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Disasters Happen Fast: Respond Effectively

Disasters: When it happens, it happens fast

The point of this blog is to instill a sense of urgency and recognition of the situation of civil unrest that may well soon visit itself upon many of us. Even when you have made preparations, and even if you believe you are away from where you think it may happen, please consider the advice provided here and take it into consideration. The point is not to “scare” you, but rather to replace fear of the unknown with recognition and thought. Awareness is a big part of disaster readiness. Here is a chance for you to learn from the experiences of others. I encourage you to take advantage of it.

Adobe Stock/halfpoint

The first time I jumped from a perfectly good airplane I knew exactly what I was getting into. I had trained for it and practiced all the things I needed to do to be able to participate in, and enjoy the experience of a controlled fall to the Earth from 3 thousand 500 hundred feet. It was surreal jumping from the plane and leaping for the end of a wing I knew I would never catch. The yank of the static cord was less than I expected and I looked up to see the fully expanded canape of my parachute open above me, a perfect half globe of colorful cloth. I reached up for the tabs that controlled the vents and turned a full 360 to find the wind direction, found the air field below me and faced into the wind. The horizon was far off and the corn fields surrounding the small airport in Xenia, Ohio opened below me. I had all the time in the world to just float and watch the good green Earth below me. As I floated along, I watch the fields grow larger beneath me knowing full well I would soon land, but for now all was well. Then it happened. All at once I was within 200 feet of the ground. The steady change became an insane rush. The Earth lunged at me with vicious intent and although I’m sure I had a full 30 seconds to prepare myself, in my mind I barely had time to slap my ankles and knees together and prepare for the impact I knew would come.  It was a bit of a reality check when I hit the Earth, but my training had prepared me and I survived the impact. I collected up my chute and walked to the hanger, picked up a new chute, and joined the group gathering for the next flight up. I have made other jumps, but the experience of the first time I hit the ground is still fresh in my mind 45 years later. 

Experience is a harsh teacher

As I interviewed the survivors of war and disaster over my military career, I discovered that my experience was not unique. They too had felt the weight of the world “come at them quickly” and those moments stayed with them, even haunted them, as the moment their lives changed forever. Universally the stories have a common denominator: it all happened quickly.

A mother told me of the time she was folding laundry on Sunday morning while the children slept late. Her husband had joined the other men at the head of the valley to guard against the people who had been their neighbors just weeks before. Old ethnic grudges had resurfaced and grown violent over the last year. It was just a precaution. He said he would come and get her and the girls if anything bad was going to happen. She was folding towels when her friend ran up and pounded on the door. The distraught woman screamed at her to grab her children and run. She told the woman her husband would be home soon and he would know what to do. The woman stood on her step with tears in her eyes and told her that both of their husbands were dead, the enemy was killing and burning as they came, and she had to leave NOW. She grabbed her daughters and ran. They were still in their night gowns and left the house with untied shoes and no socks. In retrospect, she regretted not taking the time to have the girls dress and grab a few things, but at the time she thought she would return to her home after the trouble had passed. She never returned to her house again.

Stop Watch

Katarina was an older woman whom I interviewed several times. She was a wealth of history and insight. She had survived the second world war better than most. Her father, rest his soul, had taught her well. To escape the Russian’s, she had taken an apartment in Berlin after the fall of the German forces. She was aware of the tensions growing between the US and the Russians, but was confident that the allied forces would keep the city as a free zone. She woke up one morning to find the Russians had put up a barbed wire barrier right outside her building. She was on the east side of it. She and her friends tried that day to get to into west Berlin. She gave up when the Russians shot people trying to cross over. She watched the permanent wall being built from her window. For 60 years it sat there and turned grey. She stayed in that apartment for the entirety of the wall’s existence. Then one day the Russians left and the wall came down as quickly as it went up. She said she was equally unprepared for that as well.  

What can we learn from the experience of others?

The point of these stories if this; even when we know things could get bad, we hope that they don’t. We can prepare and make plans, but when it happens, it happens fast. Even when we know things can happen, and may even see them coming, it still happens fast. Do not take the view that it “can’t happen to me” or assume that you will see it coming. Even when you think you are in a safe place and even when you are aware of what could happen; when it does happen, it will happen fast. Civil unrest is not limited to big cities, look at the little town of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Wild fires are not limited to the mountains. Look at the fires in the suburbs of Californian cities. Hurricane damage is not limited to the coast. Look at the wind and flood damage all along the Gulf states. All of these people will tell you the same thing; “I knew it could happen, but I did not think it would happen here”, and “I thought I was ready, but it happened so fast”.  

Bottom Line: 

I urge you to be aware of this phenomenon and to not let the shock of the “Earth coming at you quickly” completely disrupt your plans. The ability to recognize and constructively react to sudden changes is just as important as anticipation and preparation.  Be aware of this, make your decisions ahead of time where you can, and be ready to react constructively when the time comes.

Have you had a similar experience with a disaster? Tell us your “it happens so fast” story and what helped you stay safe in the comments below.

God speed.

For more information on practical preparedness, order Practical Preparedness: It's Not the End of the World from the GRIT bookstore and Disaster Response SMARTBook 3 – Disaster Preparedness, 2nd Edition online.

Disaster Prep MEN


Disaster Prep book 3

Bugging In: What Does it Take to Stay Put

Bio-hazard Symbol

I wrote this blog before the Covid-19 outbreak and I thought it may be prudent to post it now. Given the current “stay put” orders going out and the run on toilet paper and pasta, it will be hard to “store supplies ahead of time”, but there are some other aspects of the article that are useful. When I wrote this “social distancing” was considered an extreme measure. Now it is a daily reality.

If I can offer any thoughts on our current situation, they would be this. We will survive Covid-19. When we come out of this on the other side our view of the world will be changed in some ways, but unchanged in others. Community and family will still be important, we will wash our hands more often and more thoroughly, and practical preparedness will be a new habit. The real question is what will we have learned from this experience and what will do differently because of it.

Good luck and God speed.  

Bugging In

We all know and recognize the benefits of community involvement and engagement, so it may seem strange to dedicate any time to thinking about self-imposed social separation from our community. The reality is that there are some situations where it is prudent to limit direct human contact outside of the household. This is often referred to as “Bugging In”.

Bugging in comes with its own special set of considerations and difficulties. It is important to carefully examine your reasons for wanting to bug in, what you hope to accomplish, and the methods you plan to use to meet those goals.  

The mistake that is often made in planning to “Bug In” is to confuse social distancing with isolation. These are two completely different concepts. When we examine the reasons and requirements for social distancing, they will rarely if ever, include the requirement of not communicating. Just the opposite is true. When we are disengaged from the rhythm of regular social interaction, alternate means of communication become all the more important.

Some Important Distinctions: The methods we are discussing here are not for nuclear, biological, or chemical situations. When an event is so bad that you need to find an air tight shelter for habitation, you should evacuate the area as soon as you have the opportunity to do so, and well before the environment becomes toxic. Those extremes are the least likely, but also the most dangerous. This book is addressing situations that are more likely to happen, but are also less likely to represent an immediate environmental threat. 

The other distinction is that social distancing is a methodology that can have varying degrees of intensity. It will often begin as simply avoiding social gatherings or crowds, and then progress to completely avoiding any human contact, like not attending church or school. “Bugging In” means to completely sequester yourself and household from any direct contact with other humans (or in some cases animals). It is this extreme that we are addressing.

There are Two Reasons for Bugging In

Every aspect of Bugging In has to do with a situation where you must stay away from other people and you either can’t get away, or there is no place else to go. This will require that you either avoid physical confrontation or diminish the risk of disease transmission. Aspects of communication (at a safe distance) should be enhanced rather than curtailed.  

Avoid Physical Confrontation: Social distancing for the purposes of physical security involves the conscious choice to refrain from engaging in your regular social activities in order to avoid agitated or aggressive people. A situation that was so bad that you have to Bug In would involve civil disorder involving violence or a significant disruption of the Rule of Law. The situation would have to be so bad that you could not leave the house without encountering the threat of violence.

How you defend your home is up to you. Avoid conflict if at all possible. If you feel you must defend yourself, make sure you are legal and in the right. Remember that others may be acting out of fear rather than malice. Sharing some supplies may be a better option that direct refusal or fighting. The situation will dictate your decisions. Be slow to anger and slower to decide to do harm, even when you are threatened with it. If you find that you must act in self-defense, always be quick and never be cruel. You have the right to defend yourself, your loved ones, and your property; you do not have the right to punish. If you punish you will be judged for your actions. It may be in your own heart, in a court of law, or by your maker, but you will be judged.   

Diminish Disease Transmission: Social distancing for the purposes of avoiding disease transmission involves the conscious choice to refrain from engaging in your regular social activities in order to avoid contact with infectious diseases; either from contaminated items or contagious people. A situation that was so bad that you have to Bug In would involve an aggressive and virulent viral threat with a high transmission and mortality rate.

To put this in perspective, in 2010 influenza made over 45 million people sick in the United States. That is just over 13.6% of the total population of the country. The 2010 “flu season” caused in over 61,000 deaths due to the virus or complications of the virus, like pneumonia, resulting a 0.13 mortality rate. That is not to say that the annual influenza outbreak is not serious, only that it would take a very virulent disease to cause you to need to go beyond proper hygiene or prudent social distancing and engage in full-fledged Bug In.     

Requirements and Impacts of Bugging In

Home isolation is an extreme measure to take because it involves separation from work, school, shops, and services. What you have is all that you will have. Unlike evacuation (Bugging out) where you are moving to shelter and resources, Bugging in will separate you from resources. You will want your plans to reflect this reality. You will need not only food and water, but also items to replace the services you would normally receive during medical and fire emergencies.

  • Food and water: Your pantry should be well rounded with a healthy concentration of staples so you have what you need to prepare your food. Both water distribution and electrical services may be interrupted. This means that regardless of your collection method, you may need to be able to boil or distill your water without electricity. 
  • Fire extinguishers: When fire response is delayed or unavailable you will want to be able to deal with fires quickly. Every local fire department has and holds classes on how to properly a fire extinguisher. Take the class, get the skill, keep up to date extinguishers, and be ready to protect your home from fire if you have to.  
  • Medical supplies: Your regular emergency kit will have most of what you need. A few additions will be helpful. For civil unrest situations the main concerns will be to set broken bones, stop bleeding, and prevent wound infection. These skills, and lists of the supplies to treat these kinds of wounds, are available through the Red Cross. You may not be able to get emergency medical treatment so you will need to learn how to treat injuries to stabilize the wounded.

In the case of pandemics, you will want to be able to diagnose and treat the general symptoms common to most viral diseases.  You will want to have several thermometers as these are really important for determining the presence and severity of fevers.  There are over the counter medications that will be very helpful.  Zinc lozenges are effective in helping to lessen the severity of respiratory viral infection (colds and flu). Hydration will be very important if someone does become ill. Keep anti-diarrhea medicine and electrolytes in the house. The electrolyte does not need to be over the counter medicine. Many sports drinks have electrolytes in them. Read the label and find one that works for you. A healthy selection of pain relievers and fever reducers is also a prudent addition.

One last addition that you will want is plenty of hand lotion. If you are washing your hands correctly and often, you should be washing the oil right out of your skin. If your hands are not chapped, you are not washing your hands enough! Dry skin can split and bleed. This provides a path into your body for an infectious disease. Hydrating the skin will help keep your hands from becoming dry and splitting. Don’t skimp in this area. Get a quality moisturizer used for working hands. The working hands products are better and less expensive than cosmetic products. 

  • Cleaning Supplies: Because prevention is the key to not getting sick you will want to have plenty of cleaning supplies in your home. Disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, soap, and other cleaning supplies will be your first line of defense against an infectious disease.

Psychological Well-being During Self Imposed Separation

Communication: The difference between safe and healthy separation and dangerous isolation is communication. When you are in a situation involving rapid changes and developing threats, you will need to stay informed.  Lack of information in times of stress can be a source of serious anxiety. This anxiety will lead people to guess at the things they do not know. These guesses can be very wrong and result in decisions that are not in the household’s best interest. You will want to ensure you have reliable and even redundant methods of communication.

Cell phones and computers will be the best source of information and communication in the beginning of a disaster situation, but they are not durable systems. Plan for them to stop working at some point, but use them to their best advantage until they do. Keep a weather radio and shortwave receiver to listen to the latest news. Keep citizens band (CB) or HAM radio handy for communicating with the community and beyond. If you can, keep extras of any of these that you plan to use. These “emergency” radios will be the most dependable methods of getting information and communicating locally. Remember to have batteries or plan for alternate power sources. Plan for the eventuality of losing power during the emergency.

As a cautionary note. When using any radio communication, make sure you can confirm information through at least one other credible source. Multiple sources of confirmation from different areas is better still. This will help you avoid rumors repeated within local circles. Rumors, mis-information, and even dis-information can spread quickly. In the history of disasters, there has been more than one recorded case where wishful thinking was reported as fact that lead hopeful souls into bad situations. Even broadcast news can inadvertently repeat incorrect information. In the rush to get the story out, reports that are correct may not be complete.

Consider the source of your information. An example of this is local, eye witness weather reports are often more accurate than national weather models. Get confirmation on everything you can, even when you receive information from sources you trust. In the end, the responsibility for every decision you make will be yours alone.

Entertainment: You will want to pass the time without getting “cabin fever”. Games, cards, and books are a must for bugging in. This will do more than just pass the time. Books will help you keep your mind off of constant worries and games will allow you to interact with your family. This will reassure your children and give you an opportunity to introduce and address serious subjects. They will be listening to everything you say, but the game will give them a point of focus that will give them time to process what you are saying. 

Education: Take advantage of the time you have to learn new skills. This could be general education like sharing a language, learning to use the stars for navigation, or how to cook stew. It can also be something specific and important to the situation you are in, like learning how to use and maintain equipment, care of animals, or anything else that is important to your family’s wellbeing. This will pass on skills within the household, build bonds, and help pass the time in a constructive manner.  

Positive Routine: Regardless of the situation, a Bug In requires discipline and awareness. Keeping a general schedule for sleeping, meals, education, chores, and family time will help maintain a rhythm that will offer stability and purpose to the household. This should not be a rigid or stressful schedule. Remember that the schedule is to keep people focused and relaxed, not stressed or anxious.

You can create a schedule that offers some elements of choice. Instead of saying you must get up at 7AM, set the rule for “up by 8AM.” This makes a choice rather than a rule. Set meal times by gathering at a certain time to start food preparation as a group activity, then eat when the meal is ready. This brings the household together for a common activity. Everyone has a job and everyone shares in the reward of the completed task.

To keep everyone active, assigned chores to be completed each day. This could be watering plants, caring for animals, times for study, checking the serviceability of equipment, or writing out the weather report for the next three days. These activities will provide a purpose and a rhythm to potentially long days of waiting. Keeping everyone’s mind active and alert will have absolute benefits.  

Remember to leave time for personal down time. People will need some quiet, “alone time” for personal decompression. Down time should be very loosely scheduled and allowed throughout the day as long as other chores and activities get done. Some folks may need more alone time than others, but don’t let members of the household become emotionally isolated.      

What to do if Someone in the Family Becomes Ill

When someone in the family becomes ill, measures must be taken to make sure that those who get sick are cared for and that those who care for the ill do not get sick themselves. Here are some ideas that will help you make your plans.

Designate a Quarantine Room: Whomever is ill would remain in this room until they are well and non-contagious. This second part is the hardest. Whomever was ill will want to get out of the room as soon as they can. A computer with internet access and a movie streaming service will help in this but the reality may be books and rest. Whatever entertainment is used by the ill should not be shared with others in the house. Even when they are feeling better, they may still be contagious. The ill must stay in the room long enough to no longer be contagious. Any care giver that enters the room should wear a mask and wash their hands before entering and upon leaving the room. The use of nitrile gloves is preferable if you have enough of them.

Control What Comes Out of the Quarantine Room: Any trash from the quarantine room should be bagged and taken directly out of the house to the trash. Any clothing or bedding from the room should be taken directly to the washing machine and washed in the “sanitize” or hottest water setting. All dishes used should be washed in soapy hot water or placed in the dish washer and set to “sanitize”. The “sanitize” feature is common on washing machines and dishwashers. If you have it, use it. If you don’t have an appliance with that feature, consider designating a large soup pot as a boiling pot to sanitize any dishes.  

Keep a Record of the Illness: Keep a log of when the person became ill and the progression of their illness. These records could save their life if the illness becomes serious and the person is taken to the hospital. This information will help the doctors determine the onset, symptoms, and severity of the illness. At a minimum the following information should be recorded:

  • The onset and initial severity of the illness,
  • Fever and spikes in temperature, Record the temperature & time
  • Sweats and chills - duration, time, and date
  • Diarrhea - how often, time and date
  • Vomiting - how often, time and date
  • Delirium, Confusion, Loss of Consciences – time, date, duration
  • Medication, dosage and time
  • Number and times of meals. Food prepared vs food eaten. Lack of, or change in, appetite.

Bottom Line

There is much about our modern world that we cannot control, but we can control our fear. We can control our knowledge and habits. We can be informed, aware, and prepared to deal with or avoid the threats that may arise. We cannot stop these threats, but with knowledge, determination, and cooperation within the household, we can survive them.    

Bugging in is a serious undertaking that requires careful planning and disciplined management. There is a good chance that no new supplies will be able to come into the home, so what you stock will be what you have for the duration. The hardest part of a Bug In will be maintaining a schedule that provides a steady routine for the day. When you cannot interact directly with the rest of the world, make time to interact with those in the household. Games, shared activities, a schedule of chores, and a purpose for the day will go a long way to making the time pass while maintaining positive attitudes and awareness. 

Post things that you have done to keep yourself and family from getting cabin fever in the comments section below.  Sharing positive and constructive ideas is a great way to stay connected and helping others.

For more details on practical preparedness check out – Disaster Response SMARTBook 3 – Disaster Preparedness, 2nd Edition

Kyle is also a speaker for the Mother Earth News Fair Online. Learn more and register to see his workshop video today.

His latest book, Practical Preparedness, was published in June 2020 and is available in our online Grit Store.

 Disaster Prep book 3

Thunderstorms & Tornados: Anticipation, Awareness, & Reaction Time

Prairie Dog

Photo by Pixabay/veverkolog

As if the Covid-19 pandemic was not enough to worry about, there are still our standard seasonal concerns. Springtime is prime time for thunderstorms and tornadoes. Now is the time to make sure to be aware and prepared to react to these potentially life-threatening events.

Severe weather is rapidly becoming an increasingly frequent fact of life. This has always been the case in the central US along what is known as “Tornado Alley”. Tornado alley is a swath of land that runs from central Texas up through Oklahoma and Kansas, and on into Nebraska. Although perhaps more frequent in that region, tornadoes and thunderstorms are common in other parts of the country as well.

These severe storms can develop quickly but they are not random. Atmospheric conditions must be right for these storms to develop, and there in lay the secret to dealing with them. The trick for staying safe from tornadoes and thunderstorms is anticipation, awareness, and reaction time.

Anticipation, Awareness, and Reaction Time

Being ready for severe weather is very much like a prairie dog standing at its hole. The method of anticipation, awareness, and reaction time has kept millions of prairie dogs safe for the last several thousand years. We can take this observation of nature and emulate it to our own advantage. This is not a silly analogy. Severe storms can develop and become life threatening so quickly our only real option is to emulate the successful survival instincts of our fellow mammals. 

  • The prairie dog knows there are snakes, hawks, coyotes, and all sorts of other predators hunting him and his kin; this is anticipation.
  • The prairie dog “town” sets guards to watch for predators; this is awareness.
  • The prairie dogs all know where the nearest hole is and when the alarm is sounded the prairie dogs all quickly move to their pre-selected hole; this is reaction time.

Just as the prairie dog has multiple natural predators, tornadoes and thunderstorms offer a variety of hazards. These severe storm hazards include; tornadic winds and fling debris, micro burst winds with similar debris hazards, hail stones, lightning, and flash flooding. Our survival actions are virtually the same as the prairie dog’s; anticipate the hazard, be aware of current conditions, and get to cover as quickly as possible when a threat is discovered.     


We know that severe weather is most likely to happen in the spring and to a certain extent the fall as well. Knowing this we can anticipate the need for vigilance during these months. A quick look at the weather projections for the week is all that is needed to let you know if there is a chance for severe weather.

Having a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Weather Service (NWS) “Weather” radio at home and work can provide you with the most accurate weather forecast and severe weather outlook for the next week. They are programmed to receive one of 7 weather channels that will provide coverage for your area. An updated forecast repeats 24 hours a day in 5 to 7-minute loops. Its very easy to check it in the morning and afternoon to stay up to date on the conditions.


When conditions are right for severe weather to develop there are several ways to keep an eye on the weather. The National Weather Service puts out watches and warnings to help people stay aware of the current weather conditions. Your NWS radio will automatically give an audio and visual indication for watches and warnings.

Watches: A weather watch means that conditions are right for severe weather to develop. This is an important part of anticipation. It will tell you that not only is it the right time of year, but the current conditions are favorable for storms to develop. It is important to understand that a watch does not mean a storm has been sighted. It means that the probability is high that a storm will develop. Watches will be specific to the threat. A tornado watch is different than severe thunderstorms watch or flash flood watch, and these differences will be specifically identified with the broadcast of the watch. When a storm does develop and is spotted, then a Warning is issued.  

Warning: A weather warning specifically identifies a known storm or threat and its location. It also tells you about the severity of the storm, its direction of movement and speed, as well as expected threats and potential for damage. Warnings also have information on what to do to protect yourself and family. It will tell you things like to seek cover immediately and bring pets in from outside if they are unprotected from the elements.

These watches and warning will be broadcast on the NOAA weather stations and NOAA weather radios will automatically sound an alarm when a watch or warning begins or ends. These same watches and warning are broadcast through the Emergency Broadcast System. This means these same watches and warnings will be sent across AM and FM radio stations in your area. If you listen to a satellite station you may NOT hear the local Watch or Warning. It is important to “listen local” in the spring and fall. At least have a NOAA weather radio in the area so that you will hear the alarm for Watches and Warnings. 

What if I am away from the weather radio?

You may not always be around a weather radio, but there are other things you can do to stay aware of the weather situation.

The first is to literally keep an eye on the weather. Developing the habit of watching the sky throughout the day, or when you go outside, can give you important clues to the current conditions. Thunderhead clouds indicate a storm is developing. These tall fluffy clouds can be seen from miles away. They are often accompanied by lightning and thunder which are a dead giveaway for an incoming thunderstorm. A greenish tint to clouds is indicative of hail and “wall clouds” are can indicate potentially high winds.

If you are outdoors, a lightning detector is an excellent tool for spring time. These simple and reasonably affordable detectors will alarm when lightning strikes occur within certain distances starting with up to 30 miles away. If you are out stacking hay, golfing, or at a softball game, a lightning detector is a must have warning device in the spring. 

Lightning has been known to strike up to 25 miles away from the storm itself. If you can hear the thunder, you are in range for the lightning, even when directly under blue skies. This is the origin of the phrase “bolt from the blue”.  

When using a lightning detector, the following rules apply:

  •  30 miles Yellow Alert — Threat is possible.
  • 20 miles Orange Alert — Threat is probable.
  • 10 miles Red Alert — Danger! No one allowed outside.

If you do not have a lightning detector then use the 30/30 rule for lighting: If it takes less than 30 seconds to hear thunder after seeing the flash, lightning is near enough to pose an immediate threat. Seek cover or get into a closed automobile. After a storm ends, you should wait 30 minutes before going back to outdoor activities.

Reaction Time

As you can probably tell from the descriptions, thunderstorms can develop very quickly, lightning is instantaneous, and tornadoes can develop within minutes. When warnings are issued, or you detect a weather threat, you need to take immediate action to seek cover. Just like the prairie dog knows where the closest den is, you should know where the closest protective cover can be found and how to get to it. For flash floods it is out of the flood area, for tornadoes, hail, and high winds it is underground in a solid structure, and for lightning it is inside or in a closed vehicle. Severe weather conditions may not allow you the time to “make up your mind” after the severe weather strikes. You need to know the conditions you are in, what the dangers may be, and where you will go (and how you will get there) should the need arise.

Bottom line 

Just like the prairie dog, you will need to get out there and do what you need to do in life, but also be aware and vigilant enough to react quickly to protect yourself and your family during a severe spring time weather event. In the case of severe thunderstorms that can produce tornadoes, hail, high winds, and flash flooding, awareness and adaptability will be more helpful than specific plans. Strive to develop habits of anticipation based upon knowledge, awareness of current conditions, and keeping a weather eye out for good places to take cover where ever you may be, should severe weather develop. 

Have you had any experiences with a tornado? Tell us your springtime weather story and what helped you stay safe in the comments below.

For more details on practical preparedness check out – Disaster Response SMARTBook 3 – Disaster Preparedness, 2nd Edition. His latest book, Practical Preparedness, was published in June 2020 and is available in our online Grit Store.

Kyle is also a speaker for the Mother Earth News Fair Online. Learn more and register to see his workshop video today.

Disaster Prep book 3

Communications: Where to Listen & How to Reach Out (Weather Radios, CBs, and Ham Radio)

The ability to receive information and communicate with family and the outside world, when cell phones and internet are out, will be important to you during a disaster. There are several options for emergency communications that are inexpensive and easy to use. Shortwave lets you listen to emergency broadcasts, talk locally, and even communicate around the world. It is relatively inexpensive and easy to get the equipment you need to stay informed during an emergency.

Information as a resource

One of the best things you can do to help yourself in a disaster situation is to learn how to collect as much information as possible. Well before you need to call for help you will want reliable information on the situation. As far as disasters are concerned, or even temporary power outages caused by nasty weather, shortwave radio communication is your friend. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Reason #1, Lots of good information is available via shortwave

The first reason shortwave is useful is that the emergency management communications system is built around shortwave technologies. Shortwave is far reaching and dependable. Much of the infrastructure for shortwave is specifically not available for commercial use and is reserved for private radio experimentation and emergency broadcasting. Most of this equipment is intentionally designed to work when commercial radio can't. Shortwave is used almost exclusively in emergency management, police, fire, emergency medical response (ambulance), and private industry like gas and electric companies. In many cases after a disaster strikes, it is ham radio operators that get out the first situation reports and calls for help.   

Reason #2, Shortwave is inexpensive and effective for emergency communication

The second is that shortwave communications equipment is available and relatively inexpensive. You can find reasonably priced radios that listen, talk locally, or talk around the world. The “listen and local” kinds don’t require a license to use. The talk around the world radios require a HAM license. Ham licenses are inexpensive and not hard to get.

Reason #3, Most shortwave radios are designed to work in disaster situations

The third reason is that most shortwave radio equipment works on batteries or 12 volts (like a car battery). This means that even when the power goes out shortwave radios can still work. AM/FM radios use batteries as well but the radios stations are often on the grid so if power outages are widespread these stations may go off the air.  

Radio Options

Weather radios and short-wave receivers

If you just want to listen, then National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / National Weather Service (NOAA/NWS) weather radios and short-wave marine receives are the perfect choice. They require no license to operate and can be very inexpensive.

Listening to a shortwave receiver takes a bit of getting used to. You will need to learn the tricks that were common knowledge for your great-grandparents when they tuned their radios back in the day. With a little practice you can get just as good at finding stations and “chasing the signals”. It is well worth your time to learn about shortwave broadcasts and discover its benefits for emergency communication. 


Transceivers (Transmission-Receivers) are able to both send and receive. These are fascinating machines that vary widely in price, communication range, and complexity. Some less powerful, short range radios are inexpensive, easy to use, and need no special training or licensing. Other radios are wildly complex, very expensive, and require special training and licensing to operate. Between these two extremes are radio options to meet any requirement for family and community communication. You just need to decide what capacities you desire to meet your needs.

Emergency & Shortwave Radio Options

It is important to understand that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) dictates that these different types of radios can only be used within controlled output power and assigned frequency ranges. If you use a radio outside of these assigned parameters, you may be subject to FCC fines and penalties. If you are licensed and caught breaking the rules, you will lose any license privileges you have. The best recommendation I can give you is to decide what kind of communications capacity you need, research what kind of radios meet that requirement, get the proper training and license to use the equipment effectively. Take the time to learn the FCC rules and follow them. 

There are Lots of Transceiver Options

All transceivers are designed to work within certain parameters, but their ranges can be improved in two ways. First is to use more output power, which is not always legal. Second is to use a better antenna, which is always legal. Because radios are made with different power settings and frequency capabilities, they are often referred to by their intended use. This is why you hear names like “Weather radio”, and “HAM radio”.  

The government has assigned specific frequencies (channels) and ranges of frequencies (bands) to different types of radios based on power output. At the less powerful levels you don’t need a license to operate the radios. At higher levels of power, you do.

  • Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) Radios: 5 channels dedicated to low power (2 watt) walkie-talky type radios with a range of 1 to 2 miles, 8 with the right antenna. No license is required to use these radios.
  • Family Radio Service (FRS) Radios: 14 channels dedicated to low power (5 watt) walkie-talky type radios with a range of 2 to 8 miles, 20 with the right antenna. No license is required to use these radios.
  • General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) Radios: 14 channels and 8 repeater channels dedicated to mid power (5 watt) walkie-talkies and high-power (50 watt) vehicle mounted radios. Range at 5 watts is 10 to 16 miles, 40 with the right antenna. Range at 50 watts is 10 to 35 miles, 50+ with the right antenna. Longer distances are possible in good atmospheric conditions. A license (with no test) is required to use these radios because of their increased power.
  • Citizens band radios (CB) Radios: 40 channels dedicated to low power (4 watt) walkie-talky and vehicle mounted radios with a range of 3 to 10 miles, 20 with the right antenna. Longer distances are possible in good atmospheric conditions. No license is required to use these radios.

Amateur Radio (Ham)

Ham radio can offer a whole new world of communications options. The government provides 13 bands of hundreds of frequencies. You will need to get a HAM license to operate these radios. 2-meter transceivers offer ranges of up to 25 miles on their own and much further using local repeaters (privately owned, open access, repeating stations). 6-meters and above can get you across the United States and around the globe with the right antenna setup. Ham radio frequencies use the shifting shortwave frequencies and you will need to learn how to “chance the signals”. Many HAM transceivers have multiple band width capabilities.

Community Emergency Communication

All of these two-way, transceiver radios provide an opportunity to build an informal emergency radio network, or NET, within your community. An inexpensive and easy to use radio in a home can provide effective emergency communication when the community “net” is up and monitored on a base transceiver.  Schedules can be set up for check ins and message exchanges. This is common in the open ocean sailing community around the world.

The Bottom Line

One of the first casualties of a disaster is going to be communication. Web access and cable transmission are often the least durable forms of communication. Cell phone infrastructure (cell towers) can be disabled, damaged, or destroyed. If power goes out, cell phones will last a day or two without a charge. Commercial radio (AM / FM) stations may not be operating.

What will work are the government emergency broadcast stations. These include the emergency broadcast system and the national weather service broadcast facilities. These are specifically designed for durability and function even in the worst conditions. Emergency weather radios are specifically designed to receive these signals. A good weather radio is a must for even the simplest disaster plan.

Having some transceivers of your own, walkie-talkies, CBs, government radios service, or ham, can help you fill the communications gap if cell phone and landline communications are not operating. This will require you to know how to use the equipment and what frequencies to use but those skills are easy to learn. By giving yourself some extra communications options in the form of short-wave equipment, you can keep yourself up to date on important information and ensure you can stay in touch with family and friends.

Do you have experience with radio receivers and transmitters? Let us know what worked for you in the comments below.

For more details on practical preparedness check out – Disaster Response SMARTBook 3 – Disaster Preparedness, 2nd Edition his latest book, Practical Preparedness, was published in June 2020 and is available in our online Grit Store.

Kyle is also a speaker for the Mother Earth News Fair Online. Learn more and register to see his workshop video today.

Disaster Prep book 3



The ultimate guide to acquiring, assembling, and using lifesaving emergency communication systems, this book includes in-depth information on operating ham radios, walkie-talkies, shortwave radios, and citizens band (CB) radios. When disaster strikes, calls, texts and emails don’t work. After 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy, cell phones were rendered useless when transmission towers were destroyed and networks became overloaded. Having an alternative way of reaching family and loved ones at these critical moments is essential. With this guide, learn the best tips, tricks, and expert secrets for surviving when phones and the internet fail. This title is available at our store or by calling 866-803-7096.

The Community in Winter

Garda de Sus
Photo by Garda de Sus

When a community is engaged and active it is easier to help keep families from falling into household disaster situations brought on by the seasonal conditions. The role of the community in winter is to share and ensure that people have enough of what they need to make it through the winter. As members of an active community we can share hope in the form of an attentive ear, a watchful eye, a compassionate voice, and an empathetic heart. The idea is that we can share the bounty of the Earth long after the growing season is over and within a strong community, people take care of their own.

Overlooked Disasters

Disasters are not always major events. Not all disasters affect whole communities. Even if there is no county or state level disaster declaration where you live this winter, families near you will be affected by disaster conditions. It may involve loss of power or heating in their homes. It could be the lack of warm clothing and proper winter shoes. It could also be that families that depend upon seasonal trade work to make their living will suffer an unexpected financial set back that drains their savings. These situations are not about a lack of discretionary funds. These disasters are about having to make choices about food, heat, and other basic needs for quality of life; or worst yet, not having choices or the resources that provide options.

In disaster preparedness it is recommended that you have a winter emergency kit in your car in case you are separated from heat and care so that you can survive until you are rescued. Now imagine if this was the situation in a home and there was no rescue. The community aspect of awareness and preparedness includes watching out for our neighbor’s welfare as much as our own. Within the community we can take action to make sure that no friend, family, child, or animal goes hungry and cold when it is within our ability to assist.  

It can be argued that it is not the role of the federal, state, or local government to see to our neighbor’s needs. I say this for several reasons. First is that the government has a poor record of recognizing need until situations become critical. Secondly; friends, neighbors, and congregations are in a much better situation to recognize these needs well before a situation becomes a household disaster. Third, and perhaps most importantly, government subsidies do not strengthen communities.  

Strength in Community

A strong and active community, group, or congregation can stay in touch through the winter and support each other through winter social activities and gatherings. In this way a family can avoid a potential disaster situation altogether. Here are some ideas that were normal and expected 100 years ago, and can be just as effective today.

  • Trading, swapping, and gifting food stuffs. Variety is the spice of life, and I can personally attest to the fact that variety is event tastier along about midwinter. When sharing and gifting is common, a little extra where it is needed will not be a big deal.
  • Visitations are important for folks that can’t get out in the winter due to physical mobility issues or transportation limitations. This is especially true in areas where winter snows last through the season or can separate folks for even a few weeks at a time. If bread is the staff of life, then fellowship and conversation is food for the soul.
  • Offer winter work to those who have the time “out of the regular season” to do some extra projects. I’ve never known a house carpenter to pass on small inside projects in the winter. This is not charity; it is well placed honest work. Winter is a great time to get projects done that have not been checked off the “to do” list during the fall. Chances are good that there just may be some willing hands eager for the opportunity to earn some money.
  • Gatherings, weekly if possible but not less than monthly, will give people an opportunity to meet and greet their neighbors. This opportunity to share news and fellowship can be a life line that keeps families and individuals from falling, unseen and unknown, into a household disaster. It’s not about “checking up” on people, it’s about caring about them and acting upon that friendship to do those little things that keep families within our communities strong.

These suggestions are not just for winter but they are especially important in the winter months. A community can benefit from communication and fellowship all year round.  Cultivating a habit of regular active participation within a community is an important part of keeping homes and individuals from falling into a disaster situation. 

How do you stay active in your community in the winter months? Post your experiences in the comments section below.

For more details on practical preparedness check out – Disaster Response SMARTBook 3 – Disaster Preparedness, 2nd Edition. His latest book, Practical Preparedness, was published in June 2020 and is available in our online Grit Store.

Kyle is also a speaker for the Mother Earth News Fair Online. Learn more and register to see his workshop video today.


Disaster Prep book 3

Disaster Plans 101

Disaster hierarchy of needs

Disaster plans 101

In disaster planning there is always the question of, “what should I plan for?” In the broadest possible terms, your plan should keep you alive and safe during the disaster. More than that, your plan needs to ensure you come out of the disaster with enough physical strength to continue on after the disaster, and enough emotional strength to have both the desire, as well as the will, to rebuild what was lost.

Fortunately, there is a lot of good information available on the subject of what humans need in order to survive, both in life and in disasters. In his 1943 paper, “a theory of human motivation”, Dr. Abraham Maslow outlined these motivations in what he called the Hierarchy of Needs. It turns out that there are some universal requirements for life, regardless of situation. Time has proven Maslow’s theory to be correct, so we can use these “life motivations” as an effective guideline for survival requirements during and after a disaster.

Using the Hierarchy of Needs to accurately anticipate, we see that are three fundamental requirements for people to survive any disaster situation. They include physiological needs, safety needs, and social needs.

  • Physiological needs keep a person alive; food, water, shelter, and rest.  
  • Safety needs include physical, environmental and emotional safety and protection.
  • Social needs include the need for love, affection, care, relationships, and friendship.

There are two more levels, but for the purposes of disaster survival we are not looking at our personal realization of psychological fulfillment. Let’s stick to disaster plans for now.   

How to meet basic survival needs

So how do we meet physiological needs? Years of survival experience has developed an accepted list of survival priorities that will meet a person’s basic survival needs when are lost in the wilderness (i.e. separated from society). When this list is examined alongside Dr. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, they match very well.  It provides a solid list of tasks-oriented goals by priority to help keep you physically and mentally functional.  They are: shelter from the elements, warmth and hydration, protection of health, maintenance of physical strength, and maintenance of mental ability via rest.

  • Shelter (Protection from Weather and Elements / Exposure)
  • Water & fire (Hydration and Warmth)
  • Protection from minor injuries (infections, illness, animals, and insects)
  • Food (Strength, stamina, and clear thought)
  • Sleep (Dangers of sleep deprivation / Need for clear thought)

You will notice that two of these requirements, protection from minor injury and a safe place to sleep, fall within the security and safety requirement. This short list makes a good start for goals in a solid survival plan, but a disaster plan needs something more.

Disaster plans should include social interaction as a basic survival requirement

Remember that wilderness survival is about separation from society and infrastructure. In a disaster people will most likely be around other survivors and have access to some infrastructure. For disaster plans we should continue up Maslow’s hierarchy and include the social requirement as well.   

In looking at Dr. Maslow’s third tier, it includes the social aspects of feelings of belonging and friendships. This goes beyond having a safe place to stay. It is specifically because people are present that we need to find some that we can trust. It is the presence of people that generates the requirement and it becomes as fundamental as the need for food and water. This is specifically about communication.

Social requirements relate directly to emotional stability and communication of needs. In the aftermath of a disaster people have a tendency to not communicate needs. They may have injuries that they do not talk about with people they have just met or may not trust. This “shutting down” is an effect of emotional shock rather than some basic mistrust of humanity. The ability to communicate basic needs effectively is vital to ensuring people are receiving basic physiological and safety needs. Simple truth, being around people you trust makes it easier to communicate.

An effective way to provide for social familiarity and trust is to be active within your community. The more people you know the more people you may have a close enough relationship with to provide the level of trust needed for effective communication. This is especially true for children who may become separated from their parents. A teacher, pastor, neighbor, or known and trusted family friend could make all the different for a child who finds themselves temporarily separated from family.   

Let these basic needs be a guide to make your plans

These needs will be the drivers for establishing the goals of your plans. Understanding your goals will help identify the knowledge, tasks, tools, and supplies you may need to collect or accomplish to make your plan work. 

An online search to answer the question of what a family’s immediate needs and survival priorities should be after a disaster strikes can present a bewildering, and sometimes contradictory, tangle of answers. The best method for finding an answer that is right for you is to examine your situation and build from there. 

For more details on practical preparedness check out – Disaster Response SMARTBook 3 – Disaster Preparedness, 2nd Edition. His latest book, Practical Preparedness, was published in June 2020 and is available in our online Grit Store.

Kyle is also a speaker for the Mother Earth News Fair Online. Learn more and register to see his workshop video today.

Disaster Prep book 3 


Community and Disaster Preparedness, Part 2

Tomato Garden
Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash

Practical preparedness involves doing little things that will have a big impact in providing you with options and resources during and after a disaster. Part of being involved in a cooperative community is making sure that you can participate. What does this involve? You can make preparations before a disaster so you are able to sustain yourself and contribute (at least a little) to the group.

This is a simple thing to do. Keep some extra food, water, and weather appropriate clothing. All things that are around the house now or that can be picked up at the store when it’s on sale before things go south.

Here are a few simple rules that can help you plan:

  1. Store what you eat, and eat what you store. Don’t keep separate “survival rations”.  They will most likely go bad before you will use them and no one wants to survive on stale food.
  2. Two is one and one is none. If you will be depending upon an important tool or item in your plan, keep an extra one just in case. A good example of this is a hand operated can opener.
  3. Keep some for sharing and trading. A little good will goes a long way. Keep some extra of the supplies you feel are important and make up your mind that you will share. Know how much you can share and then be generous. It may be prudent not to let the world know you have extra, but be prepared to help where you can.
  4. Revisit your plan twice a year. Look at your plan and check your supplies twice a year. Once for spring/summer and again for autumn/winter. Change out your extra clothing, check batteries, test your electronics (weather radios, etc), and see that you have some extra food in the cupboard.
  5. Awareness is not obsession. Disaster preparedness should not be all consuming. Planning for a disaster is not the same as fearing one. Remember that a 20% plan is the 80% solution. A little planning goes a long way and including your friends and neighbors in your preparations will encourage cooperation and build realistic expectations in times of stress.  

Don’t add to fear with imagined threats

TV and movies make it look like society will completely collapse at the first sign of trouble. This adds drama to the story. In your story, you will not want that kind of drama. You and those in your community can chose to skip that drama through cooperation and strength in numbers. It is true that some people will take advantage of any reduction in the rule of law, but they will not last long. Also, they will look for those who are separated and alone. Thieves don’t like the odds for attacking groups.

The reality is that strong communities will do just fine.  During the Spanish Flu (influenza) epidemic of 1917 whole communities were cut off from the world. These communities did not immediately descend into violent anarchy. The people in these towns pulled together and helped each other even when contact with an infected home could bring death to their own. They were safe and careful, as well as kind and helpful. 

When the tornado of 1966 swept through Topeka Kansas, people descended by the dozens into the aftermath of the storm. Not to loot, but to rescue. They found wrenches and formed search lines, walking the destroyed neighborhoods turning off gas valves and rescuing people from the rubble of their homes.

These stories and ones like them are repeated hundreds of times throughout the last few decades. We just don’t hear about them. Looting in New Orleans and L.A. make for riveting news coverage. Next door heroes don’t make the evening news. 

Choose to survive ahead of time   

You can influence your situation to make it easier on yourself before a disaster. None of us can control nature, but we can control ourselves and choose to be civil and constructively helpful. By participating in and encouraging community interaction before a disaster, we can form friendships and civility that will turn into neighbor helping neighbor when a disaster does come along. Community civility and cooperation are the bedrock of community resiliency and it has many benefits prior to any disaster.

Community resiliency is not complex or difficult. Find like-minded people you get along with and spend some time to get to know them. Make basic plans for disaster preparedness and revisit those plans a couple times a year. Talk with your friends and plan to work together when disasters strike. Community and cooperation are the secrets to living through and recovering from a disaster.   

Make a plan and collect what you need to make your plan work.

For more details on practical preparedness check out – Disaster Response SMARTBook 3 – Disaster Preparedness, 2nd Edition. His latest book, Practical Preparedness, was published in June 2020 and is available in our online Grit Store.

Kyle is also a speaker for the Mother Earth News Fair Online. Learn more and register to see his workshop video today.

Disaster Prep book 3

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