Archive for the ‘Education/Information’ Category

Weathering the storm

January 25, 2012

So, here we are in the midst of the highest level of solar activity since 2005 (the last time that the aurora borealis was visible as far south as New Mexico). My internet access has been extremely spotty for the last few days with major network outages reported over New Mexico and parts of Texas over the weekend. Friends of mine lost cell phone acess for days. Computers have been downright churlish. Other electronics like printers, copiers and faxes have seemed sluggish and uncooperative.

This is nothing new. Given the intensity of the current activity it’s exactly what we’d expect [see earlier post].  After all, there’s been plenty written about the impact of these events on our technology.  Farraday’s experiments showed the power of magnetic fields to induce an electric charge to move through a wire — effectively recreating the impact of geomagnetic storms on a tiny scale. Now that we have a huge power grid, the current from these magnetic disturbances has plent of room to run — often with disastrous results. In 1972, a near quarter-million volt transformer of British Columbia Hydroelectric exploded due to such a spike in current caused by fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field. In 1989, millions of citizens in Quebec experienced a blackout due to solar activity.

The good news and the bad news is that there seems to be no defense against the X-ray bursts, geomagnetic storms, solar radiation, radio interference, or current spikes that are a product of solar activity. Oh sure, we can influence EMF on a very small scale — say, room by room, or building by building (EMF Services). But blocking larger, more powerful magnetic fields? or solar radiation? or those x-ray bursts? Forget about it.

Why is that good news? Well, if you can’t do anything about it, you might as well let it go. Good news: one less thing to fret over. Why is it bad news? Aside from the self evident, the bad news is that we don’t really know what all this solar activity does to us. Sure, there’s been copious research on the effects of EMF, radiation, etc. on the human body. But no one’s really concocted a solid way to study the impact that these solar events have on our cells, our brains or our behavior. Sure, someone with more time than me could study hospital admissions, police reports, psych ward records and probably find correlations between solar activity and various spikes in certain events, injuries or illnesses. But it would be a correlation at best (if it panned out), there would be no proof of a causal relationship.

I’m not the only one who believes that such a relationship exists. Goodness knows that the Air Force studies geomagnetic activity and its potential effects on our technology in all its permutations (AFRL SVD KAFB). It seems to me, if something is powerful enough to impact the functioning of electronic gadgets and even the power grid, powerful enough to penetrate the planet, well… it’s got to be impacting my functioning as well… right? Well, to my mind, it stands to reason.

What those effects might be is the subject of someone’s research project. Heck, maybe mine. Certainly, if I dig it up I’ll post on it. For the time being, the activity that called a “solar hurricane” is buzzing along outside in the atmosphere. People in the high latitudes are grooving to Mother Nature’s Lava Lamp. Cell phones are getting crappy reception. Printers are losing jobs. Internet Explorer cannot display the page. And computers are inserting errors into office memos.

What’s a girl to do? Simple. I’m turning everything off: router, computer, television and phone. In a day or so I’ll surface with a shrug and say, “Sun spots.”


AFRL Space Vehicle Directorate, Kirtland AFB. “AF-GEOSPACE Fact Sheet.” Retrieved from:

EMF Services. “Magnetic Field Cancellation (Active Shielding).” Retrieved from:


Book Review: Scott B. Williams’ Bug Out Vehicles

December 13, 2011

Scott B. Williams has done it again. Bug Out Vehicles and Shelters is the latest in a line of books designed to help you save your hide (and your family) should disaster (or mayhem) strike. Unlike other survival authors who may claim to have all the answers, Williams may actually have them: understand your needs and situation; think for yourself; plan and prepare ahead of time; the world doesn’t have to end for you to be forced to face a nasty scenario and make tough decisions; the more homework you do now, the less stressful it will be later.

Bug Out Vehicles is not a book that will tell you to “do this” or don’t do that.” Instead, Williams walks readers through the thought processes of true preparedness. He wants readers to learn how to think about survival situations, develop skills ahead of time, and get things in order before it’s too late to do anything but panic. Unlike other survival books that seem bent on getting people ready for an influx of zombies or invading aliens, Williams’ books offer sound, common-sense advice on being ready to deal with real world situations: like evacuating ahead of a hurricane or wildfire, for example. The S*** doesn’t have to hit the fan for Williams’ books to be useful.

Williams’ series of books is like a course in preparedness thinking. In Bug Out, he introduced readers to the idea of bugging out, getting them to think in terms of leaving as opposed to trying to stick it out when things go bad. In Getting Out Alive, he introduces the concept of thinking through scenarios ahead of time, in order to think through how you might react in similar situations and what you might do about it. In Bug Out Vehicles, he’s on to the next step, “So, how are you going to get there?”

Bug Out Vehicles begins with the premise “So, you’re leaving for ________ [your bug out shelter, another state, an area not impacted by the disaster, etc.]. Have you given much thought to how you’ll get there?” Along the way Williams covers various sorts of bug out vehicles and runs through lists of pros and cons for each one under various circumstances — what works in an orderly, low-key evacuation for a family of four, might be deadly for a single individual trying to get the hell out of an urban area in the midst of violent civil unrest. And he provides “don’t forget this” checklists for each type of vehicle he discusses.

Williams, to his credit, offers ideas and starting points for many modes of transportation (from human-powered, to internal combustion, to hay powered) and for every income level. The ability to escape in order to survive should not be limited to those with an unlimited budget. Being able to get out, Williams’ says, doesn’t depend on going out and buying a new vehicle. And he makes a compelling case for why your four-door family sedan (as unattractive as you may think it is) may not be such a bad bug out vehicle after all. He offers suggestions for modifications and accommodations for every mode of transport. Again, always with the implied questions, “What if ________?” and “Have you thought about ________?” Williams, if nothing else, wants his readers to get their minds right about being prepared.

Would I recommend Bug Out Vehicles and Shelters? You bet. For most of us, transportation is an afterthought at best. All too often, we take for granted that we’ll hop in ours cars and SUVs and take off. Williams give his reader plenty of food for thought, and readers should be biting.

Letting go but not giving up

May 6, 2011
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here at Legitimate Citizen.
We sort of got washed away in the overwhelm that followed the Honshu quake and the Fukashima Daiichi reactor crisis.  We continue to monitor radiation levels in the states via EPA RadNet and RadiationNetwork. We have struggled with the math as we tried to make sense of the reporting on the incident. After months of conflicting reports and journalistic slight of hand, we have come to a few conclusions.
1) The reporting of radiation releases in the various scales is confusing and probably intentional. We heard rads and sieverts, rems and millirems. Each scale finds use for different purposes and distinguishing between the various scales and which should be used under what circumstances is an arcane science to those of use who don’t work with this stuff every day. We feel that authorities have no interested in provided the public with accurate information, so they kept us confused and scrambling with their nuclear shell game.
p.s. – when numbers get reported in terms of Sieverts that’s usually a very bad sign…
2) If we really knew and understood the magnitude of what has happened to us, we would be enraged and outraged. However, once it’s out, it’s out. There’s not a lot you can do about it. You can take measures to try to protect yourself from radiation. And you can take steps to try to support your body with the tools it needs to mitigate and repair radiation damage. But, mostly, if you’ve been radiated, you just have to do the best you can and wait to see what happens in a couple of decades.
There is a ton of “information” and pseudo-science on the internet about what to do in the event of radiation exposure. Some of these things seem pretty extreme and I’m not certain that they wouldn’t be more harmful than the radiation itself.
Myself, I stick with miso and   teas that contain stinging nettle. Miso contains a compound called dipicolinic acid that has been shown to protect cells from certain forms of radiation. There is anecdotal evidence that it affords considerable protection… but, again, that’s anecdotal evidence. The research on it is limited. But I like miso, so it’s no big deal for me. It’s already part of my diet.
The stinging nettle tea… I can’t remember where I got it. The University of Maryland Medical Center website has a good article on the medicinal properties of stinging nettle. It states, in part:
“Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Today, many people use it to treat urinary problems during the early stages of an enlarged prostate (called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH), for urinary tract infections, for hay fever (allergic rhinitis), or in compresses or creams for treating joint pain, sprains and strains, tendonitis, and insect bites” (University of Maryland, 2010).
While none of that speaks specifically to radiation exposure, nothing I read in there sounds like it’s going to hurt me. Stinging nettle figured prominently in the ingredient list of an “anti-radiation tea” a friend of mine drank religiously after being exposed to radiation from Chernobyl.
3) More than likely, there has been more radiation released than we will ever know. Over the past few months, our casual monitoring has shown us that radiation levels frequently spiked to over a hundred times our normal background level here in Albuquerque. Spikes in other areas were much higher. While this was going on, all we heard in the media was that there was no cause for concern. We may never know directly exactly how bad this event has been. We will see its effects in sea life, in cancer clusters, and in abbreviated lifespans.
4) There is no such thing as healthy radiation (the relationship between sunshine and vitamin D notwithstanding).  Ionizing radiation is not good for you. It is used to treat cancer because it is deadly for cells — and cancer cells are more fragile than normal, healthy cells. Ionizing radiation is always bad for you — and for every other living organism.
5) Ionizing radiation dosages are cumulative. It doesn’t wear off like a dose of aspirin. You can get away with smaller exposures over longer periods of time because your body comes closer to being able to repair the damage to its cells as this damage happens. When the doses are larger and/or closer together, your body can’t keep up. There is the chance that damaged cells will not die, but will replicate with their damaged genetic material. Ionizing radiation doses are cumulative.
The lessons of the crisis in Japan are hard. I’m not talking about the lessons for society about energy, or for policy makers concerned with nuclear waste. I’m talking about the lessons for you and I. The lessons are hard: there are things which are completely out of our control; there are events from which we will be unable protect ourselves regardless of our plans and preparations; control is an illusion; we cannot separate ourselves from the rest of the world – we are all interconnected. We’re all in this together.
Since I am seeing that there are things I cannot control, in order to better cope with this crisis, I look at things I can control and the choices I make. I can choose to use less energy, or choose to generate some of my own power through wind and/or solar (we’re not there yet, but it is on the table). I can take care of myself in a way that supports my body to maintain and heal itself – regardless of what I may or may not have been exposed to. I can make choices that reduce my dependence on a system that is not sustainable (like raising some of my own food). I can make choices that help sustain the world as it repairs itself (like planting plants, trees and shrubs that support wildlife or installing bat houses and bird houses or keeping bees). I can choose to do things that bring me peace in the face of the anxiety caused by so many unknowns and so many things that are out of my control: prayer, meditation, study. I can make my voice heard with my elected officials: voicing my opinion about sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture, opposing big-pharma & giant mono-culture agri-business, opposing ramapant insecticide and herbicide use, opposing GMO’s at every level.
Essentially, I’ve been looking at this crisis and I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s not a damned thing I can do about it directly. Here I am. There they are. I’m not a nuclear engineer. I am one woman. I’m going to do what I can where I am and let God, the Universe, the Great Pumpkin or whatever Higher Power there may be take care of the rest.
Thanks for reading.
~ L.
University of Maryland School of Medicine. 2010. Retrieved from:

Radiation angst… see for yourself

March 23, 2011

Until the recent earthquake in Japan, the resultant tsunami and the looming nuclear situation, I had been working on a post about utilities. Specifically, how it is that people in New Mexico didn’t have natural gas to heat their homes during the coldest days in recent memory. It’s a fascinating story with many maddening twists that people who live in this state really ought to understand. But, it’s been pre-empted by another utility situation: Fukashima Daiishi.

I don’t know about you, but my radiation knowledge is not what it probably should be. I mean, I know my “friends” are time, shielding and distance. Limit exposure time. Shielding material can help protect from additional exposure. Get as far away as possible when it’s safe.  Simple right? Sure… until you factor in an unknown radiation source (how much? how fast? what kinds?) and things like the jet stream, prevailing winds and rain. What did it all mean?

Radiation is not as straighforward as natural gas. some radiation, alpha and beta particles, are actual particles. A piece of paper would stop radiation emitted from an alpha particle. Beta radiation is blocked by the dead layer of skin cells, the outermost layer of your epidermis. So you’re safe…? Maybe… unless an event involves gamma or neutron radiation. Then, save for distance or lead shielding, there’s no defense against it.

So, how do we know?

Mostly, we don’t. The public does have some access to government and private radiation monitoring information [see links below]. But, accuracy varies widely. Government officials are notorious for taking a detector offline to “determine its accuracy” when it registers a reading they consider abnormal. In this situation, with five nuclear reactors about to crap out their cores at the other end of the jet stream, who’s to say what’s abnormal?

At our house, we’ve been monitoring radiation levels almost since the start of the incident using the websites below — and charting the trends. Tonight, on the evening news, we heard the first announcement that radiation from Japan was passing over the United States. It was nice to feel like we were on top of things. It feels nice to know that we know (or think we know) what’s going on.

So far, we’re not overly alarmed about the radiation levels we’re seeing. They’re elevated. Sometimes sharply so. The highest reading to date has been about five times our normal background level of radiation… but even that was only two and a half times the normal background radiation on a sunny summer day in Denver. Even at that level, even at five times our normal level, it wasn’t at a level that anyone considers dangerous. At least, not acutely dangerous.

The thing with radiation… is that sometimes your body is able to repair cellular damage than can be caused by radiation exposure. If the exposure is slight enough and occurs over a long enough period of time, it has virtually ZERO impact on your lifespan, or even on your odds of getting cancer. It’s really high, rapid, all-of-a-sudden, sorts of exposure that get you into deep trouble. When the damage occurs faster than your body can compensate and repair it, you end up with all manner of nastiness. Still, long term radiation exposure is generally no good for you (UV and vitamin D relationship aside). You want to avoid it if you can. That’s why your doctor tells you to wear sunscreen and sunglasses (cataracts are the most common form of radiation damage).

So, in the weeks to come, I’ll try to work up some charts to give you guys some numbers on radiation exposure, what the numbers in the media mean, how radiation is measured and why that should be important to you. And we’ll talk about radiation and preparedness: the duct tape and plastic drill, when and why to stock up of potassium idodide, that kind of thing.

Suffice to say, our advice is not to panic. We’ve been watching this thing unfold for awhile. We’ve seen radon detectors pawned off as radiation detectors… $400 geiger counters selling for thousands… and $20 bottle of potassium iodide tablets selling for hundred of dollars. In every situation like this, there are going to be people who prey on your fears. Being educated on the real risks is your best defense.

Here are the links we use to monitor radiation:

EPA website for radiation monitoring: click the link. In the center of the first paragraph, there is a link labeled RadNet Map View. Click that link. It will take you to a page where it displays the EPA’s permanent and mobile radiation detectors.

Radiation Network: a really level-headed guy who runs a grassroots radiation monitoring network. The monitoring stations are all volunteer efforts. Check it out.

Black Cat Systems: online ionizing radiation network. Another private endeavor. Although I think his map is a little cumbersome, he has great information on different type of detectors, why readings vary and tons of other reasons not to panic.

So, there you have it… our first two bits on Fukashima and radiation. Obviously, you have homework. You’re going to need to know the normal background radiation levels for your area… and you’ll need to know how to convert UTC to your local time zone in order to figure our when a particular reading came in… So, you can either wait for this info in coming posts, or you can make yourself feel better by actually DOING something rather than waiting for some talking head to tell you what you already suspected. Now go get ’em!!!

Thanks for reading… we’re all in this together.


Disaster Psychology – psychological footprints and secondary stress

January 26, 2011

Why do I keep harping on the psychology of disaster? Why do I keep bringing up this principle of good self care as part of preparing for an emergency?  Because I believe it’s important. Gosh, why is this so important? Dr. J. M. Schultz, of the DEEP Center (Disaster and Extreme Event Preparedness Center) at the University of Miami has this to say, “In a disaster, the size of the psychological ‘footprint’ will greatly exceed the size of the medical ‘footprint.’ “1 He goes on to say, “The psychological fallout from a disaster can be widespread and pervasive.”2  The implications for psychological impact will exceed the physical and medical impact. Every time.

Is that right? Can the mental and emotional fallout exceed the medical impact? You bet.

Let’s take a look at an event from recent memory  ̶  long enough ago that we(hopefully)  won’t traumatize anyone by bringing it up again, but recent enough so that we have solid and reliable data. Let’s consider the 1995 Subway Sarin Incident in Tokyo.  Members of a terrorist group released Sarin gas (a nerve agent) in the subway system.  A dozen people were killed, dozens more required critical care and several hundred sustained injuries that required emergency treatment or hospitalization.

All told there were 1,053 victims in the medical footprint: 12 dead, 63 critically injured , 978 other injuries.  Within hours of the event 4,023 people walked into emergencies rooms all over the city complaining of symptoms of Sarin exposure. Each and every one of these individuals was examined and then released – none of the 4,023 had actually been exposed. Yet, they walked into ER’s all over Tokyo nearly overwhelming  already taxed resources.

When we consider the psychological footprint of an event on the healthcare system, let’s consider how an event would be perceived by a single hospital.  It could be a hospital that is one of several similar institutions in a city, or it could be a single hospital that serves a far-flung rural area. Their map of impacted persons demonstrates the potential pervasiveness of the psychological impact.3

As you can see, hospitals must be prepared to deal with a great number of people who were psychologically impacted by an event  ̶  regardless of whether they were present at the time of the event, or not. Beyond the medical casualties, there will be people who are psychological casualties, people who break down, people who suffer panic or anxiety attacks, people with mental illness whose challenges are exacerbated by the event.  Hospital will also have to deal with: families of the victims, families searching for missing loved ones, aid workers who are injured or distressed, media,  hospital volunteers,  bystanders, patients who were already in the hospital whose services are impacted by the event, families of existing patients who are inconvenienced by the event (or by not being able to enter or leave the hospital because of the event), and distressed staff (whose distress may range from frustration at being forced to work longer hours to concern about their family outside of the hospital).  The potential psychological impact is far reaching.

Now, even if you aren’t one of the directly impacted, and you don’t find yourself in or near a hospital after a disaster, you should still understand how far reaching the impact can be – because you’ll be dealing with people who have been impacted. And in your dealings with them, it will help you  if you have at least some understanding of what they’re facing.

What does psychological impact mean to you personally? A number of things. If you are directly involved in an event, you could be personally traumatized by it. This is not a forgone conclusion. Many people seem to “weather the storm” without suffering negative long term effects. Others, however, are traumatized by their experiences. Unable to cope with what they have been through, they develop post traumatic stress disorder and their response to what happened to them is no longer a one-time event   ̶   it becomes chronic. 

There is also the phenomena of vicarious trauma. According to the Vicarious Trauma Institute, vicarious trauma is the result of negative changes that can occur from empathic engagement with victims and their suffering and needs. 4  You can be personally overwhelmed by what others have been through.  This is especially true when you are in direct contact with victims and survivors.

Long term traumatization, both direct and indirect, can lead to a condition known as compassion fatigue.  The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project defines compassion fatigue this way, “[It] is also sometimes called Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It is a lessening of one’s ability to feel compassion toward others, a desensitization to the suffering of other beings.” 5 In form and function, it is much the same animal as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but it results from repeated engagement with the trauma of others. In Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder you become numb to the suffering of others.

So, what makes an event traumatic as opposed to just stressful? Researchers have discovered that humans seem to respond better to disasters and emergencies when they’re “natural”   ̶   tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, etc. People seem to be able to rationalize these things more effectively. These things are obviously beyond our control. Ironically, this seems to make it easier to deal with.

When disasters are manmade (like the BP oil spill, the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the Three Mile Island incident) they have greater potential for psychological trauma. When the disaster is caused by human error or laziness, its traumatic potential is greater.

Greater yet in traumatic potential yet are terrorist events.  

There are certain factors in any event which can increase an events potential for psychological trauma. If an event is unexpected and many people die (especially children), or if it lasts a long time, the potential increases. If the causes is unknown the potential for mental distress increases. This is one of the reasons that authorities often rush to get out reports about an event. Even when the early reports are contradicted by later information, the goal is to give people some assurances and mitigate a little of that psychological impact. It’s also well known that excessive conflicting reports can have the opposite effect. Events that are poignant or meaningful (say, for example, it occurs on the anniversary of another disaster or on an important holiday) can be especially traumatic   ̶   as can events that cover a large area.

Individuals also have their own personal factors which can increase the psychological impact of an event.  The impact has the potential to be greater if the person has some personal involvement with the event  ̶  if, say, they worked in the same building where the event took place, or if they knew someone who worked there.  Having a history of previous mental health issues increases risk   ̶  as do previous significant loss (like a death in the family), social isolation (like older people living alone), and poverty.

 What’s the solution? How do you mitigate the potential psychological impact of an event? You guessed it, it begins with the good self care we discussed in the previous post.

If you’re not already practicing good self care, the time to start is now. Now is the time to build the knowledge you need. Now is the time to “get right with God” or the Great Pumpkin, or whatever helps you understand your place in the scheme of things. Now is the time to start getting enough rest and eating right. Now is the time to start getting some exercise. Now is the time to reinforce those support relationships that are so critical to you emotional and mental well being – let your friends and loved one know how you feel. Now is the time to build the skills and stock the supplies to help you feel in control and in command of your problem solving faculties. Now is the time to do these things to build your personal resilience. 

Remember: pre-existing resiliency is the best predictor of how you will fare in a disaster.

 As always, thanks for reading.  

 ~ L.


1 Schultz, J.M.  2010. “Psychological footprints.”  Disaster and Extreme Event Preparedness Center, University of Miami.  Retrieved from:…/(2_0)%20SFA09%20BRIEF_ DISASTER%20BEHAVIORAL%20HEALTH.pdf

2 Ibid.                  

3 Carlson, Nancy. “Psychological First Aid.” Minnesota Department of Health.

4 Vicarious Trauma Institute. 2009. “What is Vicarious Trauma.” Retrieved from:        

5 Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project. “What is compassion fatigue.” Retrieved from:

Why taking care of yourself NOW is good preparation for LATER

January 24, 2011

In my copious spare time (Ha ha ha!) I sometimes teach the Disaster Psychology module in my local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) trainings. Why? Because: I believe that what happens in your brain during and after a disaster is fascinating; because I believe that understanding what happens in your brain during and after a disaster is a critical piece of coping during the event; because I believe that this understanding is critical to developing mental and emotional resilience; because I believe that mental and emotional resilience are critical to being able to have a healthy recovery following a disaster.

But, I hear you say, how can that be right? Being prepared is about guns and gear and stockpiling food and water, right? Isn’t it about hoarding medical supplies and precious metals? Isn’t it about stockpiling all the stuff, all the conveniences of modern society that we won’t have after the poop hits the fan? Right? Actually, no.

Truth be told, the “stuff” is perhaps only about 25% of what goes into being prepared in the event of an emergency or a disaster. The other 75%? It’s you: your brain, your mind, your emotions, your mental and emotional resilience. We’ll cover psychological footprints of an emergency in a subsequent post, but for now, suffice to say that  taking care of yourself on many levels is a primary part of preparing for an emergency.

The greatest predictor or your ability to recover from a disaster or an emergency is your level of resilience prior to the event. Let me say that again, a little differently. How together you are right now, mentally and emotionally, is the greatest predictor of how well you will fare during and after a disaster. This is not to say that some people don’t rise to the occasion during emergencies – because we’ve all seen that. It is to say that your resilience is directly related to the probability that you will come through a disaster without (or with fewer) mental and emotional scars.

What is resilience? According to the American Psychological Association: “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress… it means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”1  The APA goes on to say that resilience isn’t like having blue eyes or brown eyes. It’s not a trait that you did or didn’t inherit. Resilience is something that you can build – like muscles, or your vocabulary.

How do you build resilience? If you wait until something happens to try to build your resilience, it will be too late. Building resilience should start now. And, it’s based on skills you already have. Building resilience begins with good self care. George Everly, of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Preparedness, teaches that you can build resilience, and mitigate the impact of traumatic events and of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue through good self care.2

This is George Everly’s Self-Care Pyramid. I use it in CERT, to teach folks how to begin building resilience. Actually, I use it to show them that they have already begun to build their resilience and that’s straight forward and not rocket science at all. Let’s take a closer look at the pyramid.

Look at the capstone of the pyramid. It’s labeled “CONTROL & Problem solving.” Why is CONTROL at the capstone? Two reasons. One: in a perfect world and the best of all possible circumstances, we’d all be in control and would be able to wave our proverbial magic wands and just fix things. Two: if the other building blocks are in place, you will be able to remain in control and figure things out. Now. Let’s look at the building blocks that make the capstone possible.

Look at the foundation of the pyramid: FAITH. “Faith” in this instance doesn’t necessarily mean “Higher Power.”  It can, but not necessarily. Everly defines faith as that which helps you understand your place in the scheme of things. It is that intangible thing from which you draw strength. It may be a Higher Power. It may be science. It may be a little of both. It could be a class you take to learn a skill that will serve you in good stead in an emergency. Everly firmly believes that everyone must have something that helps them understand things, come to terms with thing. It forms the basis of good self care.

The next building block of the pyramid: ATTITUDE. Your attitude, your outlook builds upon your faith. If you don’t understand what’s going on, if your faith can’t help you make sense of what’s happened (or what’s happening) to you, you’re not going to have a the kind of attitude that will help you help yourself in an emergency. If you understand the underpinnings of the event (say it’s an earthquake, or a flood), if you understand the causes of an event (faults, or ancient levees), if you understand why something happened, and why it make take the authorities so long to get to you, your attitude is naturally going to be better than that of somebody who doesn’t have a clue.

The next building block is made of two parts: REST and NUTRITION. Good nutrition and hydration are critical to your physical and mental functioning. It’s the fuel for your body and your brain. If you load up on junk food and processed sugars, you’ll get the sugar rush and then you’ll crash & burn and have to seek out more cheap, fast-burning fuel. Also, junk food is made up of excess empty calories that are easy for your body to convert to fat. Good nutrition is critical to optimum functioning. The other half of this building block is REST. In a emergency, we all think we need to be hyper-vigilant. We need to pay attention to everything, all the time. We cannot take a break. What would happen if we’re not paying attention every moment? REST is critical. Rest allows your brain to rest and reset. Your mental health depends upon getting an adequate amount of, not just sleep, but REM sleep. Rest also allows your body to enter a rebuilding and assimilation phase where it can repair itself and assimilate the vitamins and nutrients you’ve been scarfing down all day. Rest helps you be more alert the following day. Adequate rest is imperative – especially in an emergency.

The next building block is EXERCISE. Exercise helps you in many ways: cardiovascular fitness; stress reduction; body mass index. There are a myriad of reasons why exercise is important. But, on a really basic level, we’re not designed to be sedentary creatures. We’re designed to walk and run, hunt and gather. Without exercise we get obese and soft. We lose our core strength and we open ourselves to the risk of a host of health issues. Exercise is a key piece of good self care.

The next building block is SUPPORT.  Support can be found in the form of friendships, faith communities, family. Support is that network of relationships that forms a basis of emotional support you have before, during and after a disaster. Support can be a shoulder to cry on. Support can be hand holding while making a difficult decision. Support, emotional support in one form or another, is a key part of good self care.

And that takes us back to the capstone. If the building blocks are in place, you are more likely to remain in control, more likely to make good decisions, more likely to get things done, more likely to get through a crisis in better mental and emotional shape.

A big part of preparing for a crisis, is good self care before SHTF.

As always, thanks for reading.

~ L.


1 American Psychological Association. 2010. “What is resilience?” Retrieved from:

2 Everly, George. 1995. “Self Care Pyramid?” Retrieved from:

When All Hell Breaks Loose, grab a book

January 11, 2011

People who know me (and know that I am by nature a laid back storyteller) know that I appreciate the literary prowess of Cody Lundin. His writing style is super colloquial yet no-nonsense. He’s a long time survival skills instructor who teaches and makes his home in Arizona. He’s the founder of the Aboriginal Living Skills School and has published a number of books on survival: 98.6 Degrees (published in 2003 and dedicated to the importance of maintaining your core temp) and the one I review today: When All Hell Breaks Loose (first published in 2007 and focused on surviving in an urban environment). 

When All Hell Breaks Loose covers basic survival principles (food, water, shelter, fire, etc.) while also addressing circumstances unique to urban and suburban environments (where most of the world’s population now resides). The sections I found particularly useful dealt with determining how much water you need every day, and how many calories you actually need to function (let me tell you, THIS is an eye-opener even if you’re not in a survival situation as he tells you how to figure out how many calories your body needs based on your body and your activity level). His advice on which foods to sock away is a breath a fresh air in a time when vendors are quick to tell you what you ought to be doing (i.e. buying their products).

Even if you’re not interested in prepping, the information on food and water is worth a read. And, whatever your school of thought on survival and preparedness, if you were to use some of the information from When All Hell Breaks Loose you might save a little on your utility bills. And, if you have kids in Scouting (or if you’re just in touch with your inner child) you’ll love the section on cooking with solar ovens.  

Lundin, to his credit, doesn’t hand everything to you on a silver platter – or a paper plate. You have to work for it a little. You have to figure out how much rainwater you could catch from your roof every year based on average rainfall in your area. You have to do the math to figure out your basal metabolic rate based on your numbers. You have to do some thinking about how prepared you want to be for which potential emergencies. Then, it’s not as easy as going to a website and handing over your credit card number. You have to do the work. And I appreciate that. Too many people suffer in an emergency because they can’t or won’t do what’s necessary to protect themselves. You might as well get some practice in before you need it.

When All Hell Breaks Loose is copiously illustrated. Illustrations and photographs provide good visual information as well as comic relief. That may be the strongest quality of the book: it communicates sometimes fearsome information in a really non-intimidating manner. It doesn’t make the concepts themselves any less frightening, but it does break stuff down for you in a way that makes prepping seem manageable and survival seem possible.

Now, the only downside for me, was the section on self-defense. It’s not that I don’t agree, mind you.  But self-defense is a HUGE topic to try to capture in a single chapter in the latter half of a book dedicated to the nuts and bolts of urban preparedness. It’s not that it’s not important, but the chapter felt a little forced  – as if Lundin himself wasn’t completely comfortable with it. I think that Lundin could’ve handled it better by making the point that you ought to have some martial arts knowledge, maybe making some basic recommendations about where to start looking for information and instruction and left it there. It’s not bad, but that section isn’t his strongest work.

All in all, I really enjoyed When All Hell Breaks Loose.  I highly recommend it. It’s available almost everywhere, or directly through Cody Lundin’s website:  You won’t be able to beat it for no-nonsense survival advice.

As always, thanks for reading.

~ L.

Images © 2007 Cody Lundin

You gotta start somewhere…

January 7, 2011

I am a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) volunteer.  I have received training in basic principles of search & rescue, triage, first aid, emergency management, disaster psychology, and similar disaster-related subjects.  I understand how the system can break down and what happens when it does. I understand why grocery stores can run out of things and how their shelves can remain empty throughout the duration of an emergency.  I have a pretty complete understanding of why it takes so long for governments to do anything in an emergency. I know how to read between the lines of media reporting on emergency situations. I know what they’re saying, and I understand what they’re really telling me.  So, I prep.

There are different schools of thought on what’s known as “prepping.” There’s the school of thought that starts by saying “Everything’s going to be okay. We just need to have some supplies on hand for those minor, localized emergencies that can befall any municipality.” Now this is a pretty valid train of thought for a couple of reasons. One, most people in the United States now live in urban areas. So, it makes sense for people to plan for the various contingencies they’re likely to encounter in an urban setting. Two, most emergencies are relatively minor. Ice storms cause power outages and electricity is restored within hours or days. Broken water mains are repaired almost immediately, again within a matter of hours or days. And who can remember the last time the gas was off for any length of time? Most of the time, the event happens and within hours, or days, the situation has been addressed and order gets restored.  The most basic school of thought in prepping addresses these sorts of emergencies.

The second school of thought involves longer range plans. At the far end of this spectrum are people who prep for longer, more serious and more sustained situations. Many feel that the system will eventually collapse entirely and order will not be restored.  Ever. They are preparing for a complete collapse of the economy and then a collapse of society itself.  Instead of thinking in terms of being prepared for a few days, or maybe a few weeks at most, these people think in terms of having adequate supplies for months, or years. They have contingency plans for alternate forms of currency and barter. They stockpile precious metals, stabilized fuel, dehydrated foods, guns and ammunition. And, even among people who prep for the long haul there are different philosophies, but that’s a tale for another day. That’s the spectrum in its most basic form.

So, before you start trying to cryo-vac your beans, or attempt to dehydrate whole melons, or start filling 55 gallon drums with the garden hose, stop. Sit down with your loved ones and a pen & paper for brainstorming and think about where you fall on the prepping spectrum. Honestly consider what it is that you feel you need to be prepared for. The guy who lives alone in a cabin in Alaska has a very different set of circumstances and potential scenarios to consider than, say, a woman living with her two kids in an apartment in New York city. Are you worried about earthquakes? Floods? Winter storms? Hurricanes? Tornadoes? Rolling blackouts? When it comes to emergencies and disasters, think about what you are most likely to face. Then decide how you want to prepare for it. Start there.

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Perhaps you think that you’re most likely to face an evacuation emergency due to wildfire. Say to yourself, “How do I want to deal with that?” Where will you go? How will you get there? What secondary route will you take if your main escape route is blocked? What will you take with you? Who will know where you’re going? How will you communicate with the rest of your family?

If you’re facing other sorts of emergencies and your desired option is sheltering-in-place (i.e. “staying put”) you have different questions to answer. Is it safe to stay here? How long will I be here? What do I need/want with me while I’m here? How will I prepare food, or stay warm (or cool) if the power goes out or the water stops running?

Putting together a 3-day bag doesn’t have to be all that difficult. Once you decide what you’re preparing for, it gets easier. Once you know what you really need (as opposed to what someone tells you that you ought to have or have to buy or should be eating) it gets easier still.

The hardest step is really the first: coming to terms with the fact that something could happen to you, right where you live, and that no one will come to your aid for a little while. The first step is taking that deep breath and consenting to let go of your illusion of safety and security. Once you do that, it becomes less of a mental big deal to pick up an extra couple gallons of bottled water, an extra pound of beans, roll of duct tape, or cheap space blanket when you find yourself at the store every week. Before you know it, you’ll have 3 days of supplies in your pantry, ready to weather the winter storm.

If you feel that you need to prepare for emergencies of longer duration, you will have more in depth planning to do and, of course, more intensive preparations to complete. Bu, if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve already taken care of the hardest part: admitting to yourself that it emergencies can happen wherever you are.

What is Space Weather Part 1

December 31, 2010

What is Space Weather and Why You Should Care

Part 1: Geomagnetic Storms

In creating this article, I draw heavily from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) material – references supplied.  This is essentially a simplification of certain technical aspects of Space Weather designed to impart a rudimentary understanding and inspire further research.  Or, to be flippant, it’s the reason why the answer to “Can you hear me now?” may be “No.”

We are all thoroughly acquainted with weather here on Earth. Sunny or cloudy, wet or dry, windy or still, we all know weather. Here in New Mexico, you’ll often here someone joke, “We don’t have a climate. We have weather.” But space weather? What is space weather? Straight from the SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) website, here’s the definition of space weather: Conditions on the Sun and in the solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere than can influence the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based technological systems and can endanger human life or health.”

If you’re like most, when you read the definition, you simply accepted the first part at face value. “Conditions on the Sun and in the solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere” (SOHO, 2010). Sure, okay, that makes sense. But then you got to the next part and thought, “Wait. Space weather  can impact  “ground-based technological systems… and endanger human life” (SOHO, 2010) really? Really.

Here’s some background. Our planet’s atmosphere is made up of layers. Even the Planet itself is composed of layers, but for our purposes today, we don’t need to think much beyond the fact that we live our lives on the lithosphere – the uppermost layer of the earth’s crust. Around and above us are the gaseous layers of the atmosphere that provide us with the air we breathe and the outer layers of the atmosphere that protect us from the stuff that goes on in  the rest of the universe.










Around the whole atmospheric package is the magnetosphere (of which the plasmasphere is a part).  This magnetic field, working in conjunction with the rest of our atmosphere, protects us from the effects of space weather and serves as a buffer for burning up bits of space trash and tiny asteroids before they can reach the surface of our planet. Pretty spiffy, eh? The magnetic field of our planet looks something like this: 









Some people think the whole affair taken together is reminiscent of the shape of a jellyfish. And I’m inclined to agree. As in most things in the natural world, forms follows function. And since the earth moves through space in much the same way that a jellyfish moves through water, it’s not so surprising.





So, now that we’ve looked at the basic structure of out atmosphere, it’s time to stick our heads outside of it and have a look at space weather and why having a basic understanding of it can be important.

Our sun is not constant. It is an ever changing star that, like all other stars, is constantly emitting various types of radiation, radio signals, geomagnetic impulses and making solar wind. People in the northern hemisphere routinely get to see the interactions of our magnetophere with solar particles in the form of auroras.  These “geomagnetic storms”  are routine occurrences. Scientists classify them according to their intensity – on a scale from G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme). For those of us without the gear to measure what’s going on in the upper atmosphere, we  can gauge the intensity of a geomagnetic storm by how far south the aurora is visible. The greater the storm, the further south that people will see the aurora. The greater the storm, the greater potential for disruptions here on the surface.

G1  intensity (“G” for “geomagnetic”, as opposed to “R” for “radio blackouts” caused by x-ray emissions and “S” for “solar radiation”) is also called “Minor.”  So, if you hear on the radio that there was a minor geomagnetic event, you’ll know what they’re really telling you. These storms happens about 1700 times per cycle. Solar time is measured in cycles. A “cycle” equals  11 years. Coincidentally, for you 2012 folks, the next cycle begins right about when the Mayan calendar ends. “I ain’t sayin’, but I’m just sayin’.” 

Anyway, G1’s happen about 1700 times per cycle.  That works out to a G1 event about every 2.36 days – or one every 56-57 hours. But that’s an average. G1 events can  cause minor fluctuations in the power grid and have some slight impact on satellite operations.  They can also impact the navigation abilities of migratory animals. During a G1, the aurora will be visible at high latitude  – like in Maine and Michigan (NOAA, 2010). 

A G2 storm is referred to as “Moderate.”  These storms happen about 600 times per solar cycle – about once every 6.69 days. Power system in higher latitude may experience voltage alarms. Longer duration G2 events may damage transformers. For our folks in space, it may be necessary for ground control to initiate corrective actions to orientation as potential changes in drag effect impact orbit predictions (NOAA, 2010).  HF radio propagation will suffer at higher latitudes. The aurora will be visible as far south as New York and Idaho.

A G3 event is called “Strong.” These events happen about 200 times every cycle – or about once every three weeks or so.  They can require voltage corrections to the power grid and even trigger false alarms on protective devices like home and car alarms. During a G3, satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) experience increased drag and surface charging can occur on satellite components.  Surface charging… think static electricity on a bigger scale. Now, remember that satellites that handle phone communications are in low-Earth orbits. There will be intermittent issues with satellite navigation systems (yep, that your Garmin or Magellan device), HF radio signals will be intermittently disrupted. The aurora will be visible as far south as Illinois and Oregon.

G4 is a “Severe” geomagnetic storm. These events happen, on average, about once every 40 days. During a G4, power grids can experience widespread voltage control problems. Some protective grid systems may mistakenly trip causing temporary blackouts.  Spacecraft will experience surface charging (so no spacewalks, guys) and tracking problems.  Orientation correction may be required.  On the ground, HF radio propagation will be sporadic at best.  Satellite nav systems will be useless for hours (hope you have a paper map & some directions).  Low frequency radio nav beacons will be disrupted. So, if you’re lost and you activate your personal nav beacon you spent all that money on, it might not work. The aurora will be visible as far south as Alabama and northern California.

A G5 is an “Extreme” geomagnetic event. These things happen only once every handful of year – seriously, only once every three or four years on average. On the power grid, there will be widespread voltage control problems. Some grid systems may collapse or experience blackouts.  Transformers may be damaged.  Spacecraft will experience substantial surface charging, orientation and uplink/downlink issues.  On the ground, HF radio propagation may be impossible in many areas for several days. Satellite navigation will be useless for several days.  The grid may experience huge voltage spikes. You can pretty much forget making a clear cell phone call, or updating your Facebook from your iPhone for a while.  The aurora can been seen as far south as Florida and Texas.  

Yeah, but… does this stuff really happen?  You bet it does. On March 13, 1987 a HUGE geomagnetic disturbance (GMD) caused what is now known as the Hydro-Quebec Blackout. The blackout lasted nine hours and the GMD caused extensive damage to transformers and grid surge arrestors.  Anecdotal evidence suggest that the aurora was seen as far south as Jamaica that day. That would put the event off the charts as these things go.  Since it was 1987, none of us had smartphones  and most cell phones weren’t exactly  pictures of reliability. So, to try to determine the impact on cell communications and satellite navigation would be speculative at best. But I think you get the idea. 

Further (and spookier still) is a paper submitted on December 16, 2010 by G. Anagnostopoulos, A. Papandreou, P. Antoniou of Cornell University. They  believe they have found a correlation between geomagnetic disturbances and massive earthquakes.  From the abstract of their paper, “Solar activity influences seismic activity… through rapid geomagnetic disturbances.. related with increases of solar wind speed… Our analysis… suggests a mean time response delay of EQs [earthquakes] to fast geomagnetic disturbances of  ~ 1.5 days” (Anagnostopoulos, Papandreou, and Antoniou, 2010).  Yeah, he said it… one-and-a-half days  between sudden shifts in solar wind, the accompanying GMD and strong earthquakes. Now if that isn’t a useful bit of preparedness info, I don’t know what is.

To sum it all up, our sun is a dynamic little critter. Its various emissions cause geomagnetic disturbances which can have an impact on how our tech toys function here on the ground. If the research pans out, these GMDs may even have an impact on how things shake out down here along faults and rifts.  Because I’m geeky like that, I’ll be watching my solar weather more closely and comparing it to the earthquake updates I get from the USGS just to see if I can see for myself. 

Here’s  the thing: even if your batteries are charged, your electronic gizmo may not be reliable or even operational because of geomagnetic storms.  Conventional radio communications may get dicey, depending upon the intensity of the GMD (and we haven’t even talked about solar storms or radio blackouts – yet).  And even the power grid is susceptible to interruptions from these GMDs. Technology is just a veneer.  Turn out the lights and we’re all just naked apes with sticks. Forewarned is forearmed.

Thanks for reading. You guys are the best.

~ L.



Anagnostopoulos, G.  A. Papandreou, P. Antoniou. “Solar wind triggering of geomagnetic disturbances and strong (M>6.8) earthquakes during the November – December 2004 period.” Cornell University. 2010. Retrieved from:

NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center:

 NOAA/NWS (National Weather Svc.) Space Weather Prediction Center   This site, while much more commercial than the previous two, also has some super links to JPL asteroid tracking and other interesting space-related info.

Solar and Heliospheric Observatory page on space weather      Good info presented in text as well as through videos, pictures and graphs (for the more visual among us). Tons of great space weather related links.

Solar and Heliospheric Observatory European page   Has some additional links and cool downloads for the “citizen scientist” in all of us. There’s a solar study app you can download so you can study real time solar activity from the comfort of your living room.

 Images courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica © 2009, SOHO © 2010, NOAA ©2010, ©2010.


Shake your groove thing? … or happy anniversary?

December 17, 2010

Today is the 199th anniversary of the big New Madrid quake. A big deal? Well, the New Madrid Quakes of 1811-1812 were some of the strongest quakes ever recorded in North America. FEMA is taking the opportunity to urge Americans to be prepared for quakes in their area.

Don’t know the likelihood of an earthquake in your part of the country?

Start here on the USGS Earthquake Hazards page.

Scroll down. On the left side of the page, you’ll find links to regional seismic lab sites. There will be one that covers your area of the country.

Or, scroll down some more. You’ll see a link under the EARTHQUAKES heading for “Info by State.” You can find maps that show faults and rifts where you live. You can determine what the USGS figures the odds are of a quake in your area. And you can see the odds of a quake of a given magnitude happening. Certainly, all of this is scientific estimation at best, but even the worst scientific guess beats being caught flat footed. I can tell you, the odds of my friends in California getting shaken up are better than mine – at any given magnitude. Bless their hearts. Yet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, New Mexico is not inactive seismically. Small tremors happen here quite frequently. This is not to say that a big one can’t happen, only that it hasn’t in a while. But when you compare our hazard maps with those from the New Madrid Zone, or you look at a seismic hazard map where you can see New Mexico hazards in relation to what’s shaking in California, you can get a better feel for what the dangers are like.

When you start reading about earthquakes, you’ll see two scales used to convey the intensity of the quake: Richter and Mercalli. You’ve probably heard of the Richter scale, since it’s the most common measure you hear in the media.

This from the USGS website:

“The Richter magnitude scale was developed in 1935 by Charles F. Richter of the California Institute of Technology as a mathematical device to compare the size of earthquakes. The magnitude of an earthquake is determined from the logarithm of the amplitude of waves recorded by seismographs. Adjustments are included for the variation in the distance between the various seismographs and the epicenter of the earthquakes. On the Richter Scale, magnitude is expressed in whole numbers and decimal fractions. For example, a magnitude 5.3 might be computed for a moderate earthquake, and a strong earthquake might be rated as magnitude 6.3. Because of the logarithmic basis of the scale, each whole number increase in magnitude represents a tenfold increase in measured amplitude; as an estimate of energy, each whole number step in the magnitude scale corresponds to the release of about 31 times more energy than the amount associated with the preceding whole number value.”

Kinda puts thing in better perspective, doesn’t it? Except that the Richter scale only addresses the magnitude of the quake event itself and it doesn’t touch on the intensity of an earthquake’s impact on the people who are in it. For most of us, we’d be hard pressed to tell you the difference between a 4.2 and a 4.6 if we had shaken our way through it. For a scale that communicates the power of a quake in terms most people immediately “get,” we turn to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. If you’re like most folks, you haven’t heard of the Mercalli scale. Even so, it provides a real-world basis for people to understand how big a given quake must have been.

Again from the USGS:

“The effect of an earthquake on the Earth’s surface is called the intensity. The intensity scale consists of a series of certain key responses such as people awakening, movement of furniture, damage to chimneys, and finally – total destruction. Although numerous intensity scales have been developed over the last several hundred years to evaluate the effects of earthquakes, the one currently used in the United States is the Modified Mercalli (MM) Intensity Scale. It was developed in 1931 by the American seismologists Harry Wood and Frank Neumann. This scale, composed of 12 increasing levels of intensity that range from imperceptible shaking to catastrophic destruction, is designated by Roman numerals. It does not have a mathematical basis; instead it is an arbitrary ranking based on observed effects. The Modified Mercalli Intensity value assigned to a specific site after an earthquake has a more meaningful measure of severity to the nonscientist than the magnitude because intensity refers to the effects actually experienced at that place.

I highly recommend spending some time cruising the USGS website. It’s packed with tons of useful information – and it’s more than just rocks and earthquakes. It’s the planet. And it’s seriously cool and useful stuff.  Just for grins and chuckles, as of this writing, the last reported earthquake in New Mexico was Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 9:47 a.m. local time. It was a magnitude 2.9 whose epicenter was 65 miles (105 km) northwest of Santa Fe. Food for thought.

As always, thanks for reading.

~ L.


U.S. Geological Survey. “The Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale.” Retrieved from:

U.S. Geological Survey. “The Richter Magnitude Scale.” Retrieved from: