Book Review: Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank, was among the original TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know it) novels. It was written in 1959 about 1959. It was a time of national prosperity, racial segregation, and during the peak of the Cold War. A time of peace, but when people lived daily with the threat of global nuclear war looming.

Then it actually happens, with almost no warning, the Soviets launch a preemptive full-scale nuclear strike against the United States and its allies. To the survivors, including the people in the small Central Florida town of Fort Repose, it was just known as “The Day.” The day when everything that was and everything they knew, changed forever.

Our protagonist, Randy Bragg, is the scion of a once prominent local family. Before, he was living a quiet life with very little purpose. After, he struggles to find his role as he becomes responsible for his brother’s family, then the neighbors – both white and “colored”, and ultimately the town. Randy has a couple of days warning (from his high-ranking military brother) and tries to stock up on extra supplies. It was insightful to see what he thought was important and what he didn’t get. He also tries to warn some close friends, but the response he receives, “So here comes our local Paul Revere . . .  What are you trying to do, frighten my wife and daughter to death?”, would probably be similar to the denial we’d see from family and friends.

For me, with my medical background, it was very interesting to read about Dr. Dan Gunn, the town’s only medical provider. About his initial struggles to take care of so many people, most of whom are still in denial. His knowledge that he has so little equipment and supplies and that once they’re gone, they’re gone. How he, the caregiver, pushes himself to almost complete physical collapse. And watching his naivety about his own safety, until he’s targeted for the drugs and supplies he might have.

As resources become scarce, cash becomes valueless. Even early on when it was still accepted for payment, stores quickly sold out and nothing new arrived. People barter for what they need; food, gasoline, ammunition, alcohol, precious metals, and even coffee become currency.

When the initial food stockpile is depleted, they struggle to produce their own. Randy laments, “The end of the corn and exhaustion of the citrus crop had been inevitable. Armadillos in the yams was bad luck, but bearable. But without fish and salt their survival was in doubt.” Some of their needs were obvious, of course they had to quickly locate a sustainable source of drinking water. But no one thought of what would happen when they ran out of salt, and the dire consequences. They had to provide their own security, not only against humans but also animals. They were creative how they rationed energy–fuel and batteries–and how they reacted when it finally, inevitably, ran out.

This book illustrated that mental and physical preparation are what are necessary to endure. Randy sums things up, “Survival of the fittest . . . The strong [and prepared] survive. The frail die. The exotic fish die because the aquarium isn’t heated. The common guppy lives. So does the tough catfish. . . . That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Advertisements

Only Seconds to React

Having Your Fire Extinguisher Ready

Fire is neither good nor bad, it just is. When the right combination of fuel, oxygen, and an ignition source combine there will be fire. It can be a lifesaving asset providing light, cooking, and heat – or can be property and life destroying.

Though fire safety has many aspects* today we’re going to discuss fire extinguishers. As preppers, we build in redundancies. If the power goes out, we start up the generator and cook over propane; if those fail, we light lanterns and cook over a small fire. Most of us aren’t use to having an open flame around on a regular basis and accidents can happen. To mitigate those times, get out the fire extinguisher and place it within arms reach of the fire. No one means to knock over the kerosene lantern, but suddenly the counter is engulfed with flame and you have seconds to make decision.

In that situation, if the fire is small and not spreading, grab the extinguisher. Start with your back to the exit, making sure the fire does not block your escape route. Stand about six feet away from the fire. Then, as fire departments teach, use the PASS word:

  • Pull the pin to unlock the fire extinguisher
  • Aim at the base (bottom) of the fire
  • Squeeze the lever to discharge the agent
  • Sweep the spray from left to right until the flames are totally extinguished

A typical fire extinguisher contains ten seconds of extinguishing power. You cannot use fire extinguishers more than once, they must be replaced or refilled if used.

For home use there are typically two categories: a less expensive, plastic top, disposable type and a metal top, rechargeable type. Professionals recommend the rechargeable ones; they initially cost more, but are far more reliable, can be serviced, and have a longer shelf-life.

There are no laws regarding home fire extinguisher inspections, however it is recommended that twice a year you inspect your extinguisher. You should check:

  • the pressure gauge arrow to be sure it’s full (it should be in the green area straight up on the gauge).
  • the hose and nozzle for cracks, tears or blockage.
  • the pin and tamper seal to ensure they are intact.
  • that the handle-locking device is in place.
  • for dents, leaks, rust, chemical deposits and/or other signs of abuse or wear.

At the end of your inspection turn the extinguisher upside down and hit the bottom sharply with your hand, then shake it well. This will prevent the dry chemical powder from settling or packing down in the cylinder, making it ineffective.

Most rechargeable dry chemical fire extinguishers, if properly handled and maintained, have a lifespan of 5 – 15 years. If your extinguisher is 5 years old bring it in to a local service center and have it inspected (costs about $20). If your extinguisher is over 12 years old, it needs to be hydrostatically tested and recharged by a qualified service technician (they’ll probably just swap you for one that’s been recently tested).

Remember fire doesn’t care, so you need to.

(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep)

*Dr. Bones, of the Doom & Bloom Show, recently wrote posts on Smoke Inhalation and Natural Burn Treatments. Both of these topics are huge fire safety aspects; these posts  contain good information and are definitely worth reading.

What I Did This Week To Prep

& What I’m Thankful For

When I thought back to what I’d done this week I realized I hadn’t done much prepping. When I wondered why I realized, oh yea, it was Thanksgiving week (did I mention we had a house full of family?). So I decided this week–keeping with the Thanksgiving theme–to also talk about what I’m thankful for, especially in the prepper aspects of my life.

But first the couple prepper things I did do. As anyone with a deep freezer knows, it’s hard to keep track of what is in there – especially at the bottom. I didn’t come up with this idea, but I’m trying it and passing it along: how to keep a simple food storage tracking system. As shown on the right, using graph paper, make a list of all the food items you store. Then make a slash (/) for each item you currently have. When you remove an item, turn the far left / into an X; the remaining slashes show your current count. When you add more, add more slashes. When you take things out change the appropriate amount of slashes into Xs. For example, bacon: X X / / / / /, would show that you currently have five packages of bacon. When you take two out, it would now show: X X X X / / /. Hopefully that makes sense. We stapled the list to the wall, and hung a pen, next to the freezer so everyone can add and deduct as necessary – we’ll see how it works.

At Costco we bought less normal stuff and more stuff geared toward Thanksgiving and the holidays. The only good sale item which we got for our preps was D cell batteries. Batteries are, by definition, a finite/self-reliant source of power. But short-term they’re very nice and convenient to have; they are also one of the first things that sell out when the masses rush to the stores for a pending disaster. If you store them correctly and rotate them appropriately, then it’s good to buy and store extras (not much different than how we do all our preps).

During this time of year we celebrate the bountiful harvest, and we lay up stores–so we know we will be prepared and we will make it through–for the coming winter. I am thankful for:

  • my wife and children. Without them I wouldn’t be doing most of this; I prep because of my family. I love and care for them very much, and I believe it is ultimately my responsibility to prepare to keep them safe and secure in case things ever go bad.
  • my wife Sarah. I’m thankful I found, fell in love with, and married her. I’m glad we’re partners in this life. I’m thankful for her support, advice and active assistance (and tolerance) as I prep and plan for our family. I’m thankful for her help with this blog; three times each week she reads through and makes sure it’s well written and makes sense.
  • being able to live near my kids (it hasn’t always been this way). Ryan, Brynn, Emily, and Alison (and Chanse). I’m glad I can see them on a regular basis, really get to know them, and be an active part of their lives. I’m glad I can be their dad and do my best to watch over them now, and teach and prepare them for the future.
  • the rights and liberties that are recognized in this country that allow me to be a prepper, to move as I choose, to own firearms, and complain about my government.
  • the members of our military; especially the true warriors, the ones who keep the wolves at bay.
  • true friends who stand by and support you through thick or thin. “Friends help you move, good friends help you move bodies.” I’m thankful for body-moving friends.
  • the many prepper resources available (especially for Jack Spirko’s TSP). I’m thankful for the internet where all compiled knowledge is at our fingertips, all we have to do is search for it.

What did you do and what are you thankful for? (Feel free to put what you’re thankful for in the comments.)

(Monday: Only Seconds To React)

Never Buy A Replacement Blade

An Introduction to Straight Razors

I concede that in a collapse situation, personal grooming won’t be a top priority. But just because it’s TEOTWAWKI doesn’t mean you won’t want to be able to shave. Maybe you will choose to grow a beard. But wouldn’t it be nice if that was your decision, not one made because you ran out of disposable razor blades? Also you ladies–you need to decide–how important is having shaved underarms and/or legs to you?

Alexander the Great's shaven image on the Alexander Mosaic, 2nd Century BC

People have been shaving for a long time. Razor blades, made of copper, were first used around 3000 BC. Alexander the Great was a strong advocate of his soldiers shaving (in the 4th century BC) to avoid “dangerous beard-grabbing in combat”, and because he believed it looked tidier.

The ‘modern-day’ folding straight razor has been around since 1680. It was used from that time until the early 1900s; then, in 1901, Mr. Gillette invented the disposable safety razor. By the end of World War I (after millions had been issued to the troops) most men were shaving with a disposable razor. In the 1920s, women too began using the disposable razor; shaving their legs when dress hemlines began to rise and show more skin.

I had thought about trying a straight razor for a some time. Last year I read a post on TSP form, How to get out of a consumer marketing trap with a straight razor, and finally decided to go ahead and do it. Sarah thought I was crazy, but she was supportive; she watched me the first night, phone in hand, ready to call 911 in case of severe bleeding. There were several nicks in the beginning weeks, until I got the hang of it, but nothing serious. The honing and stropping were a hassle for me to figure out; I finally realized that I had to hold the razor at a flatter angle than I do when sharpening a standard knife. Now, almost a year later–though I still have to concentrate more–it takes no longer than a disposable razor, and is routine and smooth (pun intended). I strop the edge each time before I shave, and hone it each month.

Why use a straight razor?

  • It’s the ultimate self-sufficient shaving tool
  • The nostalgia of using a traditional method
  • The larger blade covers more surface with greater control
  • You don’t have to rinse as much and clean up is easier
  • It prevents skin razor bumps that are caused by multi-edged razors
  • Once you master it, you’ll feel very cool

To get started you’d need (as shown clockwise in the photo): the straight razor, a leather strop, a boar bristle shave brush, a bowl (or mug) for the soap, and the shaving soap. (The above links are to the items I own; they were suggested on TSP forum post as a good basic starter set).

Many resources are available to help you learn how to use your new razor; it does take effort to become proficient. I like this YouTube video, he narrates it well and uses the right hand/right side, left hand/left side technique that I think works best. The Art of the Straight Razor is a good written resource.

Anciently, before copper razors were available, hair was sometimes removed using two shells to pull the hair out. So if you still want that clean look if the SHTF, either invest now in a straight razor or stock up on those shells.

(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep / What I’m Thankful For)

But I’m Working Now

Creating Your Work Evacuation Plan

As much as we’d like to, we don’t get to choose our disaster or where we will be when it strikes. Best case: entire family home together with all our ‘stuff’ available; worst case: stuck in an airport, alone, with none of your preps. How about something in between, what if you’re at work?

Remember school fire drills? We’d all neatly file from our classrooms with the teacher leading us, like a mommy duck, to our designated spot in the playground. They’d take roll to account for everyone; that’d be reported to the principal, then we’d all file back inside.

Fast forward to today where you’re sitting at work. Something is wrong and you have to evacuate. It’s not a drill, there’s no teacher to lead you, or principal to account for you. Hopefully you know how to safely evacuate your own building, but what next? We’re all grown up now; we must have our own plan of what to do if an emergency occurs when we’re at work.

This is another one of those things where I can’t tell you what to do; you’ll have to develop your own plan. But I can tell you what Sarah and I have planned, and our contingencies.

Sarah and I both work in Seattle (about 45 miles from our home). Ironically we only work about a mile apart. Sarah commutes on the train working traditional hours. I drive to work and have a ‘non-traditional’ schedule. Each week there are three days we both work there (but only in the afternoons), two days she’s in Seattle alone, and one day only I’m there. We’ve had to come up with multiple plans that vary based on the day of the week.

So if we’re both there, she would come up the hill to where I work. My workplace is more secure, further from the water, and away from the downtown congested high-rise area. In case I have to leave work also, we’ve discussed what street she would walk up and what side of the street she would be on. We have contingency plans of where to meet if we both had to leave and we didn’t (or couldn’t) meet up on that street. If it’s only me, since I drive I have my car and BOB; I also have friends I could stay with in the area if necessary. If only she is there, she’ll make the decision if it’s okay to take the train home, or if it’d be better to stay at a predetermined friend’s home in the area. She also has a family member who works near her (and who drives to work) and has made plans of where to meet and try to get somewhere safer together.

Also since Sarah rides to work on public transportation, everything she has for the day is in her backpack. In addition to her normal work stuff, she has a miniature version of her BOB; she also wears good walking shoes back and forth to work. At work she keeps extra water, food, and a change of clothes.

We’ve also discussed communication:

  • if cell phones aren’t getting through, we’ll try a landline
  • if “all circuits are busy”, we’ll try a predetermined long-distance relative
  • if landlines don’t work, we’ll try texting (texts frequently go through even when voice calls don’t)
  • if texting doesn’t work, we’ll try email (if necessary, moving to a wireless area to email on the phone)
  • if none of those options are available, we have a predetermined place to leave a written note

Of course all the “what ifs” can’t be covered. The important thing is to take the time to think about what you’d do if an emergency happened when you were at work. Then develop and discuss your plan with family members. It costs nothing and, in this crazy world we live in today, it’s one less thing to worry about.

(Wednesday: Never Buy A Replacement Blade)

What I Did This Week To Prep

Now that summer gardening is over, I wanted to get a jump on improving and expanding the growing space for next year. I hate watering grass, but the home owner’s association thinks it’s important, so I came to a ‘compromise’. I expanded the gardening area in the front yard so it now covers about a third of the yard. Next summer I’ll feel better  about watering because now I’ll also be watering a garden. Removing the sod was a hassle, it’s a lot of work and it’s heavy.

Ryan, Chanse, & Brynn with compost

Once the sod was out, Chanse and I (using his dad’s truck) picked up about two yards (two truck beds full) of fine compost from the landfill compost factory (the compost is made from local yard wastes). The boys and Brynn helped me add a layer of compost to the expanded front garden, and we also covered about half the back garden. We still need a couple more loads for the backyard, but it was a good start. I hadn’t purchased compost in bulk like that before; it was interesting to see the steam coming off the compost and feel the heat in the pile, even after we got it home. It felt like fluffy dirt, and was easy to move and spread.

Sarah and I finally selected and ordered some winter seeds, hopefully we’re not too late (we’ve been talking about it for weeks). We ordered from Bountiful Gardens, we like their company and love their catalog (we’d definitely recommend requesting a catalog). We’re not doing a lot, we ordered a compost crop seed mix, containing: vetch, wheat, rye, and fava beans that we’ll plant in all the beds. We also ordered Dutch White Clover seeds to spread in the backyard grass, both to improve the soil and in preparation for getting rabbits. We’re tentatively planning on getting rabbits (for meat) sometime around February.

As winter approaches the Northwest (it has definitely arrived in some parts of the country already), I decided it would be a good time to inspect the cars for winter. Ryan, Chanse and I checked to ensure all our vehicles had: ice scrapers (had to add one to Chanse’s car), air in the spare tire (couple were low), jacks, good windshield wipers, wiper fluid (needed some), and we added additional warm clothes and sleeping bags. I do still need to take Ryan out in the Jeep and review with him how to use the 4WD (both high and low), but other than that we’re in pretty good shape.

What did you do?

(Monday: But I’m Working Now)

(11/12/11)

Something To Lean On

No one plans to trip and fall–especially not to fall and get hurt–but we do. It happens faster than we can say “oops”. Most of the time we quickly (or slowly) get back up, check to ensure all our parts still work, and somewhat sheepishly go on. But sometimes you either can’t get up, or it really hurts when you do.

A little while back I was thinking how difficult it would be to get around in a collapse situation with a leg injury. Trying to improvise crutches or a cane, though doable, wouldn’t be ideal. So we decided to purchase (from a thrift store) a set of crutches, a cane, and a wheelchair. So far we’ve got the crutches and a cane, hanging neatly in a corner of the garage. We haven’t found a decent wheelchair for good price yet, but when we do it’ll be folded down and hung with the others.

When an injury first happens, especially if it looks serious, everyone available helps and cares for the injured. But in the days afterward, the injury is mostly forgotten by everyone except the injured. He (or she) now has to get around and function as best they can. Injuries such as sprains and strains* are rarely crippling, but they make even minimal walking painful and difficult. Having that set of crutches or a cane (though a cane is easier to improvise, storing one takes almost no space) allows a patient to be ambulatory and more independent. In addition a wheelchair, for someone who can’t even get around on crutches, would be invaluable. Remember we’re discussing a situation where there is no other medical assistance available; a situation where you only have what you have.

This doesn’t have to be just a collapse situation. What about an injury during an ice or snow storm where it’s difficult to get out, or to have an ambulance respond? How much easier would it be if you had what was needed to allow your patient to be ambulatory? Then, when care is available, hang it back up until it’s needed again – they’re reusable.

Ryan is currently healing from an injury of his own. His involves the collar-bone and shoulder region (bike crash), so it doesn’t limit him walking around. But I was reminded how long those type of injuries take to heal, the pain associated with them, and the inconveniences they cause doing simple day-to-day activities.

The other thing I plan to add to our medical preps is a folding military-style stretcher. I thought about this again when I read Dr. Bones’ post, Thoughts on Patient Transport. A stretcher is in a somewhat different category since it’s used to carry an injured person, and may not be as necessary because it can be improvised. But we know that people are going to get hurt and that they are going to need to be moved; so we may as well prepare for it.

I know this isn’t brain surgery, but frequently we don’t think about preparing for medical injuries beyond having a first aid kit. As I’ve stressed before, in a collapse situation people who aren’t used to physical exertion will be forced to be much more active and injuries will happen – and they will happen more frequently.

(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep)

*A sprain is an injury to a ligament (in a joint), i.e. sprained ankle; a strain (aka as ‘pulled’) is an injury to a tendon or muscle, i.e. strained, or pulled, hamstring). For first aid treatment, remember the mnemonic: P.R.I.C.E. – protect, rest, ice, compress, elevate. Crutches, a cane, or a wheelchair will help protect the injured extremity by not putting weight on it, and allow it to rest by using it as little as possible.