Nov 112012

Save 15% on $29+ orders with US Cavalry through 17 Nov

I got an offer via email today – the online store US Cavalry, full of good stuff for preppers and non-preppers alike, is offering a 15% across the board discount from now through 17 November 2012 on all orders of $29 or greater.

Simply use the discount code PN12N15V when checking out to get the discount.  Here’s their website :

Update :  I’ve a new coupon from them.  The code is R12B15Q and it is again a 15% discount, apparently with no order minimum, and good through 30 Nov 2012.

I’ve bought gear from US Cavalry on several occasions, and indeed have some items currently on back-order that I’m eagerly awaiting.  They seem to be a fair and good company to work with, and their pricing is similar to competing stores, as best I can tell, so when you take a 15% discount off, the pricing becomes very appealing.


Nov 042012

Most of the medicines in your medicine cabinet remain completely effective for five and even ten or more years past their expiry dates.

We wrote before about shelf life issues in general, and pointed out that the expiry dates on most medicines are ridiculously conservative, and that it is common for medicines to retain full potency for many years subsequent to their printed expiry date – assuming they have been stored in optimum conditions.

Here’s an interesting article that cites two studies of the extended effectiveness of medicines beyond their stated expiry dates.

The larger study was conducted by the DoD and FDA, and tested 3,005 different drugs.  Of these, 88% maintained their full potency for an average of 5 and a half years after their official expiration dates.

The other study was by the University of California, San Francisco, which looked at eight different medicines which contained, between them, 15 different active ingredients.  The samples were between 28 and 40 years old, and in their testing, the researchers determined that 12 of the 14 ingredients tested still retained at least 90% of their potency (the two exceptions being aspirin and amphetamines).

Conventional wisdom says you should throw away old medicines that have passed their expiry dates.  We disagree.  Apart from the specific exceptions of insulin, liquid suspension antibiotics and nitroglycerin (all of which do have short shelf lives), you can – and should – safely keep and use almost all other medicines for at least 10 years past their expiry dates.

Although the UCSF study showed that aspirin and amphetamines slowly lost their full effectiveness over extended time, they still remained partially effective and if your aspirin isn’t working as well as it formerly did, that is hardly life threatening and easily remedied by simply taking more aspirin.

We would recommend, with prescription medications, that you get new prescriptions as appropriate, but stockpile unused portions of prescriptions and use the older medicine first, rotating it the same as you would food.  Pay attention to the recommended storage conditions for each medicine – some are best kept at room temperature, others in cooler environments, and all of course should be in a dark area away from sunlight.

The traditional bathroom cabinet is often not the best place to store medicines, due to it having substantial variations of temperature and humidity.

Note that you should always take all of any course of antibiotics.  Never stop part way through just because you seem to be feeling better.  So it will be more difficult to stockpile antibiotics, although we’ve found many physicians are understanding and willing to prescribe extra antibiotics – particularly if you explain the need as perhaps a desire to have some emergency antibiotics prior to traveling to a foreign country.

Note also – we are neither doctors nor pharmacists.  If you are being treated for a serious life-threatening illness, you should be careful before taking potentially less effective very old medicine.  If in doubt, don’t risk your health now in favor of creating a supply of medications for some possible future need.

Nov 042012

FEMA emergency accommodation for Katrina victims at the Houston Astrodome.

Preppers often fail to give enough attention to preparing for ‘simple’ Level 1 situations (see our definition of Level 1/2/3 situations here).

It is much less ‘macho’ to be thinking of things like keeping an extra supply of flashlight batteries than it is to be thinking about laying in a twelve month supply of freeze-dried food, and we also tend to think that we don’t need to bother about Level 1 situations if we are already well prepared for a Level 2 or full on Level 3 situation.

But for the fully prepared person/family, a Level 2 or 3 situation almost certainly involves moving away from your normal residence and going to your retreat, whereas a Level 1 situation is all about staying where you are and managing as comfortably as possible through a relatively short-term situation.

It is reassuring to have the added comfort and security of Level 2/3 preparedness, but in a relatively short-term Level 1 scenario, it may be less convenient and more disruptive to evacuate away from your main residence.

In addition, in a Level 1 scenario, you reasonably anticipate a quick return to normalcy and also a return to your primary residence, so – if there are, or threaten to be elements of social unrest – you might be better advised to stay at your main residence so as to protect it from intruders and looters.

It is also possible that your normal employment obligations remain in force, and so if at all possible you want to be able to work during the day as well as live as comfortably as possible out of work hours too.

These factors all support the concept of staying where you are during a Level 1 event.

One more reason to be sure to focus in on Level 1 events.  They are probably more likely to occur than Level 2/3 events; and much of what you do to prepare for a Level 1 event can also be used in response to a Level 2/3 situation – especially during any initial period of ambiguity while you’re trying to decide if you need to evacuate and bug out to your retreat location or not.

So for all these reasons, and with Hurricane Sandy fresh in our minds, we should all spend some time and thought (and money and effort) in preparing ourselves for Level 1 events.

What Types of Level 1 Events Should You Prepare For

Level 1 events can take many different forms.  It is hard to make a list of exactly everything that might occur that makes you need to resort to your Level 1 preparations, but it is possible to identify at least some of the things which could occur – and also, happily, to identify some lesser risks that, depending on your personal situation and location, can be dismissed and ignored.

A lot of Level 1 events are natural type events, to do with the weather and local conditions.  For example, some parts of the country have higher risk of earthquake than others.  Some parts of the country are more likely to flood, some might be potentially at risk of tsunamis, while some regions will never have water problems.  Some places may be at risk of forest fire.  Some places have to consider tornadoes, and some have to consider hurricanes.

Other types of risks quickly become either much less likely (volcanic eruption, nuclear power station leaks, etc) or else more specific in nature – your house burning down, for example.

In addition to the direct risks which impact immediately on you, there are all the risks from events ‘higher up the food chain’.  For example, something – it could be anything – causes the loss of one or more of the basic utility services.  If you’re in an isolated area, maybe the road leading out of your region goes out of service due to a landslide or who knows what.  And so on.

Or, for that matter, a regional event somewhere else has a flow-through effect to you where you live.

Responding to Level 1 Events in General

Whatever the risk and event, your response revolves around addressing your various immediate needs to sustain life, and then, secondarily, to make it more comfortable and convenient.

The big three requirements you must have fully addressed in your Level 1 response preparations are ensuring continuity of adequate shelter, water and food, more or less in that order of priority.

Shelter is the biggest of these three requirements.  As you may have seen from images of destruction as a result of hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, and so on, our primary residences may well be at risk of partial or complete destruction, resulting in the loss of our primary shelter.

We’ll consider issues to do with hardening and protecting your current residence, which is probably your Level 1 shelter, in a subsequent article.  We’ll also discuss the type of preparations appropriate for ensuring an adequate supply of water, food, and other essentials in subsequent articles too.

Is Your Insurance Sufficiently Comprehensive?

Do you have insurance against all the risks you’re considering?  And will it cover your temporary accommodation until such time as you can rebuild or in some other way restore your primary residence?

Don’t just assume that because your policy is called a ‘comprehensive’ or an ‘all risks’ policy it is, in reality, actually what its name implies.  Most insurance policies have major exclusions, no matter what they are described as.  As your insurance broker what is excluded, and go through the list of things you are concerned about and see where in the policy each item is specifically included or excluded, and what the coverage limits are.

There’s a positive thing about insurance.  The less likely the risk, the lower the cost to insure against it, so it makes sense to add various types of catastrophic coverages that standard policies usually exclude.

Insurance of course won’t prevent problems from occurring, and neither will it provide an immediate or instant solution to your problems.  But insurance can make it very much easier for you to accelerate a convenient return back to normalcy after you’ve stabilized your immediate essential needs (shelter, water, food).

One more thing about insurance.  Sometimes you’ll get premium reductions for having ‘hardened’ your residence and making it more resilient (and therefore less likely to be damaged, reducing the chances of you needing to make a claim).  Be sure to check what rebates you might get on your annual premiums if you are mitigating your risks.

How Long Will a Level 1 Event Last

A Level 1 event, by definition, tends to be short-term in nature.  It is reasonable to expect that within a week to two weeks, most Level 1 events will have been resolved or at least their impacts will be sufficiently mitigated as to no longer be life-threatening or massively inconveniencing, and people will have adapted to the new situation.

There are occasional exceptions to this.  Major earthquakes, for example, may level parts of an entire city and destroy utility services for large percentages of the residents, and due to the extent of the damage, the repairs might take months rather than days or weeks.

But the key thing in such longer events that tends to keep it more as a Level 1 rather than Level 2 event is that society, its social support and law enforcement mechanisms all remain intact, and there is clearly ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, with restoration clearly underway, and it is a regional rather than national event.

If an event is more open-ended in duration, and particularly if no temporary responses are in place, it risks being elevated to a Level 2 event.  Clearly also, at the other end of the scale, a brief power outage lasting only an hour or two is hardly worthy of consideration at all.

For us as preppers, it is reasonable to plan for perhaps two weeks of ‘being on our own’ and needing to be self-sufficient in all things.  At the end of two weeks (and assuming the matters haven’t been fully resolved), either there will be emergency support resources available to us meaning we no longer need to be fully independent and self-reliant, or else we will need to accept the grim reality that what we’d hoped to be a Level 1 event and response is in fact a Level 2 event, requiring us to consider major changes including possibly a move to our retreat location.

The Impact of a Level 1 Event can go Up and Down

Here’s an interesting additional point.  Beware of ‘false hope’ being raised and then squashed again during the response cycle to a Level 1 event.

It is common to see the aftermath of a Level 1 event go through several cycles and stage.  At first, everything is disaster, with the expectation of government and private charity organization type assistance.

Then assistance starts to arrive, providing some comfort for some people and annoying other people who haven’t yet received any external support.  The assistance improves and extends.

But then, there may be a disruption in assistance, as the providers switch from deploying their immediate short-term response and need to instead start calling on reserves for a more substantial and extended level of involvement, and simultaneously, more people are running out of whatever supplies they had at the start of the event, causing for massive escalations in the amount of external assistance needed.

After the chaos and confusion of the immediate few days after a disruptive event, the cold reality of its actual extent becomes more clearly known.  Maybe the reality is not as bad as was originally feared, and a mood of optimism takes hold of everyone.  But equally likely, the reality turns out to be much worse than projected and guessed at, and the stark discrepancy between the problems and the ability of support services to address those problems satisfactorily and quickly becomes depressing.

This period of growing need and faltering support can be disheartening and disquieting, and may cause increased social unrest and protest.  As we’ve seen in the aftermath to Hurricane Sandy, some people expend all their energy in negatively complaining about not being assisted, rather than working more positively to help address their problems directly.

Furthermore, any type of disruptive event is responded to in stages.  The fast easy steps are done first.  For example, with a power outage, you’ll see that the number of families without power starts off high, but then quickly reduces down to half and a quarter of the initially affected total.

At this point, it ceases to be headline grabbing news.  The underlying story becomes old and stale, and the number of affected families has drastically reduced.  Unfortunately, for the people still without power, they become an overlooked and almost forgotten minority.  There’s no comfort in knowing that 95% of affected families now have their power restored if it is two weeks later and you’re still without power yourself.

And as preppers, we always need to be concerned about the 5% worst case scenarios, rather than the 95% best case scenarios.


Just because they are not Level 3 or Level 2 events does not mean that Level 1 events are not extremely unpleasant for some of the people impacted by them.  Level 1 situations can even be fatal – at the time of writing, less than a week after Hurricane Sandy, there is already a reported death toll greater than 100 as a result of the hurricane.

Preparing for a Level 1 situation is every bit as necessary as preparing for Level 2 and 3 situations.  Level 1 situations may call for different types of preparations and responses than those appropriate for Level 2/3 situations.  It is not enough to say ‘I can handle the worst Level 3 situation possible, so I’m therefore obviously and automatically able to handle a Level 2 or 1 situation too’.

Nov 032012

A heavy-duty and preferably sound insulated generator is an essential item. Consider a dual-fuel generator than runs on natural gas AND either propane or diesel or petrol.

This letter from reader John has an essential lesson in it for us all – it is not sufficient merely to buy in and stock up on emergency resources, such as a generator.  It is necessary to then test them thoroughly in a simulated emergency situation so as to be sure they will work reliably when called upon to do so.

Oh yes – and read the manuals of all such devices, too.  Sometimes some very significant things can be hidden in the back pages, such as maintenance requirements that are mandatory rather than optional.

One more comment before his letter.  By all means get a generator that can run of natural (piped from the utility) gas, but make sure it will run on some other fuel source too, and make sure you have sufficient fuel.  The whole idea of disaster planning is to become entirely independent and to not need to rely on any external sources or services.  If your whole disaster preparedness plan revolves around an assumption that your natural gas supply will continue to work, the same as normal, then guess what is almost sure to happen?  The gas service will fail, and you’ll find yourself with lots of gas-powered appliances, but no gas to power them.

Hi David,

We are getting back on our feet and adjusting to the lack of electricity.  The big problem here is getting gasoline for our cars and generators.  A lot of stations don’t have power and the USCG limited some barge traffic and some refineries shut down for the storm, etc, etc!  My daughter waited in line for gas at our local station this morning for about three hours.  The police were on hand to make sure that everyone behaved.

NJ is one of the two US states that won’t let you pump your own gas.  That’s probably a very good idea in this situation.  We have two cars and filled up the one that gets the best mileage.  The station is local so I could walk up the street and give my daughter a break while she waited to fill up with some Russian Owned Lukoil gasoline!

Speaking of generators I’m probably going to get one that runs on propane or LNG.  If I get a whole house unit I’ll get one that runs off of my natural gas service.

A good friend built his new house in PA with a backup generator that uses his heating system’s propane tank (600 gallons) for fuel.  Funny thing is that he had a heck of a time getting it to work.  After many years and several replaced engine blocks it was ready to go.  It lasted a couple of days during Irene and then it seized up.  His repair man told him that he had bought a single cylinder engine that was rated for around 50 hours before an oil change was needed.  He said that the two cylinder engine is the continuous duty one!

Oh well, he told me today he had no problems with his new two cylinder engine for the five days he was without commercial power.  Well, that’s not true.  He collects clocks and the ones that have AC motors all ran fast.  He’s probably wasting his time to complain to the service tech.  I wonder if the waveform coming off the generator is even a pure sine wave in the first place.  He’s a retired EE so I guess he can figure it out for himself.

I just have a couple of large and out of date cellphone tower UPS batteries that my brother gave me.  I’m using one of them to charge our cell phone batteries and to make some 110 V AC from a small 12 V inverter to recharge my laptop and Hot-Spot batteries.  I hope the first one lasts a week as they are very heavy to carry up to the dinning room from the basement.

The power company folks are still talking about getting us back by the 14th.  However they also said it could take even longer!  I just finished throwing out a lot of food.  I have an old freezer that doesn’t self defrost.  Good thing I didn’t defrost it as I now have a large “icebox” for our milk and other cold stuff that we use.  Most of the local supermarkets have power and are open and folks all around us have power. My daughter is over at a friend’s house doing the laundry.

The only real problem we all have is getting gasoline for our cars and generators.  By the way, I really have to thank God that someone invented LEDs.  I have one dual LED unit that clips on to the top of a 9 Volt battery. It will run continuously on low for a full year off of a 9V lithium battery!

There is maybe one benefit of losing power…we’re all getting plenty of sleep, maybe even too much!

I better say goodbye as it’s getting darker here and I have to set the table for dinner while I can still see it.  EST will be a nice change for those of us who have no electricity!  We’re lucky, a neighbor and good friend of our family cooked dinner for us tonight.


Nov 032012

Some affected homes will be without power for more than 10 days after Hurricane Sandy struck.

This last week saw Hurricane Sandy blow in and through upper New Jersey, lower New York, and parts of CT and other states.  The hurricane was severe in strength, and passed through areas that very rarely encounter such extreme conditions, and so it caused more damage and disruption than ‘normal’.

From a prepper perspective, this was a regional and somewhat minor Level 1 event, although of course, if you were one of the affected people, its immediate impact on you may have been massively more major.

We say it is a small regional Level 1 event because the after-effects of the hurricane were (actually, ‘are’ because we’re writing this while the recovery process is still ongoing) short-term rather than long-term, and only impacted on a very small part of the country and even only on small parts of the affected states.  This means that, notwithstanding short-term disruptions and inconveniences, everyone knows, expects, and hopefully can wait for the restoration of normal conditions.  The overall ‘rule of law’ and society as a whole has not been threatened.

However, the ‘ground zero’ experience was at times devastating, and we can all be thankful that this was ‘merely’ a regional disaster.  Here’s a good article with lots of images of the devastation.

However, it is also an interesting and educational event for us as preppers.  One of the big unknowns we have to try to guess at is ‘what will people do when impacted by a Level 1/2/3 event?’.  With Hurricane Sandy being an unexpected event, we can get some clues as to how people will react in general to other events.

There are, of course, two schools of thought about how people will respond to a major national Level 1/2/3 event.  The optimists say that people will remain orderly and law-abiding, and the noble spirit of humanity, of respect for human life, and of ‘sacrifice above self’ will prevail.  People will help each other, will generously share what resources they have, and that the law enforcement agencies will maintain the peace in any event.  In other words, relax; all will be well.

The pessimists say that society will collapse in an ‘every man for himself’ and ‘dog eat dog’ scenario and the authorities will be helpless to prevent it.  People will riot and loot, with murder and mayhem being the rule.  People will hoard rather than share, and those without resources will do anything, up to and including murder, to get whatever they need and want from people who do have resources.

There are also two schools of thought about the role of external agencies, and ‘the government will help us’.  Will people passively wait for someone, anyone, to come and save them, or will they positively take charge of their lives and the situation and create whatever solutions they need, independently?

The Reality of the Sandy Experience

We can look at what happened as people reacted to the problems and disruptions from Hurricane Sandy and use it to help us better guess as to how people might respond to a more widespread disruptive event.

For example, we have seen only a little rioting or social disorder post-Sandy.  That is the good news – although, as this article indicates, there has been some disruption and the situation is extremely precarious, such that the slightest spark could set off mass rioting and looting.  This other article indicates that a ‘powder keg’ situation is present in other localities too, and note that both articles are silent on the authorities, and instead talk only about the local people being forced to defend themselves.

On the other hand, the scale and scope of the Sandy disruption was not really significant enough to cause rioting, and in particular, with New York City having one of the greatest police concentrations of anywhere in the world, and with the police and public order services all remaining fully functional, there was little opportunity for widespread disruption to occur.

Instead, we saw minor scuffles break out, particularly with the long lines of cars waiting to buy gas from the few gas stations that had both gas in their tanks to sell and also electricity to power the pumps to bring the gas to the cars.  People were waiting four and sometimes even six hours to get gas.

We saw other things, too.  Most of all, we saw an extraordinary and passive sense of entitlement, quickly evolving into resentment.  People would complain about the external help they got as being insufficient, rather than express appreciation for getting any assistance at all.

In particular, it is astonishing that anyone would ever complain about the Red Cross providing relief services, but as this and other articles point out, it was common to criticize the Red Cross for not magically and completely solving all problems for affected people.  Apparently, unless the Red Cross was handing out new big screen televisions and rebuilding people’s homes to a better standard than before, people would complain about the Red Cross ‘not doing enough’.

An interesting thought – how much money have such complainers contributed to the Red Cross themselves, in the decades prior to now?  What right do they have to expect anything at all from any charity group?

Also mentioned in the linked article (above) – people who had made deliberate and conscious decisions not to buy flood insurance now believe that they should not now have to accept the consequences of their earlier bad decisions.  Someone – whether FEMA, the Red Cross, or ‘the government’ in general should now help them, these people say.

Rather than improvising field toilets, and attending to sanitation needs as best possible, we saw apartment dwellers crapping in their corridors.  Not even wild animals do that.

Even more astonishing, at least initially, utility workers from other states who went to help restore power and other services were turned away because they weren’t union members of the local unions.

And when local utility crews – people have been working close to 24 hrs a day in a mad scramble to restore as much service as possible, to as many people as possible, got to some neighborhoods to restore service, the residents pelted them with eggs and other objects to show their displeasure at being without power.

That is beyond stupid.  The utility crews have no control over their companies’ staffing policies; they are doing all they can, personally, to restore power, and instead of being welcomed by the people they are helping, they are forced to leave and wait for police escorts before they can return.

Interpreting These Experiences

So, what did we see?  We saw people acting irrationally, selfishly, dysfunctionally and passively.  We saw people demanding that external sources come and help them and do everything for them, and people complaining that the generous help they did receive from volunteers was insufficient, and calling for more.

We saw people who willfully decided to ‘save money’ and not prepare for or insure against disaster now expecting that they won’t have to personally accept the consequences of their selfish short-sightedness.

We also saw potential collapses of social order, with the peace being maintained by ‘do it yourself’ local residents, rather than by the police, and a few cases where looters actually did strike.

Now try to extend these behaviors to a more severe Level 1 or worse scenario.  Which possible outcome do you think to be more likely?  The ‘noble humanity uniting positively together’ projection or the ‘every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost’ projection?

Will the same people who chose not to buy flood insurance, and the same people who chose not to stock up on supplies or emergency equipment just passively watch you deploying your generator, your food, and so on?  Or will they be demanding that you share it all with them?

Note also that the proud American spirit of self-reliance and independence seems to now be replaced by a passive dependence on the government or anyone/anything else to solve people’s problems for them, accompanied by an abdication of personal responsibility.

Will the police be present to maintain law and order?  Or will people be forced to rely on their own resources?  And will some sectors of the community become ‘unruly’ (to put it politely) and may they attempt to inflict harm on you, either for rational or irrational reasons?

The Ugly Bottom Line

We see nothing in the responses to Hurricane Sandy to inspire us to hope that society might respond positively to more widespread disruptive events.  Quite the opposite.

While it is true that most people affected by the hurricane this last week have quietly hunkered down and just got on with their lives as best they can, it is also true that the disruptive effects of those people who responded negatively have been significant, and if the underlying disruption were to be greater, and the magical response and assistance from outside agencies to be smaller, more delayed, and less likely, we think the social problems arising from Hurricane Sandy would become massively more impactful and widespread.

By all means, hope for the best.  Hope we never have a massively disruptive event, and hope that if one does occur, people respond positively.  But – you’re a prepper, right?  Yes, do hope for the best – we all do.  But, to be responsible to yourself and your loved ones and others who depend upon you, you must prepare for the worst – both for the worst disasters, and also for the worst social responses to them.