday life, and these are the best type.

In order to get an idea of what to prepare for, look at the types of situations that you or people similar to you have been through.  Also, assess where you live or spend a lot of time such as work and vacation.  We need to learn from the past but without fighting the last war. 

I like hiking and being outdoors, so for me learning how not to get lost and how to stay alive in the outdoors are high priorities.  These skills may also come in handy if I need to walk to safety during a terrorist attack because all of the roads and public transportation are closed.  Living in your house without power or water isn't too different from camping except for the nice roof over your head and all of your stuff.  I have also taken a first aid class.  It is pretty limited in coverage but still useful in a variety of situations.

To assess the likely dangers to where I live and work I used several sources including FEMA (free guide), DHS, Disaster Center, Emergency Essentials, Two Tigers and CBS.  Also, find your local emergency response office.  But don't rely on the government too much for planning or for help.  As we relearned with the Katrina response, their information and advice is far from perfect.  And FEMA has always said it will take 72 hours to respond.  So the way I look at it, during Katrina, FEMA (and local governments) failed to live up to its own low expectations.  But even if FEMA had been able to provide more food and water, you would still be much better off taking care of yourself.  Do you really want to be told what possessions you can hold, when to eat, when to sleep, and live in close quarters with thousands of strangers?  Sounds like prison to me.

It's A Disaster is a good book that will get you started on a plan for most disasters.  Some of their plans are a little passive for me (don't take any risks and follow all FEMA directions) and their kits lack some important things like knives.  Still, it is a very good book and a great start.  Family and friends should be included in your planning and preparations as much as they want to be, but be careful about telling people who you do not trust or know well.  You do not want to become a target in a crisis.

I think one of the best sources for thinking about what you are preparing for and what does and doesn't work is news and first hand accounts.  These are some of the best ones I have found.  A few of them seem kind of glib and bravado but the advice seems sound.

True Stories of Survival

Hurricane Katrina:

Argentina thread 1:

Argentina thread 2 (some swearing):

Airplane crash:

Ground Zero:

Karen Hood's Survival Journal (a week in the wilderness)

Sailing to Hawaii



A list of stories


The survival Rule of Threes:

  • It takes about three seconds to die without thinking
  • It takes about three minutes to die without air
  • It takes about three hours to die without shelter
  • It takes about three days to die without water
  • It takes about three weeks to die without food
  • It takes about three months to die without hope
  • Try to have at least three ways of preventing each of the above (a backup to your backup).

So the priorities are thinking, air, shelter, water, food, and hope.  These are rules of thumb and approximations.  Also, you will likely start feeling really bad before you die so you need to be proactive in addressing these needs.

Basically, don't panic and do something stupid.  This is easier said than done, but you can build your thinking skill and confidence by playing ‚Äúwhat if‚Äù games. After reading about the risks to your area and the survival stories above, think about what kinds of things could go wrong and how you would deal with them.  The more detail the better.  What would you do if a cat 5 hurricane was projected to hit your house?  Where would you go?  What would you take?  Would it all fit in your car?  Do you have enough gas to get there if the gas stations are closed?  What if you don't have time to leave? What room in your house is safest (can you reinforce it easily)?

If you are facing a serious situation but no immediate threat, take the time to consider your options before rushing into a course of action.  Take an inventory of what you have on hand and what is around you.  Think of how each item could help solve one or more of your priorities. 

Thinking about these things may be scary but it will be less scary when it actually happens if you have thought it through.  Focus on what you can do to improve things and not on what you cannot change. Thinking can also be more long term as in learning and planning.  I suggest you read some of the sources below and then come up with a plan for several types of situations that you are likely to face.  But don't delay, you can take some first steps outlined below, such as storing water, right now.  You can then read more, take classes and collect useful items.  Preparing is a process not a one time event.

Having breathable air is not something you usually have to worry about, but it is an immediate priority if you do.  First aide can help with choking and bleeding (which causes the body to not get needed oxygen). Hundreds of people die from carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide poisoning every year because of gas leaks and cooking or heating indoors.  Being at altitude can also make it harder to breath.  Finally, a terrorist attack could put dust, chemical, biological, or nuclear contamination in the air or force you into a shelter that needs ventilation.  Be aware of these dangers and have appropriate detectors if possible (smoke, carbon monoxide, etc.).  A wet cloth or hand wipe (carry on airplane) to breathe through can help for dust or smoke.


Shelter is mainly about staying dry and the right temperature, but you also want to avoid sunburn, bugs, animals and other dangers.  Your house is your usual primary shelter but it could become damaged or you may have to evacuate.  You should have emergency repair items on hand such as tarps, lumber, shovels, nails, plastic sheeting, crowbars, and a saw.

Your clothes are your first and most important layer of shelter outdoors.  Clothes protect you from heat, cold and abrasions.  In general silk, wool, and synthetic materials are better than cotton especially to keep you warm in cold wet weather. I find cotton more comfortable especially in hot weather, so I compromise and wear a cotton shirt and shorts, but carry a better shirt, pants and socks in my bag, as well as additional layers and a change of underwear.  This makes my pack a little heavier, but I have been cold and wet in the wilds and that is miserable.  For me, a hat and sunglasses are indispensable.  I try to always carry at least a light water resistant jacket or poncho (with a garbage bag as a backup).  For me, boots are the only sensible walking shoes.  Find some that are rugged and comfortable.  Have extra laces and a backup pair.

You can carry a tent, a tarp or garbage bag for resting and sleeping.  A tarp can make a simple shelter or an elaborate one.  Rope, twine and tape are also useful.  You can carry some type of staff or tent poles or make them with an ax or saw.  Mosquito netting is necessary in some places.

You should have many ways to start a fire since most are cheap and compact.  At least have a lighter, matches, and flint.  You can also build a firebed to sleep in if you have inadequate shelter from the cold.

This is a crucial area that can be helped a lot with very cheap and easy actions before The Schumer Hits The Fan (TSHTF).  This is probably the thing you can do with the highest payoff for amount of effort.  The only problem with water is that it is heavy and can take up a lot of room.  If you have storage room and are staying home this isn't a problem but if you are on the move it can become a driving factor in your progress.  Long term solutions are also difficult if your primary water source (city water or well) goes out and you are not near a river or lake. 

Used plastic soda bottles and orange juice jugs with screw tops make very convenient water storage containers.  Just rinse them a few times with hot water. Old liquor bottles and wine box bladders work well too.  I also have several canteens and rugged 5 gallon containers with taps.  The five gallon containers weigh about 40 pounds each and are about as big as can be easily moved (larger drums can go in your basement or garage or under a rain spout).  A few collapsible containers might also be useful because they can be stored and carried empty.  Tap water can last for years without going bad if kept in a cool dark place.  But you should check water that has been stored for clarity and odors.  If in doubt, treat it with one of the methods below.  You can also freeze the plastic soda or orange juice containers (these do crack sometimes when freezing) and use them in a cooler to keep food cold if the power goes out before drinking it.  If you know a disaster is coming fill up any container you can including the coffee maker, crystal vase, bucket, bathtub, sink, and kiddy pool (some of these could be spilled or contaminated but hopefully some will make it).

Most sources recommend about a gallon per person per day.  People consume about 2 quarts in cool low activity environments but much more if hot or active.  You should have at least 2 weeks worth per person in your primary residence (but why not have months worth if you have the room).  If you are traveling by car, three days worth per person is minimum (more for bathing), and if you are walking take as much as you reasonably can carry but at least one days worth (several small bottles are better for diversification if one leaks and also to let you know to start looking for more water before you are on your last bottle).  I also store extra water for washing and bathing.  Here the container doesn't matter quite as much.  I use old liquid detergent jugs.  You should also have at least two methods of sterilizing water. 

The first step in sterilizing water is to get the water as clear as possible.  If it is cloudy, strain it with coffee filters, a clean cloth, or sand.  Or you can let it settle and pour off the more clear water. 

The primary and most reliable method of sterilizing water is boiling.  You actually do not need to boil the water just heat it past 145 degrees for long enough. But if you don't do it right you can get sick.  So to be safe, boil it for 5 minutes if you can.  If you are walking, a metal cup (enamel or stainless) or a converted tin can is easier to boil than a full pot.  You can carry a backpacking stove or a Kelly Kettle.  You can use solar power to sterilize water (in a soda bottle) if no cooking is possible.  Other stoves are suggested below under food. 

To sterilize water with bleach use 2 drops of plain unscented bleach per quart of water (or 8 drops per gallon or 1‚ÅÑ4 tsp per 2 gallons).  If you don't have a dropper you can wet a paper towel and then drip it (wear gloves).  Let the water sit for 20 minutes and then smell it.  If it smells like chorine then its good to go.  If it doesn't, repeat with the same amount of bleach.  If that doesn't work try to find other water.  (Really bad water or salt water requires a still.)  Bleach is cheap but does not last forever - rotate.  Dry Calcium Hypochlorite {sold as "pool shock" bleach) stores much better than liquid bleach but requires an additional step of mixing a solution. (It provides a very inexpensive long term solution to water treatment).

There are also Potable Aqua iodine tablets that are more compact for sterilizing water.  You can also use Tincture of Iodine.  Iodine and chlorine are poisons so be very careful (kill the bacteria not yourself. [Avoid ingesting chlorine or iodine crystals!])

Any of the chemical treatments can make the water taste funny.  You can use drink mixes to make it taste better.  I'm not sure if sports drinks are really better, but Gatorade seems more thirst quenching to me than water.  The powder form is more convenient and cheaper.  You can also make your own sports drink (1/4 tsp nu salt (potassium chloride), 1‚ÅÑ4 tsp salt, 3-6 tbsp sugar (to taste), juice of 1 lemon (or orange), and optional flavoring (Kool-Aid) per gallon of water) or switchel.        

Of course you can spend money for water if you want to.  You can buy prepackaged water or expensive filters. There are backpacking filters but I have found these to be temperamental.  A water bottle with a filter would be a good backup or a straw. You can also go the more expensive route with a good gravity fed filter like this:  This is a great looking solar still but doesn't appear to be for sale right now. 

If you are a homebrewer (or like beer), you can add some dry malt extract, hops, and dry yeast to your stash.  Beer is boiled as part of the brewing process.  Then the alcohol and hops act as a natural preservative.  For the long term you can get some sproutable barley, grow some hops, and culture yeast.  If you or someone with you doesn't handle alcohol well, skip this. 

Providing food can be as easy or complicated as you want.  The easiest thing to do is simply buy more of any food you normally buy that stores well.  By store well, I mean does not spoil.  Foods like fresh milk, meat and bread do not store well.  Other foods like rice, dried beans and pasta all store well and are cheap.  They eventually lose some of their nutrition but this is gradual and will not make you sick from eating ‚Äúexpired‚Äù food if you forget to rotate.  I do not list exact rotation schedules because every source is different.  Some sources say grains only last one year but most sources say 10 plus years and other credible sources say hundreds or thousands of years.  It all depends upon how it is packed and where it is stored which is discussed below (vacuum packed, cool and dry are best) Canned meats, fruits and vegetables store okay and are more expensive.

How much food you want to have on hand depends on what type of situation you expect and how much you want to spend.  Buying a month' worth of rice, beans, salt, and pasta will not cost much (and is a good start).  You will be a lot happier if you add:

  • canned or dried meat (Costco and BJs have multipaks of Spam, ham, tuna and chicken for under $10)
  • canned or dried fruits and nuts
  • canned or dried vegetables
  • dried potatoes
  • canned or dried sauces (for pasta, chili, etc.)
  • soup mixes (bean soups are cheap) and bullion
  • dried onions
  • parmesan cheese
  • cooking oil
  • ramen noodles
  • peanut butter
  • mayo
  • vinegar
  • sugar and honey
  • powdered milk
  • bread crumbs, stuffing, oatmeal, cereal
  • flour, pancake mix, biscuit mix
  • baking soda
  • cocoa, instant coffee, tea, drink mixes, juice mixes (cranberry)
  • lemon juice
  • dry yeast
  • spices 

Some of these can be eaten without cooking or water if you have to.  Costco is great for the rice, canned goods, bullion, yeast (2 pound box), cooking oil and spices. Don't forget a can opener and other utensils.  Of course you can do the drying (wood or solar) and canning yourself for better quality and lower cost.  The oil, flour, baking soda and yeast (refrigerate the yeast if possible) do not store well and have to be rotated more frequently than the rice, beans and pasta.  You will be healthier if you add some multivitamins.  There are also luxury items like Powerbars, powdered eggs, powdered cheese, powdered butter, food tabs, and meals ready to eat (MREs).

To decide how much you need, you can simply scale up recipes and meals (print some simple recipes that use your stored food).  How much rice and beans would you eat at a meal or in a day if that was all you ate?  A lot probably (make a meal as a trial).  Now multiply that by the number of people and the number of days and you have a ball park of how much to store.  The problem is that you could end up feeding more people than your immediate family.  Who else would you not turn away? (Anyone you wouldn't want to live with normally is not someone you want to be stuck with in a crisis.  That said there is some family I wouldn't turn away even if they deserve it).  Start with the cheap stuff (rice, beans, pasta, salt) and then slowly keeping adding and rotating the other food until you have at least one months worth.  Do an inventory at least twice a year.

Store everything in airtight/waterproof containers inside a tough container in a cool, dry, dark place.  Some things come packed pretty well and can just go in a plastic bucket or crate (cans can be dipped in wax).  Other items should be vacuum packed in small bags or large mylar bags with oxygen absorbers and then put in the plastic bucket with a lid or crate (with a solid latching lid).  If you don't have shelves, you can make shelves out of the buckets or crates and 1‚Äùx12‚Äù lumber.  Put 2‚Äùx4‚Äù's under the bottom shelf to keep it off the floor.

For years worth of food instead of months worth of food we need to move to grain and grain grinders.  The Church of Latter Day Saints are the experts here.  They also have storehouses that will sell to the public if you are polite.  Of course you can buy online but the shipping will be as much or more than the food.  I went cheap and was able to get about six months worth of food for one person for $100.  I stuck to grains (400 lbs/year), beans (40 lbs/year), soup mix (20 lbs/year), and milk (16 lbs/year) (I already had sugar (60 pounds/year), salt (10 lbs/year), oil (5 gallons/year), baking soda and yeast).  I borrowed some of their equipment to pack some of the food, the rest I packed at home in the mylar bags and buckets described above.  The milk is a sticky powder and very messy (think of spilling flour and multiply by 100), repack it outside if possible.  I also bought a hand operated grain grinder to make flour from the wheat.  Then I can make bread (scale this recipe up to one loaf per day for a year as a cross check for a year's supply).  This would be a pretty miserable diet but I think it would keep me alive and healthy if I had enough vitamins.  Because of the sack size I have more of some things than others so towards the end I may be eating paste.  I hope to upgrade later.  For infants you need more milk, oil, sugar, and vitamins from which you can make an emergency formula (breast feeding is better, then you give the extra food to the mother). 

For even longer food solutions you need to farm.  Supplementing your food with a garden or sprouting would also make things last longer and provide some healthy variety.  Its best to have some non-hybrid seeds on hand or save seeds from your garden.  Serious (expensive) seed packages are here.  Have some fertilizer and pesticides on hand but in the long run organic is the way to go.

For cooking you can use a wood burning stove, barbeque, or camp stove in the short run (have some extra fuel on hand).  The Petromax lantern is pricey but well made and also has a stove attachment.  If you don't have one of these or run out of fuel you can build one: a coffee can stove, a bucket stove (avoid galvanized metal), a alcohol stove, a collapsible stove, a tin can stove (simple version), solar oven (portable version), or a clay stove (print directions for making at least one of these).  This is also a good commercial stove for those with cash to burn.  These are much more efficient than an open fire.  You need a good pot or dutch oven for boiling water and cooking.  For more portable food you can go with MREs, make your own or stock what ever you would normally backpack with.

Hope is different for everyone.  It can be safety, comfort, companionship, or normalcy.  For me it is mainly hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  I can work hard and persevere if I know eventually things will get better.  This means long term planning.  So I want to have what I need in the short term but also have some hope for the long term (so I have gardening tools and seeds in addition to rice and spam).  You also want comfort items such as a book, Bible, game, coloring book, pictures, beer, tea, or warm shower.  Some of these can be dual purpose such as a book about hiking or gardening, survival playing cards, or a novel about survival and perseverance. 

There are lots of things you can get, but you can also just organize what you have already.   The number of lists seems endless and what you need depends upon the situation, your skills, and your budget.  Here is what is wrong with the DHS kit  I have already mentioned several items above and list some others here but being comprehensive would take a lot of space (read the links and references for more).  Here are some basics.

All types of camping equipment and tools come in handy but can be expensive (shipping can be expensive too so you may want to make your own, try your local yard sales, craigslist, sporting goods or hardware store first).  You may want a small tent to carry and a larger tent to put in the car.  Sleeping pads are as much for insulation as for comfort (learned the hard way‚Äîyou don't want to be in the cold without some insulation between you and the ground).  A hammock can be multipurpose.  You can try your local hardware store for lanterns or Lehman's (they also have candle making supplies).

I suggest four knives for anyone responsible enough to have one (in general you get what you pay for, but start cheap and upgrade later): a folding lock blade knife (buck and gerber are both good reasonably priced brands), a Swiss army knife (with saw blade) or leatherman type knife (pliers are handy), a solid full tang knife, and a machete or short sword for brush.  A kitchen knife can work until you get any of these.  A hatchet would also be useful.  Keep them sharp.

You need several maps (local, state (small scale and large scale), neighboring states, topographic and road) and a compass.  A GPS is optional but very handy.  There are usually welcome centers along interstates and in some cities that hand out free maps.  The USGS is a good source for reasonably priced maps but sometimes it is a bit hard to find what you are looking for.  They have a catalog for each state that really helps. They are also very friendly by phone but still prefer if you order online. 

You should have at least one non portable (plug in) phone that can be used with the power out.  Medicine, diapers and feminine products will be hard to get.  A generator is great but can be expensive and you must have enough fuel (I don't have one but want one).  Solar powered battery chargers are really slow but might be the only option.

Change your attitude, don't be wasteful, and you can reuse many items. A tin can becomes a cup or pot with a little work.  Use both sides of a piece of paper and then use it as insulation or tinder.  Waste not, want not.  This also minimizes trash as there may be no trash pickup.

Organize your equipment and supplies into different levels and packages

Stuff you almost always carry

You should make a small kit that fits in your pocket or around your neck.  This should include:

  • ways to make a fire (matches, mini bic, flint, etc.)
  • a button compass
  • a small knife or razor blade, broken hack saw blade, small file
  • Swiss Tech Micro-Tech 6-in-1 Tool
  • led light
  • small candle (light or fire making)
  • a saw
  • short piece of wire
  • parachute cord (as much as will fit)
  • iodine tablets
  • sturdy needle and thread
  • individual salt servings
  • food tabs, hard candy, bullion or individual parmesan cheese/sugar (if space permits)
  • freezer bags (water)
  • nails (assortment)
  • trash bag if it will fit (poncho or tarp)
  • dental floss (twine)
  • Advil, Imodium, Benadryl, vitamins, band aids, SPF chapstick any other essential medicine for you or your family (all labeled)
  • fish hooks, split shot, fish line, safety pins.
  • Survival cards can go in kit or wallet (you can make something similar). 

Personal Fanny Pack (or vest)

This should be small enough and attached to you so that you do not put it down even when you take a break.  Take it with you on any hike, drive or emergency.  A large fanny pack works well or Ranger Rick suggests putting everything in a vest and a bamboo walking stick.  You can duplicate some of the items in your mini kit but add substantially.

  • Survival cards or pocket survival guide (or print some out).
  • Knife of your choice (another one can go in your pocket or on your belt)
  • Sharpening stone (or ceramic insulator)
  • Fire materials (matches and tender (dryer lint, cotton balls in Vaseline, small candles, etc.) waterproofed)
  • Magnifying glass wrapped in bandana
  • Pliers if your knife doesn't have them
  • Compass
  • Maps
  • Metal cup (boiling water)
  • 2 small bottles of water
  • Freezer bags (organization, waterproofing and for more water)
  • Small camp soap (or traveler's shampoo)
  • Iodine tablets
  • At least 2 trash bags (clear for still and heavy black for shelter), or tarp and poncho, or space blanket, or light weight jacket with hood (a shell that compacts) or hat
  • Rope, twine and wire
  • Headlamp and extra batteries
  • Candle
  • Wipes (these are multipurpose and are more compact than toilet paper, keep them in zip lock bags (add a little water if they get dry))
  • Gloves and socks
  • Small first aide kit (including prescriptions)
  • Sunscreen and bug repellant.
  • Whistle
  • Snacks (powerbars, trail mix, food tabs, tea, Gatorade mix, bullion, beef jerky, MRE)
  • A GPS, FRS radio, am/fm radio, cell phone, or CB can go in here if it fits
  • Mini binoculars (to spot landmarks, approaching fires, etc.)
  • Notepad and pencil or pen
  • A multipurpose tool is a good backup for the other items.

72 hour kit (or less)

To some, the 72 hour kit is everything they have in their house for disasters.  I think this should be what you take with you if you have to evacuate (even on foot).  If you can't carry 72 hours worth of food and water (that is a lot of water even if you only plan 2 quarts per day), scale it down and put the rest in a car bug out kit that can be used in your house or on the road.  You can also make a similar kit for work or other places you are likely to be in an emergency.  It should be in a medium sized backpack that you can easily carry (get a rain cover for the backpack (or make one)‚Äîthese really help in wet conditions).  Again, repeat items in your smaller kits as you see fit.  Here are some suggestions:

  • It's a Disaster! Book (or print out a similar one)
  • Personal mini-kit and fanny pack or vest (attached to you separately from the backpack)
  • Water (as much as you can fit without making the bag too heavy, you can carry some containers empty and fill them later)
  • Changes of clothes (several underwear and socks, long underwear)
  • Jacket, hat, and sunglasses
  • Sleeping bag or blanket (and compact pad), hammock
  • Soap and other toiletries (comb, nail clippers and razor)
  • Small stove and/or lantern (or directions and supplies for making one of the stoves above)
  • Small tent or tarp and netting, plastic sheeting, tent poles and stakes (multipurpose)
  • Stuff sacks, mesh bags, pillow cases for organization
  • Duct tape
  • Hatchet or machete, folding saw
  • Small shovel
  • Rope, twine and bungee cords
  • Backpacking pot/pan
  • Cooking and eating utensils (kitchen knife, can opener, spatula, spoon, forks, plates, cups)
  • Foil
  • Dish soap, sponge, dish pan or bucket (collapsible) (also a wash basin or bucket), towel
  • Food (Snacks and MREs as well as rice)
  • Vitamins
  • Detailed road maps
  • topo maps
  • Extra ammo
  • Pocket warmers
  • A GPS, FRS radio (everyone with a list of channels to use), am/fm radio, solar calculator, or CB (whatever you have that fits)
  • Copies of important documents, phone numbers, extra credit card, cash, ID
  • Comfort items (book, cards, bible, pictures, coloring books, games)

Car Kit

Keep this in the car if possible.  I used to keep a lot of this in my car but since some of it was stolen, I keep most of it in the house and load it up for longer trips.  I have something similar to the personal fanny pack that I keep hidden in the jack compartment.

  • 72 hour kit
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Jumper cables
  • Seat belt cutter and window breaker (keep within reach)
  • Water (bottles can go under the seats)
  • Matches
  • Gloves
  • Tarps
  • Garbage bags
  • Wipes
  • Maps
  • Driving compass
  • Rope and/or tow strap and bungee cords
  • First aide kit (any medications)
  • Siphon hose for water or gas (do not drink gas)
  • Window washer/scraper
  • Crowbar and other tools (hammer, saw, wrenches, duct tape, fuses, belts, and screws)
  • Ax, bucket and shovel (this is required in some forests)
  • Engine oil
  • Gas can (keep it empty and unused unless you have a place for it on the outside of your car or truck)

Stuff you take if you have to Bug Out

This is stuff that is too heavy to carry in your 72 hour kit but something you can throw in your car (in addition to what is already there) quickly if you need to evacuate.  You might be able to take it in a garden cart if you can't drive but travel by roads is still safe.  Here is an example to help you make your own kit (or here).  Pack it in crates or duffle bags.  Here are some suggestions (what fits in your car will vary):

  • More survival books or books on camping/country/simple living
  • 5 gallon water cans (full)
  • Food (cans and other heavy bulky items)
  • Cooler (grab some ice and any travel friendly fresh items that are still good like cheese, peanut butter, apples, lemons, and bread)
  • Large first aide kit
  • Dutch oven
  • Stove and fuel or barbeque, Kelly Kettle
  • Lantern (Petromax is good but expensive)
  • Unscented bleach
  • Tent and large tarps, rugs
  • Blanket and pillows (sleeping pad, hammock, or cot)
  • Paper plates, utensils and cups
  • Paper towels and wipes
  • Foil
  • Solar shower
  • Bucket toilet (you can store garbage bags, toilet paper, wipes, and soap inside the bucket)
  • Many garbage bags
  • Laundry soap
  • Clothes pins
  • Soap and shampoo
  • Ant traps and insecticides
  • Fishing gear
  • Radio and batteries
  • Several extra fuel cans (enough to get to your destination without refueling)
  • Propane heater with fuel
  • Generator
  • Small safe for guns and documents
  • Bikes (on rack and with pump and tire repair kit)
  • Frisbee or other games

First Aid and Medical Kits

Take a first aide class and more training if you can.  For supplies, the place to start is with a pre-made small portable first aide kit and a larger home or car first aide kit.  These are usually $10 to $20 on sale (but can be $100's if you want).   You can add items from your medicine cabinet and replace things like the cheap scissors that usually come with them. However, these usually are not good for much more than minor cuts and scrapes (going to a hospital/doctor may not be an option or may take a while‚Äîso do your best until you can get to one).  For more serious injuries you probably have to make your own kit.  The best book is Wilderness Medicine, by William W. Forgey.  His suggested kit in the back of the book is great (I learned the hard way I needed some of the items that he recommends and figure the other items are ones I may need in the future).  Amazon and Moore Medical have most of the items if you can't find them locally.  For the house or car first aide kit, I suggest a hard sided box like a tool box.  Dental care is also important.  A toothache is really distracting. A little dental kit like this could make you a lot more comfortable until you can see a dentist.

Other Kits

Make other kits as you see fit.  I have a kit that is mainly in case of terrorist attack (I live and work too close to a likely target).  I have Jane's Chem-Bio Handbook and what to do if a nuclear attack in imminent as well as Potassium Iodide (seven days), plastic sheeting, duct tape, Tyvek clothes coverings,  and a face mask (this is not as good as a gas mask but its what I have).  You can spread this to your other kits if you want.

Protecting yourself from criminals
is as natural as buying a fire extinguisher to put out fires (but more expensive).   Get fences, dead bolts, and lock your windows at night but if someone really wants to get in your home they will.  Police take an average of 11 minutes or more to respond to violent crimes 40 percent of the time (sometimes hours), under normal conditions. A lot can happen in 11 minutes and you are going to wait a lot longer in a crisis.  When someone is kicking in your door, it is too late to go buy a gun.  You are on your own.  Relying on the kindness of someone breaking into your home is not a good bet.

If you are a gun person, pick your own gun.  This advice if for those who don't own a gun or don't shoot.  I suggest a pistol, a rifle and a shotgun for every adult (check you local gun laws).  If I had to only have one gun it would be a shotgun because of their versatility.  A 20 gauge shotgun is more than enough for most purposes including home defense and has less recoil than a 12 gauge.  The Remington 870 is a great choice but many people also like Mossberg.  Take a class on using the shotgun for home defense.  For home defense ammo, I use bird shot.  This will not penetrate and stop a criminal as fast as buck shot but is also less likely to go through a wall and hurt an innocent person.  Make your own decision here based on who is in adjoining rooms and how close the neighbors are.  You can always load bird shot as the first few shells followed by buck shot (keep about 200 rounds on hand because it will be hard to buy in a crisis).  The only options I recommend are hearing protection, glasses, a cleaning kit, a sling (guns with slings don't get set down in bad places as much) and maybe a light or night sights.  I think the factory stocks are fine. 

Next on my list would be a .22.  The Ruger Single Six is a nice revolver that is convertible to either 22 LR or 22 magnum (This might be a better choice as the only gun for some people). Also get a holster for it.  Savage and CZ make bolt action rifles that are great bargains. A .22 is a little small for home defense (it is less likely to stop a criminal in his tracks) but a lot better than nothing.  It is also important to be comfortable with your gun and a .22 is fun to shoot so you are more likely to practice (.22 ammo is very cheap and you can get 1,000 rounds for about $20).  As soon as you are comfortable with the .22 and your budget allows, you should probably upgrade to a larger common caliber (.357 for a revolver, 9mm, .40 or .45 for an automatic pistol, 12 gauge for a shotgun, and .223, .308, 7.62x39, .30-30, or .30-06 for rifles).  Get a concealed weapon permit if your state allows them even if you don't plan on using it (carrying a gun).  Again, these take some time to get so you have to get one before you need it even if you think that will be never.  Also, the required classes are really great and focus mainly on when not to use a gun.  Almost any gun range will offer such a class (and many others that are worth it too).  In general, buying a used gun is fine (simple guns are very durable) but for the guns I recommend here, the premium for a new gun (gun store or some sporting good stores) will probably be less than $100 and probably worth it to avoid any mechanical issues to start with.

Learn the gun safety rules and locking up any guns not on your body is a good idea and a necessity if you have kids (or adults who act like kids) in your home.  For pistols you can get a cheap keyed safe for about $20 (also good for documents).  Then you have to hide the key where you can find it quickly but no one else can.  A combination safe is better but a lot more expensive (practice opening it in the dark).  For long guns you can get a locking cabinet for about $100 (some cases have a good lock and that is a good idea for taking with you in the car), put a lock on a closet, or get a real safe for about $1,000.  Trigger locks are generally a bad idea because you can accidentally pull the trigger when getting them on or off.

If you decide against a gun, at least get pepper spray, a baseball bat, or a flashlight.  A self-defense class would be good too (martial arts classes are good but take a long time to become practical). A bullet proof vest and helmet would be good but neither is inexpensive.  Finally, there is safety in numbers.  Staying with family and friends during a crisis is a good idea if resources and space allow.

First Steps

  1. Buy some unscented bleach and start storing water.
  2. Start accumulating food and other supplies.  Initially, just buy more of the food that you already buy that stores well.  Re-pack as necessary.  Get some food grade buckets or plastic crates and find a cool dark place.
  3. Start reading more about the risks that you face personally and ways to deal with them.  What is your plan to deal with each?
  4. Organize your stuff into personal mini kits, personal fanny packs (or vests), one or more 72 hour kits for each person for each location they spend time, a car kit, a bug out kit, and your house stash.
  5. Practice.  This doesn't have to be a military style exercise.  Try camping and living without power and running water (in your backyard to start with).  Load your car with what you think you would want to take if you had to evacuate.  How long did it take?  Did it all fit?  Try driving back roads to get out of town.  Go hiking with your 72 hour kit. 
  6. Periodically take an inventory and revise your plans.

Books and other sources (in order of relevance and grouped)

Online Resources

SurvivalBlog (the best daily variety of all types of information at a good price too)

Alpha Rubicon (The "Mythbusters" of the survival world. Membership required for most information, great information and more personalities than members)



Some of these are a bit far fetched and depressing (worst case) and mainly about TEOTWAWKI  (sing ‚ÄúIt's The End of The World as We Know It, and I feel fine" ) (they are fiction) but still give some good food for thought.

Author's web site:

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.

Monday, December 3, 2007

I'm a frequent flyer and I enjoyed the article by LP on what to consider bringing on business travel ["Preparedness While on Business Travel --What to Pack"]. Here are some additional ideas:

Water - I carry an empty bicycle type water bottle through security and fill it at a drinking fountain before my flight. This keeps you hydrated during your flight and from having to use the water glasses in your hotel room. (FYI - they don't really clean those glasses.)

Food - I carry 4-6 Cliff ["sports energy" type candy] bars in my laptop bag and my checked luggage. These are dual purpose and can be used anytime there is a need for calories. (like when your stuck on the bloody tarmac for 3 hours) Store, eat and rotate these just like you would your storage food at home. They come in lots of great flavors and can be found at most grocery and drug stores. Look for them [when they are on sale] under $1 and stock up.

Clothing - This is a tough one that I have I hard time abiding by, but I'll expand on what LP said in his article. On the plane, wear clothing appropriate for your "mission" and the climate you are traveling to, near, or across. It may be 75 degrees F at home, but if your flying to Toronto in the Winter, you should consider wearing some warm weather gear on the flight. If you rely on packed clothing, remember that if your plane is forced down, or if you have a runway mishap, you will be forced to leave the plane without any of your luggage. This happened to me personally a few years back when my plane skidded off the runway in a snow storm. We were evacuated via the slides and loaded on buses and taken to an airport that was essentially closed where we were told that we couldn't get our luggage until after the "crash" investigation was completed. Fortunately, I did get my luggage promptly the next morning, but it doesn't take TSHTF thinking to imagine what might go wrong in a scenario where you are trusting the airline to deliver your luggage. So, even if your only mission is to make it to your sales call that next day.... be prepared.

Transportation - If you are forced to travel home without a vehicle, consider finding a bike before you try to walk home. Urban locations are packed full of pawnshops and Wally Marts that sell very inexpensive bikes. I'm a cyclist, so I have an advantage here, but I would think that even the most inexperienced cyclist would make better time, and be more comfortable, on a bike, then hiking cross country. Even if you have a rental car, you might want to get a bike too, and put it in the trunk. You might not make it home on that last tank of gas and I wouldn't want to be waiting for days in a gas line.

Tech - Download the free Google Maps application for your phone. It provides great maps, traffic, and sat images. I also just read that it can be used to fix your location.
Keep a backup of your emergency phone numbers, personal and financial records with you, encrypted on a USB drive. If something happens at home and your family needs info, you may need to access it from your location. - RR

Saturday, November 24, 2007

If you’re like me, there are times when you have to leave almost all your preparedness stuff behind as you journey by air to strange, far-off places on behalf of your employer. No access to your well-stocked SUV. You are alone, and home is hundreds if not thousands of miles away. But disaster will not be consulting your personal travel itinerary before it strikes. How best should you prepare?

Let’s first discuss the objective, as it determines the approach. For most of us, we leave family, friends, and a (more-or-less) well-stocked homestead behind. This means Your primary objective is to make it home safely and quickly. By any means necessary: your return airline ticket, the rental vehicle, alternative transportation, or if all else fails, on foot. Under no circumstances do you want to be swept into the mainstream of refugees, wandering aimlessly to eventually be herded into government “aid facilities”. (If you’re outside of CONUS however, your objective may likely be via the U.S., Embassy). You are different. You have a specific mission. And you have made preparations to succeed. Here are some ideas I use that are carefully selected to be lightweight, compact, don’t require you to schlep along extra suitcases, but will give you more than a leg up on most locals in an emergency.

Luggage - The very best choice is a soft-framed backpack with waist belt, or carryable duffel. It lets you retain the most stuff on long hauls over mixed terrain. This may be impractical for some folks, so the next best thing is a prime-quality rolling carryon with a locking collapsible handle, combined with a laptop backpack. The rolling carryon keeps the weight off your back, but will be useless off pavement. That’s why you must bring your laptop in a backpack carrying case. That will become your primary backpack (you will most likely be leaving the laptop behind, but you keep all your data on a memory stick, right?). Get it with--or sew on--attachment points on the bottom and sides of the backpack. Bring strapping, bought at a hiking store, this lets you lash up bedding you “borrow” from the hotel room, or other provisions you acquire along the way, and add a waist strap for long-haul walking. Plan on checking the large piece of luggage – otherwise you won’t be able to bring along a number of key items like edged weapons. Granted, you’re less equipped during your flight, but life is full of compromises. Keep your medications, food, flashlight, communications gear, money and a couple of layers of clothing with you on the plane. If you can’t do without a briefcase, forgo the fancy leather banker version in favor of nylon w/ a shoulder carry strap. You must be ready to carry everything you need on your back in the event you have to walk it home, and the right briefcase can become an asset [instead of a hindrance.]

Money and valuables - Assume that your credit, debit, and ATM cards will become useless in an emergency. That leaves cash and tangibles. I bring at least $1,000 in assorted bills with me when I travel domestically, and several thousand when I travel internationally. This will enable you to buy the food, transportation, weapons, and lodging you need to make it back, if it can indeed be bought. As I am not rich, this presents a burden, but I believe it is very worthwhile to ensure success. Hoard your cash when on travel – use credit for every thing so you have the most available when you really need it. If you’re partial to wearing expensive watches or jewelry, consider them barterable (have an inexpensive, sturdy backup watch in that case) – be discrete so you do not attract mutants. Keep your cash/valuables out of sight, in multiple places, and don’t leave it in the hotel room. Under most scenarios short of total meltdown, people will continue to honor paper money long enough for you to make it home, so I don’t see a strong need for gold/silver coins. [JWR Adds: I always wear a discreet money belt when I travel. Keeping in mind cross-border currency movement restrictions, you can easily carry the equivalent of $8,000 US Dollars if you carry it in the form of EU500 Euro notes or $500 Canadian Dollar notes. (Sadly, the largest US bill in circulation is the $100 note, which is five times more bulky.) Both the Canadian and Euro "500" denomination notes are hard to find, but worth the search, and even worth paying a premium, just for the sake of compactness.]

Clothing - Even if the forecast is warm and sunny for your entire planned trip, bring rain and cold weather gear. Forget umbrellas, they are flimsy and occupy a hand. Use the layering approach – a fold-up waterproof hooded shell in a dark color, collapsible down vest and/or a couple of fleece or thin wool sweaters, and an Under-Armour-style inner layer (remember you are fitting all this into a standard piece of luggage). Bring sturdy hiking shoes; wear them on the plane, and keep your dress shoes handy in your checked luggage. Bring at least two pair of hiking socks and liners (one to wear, the other undergoing wash/dry), even if it’s just an overnight trip, comfortable pants, a warm hat with ventilation and a good brim, sunglasses, and thin gloves. By wearing the heavier/bulkier items as you travel, you minimize the space demands on the luggage. Include a bandana or two – they have a thousand uses.

Food - You want compactness, indefinite storage, and high energy density, so you can stay on the go for several days. My favorite is Go Lean energy bars. Generally, look for high fiber brands, as they ward off hunger longer. Unsalted peanuts and M&Ms are also good choices. I bring 6-12 bars, secreted in nooks and crannies. Get a set of lexan resin eating utensils from a hiking store, and a P-38 can opener (put that in checked luggage). If things go longer, use your cash or resort to hobo cooking (canned food heated over fire).
Water - make your canteen from the 24-oz water bottle you bought for your flight, by bringing along a water bottle carry strap like those found at amusement parks. Don’t forget a small bottle of purification tablets – you can use your bandana as a 1st-tier sieve/filter.

Self-defense - Limited options due to the TSA restrictions for airline flights. Mailing firearms to yourself at your hotel [for an extended stay] is theoretically possible, but really very impractical in most business trips. In any event do bring your folding knife with combination straight and serrated blade (two is better than one) in you checked baggage, an impact weapon like a nylon kubotan or a carabiner employed as a keychain, and a flashlight (w/ multiple extra batteries) that is blindingly bright and sturdy enough to be used as an impact weapon . Make sure the carabiner is a real one from a hiking store, and is big enough to get all your fingers into so you can use it as “aluminum knuckles”. For carry-on, bring several thick rubber bands, so you can tightly wrap one of those in-flight magazines into a makeshift club. In an emergency after you arrive, if you cannot acquire a firearm or larger edged weapon, then use your folding knife to fashion a sturdy walking staff / club / spear from a mop handle or similar. Hiking stores carry very compact sharpening stones that can clip to your coat’s zipper – if you are in transit for a couple of weeks, you will need to keep an edge on your knives. Note that in some locales such as England and New York City, carrying a knife, or any “weapon” is illegal. Be informed, and use your own judgment. [JWR Adds: A roll of quarters (or British One Pound Coins or One Euro coins) can serve the dual purpose of being an impact weapon (a "Sunday Bar") and being available to make emergency pay phone calls. I can't imagine any jurisdiction that would charge you with carrying a "concealed" roll of coins. (Although once I witnessed the TSA goons asking a fellow passenger to take the dimes out of a paper roll and confiscate the coin roll paper. Oh, I felt so much safer after they did that!)]

Communications - Bring power adapters for your cellular phone, both AC and, critically DC vehicle power, and windup (FreePlay). Bring a roll of coins for a payphone (just in case you can still find one – they are still common in Europe). If you have the option of choosing your cell phone model, consider a tri-band GSM-mode smartphone with Internet connectivity, a USB port and USB to Ethernet adapter (don’t forget the cables) – this preserves the most vital functions of a PC in an emergency: news feeds and e-mail, without its bulk. Some smartphones, like the Nokia N95, include GPS and maps, too. GSM is the world standard, so it will work in both US and Europe. Keep phone numbers and addresses of extended family and friends, in case you need to make a pit stop on your way. An earbud-style AM/FM radio, so you can keep up with radio news and weather reports.

Shelter / Light - Keep it simple and lightweight for starters, and pick up stuff as you go. Strike anywhere matches in a waterproof container and a magnesium striker-type fire-starter in checked baggage; buy a disposable lighter or two on arrival and discard on return, a space blanket, and one or two 3-mil thick contractor garbage bags for rain poncho, ground cloth, and/or tarp, and 50 feet of parachute cord. Have an LED microlight on your keychain, in red illumination, with an extra button battery or two. This conserves your tactical flashlight’s life. [If things looks bad,] borrow the bedding from your hotel room and strap it to your backpack or stow in your rental car’s trunk – you can pay them back later.

Transportation - When traveling in a group, always be the one to rent the car, so you have options and maintain control. When you can, try to make it a compact 4x4, like a Ford Escape (companies always want you to get the absolute cheapest, so this is easier said than done). Keep the gas tank filled. Onboard GPS navigation options are becoming commonplace, but at $10+ per day, expensive – it may be worth it to you. (See “navigation” below).

Medications and First Aid - Don’t assume you’ll be home in a day or so. Bring enough prescription meds for at least two weeks. I also bring a very small first aid kit – it fits into a pants pocket and holds band-aids, a disinfectant cream, sun block in stick form, ibuprofen, anti-diarrhea pills, and tweezers. Separately, I include a couple of sanitary napkins and tape as a compress, and a small bottle of insect repellant. Having balance is key here – you will not need a full kit. If you break a leg or are shot, you will need more help than you can self-administer. To stay clean, I take a refill pack of baby wipes, a trial size bottle of hand sanitizer, and a small bar of soap. I also bring a blister kit for my feet – most people don’t hike 30 miles a day with a pack, and blisters can be totally immobilizing, with an attendant risk of infection. Taking good measures with your feet, starting with the right footwear will help you get home in one piece.

Navigation - Be able to figure how to get back home, from several routes. Get a good street map of the city you are visiting, and multi-state AAA highway maps between there and home – don’t bring a book, or piles of topo maps – too big and heavy. I have a small compass that clips to the zipper of my shell. A GPS unit may be a good idea – they are compact and full of map data – but they run on batteries, and will be inoperative if the disaster involves an EMP, or the government turns off GPS in response to a terror attack. Compact binoculars are very important for reconnaissance. If abroad, know how to get to the embassy, and to major rail junctions, seaports, and border crossings.

Utility - Bring a multi-tool (again, in checked baggage) – I prefer the Leatherman Wave with bit assortment, but YMMV. As I said, a flashlight will be essential, with extra batteries.
All this can and does fit in one piece of rollaway luggage along with my regular business accoutrements for one or more weeks of travel – mine is a Victorinox model with an expandable main compartment.

In a disaster, it may take several weeks to make it home from your trip – the preceding advice will get you off to a good start. Good luck and I hope that nobody ever needs any of this!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mr. Rawles,
In the event of a natural or manmade disaster you may need to retreat despite extensive preparations at your base of operations, whether in suburbia or in the mountains. You may find yourself in a desperate situation; facing forest fire, fallout from a malfunctioning nuclear power plant, terrorism, organized bands of looters or an invading army. Where will you go? How will you get there? What is your route?
Whether you have been preparing for years or weeks you need a Plan “B”. Identifying the threat will help you determine the safest route and mode of transportation to a pre-selected alternative location(s); a location with several months of water, food, fuel and shelter. If you need to leave your base of operation quickly in an event like a forest fire or malfunctioning nuclear power plant then a pre-planned route on back roads with a well stocked bug-out vehicle may be the answer. But, what happens if the roads are unsafe or impassible? With good backpacking equipment or properly outfitted bike and bike trailer you can carry about two weeks of food, tent, sleeping bag and other necessities. What are you going to do after two weeks?

I pre-planned my backpacking and biking bug-out routes with the intent of avoiding populated areas and main roads. These routes are predominately on logging roads, hiking trails and/or through the bush as circumstances dictate with a pre-positioned supply cache approximately every 25 miles. Close to each cache location are pre-selected camping spots located in the thickest and most remote cover available with a nearby water source. Each cache would provide a minimum (1) week re-supply of food and white gas fuel (no fire, no smoke) allowing me to continue on to my destination or re-group and/or recuperate. Every 50 miles or so I would have shelter building materials, tools, ammunition, water filter, fishing and trapping equipment in addition to food and fuel to allow for a longer stay. One cache would include an old canoe for a major river crossing or travel. Flexibility in a plan “B” could provide you with a plan “C” and “D”.

I plan to use 5 gallon plastic buckets with Mylar or plastic liners inside heavy plastic 55 gallon trash drum liners buried at least two feet below the surface of the ground at cache locations. I plan to use a mix of foods; store bought goods, meals ready to eat (MREs) and individually packaged freeze dried backpacking meals. These locations would be accessible if traveling by vehicle or bicycle or foot route(s). I consider these caches to be “throw away” and would continue to add new buckets/new caches yearly as time and money allow. When considering a plan “B” destination I chose a location several hundred miles away should circumstances require relocation from my home region with the built-in option of returning home along the same route.

Here in the northern tier of the country winter travel must be considered a possibility, being an unprepared refugee in the middle of a sub-zero cold snap would not be pleasant. Being prepared means layered winter clothing, winter footwear, winter camping equipment and plenty of white gas or unleaded gasoline stove fuel to melt snow or boil water. Expect to carry a 60 to 80 pound pack. My plan includes spending a winter (December thru March) away from my base of operations. A bug-out route /cache plan may allow you to take control of your situation and reduce your chances of becoming a refugee, internee or casualty in a desperate situation. Seeking the Lord God Almighty’s protection, salvation and will for your life through prayer in Jesus’ name will allow Him to take control of your situation whatever the circumstances are!!! - Jeff S. in New Hampshire

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Last week my wife told me that another couple had gotten reservations at the cabins at Haleakela State Park for the Labor Day Weekend. We would hike across the crater floor, then down the Kaupo Gap. These are hard to come by and since we were invited, I felt we had to go. Great, a chance to try out my bug out bag. I gave my feet a liberal and prophylactic spraying of anti-fungal medication (a ritual I would end up doing every morning on that trip) and put on my Bug-Out Bag (BOB). Before we left, I unscrewed the aluminum pole from a mop, checked to make sure my backup knife would fit on it and now I had myself both a strong and lightweight walking stick as well as a spear in case a wild boar came too close. The BOB weighed in at 55 pounds. I'm 160 and with the backpack I was using it felt like a manageable weight. On the way there, the steering and brakes on the car went out. I hit the emergency brake and slowed down. The engine just turned off. Since it had power steering and brakes, when the car turned off, they went off too. Strange for a reasonably new car. It started up again so I figured EMP was ruled out. We drove up to about 10,000 feet, got our gear on and started hiking. It was a steep decline into the volcanic caldera/crater and within about 10 minutes I noticed a hot feeling in the heels of my feet. You see, as a sufferer of athletes foot, I tend to keep my shoes loose. Bad idea. Loose shoes make blisters. I stopped and got out the moleskins but I didn't have a pair of scissors. Let me say for the record, a knife is not a pair of scissors. These are separate tools. There I was with my BAK (Big A** knife) trying to cut moleskin pieces. Not only was it the wrong tool for the job, but one slip and it would be a bloody mess.
To take the pressure off my heels, I walked native style (toe to heel) and this helped.
We hiked for the rest of the day through what can only be described at the surface of Mars and finally arrived at the first cabin. The manual pedometer gave me some lousy data. It was set for a 2 foot step/4 foot stride length but I forgot to take into consideration that stride changes with inclines and declines. When I got there I tried out my Zipstove for the first time. At first glance, it looked like something made in a high school metal shop class, and it's a lot heavier than other stoves, but then again, I didn't need to pack any fuel. It has a battery operated fan built in and get fires hot real fast. I hit my sparker into a cotton ball with some vaseline rubbed in and presto. I dropped the little ball of fire into the stove, and added a few twigs and turned on the fan. Wow. The stove worked great. In a minute or two dinner was on it's way. I'll be investing in their titanium version and perhaps I can swap out their metal fan for a plastic one to drop the weight. I was cooking in a titanium Titan pot and I was concerned that due to the rapid heat transfer of titanium I'd burn the food but it never happened. Another nice thing about cooking with titanium is that as fast as it heats up, it cools down too and less than a minute after taking it off the fire, the top was cool enough grab and move around. We sat around when the lights went out, lit some candles and played Hearts for a few hours. (Make note to get Hoyle's Encyclopedia of Card games.) Before I went to bed I inspected my feet. Yup. Two huge blisters, one on each foot. These were the biggest blisters I'd ever had. Each one covered my entire heel. I also had burns on the backs of my hands. I was wearing nylon pants and a long sleeve shirt to keep out of the sun, and because we all know 'cotton kills.' I also had a cloth over my head which I kept in place by wearing a pair of sunglasses which had a retaining strap on them to keep from getting lost during activity. The strap around the back of my head kept the rag in place nicely and with the exception of a spot on my nose, I escaped the searing rays of Hawaii at 10,000 feet. What I didn't think to cover was the backs of my hands. The were bright red and angry when I saw them. I cut squared of cloth off my head rag and placed on the backs of each hand. I held them in place (mostly) with rubber bands around my wrists. They kept me from getting burned any worse, but it was a constant annoyance repositioning them for the rest of the trip. (Make note, put tactical gloves in BOB).
The next morning after having some oatmeal, I packed up. I put on another pair of socks and this was helpful as with less wiggle room, my feet didn't slip around so much and maybe I wouldn't make any new blisters. My wife suggested that in her experience (She hiked the Thorong La Pass. I lance the blisters. (Make note to bring needle in first aid kit) I left the blisters alone. Personal preference. The other fellow on the trip I noticed had the soles of one of his shoes come off. He was wrapping cord around them to hold them together when I suggested he use the awl tool on his swiss army knife to stitch them back on his shoe. He liked this idea and it worked. (Make note, find that Speedy Stitcher and add it to my BOB.)
The second day was excruciatingly painful. I can't recall the last time I was in that much pain for that long a period. I now had pain along the entire bottom surface of my foot. There was no comfortable way to walk. I was very grateful for the walking stick! Sure I could have make one from wood on the trail, but it would have been much heavier and bulkier to be as strong as the cheap aluminum tube.
After hours of promising myself I would never go hiking again, we arrived at the second cabin. At this point the fellow's second shoe fell apart. Keep in mind that both shoes were in good condition before we left. His wife was also having shoe trouble but she overcame it with a safety pin. (Make note, safety pins.) More cards and dinner and now the other people were complaining. No one else had a good external frame pack and their hips and backs were sore. For me, it was just my feet. Even though my pack outweighed anyone else's there by a factor of 2, it was a good pack and now showing itself to be worth the high cost.
The third day we had to hike down from over 6,000' to 1,000'. We'd already gone from 10,000' to 6,000 the previous two days and left the Martian landscape. We were now in fog enshrouded hills and rain forests. The next 5,000' would be a 30 degree incline though rain forests and meadows. I filled up my 4 steel water bottles with filtered water from my Katadyn and told my wife that with the condition of my feet, I wanted to leave a hour and a half before the rest of the group as I'd be going slow. I also wanted to hike in the morning to stay out of the heat . She finally agreed and we slushed though thigh high wet grass and we were both soaked in short order. It was about five minutes into the hike that I learned that not only were my hiking shoes too big, but they weren't waterproof nor even water resistant. The cool dewy water was sloshing around in by boots for hours. It wasn't just an annoyance either. When I took the map I got from the Ranger station out of my pocket, it was soaked and the pages were sticking together. Oh, did I mention that the trail I was taking was right along a crease on the map and due to the water damage it was totally illegible? (Make note, put Zip lock bags in BOB).
Although she didn't say anything, I know she was pissed. Cold, wet and pissed but when she realized how hard the hike was getting, she looked at me. "I'll just say it once and get it over with. I told you so." She thanked me. We smiled and moved on. That extra time was great to have. I used an altimeter to guesstimate where we were on the map. I didn't bring my topos with me, but it was a great psychological benefit to know how much longer you had to go.
My wife started complaining about her left knee under when we stopped at an old growth Koa tree. We snacked on ostrich filets (kept at 150 degrees in the oven overnight), peanuts and some chocolate. She wanted a Koa walking stick. "But that's a heavier wood and look, no straight branches here darling." Well, she wanted one anyway so I hacked her a walking stick, put a point on the bottom and cut away the bark where her hand would grip it. At about 4,000 feet I saw my wife walking backwards for a few seconds. I tried it and it was great. Although it was riskier, I couldn't walk forwards anymore. Aside from the fact that my blisters were hurting, I now had somehow developed a pain in my left knee too. It only hurt when I walked forward, or sideways (yes I tried that too) so my wife and I walked backwards down the rocky and treacherous declines for miles. The trails were covered with golf ball and base ball sized spherical lava rocks that acted like ball bearings. It was hard going and nerve racking. I made us both drink like fishes and soon I was dripping with sweat and she was peeing like a racehorse. Every time my mouth got dry I drank and so did she. I wasn't thirsty but I drank anyhow. Then the water stopped feeling good to drink. Dang, with all this drinking and sweating I was beginning to going hyponatremic. (Make note, put ORS packets in BOB). On the milder inclines I tried walking while dragging my left leg behind me to avoid having to bend it. It was slow going and again, my wife thanked me for getting us out early. We came across some ambiguous fork in the road and she lost it for a bit. I said that I thought both trails would probably work and let her pick the route. She picked and then got nervous. "What if it's the wrong one?" She was starting to lose it again. "This trail is the correct trail." I said forcefully and with more confidence that I really had about her choice. She seemed okay with that and we kept going.
We used the last of the water that everyone said I was crazy to bring just minutes before reaching the rendezvous point. One of the women in the group I later found out had a near nervous breakdown as she never knew how much farther she had to go. That altimeter kept my wife and I sane.
I'm finally home and writing this out before I forget. The blisters will probably heal in a week the knee, who knows. (Make note, put ace bandages and maybe even knee and ankle supports in BOB). I'll be walking with a cane for a bit but no permanent damage, I don't think. I will now have a dedicated foot first aid section for my BOB. Consider giving your BOB a test run. You may find things you want in it you don't have now and some things you can do without. I think of my BOB like a gun now. If it's all shiny and new but not zeroed in, you may be in for some nasty surprises. - SF in Hawaii

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

I have been corresponding with an infantry soldier (E-6 [pay grade]) in Iraq named Ray that I met through BTW, thanks for running that free ad for them on SurvivalBlog. All those "forgotten" soldiers need our real support--not just a "Support Our Troops" yellow ribbon magnet on the backs of our cars. In the last 8 or 9 months I have sent more than 30 "care packages" in [Priority Mail] Flat Rate boxes to [ addressees in] Iraq and Afghanistan.

In our e-mails, one of the things that Ray mentioned a couple of times really impressed me: It is that one of the crucial logistics for modern armies is spare batteries. He described how they go through hundreds of them, for radios, tactical flashlights, sensors, laser target illuminators and designators, and night vision gear/thermal sights. As I look forward to potential hard times in this country, I think that we should learn a lesson from the Iraq experience: never run out of batteries.

So I've resolved to never let my family run out of batteries, even if the "problem" lasts for a decade. I took your advice and got a small [5 watt] solar [photovoltaic] panel from Northern Tool & Equipment which I've already rigged to charge batteries, using an "automobile" (12 volt DC) charging tray. (It looks like a regular home charger, but it has a 12 volt [input power] cable with a cig[arette] lighter plug.) This gives me straight DC-to-DC charging, without an energy hogging inverter in the middle of the equation. Thanks also for making that suggestion! For my retreat , I'm planning to buy one of the 8 watt panels from Safecastle, in a similar battery charging arrangement. That way I'll have a separate charging system, even if I have to E&E on foot and leave my 5 watt battery charging panel at home. I've also stocked up very heavily on nickel [metal] hydride [NiMH] batteries.of various and sundry sizes, plus some of the older nickel cadmium [NiCd] batteries, and some Duracells. My question is: What more should I do, and what is the best way to store all of the batteries that I'm acquiring? Thanks for all that you provide for free in SurvivalBlog. You should make the 10 Cent Challenge mandatory. Maybe with a password for most of what is on your site that only paid subscribers would have. You are way too generous. Giving it all away is no way to make a living. With Kind Regards - Paul G.

JWR Replies: Thank you very much for raising this important issue. You are absolutely right. Without a reliable long term supply of batteries we will lose some of our best tactical advantages for retreat security: radio communication, electronic intrusion detection systems, and night vision goggles/sights. Think about it: The only way that a small group can effectively defend a rural retreat is with these technological advantages. Without batteries, we would soon be back to 19th Century technology and tactics. Since modern tactical electronics are "force multipliers", the lack of them would reduce the effectiveness of our defensive measures. Making up for that loss would necessitate having a lot more manpower. And more manpower means more retreat floor space and more food. That additional food means more land under cultivation, and more land under cultivation and means a larger perimeter to defend, and so forth. You can see where this logic leads: Instead of owning a little two family 20 acre low profile retreat, you'd need 10 to 12 armed and trained adults and perhaps 40 to 100 acres, depending on rainfall and soil fertility. Being the local Lord of the Manor is not conducive to keeping a low profile!

You are right that it is wise to stock up on batteries. Try to get rechargeable batteries for as many devices as possible. In fact, compatibility with rechargeables (versus expendable "throw away" batteries) should be a key determining factor when selecting any electrical or electronic equipment. My favorite source for batteries via mail order is (One of our affiliate advertisers.) They have great prices and a huge selection.

If space permits, you should store all of your small batteries in a sealed bag (to prevent condensation) in the back of your refrigerator. This will extend their useful life.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dear Jim:
As my confidence in the dollar depreciates and my desire for skills increases, I'm wanting to convert FRNs into hands-on knowledge. What weeknight or weekend workshops would you recommend? Are there any places where you can learn Army Ranger skills without joining the military? Animal husbandry, and so on? - Spencer

JWR Replies: There is a tremendous wealth of free or low-cost classes available--enough to keep you busy every weekend of the year if you are willing to drive a distance. If you have time and just a bit of money, you can get some very well-rounded training in skills that are quite applicable to post-TEOTWAWKI living. In my experience, the most cost-effective training opportunities in the U.S. include:

American Red Cross First Aid and CPR classes

Local Community College, Park District, and Adult Education classes. They offer classes on metal shop, auto shop, wood shop, leather crafting, ceramics, baking, gardening, welding, and so forth.

RWVA Appleseed Shoots. These are held all over the nation. They offer great training for very little money. The West Side Sportsman's Club, located on the west side of Evansville, Indiana is hosting the national RWVA shoot on June 30 / July 1st. The Red Brush Gun Range, located on the east side of Evansville is having another Appleseed, and they're also having an Appleseed Boot Camp. The boot camp starts on Monday October 22 thru Friday Oct. 26th. Then the Appleseed Shoot is on Saturday Oct. 27 and Sunday Oct. 28. The deal is if you want to attend both the Boot Camp and the Appleseed match, you do so for $200. Yes, for just $200 you can have seven days of top notch marksmanship training.

U.S. Army ROTC classes, the ROTC Ranger program (administered by individual university ROTC Departments), and ROTC Leader's Training Course, aka Basic Camp). The first two years of the ROTC program--including Leader's Training Course--are available to any full-time enrolled undergraduate college student (including "cross-enrolled" junior college students) with no contractual obligation. Participation in the ROTC Ranger program by anyone other than enrolled ROTC cadets is usually up to the discretion of the instructor or the PMS. When I was in a ROTC Ranger program back in the early 1980s, we had two Marine Corps PLC students and an Administration of Justice (police science) major in our Ranger program, as supernumeraries. So even if you don't sign up for ROTC classes, you might be able to be involved in a Ranger program. Of particular note: If you sign up for the four week ROTC Leader's Training Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky, you will actually get paid to attend, plus get a couple of free pairs of combat boots. To be eligible to participate in ROTC, you must be under 31 years of age on Dec 31 st of the year that you expect to graduate. (Or possibly 34 years old, with waivers.) The best chance to get a slot at the ROTC Leader's Training Course is during your sophomore year of college, but when I was there I met a graduate student that had wangled a slot. (He eventually got a direct commission, by virtue of his ROTC "contact hours")

LDS (Mormon) cannery classes/canning sessions. Many "wards" have their own canneries, which are generally open to non-Mormons. (OBTW, the LDS food storage calculator web page is a very useful planning tool.)

FEMA / CERT Classes (Classroom and Internet courses, some with team commitment)

ARRL amateur radio classes.

Species-Specific or Breed-Specific Livestock and Pet Clubs

NRA and State Rifle and Pistol Association training and shooting events

Fiber Guilds (spinning and weaving) and local knitting clubs

Mountain Man/Rendezvous Clubs (Blackpowder shooting, flint knapping, soap making, rope making, etc.)

University/County Agricultural Extension and Cattleman's Club classes on livestock, gardening, weed control, canning, et cetera

Medical Corps small group classes. I heard that they have scheduled just one hands-on Combat/Field Medicine Course thusfar for 2007. It will be at the OSU Extension Campus, in Belle Valley Ohio, April 20-21-22. That class is full, but check their web site for additional course dates. They offer great training--including advanced life saving topics that the American Red Cross doesn't teach--at very reasonable cost.

Volunteer Fire department (VFD) classes (usually with some commitment)

Candle and Soap Making Clubs/Conventions

Boy Scouts and 4H. Informal, un-enrolled ("strap hanger") training is available for adults--just take your kids to the meetings and don't leave.

I would also consider these less important (but still worthwhile) training opportunities, as time permits:

Sheriff's posse and Search and Rescue (SAR) programs

Police department "Ride Along" and Police Reserve programs

Civil Air Patrol (CAP) courses.

Civic/Ethnic Club cooking classes

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Hi Jim,
I read today's offering with great interest. There is no point in trying to resolve the debate on boats vs. land retreats ("the army of maneuver vs. the army of the fortress") as this is all a matter of personal conjecture and preferences. However, I would suggest that for those folks who live in a coastal area where if the balloon goes up their home location may be untenable, and their highway escape as well, a boat does provide at least a viable mid-term option.

Many areas of our Atlantic and Gulf coasts have most of the people concentrated into a relatively small percent of the land, and vast areas of bays, rivers and estuaries that are almost in virgin condition, and unreachable except by water. There are literally thousands of miles of such places where a person living on a sailboat or other craft could stay off of the radar for months or even longer, while the emergency situation ashore sorted itself out. At that point, the low-profile boat survivalist could decide to return home, stay put, move to another state, or even to cross an ocean.

A boat is not a panacea, and it's not for everyone, but given a choice between "bugging in" in a potentially violent urban area, or heading out into gridlocked highways, I know what I would choose if I lived near the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts. (Most of the Pacific coast presents a very different picture, due to its geography.)

A low-profile shoal draft houseboat (is there any other kind?) would also work in many coastal and even inland areas, although of course the oceans are off limits and fuel will eventually run out. A diesel powered houseboat would work well with cached drums of fuel hidden in likely areas. The idea with a houseboat is that they would rarely move, (burn fuel), but that they have that option. Houseboats are also very easy to camouflage, and can be located where fish would be available and also small crop farming could be concealed, all while hiding well off of the highway and road systems. - Matt Bracken, Northeast Florida

JWR Replies: Many thanks for your input. Until you mentioned it, I hadn't seriously considered the "brown water" option for boaters in delta or estuary regions. Perhaps painting a house boat in a flat earth tone color might work--along with some judicious use of camouflage nets and burlap to cover any windows or chrome that might reflect. Readers that do a little searching might find just the right place to tie up, deep in a delta. Many delta regions have extensive state and Federal park "wetlands" that are seldom traveled by anyone. And you are correct in your assertion that a lot of that country can only be accessed by water. That would make someone relatively safe from bands of looters.

BTW, there is one part of the Pacific coast that is intriguing: The Sacramento River delta region. This delta is said to have more shoreline than the entire California coastline. It is unfortunately downwind from several nuclear targets (most notably the Concord Naval Weapons Station), but in anything other than a nuke scenario, the Sacramento delta region might make a practical bug-out locale.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Coming from a Southern family and having hunted as a child and adult, and having backpacked the Smokies, I would not want to depend on a mountain man scenario for survival during TEOTWAWKI. I want to walk a bit further with this. Most particularly consideration of a sailing vessel and the ocean as a way of survival. I seriously question the concept of mobility, particularly mobility at sea. I remember Sun Tzu said something to the effect that "when the army of maneuver meets the army of the fortress, the army of the fortress generally looses." But I think that the mobility concept here may be an exception to what Sun Tzu said. Having sailed since I was 9, and my first offshore passage with a friend of my dad's and his son when I was 10, I ve been drawn to the ocean rather than the golf course. My first and incidentally most survivable offshore capable boat was an old converted ships lifeboat, wooden hull, wooden masts, plow wire for standing rigging and canvas and cotton for sails. Simple, basic, rough. The preceding sentence is read in a few seconds and many can visualize what's written there. But its a little more in depth than that. The “in depth” goes something like this. With a wooden hull and plow wire rigging and cotton sails a knowledgeable person can take a vessel like that and maintain and/or repair her anywhere in the world given a lot of [time and] luck. Taking an axe to cut down a tree then a foot adze to rough out a plank, the a box plane and a draw knife to fine the plank up (bear in mind all of these tools you carry deep sea in something that is less than 40 feet on the waterline) and spike it in to the hull to replace a defective plank. Then the aforementioned plank is in the hull the same material that the sails are from , raw cotton is used to caulk the plank periphery to make the repair watertight. Then its paid or sealed with a white lead and copper oxide and linseed oil mixture. Or use the same tools on another tree carefully chosen to be a mast or bowsprit or gaff or boom. Where of course all of this leads is to the discipline nay more like way of life of wooden boat building and seamanship,and being able to survive that way. Or survive any way--whether on the ocean or a ranch or farm its no different. It is the same way of life with each of their own peculiarities, for many different paths of survival but all of them take time and none are learned in a year or 18 months from a book.

My first and second boats were both wood, the second one was a 42 foot John G. Alden design, cutter rigged and built in 1936, that I sailed and lived aboard for 15 years. She was still going deep water and crossing oceans over 50 years after she was constructed, and still is today. I remember the first major re-fit I did taking the working sails off and storing them in my parents basement, (I was a youngster then and they were still alive and tolerant of an eccentric non-golfing kid) and the second night of that, going to get the bare minimum (mainsail, working jib, staysail, a genoa and storm trysail) at 10 PM because I didn't like the feeling of insecurity--of not being able to sail out of my slip, sail out of the marina, sail out of the harbor, and the bay if necessary. My parents did not understand then .I'm not sure I did completely either. I do much more clearly now.
An offshore vessel departure is something that does not involve just slipping the lines and leaving the marina. It starts years before that point in the preparation and continuing maintenance necessary to prep a small (under 60 feet long) sailing vessel to cross oceans and more importantly those who sail in her. I think its the same with a survival retreat. With a boat, each hull material is a complete discipline in itself. Each way of life (ocean, farm, ranch) is a discipline unto itself with many interlocking parts. Wood hull with galvanized plow wire or for that matter the same wire (1 x 7) that the utility companies use to guy poles, and cotton, flax or canvas sails and manila line for running rigging is a survivable vessel. More modern more easily maintainable materials at least now: aluminum(my favorite hull material hands down) , steel (my second choice)or fiberglass (my least favorite) accompanied by stainless steel running rigging, dacron or carbon fiber sails and sometimes masts are only maintainable with the society and level of industrialization that we have now. I was a navigator in modern fiberglass boats years ago in Latin America. I tried to replace a piece of 1 x 19 stainless standing rigging and its fittings on a sailing vessel. If you want 1 x 7 or 7 x 7 [mild] steel or galvanized rigging, no problem. However, stainless, dacron sails, synthetic line running rigging, argon gas for aluminum welding and or the equipment to do it with, then forget it. That pretty fiberglass (barrels of oil for resin and glass fibre cloth) production boat is repairable these days on the shores of the industrialized countries, but in the third or fourth world it won't happen. Post-TEOTWAWKI it won't happen, either. Post-TEOTWAWKI, what the h**l are you gonna do with a refrigerator with a TV in the door? Post-TEOTWAWKI you will find families who build boats out of wood and galvanized steel and so forth and have been doing so for generations. Primitive but effective .That pretty GPS chart plotter you carry and its backup--and for that matter all of your onboard electronics and electrical may be a victim of EMP. The navigational gear may be a victim of the vulnerability of the GPS satellite constellation going down due either to EMP (unlikely to get them all in high orbit with one shot) or lack of ground correction of satellite position due to orbital perturbations. Interesting concept. How many carry paper charts. How many can do the old lunar distance sights and calculations to determine with reasonable accuracy, the correct time to determine one's longitude a.k.a. Joshua Slocum (remember the EMP? WWV and WWVH probably along with CHU and a host of other time stations are off the air either temporarily or maybe for good along with,--depending on your luck quotient--most or all of your onboard electronics, particularly in a wood or fiberglass hull. And for that matter how many carry a sextant and the tables (HO 214, 219, 229 or 249) to reduce the sun, moon and star sights you take or even better yet found a 1920s-era copy of Nathaniel Bowditch's “The American Practical Navigator” to learn the spherical trigonometry to reduce the sights without tables?

This brings up another point: Carrying firearms is a sensitive business because many , if not most foreign governments are mildly nervous about this practice unless you are a commercially documented vessel, have a bonded stores area in the vessel where you can lock up tobacco, spirits and firearms when in port. (The most likely time the firearms are going to be needed is in harbor) and the customs agent can come aboard and seal that locker. And in TEOTWAWKI there is no guarantee that pratique procedures in a foreign country are going to be followed. There is also always the possibility that at sea, you well may be outgunned and at sailing vessel speeds (maybe 7 knots, which is about 9 mph ) you can't run away. And there you cannot bug out to a pre-cached position either.

When I was younger and had my Alden I lived alongshore in the Gulf of Mexico. A group of us all live-aboards (in those days we were rare and a close knit community) used to sand table what it would be like if the balloon went up. The most likely scenario we envisioned was a limited nuclear strike on the CONUS. Consider if one will being alongshore in the Northern Gulf of Mexico and what it would take to get “away” provided one survived the first strike. And we lived the life (many of us did with a minimum of 60 days dry stores aboard) and walked the walk, always prepped for sea (not an easy thing to do.) Figure say from Mobile, Alabama to get out of the Gulf of Mexico basin where one would be deep sea, the closest being the Southern littoral of the North Atlantic Ocean would take a minimum of 7-to-8 days on a vessel with a 40 foot waterline length. (Considering that will provide on a very good 24 hour noon-to-noon run, 150-170 miles driven hard with cooperating weather. We then figured if we could get past Cuba and the tip of Florida. From Mobile, depending on the time of year and the weather that can be a daunting task. We might have a chance. There was another cadre of people in the marina, who rarely left their slips. They took a minimum of 24 hours to get gear below decks stowed in lockers to be able to get underway. Those in our group could be stowed for sea and underway in 30 minutes. We practiced it routinely.
Also consider the very long distance most of it along shores of various countries (you are much safer when deep ocean both from wars, storms, and people.) Then one begins to appreciate if one will, the risky scenario for a person or family. But eventually one must put in to a harbor. Somewhere. Today ( when I was young we didn't have them) with water makers a vessel with deep bunkers (my last vessel, 48 feet LOA carried 600 gallons of diesel and 1,000 gallons of water in deep tankage)--the diesel fuel needed to make the electricity to charge the batteries to run the water maker to fill the tanks and fishing equipment and solar and wind adjuncts and rain catchment and so on and so forth. Eventually one must put in. That of course is when you are the most vulnerable. Even in a large vessel where you can carry the depth of stores--line and sails and wire and welding equipment and blocks and parts--material needed to repair the ravages of days and days and days at sea, finally the larder runs out. Depending on how far down things fall then you may well have no idea of the conditions where you are putting in. And if you are putting in under duress for example, dismasted and under jury rig while trying to double Cape Horn--and it has happened to many vessels in the high latitudes of the great Southern Ocean--then the options considerably narrow. Have you ever thought about in a small boat what even considering a passage through he Canal might be like during TEOTWAWKI? The only other alternatives are either Cape Horn or Cape of Good Hope. Look at a chart.

I grew up sailing and surfing and diving. I would not consider the ocean as a refuge if the balloon goes up. In my humble opinion one is too vulnerable. Vulnerable to whom? To a Caribbean Island fisherman whose family is starving because the inter-island freighter has stopped running and he needs antibiotics/pure water/salt/diesel fuel/gasoline/toilet paper. Or vulnerable to a rogue element of a Third World military --or for that matter a First World military--who have the materiel to be the top guy on the heap of post industrialization in your part of the ocean. Or,... Well you get the idea. Post 9-11-01, I sold what will probably be my last offshore vessel, a 48 foot aluminum pilothouse ketch with five watertight compartments. I finally woke up and realized that although I could (and did) single hand her offshore without problems, being survivable and secure did not seem to be a practical scenario. That plus my age led me to other considerations. - CMC

JWR Adds: I agree with CMC's basic assertion. I consider blue water sailing a viable retreat alternative only for someone that is: A.) An experienced yachtsmen that lives close to his boat harbor, and B.) has the means to afford the right boat and can afford to fully equip it, and C.) that has an established overseas retreat destination that is well-stocked in its own right. So in effect, a well-stocked sailboat is not in itself a retreat, but rather could be your G.O.O.D. vehicle to get you to an established offshore retreat. In all, the preceding list eliminates most of the people reading this! It may sound brutal and terse, but for anyone else "sea-mobile" retreating is just another fantasy--unaffordable and unrealistic. I briefly discuss some issues regarding seA-mobile retreating in my non-fiction book Rawles on Retreats and Relocation. The following is a quote from the book:

Unless you are an experienced blue water yachtsman with many years of experience, then I cannot recommend “sea mobile” retreating. I only know a few yachtsmen with this level of experience--most notably Mark Laughlin and Matthew Bracken. (BTW, Some of the characters and descriptions in Matt Bracken’s recent novel “Enemies Foreign and Domestic” shed some light on sea-mobile retreating.) IMHO, for a long term Crunch with anticipated fuel shortages, only a sailboat with an auxiliary engine makes sense. If you do choose this approach, then by all means select the largest sailboat you can afford (and that can be manned by a small crew) with the following features:
A minimal radar cross-section.
A retractable keel so that you can navigate shallows.
A very quiet auxiliary engine.
The largest fuel and fresh water tanks possible.
A full suite of communications gear (marine band, 2 Meter, CB, and HF.)
At least two Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, plus a sextant and a couple of accurate hairspring or quartz watches. (In case your GPS receivers fail, or if the GPS satellites ever fail. (Such as if the GPS constellation is ever destroyed or significantly degraded by anti-satellite weapons.)
A hull and rigging design that will “blend in” with the crowd of seasonal yachtsmen.
Plenty of spare parts.

Be forewarned that your inevitable desire to add a large photovoltaic array will be in direct opposition to blending in. If you buy photovoltaic (PV) panels, buy canvas covers to make them less obvious when sailing near shore.

A sailboat moored at night is vulnerable to sea-going looters. Even today, piracy is a problem, particularly in the Caribbean and the waters around Southeast Asia. This threat will surely expand by an order of magnitude WTSHTF. So plan your landfalls carefully!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

While sheltering in place has many advantages during an End-of-Civilization-Schumer-Dispersal scenario, there may be good reasons to travel on foot cross country. (In "Patriots" for example, squads and patrols traveled afoot for security, reconnaissance, communication, ambush and assault missions.) The following tips are offered for your consideration should you have to resort to “Shank’s Mare” for transportation.
Land Navigation can be divided into “tactical” or “peacetime” methods. While even in peacetime there are times that it is better to travel undetected, in a tactical scenario, being caught might be fatal. You’ll have to judge the situation yourself, but when in doubt, use the most cautious approach practical.

I’ll begin with normal situations where tactical concerns are secondary. Have a compass and whistle with you any time you are in unfamiliar territory or away from civilization. It is easy to become disoriented (especially at night, in dense vegetation or during periods of bad weather) and a quick look at a compass can often set you straight. If you do become lost or disoriented, stay put, if possible, and blow your whistle or use other comms (radio, cell phone, mirror, personal locator beacon, etc…) until you are found/regrouped.
Learn how to use a map and compass. It is fairly simple to learn, and can be fun too. I’ve made a game out of small-scale compass courses to teach the concepts used in navigating with a map and compass. There are various techniques, just find those you can remember easily and that are practical to use. Army Field Manual FM 3-25.26 Map Reading and Land Navigation is a good place to start, or there are many good civilian books on the subject. The Green Beret’s Compass Course, by Don Paul, Path Finder Publications 2004, is an interesting approach to the subject and a fairly quick read. The Internet also has some great resources on Map and Compass use. Here are a few sites to get you started:

Navigation With Map and Compass , Using the compass in interaction with a map , and Finding Your Way with Map and Compass (USGS)

Don’t forget to count your paces and/or use timing to estimate the distance traveled. This can keep you from overshooting your objective, and wasting time and energy to find your way back. In many cases, you can plan a “hold off” technique to purposely aim slightly right or left of your objective if there is an identifiable feature (ridge, river, road, etc…) that could lead you back to your end point. Once you hit that feature, you can turn in the direction of your objective and follow the feature until you reach your objective (e.g. when you get to the stream, turn left, and follow the stream uphill to camp). A GPS receiver is great help too, and potentially very accurate, but map and compass skills should always be there to supplement those battery-operated gizmos.

In a tactical, hostile environment, you would use similar navigation techniques as mentioned about travel in a non-hostile environment, but there are a few other considerations:

Evasion. If there’s a chance of running into goblins in the woods, navigation becomes more complicated. Moving undetected can be a challenge but can be done. Motion attracts an enemy’s eye more than camouflage can conceal you from him. For example, most deer and squirrels you probably see in the woods are noticed because of a twitch of the ear or a flick of the tail that alerts you to their presence. They are naturally hard to see, but the slightest movement can give them away. Move slowly, stop and look. Patience is a virtue that can save your skin.
Noise can also compromise your location. Be aware of noise and disturbing foliage and animals (birds or deer/elk). Masking your sounds by traveling in damp or windy weather may help.
When crossing “lines of communication” such as rivers or roads, cross at areas with limited visibility such as bends or shaded areas. Don’t follow trails or “lines of communication” or leave tracks on or near them. Avoid open areas where you can be seen from far away. This will reduce your chance of being seen, but will slow you down considerably! Instead of trail hiking at 1.5 to 3 mph, you might be lucky to go a quarter mile an hour in some terrain if you have to do it quietly and without being seen. Off road travel will also require much more effort and most likely be noisier. Plan for this.
Also consider what time of day you will be starting and stopping your movement. To avoid being seen by Night Vision Devices (NVDs), dawn and dusk can provide a light condition that is too dark to be easily seen with the naked eye, yet too light for NVDs to work well. Air Force Pamphlet 64-5 Aircrew Survival is a great resource that gives an overview of evading capture while traveling in a hostile environment.
Conceal your direction of travel in case you are captured (no sense in showing the bad guys where you were going). This includes not writing down headings or making markings on a map, and if you are using a military-type lensatic compass that locks the compass dial when it is closed, turn the compass off course before locking the dial so that your last heading is not revealed. To mark a map temporarily, use sticks, pine needles or string to show lines of position or course direction.
This overview is just a brief and limited summary of things to consider if you need to travel to survive. I hope it has provided food for thought and grounds for further research (FFTAGFFR). I also hope that I've included some tips that can keep you safe. Be Prepared, - GlobalScout

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