Personal Safety

Because bad things happen to good people… Here is what I found works, or what I believe should improve your personal safety.

What you don’t know can ruin your day.

Radio

Fortunes are made and lost based on information exchange. How we dress on a given day might be based on weather reports. Television and radio inform us on developing news. We hear about our friends on social media and through email. Disruption of these services can indeed “ruin” our day; that is, in normal circumstances. In a state of emergency, what you don’t know can kill you. Our reliance on the power grid, cell phones and the Internet makes us very vulnerable. A simple storm like Sandy or Katrina can take away all power distribution and communications for days, even weeks. A hurricane will wreak havoc on a large area. just look at the Philippines recently or the last tsunamis in the Pacific. We are not immune from such events just because we have been lucky so far. Have we?

Lightning storm in Bradenton Florida

Lightning storm in Bradenton Florida

Certainly the United States has been lucky. Yellowstone hasn’t blown up yet, nor has California separated from the mainland after the overdue “big-one.” Since the Civil War the country has been fairly peaceful. There was an event however a century and a half ago that would have ended civilization had it happen today. Statistically it will. Actually there are about one in eight chances that it will happen by 2020. Meteor strike? Volcanic eruption? Nope, nothing that fancy but potentially deadlier. I am referring to the solar storm of 1859. Back then it only fried telegraphs and shocked a few Morse-code operators. Today it would destroy every single microchip in it’s path. That includes those in your car, phones, computers; airplanes, satellites, the trucks that deliver food to supermarkets, everything. We would essentially be back to 1859 with the population of 2014. I won’t tell you how important it is for you to consider that just maybe you could take a few simple steps to survive the first few weeks of any natural or man-made disaster. Just Google “prepping,” thank me later. One of these steps however I know much about, and that is radio communications. Not only receiving, but also transmitting. There is nothing worse than not knowing or reporting what is going on or not being able to call for help. Is your relative on the other side of town still alive? Have you ever seen a wall full of photographs in a disaster area refugee camp?

Now, this article is not about helping your community by becoming a Ham Radio operator (though I will suggest you do) and going to meetings with a bunch of old guys who occasionally will “help” during the local walk-a-thon with handheld radios and orange jackets. They can be of tremendous help during local or regional emergencies, but in my opinion only for a limited time until generators run out of gas and looting starts. Then they won’t come to you, or you to them to send word to your relatives on the other side of the country. Nor will you have any idea of what is going on beyond your field of view. This article is about helping yourself, friends and family. It is about staying in touch with them in times of need, receiving and exchanging vital information.

This is just an introduction. The subjects I will cover include which radios to use for different situations and distances. What type of information you can convey via radio, including voice, Morse code, text, and yes, even emails, including attachments. I will talk about simple but effective antennas you can build with cheap electrical wire. Which batteries to use and why. How to recharge them without power. You will learn how you could make contacts globally for less than $100 of gear that fits in a shirt pocket and send emails without the Internet for a few hundred dollars. I will not charge you for the information.

Gil's Field Radio Station

Gil’s Field Radio Station

What do I know about this stuff and why should you listen to me? Well, I went to school for electronics back in the 80s. At the time I was also into CB radio and learned how to set-up a radio station and tune an antenna properly. I learned about propagation and how radio waves behave in regards to the ionosphere, time of day and seasons. When CB radio went out of style with the advent of cell phones I boxed up my radio, picked up a camera, became a photographer and also learned to fly. Another story… Fast forward to 2012. It became increasingly apparent to me that things were not heading in the right direction economically as well as internationally. Also being separated from my parents by thousands of miles could be a problem if communications were disrupted. I started looking into Ham radio. Of course I wasn’t going to do what most Ham operators do, namely set-up a big station in my attic with a tower in the back yard to chat about politics and other ailments after the eight-O-clock news. I wanted to find what could be used after everything fails. What could be carried in a backpack that doesn’t weigh a ton. Being able to talk to a friend three miles down the road, send a message to someone on another continent or listen to a distant radio station for news. All of this with gear that can fit in a shoebox, including antennas and batteries. I wanted something I could use for weeks, months or even years without power.

There are three levels or licenses for Amateur radio operators. Usually one starts with the Technician license, which is very easy, then upgrades to General maybe a year later. Some go as far as the “Amateur Extra” license, though not everyone passes because of the amount of material involved and the math. I studied for and passed all three exams the same day. I have built and operated many radios, all geared towards that end. I have bought and sold numerous models. Most of my antennas are home-built with materials bought at the local hardware store. My favorite radio, which I also built is the size of a pack of cigarettes and I am routinely heard five to six thousand miles away.

Weber MTR

Weber MTR

I have operated these radios while camping, even outside my favorite coffee shop. Oh, and I can decode Morse code in my head at twenty five words-per-minute. So, I do pretend to know what might work and certainly what doesn’t. But enough self-pontificating.. A lot of the information I will present has been passed down to me from ex military signal intelligence spooks who know how to set-up a portable “discreet” radio station. Notably, I need to thank my friend Ray who helped me with my Morse code speed and taught me a good deal about what works in the field. Most of my Ham friends are very knowledgeable on field radio operations. It would be too long for me to thank them all here. You know who you are.. There are no secrets in radio. There are however a lot of misconceptions. There are also as many types of radio operations as there are games using a ball. They are as different as can be. Radio prepping is one of them and a fairly new concept.

Chapter two will deal with the minimum set-up to communicate with friends in the same town and also cover short-wave radios for news reception. Both can be done at very low cost and a Ham radio license isn’t necessarily required. That will include CB radios and handhelds of different kinds. I will assume the reader knows nothing about radio or even electricity. I will also explain how to protect your radios against strong magnetic fields generated by solar storms, lightning or God forbid, nuclear explosions. You could potentially stop reading there if you have no special interest in radio or no family living beyond about twenty miles.

Handhelds

Handhelds

Chapter three will move to regional and global communications for which a Ham radio license is required; again easy to obtain by anyone above the age of six who can read and for about $15. I will also write about easy to set-up antennas that are practically invisible. You will learn the peculiarities of the different frequencies or bands and how to take advantage of them with different modes of communications.

Chapter four will dwell into portable radios and why Morse code is probably the best mode for preppers. I will give you tips on how to learn the code efficiently by avoiding all the mistakes I made! Batteries and solar charging will be explored. This is my favorite mode of operation and I am looking forward to sharing this information.

Morse Code

Morse Code

Chapter five will be about data modes and sending emails. I will explain how you can connect a radio to your computer to send text or any type of file. This is beyond portable operations but could be extremely useful for short to medium term emergencies. Questions and suggestions are welcome.

CH2

I clearly remember twenty years ago, or ten, even five. I did not then have any of the concerns I have today. The future was bright with no clouds on the horizon here in the United States. I don’t think the world is going to end this December twenty first, or next year for that matter. The Mayan who wrote his calendar must have been tired that night, and his wife was complaining about how much time he spent on it, so he probably just thought it went far enough and left it at that.. I am no doomsday preacher.

There is a certain unease among us however. The media is broadcasting multiple disaster and prepping shows. The economy isn’t going better. Five years ago, I had five ounces of gold, bought for less than $1500. Today, those coins would be worth close to $10,000. Only five years later! I am still hitting myself on the head for selling them before the increase. We may wonder why the value of the dollar hasn’t gone down by a factor of six or seven. The government is trampling on the constitution. One only has to watch foreign agencies news, not the dog-and-pony show we have here, to start worrying. Watching CSPAN can be more entertaining than “Doomsday Preppers,” and certainly scarier. Five years ago, there were few signs of trouble, none before September 2001.

So, you have a bit of food and water stored for rainy days, a generator with a few gallons of gas, your bug-out bag, and a .22 with a case of ammo. Will you be missing anything when disaster strikes? Yes, information. With the power down, no cell phones, land lines or Internet, you might be in total darkness has to what caused the blackout. Should you stay put? Is it safe? If you need to leave, where should you go and what route is the safest? If you happen to be away from your family, how do you get in touch with them? Where are they? Are they all right? Information in a disaster situation is crucial to you and your family’s survival.

I bought my first radio in 1980. It was a forty-channel CB. Back then, conversations were interesting and civil on the 11m band (27Mhz). You could talk to your neighbors, make new friends. People were helping each others. Truckers used them to inquire about road conditions and get directions in unfamiliar towns. Sure, we had some jerks, but the Citizen Band was self-policing. Ten years later it had changed dramatically. I worked one winter as a security guard, and wanted something to keep me awake at night on the job. So, I installed a 200+ channels CB radio in my car. There was still some good conversations going on, but mostly, CB had become pretty lame. I did manage to make a contact across the Atlantic once, using SSB (single Side Band), but usually, range was around ten miles.

A CB radio (AM) today is a poor choice of emergency communication in the U.S. Range is typically only a few miles and forty channels get crowded very fast. Radios are cheap however, and it is certainly better than nothing. “CBers” are no longer organized in clubs. Base stations are rare these days. Even truckers have replaced their CBs by cell phones and computers. The level of the conversations is rather low; you might not want your children to play with a CB radio… It is unfortunate, but the Citizen Band has become the black sheep of the radio world. One exception which could make CB a good choice is if you buy an SSB mode radio. Single Side Band is comprised of USB (upper) and LSB (lower) side bands. These modes offer more range, and even “skips” on the ionosphere, for very long range communications. Conversations on SSB are definitely more civil than on AM. Even with the legal 12W maximum power, you can reach stations thousands of miles away.

You probably own at least a pair of FRS (Family Radio Service) handheld radios. They are very limited in range, two to three miles typically. Do not believe the advertised ranges of twenty or more miles. That may work over water with perfect conditions, but don’t count on it. GMRS has slightly more range, but requires a license (no exam). They are useful to keep track of kids and family members within a small perimeter. Given their prices, you should get a couple pairs. Handhelds would be very useful for a neighborhood patrol, though anyone can listen in. There are better options, but in a pinch FRS can be a good thing to have.

There is no radio solution available to the public without a license that will provide you with enough range to contact anyone beyond line-of-sight. While receiving is important, and having a good short-wave receiver is a must, you still might need to call for help or inquire about a situation, or just contact a distant family member. The solution: HAM radio. Licenses require an exam, but it is easy to get started with a Technician license. It will only cost you a bit of study time and $15.

Now, a bit of technical information is needed. Transceivers (transmitter/receiver) are basically of two types, those that can broadcast beyond line-of-sight (thousands of miles) and those that usually can’t. It all depends on frequency. 6 meter wavelength and shorter are very good for local and medium range communications, from a few miles to around 200 miles. Longer wavelengths, up to 160 meters can bounce off the ionosphere around the earth. 6 meters is smack in the middle. Sometimes it will bounce, and sometimes not, but it does it all, hence it’s nickname, “the magic band.” The most common is the 2m band. As a “prepper,” I am mostly interested in the 2m and 10m bands, with my eyes on 6m. Longer than 10m, and you run into antenna length problems. Antennas become very long, and need to be strung horizontally between poles or trees. Not very discreet or practical in a survival situation, though possible with a bit of ingenuity. The basic technician license allows you to transmit on 10m and above 30Mhz, which includes the “magic” 6m band, 2m and 70cm.

By becoming a licensed HAM operator, you also become a valuable member of your community who can provide information when every other means are down. You would be the first to know what’s going on.

For anyone wanting to buy a do-it-all radio, I would suggest looking at the Yaesu FT-817ND. It is a small portable, multi-band transceiver which runs on batteries or external power. As far as handhelds, look into a couple 2m units like the Yaesu FT-270R for local traffic. Those are though and waterproof down to three feet for thirty minutes! At around $135, they are a bargain. I own one and I am very happy with it. You don’t need a license to buy them, but you can’t legally transmit, though anyone can legally use any radio in the United States for a life-or-death emergency. You would be missing out though by not getting a license, being it so easy and cheap, and get to know your fellow local radio operators.

As a prepper, you should have a spare and store it inside a grounded metal box for EMP protection (MUST READ article!). Make sure the radio is inside a dry cardboard box inside the metal one, and none of it’s parts touches the metal. Surplus military ammo cans are great for that purpose. I would also include a solar charger.

A radio is as important as your Coleman stove or rifle. You might not want to get into local HAM conversations, or even long distance contacts, but when you need potentially life-saving information, you will be glad you have one stored in that ammo can in the garage and that you know how to set it up and use it…

No, it’s not a purse! And I thought “Coyote Brown” would be a somewhat manly color.. We all carry a number of items in our pockets or some kind of a bag. If you had a purse, what would you carry in it? Yes, I am addressing men here, but this article does apply to both genders. What essential items should everyone carry? (Scroll down for a video!)

As a pilot, I have studied how accidents happen. They don’t. An accident is almost always a succession of small incidents leading to a life-threatening situation. Stop the chain reaction early, and you won’t even know how you could have died that day.

In selecting what items you should carry on your person, you should ask yourself what could help you turn a potential major problem into a minor annoyance. Nobody wants to carry a backpack full of survival items all day. Though you should have one in the trunk of your car, as soon as you step away from it, you are left with nothing useful. Basic human needs are water, fire, food, shelter and safety. As the size of your bag diminishes to that of a small pouch or an already overloaded purse, you must select your essential items very carefully:

Water: Obviously, you are not going to carry water in a pouch. A gallon jug in the car is a must, but carrying any on you might prove difficult. You should however have a small bottle of water purification tablets. The odds that you might have to use it in your lifetime are slim (because you have a water filter in your bug-out bag, right?), but in a hot climate, exerting yourself, water can be a life saver. It only takes your car to break down on an isolated road and a few miles of walking to become dehydrated, and that can be the first step in our accident progression sequence. I remember a show on television where a couple crashed their jeep in New Mexico, away from the road. They reached a river, but the woman refused to drink for fear of contamination. Her husband did drink and got sick. He recovered nicely. She is on dialysis with permanent kidney damage. Water purification pills or a few drops of bleach would have made a world of difference in the way she lives now.

Fire: A small Bic lighter will serve you well. I don’t care if you smoke or not, that isn’t the point. I complement it with a magnesium fire starter, which can start a fire in almost any condition and will last for years.

Food:I do not carry any food. A candy bar might be a good thing to have if you need a short boost of energy, but I choose not to have one, as I would be tempted to eat it daily! I certainly don’t want to pack a reserve around my waist, so, no candy for me. If you have the self-control to pack a protein bar and only eat it in an emergency, by all means, do so.

Shelter:We limit ourselves here to staying dry. A tiny plastic emergency poncho or space blanket will protect you from the rain. Being soaked can quickly lead to hypothermia. If you need to get somewhere on foot, you probably have enough concerns as it is without added discomfort.

Safety:Physical safety also means health. If you need medication on a daily basis, make sure you have a few pills on you at all times (Don’t forget your prescription). I also highly suggest a small first-aid kit, including a good antiseptic like Betadine or equivalent. If not for yourself, you might be able to help someone else; especially when kids are around, a few band-aids are always welcome.

Other:Get some cordage. I suggest 550 paracord, at least 25ft. A few nylon tie-wraps are great too. Another must-have item is a pocket knife, which you will carry, of course, in your pocket. I like the small Spyderco folding knives with a 2-1/2″ blades. They are very handy and super-sharp right out of the box. Don’t forget a flashlight. Prefer the LED type, with at least 100 lumens. They usually require two CR123 batteries. Mine is a Streamlight, with two power settings and a strobe mode, great for self-defense.

Depending on where you live and what you do, you might want to add specific items to your pouch. Remember that if it’s too big or too heavy, you won’t take it with you, which defeats it’s purpose. I used to carry a few of the above in my pockets, or in bigger bags I might happen to carry. I almost never had them all on me. Finally, I decided to get a Maxpedition pouch and put them all together. Have a look:



While reading my original article to make sure I didn’t forget anything for my new BOB, I was glad to note that everything I wrote then, in my opinion, is still good advise today. That said, an upgrade was needed. For one, I started to use items from my bag, which soon ended-up pretty much empty. Not good for a bag you are supposed to grab in an emergency. Also, while the cheap Walmart-special hydration backpack I used was adequate, I decided that a bit more volume would allow some important items to be added to my list (see below). So, I bit the bullet and ordered an Eberlestock X3 Lodrag. Eberlestock acquired a good reputation from our military because of their build quality and built-in rifle scabbard. When extended, the scabbard will effectively hide a carbine completely while keeping it withing easy reach, without removing the pack. It will also accommodate up to two 3L hydration bladders. The best way to show you the pack is with a video, so there it is:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/-qs_0G_Gr_8" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Eberlestock X3 LoDrag

Eberlestock X3 LoDrag

The pack is really well made. I was worried about the nylon, but it feels solid, better than the run-of-the-mill fabric you find on cheap packs. I expected a bit more volume, but the rifle scabbard robs the bag of quite a few cubic inches. Of course you can use it for anything you want.. I am very happy with it (color is dark-earth).

Here are the planned contents, which I might change:

You will note that many items are from MidwayUSA. I am not associated with them other than being a customer. I just find it more convenient to buy from one reliable source. Midway has always been fast to ship, and their site is easy to use. I will be making another video after gathering everything on the list; hopefully it will all fit! If you have any remarks, questions or suggestions, please comment below. Thank you.

Us humans are masters of self-deception. I know organic food proponents who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.. The same applies to disaster preparedness. If you deem yourself a “prepper,” (I learned the word only recently), you can’t pick and choose your favorite areas of preparation. Our goal is survival, so health should be our main concern. That implies a healthy diet and regular exercise. You might have the best gear, food and weapons, but if your body isn’t ready, your chances of survival are slim.

I see many individuals storing gear and food in huge amounts, but disregarding the possibility of a bug-out. I am guilty of the opposite extreme. I have no food stored and all my preparations emphasize mobility. That is something I need to balance with enough supplies to stay put for at least a month. It wasn’t so much of a problem when I was single, but now I need to think about a few people. If you must leave your house in a hurry, you need to know what to take with you, and there might be no time then to run around frantically stuffing everything in a bag. Here in Florida, tornadoes and hurricanes come to mind. There might be nothing to come back to, and in case of a tornado, no time to gather essential items. On the other hand, leaving your house might not be a safe option, in which case you need enough food, water, and probably a generator with enough gas. You should be ready for both eventualities.

I remember an interview on the eve of Y2K. The journalist asked a man and a woman if they were prepared and how. The woman had stores of food, water, gear, and was well prepared. The man just said “I bought a gun so I can steal her stuff.” You should have seen her face! She had prepared in the areas she was comfortable with and probably didn’t like guns. Another perfect example of selective preparedness.

Being prepared makes you a target for those who are not. Most survivalists are probably armed, and for good reasons. Do they practice enough? Self-defense is an all-encompassing endeavor. Having a weapon is essential, but can you defend yourself without it? Relying on it is self-deception. You are probably more likely to be caught off guard than ready. Yes, that means you need to practice a real martial art (read my other posts to understand what I mean by “real”), sweat and endure pain and fear on a weekly basis. It’s not comfortable and that is why most people don’t do it. It also means to be in good enough shape to move your body efficiently, more sweat, daily..

I would rather be a little prepared for everything rather than highly so in one area. Specialization works in civilized times when trading services is possible. During emergencies, being a jack-of-all-trades will serve you better. We like to be comfortable and avoid doing things that bother us. The most successful people are those who can consistently transcend that behavior.

If you are reading this, I probably don’t need to convince you that you should have an emergency management plan and the supplies to implement it. What I am suggesting is that you examine your plan for missing preparations you conveniently forget about or reschedule to the near future (never).

Members of your family might not care at all about your “antics” and have no idea about what is in those plastic bins you have in the garage. Women are excellent self-deceivers, and kids only care about their world and video games. They might even laugh at you. You are the Lone Ranger here. There might be areas of preparedness that you are avoiding because of what they might say. Be reasonable while making sure you cover everything. Consider that if they say that you have too much stuff, they are probably right. Don’t go from “prepper” to hoarder.

Preparedness shouldn’t occupy all your thoughts and time, but realize that there is a lot to consider, and a substantial investment to make to cover all your bases. The good news is, once you are ready and organized, you only need to keep track of expiration dates on perishable items (including batteries and gas), which doesn’t take much time at all. As to a healthy diet, exercise and martial arts, you will probably gain years of active lifespan. Isn’t that what it’s all about?