Lessons from the under-prepared

Originally published on 16FEB2011 for Examiner.com

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in Examiner.com. As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

The power goes out in Livonia. It’s 7 p.m. in February, and it’s already dark. The television our example family was huddled around has dimmed. After a few moments, their eyes adjust to the new light level, and a flashlight is found at the bottom of the junk drawer. With a quick twist of the bevel the little two AA battery lights up to provide a meager amount of light. As the room is scanned, the little light goes out leaving the family in the dark once more. The batteries in that thing were three years old, never replaced since the thing was bought at the Do-It-Yourself store on sale. After much fumbling, raiding a kid’s toy for some batteries while wishing fresh batteries were in hand, and using the dim light of a cell phone screen for illumination, the little light is operational once more.

“Daddy, it’s getting cold in here. I’m scared.”

The furnace ignition runs on electricity, as do the blowers. With the 22° F temperature outside, with lows dropping into the teens, the house’s insulation will not hold in the warmth for long. After this half-hour ordeal, it’s time to consider the power won’t be back on tonight. It’s time to get to a hotel.

“Honey, I’ll get the kids packed, you make reservations”, the wife says.

The husband agrees, and goes to the computer to look up the nearest hotel and the number. Of course, the computer is not working, and the cable modem is down. Where’s the phone book? Do we even have a phone book? Never mind that, just getting to the hotel should be enough, they have rooms.

After everyone is packed for the night’s stay at the hotel, the house has dropped 10 more degrees. Loading everyone into the car, the garage doors are opened… wait… there is no power. They aren’t opening. Getting out, pulling the emergency handle and lifting manually, the car is finally clear to be taken out. Lowering the garage door, the manual pull cord doesn’t seem to snap back in place.  Back inside the garage to shut it. The handle is finally pushed back in place so it locks into the automatic opener’s track.

Walking through the house to the front door, the husband exits and goes to lock the door. The keys are in the car. After getting the keys, locking the door, getting in the car, and going, it’s been over an hour, and probably longer, before the family is on the road.

Add in rounding up multiple kids, worrying about pets, and other concerns, this time could easily extend into two or three hours, only to arrive at a hotel that is full, or doesn’t allow the family cat.

This example has played out countless times in the southeastern Michigan as well as any metropolitan area. There are so many “oops” moments in the example above, yet they are continuously repeated time and time again.

In the example above, simply routinely changing batteries in the emergency flashlight could have saved 20 minutes or more. Having multiple flashlights stashed in various rooms will cut down on the “zombie walk” through the house while searching.

Having wood for the fireplace (if the home is equipped) or a decent fixture for gas fueled fireplaces can take the edge of a winter night without power. Knowing how it works is essential. Without a supplemental heat source, having a set time to wait for the power to come back on before deciding “bug out” to a hotel is a good idea. Worst case, some money is spent on a room and the kids can enjoy the pool.

Having an actual phone book can be an indispensible resource. Additionally, use some post-it notes to mark off certain anticipated things, such as hotels, the pet’s veterinarian or kennel, the local urgent care, etc. Cell phone towers usually have back-up power, so make the necessary calls quickly before too much cellular traffic makes it difficult to get through.

Having pre-prepared bags with a couple changes of clothes, toiletries, small reserve supplies of medication required, a few comfort items, and a small book of other important information can eliminate the packing-up phase. Having a supply of cash in the bags can help buy needed items when the credit card readers aren’t working.

Knowing what devices in the house run on electricity and how to operate them without electricity can save time and headache. During a situation is not the ideal time to learn this, knowing and practicing ahead of time is. How hard are the garage doors to disengage and reengage from the automatic system? Does the house alarm have a battery back-up? How does the water get shut off and pipes drained so they don’t freeze? Which one is that handle? Is the sump pump going to work? Will there be flooding?

What hotels are in the area? Were they affected as well or do they have power? Do they take pets? Will they in an emergency such as this? What’s the best way to get there?

The fact is, there are actually very few “emergencies” in our lives, but lack of preparation or emergency equipment elevates these situations into far more uncomfortable or dangerous scenarios. Having even basic preparations for simple scenarios can save a lot of discomfort, injury potential, and worry.

Achieving family preparedness through camping and backpacking, part 2

Originally published on 12SEP2011 for Examiner.com

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in Examiner.com. As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

Last week, we introduced the idea of using Michigan backpacking and camping as a fun recreation that has an ancillary effect of helping Michigan families prepare for emergency situations. Today, some traditional backpacking gear will be examined, and how it relates to a preparedness and survival situation. While gear isn’t necessarily as important as skills or experience, starting with gear may help those new to these outdoor recreations accumulate gear that can have multiple uses besides merely backpacking. First, shelter is a very important survival requirement. Insulating one’s self from the elements is necessary in many weather conditions. To do this, tents and sleeping bags are used.

For a tent, backpacking requirements force most people to consider an ultra-light three-season option. These tents are generally designed to withstand high winds, and the use of technologically advanced materials and engineering concepts make them both lightweight and rugged. If part of your emergency preparations may require you to hike out of an area on foot or in a makeshift “vehicle” (such as a flood), then a small, easily carried tent will be more manageable than a car-camping intent tent. Some more hardcore “survivalists” are concerned about EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) weapons used against the United States which may disrupt many forms of electronics. These individuals speculate such an attack would destroy the electricity generation infrastructure of an affected region, and may even destroy handheld or battery operated devices (such as a car’s engine controller or a cell phone). For individuals with this level of concern and preparedness, an ultra-light backpacking tent is ideal if their plans involve hiking, biking, or skiing to a “bug out location”.

For others, a car-camping intent tent is ideal. It is larger and more spacious, and will allow greater storage of family and stuff. For plans to stay with relatives where room may be at a premium, or plans to “bug out” to an evacuation area by motor vehicle, this option may be ideal. (As a note, if emergency preparedness plans for any family include “bugging out”, it is best to have routes, permissions, and area knowledge of the destination). For widespread evacuations, having a family sized tent may bring a greater sense of comfort and “home” at a relocation center.


Sleeping bags are a second item to help insulate people from the elements. Where the tent shields people from rain, sun and wind, a sleeping bag shields its occupant from the cold. There are many factors involved in choosing a sleeping bag, and since it is such an individual choice, there is no real one-size-fits-all solution. In general, sleeping bags are rated to a certain temperature. This is a general rating only, and some peoples’ comfort ranges are different. To achieve that rating, insulation is used. Insulation can be natural (goose down) or synthetic. In general, goose down is more compact and lighter for the insulation it provides, but is very susceptible to being wet. Once wet, it will not provide insulation. A synthetic insulation is slightly heavier, and typically does not compact as well as down, but these tend to maintain their insulative qualities.

For purchasing a a sleeping bag that can double-duty as a piece of preparedness gear, my recommendation is to get something in the 15 degree F range with synthetic insulation. Especially in Michigan, where rainfall and dampness is common, a synthetic bag will be a more versatile tool.

To store sleeping bags, do not leave them compressed in their storage bag, for easy retrieval in a go-bag or 72-hour bag. The continued compression can cause them to lose loft, and thus lose insulation rating. Store the bag in a breathable cotton bag that is big enough to store loosely. These are best kept in a very large tote or seal-able tub until they are needed.


Achieving family preparedness through camping and backpacking

Originally published on 07SEP2011 for Examiner.com

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in Examiner.com. As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

Michigan has a rich and vibrant outdoor heritage. From sand dunes, beaches and watersports to downhill skiing, snowmobiling, and ice skating, our options for recreation are plentiful. One such activity can be enjoyed year round, and bring a host of ancillary skills useful to a Michigan family and every day life. That activity is camping, hiking, and backpacking.

This article is not about backpacking, though, it is about family preparedness. Preparedness is about having the tools, training, and experience to succeed in a difficult situation. Similarly, backpacking is about gear, skills, and knowledge to apply them all for a successful recreational outing. What is exciting is that by becoming a proficient backpacker, a person gains many of the necessary skills for “survival”, which is a part of emergency preparedness.

In upcoming articles we’ll look at some of the staple backpacking gear and discuss how this gear can serve double duty as family emergency preparedness items. Then, we’ll look at some of the various skill sets, such as exercise and fitness, orientation, fires tarting, etc, and discuss how these pertain to family emergency preparedness. Lastly, we’ll look at how fitness, an active lifestyle, and decision making can lead to the proper mindset necessary in an emergency situation.