Jun 062016
 
An artist's impression of an EMP explosion.

An artist’s impression of an EMP explosion.

One of the things that gives us the most troubled sleep of all is the risk of, and outcomes from, an EMP attack on the US.  In case you’re not fully up to speed on this draconian danger, we discuss EMP attacks – what they are, how fearsome their impacts would be, and how easy they are to stage – in several articles here.

Our sense is that the danger of an EMP event is steadily increasing.  To be blunt, the world is becoming an increasingly unfriendly place, and with growing sophistication of both nuclear weapons and their associated delivery systems (ie missiles) by both North Korea and Iran (as well as other countries that aren’t being quite so public about their actions) and some threats that translate quite clearly to ‘if we need to, we’ll use an EMP device to bring your country to its knees’, the thought of an EMP attack is far from impossible to countenance.  At the same time, our lives continue to become more and more dependent on electronics for everything we do.

We are increasingly of the opinion that it is prudent to maintain a spare set of essential electronic items in a protective Faraday cage so that if/when an EMP occurs, you have a backup set of equipment to turn to.

One consideration when planning for this.  There is no point in keeping backup equipment that relies on other equipment or services owned/operated by other people/organizations, unless you are certain that these other parties will also be able to continue to provide services after an EMP.  For example, what is the point of having a backup cell phone if all the cell towers and network infrastructure by the wireless companies is fried by EMP, and also if the cell phones owned by most of your contacts are also fried!

So, with that as introduction, let’s continue…..

As you may already know, and as our other linked articles explain, an EMP attack destroys electronics by creating high voltage surges in them.  These high voltage surges are induced by electromagnetic radiation – a fancy way of saying ‘radio waves and similar type things’.  Because the voltage is induced by electromagnetic radiation, there is no need for electronic objects to be connected to anything – they wirelessly ‘receive’ these voltage surges, whether they want to or not, the same way that radios receive radio waves, televisions receive broadcast tv signals and cell phones receive phone calls.

Worst of all, perhaps, switching off your devices doesn’t protect them from these voltage surges.  You can unplug your devices and take the batteries out, but they are still at risk of being ‘fried’ by the electromagnetic radiation caused by an EMP device.

Note that while EMP effects are a problem to your at-home electronics, solar flares and storms are not a problem, assuming your electronics are not plugged into utility power (or possibly internet connections).  Unplugged, and battery operated, devices will not be affected by the different type of EMF radiation generated in a solar storm.

Back to EMP risks and counter-measures.  There are several ways to protect your electronics.  Some are impractical, at least for us, because they involve a redesign and ‘hardening’ of the electronic items when they are designed and built.

Others are impractical for other reasons, such as burying our electronics at least 10 ft underground.

The easiest approach for most of us would be to select items we wanted to protect and save for use after an EMP, and place those items inside a special type of container, known as a Faraday Cage.  This device is named after the English scientist Michael Faraday, the discoverer of electromagnetic fields, and deemed the inventor of these protective containers, back in 1836, although in truth it was Benjamin Franklin who first observed the properties of such containers, in 1755.

If you think about it, there’s something slightly strange about using a device first observed 260 years ago, to protect against a modern type of risk only developed 60 years ago.  But progress is a funny thing, right?

What is a Faraday Cage

The chances are you may have already experienced the protective effects of a Faraday cage, and without even realizing what was going on.  If you’ve ever been on a plane that was struck by lightning, the reason you lived to tell the tale – and the reason the plane wasn’t destroyed – is because the entire plane acts as a super Faraday cage, protecting itself and its contents.

A Faraday cage is simply an electrically conductive metal container that completely surrounds its contents.  When electromagnetic radiation reaches the container/cage, it has two choices for what it does next – it can either travel through the container, and thereby exposing the contents inside to its damaging effects, or it can travel around the outside of the container on its conductive exterior.

It is ‘easier’ for the radiation to travel on the conductive exterior, and indeed, the conductive exterior works so as to in effect compel the radiation to take this route rather than to go inside, through, and outside the container again.

So, think of a nice old-fashioned metal biscuit tin with a close-fitting lid.  Instant Faraday cage!  Any type of metal container, of most reasonable shapes and sizes, will work perfectly well as a Faraday cage.

Tight mesh metal screens have sometimes been used as radio frequency shielding too.  We don’t recommend this approach because the wave-length of the energies released by an EMP tend to be shorter, and therefore might be small enough to ‘fit through’ the holes in the mesh.  Plus, unless you have excellent electrical connections at each node where the screen mesh running in one direction intersects with the screen mesh running at sort of right angles to it, you’ll end up with invisible gaps in your radiation blocking.  Best to play it safe and stick to solid metal.

As implied by the comment on screens and their lesser effectiveness, nothing is an absolute in this world, and a Faraday cage – even made out of thick 100% copper, won’t necessarily eliminate 100% of all the radiation.  A little bit might still ‘leak’ through into the inside.  But a well constructed Faraday cage will reduce the radiation inside itself to perhaps one millionth or less of the level of the radiation outside the container, and that is probably sufficient reduction (the technical term is ‘attenuation’) as to reduce the radiation level from a dangerous level that risks the integrity of your devices to a trivial level that poses no threat to them.

Faraday Cage Construction 1 – The Need for a Total Metal Enclosure

Don’t think that a container that has metal on some of its surrounding surfaces – maybe even as many as five of the six sides of a cube shape – will protect its contents.  A typical example of that would be some sort of metal container with a plastic lid.

Such a shape is not a cage at all – rather it could become a ‘wave guide’ which might funnel radiation through it and maybe even concentrate it in some essentially unpredictable manner.

The container needs to have as close to complete metal coverage as possible.  Small holes are okay, but the electromagnetic radiation can travel through holes and other cuts and slits in the container.  The bigger the hole, the more radiation that can go through it, exactly as you’d think if designing a container to block out light (which is also electromagnetic radiation) or to be waterproof.

So don’t, for example, go to Harbor Freight and buy a ‘stainless steel tool chest’ that actually only has some very thin pieces of stainless steel in the center of some of the tool chest’s sides, and plenty of plastic elsewhere.  It might be a great way to carry tools, but it is not useful as a Faraday Cage.

Faraday Cage Construction 2 – The Need for Good Electrical Joins

So maybe you’ve ended up with an enclosure that is metal on all sides.  That’s good, but there’s more to it than that.  Are all the sides connected to each other electrically?  If they are not, you again have a wave guide or possibly a radiation ‘concentrator’ rather than some sort of blocking cage, and might end up with worse outcomes than without an enclosure at all.

Make sure there is no varnish or other ‘invisible’ insulation on each of the metal surfaces.  And have good connections on all sides, as much as possible, so that the shortest physical distance from any point to any other point on the enclosure is also the same as the shortest electrical distance.  As soon as you start to require the radiation to go ‘the long way around’, you start to tempt it to take ‘a shortcut’ through the container rather than around it.

In simple terms, if you have a cube type shape, that means that each of the six sides of the cube should be physically and electrically connected to other sides of the cube on each of its four edges.  A ‘press fit’ is acceptable only if the two surfaces are each clean and not corroded (both dirt and corrosion are usually insulators rather than conductors).  You’ll of course have welded or soldered joins on most of the sides of the enclosure, with just its ‘lid’ being openable in some form, and you need to be sure that all four edges of the lid provide a positive seal and electrical connection.

An Essential but Usually Overlooked Requirement with Metal Tape

Now for an important consideration.  If you are sealing some sort of container, you probably know or can guess that you should use a metal foil type of tape to seal the container with.  Okay, but there’s a trick that many people don’t think through.  The typical adhesive on generic metal foil tape acts as an insulator.  It insulates the tape from whatever you are taping it onto, and also insulates the tape from itself (if you have tape overlapping itself).  This makes the metal foil tape close to useless.

Be sure to get tape that has conductive adhesive on it.  Needless to say, Amazon is your friend, and offers a wide range of different types of metal foil tape with conductive adhesive on it, as you can see from the link.  Better still, the material isn’t very expensive.

Do You Need to Ground Your Faraday Cage?

This is one of the most widely misunderstood aspects of Faraday Cage design and construction.  Faraday cages do not need to be grounded, indeed, as best we vaguely remember our advanced college physics classes, they should not be grounded.

You’ll see many prepper sites that say you should ground a Faraday Cage, but they either don’t say why, or say ‘to bleed off the charge’, or perhaps work on the semi-stated assumption that you ground other electrical things for safety and so, therefore, you should also ground a Faraday Cage.  This is all wrong.  Faraday Cages do not accumulate charge.  They simply allow a charge to pass from one side of them to the other, without passing ‘through’ the inside of the cage.

That process also points to why you should not ground a Faraday Cage.  If you ground the cage, it is no longer an isolated part of normal space that just so happens to be better conducting than the space inside it.  Now it has become an antenna of sorts, and even can be considered as a ‘magnet’ for the radiation.  Think of the process like a lightning rod – a lightning rod actually works by attracting lightning – it ‘pulls’ the lightning to itself rather than allowing the lightning to semi-randomly choose anywhere else to land.  The last thing you want is to change from a neutral Faraday cage to an active receiver of the radiation!  Instead of the EMF passing around your object, it now goes onto the object and travels along it and down to the ground.

Like all antennas, a grounded Faraday cage ceases to be a conductive material and instead starts to become a resonating material with inductive and capacitive properties, with some parts of its length having high resistance (impedance) and thereby potentially defeating the major concept of the cage – its ability to more effectively transfer EMF around its exterior rather than through its middle.  It will be itself absorbing and re-radiating some of the EMF it is now ‘receiving’ and conducting, and while we’re not exactly sure, we fear some of that transmission may be into itself and whatever is inside.

Think of it this way.  Planes get struck by lightning dozens of times every day, but nothing happens to them because the planes are essentially Faraday cages.  The lightning strikes the plane, travels around/through it, and then keeps on going.  But imagine if the plane had a big long antenna trailing off the end of it, all the way down to where it was dragging along the ground.  Now the plane has changed from being an electrically neutral thing that the lightning doesn’t ‘see’ or expend energy on, and instead becomes a huge big ‘magnet’ that draws lightning from miles around to it.

‘Nuff said?  Don’t ground your cage.  Not only don’t deliberately ground it, but also keep it away from any ‘accidental’ grounds – for example, don’t have it resting on solid earth or attached to any metal beams that might lead to the ground, and – whatever you do – please don’t have any electric wiring feeding into it!

Insulating the Contents from the Cage Walls

Something we often see overlooked in articles about Faraday cages is the need to insulate the contents from the cage walls.  When the cage is actually ‘doing its job’, those walls – both inside and outside the cage – are going to be alive with energy, and that energy will be eager to find anything and everything to flow into and fill.

If you think about what would happen if you had the contents actually touching the walls, there’s a chance you’d end up creating an electrical path through the cage that would be easier or almost as easy for the radiation to travel along as it is for the radiation to go around the outside of the cage.  The last thing you want to do is to encourage the radiation to come into your cage and move around.

We suggest you simply line the inside of your cage with thin foam – perhaps 1/4″ – 1/2″ thick.  That’s all you need to do – have some sort of light simply stand-off that keeps your electronics off the walls of the container.

Testing Your Faraday Cage

There are several ways you can test your Faraday Cage once you’ve constructed it.  Go somewhere with a very strong cell phone signal (such as right next to a nearby cell tower) and confirm you’ve all the bars on your phone showing max strength.

Put your phone in the cage and try calling it.  If you hear it ring, you know you’ve got a problem.

Next, place a call from your phone to someone else, then put the phone in the cage and close it up.  Does that cut off your call?  If it doesn’t, you again know you’ve got problems.

Try this with the phone and cage oriented in different directions (and with the phone either vertical or horizontal inside), in case radiation can get in one way but not another way.

Another test is to check for electrical continuity all the way around the cage.  With an ohm meter, set it on its lowest/most sensitive ohm scale and first calibrate it to zero ohms.  Then stick the probes on random parts of the cage, and ensure that everywhere you place the probes, you’re getting under a 1 ohm resistance reading.  Test a range of combinations from any side to any other side.

Those are the two easiest types of test to do.  Happily, there’s not really much of a trick to building a cage, and so there’s every good chance your cage will pass these tests.

Summary

Build yourself a Faraday cage – perhaps out of plumbing ductwork type thin metal sheeting that is easy to work and not too ridiculously heavy.  Follow the design considerations discussed above – perfect electrical and physical seal, nothing touching inside, outside not grounded, and you should have an effective way of protecting an essential set of spare electronic devices for WTSHTF.

Sep 032014
 
Imagine our cities with no power.  Now try to imagine how you could survive in that situation.

Imagine our cities with no power. Now try to imagine how you could survive in that situation.

The new Islamic terror group, ISIS or ISIL, is only slowly appearing on the radar screens of the mainstream media, and indeed is so fresh to the public eye that there isn’t even yet agreement on what to call it.  But if you cast around, you’ll see plenty of ‘buried’ news stories quoting senior military and political leaders who describe ISIS as now the most dangerous threat to the US and the West in general (most recently Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel).

If we take their desire to attack and harm the US at face value (and what possible reason would we have not to believe them when they say this) then the question becomes simply one of understanding what they might do, and when/how they might do it.  Well, yes, there’s another question too – how to stop them!  But that’s a question few people are asking, and outside the scope of this article in any event.

The Texas Dept of Public Safety believes they have found evidence that ISIS plans to orchestrate an attack on our power grid, and it has been speculated that ISIS might not even mount the attack itself, but could instead pay one of the Mexican drug cartel gangs to carry out the attack on their behalf.  Dr Peter Pry, head of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, said that a gang such as the Knights Templar (no relation to the middle ages religious order!) has experience in destroying grid infrastructure in Mexico and could readily black out much or all of the US for an extended period.

His gloomy predictions were supported by Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.  At a joint press conference with Pry, Gaffney quoted sources as suggesting that a twelve month power outage would see 90% of the US population wiped out.

More details here.

We definitely agree that a grid attack could see the grid down for at least 12 months, and quite likely very much longer.  For more on this, we’ve written regularly about the vulnerabilities and difficulty in repairing the nation’s electricity grid.

We’re not so sure that a 12 month power outage would see the death of 90% of the population, however.  If we assume that the grid outage did not extend to Canada and Mexico, then we would expect many people close to the borders would simply move north in typical classic refugee manner, and considerably more than 10% of the US population is close to the Canadian border.  Plus it seems reasonable to assume that the Red Cross and other relief organizations would come to our assistance, because hopefully the rest of the world would still be functioning.

However, we do agree that the sudden loss of electricity across the nation, and extending for a year or more, would be extraordinarily disruptive and would involve in massive loss of life.  This is a classic example of what we refer to as a Level 2 type scenario.  It is something we should plan and prepare for, and with appropriate planning and preparation, it is something that we and other appropriately prepared people could survive.

Whether there would be a 90% casualty rate or ‘only’ a 50% casualty rate, or whatever other number is in some regards a relatively ‘minor’ detail (and we’d also point out that most/all of the unprepared survivors would live a very miserable existence while the nation struggled to recover and restore power.  Furthermore, when the grid went live, a year or two or three later, what would the country then look like?  We’d not all then return back to our normal jobs and resume our lives and lifestyles as if nothing had happened.  The economy would be destroyed.  Much of the infrastructure would be destroyed, many cities would be burned out looted hulks of their former selves, and people would have moved away, out of the cities and to places where life can be sustained.

The recovery would be as difficult as the outage, and would take much longer.  This is something few people focus on.  There is an understanding that when the power goes off, things get very bad, very quickly.  But it seems that some people are assuming that when the power is restored, the problems are solved and everything snaps back to normal.  Not so.

The three key credible messages from this press conference are :

  • Firstly to point out the growing risk of an attack on our power grid
  • Secondly to point out that if our grid was attacked and disabled, it is likely to remain down for at least a year
  • Thirdly, the consequences of an extended grid failure would see massive deaths, obviously from lack of food, water, and climate controlled shelter, and less obviously from disease due to the failure of plumbing and sewage treatment services, and also from the lawlessness that would result.

How well prepared are you for a sudden loss of power for say two years?

One last point.  Maybe it is unrealistic to expect the government to ‘harden’ our power grid and make it resistant to such threats.  But couldn’t they at least be directing some of our enormous defense budget to neutralizing the ISIS threat?

Aug 262014
 
We love traditional printed books, but storing them all is becoming an ever greater and more costly problem, demanding we switch less essential titles to eBook format.

We love traditional printed books, but storing them all is becoming an ever greater and more costly problem, demanding we switch less essential titles to eBook format.

Are you building up a library of prepper resource materials?  You definitely should be.

If you’re like us, you probably already have somewhere between hundreds of thousands and literally millions of pages of resource material, spanning tens or even hundreds of gigabytes of data on your hard drives.  It is very easy to download and save material from many different sites and sources.

If you’re like us, you’ve maybe also bought some CDs or DVDs filled with prepper type content, adding still further to the vast resource of material you have.

Indeed, our biggest ‘problem’ with our data is not knowing what we have.  We’ve so much of it, indeed we just counted and we have 137,000 prepper files, including some zip files that have in turn hundreds more files within them, and we know we have sometimes downloaded things twice, and if we had to find information on a specific topic, well, that could be a time-consuming problem!

Again, if you’re like us, not much of this is printed out, and most is sitting in abstract electronic form on your hard drive(s).  It is easily to download a five hundred page manual that you might never need – it costs you almost literally nothing to download and save onto a hard drive, for a ‘just in case’ future use – maybe sometime, probably (hopefully!) never.

Now think about the future that you’re saving all this material to help you with.  What happens if we suffer an EMP and most of our electronics are fried?  Or what happens if your hard drive simply dies – how thoroughly backed up is the material you downloaded?  Or, even worse, if your computer fails.  Never mind the data backup – how many spare computers do you have, too!

Did you know that CDs and DVDs have finite lives?  Sooner or later, the data on them will start to corrupt and eventually become unreadable.

And even if the data remains secure and readable, sooner or later, your electronics will die.  Maybe they will die quickly, through an EMP or power surge or something.  Maybe they’ll just slowly fail as the natural lifespans of the electronics passes, or maybe they’ll die quickly of ‘infant mortality’ (electronic devices tend to either die quickly, or else last most/all of their expected lives before failing).  For that matter, did you also know that some electronic components age and expire whether they are being used or not – specifically, electrolytic capacitors, which have about a 20 year life and at some point subsequently, will start to become ‘leaky’ (in an electrical more than physical sense) and fail.

Our point is simple.  A printed out book is a remarkably long-lived device, and while it has some vulnerabilities (eg to water and fire, also to dogs and small children) you’ll usually find books are more reliable and guaranteed to ‘work’ in adverse situations than is the case with modern electronics.

Should you therefore be printing out everything you download and save?

The answer to this question is a modified ‘no, not really’.  We’ll wager that probably 95% of everything you download is stuff you’d never look at, no matter what happens WTSHTF.  But, and here’s the catch – can you be sure which of the many things you’ve downloaded will be in the 95% unnecessary and which will be in the 5% of necessary/essential reference resources?

But what do you print out, and what do you leave in electronic format?  Furthermore, there are more downsides to eBooks than ‘just’ the concern that the electronics will fail.

If you can only read eBooks and other electronic files on your computer, how truly convenient is that?  Your computer – even if a laptop/portable rather than desktop unit – still weighs many pounds, needs power, and is somewhat fragile.  You probably don’t want it sitting out in the field alongside you as you work out how to construct something.  If you drop a book, you pick it up again.  If you drop a computer…..

You can’t have your computer or eBook reader in more than one place at once – you can’t have someone in the kitchen using it for cooking, someone in the workshop using it to repair something, someone in the living room using it to read for relaxation, and so on.  Sure, each physical book can only be in one place too, but you can have each of your many books in a different place.

Call us old-fashioned, but we see a clear role for hard copy printed books in our retreats.

However, let’s also look at some of the upsides of eBooks, as well as their downsides.

We keep coming back to the gigabytes of downloaded ‘just in case’ reference material we have here.  We’ve no idea how many hundreds of thousands of pages of content there are in all of these, but even if we say there is ‘only’ 100,000 pages of key content, how much paper/space/cost would that require to print it all out?

You can partially answer that question with a visit to your local office supply store.  Look at the size of a box of ten reams of paper (10 x 500 sheets = 5,000 sheets).  Now look at the size of a pallet full of those boxes of paper.  That’s quite a lot of space, isn’t it, particularly if neatly laid out on bookshelves rather than stacked on pallets.  100,000 sides, (if you can print double-sided, and if you can’t, you’d probably be well advised to buy a duplex printer prior to this enormous printing project) would require 50,000 sheets, or ten of those boxes, plus extra space for covers and whatever else.

That’s an appreciable amount of space, and we’ve not started to address the question of how you’d bind the printouts together (probably either in ring-binders or, more space efficiently, by simply stapling short works and using re-usable fold-over binding posts for larger works).  Plus there’s the cost – the paper cost is minimal, and less than a couple of cents a sheet, but then add additional for the ink or toner to print onto them (get a low cost per page laser printer rather than a high cost per page inkjet printer), and all up, 100,000 sides/50,000 pages of content probably end up costing you $2,500 or more.

Now you need a way to store and index all this material, too.  So you need some shelving and space to put it, and some sort of indexing system so you can find it in the future.  That’s more time, more money, and more hassle.

If you have a million pages of material (we’re sure we have at least that much, ourselves) your $2,500 project has become a $25,000+ project, and you’ll literally need a library room in your retreat.

So, much as we love traditional physical books, it seems there is clearly a need for balance, with some content in hardcopy form and much more remaining in electronic form.

Our suggestion is to invest in some eBook readers – not just one, but several.

However, don’t necessarily rush out and buy an Amazon Kindle type dedicated eBook reader.  There’s one huge problem with all Kindles (and some smaller problems too).

Kindles have a limited degree of on-device storage, and for more than that, they need to be synched with Amazon’s cloud service.  That works well at present, but in a ‘grid down’ situation, there’ll likely be no internet and so no way to synch your Kindle with Amazon.  This is, obviously, their very big problem.

Their smaller problem is that they’re not as ‘open source’ as a regular Android tablet, and try to lock you into the Amazon ‘eco system’, making it harder for you to view other eBook formats and files.  You don’t have this problem on a generic tablet that would conveniently allow you to view all common eBook formats.

You should get tablets that can accept SD or micro SD cards, as well as being able to be connected to a computer and to be directly synched that way.  Almost unavoidably, these will probably be Android based.

Sure, you’ll be spending money for each tablet purchase to do this, and more to buy up a supply of memory cards, but that is all probably both essential and also much better than spending some thousands of dollars printing out all those slightly weird and very out-of-date manuals and scanned pdf copies of things.

You’d be astonished at how inexpensive tablets can be, these days.  While Apple still charges way over the odds for their iPads, you can now get competing products for astonishingly great values.  Amazon have tablets for sale that cost less than $100 each,.  You don’t need the most modern state of the art super-tablets when all you need them for is reading books.  Just make sure they have a version 4 or greater of Android, and a micro or full size SD card reader on them.  A rare and not really essential bonus would be a replaceable battery.

When you have your tablets, you need to load a PDF reading program onto them, and also probably Amazon’s Kindle eBook reading software.  That way you have the best of both worlds – you can directly read your own PDFs, and can also download – and store – any Kindle books you buy through Amazon as well.

We suggest you keep your electronic library resources – the tablets that are designated as primary readers, and the removable media (micro or regular SD cards with the files on them) in a Faraday cage type storage unit.  This doesn’t need to be anything fancier than a lined metal container (lined with foam or something, keeping everything inside the container away from the metal sides) with a securely fitting metal lid and a good electrical seal between the container and its lid.  That makes everything reasonably secure against both EMP type attacks and other external environmental threats (extreme weather, rain, and animals/insects) too.

You’d want to take the units out and discharge/recharge their batteries once every quarter or so, and of course from time to time you’ll update your inventory of data files on your memory cards.

If you do this, then whenever you need to be able to access your electronic library, and in a grid down situation with your normal electronics no longer available to you, it becomes an easy thing to open up your cookie tin/Faraday cage and start using your eBook readers.

We’d be sure to have two copies of everything on memory cards, and at least one hard drive full of the files too, giving you plenty of backup and options for accessing your files in the future.

Currently (ie Aug 2014) the ‘sweet spot’ for micro SD cards is to get cards holding 64 GB per card.  You probably only need a few of these.  If you were buying 128 GB cards, your cost per GB of storage goes up.  If you buy 32 GB or lower capacity cards, you’re still paying the same cost per GB, and end up with more of the cards to keep track of and not lose.

Summary

If you don’t already have a huge collection of prepper files and texts, you should work on growing it as best time allows.

While some clearly essential titles should be purchased in print form, or printed out if purchased electronically, we encourage you to get as much material in electronic form, and to keep this on micro SD cards and view the files on inexpensive (ie less than $100 each) tablets.

Oh yes.  Do we also need to say – be sure to keep backup copies of all your files!

Aug 162014
 
These young gentlemen probably missed the Sunday School lesson about two wrongs not making a right.

These young gentlemen probably missed the Sunday School lesson about two wrongs not making a right.

We wrote an article, ‘Five Prepper Lessons from the St Louis Rioting and Looting‘ on Tuesday of this week, after the first two nights of unrest following the police killing of a youth in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis.

The first night of looting was relatively uncontained, while the second night saw a massive police presence that largely kept order throughout the area.

We thought/hoped that would be the end of the uncontrolled senseless violence part of the response and reaction to the police shooting.

Based on that first night of rioting and looting, we formulated five (or perhaps six) lessons.  They are :

1.  Don’t judge and anticipate other people’s actions based on your own views and values.  Other people will act unexpectedly and irrationally, in ways that can potentially be enormously harmful to yourself, your family, and your possessions.

2.  In an adverse scenario with normal social order disrupted, other people will feel justified in taking everything from you, including definitely your dignity and quite possibly your life, even though there is no possible logic to this.  Do not expect a breakdown in society to bring out the best in everyone.  It will bring out the worst in sufficient numbers of people as to pose major problems.

3.  If you actively protect your property and yourselves, you’re likely to deter all but the most determined or desperate of looters during the early stages of any civil breakdown.  Later on, when looters are no longer motivated only by greed, but instead by fear and the need for survival, the situation will become more extreme.

4.  We never know when rioting might suddenly break out.  The trigger events and the degree of response can be unexpected and disproportionate.  But don’t underestimate the rioters.  They include organized gangs of roving opportunists who are coordinating and communicating among themselves to plan their actions.

5.  Rioting can spread through a region, and reach into unrelated communities, because the rioters aren’t only on foot.  They have cars, too.  When a metro area becomes infected by rioting somewhere, the entire metro area becomes at risk.

And, lastly, at the risk of stating the obvious, a bonus sixth point.  When things go seriously wrong, you can not count on the police being there to protect you or your belongings.  It truly will be every man for himself, and every small neighborhood watch group or strip mall business owners association for themselves.

Now that we have had four more nights of experiences, do these lessons need to be revised?

For sure, since that time, the rhetoric has escalated several notches, and what appears on the face of it to have been a totally justified police shooting is being painted as anything but.  Let’s first look at what is currently known about the initial encounter.

Tragic Accident?  Justified Shooting?  ‘Suicide by Cop’?  Or a ‘Racist Execution’?

As best we understand the circumstances, a single police officer stopped two youths who were walking down the middle of the highway and interfering with traffic.

The youths matched the description of two people who had just robbed a nearby convenience store, and one of the two youths may have had a box of (stolen) cigars in his hand.  The officer decided to arrest them and take them back to the station.  At least one of them resisted arrest, a struggle ensued with the youth trying to take the officer’s gun from him.  Fearing quite appropriately for his life, the officer shot the youth.

Much has been made of the fact that the youth was shot apparently six times.  But if you know anything about self-defense, you know that when you are struggling for the control of your weapon, when you’re outnumbered, and when the other person is coming on to you, you don’t just fire once, then stop and see what happens before carefully considering a second shot.  You also know that pistol bullets are woefully inadequate and some people have continued in a fight after being hit a dozen times.

So, you fire as quickly as you can until ‘the threat has ceased’.  Those six rounds were probably fired in little more than a second.  This wasn’t a cold-blooded execution, it was a panicked act of self-defense against a gratuitous attack, by an officer who credibly was in fear of his life.

It is important to also appreciate that the assailant was 6’4″ and 300 lbs.  Based on published photos, the officer appears to have been of average height and something under 200 lbs.  It seems he had already suffered appreciable injuries from his struggle with Brown.  He had no choice but to resort to his firearm in this scenario – but these facts are not interfering with the public outcry blaming the police officer.

Furthermore, the autopsy shows that four of the rounds hit the assailant in the arm.  They would not have stopped him.  The officer needed to continue firing.

None of this needed to happen, if the youth had simply cooperated with the police officer.  The event was as much ‘suicide by cop’ as anything else.  The youth brought the consequences completely on himself.  Even the stupidest of gangbangers knows that if you resist arrest and attack an outnumbered police officer, and particularly if you try to take his gun from him, then you’re almost guaranteeing a lethal response on the part of the police officer.  End of story.

However, our point is not about what to do when you are stopped and subsequently arrested by the police, because there’s no need to write that story.  It is dead simple – you cooperate.  By all means stand up for your rights, but don’t inflame a situation that is always tense for every police officer.

Even if the police are in the wrong, you cooperate during the interaction with the patrol officers and then you have a chance subsequently, through the legal system, to right any wrongs that occurred.  If you don’t cooperate, you will definitely have some valid additional charges added to your charge sheet by the police, and your own reciprocal complaints will be tainted by your inappropriate actions, making you a less sympathetic victim.

Oh yes, and if you really misbehave, you have a good chance of being tasered, or possibly even shot.

Back to our five lessons.

We’d like to amplify two of the points we made before.

People Become Venal and Self Serving in a Stressed Situation

Our first lesson was to be aware that people around you may act unexpectedly and irrationally, and not in ways that mirror our own views and values.

When we stated that on Tuesday, our focus was on opportunist mobs who would gratuitously attack and destroy your property.  But there’s another part to that risk which has become increasingly apparent as the week has continued.

Not only have the mobs continued their reprehensible looting, whenever they think it to be safe and they can get away with it, but their actions are being justified by other groups in society, and the initial event that started everything, rather than being a somewhat sad example of a stupid lawbreaking youth suffering the inevitable consequences of his actions in fighting with the police officer, the story is now being painted as a racist cop gratuitously ‘executing’ a harmless young lad.  The local community is up in arms (almost literally) about this, they are defending the undefendable, and they are being encouraged and joined by all the usual professional agitators and disruptors.

What does that mean for us preppers?  We’ve written before about how, in a level two or three situation, we need to fear not only gangs of lawless looters who might attack us and our retreats and try to take everything we have.  We also need to fear the ‘law abiding’ people around us.  They will also gang up, but perhaps not violently, but instead in a civilized way, and rather than attempting to attack us ‘just because’, they will send duly appointed officials to deprive us of everything we have, the same way a gang would, but under the color of law.  Court officers, bailiffs, and any/all police and other law enforcement and emergency agencies may create, validate, and then enforce mandatory sharing of ‘vital resources’.

We write about the very real danger of this in a three-part series – Preppers Beware :  Our Hoarding Can be Deemed Illegal.

Fortunately, it is possible to fight off the occasional ‘one off’ lawless band of looters who attack your retreat.  But we’re not so sure how possible it will be to attack the FEMA/HSD/etc officials who come to effectively do the same thing.

If people can delude themselves into believing that the police officer was in the wrong in this recent event, how hard will it be, when they are starving, to delude themselves that you are in the wrong by seeking to protect yourself and your fellow retreat members, and demand you share your supplies with them.

Preppers often wonder what to expect when TSHTF.  We can never know for certain, but we can look at analogous events and try to see possible parallels.  The St Louis riots, and the way large portions of the population have rationalized things, ignoring the reality and instead bending the facts to fit their self-serving viewpoints (or ignoring the facts entirely) does not encourage us to support the idea of mankind’s inner nobility and higher values asserting themselves in a high stress situation.

In Extreme Situations, the Police Will Not Come to Your Aid

The sixth ‘bonus’ lesson we offered was that you can’t rely on the police (to come to your aid, that is).

Now, possibly, it could be said, in an attempt to excuse the lack of police presence on Sunday – the first night of rioting – that the police were unprepared and didn’t know what to do.

But how about later in the week, such as on Friday?  What excuse applies then when you read about situations such as this, where store owners dialed 911 but couldn’t get any police resource of any sort to come to their aid, and where other store owners saw squad cars driving by looters who were actively in the progress of looting?

The lack of response wasn’t due to the police being overworked and with too many different emergencies all calling on them simultaneously.  It seems the police made a political decision to do nothing and instead let the riot ‘burn out’ on its own, without adding new ‘provocations’ and inciting the rioters still further.

Don’t be surprised by this.  A passive non-response, limited merely to efforts to contain the worst of the lawlessness, seems to be the standard approach adopted by police departments in most parts of the western world when rioting rages around them.  Maybe it is even the right response.

We can simultaneously understand that position, while also being outraged by it.  A passive non-response for all but the most egregious acts of violence may indeed allow for a de-escalation of tensions and a return to ‘normalcy’ (whatever that actually is).

But how do you think the individual store-owners feel about this, finding themselves being sacrificed for the hopefully greater good of the region as a whole?  Did they agree to that?  Are they not entitled to protection and for the impartial enforcement of the laws?  And what message does that send to the rioters and looters?  Doesn’t it affirm the validity of their actions, and encourage more lawlessness in the future?

Is this the new standard of law enforcement :  ‘We’ll enforce the laws, but only as long as doing so doesn’t anger the criminals’?

And what does this mean?  Do we give in to acts of domestic terrorism?  Yes, you’ve not heard the riots described that way, have you, which is in itself a telling omission.  If it were right wingers complaining about blacks, don’t you think they’d have been smeared with every racist epithet known to our left-wing press.  But because it is predominantly blacks rioting against whites, we have to ‘cut them some slack’.

If you or I threw a brick through a shop window, and a policeman saw us, we’d be in the slammer faster than we could spit.  But if 100 or more of these lawless rioters do the same thing, the police hold back.

Now ask yourself what will happen if a more lawless situation engulfs not just a couple of suburbs of St Louis, but instead, an entire county, state or region of the US, and if there is no obvious source of immediate help.  Do you think the police will come to your aid if your home and business are attacked, or will they hold back?  Especially if they know they do not have a nearly inexhaustible supply of reinforcements available at the other end of their radios.

So, we see three clear lessons from the extended St Louis situation.

  • It only takes a small spark to start a large conflagration, to cause lawlessness to break out across the board.
  • People will act in selfish self-serving manners without any rational constraint, and will readily justify to themselves everything they do, no matter how extreme it may be.
  • The police will capitulate.  They may concentrate on writing parking tickets in any remaining safe districts, while entirely abandoning lawless regions and leaving the people in them to save themselves.  Or, if things turn really grave, they may well take off their uniforms and join in the looting.

Summary

If you are a prepper, you have decided to plan and prepare for possible adverse future scenarios, in a manner so as to ensure your own continued survival.

We all have different views about what these possible adverse scenarios may be, and how best to plan and prepare for them.  We can’t know for sure how any specific circumstance may unfold.  So the best thing to do is to learn from past events, and the more recent the past event, the more valuable.

We’ve set out the lessons we’ve drawn from the St Louis situation, here and in our earlier article.  You might agree with us, or maybe not.  But don’t ignore this entirely.  Carefully consider what has happened, and what it means for possible future scenarios, then make sure that you modify your own preparations accordingly.

As for us, we’re going to double down on getting to know our neighbors, and very gently encouraging them to a point where if things become dire around us, they are more likely to stand beside us to enhance our shared best interests and mutual survival.  On the other hand, the tree-hugging aging hippies on one side?  Well, that’s a story for another day…..

Aug 122014
 
Locations of riot events in St Louis.  The original police shooting is on the left, in the middle, in green.

Locations of most of the riot events in St Louis. The original police shooting is on the left, in the middle, in green.

A white police officer in Ferguson, MO (a suburb of St Louis) shot a black youth on Saturday 9 August.  On Sunday, during the day, there were some protests by members of the local community and a vigil.

What happened next was unfortunate, but also educational to us as preppers, and it behooves us to learn the lessons inherent in the events that followed.

(Note :  The riots initially filled Sunday night, Monday night was fairly quiet, and we wrote this piece on Tuesday, thinking the matter was essentially done.  Not so.  There have been continued relevant developments during the week, so after reading this article, please then click to read our follow up piece, written on Saturday, ‘More and Updated Lessons from the St Louis Rioting‘.)

There’s, alas, nothing particularly unique about police shooting black youths (or for that matter, shooting people of any race or age) and neither is there anything surprising about the transformation of youths who were deservedly shot as a result of their own inappropriate actions, now suddenly being beatified and described as saintlike creatures who were victimized and totally innocent of any and all charges.  Normally, people on both sides of the equation go through the ritualistic utterances that these events require, and then life goes back to normal, sadly with nothing changed.

But the unpredictable and unforeseeable lottery of life threw out a joker this time.  Sunday evening and night saw rioting and looting break out in the broader area around Ferguson, with the lawless perpetrators quite unashamedly and aggressively justifying their actions.  As is invariably the case there was no logic to the wanton gratuitous destruction – for example, in this article there is a video clip of a couple of rioters attempting to smash a bus shelter.  A bus shelter?  The destruction of public transport facilities disadvantages the very social sector of society that is rioting, not the vague aspects of society they feel they are protesting about and against.

But who ever said that logic or sense needs to apply to such actions?  Although, and please understand this, the rioters and looters actually think what they are doing is both sensible and appropriate!  This article quotes one person as saying

This is exactly what is supposed to be happening when an injustice is happening in your community.  You have kids getting killed for nothing.  I don’t think it’s over honestly, I just think they got a taste of what fighting back means.

There’s so much to disagree with in those three sentences.  How does a police action against someone justify someone else, somewhere else, looting another person’s store?

And that’s actually the first lesson for us as preppers.  We can not judge people and predict their actions based on our own standards of common-sense, rationality, fairness and justice.  Here’s something to live by (the closing line of this excellent article on a very different subject) :

What you find utterly unthinkable may prove quite thinkable, even reasonable, to your enemies.

One of the problems of the west in general, the US more specifically, and the people around us in particular is that they expect the people, groups, and nations they deal with to act predictably, sensibly, and in a manner and adhering to values similar to themselves.  We’ve two words to offer anyone who thinks they should predict how other people will act and behave based on their own values :  suicide bomber.

It is unthinkable to us that we’d become suicide bombers, and hopefully it is also unthinkable to us that we’d go off and riot/loot/etc based on something we knew little about and which neither directly involved ourselves or the people/businesses we were then gratuitously attacking.

But, right here in the US, just a couple of nights ago, hundreds – possibly thousands – of our fellow citizens gleefully set about doing exactly these things, and feel totally justified in what they were doing.

So, please consider this.  If these people feel entitled and empowered to loot stores with this ‘justification’, how do you think they’ll feel in any sort of broader breakdown of society?  Do you think they’ll hesitate, for a country moment, to loot not just stores, but then to turn their attentions to ordinary people in their ordinary residences, and continue their gratuitous looting without pause?

Even worse, when the food runs out, what will they do then?  Won’t they feel doubly empowered and justified to take by destructive force any food they can find from anyone?  Indeed, isn’t it likely they’ll come up with some more pseudo-justification as to why what they are doing is perfectly moral and correct?

One last part of this second point.  Don’t you think that as social order progressively breaks down, the initial core of looters and rioters will quickly be joined by more and more people?

That’s the second lesson.  Lots of people will quickly start acting irrationally and harmfully.

As seems to typically be the case, when the rioting and looting broke out, the lawless groups went after the easy pickings.  Sure, we got to see examples of armed local business owners protecting their businesses, but there’s another aspect of this that is worth considering as well.

This report is very interesting.  It tells how 10 – 15 cars with nearly 30 people pulled in to a strip mall, and the people then set about smashing into a shoe store and looting it.  Right next to the shoe store was a Radio Shack, and you just know that the electronics in a Radio Shack would be ultra-tempting to the looters.

But there was a single security guard at the Radio Shack, and his presence was enough to deter the 30 looters.  Like all bullies, they are essentially cowards.  When someone stands up to them, they usually slip away rather than confront a determined opponent.

We suggest that the one security guard was very fortunate in this case, and wouldn’t count on one person consistently being able to turn away 30.  But probably you don’t need to have 30 people on your side to defend against 30 attackers, because only one or two of the attackers will be seriously motivated.  The rest of the people will be ‘going with the flow’ and believing that they can do so with impunity as part of a larger group.  As soon as their safety is directly threatened, their enthusiasm will fade.

Update :  This article, several days later, about the ongoing rioting, includes the delightful line

Early in the evening gunshots were heard near the gas station sending crowds of protesters screaming and running away.

We think that proves our point!  It seems no-one was shot, and we’re guessing that some people defending their business simply brandished their weapons and fired a few rounds in the air.

We are not sure that this would be all you need to do in a truly dire situation with all of society crumbling around you, but in this lesser scenario, it was obviously more than sufficient.

So our derivative point and third lesson is that you should group together with your neighbors, at work and at home, to have at least a small group of people to back you up and create a more credible defense when confronted by rioters.

Our next point and the fourth lesson is that this rioting was entirely unexpected.  It came out of nowhere and erupted like wildfire in a seemingly unpredictable manner.

But although it was unexpected and unpredictable to the victims, that is not to say that it wasn’t also planned by the rioters.  For example, think about the implications of the 10 – 15 carloads of rioters that drove to the shoe store and Radio Shack.  There was nothing spontaneous about that.  Those 30 people got together and carefully coordinated making a special journey to those two stores.  See our earlier article about flash mobs and social media for more discussion on this growing phenomenon.

So don’t underestimate your adversaries.  Although on the surface, rioting looks spontaneous and haphazard, underneath there is a mix of the truly spontaneous but also darker forces eagerly seeking a ‘free ride’ and exploiting and aggravating the situation as best they can.

Our last point and fifth lesson is that the geographic locations of the rioting and looting is not necessarily directly related to the location of the trigger event.  Rioters and looters can travel to targets of opportunity, as long as they feel that the umbrella protection of the rioting/looting will protect them.

The two maps in this article are interesting.  They show the spread of riot related events, some far out of the local community.  Just because you might think you live in a ‘good’ or ‘safe’ area, in terms of the demographic makeup of your community and local crime levels, does not mean that it will remain good or safe when rioting breaks out in the region.

Summary

1.  Don’t judge and anticipate other people’s actions based on your own views and values.  Other people will act unexpectedly and irrationally, in ways that can potentially be enormously harmful to yourself, your family, and your possessions.

2.  In an adverse scenario with normal social order disrupted, other people will feel justified in taking everything from you, including definitely your dignity and quite possibly your life, even though there is no possible logic to this.  Do not expect a breakdown in society to bring out the best in everyone.  It will bring out the worst in sufficient numbers of people as to pose major problems.

3.  If you actively protect your property and yourselves, you’re likely to deter all but the most determined or desperate of looters during the early stages of any civil breakdown.  Later on, when looters are no longer motivated only by greed, but instead by fear and the need for survival, the situation will become more extreme.

4.  We never know when rioting might suddenly break out.  The trigger events and the degree of response can be unexpected and disproportionate.  But don’t underestimate the rioters.  They include organized gangs of roving opportunists who are coordinating and communicating among themselves to plan their actions.

5.  Rioting can spread through a region, and reach into unrelated communities, because the rioters aren’t only on foot.  They have cars, too.  When a metro area becomes infected by rioting somewhere, the entire metro area becomes at risk.

And, lastly, at the risk of stating the obvious, a bonus sixth point.  When things go seriously wrong, you can not count on the police being there to protect you or your belongings.  It truly will be every man for himself, and every small neighborhood watch group or strip mall business owners association for themselves.

Update Now Published

Further to this article, written on Tuesday (the rioting started on Sunday night) we have added a second article on Saturday.  Please now go read More and Updated Lessons from the St Louis Rioting.

Aug 102014
 
Who knew there were so many potentially significant health events in the US at present.

Who knew there were so many potentially significant health events in the US at present.

As realistic preppers, we know that we don’t always get unfiltered ‘real’ news and sometimes there are ‘policy issues’ that intrude on how news is shaped and reported.

This is particularly true of enormous potentially world-changing events.  While your local newspaper can be relied upon to be first to break the story if a local cat gets stuck up a tree, and also to give prominence to news that furthers their own ideological agenda, other stories can sometimes get delayed, re-written, or totally ignored.

The good news is that these days the major news outlets – the three traditional television networks and our local newspaper and radio stations – have now been eclipsed by all the other news sources out there, and all equally close to us through the internet, no more than a url and a click away.

The problem is that there are so many of these second and third level news outlets, news gatherers, and news finders that they all tend to get lost in the crowd, and it is hard to know where to find reliable and timely news that is important to us.

One vital thing that we as preppers are very focused on is getting early advance warning of trends and changes that may impact on our society and which may herald an oncoming significant event that might see a Level 1/2/3 scenario as a result.

We like the Drudge Report for general news distribution, but his selections of articles tends to be broadly focused at more or less mainstream readers.  We subscribe to a number of prepper type reader forums as well, but these tend to be a mix of rumor and nonsense, with only occasionally useful/important alerts mixed in with the other content.

The current prominence given to Ebola frankly has us unsettled, but perhaps for the opposite reason to what you might think.  We are puzzled why this present outbreak in West Africa is being given so much exposure and importance.  Is there something the authorities know which they’re not yet telling us?  Is there some other hidden agenda item?

Similar issues sometimes surround other important trends and stories and developments in the world.

We came across an interesting and very useful site today that automatically scans much of the internet for health related news.  It is so good at doing this that it found the first stories about the latest Ebola outbreak nine days before the outbreak was labeled as Ebola, and long before the western press started to write about it.  The site is www.healthmap.org.  It was originally intended as a tool for public health agencies, but it is open for anyone to use and for anyone to sign up for email alerts, and most of their content is in ‘plain English’ rather than in obscure obtuse medicalese.

We see on their event map (using the ‘diseases near me’ feature) that at present it is reporting on the spread of West Nile virus further into the American Redoubt (a mosquito borne virus that is taking over the world and not receiving nearly enough attention).

In addition to the general map, they also have specific tracking projects for diseases such as flu, Dengue Fever (another relatively new but significant entrant into the US) and a ‘Predict’ map that apparently anticipates possible future diseases that are spread from animals to humans.  A lot of good stuff.

They offer a newsletter alert service that we recommend you sign up for.

All in all, a great and free service that hopefully helps us to keep better informed and ahead of health/disease type issues.

Aug 082014
 
Pictures like this add to the shock and scare value of the present news about Ebola.

Pictures like this add to the shock and scare value of the present news about Ebola.

The news seems filled with stories about Ebola currently.  On Thursday the CDC issued its highest level alert, something it has only done twice before.  Today, WHO did the same, declaring it an international health emergency.

Newspaper articles tell horrifying stories about Ebola being ‘out of control’ and overwhelming the national health systems of countries like Sierra Leone, and of victims being dragged into the streets and being left there to rot in Liberia.

On the face of it, this is all alarming and concerning.  And, as preppers, we are of course always looking for such signs of pending problems.  But, if we scratch the surface of the Ebola hysteria, a different type of truth appears.

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has resulted in less than 1000 deaths over the course of six months (although this number is steadily increasing).  How many other diseases, in Africa and elsewhere in the world, have killed more than 1000 people in the last six months?  What makes Ebola so special as to get the CDC and WHO both giving it highest priority, and why does Ebola fill the pages of newspapers at present?

To put this number in perspective, in a typical flu season in the US alone, somewhere over 200,000 are hospitalized and up to 50,000 people die.  Yes, up to 50,000 people die of flu every year in the US, but the death of 1000 Ebola sufferers in West Africa now has the US CDC giving Ebola a higher priority status than flu (and a higher priority status than cancer, Aids, and everything else).  This really makes no sense.

Ebola surely doesn’t deserve this status because of its ‘rapid’ spread.  1000 people in six months is slow compared to true worst-case scenarios that have occurred in the past.  It also isn’t because of its implacable mortality rate.  Even with the worst of healthcare facilities in West Africa, it seems that somewhere between 25% and 40% of patients are surviving.

It also isn’t because it jumps from person to person like wildfire.  At present it seems that the virus is only spread through contact, not coughing.  The CDC say that an infected person can be treated in a regular private hospital room.

Has political correctness now invaded our healthcare system as well as everything else?  We are forced to conclude that this is indeed the case.

Now, don’t get us wrong.  Ebola is a spectacularly nasty disease, and having two-thirds of the people who get an Ebola infection die is a terrible outcome.  It is also true that currently there are no preventative vaccines, and no specific treatments for if/when a person does get an Ebola infection, but work is underway on new treatments and even on vaccines too.

It is also true that our society is more at risk of a global pandemic than ever before.  A person can be infected on one side of the world today, and then travel to the other side of the world tomorrow.  You may have heard the comment about how everyone in the world is no more than six people away from knowing anyone else, and indeed more recent studies suggest we are now more like only five people away from anyone else – that degree of contact applies to spreading disease, too.

In particular, it takes somewhere from two days to three weeks for an Ebola infection to become apparent in a person, allowing lots of time for that person to travel from somewhere to somewhere else, and the rudimentary type of health screening of arriving passengers at airports around the world will not detect Ebola during this incubation period.

The good news part of the Ebola incubation period is that a person only starts spreading the Ebola infection when they become symptomatic.  So we only have to be concerned about the few days between when a person starts feeling ill and coughing, etc, and when they are hospitalized and diagnosed with Ebola.

What Should Preppers Do

There’s precious little we can currently do about Ebola.  But you should definitely keep a watching brief on the Ebola news, and understand if the outbreak starts to spread outside of West Africa.  The CDC website is a good source of regularly updated information.

It is also helpful – if you haven’t done this already – to plan and prepare for how you could continue to work, without needing to be physically present at your place of employment.  For some people, this will be impossible, but if you are an office worker, shuffling papers (more likely, electronically moving computer data these days) or a phone representative, maybe you can spend much of each working day doing your tasks remotely from home.

Your employer should be considering this too.  In the event of a pandemic, the business will be at risk as much as you will personally be at risk, and both your survival and the business’ survival might depend on it being able to fragment and ‘virtualize’ with people working other than in one central office.

Beyond that, you should keep your supplies well stocked.  Disruptions to the food chain are almost inevitable if society gets crippled by a broad pandemic.  You should also keep your medical locker and protective gear fully provisioned too, so that if someone in your group gets afflicted, they can be cared for without endangering the rest of your community.

It is almost certain that one of the first failures in a future pandemic will be our hospitals and healthcare system.  Currently there are just over 900,000 hospital beds in the US – one for every 400 or so people.  But many of these beds are in use every day, so the number of available vacant beds is very much less.

Something that only affects as few as 0.25% of the population would overwhelm the healthcare system – and even if there were available beds, would there be available nurses and doctors?  Even if there were both beds and staff available, would there be available healthcare supplies?

Particularly with some type of virus for which there is no cure, there may be no benefit in being hospitalized, even if it is possible, and especially if you can provide competent palliative care at home.

If any sort of pandemic does start attacking our cities, you need to minimize your contact with other people as much as possible.  Try to keep away from all public places, and if you need to go to do shopping, do so in off-hours when the stores are likely to be nearly empty.

One more thing.  Your biggest risk of infection is by touching some other contaminated surface (what is called a ‘fomite’ in medical terminology).  Be sure to regularly wash your hands, and try to develop an awareness of the surfaces you are coming in contact with.  The next time you push open the door in front of you, wonder how many other people have touched the same door handle that you have.  A virus might survive some days on the surface of that handle.  That’s not to say you can’t safely touch the handle (assuming no cuts in your skin) but it is to say that you need to use hand cleanser or something on your hands on a regular basis – not just prior to eating food, but on an ongoing basis.

Think this through.  You touch the infected surface and your hand gets some virus infection on it.  You then touch your car steering wheel five minutes later, and transfer the virus to your steering wheel.  You step out of the car, and several hours later, someone else gets into the car, and also touches the steering wheel.  Your ‘safe’ seeming steering wheel has now infected someone else.

Summary

We do not see any cause for undue alarm about Ebola today.  We don’t know what the future holds, but as of today, and other than the general preparations we mention above, there’s nothing any of us need to do except remain alert.

In broader terms, we rate it unlikely that Ebola will become an actual threat to our society.  But we do consider the wider risk of some type of pandemic to be credible and concerning.  We have written several other articles on this topic, which you can see here.

Aug 012014
 
Our computers these days have many USB devices connected to them.

Our computers these days have many USB devices connected to them.

As preppers, we anticipate, plan, and prepare for a strategic failure in some part of our national critical infrastructure, no matter what the cause or what the specific failure may be.

Some risks are obvious.  But as prudent preppers, we also look to find and consider all risks, including those thought to be remote and unlikely.  Some risks are subtle and generally little considered, even though they could potentially be devastating in their consequences, and possibly might also be frighteningly possible.

An example of a risk category that few people fully consider is some type of cyber attack on our nation.  We’ve written about varying aspects of this in the past, most recently a mere week ago when we explain why the concept of a cyber-attack is so appealing to terrorists and others who wish us harm.

We don’t exaggerate when we say that almost everything in our lives is computerized these days, and the little bits that aren’t yet controlled by computers are quickly adding computerization and internet connectivity too.  While there are indeed benefits in having our kitchen appliances and our home heating/cooling all connected to the internet, there are also increased vulnerabilities.

The problem about anticipating and defending against a cyber-attack is that doing so requires a skill a bit like driving down the freeway at high speed, while only looking in the rear-view mirror.  On the freeway, the rear vision mirror will keep us in our lane, but only until the freeway curves ahead, and it won’t warn us if we’re closing in on the car in front.  With cyber attacks, we only know what our enemies have done in the past, we don’t know what they might think of next in the future.  Unfortunately, within even the simplest parts of any computer system lurk all sorts of unexpected vulnerabilities, sometimes overlooked due to the simplistic and ‘safe’ nature of the components.  It is impossible to be certain that we have identified – and solved – all possible computer vulnerabilities (even though some ‘experts’ claim they have done so).

For example, think of one of the wonderful enhancements to computer peripherals these days – USB connections and their ‘plug and play’ automatic connection between the thing we plug in and the thing it is plugged into.  A decade or more ago, this seldom worked as it should, and it was often referred to as ‘plug and pray’.  Nowadays the ‘intelligence’ within USB devices has been greatly improved and they are better able to correctly identify themselves and install the necessary drivers automatically onto the host device which they’ve been plugged into.

Unfortunately, as the ‘intelligence’ of USB devices has increased, so too has the ability to exploit that intelligence and re-task it for nefarious purposes.  A hacker could build a virus into the USB device’s ‘firmware’, and so when the device connects to your computer, it automatically loads itself onto the computer without triggering any of the typical anti-virus warnings.

Keep in mind that this type of attack could come not just from USB memory sticks and thumb drives.  We’ve known for some time about the ability of USB drives to come with a virus pre-loaded on them, and also of course, for a virus to copy itself onto a solid state USB drive, the same way as it could onto any other drive.  But this new risk is very different, because it doesn’t come from a USB’s available data storage.  It is hidden in the USB’s internal memory and drivers.  It could come from any USB device at all.  A mouse.  A keyboard.  A printer.  Look at all the USB devices you connect to your computer these days, and appreciate that all of them could be sources of infection.

Who would have thought you could get a disabling computer virus from your mouse or keyboard or webcam or whatever?

The problem is even worse.  Once on your computer, the hacker’s code can then copy itself onto any other USB devices it finds, and of course can totally take over your computer and do whatever it chooses with it.

The problem is even worse than this.  You might think ‘Okay, so I’ll only use USB devices I buy brand new in sealed boxes, and I’ll never share them with anyone else’s computers’.  But – who is to say that the company making the USB devices hasn’t been compromised – either deliberately or unknowingly?  Remember that much of the computer attacks that are directed at the US come from China, then look around your computer gear and see how much of that comes from China.  Ponder the implications of that, and you’ll quickly realize why the government is increasingly concerned about allowing Chinese computer hardware into sensitive installations (and also, to be fair, why foreign governments are increasingly anxious about allowing US hardware into their sensitive operations too!).  Even brand new untouched computer gear might be infected with pre-loaded malware.

This article explains the vulnerability and how there is no defense against it currently, saying

Most of us learned long ago not to run executable files from sketchy USB sticks. But old-fashioned USB hygiene can’t stop this newer flavor of infection: Even if users are aware of the potential for attacks, ensuring that their USB’s firmware hasn’t been tampered with is nearly impossible. The devices don’t have a restriction known as “code-signing,” a countermeasure that would make sure any new code added to the device has the unforgeable cryptographic signature of its manufacturer. There’s not even any trusted USB firmware to compare the code against.

We know, via Edward Snowden, that the NSA had some type of way of accessing computers through some type of USB exploit; it is likely that they may use some of these now publicly discovered vulnerabilities.  If the NSA is doing this, if Edward Snowden has disclosed that, and if there is now public discussion of USB vulnerabilities, how many hackers are also doing the same thing?

Unfortunately, at present, there is no known solution to this problem.  Your computer and your USB devices might already be infected.

A deliberate hacker attack could take the form of stealthily infecting as many computers as possible, and then having them all simultaneously fail on some future date.

Would that destroy our society and bring about the type of Level 2 or 3 scenario we plan and prepare for?  We’re not sure, but for sure the very best case scenario would be a massive economic and supply disruption that would see many services totally fail and much of the physical distribution of food and supplies also interfered with.  If computer based programs can no longer be used to manage agricultural processes, to plot demand and to schedule harvesting and processing, and to interface between the different companies in a complex supply chain, how will food efficiently make it from the field to the shelves of your local supermarket?

Without computers, what will happen to the banking system?  If your job involves using a computer, how will you and all your colleagues, customers and suppliers do your/their jobs?  If your company fails, what will happen to your job and your income?

The big unknowns are the nature and extent of a social collapse due to a failure of the nation’s computer resources.  We fear it might be worse than we hope, and so we plan accordingly.

We suggest you carefully read the article that explains the USB vulnerability and its implications, particularly the part that concludes

That means you can’t trust your computer anymore. This is a threat on a layer that’s invisible. It’s a terrible kind of paranoia.

Implications for Preppers

There’s not a lot of special things you can do to prepare for a broad attack on all our computers.  Your computers and USB peripherals might already be infected, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

All you can do is ensure that your retreat and your lifestyle can continue without any computerization, and keep your prepping at a necessary level in anticipation of a possible future Level 2/3 situation, no matter what the cause.

One thing in particular is to print out hard copies of as much of the electronic reference material you might have accumulated.  If your computers fail, you don’t want to have all your prepping knowledge resources destroyed.

Jul 292014
 
A single EMP pulse can cover the entire country with destructive EMF radiation.

A single EMP pulse can cover the entire country with destructive EMF radiation.

Paul Singer is CEO and founder of the Elliott Management hedge fund, looking after some $25 billion of client funds.

A self-made billionaire, he has a personal net worth of $1.5 billion, and his hedge fund is notable for only having had two down years in the 37 years he has been operating it.  It has averaged 14% annual return, compared to 10.8% for the S&P 500 as a whole.

He publicly warned about the housing crash and global financial crisis as early as 2006 and in 2007 met with the G7 finance ministers to warm them of the coming economic problems – a warning that was ignored by the politicians.

Clearly he knows a thing or two about managing and protecting assets, and about accurately predicting future risks, and people everywhere would be well advised to listen to his advice.

This week, in his standard investment update letter to his clients, he wrote

There is one risk that is head-and-shoulders above all the rest in terms of the scope of potential damage adjusted for the likelihood of occurrence.

You’ve probably already guessed what this risk is – this article headline gives the show away.  He tells his subscribers that a man-made EMP attack would be worse than nuclear war, asteroid strikes, or even a solar storm. :

It would not cause any blast or radiation damage, but such an attack would have consequences even more catastrophic than a severe solar storm.  It could not only bring down the grid, but also lay down a very intense, very fast pulse across the continent, damaging or destroying electronic switches, devices, computers and transformers across America.

He went on to call for a bipartisan push to make the country and the world safer from such risks.  He wants to see stockpiles of spare parts to repair/replace the key components of the electrical grid and other essential elements of our electronic society, and says the government and other groups should prepare emergency plans for how to respond to such events.

We’ve been writing about and worrying about EMP for years (check out our EMP articles here).

We’re not billionaires, and we don’t manage billions of dollars of other people’s money, either.  But, whether you’d rather listen to billionaire Mr Singer, or plain ordinary David Spero, the message is the same from us both :  A single EMP event could destroy most of the electrical and electronic functionality in the entire United States.

You need to plan and prepare for the possibility of an EMP and the destruction of our society that would surely follow.

One last comment.  It can be difficult explaining and validating our views and concerns when explaining prepping to other people.  You may find it useful to allow Mr Singer to ‘speak’ on your behalf.  Maybe your friends will find his advice more compelling.

Here’s the article that quotes from his investment newsletter.