Grow your own food with square foot gardening

Storing ‘beans, bandages & bullets’ is a common saying amongst people into emergency preparedness. Lots of people focus on stashing away food, medical supplies and firearms. One easy preparedness activity that’s often overlooked is growing your own food. This is vital for long-term sustainability and has the advantage that you can enjoy the healthy yields […] Continue Reading

When is canned food unsafe to eat?

When buying stocks from the grocery, avoid dented and rusted cans. You won’t be able to store them for long. However, if the cans are in good condition, the food inside should be safe for storage indefinitely. Canned food gone bad – Do you know all 8 signs? Continue Reading

Common sense items for your Vehicle Emergency Kit

Here’s a list adapted from 13 Common Sense Items you Need in a Winter Vehicle Emergency Kit on ITS Tactical. We don’t have winter but these are some common sense items for the Philippines: First aid kit Jumper Cables A flashlight Jack and lug wrench Spare tire Basic tools Vehicle fire extinguisher Emergency signalling devices Extra food […] Continue Reading

Local version of the Cocoon Grid-It

Are you looking for something similar to the Cocoon Grid-It to organise your EDC items or emergency tools? Here’s something I found in Blade. They have different sizes that sell for between P200 and P400. Continue Reading

The essentials of digital preparedness in the Philippines

More than ten years ago I decided to quit my job as a mobile telecoms consultant to become self-employed (or as some well-meaning relatives told me, self-unemployed). This situation comes with the freedom to work in any way I choose. On the flip side, there is no support structure other than that which I create for myself. Unlike my salaried colleagues, any disruption has a direct impact on earnings: no work means no income. Business continuity planning is therefore a big part of my preps. Being unchained from a formal company also means learning to work in whichever environment I find myself; wherever I lay my laptop, that's my office. Over the years I've managed to find ways to remain productive regardless of the location, whether it's in a serviced office, cruise ship, hotel room or literally in the middle of nowhere. For me—and for many people in this high-tech age—the basic requirements of a computer, electrical power and telecommunications allows us to perform most of the tasks needed to earn a living.
Working remotely in various locations: Baler coast front, London basement, and a Francisco hotel room
Wherever I lay my laptop (That's my office): coast front, basement, hotel room
It recently occurred to me that the same practices for freelance remote working also transfer to business continuity during societal disruptions. However, unlike emergency survival habits where resourcefulness trumps kit, the key lies in having the right equipment and infrastructure; you can't put together an internet connection using duct-tape and paper clips. Before going over kit, I'll first justify why digital preparedness is useful in the first place...because I know what some of you are thinking...

Zombies are coming and you need me to finish this report?

During my discussions about this topic, people often ask why anyone would plan to keep working during a 'disaster'. To properly address this question, we should understand the three main classifications for events and their levels of impact: emergencies, disasters and catastrophes. I've dealt with the terminology in a previous article but in summary: Chart of emergency, disaster and catastrophe event escalation
  • Emergency: An emergency is any expected or unexpected event that puts life or property in danger. It needs immediate response but can be handled using the normal resources and infrastructure of the community.
  • Disaster: When an event is so disruptive that the affected community requires significant outside help, it becomes a disaster. It may be natural or man-made and related to loss of life, deterioration of health, or damage to infrastructure and services.
  • Catastrophe: A catastrophe is the result of a disaster so severe that the community ceases to exist or its continued survival is drawn into question.
When people say 'disaster', they're often using the word as a short-cut for 'all bad scenarios' but in their mind they're imagining a catastrophe. They fail to realize that real catastrophes are rare and the most likely scenarios would be classified as emergencies, involving disruptions of hours, days or weeks at worst. Afterwards, everyone needs to pick up the pieces and return to normal life. Setting yourself up for remote working can help during the event as well as the recovery phase through better communications, business continuity and improved mental health.

Communication

I don't have to elaborate too much on this as there have been many examples on how the Internet and cellphones have helped during disasters and severe break-downs of societies. From the 2010 Haiti earthquake, to the Arab Spring revolts, to Manila's own recent floods, digital communications have proven to be a key resource.

Business continuity

Returning to normal becomes much more difficult if you have the stress of a piled-up workload. For small-business owners and self-employed people like me, prolonged down-time could mean financial ruin. Getting out of the emergency situation is one thing but don't forget the indirect damage to your life: an earthquake may not destroy your house but it's lost anyway if you can no longer pay the mortgage. I know many other Philippine-based freelancers who have clients overseas. During both Ondoy and the floods last August, we still had to find ways to work and communicate with them. For similar circumstances in the future, our clients may be concerned but not concerned enough to stick with us if we continually fail to deliver.

Work and mental health

Amongst the prepper community, discussion about mental health seems to take a back-seat to bandages and antibiotics. In the Philippines especially, it's a topic that's generally not treated with any degree of seriousness. Having personally witnessed the severe nervous breakdown of several close associates and the schizophrenic episodes of a colleague, I realized one thing: nobody is immune. Given enough pressure, everyone will break; the questions are the duration, intensity and nature of the pressure required to make a person lose their mind. The stress, anxiety and boredom during any crisis is a bad mix for mental health. For many, habitual routines of work can be therapeutic and help lessen the impact of a traumatic event. Continuing with some of your familiar day-to-day business gives an feeling of control during a time when the rest of your environment may be descending into chaos. Even if your tasks are relatively unimportant, just being able to occupy your mind with something productive can help keep you sane.

Basic kit for the digital prepper in the Philippines

Notice I said 'basic.' It would be nice to email from anywhere in the world via inmarsat but how many of us can afford that setup? Frankly, my business isn't that profitable. These are tips for ordinary people. I also said, 'in the Philippines' so if you're reading this from another country, keep in mind that some of the suggestions here may not work for you.

Cellular network connectivity

Talking to Filipinos about cellphones is like teaching fish to swim. There's not much to recommend as nearly everyone knows how to get connected. The cellular network forms the basis of your communications infrastructure so make sure you have SIM cards for several networks. If you have a pre-paid account, make sure you have spare top-up cards. Say what you like about the state of internet connectivity in the Philippines (expensive, slow and unreliable, whatever) but you can get online in the most unlikely of places. Here's me by the coast in Aurora province which had cellular dead-spots everywhere. A little hunting found cell reception by this one coconut tree. Every day for a week I had to drive to that same spot to email my clients in London but the fact that it was possible to go online is quite amazing.
Looking for internet along the coastline, Aurora, Philippines
The only coconut tree around to offer internet
It's anyone's guess how the Philippines' telecommunications infrastructure would fare after a major disaster such as a powerful West Valley Fault earthquake. If we look to the 2010 Haiti earthquake as a case study, we can reasonably expect severely degraded coverage within Metro Manila. I certainly don't expect people to continue working on their day-jobs in such an eventuality but the advantage of having pockets of surviving communications is that they can be diverted to coordinating relief efforts.

Mobile phones

Phones are phones. They're nothing special these days and are all quite capable. You might prefer the ruggedized type for durability or an iPhone for the software. Some have dual SIM slots so you don't have to carry multiple handsets, although multiple handsets work as backups. Pick your poison based on your own needs but remember that a common brand will help if you need to borrow accessories. Try to keep spare chargers everywhere: wall plug chargers, car chargers, USB chargers, external battery-based backup chargers. Spare batteries are useful too, as are spare handsets.

Portable computer

As with phones, this depends on your preference and the type of work. I use an Apple laptop and an iPad. The laptop lets me get more work done but the iPad is more portable and consumes less energy. Which I use just depends on what's going on at the time. Since computer selection depends heavily on personal needs, the only thing I can suggest is that getting a smaller and cheaper backup device is likely a better investment than buying a more expensive upgraded machine.

Travel router and modem

Now we're getting on to the interesting stuff. For many years I relied on USB modems for cellular network connectivity and an Apple Airport Express for fixed-line broadband. This combination worked fine but manufacturers are now coming up with a superior package: the battery operated WiFi travel router. This one by TP-Link can take broadband via ethernet cable or 3G from a standard USB modem. It can even be configured to try one first and switch over to the other upon failure. You can also use it to add WiFi capabilities to wired-only device and extend the range of another WiFi router or access point.
TP-Link travel router and modem
TP-Link TL-MR3040 travel router with attached Smart USB modem
The router's input voltage is 5 volts and can take power from a removable battery pack, USB socket, or wall plug power adapter. The 5v input is useful as it helps standardize your power requirements along with mobile phones, Global Positioning System devices and tablets. (More about standardizing power requirements in a future article.) Although the travel router can create a WiFi network of up to five devices, I've found that the best use of the wireless connection is simply to get a stronger signal on the USB modem. You can place the router higher up or move it to a better spot without having to worry about a tethered laptop. For those interested in mobile networking, this type of device is exciting because it's a preview of long awaited consumer-grade technology for decentralized wireless ad-hoc networking that has been pioneered by the military. (Without getting to technical, this is a way of creating robust computer networks anywhere, even during a disaster.)

Backup power

Electrical power failure is the most obvious weak-point for any digital prepper. In a previous article I described building a backup power pack for emergencies. As the title implied, this is not an off-grid solution and intended for short-term disruptions only. Grid power is still needed to charge the battery due to the limitations mentioned in the article. However, it can easily be upgraded for solar charging using inexpensive panels that are starting to appear in main-stream hardware stores. I keep my power pack in a box with all the necessary components so that it's ready for use. It's compact enough to put into a vehicle should we need electrical power outdoors. Adding photovoltaics will make it a completely off-grid mini power generator
Emergency power pack in storage box
Emergency power pack in storage box
The image below shows the system hooked up to my laptop, giving me a few extra hours of work time. It can also be used to charge or power other devices like mobile phones and LED lamps
Emergency power pack in storage box
The 12v battery gives my laptop some extra run-time during a brown-out
For a ready-made solution, you can try one of the many solar chargers and back-up power packs on the market. CD-R King have quite a few models and you can find both generic and branded items in computer stores. Personally, I haven't been satisfied with any of these offerings because they're usually made for smaller electronic devices like phones and tablets. The Solargorilla and Powergorilla combination has enough juice to power a laptop like my old 15" Mac Book Pro. However, it's quite expensive and hard to find in the Philippines. It's also designed for electronics and I'm not keen on hacking up the cables to connect to low-tech devices like emergency lights and electric fans.
Solar Gorilla and Power Gorilla
The Powergorilla can power a 15" Mac Book Pro

File backups and online storage

In the firearms world, there's the saying, "Two is one and one is none." This is especially relevant in the electronic world where data is notoriously fragile and having file backups is the most basic form of digital preparedness. I've discussed this in a previous post so rather than me re-hashing the information, just go over to Creating emergency-resilient electronic file backups.

Physical and data locks

As we saw from the British riots in 2011, there is a subset of society who loot just because they can. A physical lock, such as laptop security cable or Pacsafe anti-theft bag will help deter thefts of opportunity. They won't stop a committed attack but all you want is for your stuff to look more trouble to steal than the other guy's. Criminals tend to be lazy so most will take the easier route. Data locks comprise of strong passwords and disk encryption. Long random passwords are difficult to remember so a password manager will keep them organized. Making sure that your data remains inaccessible in case your equipment is stolen or ditched helps avoid identity theft, which in many countries is the fastest growing crime. You may not think this will be a problem for you but remember that internet scams will rise in times of chaos and disorder. For example, a strong earthquake will no doubt knock out communications in Manila areas but scammers can use the opportunity to extract money from your loved-ones abroad. They do this by sending emails or Facebook messages claiming to be from you and asking for emergency money.

Digital preparedness case study: Greece

The theory of using remote working practices for digital prepping is all well and good but how does it stack up to reality? Is the idea just a pipe-dream that will collapse with society during an upheaval? I once had a colleague who after a time was called home to Greece for his military service. As luck would have it, the Greek protests broke out soon after enlisting. He told me that things got so bad that he didn't know whether to shoot the protesters or join them. After his military service, he still had to find a job to earn a living. If I recall his stories correctly, at one point someone broke into his car and started living in it. Another time he caught someone in his balcony tying to break through the window. We communicated every once-in-a-while and if he hadn't told me, I would have never guessed that his society was falling apart.
Greek protest riots
Greek protests (sources clockwise from left: Wikipedia, Reuters, AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis)

Life goes on and you'll still need to make a living

The essence of this article is that even during a severe disruption, life still goes on. We may prepare for a catastrophic event where society resets. All of a sudden, our technology could become useless and we are forced to live in the wilderness, reverting to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. But what if it doesn't happen like that? What if you still need to finish the report while the zombies are beating at the door? Continue Reading

Include a document pack in your bug-out-bag

If your home is severely damaged after an earthquake or waterlogged from a flood, all your identity, insurance and asset documents could be lost. Even if your home stays intact, there may not have time to gather these should you have to evacuate for any reason. One often overlooked item of a emergency kit or bug-out-bag is a document pack. This is where you can keep copies of all your important documents, along with contact numbers and photographs of your family. Remember to place these in a waterproof bag. (If possible, they should also be in a fireproof bag but unfortunately, I have not seen these for sale in the Philippines. If anyone knows where these can be purchased, please let me know.)
Image of an emergency document pack for your bug-out-bag
Emergency document pack containing important documents
Example contents for your emergency document pack include:
  • Passports and ID cards
  • Medical history, immunization records and list of medications
  • Photographs of each family member with names
  • Birth, baptismal and marriage certificates
  • Social Security and TIN numbers
  • Property deeds
  • Insurance documents
  • Bank account, financial details and investments
  • Wills and trusts
  • Emergency plan
  • Address and telephone number listing
  • City map and route to your bug-out location
  • Cash in large and small notes
Remember that this pack will contain confidential information. If lost, these could be used for identity theft or fraud. One way to protect against this is to write certain things in code. For example, you can include dummy numbers to obscure your real bank account number or code words for important locations. This way, even if Manila is faced with a complete disaster or catastrophe, you can at least make it easier to rebuild your life. You will have less difficulty proving who you are to the authorities and you'll have a record of your assets. Continue Reading

A Prepper’s Beans, Bandages & Bullets

Article by Pinoy Prepper, Emergency Research Center "Lamang ang Handa sa Hindi!" Prepper Definition:
Prepper (noun): An individual or group that prepares or makes preparations in advance of, or prior to, any change in normal circumstances or lifestyle without significant reliance on other persons (i.e., being self-reliant), or without substantial assistance from outside resources (govt., etc.) in order to minimize the effects of that change on their current lifestyle
Source: Prepper.org Rule of Threes
  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food and you will die
These are your survival priorities. Remember them well. Do not eat food unless you have adequate water. In an emergency – you will generally have three options:
  • Lockdown
  • Shelter-In-Place
  • Evacuate
In any of the three cases above, you will need basic supplies:

BEANS – Food and Water

"We are 9 meals away from chaos" – Preppers predict that peace and order will be at risk after the population misses 9 meals. That’s only three days worth of meals. While it’s true that you may live several weeks without food provided you have water, that’s on the assumption that your are just lying down or sitting still. During a survival situation you may have a lot of tasks to perform. Walking from one place to another is one of them. Walking burns calories and you will need an appropriate amount of food to replenish your energy source. You may well be constantly avoiding hordes of hungry people. Remember the pack of kids begging for money at street intersections? Imagine this multiplied by the thousands. People begging for food and stealing what’s available. Plan your food stocks well. Consider nutrition, weight, portability and palatability. Your food stocks must be nutritious. This means most junk foods are out. Since you may end up carrying your food stocks, weight is a premium. This will take most canned goods out of the equation. Remember, you cannot eat if you do not have an adequate supply of water. Water is heavy as 1 liter weighs approximately 1 kilogram (weight to volume is dependent on temperature, water quality, etc). For this reason, have alternate means to purify your water. You can buy water filters or make simple ones that will filter out the coarser suspended particles. You can find details elsewhere in this book. In a pinch, you may have to resort to SODIS. Solar Disinfection is a UN approved method which involves any clear bottle, filling it with questionable water (filter the water first if its cloudy) and exposing it to the sun for a whole day. SODIS works by exposing the microorganisms in the water to ultra violet light in our sun’s rays killing them in the process. Use clear glass bottles for SODIS, only use clear plastic bottles if glass is not available. WARNING: SODIS will not keep toxins out of the water - use filters for this purpose.<.em> Store enough water for drinking. Avoid using the water for bathing! People can live without bathing.

BANDAGES – Medical Skills, Equipment and Supplies.

Its not enough to have a deluxe Medical kit with the latest bells and whistles. A Prepper should have enough first aid knowledge to handle medical, dental and mental emergencies. Emergency Childbirth is one of the must have skills in the Prepper’s medical tool kit. If you have to read the manual during an actual emergency, its too late! Learn life saving skills such as managing shock, controlling severe bleeding and performing CPR. Along the way, learn and practice basic first aid skills such as bandaging, splinting, and wound care. The time to learn is now, before it’s too late. To control severe bleeding, apply direct pressure to the wound until the bleeding visibly stops. One of the best improvised dressings one can use is a feminine napkin. This direct descendant of the battle dressing absorbs blood effectively and can thus perform an admirable job of controlling bleeding when coupled with direct pressure. To manage shock – watch the face. If the face is pale or bluish, raise the feet. This will make the blood from the extremities flow to the vital organs such as the brain, heart and lungs. Keep the victim warm by covering him/her with a blanket, jacket or other material. In as much as your pets will need to have their own supplies of food and water, don’t forget to learn first aid for your pets. You can even learn how to do CPR for man’s best friend - your dog!

BULLETS – Skills and equipment to defend oneself.

It’s not enough to have a gun and ammunition. One must be proficient in its safe and effective use. The same applies to knives, spears, sticks, bottles, stones, bows & arrows. Learn basic self defense moves. It is better to master one technique than be spotty with a thousand. Learn and practice your skills with different people. In self defense, familiarity breeds contempt. Remember: Trained fighters are predictable; but the world is full of dangerous amateurs!

BUGGING OUT – (Evacuating)

EDC (Every Day Carry) These are the items you carry on your person on an everyday basis. EDC’s are predicated on the premise that an emergency may strike at any moment, any time, any day. My EDC is my wallet, I have adhesive strips “band aids”, a large safety pin that I use for repairs, first aid, lock picking, and a host of other McGyver stuff. There’s also a survival multi-tool with a dozen uses and of course, cash. Bring a flashlight – the small LED button lights are marvelous. Bring a lighter – nothing beats a lighter for starting fires. An emergency situation is not the place to start learning how to light a fire. Rubbing sticks together or striking stones to make fire takes some time to learn. Study now. Learn how to start a fire with a battery (your cellphone has one – but only use it if a fire has priority over communications) and a staple wire. BOB (Bug Out Bag) My bug out bag is my 33 liter capacity laptop bag which contains my pocket survival kit, ten mile cloth bandanna, monocular, hoody wind/rain jacket, trauma medical kit and a host of other goodies. This bag goes with me to corporate meetings (my netbook, flash drives and peripherals are in it) as well as three day jaunts to the province, training courses, jungle treks and the rest of my Prepper activities. BOV (Bug Out Vehicle) Depending on where you live and your situation, your bug out vehicle may be a 4X4 monster truck, a family sedan, a dual purpose motorcycle, a mountain bike or a cariton! Consider the fact that in a bug out situation the usual routes will be clogged with fellow evacuees. Recall images of Hurricane Katrina in Florida and Louisiana – highways filled with so many cars they looked like giant parking lots. Figure out your PACE – Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency routes. Have at least two and at best four routes out of your area. Consider waterways for your bug out. If you have the means, consider air travel as well. Otherwise, be prepared to hunker down and Shelter-In-Place in your home, office or school.

Pinoy Prepper’s Observations:

Its not the rich Prepper with the latest bells and whistles who will make it through a long term disaster. It’s the street dwellers who live on survival mode on a daily basis. It’s the person with the kariton poking through the garbage and cooking with the tin can you threw out months ago. It’s the street folk who are used to this environment. They know where the best pickings are, where to find water, how to prepare what food they forage. They live without most of the things we “civilized folks” take for granted. No bed, no bathroom, no water, no closet full of clothes, no laptop, no aircon, heck, no electricity! The point being raised here is the fact that we have to train and condition ourselves to survival conditions. Anybody who is comfort oriented will have a hard time surviving the big one. If you can’t sleep without air conditioning, can’t go to the corner convenience store without your car or can’t walk a city block, think again. You have to toughen yourself up for an emergency. Think about this… Scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana analyzed the lifestyles of more than 17,000 men and women over about 13 years, and found that people who sit for most of the day are 54 percent more likely to die of heart attacks. Exercise! More than half of us chair sitters are going to die of a heart attack let alone a major emergency. If push comes to shove, can you walk 10 kilometers (that’s not far – runners run that distance)? Drink water from a nearby stream? Sleep under the stars? Can you live without your aircon? Cellphone? Car? Comfort food? Starbucks? Facebook? - if you can’t, have another think. Establish your priorities. Have you made peace with your maker? Do you have faith in your abilities? Are you trained? Do you have the skills needed to survive? This is what Prepping and being a Prepper is all about. Continue Reading

5 basic steps to start on the road to preparedness

The Survival Mom blog offers five baby steps for newbies on how to start on their preparedness journey:
  1. Plan for a Short-Term Emergency
  2. Prepare Your Vehicle
  3. Get Smart About Potential Disasters
  4. Get Home, No Matter What
  5. Develop a Mindset
You can read the rest of the article here where you can find links to more detailed postings. For many people new to preparedness, the task may seem daunting as there's so much to learn and do. Just the expense alone can make people give up as they feel they don't have the budget to be 'fully prepared'. My advice is to relax, start simply and build up your preparations over time. The world is unlikely to collapse around you tomorrow but every little thing you do today can only make you better off than you were yesterday. Continue Reading

Emergency cooking in a condo – is your fire kit appropriate?

I'd always been told that it's important for your survival kit to have three ways of making fire. For example, you may have a lighter, matches and flint and steel. All my emergency kits over the years had these and I'd been feeling pretty confident that I was prepared—that is, at least until Typhoon Ondoy. You see, while it was a major calamity for some people, my wife and I live in a condo in Metro Manila so for us, it ended up only being an inconvenience. The power was off and while we couldn't cook using our electric cooker, it was a simple matter to step out to buy food or eat at a restaurant. Breaking out my fire kit to start an open fire in our living room trash can wasn't a realistic option. This made me realize that my preparations in this area were inappropriate for our situation. Our fire kit may have been useful in a total catastrophe where we'd have to make a camp fire in an open space. However, it wasn't right for being holed up in a condo with no power. Our cooking capabilities were limited to two extremes: one in which utilities are working relatively normally or the other where there was a complete breakdown in social order. In reality, as Typhoon Ondoy demonstrated, we are more likely to experience varying degrees of intermediate emergencies. Fortunately, not being able to cook wasn't a major problem at that time as we had other options. Nevertheless, it did get me thinking about what would have happened if the situation had been more serious. I solved this problem by purchasing a portable gas cooker that takes small gas canisters. It allows us to do some basic cooking and sterilization inside our condo unit without posing an unacceptable fire hazard. Furthermore, the unit is small enough to be conveniently packed in a bag should we need to evacuate.
Portable gas cooker and spare canisters for your disaster preparedness kit
Portable gas cooker with carry case and spare canisters
A cooker like the one shown in the image can be purchased from many hardware stores like Ace Hardware and True Value for between Php800 and Php2,000. Spare gas canisters are about Php50 to Php80 depending on size. I've placed a spoon and fork next to the cooker to give you an idea of its size. The lesson here is to avoid blindly following rules-of-thumb when it comes to preparedness. What might work well for another person may be totally inappropriate to your environment and circumstances. Think realistically about how you and your family may respond to emergency scenarios and build your kit around that plan. Also remember to update your plan as your lifestyle changes. As a single person who enjoyed camping as a teenager, my simple fire kit would have been fine for almost any scenario. If things got bad enough, it wouldn't have been a problem to leave my condo for another location and live a little more ruggedly for a while. Now that I'm married and have a baby, this would not be at all desirable. Being equipped with only the bare basics may turn a manageable situation into an arduous challenge at best and life threatening scenario at worst. In conclusion, take a little time to run through a simple review of your current circumstances and make the necessary upgrades to your emergency kit. Continue Reading