Category Archives: Preparedness

MI5 boss: “we cannot hope to stop everything”

From the BBC:

The threat is growing, MI5 is stretched, some of its capabilities are at risk.

All of that means something is likely to happen. That was the bleak message from [head of the UK’s MI5] Andrew Parker.

While I disagree with Mr. Parker’s assertion that the security services need more powers to intercept and monitor all communications (which, in the UK, they pretty much do already, so I’m not sure how they’d increase that ability), I do agree that it’s unreasonable to expect 100% safety or 100% success in stopping bad guys from doing bad things.

Thus, as always, the answer is to be reasonably prepared to take care of oneself in various situations until the cavalry arrives: in this case, having a gun and the training and will to use it effectively if the need arises while hoping that one would never face such a situation.

Consider, for example, the photos taken of the killers in Paris by citizens sheltering on nearby rooftops. Had one or more people on those rooftops been armed, even with handguns, they would have been able to fire from an elevated position on the unsuspecting bad guys. At the very least, this would have caused confusion on the part of the bad guys, distracted them, and slowed them down — hopefully until the police could arrive.

Alternatively, if directly confronted by armed bad guys intent on murder, being armed gives one at least a fighting chance of surviving the encounter. Success is not assured, particularly when it comes to defending oneself from heavily armed attackers who had the element of surprise, but it’s better than nothing.

911 should be part of a plan, not the whole plan

One of the key points of disagreement between pro-gunners and anti-gunners is on the concept of whether or not it is necessary, or even appropriate, for an “average” citizen to have ready access to a lethal weapon in case they are attacked. Anti-gunners often hold that the proper course of action when one is threatened by another is to call the police and let them deal with the problem. To the average person this might sound like a perfectly reasonable answer, but it reallyisn’t. The giant hole in the anti-gunner self defense plan is that even the best police response is going to be minutes out in a situation where seconds define the boundaries between life and death.

Tim at Gun Nuts Media.

Read the whole thing. Lots of good info.

Ballistic Monte Carlo Methods

This is a paragraph I never thought I’d see in the academic literature:

“[W]e advocate the use of ballistic-assisted (i.e. projectile-based) random sampling methods because they are both easily accessible and parallelizable. In particular, shotgun-assisted random sampling seems very suitable becaues of the presumed abundance of shotguns in cataclysmic times and the speed at which they can generate samples.”

– Vincent Dumoulin, Félix Thouin – “A Ballistic Monte Carlo Approximation of π

Awesome. That’d make for an amazing grant application.

See here for a summary article that explains things for non-mathematicians.

Edit: Somehow I borked the initial post by forgetting the title and screwing up a link. I’ve now corrected these errors. If you’re still seeing those errors in your feed reader, please refresh the feed.

Transportation Independence

A few months ago there was a Teamsters strike in Tucson that resulted in the city bus service being interrupted for several days.

The newspapers reported that many thousands of people had no means of transportation other than their own two feet (and some not even that) and the bus. These people were unable to make it to work, to appointments, etc. A few of my college-age friends were among them. Bad Times ensued.

Now the BBC is reporting that Eurostar train service between the UK and Brussels will be interrupted due to strikes. I’ve had the pleasure of riding on the Eurostar and have noted that it’s usually filled with all number of people, including many business-types. No doubt there will be many people affected by this disruption.

While it may be difficult to find practical alternatives for long-distance transportation like the Eurostar (though one can make it from the Guildford, UK to Monte Carlo by ferry and car before a train can get you there, according to Top Gear), there’s really no excuse to not have one’s own local transportation.

At the very least, get a bicycle. While it might take an hour and a half for an average person to walk five miles, walking across town is more of a hassle, as there’s lights, intersections, and the like. It’s likely to take much longer. A bicycle, however, is much faster than walking, isn’t limited to roads like a car, is less expensive to purchase (my Giant Cypress was about $150 on sale), involves no insurance or expenses other than a helmet, at least one U-lock, and maybe a replacement tube or two in case you run over glass. A bike can fit in even the smallest apartment.

A motor scooter or motorcycle, particularly a well-maintained used one, is also a wise choice. Inexpensive to buy, inexpensive to insure (state minimums in AZ are about $75/year with Progressive, though I prefer full coverage at about $300/year), and inexpensive to keep fueled up and maintained, they’re great choices for both short-and-medium ranged travel. One also needn’t work up a sweat when commuting to work. Every European city I’ve been in has been chock-full of scooters for these very reasons.

While there’s not much one can do about fuel availability (see the fuel strikes in France) — other than riding a bike, owning oil wells and a refinery, or having a solar/wind charger for an electric vehicle — being completely dependent on a third-party for basic, everyday transportation needs is a Really Bad Idea. If one takes the bus or subway to work every day, that’s fine, but one should have an alternative available if the need arises.

[Update June 16, 2011: Due to an oddly large amount of spammers targeting this post with spam for limo services and the like, comments are now closed.]

Be Handy, Save Money

Problem: Motor scooter idles rough, frequently stalls at idle, and generally runs poorly. It wasn’t always like this.

Spendy: Mechanic wants ~$70 for diagnosis and repairs.

Handy: Open carburetor access hatch. Inspect for obvious defects. Find cracked vacuum hose.

Cheap: Spend $1.39 for new vacuum hose. Replace hose. Scooter runs great.

While being specialized skills can be a definite perk, just having a base level of “handiness” can be…well…handy. Knowing how to troubleshoot, find, and fix problems with commonly-encountered things (e.g. computers, guns, vehicles, home electrical appliances, plumbing, etc.) can be rewarding, useful, and cost-effective.

Just don’t hurt yourself too badly while learning. :)

Where Not To Go

A recent Fark thread about zombies brought disaster preparedness to the fore in my mind.

Specifically, it made me think about locations that, at first glance, may seem to be an excellent place to flee to in a disaster, but are actually a very bad idea.

One of the prime examples is a big-box store, like Wal-Mart, Costco, etc. Here’s my analysis:

Pros

  1. Large, windowless building. Rolling metal shutters allow entrances to be secured. Doors only open outwards, and are made of steel.
  2. Substantial reserves of food and water.
  3. Large, flat roof makes it easy to observe (and by extension protect) the surrounding environs.
  4. Large steel racks of goods can be used for various other purposes, including elevated sleeping platforms and barriers.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? However, if there’s a major disaster, there’s numerous cons as well:

Cons

  1. Most people are poorly prepared for an emergency, and so will flock to such a store if a disaster is imminent1. They’ll probably head in even greater numbers to such a store during a disaster (witness all the looting that took place in New Orleans after Katrina, for example).
  2. These stores have huge amounts of perishable products (e.g. meats, milk, etc.) that will rapidly spoil if the power to their freezers is interrupted. One would need to quickly remove these products from the store and deposit them a suitable distance away before they spoil, particularly if one is going to remain there for more than a day or two. Spoiled food can attract predators and harbor diseases.
  3. Sanitation is a problem. While one can flush a toilet by pouring water into it (useful if the water service is out), this wastes considerable amount of water. It also assumes that the sewer system is still operational, which may not necessarily be the case. Big-box stores tend to be surrounded by enormous parking lots, and digging a latrine through asphalt is quite challenging.

While a big-box store may appear to be an attractive place to go during a disaster, I submit that it’s a bad idea.

To me, it makes much more sense to be reasonably prepared at home — a week or two of food and water per person doesn’t take up that much space and isn’t that expensive. Get a few other basic supplies2 , like  flashlights, batteries, a water filter, some means of starting a fire, a shovel/entrenching tool, toilet paper, some cash, a tent and some sleeping bags, and you’ll be set to ride out just about any plausible disaster until help arrives.

If an actual zombie attack occurs, we’ll be screwed anyway.

  1. They always seem to buy bread, milk, and eggs. Why? When faced with a natural disaster, “french toast” is not the first food that comes to mind. []
  2. Firearms and ammo are assumed. []

Taking Things for Granted

It is high praise for utility providers when we take them for granted; it means they’re doing their job of providing uninterrupted, excellent service. When I turn on my faucet, I expect and receive clean water. I expect that the water going down the drain to leave my apartment in a sanitary way, to be treated and disposed of somewhere else. I expect that when I turn on the light switch, electricity flows to my lamp.

Short of very brief, tolerable outages (e.g. there was a several hour long power outage at my apartment complex the other day, due to equipment failure with Tucson Electric Power. They evidently repaired or replaced the equipment and had it back on within a few hours.), such utilities are normally extremely reliable and it’s only natural that we adapt to their presence and take them for granted.

However, if one is preparing for an abnormal situation — a natural disaster or zombie attack, for example — one needs to realize that such utilities will likely be interrupted and plan accordingly.

More posts on related topics soon.

Electronics Repair

Knowing how to repair things is one of the more important tools a prepared person can have. While increased miniaturization and performance of electronics has resulted in many devices being cheaper to replace rather than repair, there’s quite a few things which one can do to keep ones electronics in top shape while also saving a bunch of money.

Take, for example, my Garmin StreetPilot c330 GPS unit. It’s served me well over the last three years, though after enduring a blazing Arizona summer (or two), the internal lithium-ion battery was no longer able to hold a charge.

Garmin wanted $150 for an out-of-warranty replacement of the battery, which I thought was a bit hefty, so I did a bit of research online. It turns out that the battery was an “18650” lithium-ion battery, which is available at a number of retailers, including the local BatteriesPlus store. Fortunately, the local shop also had a model (PDA-210LI) of the battery which included the necessary plug to fit the circuit board of the GPS unit. While it was a bit pricier than the bare battery, it made life quite a bit easier.

Installation was rather easy: I simply needed to de-solder where the wires from the original plug (which was permanently connected to the battery) connected to the internal speakers and solder the speaker wires from the new plug to those same points. After that, it was a trivial matter of plugging the battery in and closing everything up. The battery charged up as expected and runs the GPS just fine.

This particular problem was quite simple and required only the most basic knowledge of soldering, but it ended up saving me $120. Oftentimes problems found with electronic devices are fairly simple (blown fuses, dead batteries, worn-out wire, etc.) and can be repaired using inexpensive, off-the-shelf tools (e.g. a soldering iron) and basic knowledge.

In addition to saving money, knowledge of basic electronics (and their repair) can be quite fun.