Monday, May 20, 2013

Daily Briefing for Monday, May 20, 2013

Psalms 46:10

"Be still, and know that I am God."

Tonight, this verse seems quite appropriate, given the last 24 hours in Oklahoma.  We all struggle to understand why such horrific events happen, especially when they result in the death of children.

I've often wondered whether it is easier for people of faith to deal with these situations that is for agnostics and atheists.  I suspect that in the end, we all find our own way to mentally comprehend and emotionally heal from such events, regardless of our choice of faith.

One of the things that heartens me at times like this is knowing that there are others who disrupt their work and personal lives to provide assistance to others in need.  As we see first responders and other emergency volunteers rush into harm's way this evening, we take comfort knowing that people will be there to help us when we need it.

Be still.  The Lord is with us.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Daily Briefing for Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Paul's note - Last summer, I asked Jordan to share some of his thoughts on hurricane preparedness, having lived in South Florida for essentially all of his life.  This is a reprint of last year's article.

He and I did time together at the University of Miami School of Law many years ago. This isn't your traditional "get some bottled water and a battery radio" guidance. This is far more in depth; you won't read many of these things on the basic preparedness websites. I appreciate his contribution to the body of literature on this subject.

Jordan From The 305 On Hurricane Preparedness

Paul asked me to pen a guest column about preparing for hurricanes. I have a little experience in the area, having spent virtually my entire life in the suburbs just south of Miami, Florida, having lived through three direct hits (Andrew in 1992, Katrina and Wilma in 2005) and having gone through the drill many other times only thankfully to see the storms veer away at the last moment. My hurricane plan is the product of 13 years of thought and practice. This column is NOT a recitation of that plan. Rather, I will try to hit some highlights, which hopefully are not new to you, but if they are, hopefully will augment your already-robust hurricane preparation plan.

First, two very general, but important, concepts about storm prep:

Make certain you have sufficient quantities of the necessary supplies (batteries, food, water, etc.) before any watches and warnings are posted. This especially applies to any needed medications; always make sure you have a week or more supply at hand. Fill up at least one automobile’s tank with gas when a watch is issued for your area. Also, well in advance of any storm make sure needed equipment (drills for installing or removing shutters, lanterns, etc.) works and is charged or has sufficient batteries to run for an extended period. If like me you are stay prepared throughout the year, hurricane season involves no big gearing up, except maybe for a few extra bags of ice in the freezer. If not, make sure your list is all checked off by the beginning of the season and that you keep an eye on the level of needed consumables. The absolute last place you want to be right before the storm hits is out the streets fighting the crowds for the scarce supplies left. We’ve all seen those images on TV; don’t be one of those people.

Have in place a methodical, organized plan for prepping your house, inside and out. Order your activities to conserve time and effort. If you have the manpower, divide up the activities. For example, my general plan is as follows: (i) plug in all needed devices (phones, laptops, etc.) to charge; (ii) close the accordion and colonial shutters that cover most of our windows first, securing the majority of the openings, (iii) clean off the patio and clean out the yard, placing the items inside the house, (iv) install the panels over the windows and doors on our patio; (v) put up the panels over the other doors (always leave two exits, one of which can be a garage door you can manually open); (vi) do one last sweep of the outside and (vii) help with the inside prep my wife and kids have already started. Naturally, the order of your house prep needs to fit your situation, including manpower available, size and complexity of your living arrangements, and time available before the storm approaches. Start your prep as far in advance as practicable; we usually start once the storm warning is posted. You want to be fully completed, inside and out, at least an hour or two before the first outer bands reach your area.

Here are a few things I highly recommend you either add to your storm prep plan if they’re not part of it already:

  • Take photos of your house, inside and out, AFTER you have completed your preparations. You now have a record of your property’s condition right before landfall and proof that you put up your shutters and did all other things required by your windstorm policy. Keep the camera charged and ready for the“after” photos, in the event your house or any of your property sustains damage. Take photos of the damage as soon it is safe to go outside, to help preserve your claim. I would also take photos of any emergency repairs you need to make as well.
  • Keep PDFs of all important documents (insurance policies, etc.) in an easy-to-find folder on your PC. Before the storm hits, place that folder on portable storage media (CD, DVD, SD card, flash drive) and store it safely (preferably in a waterproof container in your“go bag”). This involves scanning and properly filing the docs as they come in; I scan all important documents because I’m more likely to find the PDF on my PC than the paper original in the stack in the corner of my office.
  • Clean up your house. Run the dishwasher. Run the washing machine. Pick up stuff off of the floors. A clean house is easier and safer to navigate in the dark (you don’t want to trip on a toy left out and turn your ankle while the storm is raging; been there, done that). Most likely you will be without power for several days; piles of dirty dishes and dirty clothes begin to stink pretty quickly in a hot and shuttered house (trust me on this one).

  • Charge up all needed electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops) and leave them plugged in as long as possible before the storm hits. Make sure all battery-powered devices (radios, lanterns, fans) have good batteries and work after being in storage for months. Keep an old corded phone handset and plug it in the phone jack in or close to the room where you intend to ride out the storm; our modern cordless phones stop working once the power goes out.
  • Pick out the few plug-in devices you will use during the storm while you have power (we use one TV and one laptop) and unplug all the rest from their wall sockets. As soon as power goes out, unplug those you were using as well. TVs, computers, etc. can’t fried by a surge if they aren’t plugged in.
  • Turn your AC down really low and run it constantly for several hours before the storm hits. Getting the temperature inside as low as possible will keep things comfortable for a bit longer once the power goes out. Don’t worry about the added electrical usage; you’ll probably recoup it and more for the few days you’ll be without power.
  • Keep a “rabbit ears” TV antenna in storage. Most of us get our TV programming through either satellite or cable services, both of which are susceptible to disruption by a storm. While you may not be able to watch your favorite premium-tier programs over the air, you will be able to keep informed about recovery efforts, local alerts, etc. after the storm until your provider gets things back online (which could take weeks if you have a downed dish or cable line). You don’t need a special antenna for the recently-mandated digital standard; just make certain your TV has a digital tuner (I believe most TVs made in the last 5 years or so do). The antenna also helps out if, as recently happened to us, your provider and a local station get in a contractual squabble (we lost our local FOX affiliate for a week on DirecTV during the NFL playoffs but I saw the games in beautiful HD using my antenna).

  • Once the lights go out, don’t use an electric lantern in each room. Find the place in your house (usually a hallway) where one decent lantern will provide ample light to safely guide the way for the areas where you need to be (mostly the bedrooms). Have everyone carry a flashlight, just in case they need to go off the lighted path or the primary lantern fails. Have a backup lantern ready. Using one lantern at a time stretches your battery supply, which, given the current state of our electric grid, you may need to last for a while after a storm of any strength.
  • Put a cooler with ice, bottled water, sports drinks, etc. in a convenient spot in the house and use it once the power goes out instead of opening and closing your now-dead fridge and freezer. You’ll have to ditch everything anyways (leading to a really interesting post-storm smorgasbord meal cooked on the gas grill), but keeping the doors closed helps preserve the food a bit longer. We also keep many frozen water bottles of different sizes, which we stick in the fridge to help keep it cold once the power goes out. They also work really well cooling you down when applied to the back of your neck, a welcome feeling after hours of cutting up and moving downed tree limbs and other debris the day after the storm.

Here are a few things I recommend not doing:
  • Don’t throw your patio furniture in the pool. It sounds like a good idea but it is a massive bitch to drag it out of the deep end a few days later in the pounding sun. Find a spot for it in your garage or elsewhere in your house where it will fit.
  • Don’t tape up your windows. You should have hurricane shutters and/or impact windows. Making pretty patterns with tape on your windows offers no protection and makes an utter mess of your windows that is very hard to remove, especially after being baked on by the sun for a few weeks or months.

  • Don’t have a “hurricane party.” Once you’re hunkered down, waiting for the inevitable, do not give in to temptation to get plastered. So much can (and very well may) happen during a storm that you will need your full faculties. A hurricane is not the time for poor decision-making due to alcohol. I’m not saying you can’t have a post-prep beer or drink, but keep it light, for yourself and your family.

The news folks prattle on as to whether this year will be a good or bad hurricane season; I always say that “a bad hurricane season is when a storm hits you.” So, I wish everyone a good hurricane season and hope you don’t have to put any of the above into action. However, it is always important to be prepared, because odds are it will be a bad season for at least some of us.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Daily Briefing for Monday, May 6, 2013

On Television Tonight Talking About Prepping

Well, if I hadn't outed myself sufficiently before now, I did it in a big way on the 10 o'clock news this evening.  KEYE ran this story, featuring yours truly.

I'm sure a number of you are wondering why I'd go on television and provide details about my plans, violating every OPSEC rule in the book.  The truth of the matter is that I'm quite open about my efforts.  Many, many years ago, I decided to be out and proud so to speak.  There were plenty of folks who were both extreme and vocal in their preparedness efforts.  I felt like there should be someone who lived like I lived - in the 'burbs, with a normal job, with regular responsibilities - encouraging others to prepare.

For those of you who aren't sold on my strategy yet, think of it this way.  After a two to three week emergency - like a post-hurricane environment - if you're still able to function in your own home, people are going to rapidly pick up on the fact you stocked up, especially if they didn't.  No one seems to get that point: by being prepared in a grid down environment, you will invariably out yourself.

Whether to be open about your efforts is a personal choice, and I respect those who do so quietly.  I understand their concerns.  Hell, I may be wrong for outing myself in the end.  But someone has to take the lead here, set an example, and show the world that you can be prepared and not live in a buried shipping container 80 miles west of No Where, Texas.

One final note - the reporter was fantastic and really took the story seriously, and for that I will always be grateful.  This is a credit not only to her professionalism and objectivity, but also to the fact that prepping is becoming more mainstream now.  We are the trendy ones now! 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Daily Briefing for Sunday, May 5, 2013

Foot Coming Off The Accelerator

As the legislatures in the states to which I am assigned enter their last month of session, I can feel in many ways that my work pace is slowing down, which is good.  I really like my job, but the busy season is both busy and a full season.  Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana remain in session, all of whom will shut it down around late May and early June.

I'm already making plans as to what I need to do this summer once we're out of session.  My list of projects, both work and preparedness related, is starting to get long.  But I am looking forward to taking on both.

On West

I had just posted my last blog piece the evening of April 17.  Moments later, I learned of the explosion in West, Texas. 

With two disasters hours apart - Boston and West - we are once again reminded of the need to be prepared in any environment in which we may find ourselves.  The small town of West, with a population of 2,674, suffered a catastrophic explosion, killing a large portion of its volunteer fire department roster.

I visited West the following Sunday in my role as an advocate for the insurance industry.  I wanted to see first hand how insurers were doing at their mobile claims sites.  I was fortunate enough to hook up with Brian, who regularly volunteers his time with Team Rubicon, when I first got to town.  Brian arrived in town within hours of the explosion, and his group was tasked with setting up a command center for the Texas Department of Emergency Management.  Over 72  hours later, Brian was still on scene, helping transition emergency management duties to the state employees.

There are lessons we can learn from this small town.  We should banish from our minds that "bad things cannot happen here," wherever "here" is.  Disasters can happen in Boston, in West, and any town in between.  We should learn to be prepared to deal with emergencies at any time, in any location.  This means making sure we have first aid supplies on us and the training to use them.  It also means we need to be prepared to be self-sufficient for a period of time.

Prepping Fallacies

SWAT Magazine has become a prominent voice for preparedness over the last few years.  They have not shied away from taking positions rather controversial to this community, and I appreciate that eve though I don't always agree.

The magazine's June issue is one of many issues that will no doubt stir up some controversy.  In an article entitled "Prepping Fallacies," writer Brent T. Wheat raises seven points of contention with his fellow peppers, to wit:

1. There is no conspiracy. Wheat unloads a high capacity magazine of vitriol on this, the first point of his article.  "This point will undoubtedly elicit some drool-soaked mail," he begins, "but I stand firm in my conviction - there is no grand plan to control your life."

He then asserts "there are small groups of bad people conspiring in government, the media, religion, banking, [and] large corporations."   His theory is that despite these small group conspiracies, the world is simply too random of a place to foster large scale ones.  In his mind, these groups are only focused "on their own self-interest instead of yours."

Wheat's glaring contradiction - claiming there are no conspiracies except "for small groups who are conspiring in government, the media, religion, banking, [and] large corporations" - completely undermines the point he is trying to assert here.  Regardless of whether you believe in "conspiracy theories" as designated by the intelligentsia, I don't think you get to claim there are no conspiracies except for little ones. 

And by the way, for those of you who don't believe there are not small groups of powerful people meeting quietly, making decisions that affect all of us, I suggest you spend twenty minutes this weekend to watch this CBC News documentary and reach your own conclusions (thanks to Jerid for sharing):

2. The world isn't going to go poof!  I tend to agree with his assertion that any full blown doomsday scenario won't happen overnight.  Then he adds this gem: "the obvious exception would be large (typically urban) areas of 'have-nots.'  Considering they often torch their own neighborhoods merely to celebrate playoff games, you don't want to be within the same zip code on the day the government subsidy checks don't arrive."  

I fear his exception may swallow the rule: government assistance recipients are no longer found in a handful of urban zip codes.  When you consider the burgeoning Social Security disability and retiree rolls across all socioeconomic groups, and the utter lack of preparedness in even nice zip codes (the dumpster diving for food right after Hurricane Sandy comes to mind), if there should be a disruption in government benefits, the trouble won't be limited to the bad side of town.

3. You won't go it alone.  He nails this one.  You will need a team.  Doing it alone will be virtually impossible.

4. Stop pestering people.  I guess some of you out there proselytizing to create converts to Prepperism.  If you are, stop doing that.  Everyone hates that guy.  Just lead by example. 

5. Don't let prepping become a hobby.  I think what he's saying here is not to become consumed by your efforts.  For some of us, that train left a long time ago.  I do think he's right here, up to a point - to the extent you can take up hobbies like gardening, electrical projects, amateur radio, your hobbies can help hone your preparedness efforts.

6. Look at the big picture.  This is another point where his message loses me, but I think what he's trying to say here is to keep things simple and avoid the exotic.  Having a super-duper alternative medicine in case you become infected by some rare flu strain may be a good idea, but if in doing so you are neglecting more basic preparedness efforts, it's best to reconsider your priorities.

7. Stop worrying and enjoy life.  Columnist Dave Barry once wrote "there's a fine line between a hobby and a mental illness."  There's a lot of truth to that.  And I agree with Wheat on this point as well - the point of preparing is so that you can enjoy life, with minimal worry and fear.  If you constantly live in fear because of your preparedness efforts, you're defeating the purpose of preparing in the first place.

Boost TV Ratings - Put A Prepper On During Sweeps!

I did an interview here at the house with a local TV station this past week on suburban preparedness.  They are running the episode this week in an effort to improve their odds during the quarterly "sweeps" week which begins today.  I am told it the interview will be on line as well.  I will share it with you when I have more information.