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right now

The Rule of Right Now.

By: Chris Warren

This summer there has been so many natural and man made calamities that I’ve become desensitized and hardly notice them anymore. There is no way to completely avoid being a victim, but there are plenty of ways the average person can, right now, decrease the odds of being involved in a tragedy and increase the odds of living through it if they are.

I call it the Rule of Right Now and here’s how it works: Wherever you are physically located while reading this, stop for a moment and look around you. Ask yourself: What is the most likely emergency/disaster event that could happen to me? And what is my plan if it happens right now? The Rule of Right Now states that we should train ourselves to always be aware of what could happen and have some kind of plan for dealing with it.

If you are at home in a safe neighborhood, coming up with a scenario may be difficult. That is the exact it can’t happen here complacency that makes victims unwitting participants in their own misfortune. Getting your head into right now requires some practice, and if you feel uncomfortable with the process, then you’re probably on the correct path.

The biggest barrier to being ready is denial. Denial creates at least as many victims as the tragedy itself.

The Rule of Right Now is universal. It goes beyond acute personal emergencies (such as a fire breaking out in your house) to very serious, widespread disasters that can effect an entire region or country (such as an economic crash). The biggest barrier to being ready is denial. Denial creates at least as many victims as the tragedy itself. A majority of people do not put even the smallest thought into what they would do if something horrible happened because they refuse to accept that anything horrible can happen in the first place.

It’s important to understand that the Rule of Right Now should not be interpreted as an endorsement for paranoia or an expectation that we should obsess over every conceivable disaster. Paranoia is a barrier, a distraction, to preparedness. It’s not sensible to be concerned with way out there scenarios that have a cosmically low probability of happening at the expense of ignoring obvious hazards. I personally know people who are think they are bad ass survivalists prepared for a Mad Max style societal collapse but do not have a functional spare tire in their car!

Every single time I board an airplane I memorize how many rows away and how many seats over the nearest two emergency exits are from where I am sitting. It’s not enough to glance at a card or look around the cabin and passively think, oh yeah, it’s over there, with no thought as to how I would find it if I could not see it. I also take notice of who is sitting between me and the exits. Even if completely blinded by smoke or darkness or injury, I will greatly improve my chances of escape by “counting” my way to an exit. That is how the Rule of Right Now is supposed to work. It does not require deep thought or intense training. It’s about having a thoughtful, controlled, predetermined response to plausible incidents.

Situational awareness is the act of knowing who and what is around you at all times. The Rule of Right Now goes a step further: You also have to contemplate what could happen and how to react to it. In my airplane example, I come up with a clear plan to get to the exit, as opposed to having only a generic awareness of where the exit is and calling it good enough.

Being prepared for disaster does not have to involve stockpiling guns and freeze dried food (although I strongly recommend doing exactly that if you are able). It also means paying attention and having a plan at all times. It means not having one’s head in the sand, nor consuming oneself with an unlikely future while overlooking the very real possibilities of today. Before anyone sees next time, they must first find a way to get through Right Now.

Amateur Radio Is A Voice Through The Chaos

By: Chris Warren.

A few weeks ago the tiny nation of Nepal experienced two major earthquakes that killed thousands and left tens of thousands, nearly all of whom are poor and didn’t have much in the first place, homeless, injured, and desperate. The world responded with aid, but with Nepal’s communications infrastructure crumbled and broken, rescuers turned to the only communications medium that has never been known to fail because it has no formal infrastructure and does not require commercial power: amateur radio.

The average person thinks amateur (ham) radio is some offbeat anachronism their grandfathers dabbled in. They would be be surprised to know that it is still vibrant and thriving across all age levels. Even today, with modern satellites and fiber optic cables and cell towers all over the place, amateur radio still reigns supreme as the one and only unbreakable worldwide network still chugging along when a calamity takes the high tech stuff offline. It has no peers and no substitutes. There is nothing else even sort-of close.

Amateur radio is remarkable not only for its amazing utility, but even more for the people behind the signals who respond to trouble. They are ordinary citizens stepping up as unpaid volunteers using their own equipment to help people they will likely never meet. Within minutes of the Nepal earthquake, ham operators in India we relaying messages from the disaster area to the outside world. Organized rescuers and the government were depending on the hams because nothing else was working.amateur radio

Here in the United States, amateurs have answered the call when Hurricanes Katrina & Sandy struck our shores as well as for wildfires and floods. On a lesser scale, amateur radio operators are key players in providing communications and support for countless large public events such as parades and marathons. Amateur radio is considered so important, many hospitals and public safety agencies have installed ham equipment at their facilities so it will be at the ready when the unthinkable happens…and the unthinkable has and will happen.

Amateur radio has a low barrier to entry. Anyone who can pass a fairly easy test can be a licensed operator. There is no age limit. From there, some people go all out with elaborate stations costing tens of thousands of dollars. Others simply want basic personal communications and own nothing more than a $50 handheld radio. Amateur radio can be as complex or as simple as your interest and wallet allows.

When I was in junior high, I talked my parents into letting me get a CB radio. All my friends were on CB; it was the social media of its day. It was a lot of fun, but yapping with the locals is interesting for only a little while. At the age of fifteen I earned my amateur operator’s license and scraped up enough cash for a used Heathkit radio and a busted up antenna I had to repair myself to make it useable. Without any internet, I was soon chatting with Asia and Europe and Africa from my bedroom in the middle of the USA. I wasn’t sure of what I was doing, but I knew it was cool. To me it never gets old. Decades later, I am still an active operator and I still feel the same excitement I had as a teenager.

The main problem with modern communications technology is that it depends on many interconnected things to work right, and it always breaks when it is most badly needed. Technology has not been able to come up with anything as reliable or simple as amateur radio. Without the burden of complicated infrastructure or multiple points of failure, ham radio can reach out through any adversity. Earthquakes, hurricanes, ships at sea in peril, tornadoes, floods, forest fires, blizzards, riots, wars…amateur radio is always a soothing voice bringing order to the chaos

Graphic courtesy businessinsider.com

A Drought of Wisdom.

By: Chris Warren.

In California they are facing a drought the likes of which make it seem like something from a science fiction movie. Governor Jerry Brown has the thoughtful wisdom to mandate everyone cut their water consumption by 25% on top of already aggressive conservation measures. Being the regulatory labyrinth that it is, California even has a state law that prohibits restaurants from serving water unless the guest specifically asks for it.

It seems lost on the governor that this epic hot mess is caused in no small part by liberal politics and rabid environmentalism that, in deference to wildlife, spent decades successfully halting plans to build aqueducts and dams. Jerry is going to dehydrate human Californians one glass of water at a time while tens of millions of gallons of perfectly drinkable water is flushed out to sea in order to protect a two inch long fish. By the way, would someone please ask the governor how much water all those illegal aliens in California’s sanctuary cities use every day?

The day is not too far off when the completely predictable results of bizarro activism and legislation come to fruition. The drought will be most acute in southern California. On full display will be the pathos of stuffing nearly ten million people into a region that gets only 15 inches (38cm) of rain per year.

Very few of those ten million people will honestly be able to say they had no idea this was coming but they will undoubtedly act surprised and demand quick action. California politics has conditioned its population to an ethic of nanny state dependence and a belief that all problems can be solved with more laws and tax dollars.

No matter how far one may be from the California drought either in geography or personal interest, what happens out there matters to all of us. The reasons are almost too many to count: Environmental policy that treats humans as an invasive species. Urban planning that squeezes tens of millions of people into an area without enough resources to support them. And if you still don’t care, here’s the biggest reason why you should: California’s artificial irrigation-intensive farming methods.

A lot of what America eats comes from California, and it’s going to be more expensive and harder to find. Billions in tax dollars have been spent on schemes to fix these problems with almost no return on the investment.

When the well finally goes dry, the price of lettuce will be very far from the concerns of Los Angeles residents. They will face the hard truth of living in a place where the water that comes from hundreds of miles away…stops. Some will leave town; most will stick around and cling to their blue-state default group think of trusting that the government will save them. Social unrest and violence will reach every corner of a city that is a rough place even on a normal day.

It’s human nature to protect oneself from a problem by pretending it doesn’t exist. The issue is compounded because once it can no longer be ignored, it’s usually too late to do anything. If you knew your water was going to be switched off, say, on some random date in the next two years or so, what would you do right now? For Californians, and pretty much every American, the answer is obvious: Go about your normal business and be confident that the government has a drought plan B.

One of the incidental benefits of writing about preparation/survival topics is that there are so many real world examples to draw from as well as the assurance that almost everyone will shake their head yes in agreement with me but take no action to prepare themselves. Drought has been an underlying reason behind many conflicts, and always happens to someone else. That is why my message is accepted in the cognitive sense and rejected in the practical sense. To put it another way, everyone likes the idea of being prepared, but only as an idea. 

So once again, the rest of us have a golden opportunity to mitigate the effects of disaster in our own lives by paying attention to others’ poor judgement and taking the lesson to heart. It may come to your world in the form of a drought, flood, terrorism, or economic collapse. When fill-in-the-blank calamity arrives at your door, there will be other people watching from a safe distance reassuring themselves that kind of stuff happens to someone else.

(Graphic courtesy businessinsider.com)

SPECIAL EDITION: A Winter Storm.

By: Chris Warren.

As I discussed in my last article, being ready for emergencies is not just for whackos. The other half of the equation is that a “disaster” does not have to come in the form of an epic 300 foot tidal wave or alien invasion.

Overnight, my territory in the upper Midwest USA got clobbered by about ten inches (25 cm) of snow, with about another 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) still to come before it’s over. The temperature, which is actually above freezing right now, is expected to drop to 5F (-15c) before sundown, then the high winds will kick in.

By local standards, this storm is not a particularly big deal. Yet there are people who will face serious weather-related problems that could have been entirely avoided with even a little planning. Already, I’ve had to give some gas to a guy up the road because he ran out and needed to fill the tank on his snowblower. This storm was predicted three or four days ago. Why didn’t he fuel up when he had the chance? I just don’t get it. There will be fatalities because of this storm.

The following is a pictorial account of my life during a snow storm. I took all the photos myself.

 

IMG_1042This photo was taken from my kitchen window. It looks very pretty and serene. But beyond the backyard things get rough.

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IMG_1021This is as about as “plowed” as it’s going to get for a while. I saw very few cars on the road, only 4×4’s. Everyone else is stuck at home. Even in my big truck, it was a challenge getting around.

IMG_1041The temperature has dropped from almost 35F (1.6C) when this photo was taken about an hour ago to 31 (-0.5C) now. It also went from no wind to a modest breeze. I can’t get a wind speed because the weather instruments are frozen.  Strong winds are expected later today.

IMG_1040The weather alarm does not lie. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. As much as I trash on the government in this blog, I have to be fair and say NOAA and their network of radio stations is a very valuable and worthwhile public service.

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IMG_1037IMG_1032It is not possible to overstate the importance of amateur radio in times of mayhem. It requires almost no special infrastructure and can be run on backup power. There are hundreds of thousands of amateur radio operators in the Unites States alone. None of them are paid for their services and nearly all supply their own equipment. When there are no cell towers, internet, or landline phones, ham radio is there. Always. It’s the ultimate  “mesh network” that is almost impossible to to take down. The top photo of UHF & VHF antennas is just a portion of my rooftop communications complex. The center photo is my HF (shortwave) radio capable of worldwide communications and a 75 watt 2-meter VHF radio, with a range of about 25-30 miles (40-48 km). The VHF is especially valuable when the public communications system goes down.  All of this equipment is powered by off-grid solar energy.

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IMG_1046The snow covered angled items on the roof in the top photo are a few of my solar panels. The bottom photo is the charge controller for the solar power. The photo was taken during daylight but due to all the snow on the solar panels, the system thinks it it night time and shut itself down. The 12.8 volts on the battery means I have a good charge and should be ok…for now. We are not expected to have any real sun for a few days, so at some point I’ll probably have to change my batteries off the generator.

IMG_1048Sometimes life here can be a real pain in the ass, but it is a great feeling to be in a nation where I can make my own choices and fly or fall on my own. For my readers outside the USA, it is customary for Americans to display a flag on their homes. Flags are most often seen on patriotic holidays or in times of war, but at my house, the flag is out 24 hours a day, every day. It is the symbol of a land and people who are not easily beaten down.

 

When Your Daily Bread Is Down To Crumbs.

By: Chris Warren.

Yeah, it’s a hassle to shovel snow and be stuck at home, but most people make the best of “snow days.” Snowstorms are seldom serious disasters. We come out of the mess unharmed if not relaxed from the unplanned day off. The kids especially love it because they don’t realize they’ll have to make up the missed school day another time.

These small pleasures are unknown to people whose jobs don’t get snow days. Public safety and medical professionals come to mind first, but there is also the unseen ones who keep the lights on and the water flowing and the internet up. There’s no yippee I get a day off! moment for them. After all, we can live without pizza delivery and Starbucks for a while, but no one likes to think about what they would do if the infrastructure that makes modern life so comfortable suddenly wasn’t there.

Seeing this is as only about snow misses the point. The bigger picture is that high profile calamities both natural and man made never fail to beat the hell out of us year after year. Twenty First Summer has before attempted to stress how sensible personal disaster planning does not mean a last-minute run to the store to grab up all the milk and bread one can carry. Still, hardly anyone gets it.

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There is a well tested theory that society is “nine meals from anarchy.” What it teaches is that the average person has only three days’ worth of food & water in their house, after which time they will turn to violence to meet their needs, or become the victim of violence themselves. Government relief efforts may extend this period somewhat, but if the crisis is not resolved fairly quickly, the only endgame is chaos. I’m not making this up or exaggerating. There are dozens if not hundreds of real-world examples.

I’ve been called a kook and worse because I refuse to accept that “shit hits the fan” won’t happen, and even if it does we can all sit quietly and wait for the government to save us. What my detractors can’t see (or don’t want to see) is that the people who do the saving have their own lives and priorities to think about. There is not a single doctor, firefighter, or soldier anywhere who is going to leave his or her own loved ones vulnerable to go help a stranger. I don’t say that to be disrespectful or question their sense of duty; it’s just a simple acknowledgement that sense of duty weakens the farther one gets from their own front door. If relief workers have to make a choice between everyone else or their families, we’ll all be kicked to the curb. Can anyone blame them? I am that stranger. So are you.

The obvious choice is not to be the guy running through the store grabbing up bread as the world outside becomes unglued. Or the guy standing in a blocks-long line to get a jug of drinking water. There is a very real possibility that a crisis will last longer than the help is willing to hang around, or be so severe that help never arrives in the first place. To those who think being prepared beyond a flashlight & first aid kit is the province of paranoid nuts with a basement full of freeze dried food and more guns than a South American dictator, let me put it in terms you can relate to: Rescuers and first responders are not going to care about you more than you care about yourself, and they certainly are not going to care about you more than their own families. Plan for the unthinkable as if you were the only one who cares, because when shit gets real, you’re the only one who will.

 

When Field Day Isn’t A Drill.

By: Chris Warren.

When I was a teenager just getting started in the amateur “ham” radio hobby, a local radio club included me in an annual event called Field Day. For the unfamiliar, Field Day is a worldwide contest held on the last weekend in June. The official purpose of Field Day is to practice emergency radio communications under simulated disaster conditions. Participants set up their equipment in a park or other outdoor area, put up temporary antennas and power everything with portable generators or off-grid electricity. Once on the air, the clock is ticking and operators have twenty-four hours to make contact with as many other stations as possible. Obviously, things move quickly. There are no lengthy bull sessions. We just exchange station ID, location, and signal data. Because amateur radio is capable of worldwide communications using only radio signals and does not need any wires or the internet, Field Day is truly a global event with operators in almost every country joining in.

Individuals may participate on their own, but most Field Day activity is organized groups or clubs that have several radios going at the same time, with operators rotating in shifts for the entire 24 hour event. These “encampments” can be quite large and impressive. The stations often attract media attention and the curious public; all are warmly encouraged to ask questions and see for themselves what ham radio is all about. In addition to an emergency drill, Field Day serves the secondary purpose of community outreach.

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Anyone watching me get ready for my first Field Day might have thought I was planning a voyage to Mars. I was sixteen. I spent weeks excitedly making supply lists and collecting gear together. After successfully nagging the car out of my parents, I proceeded to cram it with hundreds of pounds of radio equipment, antennas, extension cords, spare electronic parts, tools, test instruments, batteries, a sleeping bag, lots of food and water, and something for almost every possible way-out there scenario. The older guys teased me; at the end of the event 90% of the minutiae I dragged out there went unused and was dragged right back home in the exact same unopened box I originally packed it in. Today, the idea of stuffing enough junk for a NASA mission into a two door Dodge Aspen just to spend one weekend in a suburban park less than an hour from home seems like the brain storm of an obsessed crackpot.

Decades out from that weekend, I am “the older guy” now. I still enjoy ham radio and my predisposition for always being ready for (most) anything is also as strong as ever. My methods have become more thoughtful and refined over the years even if the occasional teasing has not. What I don’t understand is that almost everyone close to me acknowledges the utility in being prepared but almost no one actually does it. There is a cognitive disconnect between thought and action.

My personal daily carry: Flashlight, Leathernam tool, gun
My personal daily carry: Flashlight, Leatherman tool, gun

The basic daily take-alongs such as keys, wallet, and a cellphone are standard for most, including me. In addition, I can’t feel ok leaving the house without a Leatherman tool (similar to a Swiss Army knife), a flashlight, and sometimes a (legal) gun. The gun is for my personal security because, as the saying goes,“when seconds count, the police are minutes away.” Fortunately I’ve never faced a problem that required a firearm to solve, but the Leatherman and the flashlight come in handy surprisingly often. My friends think I am quirky for bringing all that hardware with me, yet I use it all the time to deal with many  small but annoying problems. One time when I was hanging out with my friend and his teen son, I used my Leatherman to rip open a box, tighten a screw, and along with the flashlight, un-jam a vacuum cleaner. When my visit was over and I was leaving, the young son commented that my Leatherman was pretty cool. I told him I’d buy him one for his birthday and he replied, “Thanks, but I can’t see too many times when I would need something like that.” I was speechless.

I got involved with ham radio at a young age because it’s a fun and interesting pastime. Through my hobby, I had a loose awareness that it was important to be ready for trouble but failed to apply it in my own life. Even after participating in several Field Days, the lightbulb did not click on; it seems I too got sucked into a whirlpool of cognitive disconnect. There was no big moment of enlightenment. The lightbulb started dim and came up slowly.

As I paid more attention to current events, it became clear that overdependence on modern convinences creates a complacent society. I can see it in my own neighborhood: The lady who has just-in-time groceries delivered from an on line service. The perfectly able-bodied guy who calls a contractor for even the smallest task. The house with a stack of empty pizza boxes at the curbside every single week for trash pick up. To everyone reading this blog and thinks I’m a little whacked, I ask: If your power went out, all the store shelves were picked clean, and the gas stations were offline, how long could you get by with only what is in your home right now, and what would you do when your supplies ran out? Just sit there cold and hungry and wait for the government to save you? Steal what you need from others?

I think when normally lawful people become desparate to provide for their families no matter what they will resort to looting, probably from folks like me who had the foresight to plan ahead. Be warned that “folks like me” are heavily armed in anticipation of when the pizza box guy and his ilk run out of legitimate options. I may not be the last man standing, but I sure as hell aint going to be the first one down.

As I write this article on July 4, 2014, hurricane Arthur is beating the crap out of the American east coast. Most in the area will either ride it out on luck, resort to crime, or wait like compliant little sheep for the government to bail them out. I choose none of the above. The lessons of Field Day are not only for radio hobbyists. A week or so supply of food & water, some flashlights, and other basics is not particulary expensive. Having them ready before they are needed could mean the difference between being a survivor and being a fatality.

For another article on this topic, please check out Grandma Was A Survivalist Nutjob.

For information about how you can get involved with amateur radio, please visit these highly recommended websites:

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL)

Prepared Ham