Saturday, February 15, 2014

Some Realities of EmComm

Well, Peppermint Patti (KB3MCT) and I made it through the New Years Eve celebration unscathed. As a matter of fact we were engrossed in a movie at home and almost missed the countdown to 2014!!! We are such "party animals!!"

Pat and I both take our commitment to emergency communications (EmComm) via our involvement with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) very seriously. Unfortunately, our ability to participate in drills and simulated emergency tests (SETs) in 2013 were drastically curtailed due to family obligations and Pat's work schedule. It is our desire to interact with the local Gwinnett and Barrow county ARES groups in the upcoming year.  A major part of the commitment involves being ready to deploy without tearing the entire house and shack apart to find the necessary radio gear and other things we will need for the magic 72 hours after we are deployed.

One of the realities of EmComm is the onus placed on the volunteer to have, at the ready, a "Go-Bag" (also commonly called a Bug-Out-Bag, Get-Out-Of-Dodge-Bag, etc). This one piece of ARES hardware is a key element within the EmComm community and many, many words have been written about the "Ultimate Bug-Out-Bag". Now it's my turn.

As one gains experience in EmComm and subsequently endures numerous deployments and activations the reality of the "ULTIMATE" go-bag rapidly becomes a myth. Right up there with the Holy Grail and five cent cigars. To the uninitiated it is advantageous to have "everything" in your bag. Reality quickly sets in and it becomes painfully apparent (italics mine)  that you can't take it all with you.

You (along with the rest of us) need help. I have read and reviewed quite a few bug-out-bag how-to books over the last couple of years. The best of the lot, by far is "Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit" by Creek Stewart (available through for under $10).

Ideally your B-O-B should contain the bare necessities to enable the EmComm volunteer to be self-sufficient for a minimum of 72 hours. I've often wondered why 72 hours was the "magic number"? Personally I'd shoot for the at least a week, possibly two if possible. Unfortunately expanding the B-O-B to include life support for a week or more leads to a very large (and heavy) container. Therefore, lets concentrate on the standard 72 hours of self-sufficiency for starters. We can always expand our kit at a later date.

So, exactly what does one put in a B-O-B? Let's look at the basics for life support: water, security, shelter, and food in that order.

Water:  Water is the staff of life! Period! You can survive for roughly 6-7 days without water. After that you are dead! Period! Unfortunately no one has managed to invent/manufacture dehydrated or instant water! Water is heavy; 8 pounds per gallon. You should consume at least one gallon of water per person per day. Three days worth of pre-packaged/bottled water equates to 24 pounds. That's heavy. Therefore, the logical conclusion would be to keep one or two bottles of water in our B-O-B kit and plan on using a water filter and/or water purification tablets to provide us with potable water after our initial water is consumed. Water filters, good ones, are not cheap. Plan on spending between $50-$125 on a good quality portable water filtration device.

Security: This one subject could take up an entire book! Often we do not know where we are going to be deployed, so the idea that you might find yourself in a hotel room or living in a lean-to in a forest are distinct possibilities. In any case you need to be aware of your surroundings and have your personal security set accordingly. What I am about to say may cause some of you to recoil in horror at the idea of including a fire arm in your B-O-B. However, that is exactly what I am going to do. Your personal security is YOUR responsibility. Not the cops, not the military, but Y-O-U! Obviously, if you are going to do this you need training. One of my personal pet peeves is that people are allowed to buy a fire arm, get a concealed carry permit (CCW) and then boldly go on about their lives carrying a deadly weapon without the proper training. This is just plain stupid. IF you are going to include a fire arm in your B-O-B, then you NEED to get some combat arms training from professionals. Watching DVDs or reading a book or two is not a substitute for time on the range with a qualified combat arms instructor. Personally, I prefer either a small J-frame Smith & Wesson 5 shot revolver in .38 caliber, or one of the many sub-compact semi-autos in 9mm Luger. Don't forget a good quality knife. Knives are one tool that is indispensable in the B-O-B. I carry at least three in addition to a large folder in my cargo pants pocket. Lastly, in the discussion of personal security, learn and follow the Jeff Cooper condition colors: White, Yellow, Orange and lastly Red. Just Google "Jeff Cooper or these code colors and you'll find a great method of staying on top of your personal security.

Shelter: For several global engagements the US military has relied upon a "shelter half" or "poncho" to keep her troops dry and relatively warm. Today we not only have military surplus shelter halves and ponchos but we have a plethora of "survival blankets" in various configurations that can be adapted to work as personal shelters, sleeping bags (believe me this is a very loose terminology), and shelter/tent/lean-to. Weight of these modern plastic (Mylar, actually) survival blankets is negligible so packing several in the bag is not a big deal. Obviously you can find single one-person tents (the good ones are really expensive but can be used on the North Face of Mt. Everest!) can be purchased and included but, again, you are adding weight. Remember: ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain. Of course, you can opt for foraging tree limbs and make a lean-to if you are in an area where trees are plentiful and abundant.

Food: The survival manuals all say you can exist just fine for two weeks without food. Beyond that time frame you will loose the ability to think clearly, your body will start devouring muscle tissue to "feed" itself in the absence of any sustenance and in about 30 days sans food you are dead! Resist the idea of packing a few MREs (Meals Ready To Eat) from the military surplus outlets. They are NOT packaged conveniently for use in a ruck sack (bug-out-bag), and they taste like crap after a couple of days. There are a number of freeze dried food outlets, many of which find their way to the shelves of Wal-Mart, REI Sports, etc. They are very light, extremely packable but the are NOT cheap. You can pack three to five days worth of freeze dried meals and add only one or two pounds of total weight to your ruck. Don't forget "power" bars and protein bars, especially the latter. You NEED protein to keep muscle tone. They all taste like cardboard drizzled with caramel and chocolate but they will keep you functional in the absence of a five star restaurant. I pack some "trail mix" that I put together myself (Google it) and some power/protein bars, along with some hard candy (carbs) and some form of jerky.  Some authorities may dismiss the jerky as being too high in salt content, but in an environment where you want to retain water and not become dehydrated, jerky is the answer. It is also very high in protein per ounce. I prefer the brand carried by Costco not the "Bigfoot" brands you will find in Wal-Mart and the gas station convenience stores. The latter I have had bad experiences with all centering on mold. E-mails and phone calls to the manufacturer have gone unanswered. So I say "screw Bigfoot jerky". Stick with the Costco brand (No I do not have any commercial interest or ties with Costco) I just like the taste and the fact that when I open the bag it's not all green/blue and fuzzy! (My aircrew survival school instructor told me many years ago "Arland, their ain't no such thing as eatable navy blue food"!)

OK, that is about all for now on the subject of bug-out-bags. Do your homework and get on the net and find out things for yourself. Remember, these are MY ideas and your situation may or may not be similar to mine, so there is work to do to be ready to deploy with a ruck that is not only useful but easy to carry. Remember, ARES does not employ any baggage porters, so if you bring it you "hump" it, Pard.

Vy 73 and get involved with ARES/RACES EmComm.

Rich K7SZ