Archive for May, 2010

Why do I prefer to say Emergency and Disaster Survival Kit (EDSK) instead of Bug Out Bag (BOB).

May 27, 2010

First, let me state that I see Emergency as a small scale harmful event while disaster is a large scale harmful event. For example, an emergency might be a broken arm. A disaster might be a hurricane with an impact of hurricane Katrina. Thus, an emergency survival kit might be smaller than a disaster survival kit in a number of items and will always be included as a part of the latter. Contents of each should stored next to each other, but in separate containers, so that emergency kit can be utilized quickly if needed.

Now, why do I prefer EDSK to BOB? Well, while BOB is a catchy name, it implies what I believe is a wrong mental approach to handling a hazard cituation. “Bug out” means quick exit, retreat, evacuation from the epicenter of the hazard. While this is almost always a good idea, I think that one should concentrate on SURVIVAL first and use “bugging out” as just one of the possible techniques for surviving the hazard. For example, if there is an immenent nuclear fallout, do you always “bug out” or do you utilize another survival technique such as hiding in a basement depending on available transportation, weather conditions, your family physical condition, etc? This is where your mental approach will matter. “Bugging out” is a tactic in a battle, survival is a strategy in a war.

Additionally, “bug out” always aims to deal with a large scale disaster. But what if a family member simply broke a finger? It is still a harzard, but will you have means of dealing with it until help arrives if you always concentrate on “bugging out” as oppose to surviving emergencies and disasters?

How to decide what to put in a first aid kit and your overall disaster survival kit

May 27, 2010

On one hand I prefer step by step instructions on what to put in your Emergency and Disaster Survival Kit (EDSK aka BOB or Bug Out Bag). On the other hand noone can know my specific scenario and so books that give you a general overview of what you might need are useful in that they make you think. I find that a combination of the two types is necessary to have as much of a complete kit as possible. Case in point: I just started assembling a First Aid Kit (FAK) for my family. I used Red Cross FAK list as a starting point since I am not an expert in this area. Then I referred to something I saw in “When all Hell breaks loose” book – “add medicine specific to your family members needs”. This is vague on one hand, but on the other it made me think. What do my family members need outside of the standard set of badages and tylenol? Well, my little kids will need kids motrine and I can often use muscle pain reliever cream such as bengay. We also leave relatively close to nuclear power stations. As a result iodine pills are part of my FAK. Iodine, bengay, kids motrine are not ususally listed in the typical FAK. This is just one example of how you should start with a recommended list of items and then think outside of the guidelines.

Similar concept applies to compiling EDSK (Emergency and Disaster Survial Kit). Refer to commonly available lists and pack a flashlight, batteries, radio, etc. Then look at your specific cituation and add items as needed. Do you have kids? Will they have books or games to entertain them and keep their mind of the hazard while staying in a shelter? What hazard are you preparing for? A wild fire? An earthqauke? A flood? A nuclear emergency? Do you expect to have to evacuate your home or do you expect to stay inside? Does it depend on the type of a hazard? The type of a hazard will depend on your geographica location. For example, area where I live is relatively close to a few nuclear power facilities. We have have occasional floods, snow storms, and sometimes hurricanes. As a result my EDSK is customized toward surviving those potential hazards.

Building a car emergency kit – what you truly need on tight budget

May 27, 2010

When I started putting together an emergency kit for a car, I decided not to go with a pre-assembled kit. I, as probably you do too, already had many components on hand and did not want to buy an expensive kit with many items that I already had. Additionally, I was suspect of the quality and completeness of many (not all) of the kits being sold. For example, I was not exactly satisfied with the cheap plastic flashlights included and especially the supplied batteries (more important notes on batteries below). I also saw most of the kits missing an important piece – a warm blanket. Additionally, I wanted to have items that would be convenient to have during non-emergency situations as well.

I started with a container for the kit. My requirements were simple: I wanted a sturdy container, small enough not to take all of my trunk space and large enough to fit basic necessities described below. While I had a few old backpacks that I could use, I decided to go with a large (27-28lbs) plastic cat litter container. If you have a cat you probably have seen or bought those from WalMart, Costco, etc. They are made by ScoopAway, TidyCats, Fresh Step, etc. If you don’t have a cat, get this container from someone who does. It is very sturdy, light weight, water resistant, has a handle, and a tight lid (note on the lid – make sure you can open it easily. If it is too tight, either have one of the corners open or use a bag with a zipper so that you can access items quickly in an emergency). If you go with a backpack or a wooden box of some sort, I would advise to line it with a thick trash bag to make it water resistant and keep some of the moisture out.

I then proceeded to think about what items I need to put in the kit. I looked at the contents of commercial kits and kits assembled by laymen and used the information to come up with a list that provides me with a good compromise between available space, money I can spend, and emergency response adequacy. Your list is likely to be slightly or very different since we all live in different weather areas and drive different distances through differently populated areas. With that said, here are the items in my kit, where I bought them, and how much I paid for them.

Large thick blanket (80% wool, 20% synthetic fibers). $8 at Harbor Freight. It takes almost half of the available space in the bucket, but keeping warm, if stranded in the car during winter, is important for where I live.

6 ft thin synthetic rope. $1 at HarboFreight. It can be used as part of a splint, as a makeshift shoe lace, or just for tying loose items together. It takes very little space.

Duct tape. $2 at Harbor Freight. Uses for duct tape are numerous: from fixing ripped umbrellas, to keeping a loose tail light in place, to making a water bucket.

Work gloves. $1 on sale at Harbor Freight (under $2 in a local dollar store). You might need to handle sharp, heavy objects in an emergency or to change a tire. Work gloves are good for that. $1 gloves are not the most comfortable, but they are good enough to work in an emergency.

First Aid Kit – $13 at Harbor Freight. First Aid kit with bandages, gauze pads and rolls, splint set, ointments, pain relievers, and a basic first aid guide is one of the most important items in your emergency kit. You can get a very decent one for under $20 if you look around. Make sure that items in the First Aid kit are not expired and rotate those pieces they do have an expiration date (pills, ointments).

Paper pad, pencil, pen. I already had those in the house. Having something to write on and with can be very useful. Pen is convenient, but have a pencil as a backup. Unless you get a specialized pen, your 50 cent Bic might not perform well when its ink freezes in cold weather. Btw, you can also get a water resistant paper, if it is important for you. It is not prohibitevly expensive when purchased on internet. Look here for more information:

Ziplock bag to keep small pieces from getting lost in the bucket. Can also be used as a make shift water spray when filled with water and punctured. Already had one in the house.

3 garbage bags. Duct tape cousins, they can be used for a variety of duties – from making a quick rain poncho to storing dirty clothes. Already had those in the house.

2 bottles of water. It is very important to stay hydrated regardless if it is hot or cold outside. I already had bottled water in the house.

4 granola bars. I do not expect to be stranded for days where I live. However, I do not want to be hungry and lightheaded in an emergency either. 4 granola bars should provide enough nutrition for me for a short period of time. I already had those in the house. High calorie bars are a smart choice, but taste them first to make sure you like the taste. Also, ensure to rotate them on a regular basis.

Small pack of unsalted nuts. Same as granola bars.

Flashlight. $5 from eBay This is an important item. Choose with care. I recommend one that: has a single LED (those tend to be of a higher quality than multiple LED lights), has a sturdy aluminum body, uses 2 or 3 AA batteries, and is water resistant i.e. can be used in a rain. 2 AA LED Maglite is a good (albeit overpriced) example of what I am describing. You can find many similar lights on Ebay from sellers based in Asia. It takes a long time for the flashlight to get here (3 – 6 weeks is a norm), but you will pay 3rd or less of what you would have paid for a maglite. I like maglites, but if you are on a budget, there are better values. There is a lot that can be said about flashlights. Visit to learn more. Lights with sturdy plastic bodies are fine, as long as they are water resistant (Inova lights come to mind). Get one that has a clip or a non round part of a body, so that it does not roll under the car if you temporarily need to to lay it on a flat surface. IMPORTANT: get lithium batteries for your flashlight. Unlike alkaline or rechargeable batteries they will work in very hot and cold weather (you are more likely to have an emergency during cold winter storm, then a nice spring day). They have a shelf life of 10+ years, i.e you do not have to rotate them frequently or worry about leakage. Lithium batteries are somewhat expensive and are only available from Energizer when buying in the USA. From what I understand Energizer currently holds patent in the US for them and so it rips the benefits to the fullest. They are still very worth it (look on eBay to save money, but make sure to check expiration date). Crank based rechargeable flashlight might be fine, depending on what rechargeable batteries are used internally. Here are a couple of interesting reads : and I already had an old AA Inova flashlight (it became a part of my kit) and a few cheap crank flashlights. I decided not to rely on rechargeable flashlights that I had. I had 3 of them for about 4 years and one no longer holds charge, even though I haven’t used it at all! This might be because they require “maintenance”, but there is no place for those in my emergency bag – I prefer “set it and forget it” items whenever possible.

Rain poncho. $5 from ebay. Get one that is at least medium duty and can be reused. Disposable ponchos available at Target for a little over a dollar can work too, but something more sturdy is likely to work better and not rip as easily.

Multi-tool with pliers, knife, screwdrivers. You might need to cut rope, shear clothing to get to a wound, use screwdriver to tighten a screw, etc. Multi-tool is a duct tape’s brother. If you can afford a brand name such as Leatherman or Gerber get them. If not, buy a cheap generic stainless steel tool. Just make sure it is made well, i.e. knife blade is straight and sharp (be careful when checking), pliers are aligned (I saw one where they were not), etc. I have 2 leatherman multi-tools for daily use, but got a generic one for $8 off ebay for the car kit. It will be enough for the scenarios I am likely to encounter. Put a light coat of high quality machine oil on blades, handles, etc. to prevent rust.

Battery operated phone charger for your phone. I got one off ebay for $3 from a seller based in Asia. Shipping time is long, but price can’t be beat. It is a 1AA based charger with many adapters for various phones. Use lithium battery! Re-read section on flashlights for more information. Do not rely on your car battery to work and charge your phone with a car charger. After all, you might be stranded on an empty parking lot during a snow storm with a dead battery and no means of calling a friend or AAA. Remember to test this device with a fully discharged phone before making it a part of your kit.

Reflective vest. $5 off ebay. It is a smart idea to wear high visibility clothing when changing a tire or trying to put something under tires stuck in snow on a side of a busy highway.

A couple of old small (10×10 inches) cotton towels that I had in the house. They are useful to wipe hands, clean side windows of dirt, etc.

Cash. There are numerous cases where cash is still the king. Some places do not accept credit cards and if I urgently need to buy something small I will be out of luck. One of the emergencies might be lost or stolen wallet and no money to pay for highway tolls or get gas. $50 covers that.

I taped a list of contents on the bucket lid, so that I can quickly figure out what I have there when under stress or when a passenger in my car needs to access it.

I the trunk I also have:
Inexpensive, but reliable electrical tire inflation pump
Inexpensive (but not cheap) jumper cables
Old floor mats to gain tire traction, when stuck in snow or shallow mud (you can utilize your existing mats, but I rather use something I don’t mind ripping or getting covered in mud). I used those with success in the past.

Important notes:
– It is essential to test your equipment prior to putting it in the kit, especially if it uses electrical power. You do not want to find out that your tire inflation pump does not work, when you are inflating your spare (spare tires can and do loose air over the years of being in the trunk).
– I did not yet get, but would recommend emergency road flares (often used by police to warn drivers of a disabled car) or a reflective emergency triangle.
– I did not care to get a radio. I can listen to one in my car. If my battery is dead, I can get by without a radio. Where I live it makes a little difference to me to know that more snow will fall on my car if stuck on a side of a road. If you need a radio to make you feel connected to the society and keep you from panicking or if you need to know that a hurricane is coming to your area, do get one by all means. If radio is very important to you, then get one that can use AA lithium batteries (see above for my reasoning). If a radio is not critical to you, but you still want one, a crank radio with less reliable rechargeable batteries inside might be OK if it offers a better value.

picking a defense weapons set for an average Joe or Jill in three different hypothetical scenarios

May 27, 2010

My thoughts on picking a defense weapons set for an average Joe in three different hypothetical scenarios. An average Jill can use the same principles, but if necessary she will need to adjust suggestions below to her physical strength (for example get a revolver in .38 caliber that might be lighter than .357, use regular .38 ammo instead of .38 +P, etc).

Let me first describe Joe. He’s a male of an average strength. He knows how to shoot a handgun, but never went through a formal training, nor does he practice his shooting skills on a regular basis. He has a wife and two small children. He does not have much money to spend on guns. He lives in low-middle income class suburbs. He rents a large apartment or owns a mid-size townhome or a house.

Scenario 1 – home invasion by burglars
Suggested items: alarm system, large can of pepper spray, medium to large frame double action revolver, mini gun safe, good tactical flashlight from a reputable maker

Some thoughts on strategy and auxiliary means of protection.
1) Joe should get an alarm system. Even cheap alarms sold at discount stores, that simply sound an alarm when somebody passes them by, are better than nothing. While they are not connected to a police station and might not be loud enough to attract neighbors attention, they are likely to serve two purposes: startle the invader and possibly make him leave the house and wake Joe up. Awake Joe has a chance of getting to his defensive weapons before attacker gets to the sleeping Joe and his family.
Hint: if you have a pet, place this security device 3-4 feet of the floor. Most pets will be shorter than 4 feet and most attackers will be taller. If your dog is taller than 4 feet, you might not need a security device in a first place.
Hint: If you get an alarm system from a security agency, you will pay monthly fees. In exchange the agency will provide monitoring services and automatically call police department if alarm is breached. However, in cases when burglar cuts the phone/cable wires they won’t get a call although the alarm bell inside of the house will still go off and wake Joe up. Joe might consider getting a system with so called cellular backup. It sends a cellular call to the monitoring agency when land lines are cut (you can not add this to your Verizon Wireless plan, btw). More advanced burglars might jam the signal, then cut the wires, but such advanced burglars are unlikely to target Joe’s residence in the first place.
2) Joe should devise a plan of action
3) Joe should make an effort to read a home defense book or better yet attend training. Two books I would recommend are: NRA’s “Personal Protection Inside Home” and “The Farnam method of defensive handgunning”. The classes I would recommend are both from NRA: “Basic Pistol” and “Personal Protection Inside Home” courses. Note that there are 40,000+ NRA instructors. Vast majority are good, but use common sense when picking whose class to attend.

Suggested brands: Smith and Wesson, Ruger, modern (2005 +) Charter Arms, Taurus. A very good option would be to find a used Smith and Wesson or Ruger in good condition with maybe some holster wear, but excellent bore and tight action and then have it serviced by a gunsmith. This will give Joe an excellent revolver at an excellent price (in my opnion certainly better than Taurus and Charter Arms).

* Suggested caliber and barrel length: .357 with 4 inch barrel. For home defense concellability is not a concern, so get a full size revolver that will offer you more options. While, as you see below, I think .38 caliber ammo should be used for home protection, being able to shoot .357 gives you more options, should you ever need to shoot a bear that wandered into your backyard (note: if you don’t know it yet – both .38 and .357 ammo can be shot from .357 revolver, but not the other way around). Given the same round 4 inch barrel has more rifling to spin bullet to a higher speed than say a 2 inch barrel can. It also puts a bit more weight in the barrel, thus helping to reduce recoil. On possible downsides, a pistol with longer barrel is easier to wrestle out during hand to hand fight and it might be a bit too heavy to hold for small frame folks who do not excercise. However, I would not recommend to go with anything less than 2 1/4 in barrel for a home defense revolver. Revolvers with shorter barrels also tend to be made for concealed carry and as a result be smaller and hold 5 rounds as oppose to 6 or 7. Note that .38 revolver might be a little less heavy than .357 due to having a slightly less beafed up frame.

* Fixed sights or adjustable
Not relevant for home defense. Joe is likely to point and shoot as oppose to to take a careful aim at a stationary target that is 50 yards away. Fixed sight revolvers tend to be a bit less expensive on average, however they are unlikely to come with high visibility sights. Note that not all adjustable sights are high visibility either. This can be remedied by applying inexpensive glow in the dark paint to the front sight (don’t look for this paint at your local PartyCity store. Look on gun sites such as Brownells, MidwayUSA, Cabella’s, Cheaperthandirt, etc or ask your gun dealer). A gunsmith can also install a high visibility plastic insert in the front sight for a small fee. Additionally, fixed sights won’t get misaligned or catch on clothing.

* Laser sights
Highly recommended. Do not buy cheap sights for $20-80. They will waste your money and put your life in danger when a serious situation arises. Go for expensive, proven laser sights, such as Crimson Trace or one of their major competators. Crimson trace can set you back a couple of hunder dollars, but it will give the best of the breed and provide with some perks such as 1hr video tutorial on using the sights (tactics, benefits, pitfalls). Since most of CT sights replace your factory grips, you can get some money back by selling your old grips online. I will say that unless you can afford a good, reliable, and reputable sight, do not get it at all. Note that while it very is helpful, thousands of folks survived just fine wthout one. This is not unlike paper map vs a GPS or sliced bread vs a loaf. And of course always remember to practice with your iron sights (this might come in handy if your laser does fail for some reason – dead batteries for example) ! Even CrimsonTrace folks remind us of that.

* Sight in your revolver
Sight in your laser or adjustable sights following manufacturer instructions. Ask a gunshop owner or experienced folks at a firing range if you need help. While it might seem that this contradicts what I have said about adjustable sights relevancy for home defense it does not. If you ever use your sights to take a careful aim you will need to follow one of the cardinal rules of firearm safety is “Be sure of your traget and what is beyond”. How can you be sure of your target if your laser sights make you shoot 5 inches to te right?

* Get the right ammo
Much can be found on the web about what kind of ammo one should choose for a revolver to be used for home defense. For an average Joe I would recommend to stick with .38 +P hollow points in 125 grain, .38 +P in 158 grain lead semi wudcutter hollow point (aka FBI load), or maybe 110 grain .357 hollow points if you find recoil manageable and can hit targets consistently. If you find all of the above too much, then consider .38 lead hollow points in 125 grain made by Federal. They are a bit hard to find and might be expensive, but have a solid reputation. Try to practice with ammo similar to what you have for self defense. For example, if it is .38 +P in 158 grain lead semi wudcutter hollow point then practice with .38 159 grain +P rounds. They do not have to be hollow point of course, which will make them less expensive. Make sure to run 200+ rounds of chosen self defense ammo (or at least as much as you can afford) through your revolver to ensure it functions flawlessly with it. Your gun might function perfectly with practice ammo you use, but fail to operate properly with your self defense ammo, if it has harder primers, etc.

Scenario 2 – localized riots, looting aka Katrina scenario

Scenario 3 – the End of the World as We Know It aka SHTF

Why do those who carry firearms for living fail to master it?

May 27, 2010

Last Friday I went to pre-qualify for an NRA course. I have never taken any NRA courses before and the instructor wanted to make sure that I am familar with safety rules and can shoot my firearm well enough to take the class. Right before me there were 6 or 8 security officers quialifying with their side arms. I was shocked at how poorly they did. I am not a crack shot by any means and in fact I consider myself to be mediocre. However, I saw my groups to be tighter than most of the ones by the security officers and I was shooting a DA revolver vs a modern semi-automatic (I saw many Glocks, XDs, and one 5 shot snubby – one of two shooters who did well). The target was a large stylized body outline (Q target), distance was about 7 yards, and speed of fire was slow to somewhat rapid. I saw many misses as well as truly poor grouping. I can only imagine what the shooting would be if they were under true stress. In addition I saw how one of the officers managed to load a .380 into his 9mm handgun and was puzzled that it had a failure to feed. The reason I was shocked as oppose to just amuzed is that not only their livelihood depends on their shooting skills, but their life! In my professional occupation I try to take skill improvement courses and attend workshops relevant to my job. I do less than I think I should – I do not read trade magazines due to the lack of time, I do not write articles, don’t go to trade shows, etc. However, this does not have an impact on me living or dying. Excellent shooting skills on the other hand have a direct impact on one’s life if that person is carrying a handgun to defend oneself “in the greatest extreme”. So why would one not spend the extra effort to be a good shot, be familiar with defensive tactics, etc?