Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Whole Disaster Thing 3

The Whole Disaster Thing 3 - Important Supplies

Most people think that they can buy a gun and perhaps a few tinned meals, stuff those into a closet, and be prepared. I call bullshit on that. Sorry, but that's a terrible plan. I don't plan to live like that.

First up, my pantry IS my store of food. I have extras of everything, but it all gets rotated and it's what I'd normally eat. I have tinned and dried beans and soups and pasta and rice and beef stews and whatever else - but if it doesn't get eaten in the course of normal living, then it's out. Why should I store a tin of Andalusian Otter Noses fro three years, and then discover when I'm forced to eat it, that I don't like Andalusian Otter Noses and also, they're spoiled after all that time?

Same with water, another often overlooked supply. We've just been through, in the last post, why water is important. More importantly, I have two type of water around. I have drinking water, and I have general purpose water, which can be boiled and filtered to make more drinking water. Lots of GP water, and enough drinking water for a few weeks at least.

So how do I manage to do this?

Firstly, my pantry is spread out around the place. There's a pantry cupboard in the kitchen where day to day use things are stored. There's a kitchen buffet unit that holds tinned goods that have been bought surplus to requirements, extra jars of pickles and ferments and preserves are stored. The way I keep track of what's oldest is simple - I push the newest items in at the back, meaning the oldest ones end up pushed to the front of the shelves.

There's stuff in the fridge/freezer combo that I'm using currently, and a small chest freezer where I put surplus, oldest items underneath. It means digging a bit when we buy extras, but it's so worth it  right now. By that I mean, I know stuff in the freezer may only last up to four days under ideal conditions if the power goes out - but right now, we can afford to buy more of other things because I bought when things were cheap and we won't have to buy some cuts of meat for months now, as long as the power holds. All the money I'd have put into meat, can now buy rice, pasta, extra soap and shampoo, and so forth.

It's worth stressing that. By being frugal in my shopping and being able to store what's cheap now, that gives me a few extra dollars over the next few weeks to buy other things and get stocked up ahead of time Also, frugality and storing has one other benefit that's not immediately obvious - saving you money.  
As your stock builds up, you won't be needing to buy coffee (for example) when it's $15 a jar, and can buy two or three or even more when it's on special for $8 a jar. That means that on the next few jars of coffee you've saved the difference of $6 per jar. 
Buy your usual five bars of soap when it's 25c a bar instead of $1.25 and you've saved $5. Buy your usual $6.25 worth of soap and you save the next five periods' worth of having to buy soap, in other words you've saved $20 that you can spend over the period to buy other things. 

So my pantry spreads out through the house a fair bit. When we buy something new, it goes to the back of the queue. The kitchen buffet isn't the end of it. Some larger bulk items (bags of flour, salt, rice, and other dried goods, are stored in bins in the shed. It's not ideal, but it means I bring in a bag of rice when I'm almost out, fill the pantry rice bin, and stash the rest of the bag in the buffet.

Having an interest in sausages and cheeses and so forth, I make dried and smoked meat products and some cheeses, and they also get stored in the fridge or the pantry. I don't, for example, make a ton of pemmican-like meat, nor do I make sausages I won't use in the next few months. But I keep on making those things and using them. We enjoy foods made with those products, and they'll provide meat and dairy for a few months if we need to establish new resources.

On a practical note, that means that we can live as we always have for at least a week until the perishables run out, then a month or two at a comfortable level, and then maybe two more months at a survival level. If I wanted to, I could eke that out to eight months tops. But in between, I've also got a garden, and chickens, and rabbits. By laying in a longer "tail" of dried goods, I could make our supplies last even longer.

That leaves water. Water in our area stops less than a day after the pumps stop filling the head tanks. I currently have a few 200gal tanks collecting rainwater, which is drinking water if you need it, but of that I only keep a few litres in the house for cooking and drinking at a time. The overflow goes into 18gal barrels and the aquaponics system. Some of the 18gal barrels feed water to ollas and wicking beds, some feed to the aquaponics system to replace evaporation losses, and some is drinking water for the chickens and rabbits.

In any case, it means that there is just short of 2000gal around the place on average, and much of it replaces itself with rainfall. Pumps around the house are built on the "slow but patient" principle so that gusts of wind, good days of solar power, and good rain flows, all pump a small but steady trickle of water uphill.

These aren't done as a prepper measure, by the way. It just so happens that there will be water if an event does happen, we do actually have resources. The main reason for building this has been that we are pensioners, we can't afford a huge water bill nor a huge energy bill for pumping water uphill to working height, but we need working height water to water the gardens, water the chickens and rabbits, and instead of relying on a pure electric (and expensive to run) pump for aquaponics, I've designed a system that uses a head tank and a sump tank to maintain water pressure when the windmill or solar powered pump stops working.

Rainwater is cheaper for us than several kilolitres a year of extra water usage, so we collect it. Because rain falls downwards, it ends up well below working height and that means we have to pump it uphill. Because electricity to run pumps isn't cheap either, I've built bubble pumps, windmills, solar powered electric pumps, and have the odd electrical and petrol pump I salvaged and reconditioned for those times when wind, sun, and rain have failed for too long a period. There's also a few human-powered vane pumps and the like which I'm keeping an eye out for, because it turns out that an exercise bike can be more than just a way to exercise...

That leaves sanitation. We're both prepared to use less washing water, uncomfortable as that might be. We're both prepared to nail the toilet door shut and use a long drop down the hill from us. Because, of course, if there's no water pressure, you have to resort to using buckets of water to flush with. And you really don't want to be doing that when the sewage backs up due to no pumping stations and not enough sewage flow in the system causes blockages.

The reason it's downhill from us should also be obvious - rains and groundwater move downwards, carrying our waste away from the house not to it. I know that a decent composting toilet could solve many of these problems but they are expensive to buy, fiddly to make and run, and so while I'd love one right now, it can wait.

Now as to what I consider to be important but often overlooked supplies. Do you cook with vegetable or olive oil? Consider an extra jug of each one you use, and remember to use them and rotate them regularly.

Pasta can be made if you have lots of flour. Flour stores well if you plastic wrap each package and freeze that for 24 hours or more to kill any weevils or other bug larvae that might otherwise hatch and eat your supplies. I suggest tight wrapping with kitchen wrap, then a few layers of black garbage bag plastic. It might be troublesome, but if you're diligent and have a year's worth of flour laid in, then you'll be glad of this when you open that package in a year's time and there are no weevils or sour smells in it.

Pastas and noodles store well the same way - bundle several packs together, plastic wrap and shock freeze, then store. Don't make any package larger then you'll use in six months, preferably less. And remember to stick to rotation, don't be tempted to open a just-bought package rather than open up a stored pack.

Now imagine that the shops remain closed. You're still able to live at your home, you've established some kind of water supply, there's still enough food in your store, and opportunistic scrounger packs haven't ripped anything off.

But after three weeks of dealing with balky hatchets and splintery wood, knives that you're not used to using for preparing animals and cutting forewood for cooking - you're out of band-aids. The pack that everyone has in the back of the cabinet in the bathroom is finished, you hunted down the cartoon character plasters that the kids had when they still lived at home eight years ago and finished those too, and now you've got this problem of no dressings, nasty infection, and inability to hold a knife or hatchet properly any more.

I'd say wash the cuts often with soap and water, but uh-oh - soap ran out a week ago.

So my "pantry" extends to the cupboard in the laundry where cleaning stuff is kept, the bathroom cabinet where basic medicines are kept, a medicine "chest" in a storage box, and the cupboard I built in the bathroom to hold spare towels, hygiene requirements, and toilet paper. I'm prepared for the bad old days when leaves would be pressed into service, or (ouch) bark chips, or whatever else came to hand. I'm okay with a splash of water and then wash my hand thoroughly. But until the TP runs out I know I'm going to prefer to use it...

Add soap, shampoo, toothpaste, mouthwash, and some medical disinfectant to your prep supplies.

That leads to another thing. In a short SHTF event, where order is restored relatively quickly, you'll find uses for some things you never thought you'd need, and probably just be running out of them when your world stops rocking. But in a longer event, you'll find you're missing these items a lot. Kind of like band-aids and disinfectant.

That might include... oh.... say.... you know...  things like matches, lighters, bicarb of soda, caustic soda, bleach, kerosene, washing soda, borax, firestarter blocks, and more. I've used chlorine based bleach to kill bugs in drinking water, borax to keep ants out of areas (you know, like where you keep opened jars of preserved meat or whatever) and a firestarter block and matches gives a decent start to boiling a small saucepan of water for a hot drink, and is indispensable for starting a balky fire.

For longer (up to and including permanent) events, check your shed. Do you have some rolls of wire? Ropes? Collection of hardware bits if you're a handy person? Tape? Duct tape, electrical tape, gaffer tape? Are any of your drills crank-powered? Do you have a hand saw or two? Chisels? Spades shovels picks or mattocks? Because all those lovely electrical tools won't mean a thing if the power is out.

So once you have food and water requirements in hand, see how many of these less obvious ones you can think of.

For maximising your money, try this: Decide what you're buying each shopping trip, and when you've bought it, anything you got in bulk or on special, note down the amount that you saved over paying normal price on it. When you get home, put that amount of money into a separate purse or wallet. Next time you go shopping, use that wallet to buy items that you wished you could stock. Keep doing this and you'll be surprised by how quickly you'll accumulate stock.

Most of all - think about the things YOU and your family would miss the most, like best, and eat the most of. Build up a stock and keep it rotating, and it won't feel so much like prepping and more like saving money and buying smart...

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An In Betweenie Post About Democracy And Freedom

If these freedoms are curtailed - even just once, in any part of Australia - then they are not "freedoms" they are "benevolent permissions" and we're not in a democracy, we're in a dictatorship. And yes I'm aware that these have been curtailed during other governments but the fact remains that they have been, and therefore we are NOT in a democratic government.

Freedom of speech
Our voice - our press - kept out of TPP meetings. Our Navy muzzled and not allowed to tell us about asylum seeker boats. News blackouts. I think the Abbott government has pretty much gutted this one.

Freedom of association
Don't think so. Not when everyday motorcycle riders are being swept along with the bikies because they are apparently guilty by association, and not even association with bikie groups but just by associating with a motorcycle.

Freedom of assembly Ummm yeah so you have to have approval to congregate - that is still not "freedom of assembly" that is "bureaucratic approval required to assemble."

Freedom of religion
Unless that freedom is about having a "Merry Christmas" or a "Happy Easter" instead of a "Happy Non-Specific Public Holiday..." And with a rabid religious under-achiever as the PM, you have to wonder how long before anything but good old fundmental christianity will be condoned and eventually, permitted.

Freedom of movement
This is about the only one they haven't managed to screw the pooch on, mainly because the borders are HUGE and they know they couldn't enforce it if they tried. Also, with Abbott wanting to erase political State borders and put everything under one Federal government, it won't matter will it? (Wasn't that one of his aims? I seem to recall that it was.)

Five Freedoms here:

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The Whole Disaster Thing 2

The Whole Disaster Thing 2 - How It Can Happen.

Imagine this. You turn on the TV to catch up on the latest in the Middle Eastern situation. "Just like Saddam Hussein before him, the man who calls himself 'the prophet returned" has set light to the oil wells by which the countries that he considers to be his people have allowed Western morals and thoughts to infiltrate their religion and culture. Since he had access to nuclear missiles sold to his forces by many willing countries, his effect has been far greater..." 

You grab toast and boil the jug while the power's still on for the morning - power companies have got smart and are stretching existing oil-fired generated power with some tight rationing, so as to keep essential services on. The announcer continues.

"In an even that surpasses Chernobyl and Fukushima by a full order of magnitude, large swathes of the Middle East are now uninhabitable areas of melted sand glass. The radiation is expected to circle the globe over the next six months. 

"Meanwhile, closer to home, the last fuel tanker truck has stopped due to the need to conserve fuel, and deliveries of fuel are now at a standstill."

It's not a far-fetched scenario. In this situation, what will you do? Can you get to work by bicycle or on foot? Will work even have their doors open? What about shops? Have you got enough food to last a week or two of this while other avenues are found to bring food to your area?

A more pressing problem has also surfaced. The water supply has become a bit hit and miss. You've been doing the right thing and only flushing after number 2s, but it hasn't stopped others, because they hail from another State and they don't feel they owe this place a civic duty in times of emergency. The water supply is going to be gone in a few days according to reports.

What's the problem? The dams had plenty of water last time you went on a picnic out there, didn't they? And so they did. But it takes pumps to lift the water up to the height of the head tanks. Unless you're in a very lucky city in a valley under a dam. your water needs energy to lift to a useable height, and that takes fuel.

Lord knows how you'll take care of that whole flushing issue once water stops flowing.

It's also become a bit unsafe to go to work. There are always people who seize on the slightest excuse to start looting and stealing. (By the way, there's a good deal of evidence that seems to show that advertising and the sense of need it creates, fuels this looting behaviour. But I digress.) They also seem to see anyone else as legitimate prey these days, more so than before the Middle East situation.

If you knew a few more of your neighbours, you could form a pack and travel together. But this is the city, and your best friends live across town, out of town, and back home in the town you grew up in...

All of the above are problems you probably hadn't thought of, and don't really want to think of. It's okay - those of us that have, will be thinking of you. We won't actually help you, but we'll be thinking about you. Probably in the past tense. Sorry.

  • Don't forget that almost every war will start with attacks on utilities and infrastructure, and the military will have their hands full, emergency services will have their hands full, and even the local tradespeople will have their hands full.
  • We've experienced some devastatingly large fires here in Australia, and most have come under control mostly because they have either burnt themselves into a corner and then out, or because the weather changed to conditions less favourable to fire and more favourable to firefighters. I can only imagine what might happen on a day of gale force winds, with a major city directly in the path of one of these monster firestorms.
  • Even simpler and closer to home - you lose your job, your spouse loses their job, you haven't been able to pay water rates and energy bills, and now you're living primitive. This kind of a situation can last a few weeks, but in the economic climate we have where people outnumber jobs, it can quite easily stretch out into months or even years.

But imagine even a short glitch. Imagine fourteen days of problems. Do you think "they" will come along and fix everything that goes wrong in that fortnight?  Considering how emergency services are stretched when a disaster or multiple disasters exceeds 2% of the are of a country, how quickly do you think they'll be there for you when the whole country is in emergency?

I imagine that basic services will be restored on a sporadic part-time rationed basis within a week, but if you haven't thought about it, all the running water in the world won't save you when your toilet is blocked solid with shit and you can't get a plumber because a) the phones are all out and b) the plumber's busy trying to stay alive themselves.

This is why I follow prepper websites and read them. They're thinking about all of this stuff, and while their answer that works for them may not work for me, I can at least work out a strategy now while I have time to think. If I never need to use these strategies I can tell you I'll be very pleased, but if the time comes where I need to know about using a bucket outdoors instead of filling up my apartment or house with stench and disease, I won't need to come up with a strategy for crapping when there will be plenty of things that I will need to be devoting problem-solving skills to.

And lastly - even if it's only a week without power and running water, and everything is restored to normal after a week, I would still like to be able to continue with my life afterwards. I can imagine nothing worse than seeing my loved ones dying because I hadn't thought about how to keep a house sanitary without running water for a week. I'd probably hate having to recover from having an amputation because I stood on a piece of broken glass and then poisoned the wound with feces at home.

To me, these things make it worthwhile to think about things and have contingency plans. Continuing with my edict to keep things short and digestible, I'll continue with the next bit as a new post.

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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Whole Disaster Thing

It's been a bit of a headfuck of mine lately. Every decade, every year, every month, even - we sail closer to a major world-changing event. What sorts of things am I thinking? Well, every year warmer weather. I don't give a rat's arse whether it's a natural cycle or we caused it, the fact that remains is that other temperature extremes in the past were not good for living things. Like us.

How about the fact that oceans are becoming empty of marine life, more acidic, more toxic, and full of rubbish? I imagine that a world where the marine life dies off or becomes too polluted to be useful as a food source would make for "an event" that could rock your world and mine.

Fukishima. (Bless you!) And Chernobyl. Two radioactive material spills that will keep giving us tainted air, water, food, and fallout for millenia. Suppose there was another few like that, and between them they left plumes that covered 75% of the globe? Is that SHTF (Shit Hitting The Fan) enough for you?

Oh yeah. Drought. We've just come off the worst years of a drought that has been steadily increasing in severity for the last 25 - 30 years. It may be a temporary relief, or it may mean a reversing trend. But it led to hundreds of farmers walking away from farms, and led indirectly to a rise in land baron farmers who now continue to ruin land. That's been pretty life-changing around here in Australia.

And I almost forget - how long would the world last if fuel stopped flowing?

So - the question isn't so much whether there are events that could cause a SHTF scenario, it's how long we have before they occur.

It's worth thinking about this. Not from a full-on prepper/survivalist point of view, but from the point of view of "would I manage, if this happened?" Would you?

And how have we come to this, that we're such an advanced civilisation yet we're seemingly more precariously balanced than our forebears from a few centuries ago were? This is a long convoluted subject that I could drag out into 10 - 20 consecutive blog posts but I can say it in three words "loss of community."

When communities got above village sized, we had two simultaneous outcomes. We gained in artifice and technology, and we lost the sense of tight knit community that smaller population centres have.

Over the next few articles, (yeah, I gave in to splitting this into more easily digestible chunks) I'll explore a lot of these themes.

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So today I discovered embeddable FB code. And it works. so wait for the embed to load, then continue below it.

Okay - that article above was all the result a bit of a think about what they wrote, what we waste, and how. And then I wasted the damn post by reloading a page instead of posting it. Mea Penis. I'm a cock. %(

Here I go, trying to recollect and recreate it from memory:

If you're reading this, there's every chance that you're part of the 5% - 15% of the world's population that has 85% of the wealth and food and good conditions. We should feel a bit smug and pleased with ourselves. After all, a huge chunk of the population suffers and dies from nutrition-related diseases and illnesses, the other 85% suffers from diseases related to famine and starvation.

Whoa. That didn't go quite the way you thought it was going to, did it? Surely that's... that's... well - it's wrong, isn't it? But sadly, I have to say it isn't. We're the pinnacle of civilisation, the acme of evolution - and we're starving to death because we process our foods and strip them of nutrition, eat an unbalanced diet because there's a surfeit of imbalance out there, and then die of totally preventable diseases like diabetes, heart conditions, blocked arteries, even some cancers.

Quite a few years ago now, I had the precursors to prostate cancer. I did research online, changed my diet, and within seven months, all signs of hyperplasia and high PSA and pains had disappeared. Both my GP and my urologist asked me to have a second test to be sure my results hadn't been mixed up with anyone else's.

I've made that information available at for free. Basically - "convenience" is your enemy and biggest cause of ill health. Nothing that's been processed to be manufactured in bulk quantities is healthy anymore. Buying and using any of those foods, including mass produced hamburgers and chicken portions, is you recipe for having a really really bad time, health-wise.

These days I'd rather spend an hour of my time cooking a meal from scratch than any other activity. I figure I can spend an hour or two a day making sure I have healthy food, or I can get prepared to spend 24 hours a day in a hospital bed for the rest of my life, starting a few years down the track.

Not to be a panic merchant, but yeah. So go like my page on Facebook about healthy food and eating, go to grab some of those epub e-books, and prepare to enjoy life a whole lot more.

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Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Musings On Power.

Woke up to silence this morning - yep, the wild stormy weather (and a few flickers last night) should have warned us. Power was out. Again. Must have been out for at least 20 minutes because the UPS had run out of beeps.

First coherent thought: (right after "ah crap! power's out again!") "Bloody hell, Abbott's gone to Indonesia on a diplomatic visit, maybe we're at war as of overnight and we missed the news! How long would it take them to wake up sleepers in the country and sabotage our power before attacking?"

But then I decided to call the power outages line and found out that restoration time was estimated to be ten hours away, my survival instincts kicked in. I lit the gas, boiled a saucepan of water (no externally heated kettle you see) and made a coffee.

(For those wanting the Condensed version, power came on at 3:05PM in the afternoon, making this a seven to eight hour blackout as far as I can guess. Anyone wanting the ramblings, please feel free to read on.)

Maybe preppers aren't so strange after all. That thought came while I was writing on a paper exercise book with a pencil, trying to get my ideas down before coffee and the day's events wiped them all out of mind. (Anyone that knows me will know that writing as opposed to typing is not a common practice of mine. Times were desperate...)

But the ideas are all there. What if, came the thought, what if this happens one day and doesn't stop happening? What then?

I took stock. I'm probably a bit more prepared for this than many people, because of living out bush so long. But what would happen if the power did stay out? Well, for an average urban / near urban place, the water in the header tanks would last about a day or two. Then, there might be a backup generator or pump with fuel enough to keep up the pressure head for another few days to maybe a week. After that, the water stops flowing.

Given the same amount of emergency preparedness by the gas company, the pumps at the gas works might keep going for a similar length of time. After that - not even a bad smell...

And that's not the worst of it. Deep sewage is designed with a certain amount of continuous flow in mind. No water = no toilets flushing. You had thought about that, hadn't you? No water also means not so much dish washing or laundry being done. The ratio of liquid to solid sewage changes, next thing there are solid blockages everywhere and you can kiss that goodbye.

So you can say that within two or three days you'll be unable to use any electrical appliances, the fridge and freezer will be beginning to stink and the food will be spoiled, the toilet (if you used a bucket to flush) will now no longer flush, and whether you use electric or gas for cooking, you won't have a warm meal that day...

So now how do Kerina and I cope? was my next thought. And I realised that we're lucky. We still have the Super Magic Bus and it has a solar panel, solar battery, a small gas cartridge cooker, and would probably stay warmer than any room in the house with body heat.

But the thought wouldn't lie down and stay still. If it's longer? What then Mr Smarty-Pants? Huh? Huh?

I realised that we had quite a few resources here. Two vehicles with decent batteries, a solar battery, and some cordless rechargeable tools that would happily run off a 12V battery so I could make a reasonable cooking fireplace for when the gas ran out. Materials laying around that could allow us to pump water from the creek and up far enough that we'd have static water pressure. Enough water barrels and so forth that we could store water for a week at a time.

We had compost bins that could be half buried out the back and have a seat placed over them so our toilet needs wouldn't stink up the house and cause disease. I realised that with a bit of engineering, I could have a wood fired hot water system online in a week.

In the end, I think we'd survive, not because I'm particularly clever, but because I've read prepper websites, seen survivalist blogs, and somewhere in the back of my mind, retained some of the ideas there.

Now ask yourself if you'd fare well or fold out. Because this last week has been bullshit as far as electricity is concerned, two days with outages lasting over six hours, plus multiple flickers and outages lasting a few minutes.

You'd think that the electricity suppliers would have worked out by now that trees fall over, and actually used some of the "service fee" to clear trees away from lines to prevent them falling on the lines.

You'd think that the electricity suppliers would have worked out by now that power lines blow around and touch in high winds, and taken action to put spreaders on lines, to add in a few extra poles where the wire needed extra support.

You'd think, in short, that all these problems that happen year after year after year would have sunk in with these people by now and been acted on. The fact that they haven't done so just shows that we need to plan for one of those unthinkable long term blackouts, it's practically inevitable given the track record.

Once more with feeling then: Are YOU prepared for a many day power outage? I know I'll be thinking about it a lot more...

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