Where we live in the Pacific Northwest our state was just one of several states over the past few months that issued a false warning emergency. On May 31, 2018, at 8:30 pm, an emergency notice went across televisions in multiple counties warning people of a “civil emergency.” There was little info in the warning (below is a screenshot). It just said “Prepare for Action.” Scary right?!

Afterwards, residents were told that a “glitch” cut off crucial information in this alert, which was referring to elevated levels of a toxin in the reservoir of drinking water. It was a real alert, but this “glitch” had not explained the whole situation. Residents weren’t supposed to drink the tap water in certain areas. Well, I’ve been thinking about this over the weeks since this happened and trying to put it into context of the other false alerts that have gone out recently.

1. Hawaii – On January 13, 2018, Hawaii received a broadcast to cell phones and television that said a missile was on its way to Hawaii and that it was not a drill.

2. Maine – In February 2018, a false alarm in the Portland area warned residents of a tsunami on the way. The message turned out to be a test, but no agency has taken responsibility for mistakenly sending it out.

3. Alaska – Another two-minute test message was mistakenly sent to TV and radio in Alaska indicating that a tsunami threat was imminent. It was supposed to say at the start of the message that it was a test, but it didn’t say so until the end.

So…Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon…that’s a large part of the country affected by these warnings. Why do you think that is? Do you believe it’s because the Emergency Alert System isn’t working very well? If so, that doesn’t give me confidence that the Emergency Alert System will respond appropriately when we really need it to.

Maybe it really is human error. Maybe a hacker has figured out some systems they could get into, and it’s easier to say the warnings were a “mistake” than to admit to a hacking. Do you think that maybe a missile really WAS heading to Hawaii, and somehow they diverted it?

I was talking with a friend about this the other day. Some people believe the Illuminati is working behind the scenes to save the human race by secretly controlling things. My friend said the false warnings were intentionally sent by the Illuminati to scare people just enough to become more prepared, so that when there is some kind of disaster that more humans will survive. What say you?

There’s one plant that grows almost everywhere that you definitely should know about for your herbal medicine cabinet. It’s one of the first plants most people consider weeds that I learned to identify. I became interested in it because it was literally growing right outside my door in the lawn, right next to my sidewalk.

There’s an herb shop in my town where I go to get dried and fresh herbs to make my own preparations, and the shopkeeper called plantain “white man’s footprint.” It was called this by the Native Americans because it grows so well in disturbed soil, so wherever settlers traveled this plant followed them. I’ve heard other herbs called this name or variations of this name before, but this herb definitely fits the profile: plantain

This is a superb herb for your medicine cabinet. The scientific name of plantain is Plantago major. It’s a species of flowering plant in the plantain family Plantaginaceae and not to be confused with the banana-like fruits that are sometimes found in the grocery store. There are two common varieties of plantain, both very easy to identify:

Look for either or both variety of plantain growing along roads, fencelines and probably right in your own yard if it’s not a manicured lawn.

And if you’re ever not sure, an easy way to find plantain this time of year is by its distinctive flowers:

Uses of Plantain

Plantain is excellent to put on minor scrapes, burns, stings and bug bites. Simple tear off a leaf, chew it up and put the wad on your skin. It works very fast. My own son knows that when he gets a bug bite or a scrape he can find plantain and either ask me to put it on him or he can do it himself. Leave the wad on your skin for 15 to 20 minutes and you’ll see a noticeable improvement. Once when we were at the beach, I happened to notice plantain growing near where we were picnicking. I didn’t think much about it except to note that it was there. A half hour later my son had a bug bite on his knee so I asked him if he wanted plantain. He didn’t want me to chew it up this time (he is getting older after all!) so I used a rock and a little bit of sea water in a bowl and crushed it up to release the plant juices. If you don’t want to chew the leaves, crushing it works just fine too.

I also like to gather fresh plantain leaves and fill a jar with them. Then pour olive oil over the leaves and allow them to infuse the oil for 6 weeks. After that, you may use the plantain-infused olive oil as it is or use the oil in your own skin lotion or balm recipe. You can then put that on irritated skin to get the same benefits.

Eating Plantain Leaves
You can eat the small plantain leaves, but after they get bigger they don’t taste too good. And to be honest, in my opinion they don’t taste that good even when they’re young! But they are edible. So that makes plantain a very desirable plant to know. If you have a natural area in your yard and you find plantain growing, leave it alone. I predict it will become one of your favorite plants just as it is mine.

Here’s plantain growing in a median strip near a road in a bed with dandelions and other weeds. The plantain is the pointy weeds in the corner by the yellow. I’ve even seen it growing out of a bed of gravel. If you’re harvesting it to eat or to put on your skin, you might want to avoid these high-traffic areas and try to find a source of it where it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or road dust. But the point is, these plants grow literally everywhere.

Have you ever looked into your state’s disaster recovery plan? Or even checked to see if they have one? I don’t know about all states, but my state does have one. And if you look into it, it has some pretty scary stuff.

I first encountered my state’s Resilience Plan about three years ago and there were some time frames in there that scared the crap out of me. I wrote an article about earthquake risk and discovered this document. I already had a lot of camping and hiking gear and felt prepared for when basic things go wrong, like losing power for a couple of days. But the time frames in this document are what prompted me to up my prepping game. Here’s what I mean:

Critical Service     –     Estimated Time to Restore Service

Electricity inland     –     1 to 3 months
Electricity in coastal areas     –     3 to 6 months
Police and fire stations inland       –      2 to 4 months
Drinking water and sewage inland     –     1 month to 1 year
Drinking water and sewage in coastal areas     –     1 year to 3 years
Top priority highways (partial restoration) inland     –     6 to 12 months
Healthcare facilities inland     –     18 months
Healthcare facilities in coastal areas     –     3 years

Personally, I think the time frames are unrealistic and shorter than what will actually happen. If the highways are’t working, that means there’s no gas. That means the electricity repair vehicles can’t get around to fix things.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who is well-armed, but not well-prepared as far as back-up food, camping gear, first-aid supplies, etc. I asked him what he would do in an emergency…would he stay in his small house in the city or get out? Would he stay as long as he could or get out early?

His response was that he planned to load up his car with his guns and stuff and drive to a family’s home in California. Well, I reminded him, if a partial restoration of major highways takes up to a year, how will you cross the rivers with your loads of guns and ammo? That made him think a little bit. Then he planned to fortify in his home until he couldn’t anymore. Then? Who knows.

What is your state telling you about its disaster recovery plan?

A water rescue is one of my nightmares…maybe a plane crashes, a cruise ship is damaged, or there’s a flood.

I just don’t think about that sort of thing very much, unless I happen to be flying over the ocean to Hawaii! Admittedly, that has only happened twice (there and back!) but my anxiety was definitely at a higher than normal level. And, I always wear black clothing, so that’s not very visible, unless I happen to crash land in a field of snow.

So I was intrigued by this study I found by Mustang Survival called “On-Water Visibility.” The study answers the question, Which color is the most conspicuous when floating on the water?

Want to take a guess before we do the big reveal?

Fluorescent green is the color most visible in water, and in particular low-light environments. Mustan Survival’s study was sponsored in part by WorkSafeBC’s Research Secretariat program. They asked the questions, because, as the info said, they simply didn’t know.

Now you do! I’m not planning on making highlighter green the new staple of my wardrobe. But if you’e buying safety gear, or you’re around water a lot, keep this in mind. Maybe I’ll pack a fluorescent green safety vest in my carry on bag next time I go to Hawaii!

And, as you might guess, Mustang Survival sells high-visibility gear. image from mustangsurvival.com

Many preppers who aren’t “gun people” have a gun or two for home protection or for the inevitable time when the SHTF. We have one in our home. To be honest, though, I haven’t gotten it out nearly enough.

The shotgun is a good choice for home defense. Why? It’s powerful, easy to operate, and the sound of a shell going into a chamber will put fear into the hearts of most anybody. They can be used against people and animals pretty equally. The different loads of ammunition make it possible to take game from very small squirrels to a large deer. Knowing this is a good part of making your shotgun most useful in a survival situation. Of course, it also helps to have a variety of ammunition types on hand.

For example, if you’re after quail, you want a shotgun load that’s going to give a lighter, wider load pattern. A squirrel or a duck on the wing needs a tighter load pattern. A large target (a man or a bear) demands a load pattern that is going to be tight and hit with more force.

Birdshot uses very small pellets and is so named because it’s useful for hunting birds. The size of the shot is given as a number or letter–with the larger number the smaller the shot size. Buckshot uses medium to large pellets. A slug is a single projectile. To use this, it must be aimed very carefully from fairly close range.

Buckshot is generally the best for home defense, because its larger size shot (pellets) is going to pack a more painful punch and be more effective against larger targets.

Whatever type of shotgun you have, practice just as you would with a handgun. Because the gun is larger and likely needs to be aimed more carefully, practice with a shotgun for hunting and self-defense is equally as important as for a handgun. Make sure you know how to load and manipulate the gun quickly, in low light, and at close range. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I’m not the greatest navigator. I learned a long time ago that I have a poor sense of direction. Put it this way…I can become turned around in a culdesac! I CAN read a map, but knowing north from south when walking or navigating is something I’m pretty miserable at. When my GPS on my phone says “head west toward Johnson Street,” I get upset because if I knew which way WEST was I might not need to use the frickin’ GPS!

Anyway…this method uses nothing but a few sticks and as long a the sun is shining you can use it. I can even use it. Ron Hood discuses this technique in one of my favorite survival skills videos that I wrote about on this site: Survival Basics. This method assumes that you’re in the Northern Hemisphere.

Take a straight stick and poke it into the ground so it stands up straight. Find where the shadow falls from the stick and place a medium-sized rock at this point, at the top of the shadow. Let some time go by. You’ll see that the shadow has moved. Place a second rock on the tip of this second shadow.

I did this at home on a recent sunny day. At first I went out there after 15 minutes and you could see that the shadow had moved, but it was not a great change. The movement is a lot more noticeable if you let an hour or so go by, but if you’re in a hurry to do your navigating you can pretty quickly tell which is which. Of course, this has its drawbacks if the weather is not consistently sunny.

navigating with a stick and a rock
The first rock placement.
navigating with a stick and a rock
The second rock placement after an hour or so.
navigating without a compass
The end of the shadow.

I found that the irregularity of the grass made the end of the shadow, where you put the rock, hard to see. But it’s there, as you can see in the photo of my hand.

Obviously, given that we know the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you’ll know that the line created by the two rocks is the east-west line. Allow some more time to go by for a third point, and mark it with a third rock. The direction in front of the stick is north. If you’re on the move, you can do this a few times throughout the day to ensure that you stay on course.

navigating with shadows
The final rock placement, showing a clear east-west line.

After I placed four more rocks over the course of an afternoon, a clear east-west line emerged, which you can see in the photo above.

If you’re on the move at night, use the moon and the stars. Many people learned as children that the “Big Dipper” or “Plough” constellation points north. If you find the handle of the Big Dipper and follow it along to the farthest “Edge” stars and follow them on farther up, those point to the North Star, Polaris. This star is helpful because while other stars rotate in the night sky, Polaris stays relatively fixed. The Dipper does rotate around Polaris, but those “saucepan” stars always point to it.

Polaris is also the end star in the handle of the Little Dipper constellation. Of course, it’s helpful to not have too many clouds in the sky to use the stars.

The moon can be helpful but I have a harder time remembering this and if I was in a panicked situation I would worry that I would remember wrong! The moon also rises in the east and sets in the west. The horns of its crescent point to south when a line is drawn from the top point to the bottom point and then extended to the ground.

Also (and this is the part I get mixed up on!), if the moon is rising before the sun sets, the bright side of the moon will always face west. But if the moon doesn’t rise until late in the night, the bright side of the moon will always face east. If you think about it it makes sense, right? The bright part is reflecting the sun’s light, so whichever side is bright tells you east or west.

In my area of the Pacific Northwest there are a lot of bodies of water. Depending on which way I drive home, I cross either two or three rivers via bridge. I’m always worried about what will happen if one or more of the rivers are damaged due to an earthquake or some other unforseen disaster. I have advised before that people who live in areas prone to flash floods that they get a rowboat that they keep at home, or a kayak or inflatable raft that they keep in their car.

I don’t have a raft yet but it’s on my prepper shopping list to get one to keep in the trunk of my car, probably along with an inflator of some kind. A decent two-person raft is a bigger expense than what my budget can usually handle. But just typing this out is making my blood pressure rise from nervousness, so getting one and having that piece of mind is definitely worth something! If any of you have purchased inflatable rafts or kayaks or something that you have stored for an emergency, do let me know what you bought and why.

Anyway, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I would get home if the bridges I have to cross are damaged. The water in some places is not too deep, but it is definitely too deep to walk across.

If you do have to get across a river in an emergency, here are some things to know:

  1. The narrower spot may not be the best spot to cross. – if it’s narrower it can be deeper and the movement more swift. Flat, wide channels are usually shallower.
  2. Check what’s downstream. – If the water is fast, you’re likely to get swept away. Maybe there’s a danger down the way that you will want to know about.
  3. Does the bridge have an inspection basket? – I have never used an inspection basket to cross a bridge! But people have told me that some spans have baskets that are manually operated that go across the bridge on cables. These are used by inspectors to get up close to the bridge. If the bridge itself is impassable, perhaps the basket would still work. I welcome anyone who knows more about this to get in touch with more information to share.
  4. Read the river. Most of us will never be able to read a river as well as Mark Twain did, but there are some things that even non-river guides or riverboat captains can know.
    • Trees near the bank can have roots that trap you. Avoid these “strainers.”
    • “Pillow rocks” are smooth flows of water over an under-the-surface hazard.
    • Eddies can make the current unpredictable and fast.
    • Vs in the water indicate a submerged object.
    • foam piles churn the water around like a washing machine. It’s hard to paddle in these sections also, because the foam means the water is filled with so much air the paddle won’t go through it.
  5. If you do get washed away, position yourself so that your legs are straight and straight out in front of you. If you can, right?!
  6. Remove any unnecessary clothing or gear. Takes your socks off and pack them deep inside your bag to perhaps keep them dry.
  7. Position your pack so that you can release it if you need to so that you can get unstuck or it prevents you from being dragged under.

All of these things will help. But you must also know the water in your area. Try to investigate on maps where some crossings might be that may not be right where your bridge goes over. Know where other bridges are. If you can find a nearby bridge that is not damaged, that may get you across. If you can find a shallower place to cross that’s a few miles away even, you might go out of your way but you can cross more safely.

Luca Bravo on Unsplash

I got lucky enough to acquire a full set of different size cast iron cookware from an ex-roommate nearly 25 years ago. He didn’t want to take them with him and I couldn’t bear to see anyone else get them. Even though I’ve moved multiple times since then, I’ve never even considered not keeping them. There were times when I didn’t always take the best care of them though, and I’ve had to reseason them a few times.

I also occasionally see perfectly useful cast iron cookware at yard sales or thrift stores and they can be intimidating if you don’t know how to reseason them, but it’s not that hard. Here’s a run-down of how to do it.

First, sand off the rust with steel wool or rough sandpaper or a steel brush. Use whatever is efficient to get off the rust without digging into the iron too much.

Oftentimes, a cast iron pan that has been neglected will have a thick coating of black carbon on it. This often means that something burned in it and the person didn’t know how to remove that or didn’t bother to. In this case, it can be burned off by putting the pan in a hot oven. Use the self-cleaning cycle of the oven if it has one. If not, turn on your exhaust fan and keep an eye on it so nothing catches on fire. Spraying it with oven cleaner and letting it sit, then scraping off the carbon also can work.

Once it’s clean, wash it with soap and water and dry it thoroughly. Once it’s seasoned you’ll never use soap on a cast iron pan! A well-seasoned pan allows the oils and fats from cooking to bond with it. You want this smooth surface to grow over time, and using soap erodes that.

Take your clean pan and place a blob of shortening in it. How much you use will depend on the size of the pan or pot. For a teapot or something like that, use quite a bit. You want this to melt and cover the entire surface. Place a clean pan underneath the cast iron item to catch any drips of shortening so you don’t start an oven fire. If it’s an especially deep pan and you can’t coat the entire surface, rub some shortening on the surfaces. Take the pan out of the hot oven once in a while and CAREFULLY rotate the pan so the melted shortening adheres to the sides.

This is like basting a turkey…cover up all the surfaces so it soaks in and coats everywhere. Leave the pan in the hot oven for an hour or so. Make sure all surfaces have absorbed as much oil as possible. Then leave it to cool. If it looks black but not shiny, consider repeating the oven process above a time or two more. The first time you cook with it, run some cooking oil over all of your surfaces.

When cooking with a cast iron pan, don’t overheat, because burning your food will destroy this seasoning you’ve worked so hard to create. Use oil or butter when you cook and avoid cooking tomatoes or other acidic foods, because that can erode the seasoning surface. Avoid cooking something that boils a long time in a cast iron pan, because that too can erode the surface. You can cook tomatoes or cook soup in a cast iron pan, but you should wait until the seasoning surface is well-developed.

Once you’re done cooking with it, clean it out right away so nothing sticks to it. It shouldn’t stick hard, but cleaning it promptly under running with a gentle scraping from a rubber spatula should be enough to dislodge your cooked-on food. Avoid soap, because it will wash away the seasoning surface you’ve worked so hard to create.

The first few times you cook with it after seasoning, you want to encourage a good seasoning surface to develop. Cook oily foods for the first 5 to 10 times. Good choices would be fried chicken, pancakes, fried potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches, pork chops with fried apples, etc. The more you cook with it, the more your smooth, non-stick surface will develop. If you don’t cook with it often, rub the surfaces with oil in between use.

Once you get that season on the surface, if cared for your cast iron pan will last forever. Occasionally the less high-quality pieces will crack or break. But avoid putting a hot pan in cold water, avoid dropping it, and take general good care of it and that should not be a problem.

Let’s say you’re stuck somewhere for the night. Is it better to stay inside your vehicle or take your in-care gear bag and hustle out of there? Much of this choice depends on your own level of training, the gear you have, and the particular situation you’re in.

Being in a car gives a sense of security, because you’re protected from the elements and have some comfort. But . . . there can be detrimental reasons why you would not want to stay in your vehicle.

The vehicle could become a trap. If you’re surrounded by a mob, you might not have a way to get out.

If there’s a broken window, the car will let in the cold outside air. Can you patch up that broken window with a piece of cardboard or an emergency blanket?

The car holds in the cold. Cars don’t hold in heat, so not staying warm is a real concern. If you’re out of the car, you can possibly gather wood and use your fire starter to make a sheltering fire.

The vehicle is conductive metal. It’s a myth that the rubber tires on a car protect a vehicle from lightning strikes. A fully enclosed metal vehicle is safe, as long as you’re not touching any part of the metal frame in the event that there is a lightning strike–this means no touching door and window handles, steering wheels, gear shifts, etc. In order for this to be effective, the windows must be closed. Vehicles can still be damaged by a strike.

Close off part of the space. An emergency blanket doesn’t take up much space and they’re cheap. Get a few extra a keep them in the car. You can use these to close off the back or front of your car’s space to make it easier to stay warm. Plus, you might have extra people in your car (kid’s birthday party? or whatever) and you’ll need more than one blanket just for yourself.

If you have to vacate your vehicle, is your gear accessible? Get your bag out of the trunk and keep it nearby. Ahead of time, sort through whatever’s in there and make sure you know what’s in there and how to use it.

Think through scenarios. Based on where you live and the weather, think through what might happen and what you need. If it’s rainy or hot, think about those things and prepare for them. If you have to cross bridges to get home, think about what you might do if you can’t use the bridge. Thinking things through helps your brain to be more able to maintain when there really is an emergency.

Like many of you out there, I have a variety of survival gear. I have duplicates of some things. I have multiples of other things. I have it organized fairly well…it’s in a couple of bags and some boxes in a storage area. I feel well prepared for a basic to mid-level emergency. Problem is, the bags that I have packed are too heavy!

I’m happy with one of the bags I have. It was a thrift store find of an insulated cooler backpack . . . I hadn’t seen these before but when I saw it I knew it would be perfect for a gear bag. It has a large main pocket and a smaller outer pocket that both close with zippers. Because it’s a cooler, it’s lined with waterproof fabric and the outside of it is plastic. And it has wheels. I liked that it was more waterproof than your typical backpack and it rolled, and I didn’t have to pay survival gear bag prices for it.

The other bag is a bowling ball bag that is also a plastic-y material making it more waterproof than typical fabric, but it doesn’t hold as much as the other one. One drawback to using these bags is that they aren’t fully MOLLE’d like “real” survival gear bags. But I like them, I’m using what I have, and I saved money on the deal.

I knew the cooler bag was too heavy. But I moved some things around in that storage room over the weekend and I realized that it were WAY too heavy. What to do?I know that I need to keep them lightweight, so I’m going to start looking for some new bags. Ideally, my husband could take the heaviest bag and our son can take the lightest bag. But SHTF situations are rarely “ideal” and we’re not going to plan for an ideal situation.

Keep it light

When planning your bug-out bag. Be realistic about weight. You might be along. You might be injured. You might have children with you that also need your help. If you have multiple bags, spread your gear out among the bags so that your bag is light enough for you to actually handle and yet also contains your essential stuff.

Pack large, heavy items on the bottom.

Put items on the bottom that you don’t think you’ll need as much, and also anything squishy that can handle being compressed by the weight of things above it.

Keep frequently used items at the top.

Items that I’d keep at hand are fire starting equipment, rain gear (so you’re not digging for it in the, you know, rain), lighting, and one serving of food or snacks and water.


Utilize bags or containers to keep things together. For instance, your fire starting material all in one pouch and your first aid all in one kit.

Review your pack occasionally.

If it’s been months since you packed your bag and stored it away, get it out and go through it. There’s nothing worse than knowing you have something but not being able to find it. Or thinking that you have something but then realizing it’s not there or not what you thought it was. It’s a good idea to continually edit and curate the items in your survival bag anyway. You may discover that you’re lacking something or you find gear that you like better than what you already have.

And, actually use the stuff.

That last point is key. If you get gear, use it. Try it out. Become familiar with it. Think about how you would handle a stressful situation if you were trying to get a fire built or filter water and you were trying to read a label or product instruction manual in the dark, in the rain, in the freezing cold, because you never used it beforehand and didn’t know what to do. Yeah. That’s genuinely a situation to avoid being in.

So repack your gear! And get out there and use it.