Safecastle | One Shop For All Emergency Essentials: September 2005

Food Storage, Emergency Preparedness, MRE's, Freeze Dried Food, Water Storage, Dehydrated Food, Survival tips

Friday, September 30, 2005

Prepare for Economic Disaster

Every household SHOULD already be perfectly aware of the need to have some savings put aside for a rainy day. Sure ... to actually get it done is more challenging for some than others, so if you are not able to find the money for saving or investing beyond meeting your monthly budgetary needs (and perhaps for your extra crisis-preparedness investments), that's OK. You only do what you can do.

But if at all possible, we should all be trying to lay up a little something to fall back on. Why? ... common sense says, for personal setbacks such as job loss, income reduction due to injury or illness, divorce, etc.

But then, there is also the possibility of broader economic disaster. That is what I will primarily outline a plan for here, though to have a fallback financial plan of any kind is going to likely be a safety-net for you in whatever actual economic crisis you might one day face.

System Failure

First, let me be clear. I am not a financial adviser. I do not sell any kinds of investments or commodities. To tell you the truth, I'm barely qualified to keep my business's financial records from becoming a Quickbooks case-study in categorized chaos.

That warning out of the way, what I CAN impart here is some standard, basic conventional wisdom that most preparedness adherents would concur would be a reasonable approach for those looking to weather a recession or even a depression. Some of it is financially related, and some goes beyond that. You'll need to determine the wisest approach for your given situation, but I offer the following points to provoke some thought toward a world gone suddenly poor.

One other caveat--there are those who would say, any practical physical preparations would be superior to monetary assets on hand in a worst-case scenario.

Indeed, in the recent Hurricane Katrina aftermath, there were news reports of at least local pockets where a barter economy quickly superseded the normal system of trade. Gasoline, cigarettes, and beer replaced cash as the most effective units of trade. So if it's one or the other, physical preparedness or financial preparedness, you might consider getting your physical stores in place first.

So the big question is--Is it feasible that our economic system in America could be dealt a serious blow in today's world, to the effect of bringing the system to its knees? And in fact, would such an event not also disable the global economy and effectively leave us to our own devices to recover?

Yes, of course it's possible. Our economic system, increasingly dependent upon electronic security and viability, global political stability, and substantive interconnectivity among international entities of all stripes and principles, is constructed as a house of cards upon shifting sands. It seems only to be a matter of WHEN sudden gusts will take down the towers of blind, misguided trust we have built.

The global price of oil is just one obvious linchpin that is obscenely vulnerable to a range of issues beyond America's real control. Major acts of terror can also bring down our markets of trade in an instant, especially if targeted to do so as we saw on September 11, four years ago (do not forget that our economy's destruction is the ultimate stated objective of the Islamic terrorists we are at war with).

Could we withstand another major natural disaster anytime soon without breaking the back of this country's economic system?

And what about the expected avian flu pandemic that by all accounts will literally shut the world down for an unknown, prolonged period of time?

Yes. Economic disaster should be on your radar screen. Consider it possible and mitigate your risks.

Begin to Offset Your Risks

1. Do not have all your financial assets tied up in one place--especially not in the stock market. Within the last five years, that lesson was brought home to this generation of investors and it should not be forgotten. Neither should you count on a home or property that is bought and paid for as being "money in the bank."

2. Speaking of which, do not keep all or even most of your money in one bank. Wherever you do have your savings, be sure your money is easily and quickly accessible in the event you see indications of a potential banking collapse. It's happened before--here, and elsewhere in the world, so don't dismiss that as being too far-fetched.

3. Consider putting some of your money in precious metals and physically holding them (safely) in your possession. Gold and silver are traditional, historical ways of protecting wealth. If currencies become moot, it is logical to assume that many will see these metals (in the form of minted, recognizable coinage) as being worthy commodities for trade of all kinds.

4. Do have some cash on hand as well for emergency uses in the event of trouble of any kind.

5. Consider having on hand quantities of other items or materials of value that would be of universal practical appeal in a system-failure scenario. Almost anything is possible to barter, but some things will of course become more coveted than others in worst-case events ... use your imagination and determine whether it would make sense for you to put some of your excess available resources into commodities of potential worth. Think of things that everyone uses and needs but that would quickly disappear if the "Just in Time" supply system grinds to a halt.

6. I have to suggest that you give some serious thought to what you would do if you somehow lost your current home. How you would lose the home is irrelevant, as there are many ways it could happen. If it does happen, you would be well-served to have thought through your options at least preliminarily and have some options to pursue.

7. Finally, be sure you have a diverse array of skillsets within your toolbox. Be willing and ready to work in fields or in jobs that you are not involved in today. There may be more of a market for people able to engage in strong physical labor than in the predominantly managerial/administrative fields wherein America currently employs its people. Certainly, "necessary" physical trade skills and knowledge will be more in demand if global trade flows are interrupted. Knowledge and abilities will be king, so the more you have to offer in terms of practical, life-sustaining capabilities, the better off you will be. Now would be the time to start embracing those types of learning opportunities.

In summary, we are talking about preparing for the possibility of a wide-scale change in the landscape of American and global lifestyles. We hope it doesn't happen, but it could. So, if you want to be prepared for a disasters--this one is a fundamental threat that needs some attention.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

General NBC Threats - and Perhaps an Imminent Pandemic

I'm going to resume our on-again, off-again series on threats a family might want to consider in their preparedness planning. For similar posts on other threat possibilities, click on the August 2005 archives link in the right column.

Right up front, I want to point out the importance of an imminent pandemic threat that I will address shortly, so if you are not aware of it yet, please be sure to read on through to that section here.

NBC stands for nuclear, biological, chemical. The term is often used in military or law enforcement circles, referring to such purposeful attacks on a population or a locale. However, NBC also encompasses accidents that would release one of these types of harmful, toxic substances. So too, we will throw in naturally occurring virus or disease outbreaks in the human population--which, again, I will address later in this post.

However the "NBC" happens, we are talking serious, potentially life-threatening situations that you want to be at least minimally prepared for.

What to Do

Your course of action will obviously depend upon the exact set of circumstances in any NBC event.

I'm going to avoid backtracking on the nuclear/radiological situations since we addressed that type of threat in late August. Certainly, a situation involving radiation carries with it a unique set of solutions that one must be prepared to enact. Please be sure to familiarize yourself with that possibility and prepare accordingly.

In a real or suspected biological or chemical event environment, there are some basic, common objectives (to many bio/chem situations) one should pursue:

1. Though you will probably not be able determine the EXACT nature of a threat, try to quickly assess your immediate situation and calmly take action. Judge whether there might be an immediate local threat to your health. If there is, calmly determine to evade the threat.

2. Depending upon the nature of the threat, protect your eyes and cover your nose and mouth with a mask (try to keep a gas mask or surgical mask and duct tape handy) or at least breathe through some cloth to help filter out dangerous particles in the air. Note that a chemical threat is only going to be filtered out by an appropriate, fitted gas mask.

3. If you and the threat are inside, get outside ... or if that is not possible, move away from the source and open windows to minimize the danger and let in fresh air. Try not to touch any surfaces against your skin.

4. If you are outside, determine the position of the threat's origination and the prevailing wind direction. Move with haste away from the point of origin AND from the areas the air currents are carrying the toxicity ... most likely in a direction perpendicular to that lengthening, developing "fallout" area.

5. At the earliest opportunity, if you were possibly exposed to a chemical or biological substance, remove the clothing you were wearing, thoroughly wash yourself down head to toe, and seek medical attention.

As I've said repeatedly here before, it is key to remain calm so that you can make wise choices. But in many cases it will also be beneficial to control your respiration rate, avoiding additional air intake into your lungs that could prove to be contaminated.

Preventive Moves

  • You could find yourself exposed to or at risk for biological or chemical anywhere you go. Therefore, if at all possible, have at least some minimal protective gear handy--such as an N95 surgical mask and rubber/vinyl gloves. Carry a new (not outdated) top-quality gas mask in your car and have one fitted for each person in your household that is readily accessible. Make sure everyone knows how to put theirs on and how to use it and when.
  • At home, the ridiculed plastic and duct tape measures can indeed be useful in some cases, so it's a very cheap preparedness measure to have at the ready should the need arise. If there is a widespread contamination event taking place outside (that would preclude an effective evacuation), first, put on your mask, then close up your house, turn off your air conditioner or furnace, put out any fires in your fireplace or wood stove and turn off any gas appliances (which can create a negative air environment and serve to pull air into your home from outside). Then tape up a room and cover ALL openings to prevent contamination from seeping into your expedient shelter. Tip--in some cases, a HEPA vacuum cleaner can serve as a decent air-filtration/positive-air-pressure device should you need to stay in the taped up shelter for any length of time. Simply place the hose of the vacuum outside the plastic sheeting and tape around it to again secure your environment. Assuming you have electrical power, you can run the vacuum at least periodically to bring in filtered air. Note that you do not want to do this in the event of a chemical threat, since the HEPA filter will not remove chemical toxins.
  • It is worth mentioning (especially for people who live in proximity to chemical factories or toxic storage facilities or even near actively utilized railroad tracks) that there are NBC shelters available at varying costs. Our full-fledged steel shelter that is made to withstand a whole range of threats, including NBC environments with an integral NBC positive air pressure and filtration system, can be had for as little as under $15,000. We also have access to inflatable Anti-Bacteriological Chemical Home kit tents with integral positive air pressure and filtration system for under $700.

A Pandemic Threat

Now this is one where I must depart from my usual effort to avoid "scare-mongering." It's not that I am aiming to do that here, but there is now a real and imminent threat out there of which no one should be ignorant.

Generally, there is always a possibility of an emerging fast-spreading disease that could potentially sweep through an unprotected population.

But today in fact, there is currently a great deal of fear regarding the pending development of a disastrously deadly avian flu that could breakout of Asia and become human-transmissable. They say it could happen as soon as this winter and that we have little protection from if it happens.

It would sweep the globe. Right now, the fatality rate from the yet isolated cases of the H5N1 virus is approximately 55%. Contrast that with the catastrophic effect of the Spanish Flu pandemic in the early 20th century which had an estimated 2-3% fatality rate, and one gets the sense of how serious such an event could be.

Some of the same basic preventive measures used in the previously outlined NBC preps could be applied if it becomes apparent that a deadly flu or other communicable disease outbreak is occuring. The main difference may be that the danger from a pandemic could be extant for a very prolonged period of time. So it would be especially important to be well-prepared in all areas to sustain your family through whatever period is necessary.

1. Obviously, in a pandemic situation, you're going to want to isolate you family members from the rest of the world as much as possible. Stay away from crowds at the very least and away from other people indoors as much as you can.

2. Most other people will be doing the same thing so you could expect the wheels of the economy and society itself to come off for at least a period of weeks or months.

3. Have on hand a good supply of surgical masks of at least an N95 quality rating (when worn in public, duct tape a good seal to your face). Masks with eye shields are a plus. When going out, wear disposable gloves. Have on hand antibacterial hand soaps and cleaners and use them thoroughly when you may have been exposed to someone sick or to an area that might have been so contaminated within the previous several hours.

4. At the very least, practice good, common-sense hygiene after interacting with others. Good nutrition is also important.

5. Attempt TODAY to secure your family an adequate supply of Tamiflu, the only antiviral authorities today believe may minimize the deadly impact of the avian flu. There is not enough on hand in the world to protect even a small segment of the overall population, but in the U.S. supplies stand at a level that will help less than 1% of the population.

Once an outbreak occurs, Tamiflu will be strictly controlled and exceedingly expensive if it is available at all. In the U.S., a prescription is required. Be advised, it CAN still be had from online pharmacies elsewhere in the world at the moment. It is not a preventive medication--you will need to strictly follow dosage protocols AFTER you are exposed and show symptoms of the flu. Note that you will need to plan to perhaps extend the daily dosages from the normal 5 days to 8 days according to preliminary research on this particular virus strain--a very tough bug to overcome.

6. There are those who put a great deal of faith in the anti-viral capabilities of blackberry extract, particularly the brand Sambucol. At the very least, order substantial quantities of that as soon as possible and use it when exposure becomes probable.

7. Prepare as best you can to be able to allow for your family to endure long periods of isolation within your home. The objective is obviously to minimize family members' exposure to the flu virus. The bad news is, the virus may remain in the population for a long period of time so that the only way you will be able to overcome it is to become infected and somehow survive it ... hence the need for the Tamiflu and Sambucol. Still, avoidance for as long as possible is common sense, as with time, a vaccine or an effective antiviral might become available. Have plenty of food and needed medications on hand. Have quantities of cash available. Be able to transact as much business as possible online or by phone. Arrange to be able to work from home if possible. Have needed quantities of gasoline stored.

Of course, more common sense measures will occur to you as you think this through.

As always, these blog posts are not meant to be comprehensive documents that would be anyone's sole source of information. They are meant as primers, intended to initiate thought processes, prompting a reader to do more searching and learning, and ultimately take appropriate actions to prepare for potential crises that could impact their own families.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Take the Quiz: How Panic-Proof Are You?

Prayers are continuing to be offered for the folks enduring Hurricane Rita on the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast and inland. The winds and rain will take their toll, but at this point, it appears the impact will not be a worst-case event.

Nonetheless, those who evacuated the coastal regions did the right thing, given the potential of the storm as it was assessed a few days ago. All in all, the people of Texas in particular have again showed themselves to be some of the most resilient and resourceful Americans anywhere.

Now, it seems the worst of Rita in the end will be the criminal element taking advantage of the situation ... and perhaps the ripple effect of national gas prices going up and the subsequent impact on prices throughout the economy.

Fear and Panic are Never a Positive

In any crisis or expected crisis, or even in merely possible problem situations, there are going to be people who are going to lose "it" ... that is, their ability to think rationally and react accordingly in a timely fashion to the conditions they find themselves presented with. In a truly life-threatening situation, that can mean the difference between survival and terminal failure.

Obvious relevant example: a panicking person in the water is not only a probable drowning victim, but is a danger to any potential rescuers as well.

Panic is a real, worst-case result of a major event both in terms of an individual's reaction and a population's mass disposition. On a recent preparedness news program, an expert mentioned that the human brain stops functioning normally when the heart rate hits the 110-130 level. That is a medical milestone for actually measuring panic.

If you can control your heart rate and your emotions, you're a strong candidate for surviving any crisis. If you're prone to overreacting, then take steps now to learn how to remain calm.

In theory at least, being physically and materially prepared should provide an edge to anyone in terms of knowing they have done what they can to mitigate their own risks. It works for many, but for some, a key preparedness action will be to gain better control over their emotions.

Test Yourself

Here's an interesting page on where you can take a 1950s era test that measures a person's susceptibility to panic. It may not meet psychoanalytical standards today, but at the very least, it's a way for you to get yourself thinking about how important self control is and how you might be able to improve your "score" in that regard.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Houston's Rita Evacuation

Here we go again. The good news for Houston area residents is that the massive Katrina disaster was recent enough and impactful enough to have made a serious impression on everyone on the Gulf ... and throughout the country for that matter.

So Houston is benefitting from all those tough lessons learned, by individuals and by the involved authorities.

Here's a report that reflects the uncommon and welcome wisdom being exhibited with regard to this pending crisis: "Houston Residents Scrambling Out of the City." The freeways are in gridlock for 100 miles, gasoline is running out along the routes away from the coast, and of course tensions are high. But with Rita's expected landfall 48 hours away, there will be plenty of time for these folks to be well out of danger.

I have to wonder if there are not decent alternative routes to be taking, other than the eight lanes of freeway (in some parts) being made available to evacuees? There have to be some folks who have their back-up routes mapped out and are using them to their advantage. The freeway gridlock scenario is not a good situation in any event, but at least right now, imminent danger and panic is not a part of the mix.

Once again, prayers are being said here at the Refuge for those who will be struck by a major hurricane along the Gulf Coast. May there be far fewer people who end up, for whatever reason, staying home to foolishly do battle with nature's greatest fury.

Interesting perspective: Hurricane Rita - to stay or go - which one is the right move?
(My 2 cents again: Folks who have previously given this all some thought and preparation are three steps ahead of everyone else and are not having to agonize over the logistics.)

Deja vu all over again?: Previously run hurricane models depict massive devastation in Houston area.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Down Into the Bunker We Go

As I thought might happen with this Bunker series, traffic is heavy. (See Part 1: Welcome to My Underground Bunker; Part 2: How to Hide a Fallout Shelter in the Middle of Suburbia, Part 3: Is There Good Reason to Hide Your Shelter?) So as you're passing through, don't linger too long at any one post, out of consideration for the tourists lining up behind you. ;-)

Today, we actually get to go down the ladder into the bunker, so watch your step. It's 10 feet down from the lip of the hatch to the carpeted steel floor. I HAVE built in a landing at the bottom to allow for some storage space underneath as well as to help break your fall in case you slip on the way down. But actually, the ladder rungs are of a non-slip variety, so there's little danger of taking a tumble.

Now I do hope you're not expecting something like the Greenbrier Bunker. After all, I'm not planning on housing any congress critters or executive branch royalty, and I don't even have any local government yokels on my guest list, so what you're about to see is but a humble one-family disaster lifeboat. Snug, but outfitted to do the job.

And you'll have to forgive me if I don't give you the FULL classified briefing on the facilities here. Quite simply, you are not cleared and do not have a need to know all that lies within.

The Rundown

This custom-built, made-to-order fallout shelter is constructed of steel plate up to 7/16" thick. The dimensions of this particular shelter are 7' tall, 8' wide, 16' long.

The construction is fully double-sealed and coated against moisture seepage. Magnesium anodes on the outside deliver corrosion protection in most conditions for up to 90 years or more.

The several-hundred-pound blast door/hatch is 32" x 32" with heavy duty latches, hinges, and lift cylinders to ease the lifting and lowering of the door. It easily snaps/locks from within to keep out everything from F-5 winds to no-good zeros who would dare to try to enter. I have hooked up a half-ton manual hoist onto the underside of the hatch that allows us to easily maneuver heavy loads into and out of the shelter.

The shelter comes standard with a state-of-the-art NBC (nuclear/biological/chemical) air filtration system rated to support 12 people for an indefinite period of time. The filtration unit itself is powered electrically or manually in the event of power failure. The system is designed to maintain a clean, safe, positive air pressured environment within the shelter and includes steel blast valves to prevent explosive air pressures outside from compromising the internal air quality.

The shelter is ducted into the home's HVAC system but is easily sealed off from the external system from within when the need arises.

The bunker is wired with two circuits (120 and 220) for power. A generator plugged into the home's transfer switch also accommodates the power needs below in the event of a blackout. Further, there are stored, chargeable electrical power sources within the shelter.

A landline telephone, external cell phone antenna with various adapters, DSL, external broadcast TV antenna, and satellite TV are also wired in.

Hardwired, hidden external video cameras are powered via the circuits inside and a monitor within keeps occupants apprised of what is going on above ground.

There are three fold-out steel-framed bunks engineered to support up to 1000 pounds each. The floor is fully carpeted. A fold-out table is mounted on the wall. There are wire shelves along the walls and a tool bench in the corner.

On one wall is a colorful, photographic wallpaper mural of a mountain lake scene, to sooth any claustrophobic tendencies someone might have inside.

Of course, there is a fair quantity of water, food, tools, books, games, a laptop, supplies, and miscellaneous equipment taking up much of the available space ... but not TOO much space to preclude us from quickly shoehorning our entire family down there if that time comes unheralded.


A good friend, Scrapman, asked what one could do if trapped inside and heavy debris fell over and blocked the hatch door. Actually, there WOULD be a few options ...

1. We'd deploy the 10-ton hydraulic jack mounted under the hatch specifically for that purpose. If a few cranks on that thing fails to move the blockage ...

2. We'd get to work on opening up the back door. Actually it's an emergency exit that requires loosening something like 32 or 36 bolts that hold that exit plate onto the ceiling. Above it is a quantity of gravel and a waterproof barrier (selected to head off winter-frost freezing solid the ground above that is part of that outside escape route).

3. We would also have the possibility of dialing out for help if all is well with one of the phone or radio options in place.

Next point--Earlier in this series, I mentioned the gentleman last year who aided tremendously in determining how I should best approach my bunker plans. He came at it from a concrete contractor's perspective and I learned a great deal about concrete bunkers and their utility. I spoke again with him last night and he gave me his permission to name him here in case anyone in the Twin Cities area is interested in a concrete bunker. His name is Bud Borglund, and he's got his own prominent contracting business. If you'd like to get a hold of him, email me and I'll put you in touch.

Do You Want One?

So what do you think? The world can be a pretty scary place, and there are times all of us start wondering about what direction our future is taking. But to be frank with you, I have never felt quite so good about the world and its prospects.

Why? Well, OK, I'm a bound and determined optimist who looks for the positive and tries to build on those opportunities. But on a real personal level--my gut is thanking me for putting in the shelter ... and so too is my wife who had a reservation or two last year. Having the bunker as a safe, secure, convenient retreat for a wide range of threats sure does make the world seem a bit rosier. Laugh if you will--it sounds like a sales pitch--but it's true. And other bunker owners will tell you the same thing. What a well-built bunker buys you is unparallelled peace of mind.

Easier Than You Think

Now HERE is the sales pitch ... if you're interested in one of these for your own family, email me. This year, I was so pleased with my shelter experience I agreed to help the builder/installer market his product online.

Not that he needs me or anything ... he's been building and installing these shelters all over the US for more than 10 years ... for government agencies (to include FEMA), large and small corporations, and households across the country. His shelters are designed by a structural engineer certified in all 48 of the continental US states to far exceed FEMA standards. And he builds each shelter from a menu of sizes and options so that it is exactly what you want and need. Storm shelters start from as little as $3700 (5x5x8). Well-equipped fallout shelters start at $14,600 (6x6x12). We also offer above-ground saferoom installations.

We are continuously backlogged and the business is growing. Imagine that. Why would demand be so strong? Well, that's perhaps what all the other posts we've made in this Refuge blog can provide clues to.

But does that increasing demand mean if you want one NOW, you have to wait for long before you could have some of your own deeply rooted peace of mind? Nope, it doesn't. You can have your own installation completed (installations normally are done in one day by the builder) in a matter of 2-4 months.

Get on the short list. You never know when something could happen that would make it a very long list.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Is There Good Reason to Hide Your Shelter?

This is part three of my series on 21st-century fallout shelters. Please read the first two installments before reading this post since there is a bit of a storyline that has taken shape. Part 1: Welcome to My Underground Bunker; Part 2: How to Hide a Fallout Shelter in the Middle of Suburbia. And then, Part 4: Down into the Bunker We Go

Today's first order of business--In the previous posting, I asked if you could spot the telltale signs of the buried shelter in the backyard images. No, the images aren't the best, but in at least a couple of the pictures, if you look underneath the benches, you'll spot what I was referring to. Out of respect for my customers, I'm not going to say anything more about those "clues."

I could do more to completely hide the shelter's presence, and at some point I might. But the main idea I want to get across is, a little creative landscaping can go a long way toward obscuring the fact that there is a shelter below ground.

Why Hide It?

To many people, there are obvious reasons for trying to keep their bunkers hidden.

First, in the event of societal calamity such as in an all-out nuclear war, those who are aware of a nearby shelter may very well try to gain access ... perhaps resorting to violence in the process. There are of course capacity limits to each shelter and most shelter owners are only prepared to house and provide for their immediate families, not to become the neighborhood civil defense center.

Second, as we've previously discussed, people are hesitant to reveal their bunker preparedness in the interest of maintaining their reputations as "normal" folks. After all, chances of actually having to use the shelters for the designed purpose will hopefully remain comparatively remote, while day-to-day life goes on. No sense in becoming seen by others in town primarily as the paranoid bunker rat. And if it turns out that the genuine need for the shelter emerges, see reason number one above.

The bottom line is, people who recognize genuine threats out there in the world and who choose today to prudently invest in materials and goods that may mitigate their family's personal risk in the future could one day be sadly proven to have taken an unusually wise path. If that happens, the rest would likely have paid dearly and en masse for their typical shortsightedness.

Inside, There's More than Meets the Eye

In my own installation, my shelter entry comes up inside my home office. The nominal size of the room addition precluded me from putting up a secure closet around the hatch, so I found another way to hide it.

The images here pretty clearly show how I chose to combine form with function. By building by own giant ottoman on wheels that rolls over the hatch, visitors don't have the slightest notion that the shelter is there. It's basically a heavy solid box that may NEVER break ... and though it's not the prettiest upholstery job you'll ever see, the piece is quite adequate and I am happy with it. Heck, it's even big enough for me to take a little catnap on when business is slow.

I think the neat thing is, I also built the ottoman to allow for the option of propping it up (rather than rolling it off) so that we could, if need be, descend into the shelter and lower the hatch and the ottoman back down into place so the presence of the shelter is not readily apparent to intruders.

Next--we have a look inside.

For other posts in this series, see the mainpage.

Friday, September 16, 2005

How to Hide a Fallout Shelter in the Middle of Suburbia

This is part two of my expose' on the growing, underground problem of bunker dependency in suburban America. See the previous shocking confession, "Welcome to My Underground Bunker." If you haven't read that first installment in this series, I'd suggest you do so, because this posting dovetails with the nail-biting issues at the end of that article. And then, Part 3, Is There Good Reason to Hide Your Shelter? and Part 4: Down into the Bunker We Go

So, the big, often unspoken concern for would-be shelter buyers is, "Could I actually get away with it?"

Of course, for a number of reasons, many of the most self-respecting, privacy-conscious shelter shoppers want to be assured that if they're going to bury an anti-apocolyptic chamber of steel in their backyard, their reputations as harmless, faceless suburbanites will remain unblemished.

Fret no more, kind people ... most certainly we can guarantee ... well, OK, probably we can hide ... or, actually, there is at least a chance we can protect the names of the innocent and ... ahh ... no we can't be of that much help in that regard. But you know, it's really never as bad as you think it's going to be.

I do wish I could tell you that we sell optional bullet-proof character membranes with integrated installation-invisibility coverage, but we specifically decided to keep our shelters reasonably priced and within reach of mortal man. So I'm afraid we also nixed the supernatural neighborhood-wide mind-distortion fields that would have cost us a few billion dollars in extra development costs, and which we probably would have had to pass on to you in extra overhead charges.

That Thing

Most kidding aside, to be clear, you're pretty much on your own in confronting the fact that putting a multi-ton steel monolith into the ground with a crane is going to attract a little attention--certainly of the neighbors, maybe of passers-by and/or local zoning authorities, and at the very least, your spouse.

So, although most shelter installations are done within one day (YES, ONE DAY!), you're going to want to be upfront with at least a few of those parties. And also come up with a fantastically believable whopper for all the rest ... if you are so inclined.

You could call your project a special water-line repair job, electrical line work, or you could be putting in a wine cellar. Or maybe you volunteered to guinea-pig a new experimental federal infrastructure module for submariner communications. Or here's an idea ... it could be a storm shelter ... ooohhh, that's so crazy, it just might work.

In the end, you'll likely find the whole experience to be remarkably painless. Most folks involved with or witnessing some aspect of your installation won't really care or maybe understand what you're up to.

Suburban Camo

One of the fun things, I think, about installing the shelter in your backyard (if indeed that is where you put it) is that it's your challenge to come up with ways to disguise the telltale signs that something is underground.

I mean, once it's buried, in America, you can pretend and almost start to yourself believe that it never happened. But first, you have to cover your tracks.

After all, does anybody (other than me, I guess) intend to turn their bunker into a tourist attraction? Come to think of it, even I decided to try to hide all the sordid details of my buried past.

So here with this post are the first three pictures of my backyard "shame," turned oddly enough, into pride. Can YOU find the clues to the nature of what lies buried in this backyard?

More in the next installment, to include confirmation of the clues that are present here, if you can pinpoint them. For other posts in this series, see the mainpage.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Welcome to My Underground Bunker

Today, I'm going to depart from the comfortable cadence of encouraging common-sense crisis-preparedness.

In fact, I'm going to completely throw the camo tarp off the blast door to my underground bunker and invite you in for a friendly little visit.

Whoa! Too much too suddenly?

Oh all right, how about a more gradual, gently revealing series of blog tete-a-tetes that will slowly bring you deeper into the understanding of subterranean security? After all, this for many folks who get into preparedness at all, IS kind of the ultimate level of readiness--getting your very own underground bunker. I don't mind for a minute sharing with you some of the inside secrets on these things.

Why so trusting you ask? Well, after all I do sell them now, so that MIGHT be one small reason for taking you into my confidence.

And honestly, I do enjoy sharing and promoting disaster readiness, and this is one aspect that draws a lot of interest from people.

We purchased our own "bunker" last year to coincide with the construction of an addition to our home. We had always been in need of a decent storm shelter at home (our family had had a couple of very scary, close encounters with killer tornados) and quite frankly, there's no time like a major construction project to integrate a shelter or safe room into your house.

Shopped Around

Upon deciding that the time was apparently right to add in a shelter, I first consulted with a local concrete contractor who took a great deal of interest in our specs--especially since it became apparent to him that what I was looking for was potentially a brand new kind of job for him, and one that he himself had always wanted to get involved in. Of course, I wasn't just looking for a basement or storm cellar. I was also looking for a genuine fallout shelter that would protect against virtually all reasonable potential threats--nuclear, biological, and chemical, in addition to, of course, your standard run-of-the-mill F-5 tornado. And there would be a few other less notable threats to also consider, but perhaps we'll get to those down the road.

For all the great talks we had and the calculations brought to bear, we eventually determined that I would best be served (read that to mean "get the most bang for my buck") by looking for a prefabricated storm shelter that could easily be dropped into a hole in the ground.

I had seen a few types of prefab shelters on the internet before, but I suddenly became very serious about researching them. I also looked locally offline. The whole price range was game, from plastic bubbles to mega-tonnage prefab concrete hexagons. But it didn't take long to get discouraged. Most were outrageously priced, in my view. That is, until I found what turned out to be the answer.

I fortuitously came across a gentleman who had been building prefabricated storm and fallout shelters for 10 years--for companies, government organizations, and private households all over the country. His steel-plate shelters were engineered to withstand far greater forces than any winds known on this planet, they were built to last an estimated 90 years in the ground, and his prices were comparably affordable ... in fact, in my mind, a downright bargain.

I found the builder/installer to be an unusually polite and honorable businessman, I discovered his work came with the highest recommendations, and I really appreciated the many options I had to choose from. And as important as anything else, I did not feel like either one of us was a little weird when we were talking about the threat protection I had in mind. So obviously, I had found my shelter supplier.

First Steps - Conquering Your Reservations

Since we're going to cover a lot of ground in several blog articles on this topic, I won't move too fast. In fact, I may not even share any photos yet, just to be sure YOU come back in a couple of days for more, and beyond that as well.

But this much we can cover now ... I do clearly remember a couple of initial hurdles at that early stage which at the time seemed immense. Now that I talk with others about their shelter dreams, I realize that those "obstacles" or reservations are fairly common for most people today who get so far as to actually look into getting a shelter of their own.

Rhetorical reservation number one ... (all these a different perspective on the same issue) What will "people" think? What will I tell them? Do I need to tell anyone anything about the shelter? How do I "sell" my spouse or kids or relatives on the need for an underground shelter? Especially a FALLOUT shelter? Egads, have I lost my mind?

Rhetorical reservation number two ... (not at all distinct from number one, but you can't have a list without more than one bullet point) Will the city building inspectors approve such a nonstandard underground shelter? Do they need to know? Can I get away without involving them? Will I get on someone's "watch" list once they know I'm one of those bunker builders? What about the neighbors? Yikes, will I ever be able to look those people in the eye? Or myself in the mirror?

Well, suffice it to say ... in my own experience and in those of others that I have gotten to know of similarly self-flagellating backgrounds ... the overcoming is worth the effort.

For subsequent posts in this series, see Part 2: How to Hide a Fallout Shelter in the Middle of Suburbia, Part 3: Is There Good Reason to Hide Your Shelter?, Part 4: Down into the Bunker We Go.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Katrina and the Emerging Embrace of Crisis Preparedness

As a preparedness-products seller, I am seeing the same thing other merchants in similar markets are going through today. There is clearly a giant spike in preparedness-product sales across the United States since Hurricane Katrina. Reasons for that should be obvious.

Yet apparently, recognition of this wave of activity is somehow slow to dawn upon most in the media. Strangely, major media outlets are picking up bits and pieces of the phenomenon and reporting on it and interpreting it according to whatever agenda their editorial round table might be setting at this time. But I have yet to see an accurate report on the big picture and the implications.

Example ... This
article published September 8 in the Chicago Tribune dangled under the splashy headline: "Fearful Southerners Buy Firearms at Torrid Pace." The story as written talked about fears, racist feelings and overtones, crime in the hurricane-devastated areas, and more. Of course, as much as what WAS said, was probably close to the mark. But the point missed is, the whole country is seeing a similar run on guns today.

More importantly, the larger story is not only about gun sales. I'm not involved in selling guns or ammo, but I can speak more intimately about the basic preparedness products I do sell, which are experiencing similar "torrid" runs. In fact, my overall business is bubbling along at a rate triple what it was a couple of weeks ago. And tellingly, my business is not coming from the areas where people are trying to recover; it is originating everywhere else across the nation, to include Alaska and Hawaii.

My primary source of preparedness food, Mountain House, is out of food and they are now placing all orders on backorder--reportedly for several weeks. In an email to me, my sales rep called their experience a national ordering frenzy. I understand virtually all other emergency food sources are also quickly depleting their stocks if they haven't already.

Other products that are sizzling--water filters and purification chemicals, and hand-crank/solar-powered radios and flashlights. Moreover, anything else remotely preparedness-related is selling fast too.


The salient point is, a whole new segment of the population has suddenly been roused to realize that crisis readiness is not something anyone should overlook. It's common sense that could quite possibly make a life and death difference to anyone anywhere at any given time. Sometimes we get fair warning, sometimes we don't, but either way, being prepositioned to deal with crisis saves lives.

The 9/11 Lesson

On this fourth anniversary of 9/11, we recall the tragic wake-up call the nation received when a handful of determined, suicidal terrorists changed, among other things, our feelings of being insulated from danger here in America.

The period following that historic event saw a similar surge across preparedness markets as people did what they could to try to exert some control over their household's future security. Gun sales reached unprecedented levels and other basic and more advanced readiness-related markets also set records.

The lesson absorbed in 2001 was that we as a nation and people are in the crosshairs of some seriously misguided folks around the world. We could not any longer assume, if we ever did, that the government would be able to keep us fully secure from those day-to-day risks. Indeed, we still hear almost daily that even worse attacks on our way of life are not "ifs" but are inevitable.

The Katrina Lesson

Similarly, Hurricane Katrina has brought home another realization for a whole new slice of the population. I suspect that it is approximately as large a demographic segment as the 9/11 population impact was. That is, with Katrina's aftermath, we are either reminded or shockingly awakened to the fact that the authorities cannot be counted on to immediately save our lives in disaster scenarios. Responsible parties must assume that they are on their own in the event of catastrophe.

I don't see how anyone could come to any other conclusion if they are at all cognizant of what has been an ongoing, largely inefficient rescue operation across 90,000 square miles. Obviously, unknown numbers of people have died waiting for help.

The Trend Toward Popular Acceptance of Preparedness

This is a trend that will continue to build with time. No longer do the news media or Hollywood dare to cast as fools those who wisely seek to mitigate their risks. Indeed, one can recognize the change in tone in news reports of how being ready is the logical and prudent path.

Lo and behold, we are seeing the media now sending messages to the public (such as in this 9/10 NY Times
article) that everyone should have at least two weeks worth of water, food, and supplies put aside, as opposed to the three-days worth that was previously the publicly accepted, government-recommended standard.

So what exactly are the implications of this next wave toward American household preparedness? One could extend many conclusions beyond the obvious, but suffice it to say, as a people, Americans are not as helpless and clueless as we have been portrayed. We are taking our lessons to heart and becoming stronger and wiser everyday.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Keep Your Cool

I want to pay some sincere homage to a great online personality by the name of "Charlie," who likes to talk about the "zen" of prepping. Charlie, I hope you know that you are able to inspire people, and your "zen" alone is worth immeasurable insight to those who pause long enough to sense its importance.

Zen - a simple word and concept. To me, at the core, it means getting into an energizing, calming zone difficult to match ... and when things are going well, impossible to disturb.

That's how I would interpret the zen of crisis readiness. I do love the term as it is applied to the avocation. As you settle into a calm, systematic process and rhythm of gathering your resources, one can almost shut out the many reasons out there for concern ... the things that can so easily create disabling anxiety if you allow them to.

Your Most Important Resource

Any "survival expert" worth his salt is going to agree that even if there is no other cause for hope in a threatening situation other than your ability to remain calm, then you do still have a decent chance of being OK. The flip side of that equation is that panic paralyzes and is the number one killer in a true crisis.

The good news is there for the taking ... the capability for calm is attainable by most anyone and it costs nothing. Sure, it might require some time and some mental discipline and even some focused practice, but there is really no better outcome to work toward or resource to develop in your preparedness activities than to become as in control of your emotions as you can be.

The simple message of the day--
Do not expect that you will be able to control your emotional tendencies and think clearly and logically in a life-threatening situation if you are unable to do so in your day-to-day life.

You have to be truthful with yourself about this. Are you able to maintain your cool in the face of even physical pain, social injustice, and/or mental abuse? Can you prevent someone from pushing your buttons no matter what? Are you the man or woman others look to when the tension is palpable?

If so, then you're probably going to do well if it ever comes down to the fact that your mental responsiveness and emotional resilience will determine whether you and your loved ones live or die.

If not, then the rest of your preparedness efforts are moot.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

How Preparedness Could Have Helped Untold Numbers

Some would question how anyone could have been prepared for Katrina and its aftermath, particularly if they were near the coast where landfall was made.

My simple answer is that someone who was "prepared" would have had an understanding of and respect for the threat significance, and they would have previously developed the mindset of doing whatever was right and necessary to deal with the danger. And no, we're not talking heroic last stands here ... indeed, quite the opposite.

Bugging Out

Many who are prepared for crises of all kinds know that they could one day be faced with the need to quickly escape their home or neighborhood. "Getting out of Dodge" is commonly called "bugging out."

There are those who have elaborate bug-out plans with predetermined destinations and multiple routes mapped out if needed to avoid traffic bottlenecks. As important, most have some sort of "go bags" or bug-out bags (BOBs) at the ready with many essentials inside to ensure that they are not suddenly in a refugee status with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Yet as critical as that groundwork is, it is the attendant mental preparedness that would have perhaps been most critical in a case such as that faced by gulf coast residents before Katrina came ashore. I'm not talking about mental toughness or practiced Marine Corps-like resilience here. I'm simply referring to the fact that those who had given some prior thought to a potential need to leave their homes and belongings behind would NOT have had to wrestle at great length with the prospect under stress and urgent notice. In short, their readiness would have inspired positive decisiveness.

Mental Preparation Did Save Lives

I know of many "prepared" people from the area of Katrina's devastation who did indeed live to tell of their experience. They were not people who chose to stay at home. They were folks who had long ago realized some untold event could force them to flee their house and belongings.

Being ready with maps and BOBs did not make the choice easy ... but when authorities were adamantly warning that Katrina was going to be a disaster of the greatest magnitude, what else was there to do but to accept that this was what they had known could happen, though they certainly would not have ever wished for it.

With as much fear and reluctance as everyone else throughout the region, they swallowed their regrets and grabbed what they could and left. As a result, they lived, though certainly many of them lost everything that was left behind.

Of some importance, I believe--to this point, I personally know of no preppers in the area who died in the tragedy.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

All the More Reason to Strive for Self-Reliance

Folks everywhere who have counted on the efficiency and largesse of the government and its myriad agencies to take care of them in the worst of times should have received a clanging wake-up call this week.

The article linked below speaks volumes about only one aspect of the heartbreak spreading throughout the hurricane-birthed desolation.

Murder and Mayhem in New Orleans' Miserable Shelter

It speaks of conditions of depravation in the "shelter" of New Orleans' Convention Center and how babies and others have actually died waiting for water, food, and help. It tells of horrible nightmarish behaviors of some of the people inside that have resulted in brutal rapes and murders of young children and racially charged death threats against elderly refugees.

Of course there is far more to tell of this disaster that is so widespread and impactful. The stories are inescapable and eye-opening.

If Katrina isn't a lesson in how NOT to count on salvation from the authorities in time of need, then I can't imagine what it would take to bring about that realization.

Responsibility is Our Own

Let me be clear ... I am not being critical here of governmental and relief agencies for their failures, though there certainly have been tragic consequences for many administrative and bureaucratic limitations and oversights.

What I AM emphasizing is that we as individuals--especially those of us who have families or have others in our care--must take responsibility for our own futures, to include preparing substantially for the possibility of disaster visiting our own communities.

It's not difficult. It's not prohibitively expensive to take some basic preventive or mitigating steps to maximize your household's chances at surviving a crisis. It's nothing more than basic common sense.

To fail to take such steps can obviously result in putting your loved ones in dire straights ... and though you might, after the fact, try to point fingers elsewhere, in the end you will bear the scars, the hardships, and the grief.

Excellent Practical Advice for Those in the Recovery Areas

I came across this letter sent by an individual who is still rebuilding from Hurricane Charley. He obviously knows what he's talking about and he has some pointed advice for folks in the Katrina recovery areas that you're not going to find elsewhere. It's possible that this advice could mean a great deal to you or to someone you know ...

From: Steve Wood
Sent: Thursday, September 01, 2005 9:55 PM
Subject: Freedom Letter - Special Edition No. 33, September 1, 2005
Special Edition

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

I've been asked how to best help the folks reeling from the aftermathof hurricane Katrina. I'm departing from this week's Freedom Letter to render what advice I can offer for those eager to help with assistance. The following is only my personal opinion from my experience after hurricane Charley and it is not any type ofprofessional, legal, or financial advice.

Phase I
The recovery from hurricane Katrina is in phase one. It is the stage when you are numb from being smacked by a hurricane. Every modern convenience has been taken from you. All community services (hospitals, sanitation, water, electricity, fire protection, phone,etc) are gone. Right now the need is getting emergency water and food to the victims. During phase I after hurricane Charley, the President of the United States was giving out water and ice just a couple of miles from my home. The entire nation was focused on helping us. Our local parish had so many items trucked in from other parishes and from Catholic Charities that they had a hard time distributing all the emergency items.

Although people are literally dying of thirst as I write, within 48 to 72 hours they are going to be inundated with water and emergency food supplies. What these people need is on the way already. My suggestion (and this is only my suggestion) is that you concentrate your support on phase II of recovery.

Emergency Phase I Repairs
For the homes that were temporarily flooded and no longer have water in them, the best practical assistance is helping to get all the wet building materials out of the house this weekend. You wouldn't believe the disgusting molds that can grow on wet drywall and insulation in humid climates like the areas hit by hurricane Katrina. The best practical Phase I help we received was getting our roof temporarily repaired and getting the wet ceilings, walls, and insulation out of the house. The weekend after hurricane Charley my contractor friend, Thom Jordan in Tallahassee, gathered his crew and drove hours to Port Charlotte to remove wet ceilings, walls, and insulation from our home. It is imperative to get everything wet outof the house ASAP. If you know of a family with a wet, but not still flooded home, then either hire a contractor to go there and remove the wet building materials, or gather some friends and drive there and do it for the family you know.

Phase II
Phase II begins after the initial emergency period. It is when the realization of what happened starts to sink in along with the awareness that it is going to take a very long time for things to recover. At this stage, families start making their recovery plan. I could tell phase II began here in Port Charlotte when I heard lots of families cussing at each other while shopping in a re-opened Wal-Mart. The shock is wearing off and the stress really begins.

I am going to be very blunt with my advice. From the news reports I'veseen, I would advise most families in the worst disaster areas to relocate, not rebuild. It is extremely difficult to rebuild after suchwidespread devastation. I've had workers in my home this week and hurricane Charley was over a year ago. There are homes and businesses that haven't even begun to rebuild here and Katrina's damage is much more severe. My advice is simple: get out, unless you have a compelling reason to stay and rebuild.

Therefore, my advice to those of you wishing to assist those hit by hurricane Katrina is to focus your giving on helping families to relocate. This would involve:

  • U-haul rental, if there is anything left to move
  • Transportation to the new location
  • Used automobile (if auto has been destroyed)
  • First and last month's rent on a furnished apartment, house, or condo
  • First month's utilities and utility deposit
  • Food money for at least a month
  • A few sets of clothing for the family and some toys for the kids
  • Tools needed for a new job
  • Helping the breadwinners to locate a new job ASAP

I don't know of any organization focusing on something like the above, but you can start this type of assistance immediately by getting friends, family, and your parish to sponsor a relocating family. Just find someone who knows a family that wants to relocate and help them. This plan is not perpetual welfare, but a simple, short-term plan to get a family back on its feet.

The poor who were dependent upon the federal government for assistance before the hurricane, are probably going to have to depend upon the same after the hurricane. What happened here is that FEMA set up a mobile-home mini-city for those who could not find or afford temporary housing. The look of the FEMA city is a bit haunting with no colors,no landscaping, just rows and rows of mobile homes. Yet at least they are clean, dry, and livable facilities for poor families.

The Nightmare of Dealing with Insurance Companies
During phase II, many families will discover that their insurance companies are rotten scoundrels. (Remember, this is my personal opinion.) They will be late in paying and will estimate way below repair or replacement cost. Dealing with Liberty Mutual in the months following hurricane Charley was my biggest nightmare. If I received only what they initially offered me to repair my home, we couldn't have afforded to fix it. We would have lost our home. They were very late in paying for repairs and we had to sell assets to pay installments on repairs. For the five months before we moved out of our rental home in July, Liberty Mutual didn't give us a cent for temporary housing. The rent check finally arrived after we had already moved back in our home.

There were a few insurance companies in our community that were fair and timely with meeting their obligations, but they were in a minority.

The single best thing I did after hurricane Charley was to hire independent insurance adjusters that did battle with our insurancecompany for us. I emphasize that you need honest adjusters. The first set of adjusters we hired were unlicensed. They were arrested at gunpoint by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The second adjuster we hired, Ron Delo with Insurance ClaimsConsultants, was an angel sent from heaven. I can't begin to describe his help in getting a fair adjustment from our insurance company. Ijust called Ron before writing this letter and he is heading to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. If you are interested in what he offers, call 800-572-7914. If you really need to reach Ron in an emergency situation, call him on his satellite phone at (254)387-4714. I am not making any type of formal, legal, or financial recommendation for Ron. I am just telling you how he was an incredible help to our family and to the Family Life Center in our recovery from Charley. Ron is the type of person I would recommend to a family member that had been slammed by another hurricane.

If the family you know is planning to rebuild, or if they want to move on and relocate, they will probably come out way ahead with their insurance company if they use a licensed and reputable insurance adjuster. Help them find one.

I apologize for the length of this letter, but I felt that the seriousness of the situation following hurricane Katrina demanded that I offer what little advice I could.

Yours in His Majesty's Service,
Steve Wood

P.S. If you are sending a care package to a family, include a few cans of stuff to fix flat tires. Flats have been a major headache all year long following hurricane Charley. They are a super headache when there aren't any tire repair shops open.

Copyright © 2005, Family Life Center International Inc.
Family Life Center International - 22226 Westchester Blvd. Port Charlotte, FL 33952