What’s in Your Trunk…Junk or Goodies?

What’s in Your Trunk….Junk or Goodies?

My darling daughter, who I mostly adore, recently introduced me as her neurotic, obsessive-compulsive, excessively organized clean freak mother. Now I take issue with that! I’m not neurotic. The rest…well… It’s true that I like my life…and my cupboards…to be organized. It’s also true that I divided my house into thirty zones, deep-cleaning one zone per day. I rotate my water storage to coincide with the spring and fall equinoxes. My van gets cleaned and reorganized every September. I thrive on schedules.

Last week, in a fit of cleaning frenzy, I drove to the local Great Car Center to wash my van. I had removed bins, backpacks and most emergency gear, so set about cleaning the interior. Embarrassingly, I found a few items that don’t really count as emergency supplies: several old fast food bags, a bunch of broken sand dollars wrapped in a moldy towel, some empty water bottles, and multiple ketchup packets. Multiple…as in lots! Oops.

Can you relate? What’s in your car? Emergency supplies? Or junk and clutter? Most drivers tend to store plenty of items in their cars, but are they items that could be classified as helpful during an emergency? Probably not.

What should you have in your car? Start with these items:

  1. A fully charged cell phone. Don’t count on it as your only line of defense. There are areas where service is spotty or non-available. Always let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be there.
  2. Jumper cables. Car batteries die, so be prepared. Even if your batteries are strong, others may need a jump.
  3. Flashlight. Light is nice, especially when you’re stranded.
  4. Roadside flares/reflective triangle. Don’t be a sitting duck when on the side of the road. Ensure you are visible.
  5. Snacks. Store MREs or power bars to keep the hunger pangs away while you’re waiting for a tow truck, the snow to stop, or some kind soul to dig your tires out of the mud.
  6. Warm blankets, extra jackets, boots, gloves, and hats. Cold is not only miserable, it can kill.
  7. First aid kit: Buy one or put together your own.
  8. Water bottles. Thirst is not a good thing.
  9. Crowbar and folding shovel. These could come in handy if you’re stuck…or can be used as an improvised weapon if necessary.
  10. Toilet paper. Remove the cardboard tube and flatten each roll.
  11. Duct tape. There’s always use for duct tape.
  12. Life-hammer. This little gizmo can make the difference between life and death when stuck in a sinking or wrecked car. Use it to break your window, cut your seatbelt, and escape.

If you’re an over-the-top obsessive preparedness person like me, you’ll love the checklist found at www.blog.allstate.com/super-vehicle-emergency-car-kit. It’s very comprehensive!

Before winter winds blow, clean out your car and gather supplies that could actually come in handy if disaster strikes. Eliminate all that stuff you’ll never use, but keep the ketchup packets. You never know when they might come in handy.

“Stuff Happens”


Apathy. The dictionary defines apathy as the lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. It also indicates indifference. It’s noticeable in politics as in “I don’t vote. My one little vote won’t make any difference.” It’s also quite prevalent among the general public as in “I don’t do that preparedness stuff. If something happens, I’ll just wing it.”

Sorry, Charlie. ‘Winging it’ isn’t an emergency plan.

Admittedly, there hasn’t been a major catastrophe in the U.S. lately…if you don’t count Katrina, Sandy, California earthquakes, flash flooding, and mudslides. Also don’t count severe drought affecting our food supplies and prices, blackouts due to aging electrical grids, hurricanes, tornadoes, or actions of thugs who use anything as an excuse to riot and loot.

Just because nothing has disrupted our individual lives recently doesn’t mean disaster won’t ever happen. Washington State has an active volcano in their backyard. Many cities (and not just on the west coast either) are built over multiple earthquake faults. Rain overflows our rivers, creating mudslides, flooding, and backing up septic systems, causing contamination of water supplies. Our economy is fragile as is our infrastructure. Additionally, one must consider personal disasters: death or divorce in the family, loss of a job, medical challenges…and a sudden loss of all lemon drops.

To misquote a bumper sticker, “Stuff happens.” Are you prepared? If disaster struck, what would you do, where would you go, and what would you need? Do you have a plan?

Every family should have an individualized emergency plan. Detailed directions for creating a comprehensive plan can be found on the Internet such as www.ready.gov/make-a-plan.

First, make a list of what emergencies are most probable for your area. The chance of a winter storm knocking out power or downing trees is more probable than a terrorist attack on the peninsula. Flooding isn’t an issue for some, but may be concerning for others.

All should be concerned about earthquakes as there isn’t one state in our lovely union that is immune from earthquakes. We tend to think of earthquakes as a West Coast problem, but the New Madrid fault, near where Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Tennessee meet, had such a huge quake that church bells rang in Boston, more than 1,500 miles away. It made the Mississippi River appear to flow upstream and caused all sorts of problems. Fortunately, it happened nearly 200 years ago, so the area wasn’t very populated at the time. But…it could happen again!

Decide how to reunite your family if disaster struck when you weren’t together. Establish a communication system for this purpose. Make sure you have an out-of-area contact as local phone service may be unavailable. Texting also reportedly is more reliable than voice calls.

Determine what actions would be necessary for each type of disaster as well as what supplies would be needed.

For example, if my home caught on fire, the first priority is to evacuate everyone immediately. On my way out, I’d grab my “go-bag” which contains copies of important papers and treasured photos, required medications, and a change of clothes, survival supplies, and of course, lemon drops.

Do you have a ‘go bag’ prepared? If not, collect supplies you may already have on hand and put them in a convenient location. During an emergency, you don’t want to be running all over the house trying to gather supplies!

Think what you would do if…

  • The electric power was out for an extended period of time
  • You were stuck in your car due to an sudden snow storm
  • You weren’t able to go to any store for several weeks due to any number of problems, including violent storms, pandemics, riots, power outages, or bank failures.
  • An earthquake struck while kiddies were at school and the family is separated.

How would you…

  • Cook without power?
  • Gather your family together after a disaster?
  • Provide sufficient food and water for several days or weeks?
  • Deal with cuts and bruises, or even more life-threatening illnesses?
  • Shelter your family if your house became unlivable?

Peruse the Internet. Check other articles on this website. Read every book you can find at the local library on surviving disasters of all types. Buy …and read …my book, “Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Floods, Oh, My!” on Amazon. Create your family emergency plan. Do it now.

“Stuff happens” so be prepared. Please!



The Giant, Underestimated Earthquake Threat to North America

I would like to pass along this article written by Jerry Thompson from the 2012 Issue of The Extreme Earth.


The Giant, Underestimated Earthquake Threat to North America

The enormous fault off 
the coast of the Pacific Northwest has been silent for three centuries. But after years of detective work, geologists have 
discovered that it can
 unleash mayhem on 
an epic scale.

By Jerry Thompson|Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Just over one year ago, a magnitude-9 earthquake hit the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan, triggering one of the most destructive tsunamis in a thousand years. The Japanese—the most earthquake-prepared, seismically savvy people on the planet—were caught off-guard by the Tohoku quake’s savage power. Over 15,000 people died. 

Now scientists are calling attention to a dangerous area on the opposite side of the Ring of Fire, the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault that runs parallel to the Pacific coast of North America, from northern California to Vancouver Island. This tectonic time bomb is alarmingly similar to Tohoku, capable of generating a megathrust earthquake at or above magnitude 9, and about as close to Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver as the Tohoku fault is to Japan’s coast. Decades of geological sleuthing recently established that although it appears quiet, this fault has ripped open again and again, sending vast earthquakes throughout the Pacific Northwest and tsunamis that reach across the Pacific. 

What happened in Japan will probably happen in North America. The big question is when.

The “ghost forest” of dead cedar trees at the Copalis River on the Washington coast is evidence of a major quake three centuries ago.

Brian Atwate/USGS

On a foggy spring morning just before sunrise, 27 miles northwest of Cape Mendocino, California, a pimple of rock roughly a dozen miles below the ocean floor finally reaches its breaking point. Two slabs of the Earth’s crust begin to slip and shudder and snap apart.

The first jolt of stress coming out of the rocks sends a shock wave hurtling into Northern California and southern Oregon like a thunderbolt. For a few stunned drivers on the back roads in the predawn gloom, the pulse of energy that tears through the ground looks dimly like a 20-mile wrinkle moving through a carpet of pastures and into thick stands of redwoods.

Telephone poles whip back and forth as if caught in a hurricane. Power lines rip loose in a shower of blue and yellow sparks, falling to the ground where they writhe like snakes, snapping and biting. Lights go out and the telephone system goes down.

Cornices fall, brick walls crack, plate glass shatters. Pavement buckles, cars and trucks veer into ditches and into each other. A bridge across the Eel River is jerked off its foundations, taking a busload of farm workers with it. With computers crashing and cell towers dropping offline, all of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties in California are instantly cut off from the outside world, so nobody beyond the immediate area knows how bad it is here or how widespread the damage.

At the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) lab in Menlo Park, seismometers peg the quake at magnitude 8.1, and the tsunami detection centers in Alaska and Hawaii begin waking up the alarm system with standby alerts all around the Pacific Rim. Early morning commuters emerging from a BART station in San Francisco feel the ground sway beneath their feet and immediately hit the sidewalk in a variety of awkward crouches, a familiar fear chilling their guts.

Then another little rough spot on the bottom of the continent snaps off.

The fault unzips some more.

The outer edge of California snaps free like a steel spring in a juddering lurch—nine feet to the west. The continental shelf heaves upward, lifting a mountain of seawater.

The fault continues to rip all the way to Newport, Oregon, halfway up the state. The magnitude suddenly jumps to 8.6. A power surge blows a breaker somewhere east of town and feeds back through the system, throwing other breakers in a cascade that quickly crashes the entire grid in Oregon, Washington, and parts of California, Idaho, and Nevada. A brownout begins in six more western states. The wire line phone systems crash in lockstep.

Then another fragment of rock deep underneath Newport shears away. The fault unzips the rest of the way to Vancouver Island. The quake now pins seismic needles at magnitude 9.2. High-rise towers in Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria begin to undulate. The shock wave hammers through sandy soil, soft rock, and landfill like the deepest notes on a big string bass. The mushy ground sings harmony and tall buildings hum like so many tuning forks.

On I-5, the main north-south interstate highway, 37 bridges between Sacramento and Bellingham, Washington, collapse or are knocked off their pins. Five more go down between the Canada–United States border and downtown Vancouver. Nineteen railway bridges along the north-south coastal mainline of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway are wrecked as well. The runways of every major coastal airport from Northern California to Vancouver are buckled, cracked, and no longer flyable.

After 50 cycles of harmonic vibration—skyscrapers swaying rhythmically from side to side in giddy wobbles—dozens of tall buildings have shed most of their glass. In some downtown intersections the cascade of broken shards has piled up three feet deep.

Shock waves have been pummeling the Pacific Northwest for four minutes and thirty-five seconds now, and it still isn’t over. After 64 cycles, enough welds have cracked, enough concrete has spalled, enough shear walls have come unstuck that some towers begin to pancake. The same death spiral everyone saw in New York on 9/11 happens all over again. Smaller buildings, but more of them. Dozens of towers go down in the four northernmost of the affected cities.

In the five major urban areas along the fault, tens of thousands of people have been seriously injured. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, are dead. More than a third of the oncoming shift of police, firefighters, paramedics, nurses, and doctors do not show up for work. They are either stranded by collapsed buildings, bridges, and roadways, injured or dead themselves, or have decided to stick close to home to make sure their own families are OK before going to work. People who survive the collapses must do their own search and rescue for family members, friends, and neighbors still trapped in the rubble. Help will come eventually, but who knows when?

People in the United States and Canada, if they think at all about earthquake disasters, probably conjure up the San Andreas fault in the worst-case scenario. In California, as they wait for “the Big One,” people wonder which city the San Andreas will wreck next—San Francisco or Los Angeles? But if by the Big One they mean the earthquake that will wreak havoc over the widest geographic area, that could destroy the most critical infrastructure, that could send a train of tsunamis across the Pacific causing economic mayhem that would probably last a decade or more—then the seismic demon to blame could not possibly be the San Andreas. It would have to be Cascadia’s fault.

One year after Japan’s devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, scientists are still trying to figure out how the world’s most organized and earthquake-ready nation could have been taken so much by surprise. They were hit by an earthquake roughly 
25 times more powerful than experts thought 
possible in that part of the country. How could the forecast have been so wrong? The short answer is they didn’t look far enough back in geologic time to see that quakes and tsunamis just this big had indeed occurred there before. If they had prepared themselves for a much larger quake and wave, the outcome might have been entirely different.

Courtesy Chris Goldfinger

Exactly the same is true of the Cascadia subduction zone—an almost identical geologic threat off the west coast of North America. When it was first discovered, many scientists thought Cascadia’s fault was incapable of generating giant earthquakes. Now they know they were wrong. They just hadn’t looked far enough into the past.

The Cascadia subduction zone is a crack in the Earth’s crust, roughly 60 miles offshore and running 800 miles from northern Vancouver 
Island to Northern California. This fault is part of the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire, the impact zone where several 
massive tectonic plates collide. Here, a slab of the Pacific Ocean floor called the Juan de Fuca plate slides eastward and downward, “subducting” underneath the continental plate of North America.

When any two plates grind against each and get stuck, enormous stress builds up until the rocks fracture and the fault rips apart in a giant earthquake. Two other segments of the Ring of Fire ruptured this way—Chile in 1960 at magnitude 9.5, the largest quake ever recorded on Earth, and Alaska’s horrible Good Friday earthquake of 1964, at 9.2 the strongest jolt ever to hit the continent of North America.

Cascadia, however, is classified as the quietest subduction zone in the world. Along the Cascadia segment, geologists could find no evidence of major quakes in “all of recorded history”—the 140 years since white settlers arrived in the Pacific Northwest and began keeping records. For reasons unknown, it appeared to be a special case. The system was thought to be aseismic—essentially quake free and harmless.

By the 1970s several competing theories emerged to explain Cascadia’s silence. One possibility was that the Juan de Fuca plate had shifted direction, spun slightly by movement of the two larger plates on either side of it. This would reduce the rate of eastward motion underneath North America and thus reduce the buildup of earthquake stress. Another possibility was that the angle of the down-going eastbound plate was too shallow to build up the kind of friction needed to cause major quakes.

But the third possibility was downright scary. In this interpretation, the silence along the fault was merely an ominous pause. It could be that these two great slabs of the Earth’s crust were jammed against each other and had been for a very long time—locked together by friction for hundreds of years, far longer than “all of recorded history.” If that were true, they would be building up the kind of stress and strain that only a monster earthquake could relieve.

In the early 1980s, two Caltech geophysicists, Tom Heaton and Hiroo Kanamori, compared Cascadia to active quake-prone subduction zones along the coasts of Chile and Alaska and to the Nankai Trough off the coast of Japan. They found more similarities than differences. In fact, they found that the biggest megathrust events in these other zones were directly related to young, buoyant plates’ being strongly coupled to the overlying landmass at shallow angles—which fit the description of Cascadia perfectly. Bottom line: If giant ruptures could happen there—in Chile, Alaska, or Japan—the same would probably happen here, in the Pacific Northwest.

The problem, as Heaton explained it to me, was that there was no direct physical sign of earthquakes. All the comparison studies in the world could not prove unequivocally that Cascadia’s fault had ruptured in the past. What everyone needed and wanted was forensic evidence. In the breach, significant doubt and strong disagreement had separated the scientists into opposing camps. “There was plenty of skepticism out there among geophysicists that the zone really was capable of doing this stuff,” confirms paleogeologist Brian Atwater of the U.S. Geological Survey at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The only thing that could put an end to the back-and-forth debate would be tangible signs of past ruptures along the entire subduction zone. If the two plates were sliding past each other smoothly, at a constant rate, and without getting stuck together, then there should be a slow, continuous, and irreversible rise in land levels along the outer coast. On the other hand, if the two plates were stuck together by friction, strain would build up in the rocks and the upper plate would bend down along the outer edge and thicken inland, humping upward until the rocks along the fault failed. In the violent, shuddering release of strain during an earthquake, the upper plate would snap to the west, toward its original shape. The clear signal—the geodetic fingerprint—of a large subduction earthquake would be the abrupt lowering of land behind the beaches when the upper plate got stretched like taffy, snapped to the west, and then sank below the tide line.

That was something Atwater figured he could probably measure and verify—or disprove. “When they said the Pacific Coast was rising three millimeters a year relative to Puget Sound, I said, ‘Aha! Three meters per thousand!’ ” He would go out to the coast and find out whether a 3,000-year-old shoreline was now 30 feet above sea level, simple as that.

In March 1986 Atwater drove west 
from Seattle toward Neah Bay and Cape Flattery, on the northwestern tip of Washington State, and started searching the beaches, tide marshes, and river estuaries for clues about whether the outer coast had risen or dropped.

Neah Bay was as good a place as any to start because the land all around it is so close to sea level it was highly likely he would be able to spot even slight changes in shoreline elevation. Atwater spent a few rainy days on the marshy floor of this valley. At first he poked holes with a core barrel and came up with nothing unusual, just signs that sand and silt had built the marsh by filling a former bay. But late one afternoon, with the tide down, he tried his luck digging into the muddy bank of a stream that emptied into the marsh. Several swipes of his army shovel exposed something odd a few feet below the top of the bank, beneath a layer of sand from the bay. It was a marsh soil, marked by the remains of a plant he recognized: seaside arrowgrass.

Pretty quickly he recognized what he was looking at—evidence that land formerly high enough above the highest tides for plants to be living on it had suddenly dropped down far enough for the plants to be killed by saltwater.

This subsidence of the landscape had apparently happened very quickly. That uppermost layer of sand, above the peaty soil, had been dumped on top quickly enough to seal off the arrowgrass from the air and keep it from rotting. These plants were hundreds of years old, but they were still recognizable.

Was it physical proof that the ground here had slumped during an earthquake, that the plants of a marsh or forest meadow had been drowned quite suddenly by incoming tides and perhaps buried under the sands of a huge tsunami? Could this finally be a real smoking gun?

The deeper Atwater dug, the more he found. During that summer he and two coworkers uncovered evidence of at least six different events—
presumably six different earthquakes—that had each caused about three feet or so of down-drop.

He returned to the coast in 1987 with David Yamaguchi, who had a Ph.D. in forestry from the University of Washington and was working on a project for the USGS to use tree-ring dating to figure out when Mount St. Helens had eruptedprior to 1980. Together they found groves of weather-beaten, moss-draped dead western red cedar tree trunks standing knee-deep in saltwater, what became known as ghost forests. Western red cedar doesn’t grow in saltwater; these trees had presumably been killed when forest meadows subsided following an earthquake and were swamped with saltwater.

Yamaguchi’s first effort to use spruce stumps to establish a time of inundation and death had failed because, with all the rot, there were not enough rings left to count. Western red cedar, however, was more durable than spruce. Using live trees for comparison, Yamaguchi was able to establish that the cedars had rings up until the early 1690s. The earthquake that killed these cedars must have happened some time soon after then, and later samples from the roots of these trees confirmed that they were killed in the winter of 1700.

What Brian Atwater had discovered in estuaries along the Washington shore, Alan Nelson of the USGS and a team of international colleagues found as well in Oregon and British Columbia in 1995. He and 11 other scientists invested considerable time and effort—including 85 new radiocarbon-dated samples—to obtain the most accurate time line possible. They found that all the ghost forests and marsh 
plants along the Pacific Northwest coast had been killed at the same moment in time as the land dropped down and was covered by tsunami sand, roughly three centuries ago. If the coastline had slumped in river mouths and bays that were many miles apart, the quakes must have been very big. Atwater was pretty sure they were bigger than anything that had happened during Washington’s written history.

But across the Pacific, written history extends further into the past. Kenji Satake of the Geological Survey of Japan and colleagues soon discovered another piece of the puzzle. They found records from the year 1700 of a 16-foot-high tsunami that struck the eastern seaboard of Japan—apparently out of nowhere, since there was no mention of a local earthquake. Taken together, the evidence strongly suggested that Cascadia’s fault was the source of the giant wave.

Together, Atwater, Yamaguchi, Satake, and their colleagues had sleuthed out precisely when Cascadia had last yawned open. Atwater’s tsunami sands gave a carbon date some time between 1690 and 1720. Rings from the cedar trees narrowed the date to the winter of 1699–1700. Finally, Satake’s written records of a tsunami hitting villages all along eastern Japan nailed the date: Cascadia’s last monster quake happened on January 26, 1700, at 9 p.m. They had cracked the case—except in this detective story, the culprit would almost certainly strike again.

The evidence amassed since then suggests that in fact, Cascadia has generated powerful earthquakes not just once or twice, but over and over again throughout geologic time. A research team led by Chris Goldfinger at Oregon State University (OSU) used core samples from the ocean floor along the fault to establish that there have been at least 41 Cascadia events in the last ten thousand years. Nineteen of those events ripped the fault from end to end, a “full margin rupture.”

It turns out that Cascadia is virtually identical to the offshore faults that devastated Sumatra in 2004 and Japan in 2011—almost the same length, the same width, and with the same tectonic forces at work. Cascadia’s fault can and will generate the same kind of earthquake we saw last year: magnitude 9 or higher. It will send a train of deadly tsunami waves across the Pacific and crippling shock waves across a far wider geographic area than all the California quakes you’ve ever heard about.

Based on historical averages, the southern end of the fault—from Cape Mendocino, California, to Newport, Oregon—has a large earthquake every 240 years. For the northern end—from mid-Oregon to mid-
Vancouver Island—the average “recurrence interval” is 480 years, according to a recent Canadian study. And while the north may have only half as many jolts, they tend to be full-size disasters in which the entire fault breaks from end to end.

With a time line of 41 events the science team at OSU has now calculated that the California–Oregon end of Cascadia’s fault has a 37 percent chance of producing a major earthquake in the next 50 years. The odds are 10 percent that an even larger quake will strike the upper end, in a full-margin rupture, within 50 years. Given that the last big quake was 312 years ago, one might argue that a very bad day on the Cascadia Subduction Zone is ominously overdue. It appears that three centuries of silence along the fault has been entirely misleading. The monster is only sleeping.

Excerpted from Cascadia’s Fault by Jerry Thompson. Counterpoint Press, 2011.



Excuse me…Are you drowning?

Inner Tube in Swimming Pool

To swim or not to swim, that was the question. Imagine the scene: soft trade winds, the golden sand of Kailua beach, and a sea that beckoned. I didn’t really have time for one last dip before picking up my children from school, but I simply couldn’t resist.

I stood where the gradually sloping sand drops abruptly into deeper water. Hip-deep and poised to dive, I waited for the next wave.

Then I noticed a young Japanese couple, probably tourists, only a few feet away. Unaware of the drop-off, the man had stepped into the deep water and was soundlessly sinking beneath the surf.

Puzzled, I watched as the man’s head rose briefly then sank again. At first, I thought he was teasing his wife, but then I saw the sheer terror in her eyes. She didn’t speak to me…I suppose she didn’t speak English…but she pointed desperately to her husband.

I was only two steps away, so reached over, grabbed his arm, and pulled him back into shallow water.  As he collapsed onto the beach, I realized he had nearly drowned.

Thanks to Hollywood films, we have been conditioned to expect those who are drowning to splash and flail their arms while screaming frantically for help. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen that way in real life.  Accidental drowning is quiet…so quiet that those only a few feet away may not notice.

Drowning people can’t call for help. They can’t breathe, therefore can’t speak. Their mouth isn’t above water long enough to exhale, inhale, and then call for help before they sink again under the water.

They can’t gesture for help either. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. They instinctively extend their arms to the side and press down to lift their mouths out of the water. Physiologically, they can’t stop drowning to perform voluntary movements such as signal for assistance.

Warm summer days are approaching. Rivers, beaches, and lakes are enticing. It is critical to stay alert around water and to know the signs that someone may be in trouble.

  • Drowning people may remain upright in the water with no evidence of kicking and may appear to simply be treading water. They may struggle only for 20-60 seconds before going under.
  • Their eyes may be closed or be glassy and unfocused.
  • Their head is low in the water, mouth at water level, or may be tilted back with the mouth open.  A child’s head may fall forward.
  • They can’t call for help or reach out for assistance.
  • Children playing in the water are generally noisy. If they are quiet, something may be terribly wrong.

The most important indicator that someone is drowning is that they don’t appear to be drowning. A person may look fine, but they still may be about to slip under the water. Ask, “Are you all right?”  If they answer, all is well. If not, you have less than 20 seconds to react.




Whoever sang of the “long, lazy days of summer” was a poet, not a realist.

Summer’s coming! Warm, sunny days and star-filled nights with nothing to do but daydream.  Okay, that’s a pipedream for most of us. Whoever sang of the “long, lazy days of summer” was a poet, not a realist.

Summer too often means putting aside adventures and play days in order to finish projects that just can’t be accomplished during the cold, dark and generally wet days of winter

However, there are ways to have purpose and pleasure.

  • Have a sleep-over for your kids. Set up the tent and check all the seams. Do they need to be resealed?  If so, do it!  Does the tent floor need a bit of padding?  Moving blankets are great for this purpose.  Check your local hardware stores as these treasures often go on sale during the summer months.
  • Check the condition of your sleeping bags. Are they thin, torn, or have a musty odor?  If so, either replace them (again, check for sales) or get them repaired and cleaned.
  • Experiment with all the gear you’ve purchased but haven’t used such as that sun-shower you couldn’t resist or the king-sized canopy you found at an estate sale for a great price. It’s better to learn on a calm day than during a blizzard or immediately after an earthquake,
  • Gather your family for songs around a campfire several times. Take turns each evening so each family members can take the responsibility for using a different method of starting the fire. No, using a propane torch doesn’t count! Try lighting the fire with cotton balls rolled in Vaseline, with a flint and tinder, or with a homemade fire starter made from an egg carton, dryer lint, and old candle wax.
  • Instruct family members how to extinguish a campfire as well.  Remember, safety is an important skill all must develop.
  • Roast wieners over the fire. Do sharpened sticks work as well as the long metal forks available at most hardware or outdoor sports stores?? Probably not, so perhaps this should go on your to-buy list.
  • Instruct your children how to make buddy burners from tuna cans, and then use them to cook a breakfast on a #10 can or a fold up stove rack from Wal-Mart.
  • Challenge your kiddies…or yourself…to discover various ways of cooking without power. YouTube offers a plethora of ideas. Search the site for “brick rocket stoves” or “cooking without power” for instructional videos.
  • Dutch oven cooking is a staple for summertime fun. Buy a good (Lodge) Dutch oven, view some ideas on YouTube, and try it. It will be an adventure. Don’t feel you must buy special books for recipes. According to my nephew (who is an expert in DO cooking) anything that can be cooked in a slow cooker can be cooked in a Dutch oven.  Make sure your oven is well-seasoned prior to cooking.
  • Indian fry bread is yummy. Practice making it over a grill, campfire, or outdoor stove. For recipes, just Google “Indian Fry Bread”.
  • Can you sleep in a hammock? Try it!  Use a blanket and some rope and experiment a bit!  This is a good time to learn how to tie a variety of knots.
  • Learn how to make an emergency shelter suitable for your area. Google “How to make an emergency shelter” to obtain lots of information and ideas. This may be a good time to look for sales on large tarps, ropes, and other supplies.
  • Got knives?  While you’re basking in the sun, use the time to make sure all your knives are well sharpened.

Need ideas?  Check your local newspapers for any emergency preparedness fairs that generally occur during the warmer weather.  These are great places to gather information and ideas, as well as encouragement.

Summer activities can have a dual purpose so use the days wisely. Camping out in normal times may help prepare your family for the time when ‘camping out’ becomes a necessity.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say, “Don’t worry, kids. We’ve done this before…and we have all the stuff we need to be comfy–cozy.”


What if…you had to leave your home in a hurry?

What if…you had to leave your home in a hurry?


I’m convinced that in an emergency, the mind tends to go blank. An example of this is my friend, Vicki. Years ago, she was ordered to evacuate her home in the Topanga Canyon due to an approaching wildfire. In the allotted twenty minutes, she frantically filled two suitcases with the ‘important stuff” then tearfully closed the door behind her. When she arrived at a hotel, she discovered she had ‘saved’ two feather pillows and a cast iron fry pan.

In an emergency, a well thought out evacuation plan will help you do what needs to be done even when fear takes over and chaos reigns. Whether the problem is a house fire, a hurricane, tsunamis, or earthquake, pre-planning will help those you love get out of the house and if necessary, out of the city, even if you and your loved ones are separated.

Create an evacuation plan

First, plan time when the whole family can gather to create your individual emergency escape plan, the practice it until everyone, including the littlest tots, can follow the directions without hesitation.Seconds count in an emergency. In a typical house fire, it only takes a few minutes for heat to be so extreme that plastics will melt even far away from the fire itself. A well-rehearsed family evacuation plan can be a lifesaver. Your plan must be practiced regularly so that there is an automatic response to emergencies.

Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Make a map of your home, including the following items.
    • Label all exits including doors, windows and hallways.
    • Label the primary exit (usually a door or hallway) for every room.
    • Label a secondary exit that can be used if the primary exit is blocked by smoke or flames.
    • Label every room where a family member sleeps.
    • Label the main shutoff valves of gas, electricity, and water.
  2. Discuss with your family how to escape.
    • Teach children how to get out a window in case the door is blocked.
    • If appropriate, purchase a good fire escape ladder if escape through a second story window may be necessary.  Practice using the ladder immediately. Don’t wait until a disaster occurs to ‘try it out’.
    • Consider the placement of furniture. Perhaps moving a dresser or nightstand will facilitate an escape. This is especially important if basement windows are high and generally inaccessible.
  3. Select a safe meeting place outside your home where an accounting for every member can be taken.
    • Select at least two meeting places: one near your home and one a bit further away in case the first is not accessible.
  4. Place your 72-hour kits near an exit where they will be easy to grab in a hurry.
    • Assign specific family members to be in charge of grabbing the emergency kit.
  5. Practice your plan regularly.
    • Practice turning off utilities.  However, don’t really turn off the gas.  It is illegal to restart the flow of gas; you must have the gas company come out to turn it on again.
    • Practice makes perfect!  Practice also creates an automatic response, which is what is required during an emergency.  Remember, the mind tends to shut down when stressed.
    • Practice with a stopwatch in hand.  See exactly how long it takes for all family members to gather at the meeting place.  Determine your goal and practice until you achieve a realistic evacuation time.
  6. More important ideas
    • Also have a ‘bed bag’ at each person’s bedside. See the article, “Bumps, Bangs, and Bed Bags for more information.
    • Designate an out-of-town and an out-of-state contact person to call in case your family becomes separated.  Don’t rely on memory for these numbers.  Write the numbers on the tongues of children’s shoes, on cards tucked in pockets, and in the individual bed bags.
    • Practice actually using the supplies in your 72- hour kit!  It doesn’t help to have supplies if you don’t know how to use them! This is especially true of a first aid kit.

Disasters don’t only happen to other people in other places.  They can occur at any time.  Plan, purchase, prepare and practice.  If….or when…disaster strikes, you’ll be grateful you took the time to  BE PREPARED for emergencies.

I’ve written a book….and it’s available now!

Have you ever stubbornly insisted you would not do something that others just as vigorously insisted that you should?  And, of course, the more they pushed, the more stubborn you become….right?  Then, you suddenly realize you’re being stubborn just for the sake of being stubborn and to do the …whatever…really does make sense. The result is you’re rather embarrassed to admit you were wrong all along.  Oops!

Unfortunately, I have a huge stubborn streak in me and it is occasionally to my detriment.  Okay, not occasionally.  Usually.  Okay…ALWAYS!  Aaagh. So now I find myself eating my words…without the benefit of cranberry sauce.

Let me explain.

I’ve been writing the news column, “Just in Case” for four long years. During that time, I’ve had numerous editors and readers alike tell me, “You should write a book.”  My standard reply was this:  There are thousands of books out there on emergency prep. The world doesn’t need another.

Then, a couple of months ago, a publisher friend gently shook my shoulders and reprimanded me for being so stubborn.  “It’s true” he agreed.  “There are a lot of emergency prep books out there, but there’s a problem.  Many are so dry, it’s impossible to read them without falling asleep.  The rest are so doom and gloomy, people are afraid to read them.  The world could use a preparedness book that is easy and enjoyable to read but that has a lot of good, practical information in it.  So get off your duff and write it!”

Well, when you put it that way….

So, my friends, here’s the big announcement.  I wrote a book.  Well, it’s really more of a manual, a how-to get started and how to keep going in getting prepared for whatever the future may hold.

The title:  Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Floods, Oh, My! 

Now, here’s the best part.  If you buy it through my website, I’m offering 20% off the list price.  If you purchase it within the next three days using the coupon code FLASHY20, you’ll get an additional 20% off.

Why am I offering a  discount?  Because it’s your comments that encouraged me to write the book.  It’s your comments and questions that convinced me there was a need for the book. And most of all, it’s because I want people to be prepared.  It hurts my heart when, after a disaster, people are experiencing chaos and confusion that could have been lessened had they been just a tiny bit prepared.

Remember, the quality of survival AFTER a disaster is dependent upon the quality of preparations taken BEFORE the disaster happens.

I hope you will read my book, share it with others, and most importantly, put the information contained therein to good use and be prepared!

Click here to purchase the book
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.



The Zombies are Coming…The Zombies are Coming!

Most reasonable adults admit that zombies aren’t real. However, the walking dead have invaded our communal consciousness, fueled by films, TV, and sci-fi novels. Recently, perhaps with tongue in cheek, some clever entrepreneurs have declared May to be Zombie Awareness Month. The ‘kick-off’ was an in-depth discussion of commercial products needed to survive the Zombie Apocalypse.

I happen to believe in Zombies…but not the lumbering, drooling ghouls so often portrayed in horror films. That’s way too Hollywood for me!  The zombies that haunt my dreams are those scary characters who, after a major disaster, emerge from the darkness to prey on unsuspecting neighbors. You may call them beggars, robbers, or looters. I call them zombies. Unfortunately, they live among us today, waiting and watching.

Imagine this:  a disaster of Biblical proportions strikes your part of the country. Power is off, bridges are down, grocery stores sport empty shelves, and people are without the necessities of life.  Enter the zombies.

First are those who scoffed and teased you incessantly about being a prepper.  However, when streets are over-run with desperate folks and stores have been ransacked, they will prey on your goodness.

“But my children are hungry. You certainly don’t want my children to starve, do you? You have stuff, I know. You gotta share!”

They didn’t bother to prepare but now feel entitled to your carefully gathered supplies.  Freeloader zombies!

I have an acquaintance who falls in this group.  He continually brags, “I don’t have to worry about storing food. I know which of my friends have stockpiles!”  I hope he’s not planning on me feeding him!

Next are those ‘really nice neighbors’ who ignored the hassle of preparedness. They even disregarded FEMA’s suggestion to store three days worth of emergency food and water as a bare minimum. They considered selling their jet skis to invest in emergency supplies, but that was just too much to ask.  Normally, they wouldn’t consider stealing but their families are hungry, thirsty and frightened. They will do anything to provide for their family, even if it means pilfering all your supplies. These are the burglar zombies.

Then there are the looter zombies. They figure a disaster is an opportunity to snag a big screen TV and iPods. They will riot in the streets to vent frustrations of an unfulfilled life or simply for the fun of it. After Katrina, New Orleans was filled with these kinds of zombies. Are there these kinds of zombies in your state?  Yep. Could they spill over into your neighborhoods?  Oh, yes!

The worst zombies of all are the zombie-gangs. After they loot the stores of all electronic items to sell on the black market, it finally hits their mushy brains that emergency items such as food, clean water, lanterns, candles, and gasoline for generators are in high demand. They will turn to private homes, farms, and outlying areas. They can’t wait to take what they need, just for the sport of it. Their methods: do whatever necessary to get the stuff.  Violence is the norm for these zombies.

What can you do about zombies?  It’s a good idea to consider who might be approaching your doorstep before trouble starts.

First, keep your preparedness plans as quiet as possible.  No one needs to know exactly how much food and supplies you have set aside for emergencies.  Second, stash your supplies in a variety of places.  Never keep everything in one spot. Prepare one shelf that could be your ‘decoy’ shelf in case of looters.  If they think that one area is all you have, the rest of your supplies may be overlooked.

One fellow hides his extra ammo boxes in a false bottom of a diaper pail.  Another buried his along with some cash and other supplies in a 5 gallon bucket sealed with a Gamma seal lid.  If you chose to do this, be sure to put your supplies….especially the ammo…in a air-locked or zip-lock bag, enclose that in a mylar bag with some oxygen absorbers. Seal the entire package in the bucket and tighten the Gamma seal lid well.  Bury the bucket where it (hopefully) won’t be right under a downspout or other area that gets soaking wet!

One note about storing ammunition:  be aware that if your home catches fire, firemen will not attempt to put out the fire if there is a risk that ammunition may ignite.  A good gun safe may be the better choice rather than storing ammunition in a box under your bed!

No one wants zombies in our homes. They smell, they drool, and they take our stuff.  Generally, burglar-type zombies want to steal something of value they can easily covert to cash. They are more bold than smart and prefer to enter a residence when no one is home.  99% of burglaries happen in the daytime when owners are away.

Zombie-burglars like to work quickly. They want to be in and out before anyone can react.  They tend to concentrate on the master bedroom, closet and bath and will generally spill over into other areas of the house only if time allows.

My philosophy on home security is simple. Make your home a difficult, time-consuming target and the zombies might go somewhere else.

Here are some basic tips to secure your home.

Get smart.  Use the locks you already have. Many people don’t bother to lock their doors when leaving “just for a few minutes.” Always lock your doors and windows even when you are home.

Don’t announce vacation plans on Facebook or post photos while still on holiday. When going out-of-town, tell a few trusted neighbors and friends so they can keep an eye on your house. Letting the world know you’re not home is an invitation to zombies to come a’ calling.

Make sure the exterior of your home is well lit and unobstructed.  Zombies prefer to work in the dark, especially if there are shrubs and trees that will hide their actions. Flood lights, motion sensor lights, porch lights are all deterrents.

Strengthen your doors. 85% of burglars enter through a door, so make it as difficult as possible for a zombie to get in.  If doors and windows are locked, most thieves will kick in the door. Make that more challenging by upgrading the lock and reinforcing the strike plate. Purchase a KatyBar or DoorClub. Visit www.doorsecuritypro.com for additional ideas.

Strengthen your windows.  Window films such as Lexan polycarbonate can toughen glass, making it more difficult to break. This slows down intruders and forces them to create a racket trying to smash the glass. To keep windows from opening more than six inches, cut a wooden dowel six inches shorter than the height of each window. Drop the dowel into the metal gutter of the window frame so it can’t be fully opened.

Get a dog (or pretend to). A dog won’t make your home impregnable, but it can make it look less approachable. You don’t want a pooch? Post a “beware of dog” sign anyway.

Be sneaky.  Door mats, flowerpots and fake rocks are the first places burglars look for your spare key. Instead, give it to a trusted neighbor or hide it in a place no one would think to look.

Strengthen your garage door.  I recently learned the hard way how a burglar can access a home via the garage door.  They either drill a hole in the door or bend apart one of the gaskets so as to be able to extend a coat hanger into the garage. They then hook the cord…with its plastic handle…that disconnects the garage door from the automatic opener.  Then they can simply raise the garage door.  If you are in the habit of leaving the door from the garage into the house unlocked, they can simply walk in.  And walk in they will. Word to the wise:  remove the cord from the lever that connects the garage door opener.

Regarding garage door openers:  Most remotes are pre-set to a simple number and most people don’t ever change that code.  Burglars know this and often will meander down a street testing which garage doors will open with their own sneakily acquired remotes.  Change the number; it’s easy to do.

Google ‘home security.’ There are numerous sites with a wide variety of DYI ideas for securing your abode.  I’m particularly impressed with www.nononsenseselfdefense.com

They offer many great tips on keeping zombies (okay, they call them criminals) out of your home.

Most importantly, remember that a lackadaisical attitude may result in disaster. A door that could withstand the impact of a Mac truck is not secure if grandma forgets to lock it.  The very best alarm system is of no use unless it is armed.  Prevention’s the key to keeping zombies away.

Some Thoughts About Typhoon Haivan

My heart aches for those whose lives have been taken in Typhoon Haiyan and for the survivors who now must cope with unimaginable difficulties. I feel helpless in the wake of such overwhelming losses.  I will assist where I can…with a small donation for relief funds, with a few extra dollars in my monthly church offerings…but as a single senior, my contribution is limited.

However, there is something I can do and that is to join my voice with others in a cacophony of warnings: Prepare for disaster while you can!  We never know when catastrophe will strike our communities!

Do you think we’re immune from disaster because we live in a comparably rich nation?  Do you think we’re spared because “disasters like this only happen in other, far-away places?  Do you really think that nothing of this magnitude could ever happen in your community or to your family?

Think again.

Here are a few selected sentences from a news report dated 11 Nov2013.

TACLOBAN, Philippines (AP) — “Thousands of typhoon survivors swarmed the airport here on Tuesday seeking a flight out, but only a few hundred made it, leaving behind a shattered, rain-lashed city short of food and water and littered with countless bodies.

 Millions are without shelter or food.

Malls, garages and shops have all been stripped of food and water by hungry residents.

“There is no water, no food. People are just scavenging in the streets. People are asking food from relatives, friends. The devastation is too much … the malls, the grocery stories have all been looted. They’re empty. People are hungry. And they (the authorities) cannot control the people.”

In Tacloban, residents stripped malls, shops and homes of food, water and consumer goods. Officials said some of the looting smacked of desperation but in other cases people hauled away TVs, refrigerators, Christmas trees and even a treadmill.”

Yes, Virginia, disasters can happen here in America as well.  Personally, I live in a very active earthquake zone. Earlier this week, earthquake alerts informed me that there were two small quakes on the Cascadia Subduction Zone…one at the south end and one at the north end.  Scientists say it isn’t “if” we have a 9.2 earthquake…it’s “when”.  But earthquakes aren’t my only concerns.

There are numerous other disaster possibilities in our future: floods, hurricanes, ice storms, tornados and wildfires.  I am concerned about long-term power outages, infrastructure collapse, and political game-playing that cause unemployment, food storages, and riots.

Especially riots.

What do you think would happen if suddenly a huge percentage of Americans who rely on food stamps found their cards no longer were valid?  Can you imagine what the status of our cities would be if transportation methods were blocked and food no longer was trucked into the grocery stores?  Or if for any reason, natural or unnatural, water no longer magically flowed from our faucets? If normal, generally law-abiding parents found their children were hungry and they didn’t have anything to feed them?

Read that sentence from the news report from the Philippines once more:

“There is no water, no food. People are just scavenging in the streets. People are asking food from relatives, friends. The devastation is too much … the malls, the grocery stories have all been looted. They’re empty. People are hungry. And they (the authorities) cannot control the people.”

I strongly urge you to make preparedness a priority.  If you haven’t started, start now. If you’re in “pretty good shape”, do more.  The time to prepare is now.

Do it now.  Don’t delay.  Don’t rely on your relatives, neighbors, or church members to provide for you and your family.  Take that responsibility yourself! Gather at least a three month supply of basic necessities: food, water, essential medicines, soap, toilet paper, and yes, even lemon drops. You should be prepared to hunker down in your homes, perhaps for weeks.

I hope you’re one who is interested in preparedness and are doing something about it. You probably are, since you’re reading this blog.  However, if you have just been thinking about it but haven’t done anything yet, get off the couch and do it!

If you chose to do nothing, don’t complain when you’re cold, hungry and thirsty that you weren’t warned of the consequences.  I’m warning you right now!