Sunday, June 20, 2010

Storm AAR

Yesterday my wife and I went to visit some friends. They have been without power since Friday night when the storm went though the Chicago area. Lots of trees and power lines down in their area. A number of large trees went down on their block. Not a tornado, but 80+ MPH winds. Power is not expected to be restored until Monday.

First off, no one was hurt in their area, and there was no serious damage to houses despite a lot of big trees coming down. Just sheer luck I guess. The city spent the night cutting up the downed trees and getting the streets clear.

Our friends were able to borrow a couple of generators. They have one alternating between their fridge and their freezer, and the other one next door on their daughter's house for their fridge. The generator they were using failed after about 5 hours of running. Somehow they were able to borrow another one.

The very localized nature of the problem made if fairly easy for them to borrow the gear they needed, and they were able to get out to buy gasoline. Several of their neighbors went out and bought generators as well.

They have phone service through their cable hookup and that is not working either. They have cell phones, but neither had car chargers, so once the batteries wore down their cell phones were not much use. They went out and bought car chargers, so they have usable cell phones now. It would never have occurred to me not to have a car charger for a cell phone. But I guess it is not that unusual.

They were pretty lucky, all in all. No injuries and no house damage. And they were able to borrow stuff they needed, and go buy what they did not have and could not borrow.

Some lessons I took from this.

Just because you have a generator, does not mean your electrical issues have been solved. You are depending on a mechanical device not to fail, one that is far more fragile and failure prone than the grid is. It occurred to me that instead of having one large generator, several smaller generators would give you some redundancy.

Generators go through a lot of gas. Not a big deal if you can go out to refill on a regular basis, but a huge problem if you can't get out or the problem is widespread and you cannot refuel. It occurred to me that a siphon tube to get gas out of your vehicle(s) might be a wise investment. I am not thrilled with the idea of storing a lot of gas out in the garage, due to the inherent safety issues, but a couple of 5 gallons containers would not bother me much. Most cars have a pretty substantial gas tank that could make a decent secondary reserve.

In an incident unrelated to the storm, the water main broke down the street, and several houses were without water down the block. She (friend) mentioned that she did not know what she would do if their city water was shut off and they could not flush. I was tempted to point out that a five gallon bucket of water filled out of their swimming pool and brought inside would be adequate for 3 or 4 flushes. But I chose not to.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

$20 Harbor Freight Food Dehydrator Update

Update to

Well first the good.

It is still making good beef jerky. I have made well over a dozen batches now. Three pounds of thin sliced meat just about fills all five trays. I or my wife rotate the bottom tray to the top about every 2 hours, and it takes 12-16 hours to finish. I am not real worried about the exact amount of time between tray rotations, so sometimes its more then 2 hours. As the meat dries and shrinks, I move it around so by the time it is done there are usually only 2 full trays or 2 plus a third one that is partially full.

I have adjusted my marinade recipe as follows:

1-1/2 cup vinegar
About 1 tsp each
- ground chipotle peppers
- chili powder
- salt
- ground pepper (mix of black and white, and some red flaked pepper)
- cayenne pepper
- onion powder
- garlic powder

I am not real fanatic about the exact amounts.

I have tried both white vinegar and apple cider vinegar and not noticed any real difference.

I have tried adding soy sauce, worcheshire sauce, and smoke flavoring. None seem to make any real difference so I no longer use them.

I did make a couple of batches where the only flavoring I added to the vinegar was a can of chipotle peppers and a couple tsps of salt. Those batches came out very well. I dried the peppers out and ate them. They were hot, but good.

I have also tried various lengths of time marinading and it seems like it needs to be at least overnight for best flavor. So maybe 12 hours is a good number.

I have also tried marinading it both with and without a vacuum in a vacuum seal container. I can't really tell any difference.

I tried thicker meat once. Did not work real well. About 1/8 to 3/16" thick seems to work best.

I even made a biscuit in the unit once. It took 3 hours to cook, and was not quite done, but it was not bad. I am not sure it was worth waiting 3 hours for a biscuit, but it worked.

Now the not so good.

The instructions suggest using soapy water to clean the trays. I tried this and found it is very difficult to clean the trays this way. I did not want to put them in the dishwasher fearing they were not dishwasher safe, but after the damage to the trays occurred just from normal use I figured it couldn't hurt them any more, so I have been running them through the dishwasher. I have not noticed any additional damage after the dishwasher, and they come out nice and clean.

Cleaning the base of the unit is not real difficult. I just rinse it out with hot water, being as careful as I can not to get the heating element connections any wetter than I have to.

As the photos below show, several of the trays have developed some kind of damage. Several of the the trays have partially deformed, melted, broken or cracked, or some combination thereof. So far it has not affected the utility of the unit, and it may never affect how it makes jerky, but its mildly annoying.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

A post at THR.ORG caught my eye the other day.

Its a post about bug out bags (BOBs). It got me thinking, so I figured I'd write about it. it took me a while to put my thoughts into words. So here goes. You may note that the essay is not oriented toward wilderness survival. This one got a bit long, so I think I will stop now. I may amplify a few points later on.

I see a lot of posts about BOBs on the Internet. It seems to abound with equipment lists, pictures, and videos of BOBs. I have looked at a fair number of them, and I have come to the conclusion that most of the owners would benefit from sitting down and having a long think session about just what it is they are trying to prepare for. To me a BOB is just part of a more comprehensive plan. You need to think these things through before a BO is necessary.

The following points are not really suggestions so much as things you might want to ponder. They are in no particular order.

My BOB is also my GHB (get home bag) and part of my car kit. It stays in the car since the realistic scenarios where I have to take off involve me doing so by car. It also serves as an urban survival kit (USK), something a youtuber going by the name of Nutnfancy talks about in a 3 part, long winded and rambling, but thought provoking series.

Bag. To me there is nothing more suitable for a BOB than some kind of back pack. I see some posts advocating various kinds of messenger type bags. To me they look like big purses. They do have the advantage of being a little less conspicuous, but thats not a big issue when bugging out by vehicle as you most likely will. A subdued color is probably best - black, darker blue, green, nothing that will attract a lot of attention in an urban environment. Some posts I have seen suggest that black is too tactical, camo is too obvious, and OD is too military looking for urban use. My pack is a surplus Austrian pack that is a green color. If people think about it they would probably eventually figure it is some kind of military pack. In any case, that is the least of my worries if I have to hoof it. IMO, you should definitely stay away from bright colors like orange or red that will attract attention no matter where you are. My pack is bigger than it really needs to be, but better to have some extra room IMO.

Weight. Most of us are not in a position to lug a heavy pack for any distance, and in any case, we most likely will be bugging out by vehicle if bugging out is required. My thought is that a BOB might well be modularized so that while it might start out pretty heavy for bugging out by vehicle, you can take out some modules to lighten it up if you do have to hoof it. I am thinking 25 pounds is about the most I want to carry.

Most of us live and work in (sub)urban areas, and we would probably will be bugging out from one (sub)urban area to another. Yet, a lot of BOBs seem more oriented toward wilderness survival than urban survival.

Weapons. I can't tell you how many BOBs seem to have 30 pounds or more of guns and ammo in them. I am a big fan of firearms in general, but I can't see carrying an arsenal around with you. But, YMMV.

Food. Food is to some extent a comfort item while you are bugging out, but its not unimportant. I have seen all kinds of food choices being advocated - MRES, freeze dried entrées, and candy or bar type food of some kind seem to be the most common. Some people claim to have all three. I am on a low carb diet so I stay away from things that are full of sugar and starch so all of those choices are out for me. I have a jar of roasted peanuts. I like roasted peanuts. I eat them pretty regularly anyway, so why not throw a jar in my pack? I used to stock beef jerky in my pack and rotate it out now and then as a snack, but there are few commercially packaged jerkys that are not full of sugar, so I have gone to making my own. I am not real comfortable storing it for any length of time. So right now my food stocks in the pack consist of a jar of peanuts, as I have gotten rid of the things I no longer eat.

Water is no doubt a more important issue than food in a short term situation. Getting dehydrated is a quick way to get put out of the game altogether. Water is heavy. A three day's supply of water, perhaps 3 gallons, is about 25 pounds. Since most of us will probably be dealing with an urban environment, it seems like it would make sense at least in part deal with the realities of water in an urban environment. In the woods, most of the time you are only worried about bacteria, viruses and other small critters that can be killed by boiling, iodine or chlorine tablets, or by removing them altogether with a filter. In an urban environment, the streams and rivers will likely be contaminated with chemicals and no amount of boiling or disinfection will make it safe to drink. So what do you do? Well, obviously the first choice is to use the potable water that comes out of the tap. Its already safe to drink. Before you head for the hills, stop and fill up your water containers from the tap. You might want to consider having a sill-cock key for use on outdoors taps that don't have handles on them. A lot of people obsess over their water containers. I just recycle polycarbonate beverage containers. Canteens work, as do Nalgene bottles and bladders of various types. I just don't see any reason to spend money on them when I have perfectly serviceable containers coming through my hands on a regular basis. These days some of the bottled water bottles are pretty flimsy and I would not use them, but I go through a fair amount of lemon juice and those bottles are pretty tough. I suggest one or 2 liters of stored water (don't forget to rotate) and another 1 or 2 liters of empty containers you can fill up as you get a chance. I do think there is some merit to having a means of disinfection or filtering available as well. Its not that unusual for the city water supply to get contaminated and a boil order in place. Or the city water might be interrupted and you might have to use alternate sources. Keep in mind that most of the people on the Internet that talk about water purification are really talking about disinfecting.

Shelter. A lot of BOBs tend to have lightweight tarps or tents in them for use as a shelter. A tarp or two seems like a more versatile item to me than a tent.

Clothing. Rarely do I see a change of clothes in a BOB list. You will really appreciate some clean dry clothes if you fall in the mud.

Cold weather and rain gear. Cold is cold, and wet cold is worse.

Foot wear. How are you going to walk 30 miles through the mud in your $500 Italian loafers?

Pets and other family members. Many bug out plans seem to forget about other family members. This is especially important if you have children, or elderly people you have some responsibility for, and for pets. Are you going to just leave your family dog to die? The thing is that most shelters won't take in pets. You need to consider these things up front.

Prepositioning. It seems logical that perhaps you might want to consider storing some gear and supplies in places you frequent. Maybe a change of clothes and some MREs in an empty filing cabinet drawer in your office at work? An MRE could come in real handy if you forget your lunch one day.

FAK. I think a lot of people go way overboard on first aid and medical items. Some kits are packed full of stuff the guy carrying it does not even know how or when to use. When you point that out to them, they tend to get defensive and say things like "I'd rather do something than watch someone die". Well, if you don't know what to do, anything you do might make an injured party even worse off. The other common answer is that the gear they don't know how to use is really for the trauma surgeon fairy who will be appearing ready to save the day, except he forget his suture kit. My suggestion is a minimal FAK. OTC medicines, and things to stop bleeding, and deal with minor injuries. I am pretty much convinced most people do not need anything more than what they can fit in a sandwich size zip-lock bag. There are plenty of FAK videos on youtube. I hate to sound like a Nutnfancy sycophant, but his videos on what he calls a level 1 FAK are pretty much in line with what I consider an acceptable FAK. Personally, I would skip the suture kit though. Ultimately, like many things, this is a personal decision. A fellow on youtube that goes by the moniker of USNERDOC has some good stuff on these kind of things as well.

Bugging out to where? This seems to me to be a central issue that advocates of bugging out never really talk about. There are vague suggestions they might bug out to a friend or relative's place, or to some other prearranged location. But a lot of the posters seem to be of the mind they are going to walk off into the woods and live off the land. For most BO situations, most people will be going from one urban area to another, likely from your home locale to a remote motel, campground, or shelter of some sort. Some people may have friends or family they can go stay with, but really, in a bug out type scenario, say something like Katrina, do you know anyone that is willing to take you, your wife, your three brats, your cat, and both dogs in as guests for an indefinite period of time? Think about how you would react if someone just showed up on your door step one day with his whole of troop of people and pets and said he needed a place to stay for "awhile". These kind of issues need addressing well before a BO situation actually occurs.