Freehold Friday: Situational Awareness

Howdy muchachos!

Welcome back for another edition of Freehold Friday.

The past several weeks, I’ve been posting information on preparedness and such topics as Going Gray, why be prepared, and the different labels that people justifiably or unjustifiably apply to those who are prepared and take personal responsibility for their own safety and security.

Along those lines, today I thought I’d talk about something that has popped up a lot recently as more and more reports of crime both here and abroad tend to surface in the news. Situational Awareness.

This is one aspect of being prepared that deals specifically with personal safety and security. Situational awareness can get you out of more tight spots than just about anything else out there, including a gun. With situational awareness—or a heightened sense of what’s going on around you—you can avoid trouble itself and not even have to pull your gun if you’re carrying.

I guess I should start my post what situational awareness is. It’s a fancy tactical like term simply means being aware of your surroundings. It does not mean you’re paranoid. It does not mean you constantly suspect the worst of every human being. It does not mean you walk around town brandishing a shotgun and an M4 carbine.

Situational awareness is a skill that can be used in everyday life—in fact I do all the time. I used it at the grocery store this morning to avoid an accident. Let me explain.

I was walking down the aisle, searching for the rice and chili mix I know my family likes. My particular supermarket carries them both at the end of one aisle that’s right at the corner of the store where people naturally flow from the produce department into the deli before they are shunted down the backside the store toward dairy. I’ve seen people ram carts together at this spot more than once. Since people are moving at a fast walk at best, the damage is obviously minor—we’re not talking about a tractor-trailer at highway speeds here, muchachos.

However, when I go shopping I typically have my 2-year-old with me, so I’m naturally on high alert lest he does some damage to the store or something happens to him. Having an old lady blindside me going around the corner could potentially harm a child. If nothing else, he likes to wrap his little fingers on the edge of the cart and pretend it’s an actual car. Where he keeps his hands is right where the front of another cart would smash into my card should I get hit.

So how did I avoid an accident today using the preparedness skill of situational awareness?

Observe your surroundings.

The 1st step in becoming situationally aware, is to observe your surroundings. You can’t react to anything if you don’t know what’s going on. As I approached the corner, I slowed down. Typically the cart I pick is the one that makes the most noise and has squeaky wheels. I’m talkin’ this thing is so loud I can hardly hear myself think, let alone hear someone else approaching in the other aisle.

So out of habit, I slow down—as most people do—when I approached the corner. I pause for a second, listening to see if I could hear someone walking around the other side. I did not, and so concluded it was safe for me to make my turn and head into the aisle. However, because I don’t rely on only one sense when it comes to the safety of my children, I also glanced down at the floor and noticed a shadow.

The shadow was connected to a little old lady who was paying absolutely no attention where she was going. She was moving slow enough that I didn’t hear her footsteps or the shopping cart on the other side of the aisle, but she was back-lit by one of the large lights hanging from ceiling and her shadow was cast directly into my path. I saw the movement, stopped my cart just in time, and instead of jarring my son as our carts collided, I was able to smile as she shuffled past—oblivious that someone was even standing there.

Granted, a shopping cart collision is not exactly what you’re expecting from this blog, but the point remains—situational awareness can be applied to just about every situation life.

Imagine you’re at the gas station. It’s a cold, wet night, and you just want to get enough gas to get home. It’s been a long day at work and you’re tired. The average person would think nothing of stepping outside and pumping the gas. If you are in a nice neighborhood, you might hum and idly tap the roof of your car along to the music being pumped out of the speakers near the pumps. You might have no care in the world other than what you’re going to reheat when you get home for a late dinner.

If however, you’re in a large inner-city or in a certain part of town you know to be on the rougher side of the law, you would naturally be more alert. Without knowing it, you’re taking stock of your surroundings and looking for threats. Whether you do it or not intentionally, that’s the way your mind is wired.

Some people allow themselves to be so wrapped up in their own thoughts or concerns that they don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them…on purpose. Case in point—walk down the street of any major city and see how many people are looking down at their cell phones instead of where they’re going.

But you’re someone who is prepared. Someone who practices situational awareness is very hard to surprise. You could be standing at the gas pump drumming your fingers on top of your car, yet your ears are still attuned to any noise that’s out of the ordinary. At the gas station, you expect to hear crappy music blared over loudspeakers. You expect to hear people talking on their cell phones—despite the big signs that say shut off all electronic devices and engines. Hell, you even expect to see the occasional fool who sits there with his engine running while pumping gas.

What you* don’t* expect is the shuffling feet of the hooligan up to no good who approaches the gas station in the dark of night. Your ears can hear these noises, but your mind must be able to sort them out and filter them to be able to act on the information your body is providing you. Don’t just rely on your hearing, though. Take a glance at the windows of your car while you’re pumping your gas. You may have your back facing whoever is sneaking up behind you, but if you look at the reflection in the mirror or the window, you might give yourself a few seconds notice that there is someone approaching you.

Granted, the person who’s approaching you might just be at the other bay and he or she might just be stepping up to grab the little squeegee to clean their window.

They might also be a criminal up to no good.

The point is, the person who is situationally aware will be able to have the information they need to make the best decision on how to react at any given moment. Do they ignore the person who is approaching them from behind? Do they recognize that the figure behind them as a middle-aged woman just moving past the adjoining pump to put gas in her car? Do they recognize the hooded figure of the young teenager with pants hanging down around his ankles is not exactly someone you want to have your back turned to at night?

It all depends on the…wait for it…situation!

Whatever you decide the person is—friend or foe—you now have an advantage. They are—if they’re up to no good—counting on you being oblivious until the moment they strike. You have gained a few seconds’ advantage. Now it’s up to you to act. Turn and face them or run for help or scream, the choice is up to you—but at least you have a choice, because you were paying attention.

If you are not aware, you are at the mercy of those who may wish you harm.

Placing ourselves at the mercy of someone else is not one of the basic tenets of being prepared. Personal responsibility means not only taking responsibility for your actions and safety, but for protecting yourself from the actions of others.

To be situationally aware, you need to trust all of your senses. Use your ears to listen for footsteps were they shouldn’t be—sometimes silence itself is more telling. For instance, when you’re taking a stroll through the park or the woods and suddenly you realize you don’t hear any birds chirping or squirrels parking. Many animals, especially those that are considered prey for others, will go silent when something unusual or dangerous approaches their location. That in itself is a huge tell and now you can be a little more prepared for danger.

Use your eyes to see when something is amiss, whether it be a shadow on the floor moving toward your around the aisle in a grocery store, or the reflection of somebody approaching you from behind at the gas station. Your eyes provide some of the most valuable information possible to make decisions in any situation. Use them.

Touch is often overlooked but shouldn’t be. In many cases such as when there’s smoke in a house, your sense of touch should be something utilized before exiting any room. Safety experts and firefighters always talk about testing the doorknob or door with your hand before grabbing it. If you can feel heat radiating from the metal doorknob or through the wooden door, that’s a pretty good indication there’s a fire right of the other side of that door and opening it will be a very bad decision.

Hearing is right up there with vision. As just mentioned, the sudden appearance of dead silence is unnerving for reason. Your body is used to hearing sounds. When you hear nothing, that tingling you feel between your shoulder blades or that uneasiness in your stomach is your body telling you, “Hey, wake the hell up! Something bad is about to go down.”

When you use all your senses in concert, it provides you a wealth of information in any given circumstance to make every decision that you need.

How many times have we heard stories on the news were someone who is the victim of a crime reported to the police that the suspect ‘came out of nowhere’?

People don’t just come out of nowhere. The bad guy was waiting for you in the shadows, he was walking behind you, or he was approaching you from the other side of the car. You just didn’t notice him. You either had your head down because you were staring at a cell phone, you had your head up because you are talking on a cell phone, or your head was in the clouds because you were thinking about something—maybe talking on the cell phone—or some other myriad distractions that plague modern humans took your attention away from your immediate surroundings and left you vulnerable.

If there are two people walking down the street, one chatting away on their cell phone or occupied by some other distraction and the other confidently walking down the street secure in their surroundings, listening for anything out of the ordinary, looking for anything out of the ordinary and making sure to every now and then glance behind them or use reflective surfaces they pass to look behind them—who do you think is going to be seen as a better target for someone up to no good?

The average criminal is smart, despite what you may think about people who get caught. If they see a man walking down the street who looks in reasonable health and he’s walking with his back straight, his eyes open, and glancing to the left and right every now and then making sure there’s no one standing right behind him, the criminal’s likely going to look elsewhere.

Perhaps to the person right behind our situationally aware example, who’s staring down at his cell phone—hey, is that Billy?—is oblivious to the world around him. This person makes the perfect target. The criminal can walk up, smack him in the back of the head, take all his stuff, and be gone by the time the body hits the floor.

Situational Awareness can be applied to a larger scale.

Think of your neighborhood. What are the normal traffic patterns? Does everybody tend to leave at the same time in the morning for work or school? Do most people tend to return around the same time in the evening from work or school? Are there more cars in the street in front of your house or apartment on the weekends? On Friday a night? What about on Wednesday nights?

As I said before, criminals are not stupid. Most home invasions occur during the day when people are at work. Why would a criminal want to break into someone’s house in the middle of the night knowing there might be a shotgun waiting for him on the other side of that door? Why take the chance? Wait for people to leave for work and then break in.

There are TV shows devoted to this, where they hire criminals to break into people’s houses to test security systems. They show you the tricks of the criminal trade and the homeowners can then take appropriate countermeasures after the show is over. Things like that are great for people who want to be more situationally aware of their surroundings.

For example, burglars often times case the house they plan on ransacking. They’ll drive by your neighborhood in an attempt to see if anyone is home during the day. They might do it a couple days in a row just to check patterns. Maybe they’ll show up in a uniform and pretend to be roofing contractors (especially after a bad storm), just seeing if anyone is home on a weekday. How many times have you seen guys with clipboards walking through neighborhoods signing people up for lawn care? I’m not saying open the door with a shotgun, but don’t trust implicitly every single person who shows up at your doorstep 100%.

If you leave the curtains open, all the better for them to see exactly what you have in your living room and dining room—they might even see it from the street. They don’t even have to leave their car, how thoughtful of you. Likewise, at night if you’re sitting in your front room, watching TV on your big screen, sitting back in your expensive recliner with the curtains open, likely you’re not even going to notice the headlights that drive by your house.

Shoot, it’s nighttime, you can’t tell that’s the same car that drove by 5 minutes ago, can you? But the burglar out in the street who drove and got a good look inside your house can say, “Hey, he’s got a flat screen TV I might want.”

Under threats such as these, what’s the prepared person to do? How can you utilize situationally awareness to protect yourself?

Like I said, know the patterns of your neighborhood. If after 5 or 6 o’clock there aren’t that many cars in the neighborhood, then when a car does drive by, it should get your attention. As the sun goes down, pull the shades closed in your front rooms. Make it difficult for someone casually walking or driving down the street to see exactly what you have inside your house. (I will go in to more detail about this later, because we’re crossing over into another post for the future about home security.)

Suffice it to say if you take the time to actually be aware of your surroundings, or the surroundings of your home, or the surroundings of your state or even country depending on what potential threat you’re preparing for, you will make it that much more difficult for you to be considered a victim, prey, or a target.

Instead of things happening to you, you might just give yourself enough of a head start to avoid things happening altogether. In the case of a mugging, simply turning around to let the person following you know they’ve been made might be enough for them to change their mind about attacking. Knowing that a hurricane is coming and preparing in advance might give you enough time to beat the rush when the evacuation order is given, or have your house prepared for possible looting and rioting in the aftermath.

Situational awareness is something we can practice every day without drawing attention to ourselves–if you’re wearing sunglasses, constantly let your eyes roam. No one will know you’re looking if you don’t turn your head. But you’ll know what’s around you. And it doesn’t require a license, training courses, ammunition, or special training. All you have to do is look, listen, hear, smell, and touch.

Even if you only give yourself a few seconds notice before someone attacks you or tries to rob you, those few seconds could mean the difference between you getting a few bruises and scaring off the attacker, or being knocked unconscious and left completely at the mercy of someone who obviously didn’t care about your well-being to begin with.

Situational awareness. Learn it, love it, use it, do it. Another skill in the peppers tool chest.

You can apply it to driving. Situational awareness behind the wheel is technically called defensive driving. When coming to a stop light, a defensive driver typically leaves at least a car length between the car in front of them and their own vehicle. A good rule of thumb is watch the tires of the vehicle in front of you as you stop. At the point where you no longer see the the tires of the car in front of you touch the road, stop. The space that is now left between you and the car in front of you is enough for you to turn your wheel, hit the gas, and get out of harms way should something necessitate such a maneuver.

Perhaps it’s winter and there’s snow on the road, so you give yourself a slight gap between your car and the car in front of you. Then you notice in your rear view mirror–you are checking your mirrors even when stopped, right? –you see a car sliding out of control behind you. Because you left that gap in front, you now have enough time to get your car out of danger without smashing into the car in front of you, trapping you and letting you become the target.

You can use situational awareness at night at home, in bed. Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m not talking about that kind of awareness.

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, perhaps dreaming that you heard a loud noise, or perhaps hearing an ongoing noise from somewhere in your house? The second you noticed that noise doesn’t belong—the smashing of a window in an otherwise quiet house for instance—and you choose to take action, whether it be to call the cops, grab your gun and flashlight, or get out of bed with a baseball bat—you are putting situational awareness to use.

So what’s the 1st step? Situational awareness can be finely honed—just look at what the military and special forces do. These guys can walk into places and in a heartbeat know who’s where, what they’re doing, how to get themselves out of the building, what the target is, and what to do next. But they had years of training and that’s their job.

What is the average Joe to do? You can begin as simply as paying attention to what’s around you. Don’t ignore things.

Start with your vision. Try to take in as much of your surroundings at all times for fun. Make it a game—try to see behind you and figure out ways try to figure out ways to see behind you without letting the people back there know you’re watching them. The more you begin looking for reflective surfaces—say at the supermarket or at the gas station—the more you look for shadows that don’t belong, the more it will become second nature.

Once you feel comfortable you’re able to spot things that don’t belong in any given situation, try focusing on hearing things. Or try focusing on smelling things. What does the gas station typically smell like? Gas, diesel, oil. If you smell something acrid like smoke, or something vile like the stench of marijuana, you can immediately decide something isn’t right and move on to another gas station or at least raise your own level of awareness.

The point is, practice. Make a game out of it. The more you practice, the more you hone your ability to be aware of your surroundings. The more you are aware of your surroundings, the more prepared you are, and the less of a target you become. The less you’re a target, the better chances you have of surviving any given situation.

After all, that’s the point of being situationally aware, right?

Freehold Friday: Going Gray

Welcome back, muchachos.

Continuing my Prepper theme of posts, I decided to touch on a prepper concept popularized as “Going Gray”.

No, I’m most definitely not talking about turning any shades (50 or otherwise) of gray. In the world of preparedness, “going gray” or becoming a “gray man” (or woman!) means to be invisible.

Think about it. When you walk down the street (if you don’t have your nose buried in a smart phone like just about everyone else) you’re probably not paying all that much attention to people around you. If you’re a prepper, you’re most likely in possession of a keener than normal sense of situational awareness (that’ll be another post!), which means you’re aware of who’s near you, any threats that may approach you, and a general sense of your surroundings. This can get pretty detailed—hence a separate post. Suffice it to say, a prepper probably knows there’s a woman and her child ten steps behind, a guy on his cell phone to the left, a shop with an open door and music blaring on the right and a car crossing the intersection a dozen paces in front. The prepper, therefore, is aware of the situation he/she finds himself/herself in.

Now let’s look at what the Average Joe might see. Where’s Billy? Oh, there you are. Did you make it out of D.C. okay?

“Um,” says Billy, staring at his Twitter feed. “Yeah. I almost died but I made it.”

Ah, excellent. That’s the great thing about being a construct of my imagination—I can kill poor Billy as many times as I want and he still keeps coming back for more.

“Thanks.”

No prob—hey, at least I gave you that cell phone back.

“Thanks again,” Billy says, rolling his eyes.

Right then. Let’s throw Billy on a semi-crowded street in Anytown, USA. He’s finished some shopping and heading home, staring at his ever present cell phone, like everyone else who isn’t actually talking on their cell phone. Billy’s wearing his most expensive shoes and jeans, fashionably dressed for Milan, sporting his $300 designer sunglasses. He proudly flaunts the labels on the bags he carries—he wants everyone to know he only shops at the best stores, recession be damned.

Next to him walks Adam Gray. Adam also shopped at some high end stores (electronics, not clothes), but instead of dressing to the nines, Adam is wearing jeans and a plan blue sweatshirt. He put all his items in one bag and turned it so the garish label faced him. To the outside world, his bag is plain white and could be full of dirty laundry. In short, it’s unremarkable, just like Adam. He looks like he just stepped off the local college campus without a dime to his name. Adam, in his worn in sneakers, picks up the pace a bit and pulls away from the walking advertisement, Billy.

Presently Adam passes a young man in a puffy winter coat and baggie pants, dressed for weather that’s about 30 degrees cooler. Adam, using his finely attuned sense of situational awareness, recognizes the warning flags. Something isn’t right here. The young man dressed for a ski trip is sweating profusely and looks nervous, his eyes darting back and forth, never settling on anything for long. As he looks toward Adam, Adam makes sure to look straight ahead, while keeping the suspicious fellow well in his peripheral vision. Adam passes by quickly—but not so quick as to make it look like he’s running from someone—and continues on his way, conscious of the fact that he feels like he just dodged a bullet.

Meanwhile, Billy, flaunting his loot and expensive clothes, soon meets the suspicious young man, who pulls a revolver from his voluminous jacket and robs Billy of everything except his coiffure.

Adam, you see, was a Gray Man. He was invisible to the predator. Billy, showing off his fashion sense and wealth, had a flashing target on his chest saying “Rob me!”.

You know the old saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”? How about “the nail that sticks up gets hammered”?

Those adages were about going gray. Blend in, become faceless, become completely non-threatening or interesting. In a world of vibrant colors, become gray. Fade into the background. Predators, be they of the criminal element or something more nefarious (I’ll let you decide what that is for you…for me it’s aliens from Mars).

How does this tactic fit into the prepping mentality?

Imagine if you will, a disaster has struck. Pick your poison—hurricane, terror attack, bio-weapon, invasion, volcanic eruption, what have you—when that thin veneer of civility starts to collapse and the darker side of the human experience rears its head (look up the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina if you don’t believe it can happen in America), trust me, you want to be invisible.

The police—if they’re still around, probably won’t care who’s head they bash in order to maintain order. If you don’t stand out, if you’re…gray…you stand a better chance to slip through undetected and unabashed.

And if it’s the bad guys who are out and about, going gray definitely makes you look like less of an appealing target. Not so much so that you appear to be a threat to them (that’s a whole other thing), but if they see someone like Billy, they’re going to rob him first, just because Adam might be carrying dirty clothes in that bag and who the hell wants to steal that?

Depending on your physical stature, going gray may be easier or harder for you. Those people over 6 feet tall are naturally going to be larger and therefore easier to attract the eye of undesirables (whoever that may be). So rely on your dress and your gear. Don’t wear flashy clothes like Billy. Don’t wear the latest tacti-cool digital camo backpack that looks like a Navy SEAL might go into Afghanistan with it on his back. Carry your gear in a simple backpack suitable for a student. Plain colors, nothing fancy, nothing that screams “I’ve got really expensive survival gear in here!”

Think about it as if you had a concealed carry permit (maybe you do—and if so, good for you!). The law just about everywhere states you have to make sure no one knows you’re carrying a gun, right? Well, that’s sort of like going gray. You look like everyone else—nothing to see here, move along.

So whether you you’re 6’5“ man or a 5’2” woman, don’t wear bright colored or revealing clothes in a survival situation—people will take notice and look at you. Wear something nondescript. Carry your gear in a backpack designed for a college campus. Now you look like a student—everyone knows they only have one thing: debt.

Going gray doesn’t just mean your outer appearance. You can go gray in a bad neighborhood by driving a car no one would want to steal—okay, you don’t have to go buy a Pinto or anything, but don’t roll around in a Bentley, right? Car choice works in everyday life though—imagine there are two cars parked next to each other, a 1996 Ford Escort and a 2016 Chevy Suburban. A thief bound and determined to steal something will go for which car (whether stealing the car itself or breaking a window to see what’s inside)? What are the chances the ’96 Ford even has a CD player? That little Escort was probably a nice car back in the day—but 20 years later? It’s something a kid might get as a first (hand-me-down) car or something someone just out of college might be able to afford. In short, it’s a car, it’ll get you from point A to B, but it ain’t nothing to write home about. It doesn’t attract attention like the glitzy shiny new latest model sparkling in the sunlight with a fresh coat of wax. Which means the criminals will probably walk right past it too—hey, everybody has to have standards, right?

OPSEC

You can apply this idea to all aspects of your life if you sit and think, what will draw attention to me if I do X? Come up with an appropriate answer (launching a mortar at the guy who looks like he might try and rob the gas station you’re at is not an appropriate response). Then do the opposite, whether its buying clothes, cars, food, even the stores you shop at or the places you visit.

This concept also extends into Opsec (a term that means Operational Security). You’re a prepper—you have a decent amount of food stored away for emergencies in your house. You have a pretty impressive amount of camping equipment (you do have gear, right?) and hunting gear. You may have a decent firearms collection. You know what all that stuff is?

Loot.

On the best of days, a burglar that randomly breaks into your house would find a treasure trove of stuff. Maybe not jewels, but you’re likely to have a lot of stuff he might want. On the worst of days, when the world around you descends into a world without the rule of law (WROL)—even if only temporary (like the aftermath of a big hurricane, where the police might not be able to get to you for a few days…you don’t have to think ‘end of the world’ every time) all that stuff in your house will be worth its weight in gold.

The UK Fuel Protests of 2000 proved that society is only 9 meals away from collapse (as we know it). Read up on this thing folks—it took a tiny number of people (relative to the general population) to blockade the refineries in England and shut down gas stations.

What am I talking about you ask? Well, those trucks (lorries) that delivered food to grocery stores required gas (petrol). When the gas stations couldn’t get deliveries, they closed. When the trucks that delivered the food to the grocery stores couldn’t get gas, they stopped driving. When the grocery stores stopped receiving food, they began rationing what they had left—after only 48 hours (that’s 6 meals).

Back home in the USA we saw how people panic just two weeks ago during Snowmageddon ’16. And that was just a snowstorm that everyone knew would come to an end in 48 hours or so—yet they still ransacked stores and bought enough milk in NYC to make the cows in Wisconsin nervous. Imagine what went through the minds of people during that fuel protest 16 years ago—there was no end in sight, the news grew bleaker every day. By luck or planning, the protest only lasted a few days, but no one in the general public could know that’s how long it would last—hence the panic buying of food and water that led to stores rationing things…like food and water.

Loose lips sink ships.

When that happens (and it will, the question is for how long—like a few days for a hurricane or snow storm or a few weeks for a terror attack) again, if you’ve been running your mouth to your neighbor or not being smart and allowed the entire neighborhood to see you transfer 10 cases of bottled water from your car in the driveway to your basement…people will quickly put 2 and 2 together and realize, hey, you’ve got a bunch of stuff I want!

Best case scenario, your neighbor shows up—there’s Billy again—asking for a little water. Or food. Or power (you do have a generator, right?). What if he then says something to a friend or neighbor. Now word spreads and you’ve got half the neighborhood at your doorstep. I’m sure we’d all like to help as many people as possible, but things will quickly come to a point where you have to weigh the safety and survival of your own family over those of people outside your family.

Which is exactly what everyone else will do when they have nothing and they realize you have everything they need.

Easy way to avoid unpleasantness in times of emergency? When you’re preparing, if you have a garage, pull your vehicle into it and shut the door when you unload your purchase of 20 cases of water and MREs. To the rest of the world, you just came home. Leave that garage door up (or worse, park in the driveway) and you announce to the world you have stuff that will be available to steal, beg, or borrow when the shit starts flying toward the fan. Knowledge like that can put your loved ones in danger.

So keep your prepping to yourself. Think of it like you’re packing to go on vacation. Security experts warn us when we’re packing the old SUV to head to the airport, to do so in our garage with the door down, so we don’t announce to the whole flippin’ world we’re loading suitcases and preparing to leave our house for an extended amount of time. Burglars case neighborhoods, folks. They keep track of when people leave for work and when they come home. They’re not stupid—in this day and age when there are so many people who own firearms, the smart criminal avoids the threat and breaks in when no one’s home—not when the homeowner and his shotgun might be waiting for him.

This could spiral into a whole ’nother post about security but I think you get the drift. Going Gray is not about losing trust or faith in your fellow man, it’s not about becoming paranoid that everyone is out to get your stuff. It’s about another method of preparing. Just train yourself to blend in, to the “silent” in the silent majority. Don’t stand out, don’t draw attention to yourself and when something happens, you’ll be able to escape to safety that much easier.

Because at the end of the day, what’s the use of being prepared if you stand there like a deer in headlights when the zombie horde* turns the corner and starts down the street toward you? If you’re like Billy, you’ll stand there in your fancy clothes, next to your fancy car and stare at your phone (or you’ll use the phone to take pictures). If you’re a gray man (or woman) you’ll quietly turn and slip away in your conservative, if utilitarian, clothes or get into your nondescript vehicle and leave the scene ASAP. Even if you decided to stay, the attention will be on Billy.

Going gray really a simple concept that you can take to whatever extremes you want. You can practice once a month or once a year or every day to the point that it’s second nature. When that happens, you can add yet another layer of preparedness to your skill set. If you go gray every day, when the zombie apocalypse strikes, you’ll simply disappear without thinking about it, which may provide you with valuable time to leave the danger area, reach loved ones, make it home or to supplies, etc.

And yes, that zombie link is the real Centers For Disease Control website. Our government spent your tax dollars on a website about surviving a zombie attack. No, I’m not mad—it’s kind of funny really—the point is they want you to think. Replace “zombie apocalypse” with “bio-weapon terror attack” and read the article again.

*–insert whatever you want here: social justice warriors, peace protesters, any protesters at all, police, National Guard, flood waters, forest fire, tornado, etc.

Freehold Friday: What’s behind the label?

Howdy muchachos!

Before I jump right in to this week’s ramblings I wanted to share with you some writing related updates! I’m happy to announce that James Romick, the awesome narrator that read Apache Dawn for the audiobook format, has agreed (just this week!) to voice The Shift! For those of you who haven’t checked out the audio version of Apache Dawn, I highly recommend it—James’ talent is clear and he really brings the book to life!

Secondly, I wanted to bring you up to speed on the third book in the Wildfire Series. I finished the first draft last Friday (while watching the coverage of Snowmageddon ’16) and I’m already 10 chapters into the first round of editing. For reference, the way I’m going about the editing of this book is a little different than the last few (hopefully it will speed things up).

I subscribed to an online editing service that thus far is really helping me shape the writing into a more readable, grammatically correct version. Even better it’s doing so at a pace that I couldn’t hope to match by using my eyes alone. So, after I’ve run the entire book through the editor, I’ll print it out, read through it and make any last corrections, then send it to my beta readers. I’m hoping this process will only take till the end of next month (which will be way faster than the 2–3 months the process has taken me for book length works in the past!). Fingers crossed!

Okay, now that shopkeeping is out of the way, on with the post…

Behind the Label

So we’ve talked about my sliding scale of Preparedness, we’ve talked about the labels people apply to those who prepare (survivalist, prepper, unprepared/sheeple). But why do we have labels in the first place? My contention is that those who are unprepared and want us to remain so (think the Hollywood glitterati intelligentsia crowd—they not only have more money than we’ll ever see, they’re smarter than us too). Secretly though, they fear us and envy us.

Why? They have most of the money and power (paid-for politicians) and influence (celebrities and the mainstream media)…what could they fear from us?

Well, for starters, if you’re prepared for the unexpected, you’re much less dependent on someone else (i.e. the government—those people that know more than you about…everything). If you’re less dependent on the powers that be, they become less relevant. And to the people we’re talking about (not your average unprepared citizen, mind you, I’m still talking about the elites from “their side”) relevance is everything.

Case in point, if a movie star (or a musician for that matter) doesn’t have a continuous string of popular hits, they quickly fade from the limelight. This is bad for them—people start questioning their abilities and worth and before you know it, they start getting lower paychecks and end up on QVC hawking flameless candles.

Okay, so that example might be a bit extreme, but you get the picture.

The Hollyweird crowd is vicious to those that don’t maintain the right image (just take a look at the hilarity revolving around the so-called Oscar controversy—and remember they’re arguing and name-calling each other over an award show that glorifies them for pretending…). Most of the country is left shaking their heads at the delusional minds these people possess—as if we care that much about them.

There’s probably other reasons that group would fear people who are prepared (and therefore to varying degrees self-reliant). They don’t have as much influence over you, which means they don’t have as much control over you. They enjoy gaining power and keeping power (just look at Washington, D.C….if you dare).

To sleep easier, they mock and belittle people who are responsible adults and plan for the unexpected. They call us ‘gun nuts’, ‘survivalists’ (luckily, as I mentioned last time, this particular monicker is losing it’s negative connotations pretty quickly), and paranoid. It’s like some sort of time-warp high school—the kids who mock and make fun of others are usually the ones trying to cover up their own inadequacies and fears.

Same thing for their jealousy. The unprepared (by inaction or design) run to the store in an blizzard because they’re out of milk and bread. We roll our eyes and sit back to read a book, knowing our pantry is full and we’ve got a generator should the power go out.

They are the grasshoppers to our ants and they are angry that they didn’t prepare, so they mock us for it and try to make us look silly or somewhat dangerous (after all, we seem to like those evil black guns! Oooooo, scary!).

In short, they want what we have (skills, knowledge, confidence, supplies, forethought) but they don’t want to put the effort in to gain those things like responsible adults. Ultimately, it’s not their fault. They’re trained by the system to wait for handouts, to wait for help, to be unprepared, to follow others.

And so we’re labeled, marginalized and ridiculed by the media…at least until the last decade or so. Ever notice how when there’s an article in a newspaper or magazine that talks about someone who’s more prepared than the average Joe, they’re usually named a “prepper” or “survivalist” and it’s always in quotes like that?

I can just see the reporter with a smarmy look on their face, rolling their eyes and making quotation marks in the air with their fingers. It’s like the media thinks that even though its a lot more mainstream to be prepared these days, they still can’t resist pointing out our scandalous roots by putting the label in quotes. Hey look, they’re okay, but they’re…gasp…different!

So much for tolerance.

Luckily, most of us don’t pay much attention to what the “other side” thinks about us. We’re too busy making sure our families will be okay for the next tornado/hurricane/thunderstorm/ice storm/snowstorm/Snowmageddon/home invasion/carjacking/Zombie apocalypse, etc., ad infinitum. But maybe we should pay more attention to the unprepared among us.

Take, for example, last week’s snow-pocalypse on the east coast. You know what I’m talking about—it was hard to miss news coverage (and I don’t even have cable/satellite TV anymore!).

I watched the nightly news like the rest of the nation, I searched Google, I got the tweets and texts. But I also took notes.

I noticed that 2 days before the snow started falling, people acted…tense. There seemed to me to be an increase in news reports about car accidents on roads that only had a little bit of snow (an inch in D.C. caused hundreds of accidents before the big storm even arrived!). Coming from Texas, where people freak the hell out when it starts snowing, I could sort of understand. Living in Wisconsin as I do now, I laughed my ass off.

The press relentlessly talked up how bad “it could be” (granted, they were right, but no one knew that before the event). People got stressed, drove faster (or more aggressive) and as a result maybe panicked just a little bit easier. People are herd animals (some of us). When we’re driving, a lot (I admit to doing this on occasion) of us look for the “wolf pack” and try to go with the flow, making sure to not be too fast or too slow so as to get picked off by the Police for speeding. Traffic speeds up, we speed up. Traffic slows down, we slow down.

But I digress…

Look at crowds—football games, concerts, you name it—when something gets a handful of people acting together (“doing the wave”), more and more people join in. I love it when crowds chant (usually in Philly) aaaaaassshooole….aaaaassshole….at a sporting event and the TV announcers try to talk louder and faster to cover up the deafening roar of thousands of voices swearing at the same time.

When things start happening the mob takes control and individuals are pulled toward the group like a moon orbiting a planet. It’s inexorable and only those with a sharpened sense of independence (or are determined to not join whatever the hell the group is doing) can avoid getting sucked into things you normally wouldn’t do. There is safety in numbers, hence when things go so, the bad elements tend to coalesce. Go look up riots on Google. Watch some videos of third-world countries rioting in the streets. The cops can’t arrest us all, right?

Back on target…

Anyway, before Snowmageddon ’16, people panicked about their food supplies around 24 hours out and we saw the rise of the Tweets and Facebook posts of bare shelves and empty aisles (milk and bread, baby!) in grocery stores and bodegas from New York to Baltimore. Some of the proud hunters regaled us with tales of what they stocked up on (pay attention here): milk, bread (of course), snack foods and chips, sodas, beer, and cereal. Read this article and look at the pictures. This actually happened.

Are you kidding me? That is the mindset of someone who expects the world to be back to normal in a day or so. As of the time of this writing, it’s now Snowmageddon +5 days and New York is still digging out and showing some attitude.

Am I surprised? Not at all. Most of the people bitching and complaining about the snow removal were probably the ones that emptied the stores of bread and milk and left things like beef jerky, peanut butter, oatmeal, etc., and grabbed the Cheetos and beer instead.

To be fair, a once-in-a-century (oh wait, there was Snowmageddon ’15 too, wasn’t there? Uh…oh, there’s also Snowmageddon ’14…) storm is kind of hard for the average citizen to prepare for.

It’s not all that hard, honestly to prepare for something on this scale, but self-reliant folk are cut from a different cloth (remember that whole pioneer thing I mentioned last time?). It’s nigh impossible for government —city, state, or heaven-forbid the Feds—to prepare for something like that.

Which is why nearly a week later, it’s business-not-as-usual still. Oh, people are open, schools are back (at least some) but it’s nothing like what the world looked like last Wednesday.

Anyway, my takeaway is this: whenever there’s an event that’s slow in developing (hurricane, Snowmageddon, etc.) just watch how the people in harms way react. You have time to get things done and stay gray (we’ll talk about OPSEC and being the Gray Man (or woman) next week). Looks like 24–48 hours pre-event, depending on how much media-hype is attached, is when people start to go crazy.

Oddly enough, it’s when the event is actually happening that people tend to chill out and ‘hunker down’. Give yourself another few days post-event for the tempers to start flaring and watch the cracks in civility start to show.

Now, imagine that NYC or Philly or Baltimore or D.C. (or all or most of them!) had lost power on top of all that snow? How long to you think it would take for the excrement to hit the fan? Remember, it took 4 days for people to start leaving well-thought out snark-o-grams on street corners when they believed businesses weren’t doing enough to clear the sidewalk?

That’s why we prepare. That’s why they mock us. And that’s why we walk away laughing with a steaming cup of coffee or tea back to our sofa in our well heated, well stocked house/apartment/cabin while they’re bitching on Twitter about the corner not being cleared enough for them to walk and text without landing in a snowdrift 4 days after a record-breaking weather event.

Next time: What’s my favorite color? (hint: it’s gray…)

 

Freehold Friday: Snowmageddon, a Prepper’s tale

Howdy, muchachos!

Yesterday, I rambled on about the differences between a survivalist and a prepper and someone totally unprepared. To really see the dichotomy at play, let’s imagine a scenario and drop in a survivalist, let’s call him Ted. Let’s also have a prepper, Rose, and an unprepared person, Billy. Now, let’s toss them all smack dab in the middle of Snowmageddon 2016 to see how they react. Say hi, everyone.

“Hello,” says Ted, who looks you in the eye as he assess the situation with a calm confidence that speaks of his ability to function in any situation. He prefers denim over slacks and clothes with lots of pockets over style.

“Nice to meet you,” says Rose with a genuine smile. She doesn’t look a bit out of the ordinary. In fact, she looks like just any other of the uncountable professional adults in our society—smartly dressed but her appearance does not flaunt her wealth or status.

“Um…hi,” says Billy, distracted by his phone, but looking very trendy in his tight fitting pants and thick-rimmed fashion eyewear. It’s clear he puts a lot of thought into his personal appearance. You never know when a good opportunity for a killer selfie will pop up.

Let’s get right to it (this is the fun part!). What’s the scenario? Well, let’s pull one from the headlines. As I write this, a massive snow storm (Snowmageddon if the media is to be believed) is forming and taking aim at the Mid-Atlantic states. Living in Wisconsin, I join my neighbors in laughing at the east coasters who are about to collectively lose their shit over some snow.  It was –33 out at the bus stop when on Monday but did you see the kids crying? No, they were having snowball fights and laughing. But the difference between Mid-westerners and urbanites on the coast is a story for a another day.

Okay, let’s say it’s a Friday (well, I guess it is Friday by the time this is posted), mid-afternoon and the storm is in full force. It came on faster than the meteorologists predicted. Snowfall rates are approaching 2 inches an hour near the nation’s capital. People have been listening to the dire warnings but most shrug it off—after all, how often have the weathermen warned us of imminent doom caused by snow storms, only to have their predictions evaporate like flurries. It’s the classic Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome—we saw it a lot in Florida with hurricanes pounding the state every other week in 2004. People just shrugged and took the attitude that the meteorologists were going to be wrong—again.

Ted, the survivalist, has been watching the weather all week with a wary eye. He’s checked his supplies and made a few trips to the local grocery stores to top off his reserves. He’s filled up his extra gas cans and double-checked his route to a secured bug-out location. His 4×4 is gassed and loaded, ready to hightail it for the foothills west of D.C. when things go south. He’s concerned about civil unrest—after all, this past summer we saw riots when police arrested people of particular skin colors all across the country.

What happens when the storm hits as predicted and roads are covered in 2 feet of snow? They can’t even handle an inch! There won’t be any deliveries to business that rely on the “just in time” resupply method because trucks can’t get through—and that means food and water will quickly disappear off the shelves in the grocery stores. If power is lost to enough people for a few days, things in the inner city could get ugly, fast. Without power, there’s no running water. There’s a lot of toilets that will need flushing in D.C. if that happens.

In Ted’s mind, this could be the long-expected spark that sets off the powder keg of civil unrest. Ted’s a survivalist. He doesn’t take chances. He uses a vacation day at work for Friday and decides to leave town Thursday after work. Worst case scenario, he’s right—the snowstorm really is Snowmageddon and D.C. implodes under the weight of snow and power loss and the resultant rioting and looting. It’s likely to be fixed in a few days to a week in Ted’s mind, but anyone stuck in the city limits during that time period will not be having an easy time.

Ted leaves town the day before the storm hits and decides if the storm fizzles, he’ll use the opportunity to practice a dry-run for when the S does HTF. He smirks as he looks in the rear view mirror and sees the traffic out of the city increase behind him. Before him lies open roads. He left early enough to beat the rush.

How long will it take to get to his bug-out location? What are the road conditions like? How long will it take him to settle in and set up camp at his cabin in the woods, stuffed to the gills with food and water and enough weaponry to stave off the Golden Horde single-handedly? These are the things running through Ted’s head as he vacates the city and heads off to the west. He stops in at the closest fast food joint before turning off the main roads and heading into the dark hills. He sets up shop, checks the perimeter of his cabin for security breeches, brings in firewood, and when the first flakes fall, Ted’s reading a book by the fireplace with a full stomach. To Ted, being prepared is a state of mind and when he’s ready, he’s relaxed.

Now let’s head back into the burgeoning metropolis and take a closer look at what Billy does—remember, he represents the person who is totally unprepared. The exact opposite of Ted. Billy, are you ready? Billy—you’re up!

“Just a sec…” he says, tapping away furiously at his iPhone.

We’re waiting, Billy.

“Dude, what?” he says, his voice registering an irritated tone. He only glances up for a second, then dives back into his social media feed.

Are you ready?

He reads something humorous on his phone and laughs, responding with his thumbs. Then he looks up as if just remembering we were still there. “Oh. Ready for what?”

The storm! You know, Snowmageddon?

“Oh,” he says, clicking to a different app on his phone. “Yeah, looks like a lot, huh? I see the radar has it already starting outside The Loop.” Billy gets distracted, answering a text from his buds about where to have dinner that night. There’s evidently some fine females going to be at a certain club (it’s ladies night, after all).

Billy thinks for a moment about maybe getting some provisions for the storm, then remembers the article he read in the day’s paper about the Mayor’s message that the city is ready and the plows are standing by. He ignored the politics section, which had an article critical of Congress for fleeing the city a day early. He also skimmed over the local section that mentioned area schools were already closing for Friday and possibly Monday. But he did read the Metro and caught up on the local nightlife.

Billy leaves work as usual with the handful of people that actually showed up. He heads home in the gathering darkness, ignoring the snow starting to fall as he watches an episode of his favorite TV show on his phone while riding the bus back to his apartment.

Unfortunately, the roads are already starting to get slick and drivers unaccustomed to dealing with snow on the roads—even a dusting—act slightly erratic. The bus driver is forced to swerve around someone who stopped suddenly when the car in front of them rear-ended a parked car after hitting a slick spot. Billy smacks his head against the bus window because he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings in the slightest. He curses as he rubs the small cut over his eye and complains about getting blood on his favorite designer jacket. No one around him bothers to help—people are more interested in not making eye contact with strangers. Everyone is tense as the storm worsens—they just want to get home.

Muttering under his breath about the injury and his jacket, Billy gets off at his stop an hour late, trudging through two inches of snow down the block to his building. Wearing his trendy, expensive loafers, he hits an icy patch and lands on his ass, dumping his Goodwill-chic messenger bag containing tablet, laptop, and cell phone in the white fluff at his feet. Uttering a string of curses as he gets up and dusts everything off with freezing hands, Billy turns the collar on his coat up and focuses on getting through the front door of his apartment building. He’s already dreading the dry cleaning bill for his outfit. Billy dresses more for fashion trends than utility, unlike Ted, who looks like a lumberjack and doesn’t care as long as his clothes hold lots of gear and keep him warm.

Billy bursts through the door to his apartment, sighing at the warmth of his small but homey living space. He drops his soaking clothes in the bathroom and changes into comfy sweats. He’s given up on going out—the cut on his head is minor, but it looks like he was mugged. No way is he going to be able to make a good impression with anyone looking like that. He sighs as he calls his friends and cancels plans, assuring them he’ll be ready tomorrow night.
He heads to the neglected fridge in his tiny galley kitchen and looks for something to drink, only to find there’s a half empty carton of takeout, a quarter gallon of soy milk—that looks more solid than liquid—and a block of moldy cheese. He shuts the door and opens the pantry, finding a few Pop tTarts and a box of half-eaten crackers.

Putting on his winter jacket and hiking boots—it never snows like this in D.C. so Billy doesn’t have winter boots—he grumbles his way down the stairs and outside into the teeth of the storm. Again.

The snow by now is coming down in buckets. There’s more on the ground than when he got home 40 minutes ago. Billy squints into the squall and starts to force his way to the corner bodega. What he finds is disturbing, to say the least. The shelves are picked clean and the place is full of frustrated people trying to figure out where all the milk and bread went. The clerk try to calm the cold, hungry, nervous people with his heavily accented English and explain there’s no more bread and milk in stock.

Billy grabs a pre-made sandwich that doesn’t look too old and a Diet Coke—and almost had to shove someone out of the way to do so—then pays and trudges back out into the storm. There are less people out in the street now and the town looks almost deserted for a Friday night. The roads are covered in a few inches of filthy slush but only the bigger SUVs seem to be driving without issue. Billy heads home to the sound of rubber slipping on slush and horns honking over the howling wind.

Inside, Billy is almost finished with his dinner—it takes him an hour to eat the sandwich as he’s also texting with his friends and playing on the Playstation. The lights flicker and he’s plunged into darkness. Instead of looking for candles or a flashlight, Billy grabs his phone and pulls up his social feed to announce to the digital world he’s lost power and how bummed he is. He publicly wonders when the power will get turned on and decides to peer out the window.

Washington, D.C., is dark and slowly being buried by the snow. The streets are deserted, there’s nary a plow to be seen. As the temperature drops with nightfall, Billy starts to worry. He can fill the cold through the window glass. He doesn’t have a lot of winter clothes to stay warm…

You get the idea of where this is going.

We’ve see the ultra-prepared survivalist and the completely unprepared citizen, whom many in the movement label “sheep”, because they bleat and wait for someone (i.e. An authority figure) to tell them what to do and how to act. This label doesn’t have much to do with what I’m writing about, but in a later post we’ll go into what makes a Sheep Dog.

Back on topic. Now, lets take a look at whom I consider to represent the vast majority of the prepping movement—the moderate middle, in political terms—the person who exemplifies the term “prepper”.

That’s Rose—remember her?

So. We’ll throw Rose, our average prepper into the same situation as Ted and poor Billy. Rose pays attention to the weather, just like Ted. But she doesn’t have a bug-out location fully stocked with supplies. Instead, Rose has decided to bug-in, so she’s taken pains to make sure she has an adequate supply of canned food and dry goods, clean drinking water and first aid supplies in her modest townhouse just inside The Loop.

She doesn’t have a basement, so instead she converts one of the three bedrooms in her home into her prepping HQ. She’s got shelves of canned goods with a plan for rotating the older stock into her normal cuisine so nothing expires and goes to waste. She has gallons of bottled water stored in the small closet, stacking more dry goods on top. She keeps track of all her food supplies on lists—handwritten, in case the power goes out and she loses the use of her computer—and takes monthly inventory to stay on top of her cache. She has backup copies of all her important documents in a Life Binder, stored in a fireproof safe. She has a small bag filled with a 3 day supply of food and some rudimentary camping items (a knife, some rope, some toilet paper, a metal cup, some alcohol tabs and a camp stove, along with a map of the area and a compass, among other things). This is her 72-hour kit. Should something happen that’s so drastic she absolutely cannot stay in her house, she’ll take this bag with her and leave, ready to do so at a moment’s notice. This is her go bag.

Rose rides the bus to work as well, but in her purse, she carries a pocket knife among a few other items she could use for self-defense (like pepper spray) along with a small first aid kit (just some Band-Aids and a little Neosporin tube, plus some Tylenol and Advil travel packs). While Billy sat with his eyes down, locked on his phone and was injured on the way home, Rose keeps her eyes up, always looking for what’s coming down the road and what the people around her are doing—without making it look like she’s staring. When her bus slides into a parked car, she’s alert and braced for impact. She walks home unscathed.

Rose also prepared for the weather—she has a full set up of winter clothing, rarely used but much appreciated when Washington does get the odd snow storm. She took a backpack with her to work, bringing her tennis shoes and rubber covers, her gloves and scarf, and a bottle of water with some Powerbars to work the day of the storm. She can’t afford to take off work so she does what she can to be ready.

Before she leaves work (a little early, but nothing out of the ordinary for a weather event) she replaces her modest pumps with tennis shoes and rubber covers. She looks a bit out of fashion, but the first time one of her co-workers slips on the snow-covered sidewalk wearing heels, Rose feels justified.

She makes it home after a stop off at the corner market, arriving when the first rush of panicked Washingtonians realize the storm is upon them. She suffers through the crowded store, but manages to make it home with some last minute items, including fresh milk and a hot cup of soup for dinner. When the power goes out, she fills up her bathtub with water for washing hands and dishes and flushing the toilet, then fills up whatever bottles she has available in the kitchen before water pressure in the building disappears. She’s got a fairly stocked fridge and makes a quick note of what’s in there so she doesn’t have to go looking and let out the cold later…

You can see where Rose is headed. She’s going to go through the same experience as Billy, only she’ll be a lot more comfortable and a lot less hungry and cold when the storm clears and power is restored 3 days later. Ted will fare the best by far, snug and secure in his bug-out location a hundred miles from the city—but not everyone has the dedication or capability (financially or otherwise) to devote that much to being prepared.

I suspect most people who consider themselves preppers are closer to Rose than Ted. I know I do.

That said, I hope this was illuminating—and at least entertaining—for those of you who wanted a better understanding about my rambling post from yesterday.

Now…Snowmageddon should be hammering the east coast by the time you read this—or maybe not, if the forecasts have changed…again. Either way, I intend to sit back and take notes on what happens, how people react, what the government does (or doesn’t do), and how long it takes (both for the mess to happen and for the mess to be cleaned up).

Even though I’m 1,000 miles away from this event, the next time I might not be. So, I can still use Snowmageddon 2016 to learn and better—you guessed it—prepare!

 

Freehold Friday: (a little early)

Welcome back, muchachos!

Turns out this post was HUGE when I wrote it, so I’m going to break it up into 2 parts. Here’s the first:

So last week I started off a new series of posts on preparedness. I wrote about what it meant to me, gave a few examples of why I started down this path, and dipped my toes into what it’s all about.

This week, I thought I’d offer some definitions—as I see them—to keep things in perspective as we move forward.

For starters, how do we define a prepper? The classical definition is one who prepares or is prepared for unknown circumstances that affect his or her life. In common parlance, I think this means somebody who knows life isn’t going to hand everything to them on a silver platter—that sometimes life (including Ma Nature) decide to throw a curveball your way.

The vast majority of people who don’t prepare end up on the nightly news. Next time there’s a flood, just watch for reports of people who were warned and decided to stay, or people who ‘never seen it like this’ that were trapped in their houses. Look for reports of people who decided to drive through water during flash floods without knowing how deep it was relative to their car (or how deep it was in general). These people are, to greater or lesser degrees, unprepared. To be unprepared is to be at the mercy of forces outside your control.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like that idea. I’ll admit that I don’t have a ‘60s era fallout shelter built into my basement, stocked and ready to house my family in the event of an asteroid strike/Yellowstone eruption/nuclear war/alien invasion. Does that mean I’m going to stand here with my thumb up my butt while a major ice storm advances on my location?

Being prepared means many things to many people. I’m going to expand on the definition a bit here, with my own paradigm. I think “prepper” is part of a sliding scale representing the movement of preparedness.

At one extreme, we have what’s been called the survivalist. This is what the mainstream media (MSM) and Hollywood, including their friends in the left-leaning political parties, have called people who prepared for X event…for almost a generation. I find that especially ironic, since during the Great Depression, the Dustbowl, the War years, just about everyone—regardless of political persuasion—prepared to one extent or another. Life was too unpredictable to not prepare your family and loved ones for what came next (be that a harsh winter, a bad crop, job loss, or war). It was only after the freedom of the 1960s and the excesses and hedonism of the 70s and 80s that the left started to look down on anyone who didn’t just ‘go with the flow’ or expect the growing government to ‘handle things’. Those who continued to follow the trend of their ancestors and stashed some extra food away for the winter or unexpected hard times, etc., became ‘nuts’. After all, the Cold War had settled into a kind of stalemate by then—sure Soviet Russia was still a threat and continued to talk about nuking America, but the days of the Bay of Pigs and real scary times were decades in the past.

And so as the left continued to try and influence popular culture and thinking through media consumption (whether it be news or entertainment), more and more people came to believe through sheer bombardment that to prepare for a day when the governmental authorities couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help meant you were on the fringe of society. Those people were different, and different meant scary. Ironic, since that side of the political spectrum constantly talks about openness, tolerance, and diversity…

Back to the spectrum. What is a survivalist? To me, a survivalist is one who is taking their preparedness to a level far beyond what the average (if there is one) prepper wants or can accomplish. The survivalist is typically focused on long term preparedness (we’re talking years and decades here) and sometimes focuses on huge events—the Yellowstone Caldera eruption is one (more on that later, when we get to the Threat Board). Survivalists are highly focused and spend a vast amount of resources and time preparing for everything they can think of, stock piling food, water, medicine and weapons. The MSM and Hollywood have tried to paint the survivalist as the quintessential prepper. While that may have been true twenty years ago, this is not the case now.

The survivalist has the same intention as the average prepper, only they’ve taken the plunge and gone full-in. If the excrement hits the oscillating air movement device (otherwise known as SHTF), count on these folks to still be around to pick up the pieces when the dust settles.

At the other end of the spectrum is the completely unprepared person. Think of someone who relies on others—especially those in authority positions—for everything. These are the people who don’t know what to do until the government tells them. They have maybe enough food for dinner in their fridge, but are more concerned with going out with friends than buying groceries for the next day. I think many of these people are young—old enough to be out of school and in their first few years of work, yet too young to have much as far as houses, cars, responsibilities. They likely live in large urban areas, where ‘there’s no need’ to have a fridge stocked with food, because they can go down the steps of their high rise and walk a block to the local bodega to get a sandwich and drink for dinner. Or maybe they take a taxi to Starbucks for coffee and breakfast every day so there’s no need for milk and cereal at home.

When there’s an emergency, be it a snow storm or hurricane or maybe something more mundane like a fire alarm—these are the people who will stand there watching what everyone else does, maybe holding up a cell phone to record whatever is happening so they can make a juicy post on Facebook or Twitter later. They also include the people who are oblivious to it all and simply have their heads down, texting friends about how crazy last night was. They are content with life and happy to be spoon fed everything they need, when the want it—and the government, media and large corporations are all to happy to do so. Turning over personal responsibility to others merely gives the ‘others’, be it government or corporations or individuals, power over you.

And where do the majority of people fall? In the middle—where the term prepper finds it’s home. A prepper in my mind, is someone who pays attention to current events (maybe not quite as closely as the survivalist but far more closely than than the unprepared) and keeps track of weather and other natural events that may impact his or her life. They assess the risks of their current location (be that home or work or school) and prepare for what risks they deem to be most likely to happen.

Where a survivalist may prepare for all risks and focus on the big ones (economic collapse, invasion, super-volcanoes, etc.) the straight-up prepper will narrow their focus. For example, say you lived in Florida. The survivalist would prepare for hurricanes and thunderstorms, but also migrant waves from Cuba, tsunamis, and riots. The unprepared would choose to be blissfully ignorant and only evacuate at the last minute, adding to gridlock during hurricane season. The prepper will focus on hurricanes, storing food and water for when the power will inevitably be offline in the aftermath of a direct hit. They’ll have a generator and the knowledge of how and when to use it (i.e., not inside a closed garage). They will be ready, they will be wary, but they won’t go to the extremes that a survivalist will.

Where the survivalist may have 5 years of food on hand or more, the prepper may have 5 months or anything from 3 days to 3 weeks and everything in between. The prepper will likely have a get home bag (GHB) in their car so that if they’re stranded at work by storm surge flooding, they’ll have the tools to make it home on foot (including food and water for 3 days).

While the prepper most like has a weapon (where allowed by law), they may only have one or two firearms (like a pistol and/or shotgun) compared to the arsenal a survivalist is more likely to have. Remember, on my spectrum, the survivalist is planning to survive ad infinitum by his own wits, without outside help in a situation of permanent, or near permanent societal break-down or all out collapse. They’re in it for life.

The prepper prepares to survive a temporary lack of outside support, with the full expectation that some day (3 days, a week, a month, or 5 months) down the line, the lights will come back on and things will get back to normal as they’ve always done. They spend a decent amount of money on supplies and practice their skills, but no where near to the point of the hard-core survivalists who not only practices skills but lives them to be ready for when the balloon goes up.

The unprepared? Who knows what the hell they’re thinking. I believe most of the time they’re not—at the far end of their group, they run on instinct and instant gratification. They look to others to warn them, advise them, tell them what to do, and take care of them when things go south. These are the people who turn to looting as a means of survival in the aftermath of an event, either for sustenance or sport (see Hurricane Katrina, the aftermath). Which is why looting is an ever present concern in inner city planning meetings all over the country whenever emergency preparedness is brought up. If you don’t think the mayor of New York is worried about it then how do you explain the millions of dollars spent on training and riot gear for the NYPD and first responders?

Remember, these three categories are representatives of large groups of people that may individually fall closer to one label or another. This is by no means an attempt to lock everyone who prepares into three categories. You can have people who consider them selves preppers who plan for a comet impact wiping out most of humanity but have not a single firearm and no bug-out location—yet they identify with the survivalist more than the average prepper.

Like I said, it’s a sliding scale, and by no means exhaustive. You could spend a lifetime writing about the differences and similarities between someone who prepares for Armageddon versus someone who prepares for a blizzard or ice storm.

I personally fall smack dab in the middle. I plan for winter weather (hello, Wisconsin) and to a lesser extent, severe weather in the summer. I prepare by having some extra food on hand for my family. I prepare by having means of cooking said food without power (camp stoves, propane grill, fire pit, fireplace). I do what I can to make my house safe and secure for my family. I pay attention to news and current events, and I pay attention to what is happening locally, from the town where I live to the street I live on.

When we lived in Texas, I focused on tornados and to a lesser extent toxic spills (railway incidents). A fairly major railway line ran through our backyard about 2 acres from our house (yeah, we had a big back yard—everything’s bigger in Texas!) and I can’t tell you how many times I saw tanker cars carrying God-knows-what past my house day and night. I had a plan in place for if one of those mile-long freight trains suddenly jumped the track and dropped a half-million gallons of chemical death in my back yard.

I never had to implement that plan, thank God, but I had to put my tornado preps into play a half dozen times (we even spotted a twister form in our neighbors yard, saw their shed explode and the debris swirl up into the air like a flock of starlings).

Likewise, when we lived in Florida, I developed a plan for hurricanes—after the first three hit, I was as ready as I could be for #4. I filled a “hurricane” bag with 3 days of food and water for my new wife and myself, including important documents and tools like a portable emergency radio, work gloves, and the like. Should we need to evacuate (on our terms, not when the government decided it was time—by then it would be too late), we could leave within 10 minutes of making the decision.

Anyway, I think post is long enough for today. Hopefully if you didn’t already know the difference, I’ve been able to shed some light on the idea of what a prepper is and how the term ‘survivalist’ with all its negative connotations, doesn’t really apply to the majority of preppers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying anyone who calls themselves a survivalist is crazy, unlike the MSM. On the contrary, I think the only difference between a survivalist and a prepper is the extent to which they are prepared. Nowadays, the terms are bantered around and interchangeable to some people. Others shun the term survivalist, while others wear the label as a badge of honor. ‘Prepper’ seems to have entered the lexicon of today’s culture to the extent that whether the MSM wants to or not, it’s forced to use that term when describing us.

Yet they still manage to get that dig in—hence the name “Doomsday Preppers”. As if saying, if you’re going to be prepared for something, you’re preparing for the end of the world as we know it (there’s that TEOTWAKI again) and everyone knows that means your crazy.

The good news is we’re turning that on its head. More and more people are not only preppers but proud of it and not afraid to tell someone they’re prepared. Sometimes you should be afraid to let that be known—don’t worry, we’ll discuss going gray and OPSEC in a future post.

Tomorrow, I’ll have some examples to illustrate the points I’ve made today.

For all my readers on the east coast—hopefully you’re ready for the snow. If you are, get the popcorn out, it’s going to be an interesting “teachable moment” for millions of Americans.  I know I’ll be paying attention to the news to glean what I can about people’s behavior in crisis situations like this.

 

Freehold Friday: Why be prepared?

Welcome back, muchachos.

As things seem to get worse and worse out there, from the weather—which is always unpredictable whether you believe in ‘climate change’ or not—to terrorism and natural disasters, I can’t help but see more and more references to a ‘movement’ in America taken up by a certain group of people. You see them referred to in the news as ‘survivalists’ or, in a not so cynical term, preppers. 

They even star in shows like Doomsday Preppers and strong elements of the idea behind being prepared pop up over and over again in themes from Armageddon to Deep Impact to The Colony, BBC’s Survivors, and the biggest one lately, The Walking Dead. If you actually start looking, you’ll see post-apocalyptic “fantasy” all over the place on the big and small screens (San Andreas, anyone?). And there’s more and more out every year. 

As this is something near and dear to my heart, I thought it’d be fun to write a series of blog posts on preparedness. So here goes!

Preparedness: What is it?

Why are there so many shows and movies recently with a strong undercurrent of survival/preparedness/end of the world drama? Because there is an audience for it. Evidently a large one, judging by the popularity of The Walking Dead and the recent splurge of zombie movies (don’t focus on the zombies, the story is really a tale of survival—replace zombies with super-flu and you have the basis for my Wildfire series…).

Just as recently as a few years ago, anyone into ‘survivalism’ was probably listed a nutjob or worse (according to the main stream media) a ‘gun nut’, hoping for the end of the world so they could get a chance to loot and shoot.

Well.

I wont’ say there isn’t anyone out there that fits that bill, but I have to believe that the vast (and I’m talking 99% of the people not involved in the ‘let’s-overthrow-the-government’ militia movements or fringe racist groups) majority of people who subscribe to the prepared lifestyle are decent, honest, God-fearing Americans who truly get what this country was founded on. They are the modern day descendants of our pioneer ancestors.

I know what you’re thinking… “Pioneers? WTF?” 

Stay with me for a second here. Think on this: at the turn of the 19th century, America was still an infant nation, largely consisting a few “big” towns on the eastern seaboard like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston, a vast swath of farmland and smaller communities, and the unknown hinterland, full of bears and natives.

Many people lived on the edge of the civilized America. They could look out the back door of their log cabin house and see a cleared field of crops, then spot a solid wall of trees, hiding the dark secrets of what lies beyond. Maybe those farmers took a break on a sunny afternoon from digging in the fields and felt a trickle of fear run down their spine. Is there someone out there watching from the trees? Is the local hostile tribe about to launch a surprise attack on the homestead?

Why did they work so hard anyway, slaving away out in the hot sun scrabbling in the dirt to grow crops in hostile territory, beset by natives and wolves or even bears or other animals that didn’t appreciate the intrusion in their territory? Because they knew if they didn’t work and sweat and bleed in the spring, summer, and fall, they’d die in the winter. When the snows came, it didn’t take much, for example in the Shenandoah Valley, to block passes and make travel by carts or covered wagons impossible. Sure you could still venture out on a horse, but how would you transport your pregnant wife to a doctor (answer: the doctor had to come to you…maybe…if you could find him and bring him back to your house on his own horse) or raise the hue and cry if that local tribe did launch a raid if the snow got too deep for even a horse? Or what about sleet or hail? What happens to your crops when there’s a catastrophic storm that sometimes happens in the winter?

The answer: if you don’t have enough grain stored away, and a safe place for your animals to survive the winter, and a solid stock of dried meats or salted meats, etc., put away in the root cellar, you probably starved to death. 

The resourcefulness, frugality, self reliance, and general preparedness of our ancestors—especially the ones out on the frontier—is a shining model of how to survive. For if you don’t survive first, you can’t thrive, and if you can’t thrive, you and your community/state/nation will fail.

It’s only through our modern technology, medicine, and the ever-present nature of electricity that we have as a species (in general—I’m not talking about people in 3rd world countries or subsistence farmers, or any of a number of people who live in Alaska, etc.) have gone soft. I count myself in that group too—I’m in no shape to go all Neanderthal and survive in the snow that’s currently falling outside my windows or live in a cave and kill and skin a deer with nothing but a flint stone or a spear. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no weapons expert either, though I know how to shoot a pistol and a bow and I can probably ruin someone’s day with my sword. But I have the mindset to prepare.

The mind is your greatest tool.  Use it.

What exactly does that mean? I look back to the Boy Scouts—they ingrained in my mind the idea that you should always Be Prepared. To survive, to render aid, to lead, to escape, whatever—you should always be ready. I remember learning how to start a fire without matches or lighters. I remember learning to build primitive shelters in the woods and how to filter water (granted, at a very basic level) and make rope and use my pants as a life preserver and tread water for hours on end…the list goes on. At the time, I chafed at the idea of jumping into a pool fully clothed, or learning how to drag a drowning person back to shore (without them pulling me under too!). I hated the idea of CPR and possibly cracking someone’s ribs to get their heart going. But now, looking back on that knowledge gives me some comfort when the nightly news tries to give me a case of night terrors.

I’d rather have and not need something–be it a tool, weapon, skill, or knowledge–than need something and not have it.

My wife and I used to live in Florida. They get these really big wind storms down there—you may have heard of them, they’re called hurricanes—and every now and then they’d clobber our area and knock out the power/water. Granted, our first year in the Sunshine state saw us smacked by 4 hurricanes (living in an area that hadn’t seen one in decades), so we got a crash course in how to survive, you might say. The first storm, I was wary. I had seen people in the neighborhood boarding up houses, bringing in furniture, etc.

Keep in mind, this was our first house. We didn’t have a) the money, or b) the time to buy and fit sheets of thick plywood to our windows. We were too busy working to make enough money (see (a)) to pay the mortgage. 

I was young and felt pulled by the obligation of my job to help prepare the store (I worked as a department manager at the Beyond at the time—I’ll post about the mindset of the customers I saw the day the storm struck later) and besides, I didn’t have the tools necessary to reduce 4×8 sheets of 1” plywood down to fit my windows.

We read all the newspaper stories, watched the warnings on TV and took in the advice of my parents who’d grown up in Florida and lived through countless hurricanes, including the big ones. We bought bottled water (1 case) and a few canned goods, but without a plan and without real first hand knowledge, just kind of winged it.

As it turned out, we had plans to be in Illinois when the first storm (Charley, 2004) hit our house. We skipped out of town and flew from Miami on the last flight north (they had already closed the other airports and we had no choice but to reroute our flight south, closer to the approaching storm). The pilot announced they’d closed the airport, just a few minutes after he went wheels up and we climbed, shaking in the turbulence, to our cruising altitude.

Luckily the house was undamaged on our return, but we could find precious little information on the fate of our friends and local area while we were way up in the land of corn. The upper Midwest just didn’t care—most people didn’t even know there was a hurricane at the time.

But the second one of the season—Frances—taught me some real lessons. I learned that my store of bottled water (one case, leftover from the few weeks past when Charley hit and we were out of town) was woefully inadequate for even two people for more than a day or so without power. The areas around us and just north of us lost power for weeks in the aftermath. I think we lost power for maybe an afternoon and part of the night, but that was it. Other than flickering lights, we stayed fully powered throughout the storm and aftermath. Lucky.

What else did I learn? When the power goes out, you better keep that fridge closed. Yeah, I didn’t think about that and instead of taking an inventory at the beginning of the outage, we kept forgetting what we had and opened and shut that door many times. We lost a decent amount of food in the few hours we lost power. Rookie mistake.

I learned that canned beans and cheese and ground beef and Tostitos can make a pretty bitchin’ nacho dinner. I cooked everything while the power was flickering, on the off chance that we’d lose power—which we did—and it was a pretty good, filling meal. And I got to use some of the canned stuff we bought for the storm.

But when the power went out? We had nothing but things we could eat ‘off the shelf’. Some fruit, some dry cereal, bread, and soups, etc. It was an eye-opening experience. We certainly didn’t go hungry, but as I looked at the pantry by flashlight when the sun set, I realized that should the lights not come on quickly, we’d be in pretty bad shape in a few days.

Lady Luck stayed with us through the night and the little tea lights we had (for a decorative wall candelabra we got as a wedding present) kept us from being in complete, humid, darkness. We couldn’t open windows because the rain and wind would have drenched the interior of the house, so we left some cracked for ventilation and had to sweat it out and try not to move much. Another lesson learned: have plenty of batteries (and flashlights!) and candles for when the lights go out—because they will at some point in the future.

Each storm that hit, Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeane, tested me in different ways from the one before. Charley opened my eyes about the need to learn evacuation routes, watch the weather closer and plan travel accordingly (instead of waiting and hoping and rushing). Frances taught me to learn the signs of the house in distress, how the roof creaks in the wind and how not to panic. She also taught me to be ready for flooding—I’ve never seen so much rain in my life. Ivan rehashed the evacuation plans—most of the roads leading out of town were jammed—people had learned lessons from Charley and Frances and decided to skedaddle. And Jeane brought home the lesson that even when you think the coast is clear, it’s usually not. She hit us once, twice, and nearly three times as she wandered back and forth across Florida, trailing flooding and destruction in her wake.

These events got me in the proper mindset to be prepared. Prepared to protect myself, ensure my survival and to fulfill the sacred vow I sworn—just a few weeks before Charley hit—to protect my wife. I read a lot, a learned, I remembered, and I planned. I started to increase our canned goods stockpile. I bought more water. I practiced evacuation routes, I watched how people reacted in the aftermath (the lines at gas stations when fuel delivery was interrupted were classrooms not to be missed) and I remembered how they acted just before the storms. I quickly figured out the best time to hit the stores for last minute supplies like milk and bread before the masses of people who waited too long decided to follow my lead. It took 3 hurricanes to figure that out, but when Jeane hit, we were prepared enough that we ignored the storm and installed flooring in our house. I still remember cutting laminate flooring in the garage with my jigsaw and watching the garage door bend and flex like the side of a giant beast, breathing in time with the wind gusts that buffeted our little house.

The Mindset

I had some valuable experiences, I gained a lot of knowledge—but was I prepared? Was I fully invested in the lifestyle? Was I ready to become self-reliant?

Not completely, but every time I started to relax my guard, my subconscious kicked memories to the forefront that kept me focused. Like the blizzard in the early 1990s that crippled my home state and shut everything down for miles and miles. We had to hike through our neighborhood, through snow up to my knees (I was tall for my age in high school) to the grocery store for supplies after we began to run out of food three days into the event. The roads weren’t plowed (Delaware only had 3 plows, I think) and the stores were open, but they didn’t have a lot. We had power and a wood burning fireplace, so we had water and warmth. 

September 11, 2001. I was working on my law degree at the time and remember the horror stories broadcast on the news, watching people stream away from downtown NYC in a massive horde of fear, all covered in sweat, blood and that creepy-as-shit white gray dust that seemed to be everywhere. I remember watching the news live when the second tower fell and that wall of smoke and debris rolled down the street right at the camera, then everything went gray and all you could hear was coughing and that eerie whistling-beeping of the first responders locator alarms. I remember stepping out on my balcony and watching as F–16s screamed overhead on their way to NYC from Dover Air Force Base. Everything was surreal. And it got me and a LOT of other people thinking—what if that had been me stuck in downtown New York? What the hell would I have done? I thought a lot, I made a lot of lists, I learned, I planned.

Then came the great northeast blackout of 2003. I watched that from my apartment and took a lot of notes. Some of you may have read a bit about that in my book Alea Jacta Est. But again, it didn’t affect me directly—I was in Florida, 1,000 miles south. But I watched, I learned, I planned, and most importantly, I thought about ‘what if’. I think that’s why I write my books—they allow me to explore ‘what if’ safely and see what lies around the bend should disaster strikes.

By then I was married—no longer was I beholden only to my own hide. I had to think about my wife—what would happen if both of us were trapped at home? What about if one of us was at work? I had to think up how we’d communicate, where we’d meet—do we bug out or in? What does that even mean? The responsibility grows exponentially for every person added to your family or group. I learned to control anxiety and stop worrying and start doing. Either lists or stockpiling or shopping—doing something to get you closer to your goal of self-reliant living helps. Tremendously.

The Unprepared Person’s First Mistake

Why did I (do I) want to be self reliant? Isn’t the government going to take care of me in a disaster? 

Answer: when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

Corollary: See Hurricane Katrina, the aftermath.

The government is there to protect us from big things like invasion (there are many who doubt they can do that effectively—don’t get me wrong, our military is more than capable of doing so if left to their own devices. I wouldn’t bet against the men and women who wear the flag on their shoulders. Ever. But the politicians who tell them where to go and what they can and can’t do…they’re the ones who’ll get us all killed). They are not there to prevent an earthquake or stop a hurricane. Hell, they can’t even get to you all that fast afterward because they have to use the same roads to bring in equipment. They have to land their helicopters somewhere else because of the downed power lines and trees.

In the end, when you look at blizzards, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods…the first responders are always the average Joe Sixpack who lives next door. They live there, remember? Your neighbors, though they’re suffering just as much as you, are by proximity, going to be first on the scene. Remove yourself to somewhere out in the boonies and yeah, the first responders will be actual first responders. But I digress.

The Army isn’t going to show up at your door in the first hour after the hurricane passes. You’ll see Bob across the street first, shout “You okay?” or “Hey, my wife is hurt!”, etc., and start working from there. Then, when you’re sweaty and halfway through clearing the tree from your driveway that blocks the road, the police may show up or a helicopter buzz overhead.

The serious government “help” that arrives with food and water usually doesn’t seem to show up in the first 24 hours unless they’re ready and waiting for the disaster (like they try to do in the post-Katrina FEMA world). Even then, it’s hit or miss—and do you really want to trust your life and the lives of your family to ‘hit or miss’ government help?

To me, self reliance is not define literally. I don’t mean being an ‘army of one’, living off the land, shunning interaction with the outside world while setting up a hermitage. Self Reliant to me means being able to care for my family and those around me for short to medium time frames (which include months, but not necessarily years). If I have to take care of my family through my own preparing for years, we’re talking a TEOTWAKI (the end of the world as we know it) event and that’s a whoooooole other can of worms. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that when we get to post-apocalyptic fun.

I want to take care of myself and my family (especially now that I have children) as I see fit, not shuffle to a shelter and get packed into a warehouse with other refugees during a crisis. For that, I must endure the stigma from those less prepared or educated or intelligent that something is wrong with me. Luckily, the times we live in now are awash with people like me (and with the terrible things going on in the world today, who can blame us?) and you—if you’re reading this blog (especially to the end of this post) you’re probably a fan of my books. And if you’re a fan of my books you probably know exactly where I stand on being prepared. So I guess I should change that ‘me’ to ‘us’.

Welcome to the movement.

Next time, we’ll delve deeper into labels—why ‘they’ call us what they do, and why that shouldn’t trouble you at all—or maybe it should.

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