Predicting Weather Through Unconventional Means

A key driver of activity in life is weather. A baseball game, a military mission, the space shuttle launch and school days throughout the country are all things that are impacted both negatively and positively every year by different weather factors. If there were to be a breakdown in communications from an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) or some other catastrophic event that prevented weather forecasts from being disseminated to the general public, weather-prediction skills would be invaluable. So what are some of the things to look for when trying to predict what the weather has in store? Clouds, geographical features, barometric pressure, animal behaviors and folklore can all be reliable guidelines to use to predict the weather in the absence of professional forecasts.


Clouds can be a good indicator of what the weather may be doing. If you can learn to identify the different types of clouds, you may be able to accurately predict specific types of weather that may be rolling your way soon.

Low clouds (below 6,500 feet of altitude):

  • Cumulus: Meaning heap in Latin, these clouds are typically the easiest to identify and are usually associated with fair weather, but cumulus clouds are known to produce precipitation if they are very tall. If these clouds get bunched and large, that can result in heavy showers, particularly when the weather is warm.
  • Stratus: The Latin word for blanket or layer, stratus clouds are low-hanging clouds that are known for covering the entire sky like a blanket. Stratus clouds often produce rain and drizzle. Usually, if they lift quickly in the morning, it indicates that a decent day of weather is ahead.
  • Nimbostratus: These clouds are classified by the dark sheets that blot out the sun and are usually followed by extended precipitation (several hours) within a couple of hours.
  • Stratocumulus: Clouds that may produce light precipitation but usually dissipate by the end of the day and are identified by the low, rolling mass of thin, lumpy white to gray clouds that may cover the entire sky. 

Middle clouds (6,500 to 20,000 feet of altitude):

  • Altocumulus: These clouds are patterned, white to gray clouds that often appear in waves or are rippled and are larger than cirrocumulus clouds. Altocumulus clouds are considered to be fair-weather clouds and usually occur after storms.
  • Altostratus: Formless gray to bluish clouds, they will form a thin veil over the sun and moon. If they gradually darken and blot out the sun or moon, it is a sign that precipitation is on the way.

High clouds (More than 20,000 feet of altitude):

  • Cirrus: Meaning curl in Latin, cirrus clouds reside high in the atmosphere in the very cold air because these clouds are made of ice crystals. Cirrus clouds are usually associated with fair weather but occasionally may also be an indicator that storms may be on their way.
  • Cirrocumulus: Clouds that appear in layers that look like either fish scales or rippled sand. Sometimes, cirrocumulus clouds also appear to look like rippled surface water on a pond or lake. These clouds are considered a sign of good weather and often clear out to blue sky.
  • Cirrostratus: These clouds are composed of ice particles and form a halo around the sun. When a sky filled with cirrus clouds darkens and the clouds turn to cirrostratus, it is likely a sign of rain or snow to come, depending on the temperature.

Towering clouds (up to 60,000 feet of altitude):

  • Swelling cumulus: These flat-bottomed clouds with growing, cauliflower-like towers often form in the middle of the day and precede cumulonimbus clouds.
  • Cumulonimbus: Towering storm clouds that produce hail, thunder, strong winds, sleet, rain, lightning and tornadoes. These clouds are usually characterized by a top that is often similar in shape to an anvil. If these clouds form early in the day, it can mean that there are greater chances of severe weather.

Geographical Impact On Weather

The geography of a particular area can influence the weather in the following manners:

  • Coastal regions typically have more moderate temperatures than inland regions, meaning that they generally are warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
  • The air above urban areas is often warmer than in less developed/lower population dense areas. This can sometimes result in an artificial low-pressure system.
  • Hilly regions generally have temperature shifts where warm air will move uphill during the day and downhill at night.

Barometric Pressure

Changes in barometric pressure can be determined in a variety of ways, including:

  • The nose knows. The strengths of scents often increase or decrease along with changes in barometric pressure. Plants will release their waste products in a low-pressure atmosphere. This generates a compost-like smell, indicating upcoming precipitation. Swamp gasses (marked by their unpleasant smells) are also released just before a storm as a result of low pressure in the atmosphere. The scents of some flowers are also very strong just before a rain.
  • The air bubbles in your coffee cup will ring to the outside of your cup when a low-pressure system sets in. This is an indicator that rain is on the way.
  • Smoke from a campfire indicates approximate barometric pressure. If the smoke from a campfire hangs low to the ground (an indicator of low barometric pressure), then rain is likely to fall soon. If smoke from a campfire rises high (an indicator of high barometric pressure), then good weather is in the future.
  • While there is no scientific reasoning that I could find, it has been shown through various studies that people who suffer from joint and muscle pain can sense (usually through pain) when the barometric pressure is dropping. This is a sign of precipitation.

Animal Behaviors

Animals are a helpful indicator in determining the weather. Consider these points:

  • Crickets can help you determine the temperature. Count the number of cricket chirps you hear in 14 seconds and then add 40 to get the temperature in Fahrenheit. For example: 40 chirps + 40 = 80 degrees F. To determine the temperature in Celsius, count the number of chirps in 25 seconds, divide by three, then add four to get the temperature.
  • Many animals’ ears are sensitive to low-pressure systems. Wolves and dogs will become nervous before a storm and emit whines or howl-like sounds.
  • Seagulls and geese rarely fly just prior to a storm. The thinner air associated with low-pressure systems makes it harder for these birds to get airborne. Seagulls also will not typically fly at the coast if a storm is coming.
  • Birds flying high in the sky indicate fair weather (high-pressure system).
  • Cows tend to group together when poor weather is on the way, and they will typically lie down before a thunderstorm.
  • Ants will steepen the sides of their hills just before it rains.


Folklore has been fairly reliable over the years in helping predict the weather. Of course, the time of year can be just as much a factor. It seems unlikely that a cloudless night in July will lead to frost in many areas.

  • “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” A red sky at night during sunset (when looking toward the west) indicates a high-pressure system with dry air that has stirred dust particles into the air, causing the sky to appear red. Typically, the jet stream and prevailing front movements go from west to east, meaning that the dry weather is headed toward you. A red sky in the morning (in the east with the rising sun) means that the dry air has already moved past you and that a low-pressure system is behind it (moving your way), bringing moisture with it.
  • “Short notice, soon to pass. Long notice, long will last. If clouds take several days to build, extended rain is likely in the cards. If a storm system builds quickly, it is likely to dissipate quickly as well.
  • “Clear moon, frost soon.” If the night sky is clear enough to see the moon as a result of no cloud cover, heat will be allowed to escape and the temperature could drop enough for frost to form in the morning.

Other Indicators

There are several other indicators that can assist in determining temperature, precipitation, humidity and inclement weather:

  • Lightning strike distance can be estimated by counting the number of seconds between the sight of the lightning and the sound of the thunder and then divide this number by five. This will give you the distance in miles that you are from the lightning strike. To determine the distance in kilometers, the process is the same except you divide the number of seconds by three instead of five.
  • Check the grass at sunrise. Dry grass at sunrise indicates clouds and/or strong breezes, which can mean rain. Dew on the grass means that it probably won’t rain that day. (If it rained the night before, this method will not be reliable.)
  • Cloud cover on a winter night translates to warmer weather, because the cloud cover prevents heat radiation that would ordinarily occur and lower the temperature on a clear night.
  • The low cloud cover that is typically present right before rainfall also results in louder and more vibrant sounds as they are reflected and amplified off of the low clouds.
  • Winds blowing from the east indicate an approaching storm front. Winds out of the west generally indicate good weather. Strong winds from any direction indicate a high-pressure difference, which can mean a possible storm front approaching.
  • If the sharp points on a half-moon are not clear, rain may be on the way. (Haze and low clouds distort images.)
  • Humidity is most often felt when it is high. But indicators of high humidity include frizzy hair, curled leaves on oak and maple trees, swollen wood doors, and salt in the shaker that is clumped together.

There is no substitution for professional meteorological predictions; but in the absence of trained professionals, having the tools to predict the weather can be extremely helpful. This is especially true during survival situations.

–Tom Miller

Sources include: The United States Search and Rescue Task Force, The Happy Camper by Kevin Callan, Camping’s Top Secrets (2nd Ed.) by Cliff Jacobsen, and the University of Hawaii

Scooters For Survival

To escape mayhem or disaster, you will need transportation. Many survivalists have grand visions of a bulletproof, tracked vehicle that mimics the functions of a tank while matching the size and comfort of a luxury RV. I am no exception from that crowd. However, like most people, my reality is something on a much lesser scale — assuming that someday I will even be able to have a dedicated survival vehicle.

If you have a limited budget and because there are no special qualifications required to operate one in most areas, a feasible solution for a survival vehicle could be a scooter. Yes, a scooter. I am not a student, a hipster or European; but it seems that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages and support the philosophy that a scooter could be a viable option as a survival vehicle.


The cost of a scooter can vary greatly, depending on the manufacturer, model and specifications. While a new scooter can cost well more than $10,000 for a top-of-the-line, highway-ready model, some of the imported models can be as cheap as $600. It is also not uncommon to find an old, used, name-brand scooter that is still running and listed for sale for $200 or more. In addition to a low purchase price, the cost of operation and maintenance are minimal. Most States do not require any endorsement to operate a scooter, and registration and insurance fees are minimal.

Most small scooters weigh less than 300 pounds. The heaviest models weigh about 600 pounds. Because they are lightweight, scooters are easy to get around on. Also, they can be moved and even lifted over obstacles with minimal or no assistance.

A scooter can easily be navigated through the tightest of areas. In the event of societal collapse, a scooter may be the only motorized form of transportation that can be maneuvered through an urban environment. The size advantage will allow a scooter to pass through roadblocks that a car or truck could not. If your survival vehicle of choice is not a scooter, you could put a scooter in the back of a truck, van or SUV. This will allow the use of the scooter if an impassable area is reached or if your first choice of vehicle becomes incapacitated.

Scooters are very efficient in the amount of fuel that they consume. Many of the 50 cubic centimeter models can get more than 100 miles per gallon. Because of the fuel-consumption advantage, a scooter can be a good survival vehicle. For example, a scooter with a full tank of gas and a 2-gallon gas can in reserve can travel nearly 400 miles. This should be a plentiful distance to reach safety in many survival scenarios.

The range of a scooter on a single tank of gas is not all that impressive on its own. But many scooters have additional luggage or cargo racks available that will easily facilitate the carrying of additional fuel.

Many preppers are concerned about the possibility of electromagnetic pulses (EMP) or coronal mass ejections (CME) from the sun that could potentially wipe out the electrical grid and destroy any machinery or equipment that operates on an electric system. As a result of a scooter’s size, it is possible to design and build a faraday cage that will protect the scooter and keep it operational after an EMP or CME. Having a source of transportation following such an event will offer significant advantages versus not having a mode of transportation.

Scooters are quiet by design. Their small engines do not produce a large amount of noise or emissions which make them great vehicles for keeping a low profile.

A scooter can be easily concealed. They are small and easily hidden, and they are typically covered in plastic panels that can easily be painted with basic spray paint. This allows for a custom paint job to blend in with a variety of environments. Additionally, cheaper models of scooter don’t usually have any chrome or bright metal components. That means less risk of light sources reflecting on the scooter and giving away its location.

Scooters are not inherently designed to carry large amounts of cargo, but they do offer the opportunity to carry cargo in several different configurations. In addition to cargo racks, saddle bags and various other bags can be strapped to the scooter’s frame, handlebars and panels. It is even feasible that a bicycle or motorcycle trailer could be pulled by a scooter to allow additional cargo capacity.


The small size of a scooter makes the payload that can be carried extremely limited. This includes limitations on the number or weight of passengers carried, the weight of cargo and the space available to carry both. In addition to cargo restrictions, the scooter’s small wheels make it susceptible to falling into potholes, which can ruin your mode of transportation. Because of this possible complication, it may be advisable to maintain an inventory or extra parts for your scooter. This is especially true if you are depending on a scooter for survival purposes. Some of the spare parts that should be stocked include wheels, tires, spark plugs, oil, engine lubricants and electrical components (bulbs, fuses and wires).

The average size of a scooter engine is somewhere between 50-150 cubic centimeters. This is great because it means that a scooter will only sip fuel as opposed to guzzling it, but it also means that the maximum speed of a scooter is very limited. Typically topping out at a speed of 45 mph (on a good day), a scooter will not allow for quick transportation. The speed of a scooter will be decreased even more when attempting to ascend a hill or traversing rough terrain.

Disaster Applications

There are many potential applications to use a scooter in the event of a disaster. Besides point to point transportation, scooters could be used for:

  • Scouting and reconnaissance: Because of the potential to get around in a quiet and stealth manner, a scooter could be a great recon vehicle.
  • Evasion: In the event of a confrontation, a scooter could offer a quick means of evading a threat. They also offer the potential in assisting in an effective getaway by traveling on sidewalks, through alleyways, etc.
  • Hunting and gathering: During difficult times, hunting and gathering food and water sources may be the main method of survival. In this case, a scooter could greatly increase the effectiveness of these efforts. It is also possible that some resources could be used because of the additional capabilities offered by having a scooter.
  • Assisting others: Rebuilding after a disaster often revolves around the efforts of an entire community. If there is limited transportation available or if environmental conditions limit the use of conventional vehicles, a scooter could offer an opportunity to assist your neighbors and help rebuild the community.

Is a scooter a viable option to get out of dodge? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I would rather ride a scooter out of chaos than strap on my hiking boots and walk an unending number of miles to safety.

–Thomas Miller

10 Survival Lessons Learned In Combat

GWOT Iraq Deployment

My time in the Army taught me many things, from the “proper” way to make a bed all the way to how to correctly assault an enemy stronghold; and while every lesson is a valuable lesson, some seem to rank higher on the importance scale. Perhaps the most valuable lessons that I ever learned were the ones that peppered the 30 months of combat that I served in the Mideast. Most of these lessons pertain to sustainment of life and survival.

Lesson No. 1: Train As You Fight

Everyone fights differently. Some people, when faced with a fight, will go to extreme measures to avoid conflict; others will flare up with minimal coercion. Taking the time to train and to train realistically (training how you will fight) will maximize chances of surviving a conflict or time of difficulty. This can be any type of training, from the use of firearms to loading out and leaving home prior to a major natural disaster. Training will also develop muscle memory, the state in which your body and muscles will react from memory when performing tasks. This is essential when the time your brain has to process actions is limited.

Lesson No. 2: Invest In Equipment That Will Endure And Sustain Life

The last thing that anyone wants to have happen is for a piece of gear to fail in the middle of using it. This is particularly true in combat, the ultimate survival situation. Any piece of gear that is good enough to go into your kit should be good enough to have your life rely on it. Preparedness gear should be sturdy. Ask yourself if it can be dragged through the mud, dropped or used as a hammer and still function as intended. It should also be able to serve multiple purposes if possible. Survival scenarios will push equipment to its limits, so make sure to keep redundancy in mind or be able to make on-the-spot corrections and repairs on the equipment you choose to carry.

Lesson No. 3: What You Have Is What You Get

Sometimes, you end up alone and with what is in your pockets. When you end up in such a situation, the equipment or items that you left in the vehicle or back at the base are useless to you. If there are items that you need, keep them on you. The simple solution to making sure that you have all the items you need is to make a habit of carrying these items every day and everywhere you go. Many in the survival community refer to these items as an everyday carry or EDC kit.

Lesson No. 4: Plan For What You Will Face

Take the time to determine the inevitable, likely, possible and improbable threats you may come across. This applies to prepping and planning to survive. If you live in Central Canada for example, it is somewhat pointless to make preparations to survive a hurricane that will, with most certainty, never happen. While on the other hand, if you live in Miami, you would need to be a fool to not make such preparations. Determine what the threats are and appropriate reactions to each threat. This can include evacuation plans, equipment to obtain, remote caches to place or even who a good strategic survival partner could be.

Lesson No. 5: Mindset Is Everything

The mind of a champion is very similar to the mind of a survivor. Those who think to themselves that they will survive no matter what are often the ones who will survive. This can be accomplished through perseverance, difficult decisions and hard rights over easy wrongs. The common thread is to be smart and maintain a positive outlook. Maintaining a survival mindset also involves knowing individual and group limits and sometimes means having to push even harder, even when you think you have no fight left.

Lesson No. 6: Only Take What You Know How To Use

I have seen this lesson learned the hard way, over and over again. There is never a good outcome when a person — or group of people — places his life or well-being on a piece of equipment that he is not familiar with. If you are lucky enough, you will escape unscathed; but I doubt you will make this mistake twice. With that being said, you can avoid making this mistake altogether by putting in survival bags and kits only equipment that you are familiar with and know how to use. If you want to integrate new gear into preparedness kits, make sure to take it out of the packaging, read the directions and test it out to make sure it works.

Lesson No. 7: Maintain Situational Awareness

The modern era conflicts that have occurred in the Mideast are not conventional wars and have not occurred on a linear battlefield. As a result of this dynamic, there are no secure areas other than what you and your fellow soldiers ensure is secure. There is not a specific area that can always be counted on to be secure. With this in mind, it is imperative to always be aware of what is going on around you. I would be willing to bet that some of the patrons in the theater the night of the Aurora, Colo., shootings were so distracted that they figured the excessive and realistic shooting was part of another movie that was playing. With practice and vigilance, you can stay on top of your surroundings and extract yourself and those you care about from a potentially dangerous situation.

Lesson No. 8: Know Your Enemy

Much like modern warfare was outlined for situational awareness, the modern battle is not fought against a conventional enemy. Insurgents have infiltrated the military, police forces and governments of Iraq and Afghanistan while not wearing uniforms and hiding among women and children. Guerilla warfare is the enemy’s fighting style of choice, and who can blame them? Keeping a close group of friends and family members will result in an always reliable and trustworthy pool of people to lean on in difficult times. It is always important to stay alert and know who can be trusted and worked with.

Lesson No. 9: Know When To Flee And Know When To Fight

Some may say that only a coward will run away from a fight. But there is a big difference between staying to get killed and leaving a situation to regroup and come back a smarter and stronger fighter. If you find yourself in the middle of a disaster, it is also smart to make the safe move and survive rather than put on the tough act and never live to tell your story. This scenario has played out in recent disasters when citizens have ignored voluntary evacuation orders and lost their lives to stay and safeguard worldly possessions that can be replaced. Once a life is gone, it is not coming back.

Lesson No. 10: Never Fight Alone

There is a similarity between Rambo, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer: They are all fictional characters, and none of them would ever be able to take on an army alone. There are historical accounts of service members who have completed heroic acts by themselves, but those are the exceptions and typically occur during small-scale skirmishes. When the going gets tough, put together a group of people you can rely on. This can be family members, friends, neighbors, or co-workers who can rely on you and, in turn, you can rely on them to help you survive. In the end, the lone wolf scenario is almost never going to be a successful scenario.

My experiences and time in military service have been invaluable to me, and I would not trade them for anything. But at the same time, it is not reasonable to expect everyone to have to endure the same challenges in life.

–Tom Miller

Surviving Dehydration

In the survival and preparedness world, there is often a heavy emphasis on “cool stuff”: guns, bug out vehicles, hardening a structure, tactical response to scenarios, etc. What often get left out are the basic things that threaten lives every day, whether there is a crisis or not. The No. 5 cause of death in the world is diarrhea and diarrheal disease, which account for about 2.5 million deaths every year. Often, these deaths are a result of a continual downward spiral that starts with dehydration and could potentially be prevented with the use of an oral rehydration solution.

*I will apologize for the heavy use of quotes, but I feel that it is of the utmost importance that factual and authoritative sources are used for this subject. There is no better way to word some of these points than to quote them directly from the source.

Background: What Is Oral Rehydration?

Oral rehydration is not as basic as just drinking water and everything will go away. The chemistry of the body requires a delicate balance, referred to as homeostasis, that cannot be achieved solely by drinking water. True rehydration to maintain homeostasis requires the addition of glucose and electrolytes to water.

The World Health Organization (WHO) specifically states that oral rehydration therapy should begin at home with the use of a home-prepared sugar-and-salt solution that is given early during any episode of diarrhea to prevent dehydration. If the point of dehydration is reached, a pharmaceutically produced oral rehydration solution with a balance of sodium and glucose should be used. The WHO further states:

Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) is the non-proprietary name for a balanced glucose-electrolyte mixture, first used in 1969 and approved, recommended, and distributed by UNICEF and WHO as a drug for the treatment of clinical dehydration throughout the world. In 1984, another mixture containing trisodium citrate instead of sodium hydrogen carbonate (sodium bicarbonate) was developed with the aim of improving the stability of ORS in hot and humid climates. For more than 20 years, WHO and UNICEF have recommended this single formulation of ORS to prevent or treat dehydration from diarrhoea irrespective of the cause or age group affected. This product, which provides a solution containing 90 mEq/l of sodium with a total osmolarity of 311 mOsm/l, has proven effective and without apparent adverse effects in worldwide use. It has contributed substantially to the dramatic global reduction in mortality from diarrhoeal disease during the period.

Dehydration can be prevented through the practice of giving extra fluids or through the use by mouth of an ORS that is simple, effective and cheap in treating all but the most severe cases. The practice of using an ORS to treat or prevent dehydration is called oral rehydration therapy, or ORT, which is considered the primary strategy in reducing diarrheal- and dehydration-related deaths by the WHO Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development.

In fact, oral rehydration solution has been determined to be so effective that, according to the WHO, up to 80 percent of cholera cases can be treated simply through the use of ORS.

The following chart from the WHO breaks down the specific composition of the latest ORS formula with a further explanation of what the individual components do to assist the body in treating dehydration.


This ORS composition has passed extensive clinical evaluations and stability tests. The pharmacokinetics and therapeutic values of the substances are as follows:

  • glucose facilitates the absorption of sodium (and hence water) on a 1:1 molar basis in the small intestine;
  • sodium and potassium are needed to replace the body losses of these essential ions during diarrhoea (and vomiting);
  • citrate corrects the acidosis that occurs as a result of diarrhoea and dehydration.

Solution: Oral Rehydration Solution

Now that the need has been established, how does one obtain an ORS for personal, family or group use? That is perhaps the easiest part of this entire concept. An ORS can easily be made in the home or on the road with precisely measured ingredients. It is important to note that failure to properly measure these ingredients could result in a dehydrated casualty not improving or perhaps even getting worse.

If you are not inclined to self-manufacture an ORS or question the effectiveness of doing such, there are several commercially produced products that can be purchased rather cheaply from your local pharmacy or sporting goods/outdoors store.

The most widely used recipe for ORS is:

Oral Rehydration Solution

6 teaspoons of sugar
½ teaspoon of salt
1 liter of clean drinking water

Pour the measured amounts of sugar and salt in the water and shake or stir until the ingredients are well mixed.

Oral Rehydration Solution II
(Recipe provided by The Washington Manual: Outpatient Medicine Survival Guide.)

½ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
8 teaspoons of sugar
8 ounces of orange juice
About 24 ounces of clean drinking water

  1. Into a 1-liter container, pour in salt.
  2. Add baking soda.
  3. Add sugar.
  4. Measure in orange juice.
  5. Add water until the 1-liter mark is reached.
  6. Stir or shake until all ingredients are well combined.

The consumption of ORS should be according to the age of the dehydrated person. The following amounts are good guidelines for rehydrating a patient:

  • Children younger than 2: 75 milliliters after each watery stool (up to ½ liter per day)
  • Children ages 2-12: 150 milliliters after each watery stool (up to 1 liter per day)
  • Adolescents and adults: 250 milliliters after each watery stool (up to 3 liters per day)

Other Considerations: Zinc

Another consideration to keep in mind is that dehydration caused by diarrhea can lead to a deficiency in the body of zinc. Long-term preparations should include zinc supplements to overcome this deficiency. With readily available food supplies, extra zinc can be taken into the body through increases of lean red meats, seafood, peas and beans. It is recommended that the guidance of a physician is sought before adding any supplements to your daily intake. In the absence of a doctor, supplements can be purchased at the local pharmacy for less than $5 in most circumstances.

If the decision is made to add zinc to your diet, determine dosages by following daily values of zinc that are recommended in the United States, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Infants and children, birth to 3 years of age: 5-10 mg
  • Children, 4 to 6 years of age: 10 mg
  • Children, 7 to 10 years of age: 10 mg
  • Adolescent and adult males: 15 mg
  • Adolescent and adult females: 12 mg
  • Pregnant females: 15 mg
  • Breast-feeding females: 16-19 mg

Several studies have shown that zinc supplementation has reduced diarrhea-related hospital admissions by about 25 percent.

Being able to make ORS depends on having the necessary supplies. Stock plentiful quantities of salt, sugar, baking soda, orange juice and clean drinking water if you plan on making your own ORS. It is also important to keep in mind that the information contained here is no substitution for the treatment that can be provided by a physician. Having the knowledge of how to properly rehydrate a person who is in poor health can make the difference between life and death, especially during difficult times.

–Thomas Miller

Sources: World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, The Mayo Clinic, The Washington Manual: Outpatient Medicine Survival Guide (2003) and

All Bleeding Eventually Stops

The universal truth when dealing with traumatic injuries is that whether from effective treatment or loss of supply, all bleeding eventually stops. Having the knowledge to treat major bleeding can be the difference between life and death at any time, but especially during a disaster when emergency responders may be delayed or not available at all.

The two major components of stopping blood loss are knowledge and equipment. While the principles outlined here are not new by any means, it is important to point out that over the past 10 years of active combat overseas, the technological advances made in the practices and equipment used to stop bleeding have been remarkable. None of the information provided below is a substitute for formal training. It is encouraged to seek professional training and only operate within the scope of your expertise.

Types Of Bleeding And Classes Of Hemorrhage

There are three types of bleeding (hemorrhage): arterial, venous and capillary. Arterial bleeding is caused when there is damage to an artery that is carrying blood directly from the heart. It can be summed up as bright red bleeding that spurts with every heartbeat. Venous bleeding is from a damaged blood vessel that is carrying blood back to the heart and is usually a darker red with a steady flow. Capillary bleeding comes from the smallest vessels in the body and is characterized as oozing.

The severity of hemorrhage is divided into classes to define the amount of blood loss and serve as a guide in treating shock caused by the loss.

  • Class I Hemorrhage: less than 750 mL (<15 percent)
  • Class II Hemorrhage: 750-1500 mL (15-30 percent)
  • Class III Hemorrhage: 1500-2000 mL (30-40 percent)
  • Class IV Hemorrhage: greater than 2000 mL (>40 percent)

When conducting medical training, a good way to obtain a grasp on the severity of bleeding and the classes of hemorrhage is to mix water, red food coloring and cornstarch to make fake blood. This mix can then be measured into the desired amount (i.e., 500 mL to represent Class I Hemorrhage) and poured onto various surfaces to gain an idea of what it looks like when a casualty is injured and is bleeding onto the pavement, dirt, floor, etc.

Hemorrhage Control Methodology

Tourniquet: A tourniquet is composed of three basic components; the strap portion, windlass (crank) and a retention system. The critical aspects of treatment with a tourniquet include appropriate size, proper placement and effective pressure. A commercially manufactured tourniquet will meet appropriate size requirements. Improvised tourniquet standards are outlined below. Proper placement of a tourniquet mandates that the tourniquet be on the injured limb, above the wound at least 2 inches and preferably over a long bone (the thigh or the arm above the elbow). Effective pressure will be achieved when the windlass has been turned until the bleeding stops. If the situation allows, dress the wound with bandages after the tourniquet is in place.

It is recommended that once a tourniquet is in place that it not be removed. It is also possible that if one tourniquet is not effective, another one can be placed above the first. The goal should be to do what it takes to stop the bleeding and minimize blood loss.

Note that a tourniquet should be used only in the event that there is bright red bleeding. This is bleeding that is continuous and from an artery, usually indicated by a spurting action from the wound. If the bleeding can be controlled by any other available means, a tourniquet should not be used.

Wound packing: Packing a wound can be done with many different materials, but the principle remains the same: Place a dressing into the wound to completely fill the wound cavity and initiate clotting of the blood. After a wound has been packed, a bandage should be placed over the wound packing to help apply pressure and hold the packing in place.

Direct pressure: There are many dressings that are specifically made to work as a pressure dressing. The ideal scenario would be to employ one of these dressings, but a pile of napkins held firmly in place with pressure from your hand can be effective in stopping bleeding if no other resources are available.

Combination: In the most severe circumstances, a combination of the methods outlined above should be used. An example would be an amputation, where a tourniquet must be used but additional wound packing or pressure dressings will be effective in assisting with controlling the hemorrhage.


Common equipment items used to treat and control hemorrhage include:

Tourniquet: There are a variety of commercially produced tourniquets, including:

  • SOF-T (Special Operations Forces-Tourniquet)*
  • CAT (Combat Application Tourniquet)*
  • Pneumatic Tourniquets
  • E-MAT Emergency Tourniquet
  • MET (Military Emergency Tourniquet)

*Tourniquets of choice for the military.

Effective tourniquets are not limited to the commercially produced variety, however. Improvised tourniquets have saved countless lives on the battlefield, during disasters and from injuries caused by accidents. Improvised tourniquets can be constructed from several materials and can be a cheap alternative to commercially manufactured products. Materials that can be used for improvised tourniquets include:

Tourniquet strap (should be at least 1 inch wide): bandana, T-shirt, belt, bag strap, cravat (triangular bandage), etc.

Windlass: sticks, wrench, stapler, ski pole, pipe, dimensional lumber, etc.

Retention system: To retain the windlass after it has been tightened, there must be something to hold it. This can be as simple as a piece of rope or can be something like the plastic ring off of a Gatorade bottle. The key here is to remember that if the tourniquet is not kept tight, it is not effective.

Trauma dressing: Trauma dressings have evolved greatly over the last decade. Many of them consist of a gauze pad that is attached to an elastic wrap of some variety. Some of the more popular bandages include:

  • Emergency Trauma Dressing (Israeli Bandage)
  • Bloodstopper Trauma Dressing
  • Dyna-Stopper
  • H-Bandage

Gauze and elastic bandage: For wounds that may not be severe enough for a tourniquet or when hemostatic agents are not available, using gauze packed into the wound and then wrapped tightly with an elastic bandage can be extremely effective. The most popular combination is 4-inch Kerlix packed into the wound and wrapped with a 6-inch ACE wrap.

Hemostatic agents: These agents are typically the product of choice to place into wounds before they are packed to increase the chances of clotting and stopping major bleeding. The list includes gauze, sponges, pads and pouches.

  • QuikClot*
  • Chitosan Dressing*
  • Celox*
  • ActCel

*Products of choice for most law enforcement agencies and the military.

It is important to note that tourniquets are not currently viewed as a last resort piece of equipment. Current practices make use of a tourniquet a first step in the treatment of severe extremity hemorrhage. They are also very applicable in civilian medicine. The victims of recent mass shootings as well as the Boston bombing victims have had their lives saved by the quick application of a tourniquet.

Previous schools of thought determined that placement of a tourniquet would certainly lead to damage or death to the tissue in the area, but extensive research has shown that tourniquets can be in place up to eight hours in some circumstances without definitive damage occurring. Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TC3) guidelines that are used by the military, law enforcement and government agencies clearly state that if life-threatening bleeding is identified from an arm or leg, the immediate action to take is to place a tourniquet on the injured extremity to stop the bleeding.

At the end of the day, there is no replacement for definitive trauma care at a medical treatment facility. We do not have the luxury of always choosing where injuries occur, though, and oftentimes it is the hunting, skiing, hiking, camping and other accidents that happen in remote locations that can have the highest risk for loss of life. Having the knowledge and equipment necessary to stop the bleeding can save a life.

–Thomas Miller

Take A Tip From Noah: Get A Boat

“It pays to plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” — Anonymous

Floods, hurricanes, heavy rains, massive snow and ice thaws, dam releases, ice dams, levees, storm seasons, and even new real estate development can all lead to increased water levels and, ultimately, a disaster. When the waters rise, there is no better a place than dry land. If dry land is not available, then a boat is the next best option. That being the case, it seems to reason that a boat would be a good thing to own as part of a preparedness plan, if there is a possibility of needing one.

Consider the following points when deciding on a survival boat.

Assess Risk

The area a residence is in will be the primary factor in whether there is a significant risk of flooding or high waters to the residents. At the risk of stating the obvious, a person living on the side of a mountain is not nearly as vulnerable as the person who lives below sea level a half mile from the coastline. Flood plains and risk areas are located across the world. For those residing in the United States, the website offers a wide array of information about floods and the risk of flooding in America. The website offers users the ability to check individual areas for the effects of flooding through their interactive mapping system.

Find A Boat

There are about as many types of boats as there are models of cars, it seems. What the best boat for the job is depends on: where you will take it, whom you will put in it, what you will put in it and what it will get used for. For the purposes of survival, aluminum boats that are flat or V-bottomed are likely to be the ideal choice. In flooding conditions where trees, buildings and just about anything else can be hiding under the water, a fiberglass boat could be subject to significant damage. A canoe or kayak is an option, but they have less space and capacity on board. A pontoon boat with aluminum pontoons may be a good option because of the space available as well as clearance off the water.

If a boat is less likely to be needed, a rubber raft could be a great substitute for a more expensive option. In the event that a raft is your boat of choice, keep an air pump and patch kit readily accessible.

Regardless of the type of boat you decide on, there are a multitude of suitable places to obtain your boat. Boat dealers, Craigslist, eBay and Boat Trader are all good places to search for the perfect solution to your waterborne survival needs.


I am not talking about shoes that match your purse here. A boat is a good start; but without a way to move the boat and survive until being rescued, it might not do much good. Consider adding the following “bling” to the boat:

  • Anchor: An anchor seems like a fairly obvious choice of something to pair with a boat, because it is. Put an anchor in any boat, but especially if it’s a boat used for survival purposes. This facilitates putting the boat in a stationary position when there is nothing to tie up to. This can be especially beneficial if calm water is found or if the need to “hole up” for a period of time arises. This could be especially helpful in avoiding the need to drift aimlessly through the night.
  • Tie Line: A tie line can be used to tie up the boat as well as for towing, if needed. This same line can be used to toss to someone that is floating in the water or a passenger who falls out of the boat. Any line that is used for marine application should be chosen for it resistance to water and tensile strength that at a minimum meets, if not exceeds, the strength required for tying up or towing the boat and its load.
  • Lighting: Setting out in a boat in an emergency could mean ending up in the dark or inclement weather. This makes a light source particularly useful. A high-powered, handheld spotlight, waterproof flashlight or chemical light sticks could be good options for meeting this need. Something that does not require batteries is a definite plus.
  • Propulsion: A gas-powered motor is the ideal solution, but it comes at a great expense and requires regular maintenance. There are small motors that run on a deep cycle battery but would not necessarily provide the power needed. Oars are an option but probably sit further down on the list of power generated, while being the most affordable option for most. If a gas-powered motor is your chosen method of getting around, ensure that an adequate supply of stabilized fuel is on board, as well as any required oil and lubricants.
  • Seating: Any extended period of time spent in a boat can be made significantly more comfortable through the availability of a seat with a back on it for every passenger. While this is certainly not a requirement, it could make a difference.
  • Life jackets: For every person who is expected to be on the boat, there should be an appropriate-sized life jacket. In an emergency, there is no better idea than to wear this life-saving piece of equipment at all times. Some boats offer the option of stowing life jackets under the seats, where a basic open design aluminum boat might be best served by using a plastic tote for keeping life jackets at the ready.
  • Fire extinguisher: A boat that is motorized runs the risk of catching fire regardless of whether the motor is battery- or fuel-powered. Only the foolish man builds his house upon the sand or has a motorized boat without a fire extinguisher. This is all aside from the fact that to be on the “right side” of the law in most areas, this is a required piece of equipment.
  • First aid kit: Make sure that your kit is in a waterproof container and tailor any first aid kit for the most likely injuries or illnesses that will be encountered. In the case of a survival boat, basic bandages and over-the-counter medications are a good idea. Some other useful items could include: CPR mask, motion sickness medication, antiseptic and waterproof tape.
  • Signal: A reliable method of signaling is a must. Ideally, each boat should have at least two methods to signal with one method being suitable for daylight like a brightly colored flag or panel and the second method best suited for darkness such at signal flares or chemical light sticks. A very cost-effective method of signaling that can be cheap to obtain and attached to every life preserver is an all-weather whistle.
  • Survival equipment: A few basic survival items can decrease the chances of injury or death. Emergency blankets, hand warmers and ponchos are essentials.
  • Bailing bucket: A boat in the water should not be full of water. If your boat springs a leak or starts to fill with rain, a bucket or scoop to remove this water is invaluable. Simple solutions for a bailing tool could be a small bucket or a 1-gallon jug with the bottom cut out. To ensure that this bucket does not get lost, tie it to the boat with a length of water resistant cord.

Many of these items could potentially be packed easily into a backpack or duffel bag that, in the event of a disaster or emergency, could just be grabbed and tossed into the boat. In addition to the boat-specific items, if the boat will withstand the weight and space required, every person should take a bug out bag with them that contains a basic three-day supply of food and water along with a change of clothes, basic hygiene supplies and perhaps even some comfort items like candy or a radio.

A boat might not be a necessity for every prepper; but when the waters are rising, it is not a good time to learn to swim.

–Tom Miller

Teamwork In Prepping

There is a great fallacy in some circles that the lone wolf is the person who will have the greatest chance of survival if things ever go downhill. Being prepared for any level of disaster or emergency is definitely something that should be a family, group or team effort. One way to look at this is to equate the survival of a group versus individual survival as a baseball game in which one team is complete and the other team has a pitcher that has to cover the outfield, too. This is not only impractical but would completely exhaust the pitcher in a short amount of time. So what does this mean from a preparedness perspective for you?

Get Your Team On Board

In many families or groups, a small percentage of the group can be considered dedicated preppers. There may be only one person who fits the bill. Others could be either half-hearted in their efforts or even all-out resistant to the idea of preparing for disaster. As it was once relayed to me, “If everyone else is unprepared, too, we will fit right in.” It seems that it has become clearer in recent years that if individuals do not prepare themselves, no one else is going to come take care of them, at least for a period of time. So what can be done about this? How do you get others on board with preparedness planning?

There is certainly no single answer to this question; but from my experience, the best approach to take is to be open and honest and help those who are important to you see how preparedness matters so much to you, your family and your inner circle. If you are truly important to your family, friends and community members, they will seriously consider what you have to say.

If you are a lone wolf type, take into consideration finding some like-minded people who are in close proximity to you so that if there is an emergency or disaster situation, you are not forced to go at it alone.

Select A Group Of Skills Everyone Will Master

In almost any organization there are core skills that every member of the team must know. In an office it might be how to use the copier. Every mechanic knows how to change the oil in a car. There are also universal skills that every member of a team that is preparing for survival should know. The only exception would be those who are not of an appropriate age, lack the capability or do not possess the maturity for certain tasks. Examples of these mandatory skills could be:

  • Marksmanship: How to properly fire, clean and maintain a gun.
  • Cooking: How to prepare a meal for an individual or the group.
  • Communication: Using a CB or walkabout radio to communicate.
  • Animal husbandry: How to milk a cow or collect the eggs from the hens every day.
  • First aid: How to care for an injured or sick person.
  • Gardening: How to properly water and harvest fruits and vegetables.
  • Firefighting: How to properly use a fire extinguisher.

While this concept may seem far-fetched to some, there are many things that can reasonably be expected from almost anyone. Even a 3-year-old can be taught to throw sawdust on top of the pile in the composting toilet, for example.

Determine Roles And Responsibilities

Each person in the group should have a primary and secondary responsibility or specialized skill when possible. If your group has two people, the situation may dictate otherwise. But in a normal family-size unit of two adults and at least two children, this should be feasible. And if you are part of a larger group of families, this is definitely doable. In fact, once primary and secondary roles have been mastered in a larger group, then the group should work on cross-training in each other’s roles as well as taking on the responsibility of learning new skills.

Examples of potential individual roles/responsibilities include:

  • Security.
  • Power.
  • Water.
  • Food.
  • Medical.
  • Communications.
  • Maintenance.
  • Logistics.
  • Sanitation.
  • Gardening.

Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list. It does cover some of the major areas and systems of support that are an area of concern in a survival situation. The roles that must be assumed will depend on the capabilities and systems that are available to your group. To avoid burnout among the group in performing routine chores and tasks, a “duty roster” or rotational schedule of these tasks could be established to assign different ongoing responsibilities to team members.

In addition to determining who will do what, it is valuable to select a leader to oversee the command and control of a group. For a family this leader will likely be the dominant parent. A group that is not a family should likely look to who the most natural leader is, who is the most experienced in managing tasks and people, or perhaps even who is the most liked person in the group.

Discuss What To Do If Something Does Go Wrong

If one person’s role within the group is to be in charge of the generator and emergency power systems and that person is ill, then what will the group do? These types of situations need to be discussed and alternate plans need to be made to address such problems. This is where secondary responsibilities and cross-training come into play. The subject matter expert in each area will assist the group by teaching his craft to an apprentice.

If the size of your family or group dictates one person taking on every responsibility, this is where strategic partnerships and community building comes into play.  No one person can do everything. Sometimes, it is better to rely on a trustworthy member of your community or inner circle than to try to be the jack-of-all-trades. A prime example where networking is invaluable would be dealing with a downed tree. It is great to know how to cut up a tree with a chain saw. This is a valuable skill to have, but it is not on the same level as trying to remove a tree that has fallen on top of your garage. Taking on this task without the specialized skill necessary could easily wind up getting someone seriously injured or even killed.

Document, Document, Document

As roles are determined, individuals should update the group documentation or create this collection of documentation. This is a great way to get your survival documentation updated and not put the burden all on one person. Each person takes a folder, binder, journal, etc. and compiles all the information he can about his responsibilities and how they fit into the group. This binder should include manuals/operator guides for any pertinent equipment, standard operating procedures, decision points for bugging out or other key events, expansion plans and ways to deal with changes in group size or locations, etc.

There is certainly much more that goes into making sure that your family or group is prepared to appropriately react to an emergency or disaster, but hopefully this serves as grease to help get the wheels turning. The team approach is necessary, and it certainly eases the burden of preparing that is on the group leader or head of household. Lastly, keep in mind that in order to remain effective, a team should always play to its strengths, maintain balance, operate under common goals or a vision, and communicate openly and honestly.

–Tom Miller

Pack A Kit And Save A Life

Recent events in the news have highlighted the volatility of the world we live in today. Violence is a common reaction to many scenarios. As a result of violent attacks, there are often traumatic injuries that occur to the parties involved that require immediate medical assistance. This is where the blow out kit (BOK) comes into play. Often weighing less than a pound and being capable of easily fitting into a cargo pocket, purse or backpack, the BOK is a must-have item for anyone who lives outside the safety of a bubble in the world today.

What Is A Blow Out Kit?

The BOK was originally developed by the military to assist in treating significant trauma as close to the time and point of injury as possible. It was discovered that severe, life-threating injuries that led to many deaths in the ranks of the military on the battlefield could be treated effectively with a few key medical supplies. This development led to the mitigation of more than 90 percent of preventable deaths on the modern battlefield and established the necessity for a kit that could be carried by every soldier.

With the success of the BOK in the military, it was discovered that there was a need for such a tool in the civilian market as well and law enforcement agencies began adopting the practice. The presence of such kits with the Tucson Police Department on Jan. 8, 2011, is credited with saving some of the lives in the mass shooting that wounded then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. This success cemented the position of the BOK as a must-have item in the inventory of many first responders.

There are a number of commercially produced kits available that include endless options from the very basic all the way up to what seems like a shoulder-mounted trauma surgery suite. The key to a good BOK is including high-quality components. Most of the commercially available kits are extremely good, although not low in cost. A good kit can be put together with individually procured components, typically at a reduced cost.

Why Do I Need A BOK?

The modern prepper should consider including a BOK among his preparations. Not only is a BOK part of being prepared for any situation, it is also a tool that can address many of the potential risks faced by survival- and preparedness-minded individuals. As a collective, preppers tend to engage in activities that could potentially result in accidents that would produce traumatic injuries, like hunting, target shooting, construction projects, farming and working with heavy equipment. Having a BOK available could assist in reducing the threat to life of injuries sustained by the self-sufficient person.

What Goes In My BOK?

Tourniquet: The foundation of most BOKs is a high-quality tourniquet. In years past, medical guidance would suggest that use of a tourniquet would be a poor decision, except as a last resort to stop uncontrolled bleeding. Recent research and practices provide proof that proper placement of a tourniquet on an extremity to treat uncontrolled bleeding is effective in preventing death from extremity hemorrhage in many cases. The most popular tourniquets in use in emergency medicine today include the C-A-T (Combat Application Tourniquet) and the SOFT-T (Special Operations Forces Tactical Tourniquet).

Bandages: Good bandages are essential for hemorrhage control with a trauma casualty. A BOK should have at least two trauma-specific dressings in it, like the Emergency Trauma Dressing (ETD). The ETD is widely used by the military, emergency medical services and police departments across the country and has proven its effectiveness on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. While not only useful for stopping major bleeding, the ETD is also useful for the treatment of several other injuries.

Gloves: A few pairs of medical exam gloves should be in every BOK. Communicable diseases can be avoided in many cases by wearing gloves when providing first aid to someone. This is especially important when providing aid to someone that you are unfamiliar with.

Medical tape: The adhesive property of medical tape makes it ideal for better securing bandages, chest seals, splints and other medical interventions in austere conditions. With many sizes of tape available, including a roll of 3-inch medical tape in the BOK should address any situation since it can always be torn or cut down to a smaller size if needed.

Trauma shears: Effective treatment of traumatic injuries requires exposing the injured areas of the patient. The best tool to accomplish this task is a good set of trauma shears which are able to cut through clothing, shoes, belts and even metal coins. Because of this versatility, trauma shears can be useful for many tasks besides medicine. It is recommended that a dedicated pair be placed in the BOK, though.

Rolled gauze: This is another multi-purpose item that can be useful for controlling bleeding. Other uses for rolled gauze in an emergency include stabilizing impaled objects, dressing burns, padding splints and even making improvised restraints. Imagination is about the only limit to what these 4-yard long rolls of gauze can be used for.

Ace wrap: A useful item to apply pressure to wounds in hemorrhage control, Ace wraps can also be used to treat a variety of orthopedic injuries that occur in almost any situation. The 6-inch variety tends to be the most used, although there are smaller versions available.

Hemostatic agent: QuikClot and Celox are the leading brands of hemostatic agents available on the market today. Hemostatic agents are helpful in quickly initiating the clotting cascade that leads to coagulation and the more rapid stoppage of blood loss when compared to treatment using non-hemostatic dressings. While they are not cheap, there are hemostatic agents that are readily available on the commercial market without a prescription.

Upon completion of advanced medical training, there are additional items that can be added to a BOK that can significantly increase the chances of survival for persons with traumatic injuries. In many States, “Good Samaritan” laws will protect a passerby that offers medical assistance in an emergency. It is important to keep in mind, especially when it comes to advanced medical techniques that go outside the scope of first aid, that engaging in some of these treatments can be considered practicing medicine without a license. This can make your best intentions susceptible to civil or even criminal prosecution. Some of these pieces of medical gear include:

14 gauge-by-3.25-inch needle and catheter: Used for needle chest decompression, this needle and catheter combination can be used to treat and reduce the difficulty associated with a tension pneumothorax (the accumulation of air in the chest cavity usually caused from penetrating wounds that lacerate the lung). In combat casualties, tension pneumothorax accounts for about one-third of preventable deaths.

Nasopharyngeal airway (NPA): The No. 3 cause of preventable deaths on the battlefield, airway obstruction can typically be treated quickly and effectively using an NPA, an airway adjunct that is inserted through the nasal passageway to provide a secure airway for the patient. Trauma casualties can suffer from airway compromise as a result of the jaw relaxing and the tongue slipping into the back of the throat. This compromise of the airway can lead to death but can be mitigated by training and use of the NPA.

Chest seal: Penetrating trauma in the chest, back and abdomen can lead to breathing problems for a wounded person. One of the fastest and easiest ways to address these wounds is with a good chest seal. While there are a number of ways to treat such wounds with improvised materials, there is no replacement for a purpose built chest seal. With that being said, there have been a number of different products that have been developed, but the leading products available today are the Hyfin and HALO chest seals. They are the most effective and hold up to almost any set of conditions they can be employed in.

These items are commonplace in most military and law enforcement BOKs or individual first aid kits (IFAKs) because of the ability to save lives with this equipment while also being able to train most members of the organization on how to properly employ these supplies in the treatment of casualties.

A common misconception is that a BOK is limited in effectiveness if you do not have all of these items. That is completely false. What is ineffective is not having a kit at all. When someone has sustained a life-threatening injury, there is no replacement for rapid intervention. A kit that contains a good tourniquet and high quality bandages but nothing else can easily make the difference between life and death for an injured person.

–Thomas Miller

Surviving Boredom

When I was 8 years old, my family experienced a power outage that lasted for three days as the result of a storm.

We were fortunate in the fact that we had a gas water heater, so we still had hot water and could take showers, and we had a natural gas furnace that kept us warm.

In addition, we could travel about 1.5 miles from our house to the city, which still had power and was operating as usual. We ate meals at restaurants, we kids went to school and our parents went to work. For the most part, life went on like nothing had happened. The life-changing impact came on the home front; my parents were forced to deal with a teenage girl and two young boys whose motto became, “I’m bored!”

As a prepper, when all the basic needs have been met, the second tier of priorities (comfort and luxury items) comes into play. Within this secondary tier fall entertainment items, the No. 1 defense against boredom in any situation. This is especially true when the everyday things that we take for granted, like electricity, have abandoned us. Entertainment during a disaster is limited only to the resources that are readily available. Consider some of these tools currently in use in the war on boredom for addition to your blackout kit:


There are a literally dozens, if not hundreds of games that can be played with cards. A survival situation will likely provide plenty of time to hone those gin rummy or go fish skills. Put the odds in your favor that you will not run out of games before the crisis is over; scour local thrift stores or garage sales for a copy of Hoyle’s Rules of Games or Hoyle Book of Games. This will ensure not only that you have a wide array of games at your disposal but, most importantly, that your siblings, parents, significant other, neighbor, dog or whoever you are playing against is following the rules. In addition to the variety of games that can be played with cards, they are also cheap and lightweight and they hold up well in almost all conditions. In addition to regular playing cards, there are also several other games that use cards, such as Uno.


Having a variety of board games in the closet can provide hours of family fun. Sometimes, depending on the game, a single round will last for hours. Just like cards, board games can be played by candlelight, lantern or just about any light source, making them a great source of entertainment in a survival or disaster situation. Board games can be found cheaply brand new; or buy used ones at garage sales, thrift stores and other places. A word of caution with used games, though: Make sure you get all of the pieces. Keeping pens and paper handy will provide an option for playing games like tic tac toe or hangman.


Puzzles are another option. While puzzles are something that I am not sure I would be brave enough to attempt to conquer by candlelight, it is reasonable to expect that a 500-piece puzzle could be completed in one day during the daytime.


Music can really make time fly, especially during periods of time that are incredibly boring or painful. There are a variety of portable music players that run on readily available and fairly cheap batteries. The hand crank style of radio is also becoming more common. Have a few CDs and a CD player on hand so you’ll have some music to listen to. An instrument like a guitar or harmonica can also be a great source of music and entertainment for those who have the skill to play. In addition to passing the time through music, having a radio on hand can provide a news outlet to keep up on local, regional and national conditions during a time of disaster.


There is a book to suit everyone. Books can be found free, cheap, reasonably priced or all the way up to horrendously expensive. The significant advantage of a collection of books for the prepper is that while serving as entertainment, books can also serve as a point of reference for important subject matter like natural medicine, hunting, fishing, cooking, preserving food, spirituality and survival. Don’t forget to take into account the age range and ability of the different readers who may be perusing the book collection.

Activity books are another option. They are plentiful and readily available for everyone from young children (coloring books) all the way up to senior citizens (large-print crossword puzzles). Most grocery stores, gas stations, dollar stores and supercenters carry a variety of activity books for all ages in the magazine or bargain section. At a few dollars or less for a sizable book of games and puzzles, an activity book can be the solution to boredom following a disaster or just plain handy to have if you catch yourself waiting for an appointment or a connecting flight.


Kids love toys, small kids and big kids alike. Keep a few favorite toys in a readily accessible area to help keep the kids busy. If the power goes out, it might be a great time for those toys with all the flashing lights to get a good run for the money.


A period of downtime during a survival scenario could provide the perfect opportunity to spend some time on an existing hobby, get back in to an old hobby or learn a new set of skills that you have been thinking about picking up. Some eligible hobbies might include:

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Writing
  • Crocheting
  • Wood carving
  • Jewelry making
  • Fly tying
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Making origami


Sitting around waiting for the ice and snow to melt below the roofline of the house could be the chance you’ve been waiting for to share some embarrassing stories about other family members or yourself. Or maybe you could have a fiction storytelling contest. Maximizing the opportunity to sit together and share stories may provide the chance to learn more about each other or relive old memories. It is these family times that also provide a window to share traditions, beliefs and folklore between generations.


The TV not working might be a blessing in disguise. Use the extra time to get up from your chair and go outside and take a walk, have a pushup contest with your siblings, or play a game of hide-and-go-seek with the kids. If the weather outside is nasty, then walk the stairs. There are many exercises that can be done with a partner providing the resistance using a minimal amount of floor space. Whether it is high-intensity cardio or low-impact muscular strength, exercise can get you past boredom.

If your preps include a source of power like a generator or solar panels with a battery bank, additional sources of entertainment could include DVDs that can be watched on a laptop or portable DVD player and portable video game systems. Make sure that if power is used for entertainment, rationing is considered. It would be a bummer to use all the generator fuel to watch a movie and then have no way to cook dinner because of a failure to ration fuel resources.

Take care of the basics of prepping first. Once the essentials are complete, tend to the luxury and comfort items like entertainment needs to avoid the chant “I’m bored!” when disaster strikes at home. How will you survive boredom?

–Thomas Miller

Planning An Evacuation

There have been many natural disasters in recent history that have required people to leave their homes in order to preserve life and safety. Most recently, the East Coast was forced to deal with Super Storm Sandy.

In this case, about two days’ notice was all that residents had to evacuate the areas that would be affected by the storm. Those that chose to adhere to the evacuation order were certainly inconvenienced but survived to talk about it. In past times of disaster, those who ignored orders to evacuate from disaster areas have lost their lives or at best have been stranded for long periods of time.

So What Makes An Evacuation Successful?

It is safe to say that in most cases, an early evacuation is a successful evacuation. Those who wait until the last minute to leave will likely end up on the gridlocked Interstates and some may become one of the unfortunate evacuees who run out of fuel and have to abandon their vehicles in the middle of the highway system.

The key to a successful evacuation is not only leaving early but having a plan to evacuate. Here are some considerations for planning a successful evacuation:

Know Where To Go

Evacuating will remove people from immediate danger but it does not give evacuees a place to stay. In most cases there will be shelters that are set up by relief organizations, and there are always hotels and motels that are available. But shelters are not ideal, and other lodging options fill quickly and are also being expensive.With that being said, the best option is to coordinate with family members or close friends to stay with them at least until longer term arrangements can be made. Staying with friends and family also typically removes limits on whether you can take family pets with you. Shelters and other lodging facilities don’t always give that option.

How Will You Get There?

Method of Evacuation: Most individuals or families will elect to take the most reliable vehicle available to them, others will take more than one vehicle, and some do not have a vehicle to evacuate in and will be forced to rely on others or the government in order to leave the area. Key points to consider when selecting the vehicle that you will use to evacuate is the weather you will be driving in, terrain you will be driving on, capacity of the vehicle, and the availability of fuel and parts for the vehicle as you are evacuating. If you do not have a vehicle and do not want to be left hitchhiking, consider talking to close friends or family in your local area now who have cars about what might happen if there ever was an evacuation order. Find out if one of them will plan to pick you up on the way out.

Routes of Evacuation: Plan more than one evacuation route to your destination. Ideally, there will be a route that will lead out-of-town or away from home and work in each direction: north, east, south and west. This will allow for evacuation regardless of whether one direction is blocked or not. When planning routes, avoiding large cities and metropolitan areas can be a sound decision to avoid danger, areas of congestion and unnecessary delays. One of the best technologies that is available that can be utilized to assist in planning evacuation routes are the online map websites that allow users to get directions from one place to another. An added bonus to planning your routes this way is that once they are planned, they can be printed and placed in a binder with other pertinent information, kept in vehicle glove boxes, or even shared with other family or survival group members through online file sharing. Global positioning systems are great for navigating as you travel, but it can be valuable to have paper maps or an atlas that covers all of the states and major population centers that you may travel through as a backup.

Stops Along the Way: It is likely that if you find yourself in a position where you are evacuating your home that you are probably not going to a destination right down the street. Furthermore, if your idea of a good time is not staying in a high school gym with a bunch of strangers, the destination you will evacuate to is likely to be a close friend or family member, so it may become necessary to make a few stops along the way. These stops may include arranging overnight accommodations. Plan stops for fuel, food, lodging, etc. as needed along your planned routes. To ensure that your planned stops are likely to be open and operating, look at truck stops and places other than one light towns.

What to Take

Cash: In the event of an emergency or disaster situation there may be electrical outages or technology failures that will result in businesses not accepting credit and debit cards. If this becomes the case, cash will be king. Planning to have cash on hand when evacuating will provide for purchasing necessities. It is also possible that banks will be closed and ATMs could be inoperable or out of cash.

B.O.B.: For those not familiar with the acronym, B.O.B. stands for Bug-Out Bag, which can be pretty much any bag that contains the life support items and necessities to survive for a certain period of time (usually 72 hours). The idea behind a B.O.B. is to have a bag on standby either in the house or in the car that can be grabbed at a moment’s notice and taken along. This is a perfect item to take in an evacuation to ensure that you are not without the bare necessities for survival. While there are no laws governing the B.O.B., typically each individual will have his own bag. A backpack is the most effective bag to use for carrying a B.O.B. for any period of time.

A B.O.B. should include:

  • A light source (at least a flashlight with an extra set of batteries).
  • Water for drinking (and a method to purify more water is recommended).
  • Food (jerky, granola bars, tuna, or other long-life foods that do not require refrigeration and ideally would not require any preparation).
  • Shelter (poncho, tarp, plastic sheeting, or survival blanket).
  • Fire/Warmth (fire starters, hand warmers and/or waterproof matches)
  • Clothing (Whatever suits you, no pun intended. For example, if you keep your bag in your car and wear dress shoes daily you would want to keep some hiking boots or athletic shoes in your B.O.B.).
  • Self defense/security (pepper spray or whatever is legal in your local area).
  • ·First aid kit.
  • Personal hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, feminine products, etc.).
  • Tools (At a minimum a good knife, but a multi-tool can be valuable because of the additional features it offers. Other tools that some include in their bags include a hatchet, small pry bar, Woodsman’s Pal or machete.)
  • Communications (extra cell phone, CB radio, or family band radios to communicate between vehicles during an evacuation.)

Treated Fuel: If you have to leave, don’t get stuck on the side of the road in a vehicle that has run out of gas. A reasonable guideline is to carry enough stabilized fuel with you during an evacuation to travel an additional 100 miles.

Spare Vehicle Parts and Tools: Extra parts seem to always be needed at the worst of times. It is not going to be possible to carry an entire automotive shop everywhere you go, but a few key items can make a significant difference. Some important spare parts that should be kept in a vehicle include an extra set of belts and hoses, spare fuses, a can of fix-a-flat, various hose clamps, electrical tape, spare light bulbs and extra fluids. A basic mechanics tool set can be obtained inexpensively and will contain most of the tools needed to make side of the road repairs in an emergency. Must have items are jumper cables, lug wrench, tire jack, and either road flares or a warning triangle.

What Will Be Needed at Evacuation Location: Some of the important items that may be needed once you arrive at the location that you have evacuated to include:

  • Medical Records/Shot Records
  • Driver’s license
  • Social Security card
  • School records
  • Prescription medications (copies of prescriptions)
  • Glasses (copy of prescription)
  • Medical equipment
  • Comfort Items (especially important for children)
  • Insurance documents
  • Bank account information

Dealing With Extended Evacuation

The victims of Hurricane Katrina were displaced for extended periods of time and some never returned to New Orleans. Part of evacuating will require staring down the barrel of the cold hard truth and knowing that a new life may have to be established somewhere else, at least for a temporary, yet extended, period of time. This will mean obtaining long term housing, securing employment, finding schools for the kids, etc. Long term disruption is not a guarantee with every evacuation, but being prepared for this possibility can make a significant difference for a person that ends up in that situation.

For instance, an evacuee that has filed a resume in Google Docs so that it can be accessed from anywhere is better prepared to apply for a new job in a different part of the country than a person that is displaced and has to create a new resume from scratch.

In an ideal world there would never be a need to involuntarily leave home. The fact of the matter is that as long as natural disasters, catastrophic failures in technological systems, societal collapse, pandemics, economic disaster, terrorism or acts of war threaten society, so it may be necessary to evacuate your home and relocate to another location. If this happens, having a plan in place results in a proactive approach instead of a reactive evacuation where key items may be missed. Trying to gather all the necessities at the last minute may put you, your loved ones and/or friends in a difficult situation.

-Thomas Miller

Getting Started In Shooting

A major component of modern survivalism and most preppers’ survival philosophy includes owning firearms. The practice of having firearms can aid in personal defense and the defense of loved ones and property, and offers the ability to hunt for food. What can be difficult, though, is getting a start in shooting when you were not raised in an environment where firearms and the shooting sports were a part of life. Guns can be intimidating and, therefore, often cause apprehension and sometimes outright discomfort when considering the option of taking the first step toward getting started in shooting. Consider these questions when getting started in shooting.

Which Gun Is Right?

Choosing the right gun should be based on the intended use, whether it be personal defense, hunting, home defense or target shooting. Handguns are well suited for personal defense; shotguns can be used for personal defense, home defense or hunting; rifles are ideal for hunting; and any of them can be a whole lot of fun for target shooting.

Handguns (semi-automatics and revolvers): Both revolvers and semi-automatic handguns are manufactured in a wide variety of sizes and calibers. While smaller guns are easier to conceal, larger-framed guns tend to be more accurate. Some prefer semi-automatics because of their increased capacity in the number of rounds that they can hold where others prefer revolvers for their simpler design. There are many calibers of handgun cartridges, but perhaps the cheapest and best round to train with is the 9mm Luger. This round will work only if your handgun of choice is a semi-automatic. If choosing a revolver, the .38 Special is a good round to choose for its affordability compared to others.

Rifle: A rifle is a great weapon to use as an introduction to the shooting sports. Large percentages of people have learned to shoot with a .22 caliber rifle. It is a small caliber that makes it easy for anyone to learn to shoot; the rounds can be purchased at a fraction of the cost of any other round; and a .22 rifle can be purchased relatively inexpensively.

Shotgun: In the realm of beginner weapons, a shotgun is typically not to be found, but that does not withdraw it from possibility. There are some great benefits to the shotgun as a weapon choice though as well. A single shot shotgun can be purchased at a big box store for less than $150, and a box of 25 target rounds can be obtained for about $5.

Who Can Help?

Family or friends: The ideal situation would be if you have a family member or trusted friend who is gun owner and who is available to show you their firearms and let you shoot some of them. Typically in this case, it will not cost a whole lot other than maybe the cost of ammunition (and perhaps some snacks) to get the opportunity to get a feel for how a few different weapons fire. This will give you a good idea of what might be the best fit for you before you make a large investment in a gun of your own.

Gun Range: A local, privately operated gun range will often have rental guns that can be rented for a portion of a day and fired on the range. In most cases, you don’t even have to worry about cleaning the guns after dirtying them. This is usually the one opportunity outside of shooting a friend’s or family member’s gun where you can try it before you buy it. The range staff should also be able to offer assistance with which firearms might be best suited for you in the circumstances that you will be shooting.

Gun Shop: If there is not a local range that offers rental guns or family or friends who can help you with finding a gun that is a good fit for you and your needs, the staff at a gun shop can be a huge help. There is typically no other place where one person can compare so many different models of firearms, which is a great advantage — especially for someone who is new to firearms or even just someone who wants to see what is new and exciting in the world of guns.

Where To Get Training?

Local shooting range: Find a local shooting range that offers firearm instruction at While you are there, make sure to check out the resources tab where there is some great information about news and events, printable targets, information about firearm safety and information about the shooting sports.

First Shots: The First Shots program is also offered in several States through local ranges and is designed to give interested people who have never fired a handgun the chance to learn how to, free of charge. The First Shots program covers the safe use of firearms, the local requirements for purchasing and owning a firearm, and an overview of opportunities in the shooting sports at all levels. More information can be found as well as local seminars at

Project Appleseed: One of the great programs available today is Project Appleseed from the Revolutionary War Veterans Association, which provides marksmanship clinics for all ages from mature youths all the way up to seniors. In addition to marksmanship training, the Appleseed Project includes lessons in American history and heritage with emphasis on how marksmanship skills set the course for the establishment of America. More information about Project Appleseed can be located at

Concealed Weapons Class: If the State you live in allows the lawful carry of concealed weapons, pursuing such training not only offers the opportunity to carry a concealed weapon if licensed, but it also gives great insight into the applicable firearm laws of the State. The curriculum of most States’ concealed weapons classes also involves a firearms qualification portion which can be useful in establishing firearms proficiency.

National Rifle Association: The National Rifle Association offers multiple training opportunities for everyone from beginners to competitive firearm shooters. What is unique about NRA programs is that there are specialized programs for hunters, women and youths. To look into NRA training programs, click here.

State Department of Natural Resources/Fish & Game: Every State offers hunter safety classes, usually through the Department of Natural Resources or Department of Fish & Game. While a hunter safety class will not teach expert marksmanship, attendees will gain a firm grasp on the safe handling and operation of firearms as well as how to properly and safely hunt in your State of residence.

Where To Buy?

Once you have decided what kind of gun is right for you (hopefully you received some help along the way) and completed some training, find a good place to buy your new firearm. There are a number of possible locations to purchase a gun. It is recommended that only legal options should be pursued. Some of those options include sporting goods stores, guns shops, pawn shops, auctions and gun shows.

Now that all the pieces are in place, make sure to always practice firearms safety and remember that guns are useful tools that can be very enjoyable as a lifelong hobby. All it takes is getting a start.

–Thomas Miller

10 Places Anyone Can Store Food

One of the cornerstones of preparedness is storing food. No one argues the point of whether food is important. Maybe an argument can be found in where food is placed in the hierarchy of prepping needs, but no one will say that it does not have a place. What I have found, though, is that not too many discussions occur about where these rations will be stored.

It seems as though it is always assumed that every prepper has an extra room in the house to fill with shelves that can be neatly stacked with cans and boxes and labeled by category or a basement to do the same. I know that I, for one, have not always had these options available to me. Whether you live in a large house, a small house, an apartment or a dorm room, the need for stored food doesn’t change, resulting in the need for places to store foods wherever you may live.

Some of the places that storage food may be stored regardless of the type of dwelling you live in include:

Under the bed: There is a fair amount of space under a bed which can be used for storing food instead of lost TV remotes or slippers. What makes the space under the bed even easier to use for storage is some of the specially manufactured containers that specifically fit the dimensions of the underside of the bed. These containers slide in and out easily from under the bed and make it easy to organize your food storage. The flexibility of these containers would also allow for storage foods to easily be loaded up and taken with you in the event that an evacuation were necessary. A good substitute for these containers would be shallow cardboard boxes.

Under the coffee table: The shelf under a coffee table provides additional space for storing food. This can be a great option for someone who lives in a smaller living space like a loft. Obviously, this could be an eyesore in a main living area but can easily be disguised by covering the table with a tablecloth.

Under an end table: Storing food under an end table is essentially the same as a coffee table but on a smaller scale. This can be a useful tactic in the most size-restrictive spaces like dorm rooms or military barracks.

Make your own table: This is perhaps the perfect option for those who buy storage foods in bulk. It also happens to be the one non-standard food-storage option that I have heard of the most. Foods that are in boxes are especially well-suited for this storage idea. Make a table out of food storage by stacking two boxes of food on top of each other, centering a 2-by-2 piece of plywood on top of the boxes and cover with a tablecloth.

On the closet floor: You know that space on the floor of your closet? Yep. That space below your clothes that doesn’t really seem to be good for anything except for losing an occasional shoe. It can also be an ideal storage area. This area may be particularly ideal for storing long-term foods in No. 10 cans that you may get from companies like Mountain House.

On a closet shelf: The shelf in the top part of a bedroom closet is not always used. If there is open space or junk sitting on your closet shelf, it is space that most likely is being wasted. If shelf space is chosen to store food, always make sure that the shelf can support the weight of the items that are being stored on it. This is especially important to keep in mind when storing canned goods on shelving. Because of weight concerns, the top shelf of your closet might best serve as a storage area for foods such as pasta, instant potatoes, ramen noodles and other lightweight boxed foods.

In the linen closet: A linen closet can be another great storage area in the home, whether it is for linens or something else. When I lived in an apartment, there was a linen closet; but I did not have enough linen to make complete use of this area. In a situation such as this, excess space in a linen closet could be used to store food. Remember to always evaluate the amount of weight that you are thinking about placing on a shelf before you put it there to ensure that it will not cause the shelf to break or pose a safety risk.

Behind the couch: If the couch is up against the wall in your house, it is likely that you have at least 4 to 6 inches of space that most people would consider “dead” space. What can be done with this space depends on the individual piece of furniture; but it could allow for at least one row of soup cans, boxes of macaroni and cheese, jars of pasta sauce, etc. Essentially, the limit is the creativity of the person placing the food storage items behind the couch. If someone is really inclined toward engineering and is concerned about gaining quick access to these items, it could be possible to tie or tape these items together, which would allow them to be pulled out together without having to move the furniture.

Inside your luggage: Do you have luggage that sits empty in the closet for the greater part of the year? Most people do. This makes your empty luggage an ideal place to store items such as canned and/or dry goods while you are waiting for your next chance to relive the Spring Break trip you took with your friends in 1992.

Out in the open: OK, so I don’t mean literally just sitting out in the open. But if there is an open space in a room, there is an opportunity to use a set of cabinets or piece of furniture as a second pantry. This can look like just an ordinary piece of furniture in the home while disguising your emergency food stores.

While places to store food for a difficult time are limited only to your imagination and the space that you live in, there are without question places in every home where foods can be stored. Once a decision has been made as to where you plan on storing your food, make sure that it is in appropriate containers. Plastic totes are a great way to keep critters out and protect food from the elements that cause it to go bad at an accelerated pace. Don’t forget to annotate expiration dates and rotate storage foods so that you don’t end up with a cache of useless foods. Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget where you stored your food.

–Thomas Miller

The Political Economy Of Government Employee Unions

The main reason so many State and local governments are bankrupt, or on the verge of bankruptcy, is the combination of government-run monopolies and government-employee unions. Government-employee unions have vastly more power than do private-sector unions because the entities they work for are typically monopolies.

When the employees of a grocery store, for example, go on strike and shut down the store, consumers can simply shop elsewhere, and the grocery-store management is perfectly free to hire replacement workers. In contrast, when a city teachers’ or garbage-truck drivers’ union goes on strike, there is no school and no garbage collection as long as the strike goes on. In addition, teachers’ tenure (typically after two or three years in government schools) and civil-service regulations make it extremely costly if not virtually impossible to hire replacement workers.

Thus, when government bureaucrats go on strike they have the ability to completely shut down the entire "industry" they "work" in indefinitely. The taxpayers will complain bitterly about the absence of schools and garbage collection, forcing the mayor, governor, or city councilors to quickly cave in to the union’s demands to avoid risking the loss of their own jobs due to voter dissatisfaction. This process is the primary reason why, in general, the expenses of State and local governments have skyrocketed year in and year out, while the "production" of government employees declines.

For decades, researchers have noted that the more money that is spent per pupil in the government schools, the worse is the performance of the students. Similar outcomes are prevalent in all other areas of government "service." As Milton Friedman once wrote, government bureaucracies—especially unionized ones—are like economic black holes where increased "inputs" lead to declining "outputs." The more that is spent on government schools, the less educated are the students. The more that is spent on welfare, the more poverty there is and so on. This of course is the exact opposite of normal economic life in the private sector, where increased inputs lead to more products and services, not fewer.

Thirty years ago, the economist Sharon Smith was publishing research showing that government employees were paid as much as 40 percent more than comparable private-sector employees. If anything, that wage premium has likely increased.

The enormous power of government-employee unions effectively transfers the power to tax from voters to the unions. Because government-employee unions can so easily force elected officials to raise taxes to meet their "demands," it is they, not the voters, who control the rate of taxation within a political jurisdiction. They are the beneficiaries of a particular form of taxation without representation (not that taxation with representation is much better). This is why some States have laws prohibiting strikes by government-employee unions. (The unions often strike anyway.)

Politicians are caught in a political bind by government-employee unions: If they cave in to their wage demands and raise taxes to finance them, then they increase the chances of being kicked out of office themselves in the next election. The "solution" to this dilemma has been to offer government-employee unions moderate wage increases but spectacular pension promises. This allows politicians to pander to the unions but defer the costs to the future, long after the panderers are retired from politics.

As taxpayers in California, Wisconsin, Indiana and many other States are realizing, the future has arrived. The Wall Street Journal reports that State and local governments in the United States currently have $3.5 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities. They must either raise taxes dramatically to fund these liabilities, as some have already done, or drastically cut back or eliminate government-employee pensions.

Government-employee unions are primarily interested in maximizing the profits of the union. Consequently, they use civil-service regulations as a tool to protect the job of every last government bureaucrat, no matter how incompetent or irresponsible he or she is. Fewer employed bureaucrats mean fewer union dues are being paid. Thus, it is almost guaranteed that government-employee unions will challenge in court the attempted dismissal of all bureaucrats save the occasional ones who are accused of actual criminal behavior. This means that firing an incompetent government school teacher, for example, can take months, or years, of legal wrangling.

Politicians discovered long ago that the most convenient response to this dilemma is to actually reward the incompetent bureaucrat with an administrative job that he or she will gladly accept, along with its higher pay and perks. That solves the problem of parents who complain that their children’s math teacher cannot do math, while eliminating the possibility of a lawsuit by the union. This is why government-school administrative offices are bloated bureaucratic monstrosities filled with teachers who can’t teach and are given the responsibilities of "administering" the entire school system instead. No private-sector school could survive with such a perverse policy.

Government-employee unions are also champions of "featherbedding"—the union practice of forcing employers to hire more than the number of people necessary to do the job. If this occurs in the private sector, the higher wage costs will make the firm less competitive and less profitable. It may even go bankrupt, as the heavily unionized American steel, automobile and textile industries learned decades ago.

No such thing happens in government, where there are no profit-and-loss statements, in an accounting sense, and most agencies are monopolies anyway. Featherbedding in the government sector is viewed as a benefit to both politicians and unions—but certainly not to taxpayers. The unions collect more union dues with more government employees, while the politicians get to hand out more patronage jobs. Each patronage job is usually worth two or more votes, since the government employee can always be counted on to get at least one family member or close friend to vote for the politician who gave him the job. This is why, in the vast literature showing the superior efficiency of private versus government enterprises, government almost always has higher labor costs for the same functions.

Every government-employee union is a political machine that lobbies relentlessly for higher taxes, increased government spending, more featherbedding and more pension promises—while demonizing hesitant taxpayers as uncaring enemies of children, the elderly and the poor (who are purportedly "served" by the government bureaucrats the unions represent).

It is the old socialist trick that Frédéric Bastiat wrote about in his famous essay, The Law: The unions view advocates of school privatization, not as legitimate critics of a failed system, but as haters of children. And the unions treat critics of the welfare state, not as persons concerned with the destruction of the work ethic and of the family that has been caused by the welfare state, but as enemies of the poor.

This charade is over. American taxpayers finally seem to be aware that they are the servants, not the masters, of government at all levels. Government-employee unions have played a key role in causing bankruptcy in most American States, and their pleas for more bailouts financed by endless tax increases are finally ringing hollow.