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: www.deep.med.miami.edu/…/(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: http://www.vicarioustrauma.com/        

5 Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project. “What is compassion fatigue.” Retrieved from: http://www.compassionfatigue.org/

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: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/what-is-resilience/

2 Everly, George. 1995. “Self Care Pyramid?” Retrieved from: http://www.jhsph.edu/preparedness/training/online/self-care.html

So how’s it goin’? An update…

January 16, 2011

So, here we are just a couple of months into our preparedness foray. We’ve done some research and some reading. And, as of last week, we had socked away three days’ worth of food for two women.  We  had about $10 invested in 12,000 calories and four gallons of water. We felt pretty cool. But we knew then, as we know now, that we are just getting started.

This week, we added more calories to our shelf (it’s WAY too early and too small to call it a stockpile). And we added some “medicine cabinet supplies” as well.

For food this week we added about 21,000 calories to the shelf:  10,000 calories in pasta (a whopping $6), 1,000 calories in tomato sauce (for making marinara – at another $6), 5,000 calories in peanut butter ($2 – we caught a sale) and 5,000 calories of Nesquik (for $6 – chocolate in my coffee or hot chocolate will be sources of comfort in an emergency). For $20 we added five days’ worth of calories. Add that to the three days of food already on the shelf and we’ve accomplished our first prepping goal: being able to weather out a week or so at home without access to the store.

A week's calories

You’ll note that we have feminine hygiene products on our emergency supply shelf. Of all the survival provisions we’ve stocked away, these are the most expensive. Those three packages cost almost  as much as everything else put together.  About $36 for what you see in the picture (not including the water). As much as that costs, it’s enough for two women for two months. What are feminine hygiene products worth? For the right woman on the wrong day, they could be priceless.

This week, we started the “medicine cabinet” section of our shelf. First aid kits aren’t pictured here. As I said, this is the medicine cabinet. There are two quarts of hydrogen peroxide (for treating wounds – $3), two quarts of isopropyl alcohol (for wounds and sterilizing things = $2), ibuprofen (for those times when it hurts = $9), a bottle of stool softener ($5) and a couple of bottles (in the box) of anti-diarrheal medication ($5).  This section of the shelf set us back about $24. We added the anti-diarrheal  just to be on the safe side. We added the stool softener because emergency situations are incredibly stressful. And nothing messes up your normal bowel functions quite like stress, an irregular diet (or a bunch of MRE’s) and an abnormal routine. It’s important for your health as well as your comfort to keep your elimination working as normally as possible.

At this moment in time, we have four gallons of water on the shelf. It’s tough to judge how much water we have on hand by what we have on the shelf since we usually have three or four gallons on the shelf at any given time, plus a gallon or so in the car, and a  gallon in total in the form of smaller water bottles here and there. But, we have four gallons of water on the shelf. At our current customary rates of consumption, that’s enough water for the two of us for two days – not including bathing and toilet flushing. To have enough water for a week , at our current levels of consumption, we’d need to store another ten gallons at the minimum.

Truth be told, I should probably drink more water. My sensei was fond of saying that you should drink a couple of ounces of water for every pound of body weight – more if you were exercising strenuously in hot weather. For me, that would mean close to three gallons of water a day. I don’t drink that much water a day. I probably should but I don’t. My actual consumption is much closer to one gallon. Cody Lundin recommends drinking three gallons of water per day at minimum. Drinking more water every day is one of my New Year’s resolutions. But, right now, I hover around drinking a gallon a day. If we were to store three gallons per person per day, we’d need to store 42 gallons to get us through that week we were planning on. We’re not there yet. But this is a process, not an event.

A few years back we had quite the winter storm here in Albuquerque.  I had two feet of snow in my front yard.  My neighbor claimed he hadn’t seen anything like it since 1959. The city pretty much ground to a halt for the better part of a week. At the time, we had plenty of food in the pantry and the deep freeze. The power stayed on and the water mains didn’t break so we did just fine. We stayed home,  watched movies, played games and periodically went out to knock the ice out of our trees so that they wouldn’t take out the power lines. Now we still have plenty of food in the pantry and the deep freeze. But we’ve added the dimension of mindfully preparing in case something like that winter storm happens again.  So, our first prepping goal was to be ready for a week – and to know that we were ready for a week.

And well, here we are at two months in, and we have a little under  $100 invested in emergency food and supplies.  We have a week’s worth of food (plus a little), a couple months’ of feminine hygiene supplies, some basic medicine cabinet items, and a couple of days’ water. It’s a start.

Remember, if you don’t start, you’ll never be ready. And, however far behind you may feel like you are, you’re miles ahead of someone who hasn’t done anything. And however little you feel that you have set aside, you’re still better off than the guy who’s doing nothing.

As always, thanks for reading.

~ L.


Solar Radiation – when there’s too much of a good thing

January 12, 2011

In a previous entry, we covered geomagnetic storms and their potential impact on the power grid and electronic devices here on Earth. To recap, geomagnetic storms are caused by gusts of solar wind interacting with the Earth’s magnetic fields and atmosphere. Depending upon their intensity they can create power blackouts by triggering false alarms in system designed to protect the grid. At their most intense they can actual damage power transmission equipment. At higher levels of intensity, radio transmission suffers, navigation beacons become useless for the duration of the storm – and you can forget that line about “fewest dropped calls.”

Even though geomagnetic storms are very interesting, they are not the only space weather that effects our planet. We also experience the effects of solar radiation storms (which we’ll cover today) and radio blackouts (which we’ll cover in a later entry). Solar radiation storms are spikes in solar radiation emissions from the sun. Radio blackouts are caused disturbances in the ionosphere that result from x-ray emissions from the sun. Both can impact our electronic devices and solar radiation has the ability to impact human life directly as well.

Map of annual average solar radiation

Solar radiation is not necessarily a bad thing. People who depend upon the sun for power, rely upon it. The profitability of companies that install solar power systems, or utilities that generate power for the grid from the sun make their living by knowing how to harness available solar radiation in their regions. Yet, while a spike in solar radiation may sound like a not-so-bad thing for the guys with solar panels on their houses, it can have a detrimental impact. Solar radiation, even though it can be useful, is still radiation. Even moderate solar radiation storms can subject airline passengers flying at higher latitudes to what NOAA calls “elevated radiation  risk” (NOAA, 2005) and solar power equipment can be functionally impaired or permanently damaged.

Average frequency is based on an 11 -year solar cycle. Solar radiation storms also have similar intensity ratings: from S1 (Minor) to S5 (Extreme). Let’s break the intensity scale down.

S1 – Minor Solar Radiation Storm. Happens about 50 times per 11-year cycle – or once every 80 days or so on average. According to NOAA there is virtually no biological impact and no impact on navigation. People using HF radios in the polar regions may notice, but for most of us, it’s a non-event.

S2 – Moderate Solar Radiation Storm. Happens about 25 times per solar cycle – or about once every 160 days. NOAA states that these solar radiation storms subject airline passengers flying at higher latitude to “elevated radiation risk” (NOAA, 2005) and goes on to state, “Pregnant women are particularly susceptible” (NOAA, 2005).  How many pregnant women think to check the space weather forecast before booking an airline ticket? It’s something that most of us don’t even think about. Satellites may experience “single event upsets” (NOAA, 2005) and HF radio signals and navigation in the polar regions will degrade.

S3 – Strong Solar Radiation Storm. Happens about 10 times per solar cycle – or about once every 13 or 14 months. During these events NASA requires astronauts to take radiation exposure precautions. Those airline passengers and crew who were are now exposed to even more greatly elevated risk from radiation exposure. Again, pregnant women are at greatest risk.  NASA says this exposure is roughly the equivalent of getting a single chest x-ray.

S4 – Severe Solar Radiation Storm. Happens maybe 3 times per solar cycle  – or once every 3 – 4 years, give or take. Astronauts on space walks are exposed to “unavoidable radiation hazards”  even when taking precautions (NOAA, 2005).  Satellites will experience imaging noise and memory issues – perhaps even orientation problems. And if the satellites are having issues, all those services we use that depend upon efficient satellite performance are going to be impacted. The problem with your Garmin, may not really be a problem with your Garmin at all. Expect navigation errors. On the ground, solar panel efficiency will decline. Do we even need to mention the radiation risk posed to airline passengers and crew in the higher latitudes?

S5 – Extreme Solar Radiation Storm. Happens on average less than once per solar cycle. Astronauts face unavoidable high radiation exposure risk. Those airline passengers and crew? Even more greatly elevated risks – especially to pregnant women. Satellites can be severely impacted or even “rendered useless” (NOAA, 2005). Navigation using electronic systems will be challenging at best. Expect HF radio trouble, and perhaps complete radio blackouts in polar regions. On the ground, solar panels may suffer permanent damage.

As near as I can tell from my internet research, the last solar radiation storm of any significant intensity was in the summer of 2000 and it was an S3. When are we due from another? Or a bigger one? No one knows for certain. Solar radiation storms are difficult to predict. Currently, about the best we can do is see the event,  and brace ourselves for the impact of the solar radiation storm that will arrive 15 minutes or so later.

While we’re  super careful about exposure to x-ray radiation during pregnancy, most pregnant women who are clear to fly don’t think twice (or even once) about solar radiation.  Even though prediction is dicey, if I were pregnant, I would want to know about the solar radiation forecast before I got on an airplane that would be taking a flight path through a higher latitude.

There are two main points I hope you’re walking away with today.

1) The Earth is part of a solar system that functions within a larger universe. We are not immune to what happens in space, or with our sun. Solar generated events, like geomagnetic storms (covered previously), solar radiation storms (covered today) and radio blackouts (to be covered later) all have an impact on our planet. Sometimes that impact is not limited to our electronic devices, but can extend to our bodies as well.

2) Sunscreen cannot protect you from all wavelengths of solar radiation. It only blocks some of the ultraviolet rays that are responsible for sunburn – and only for a limited amount of time.  If you’re flying through higher latitudes during a solar event, you have no protection at all.  As always: forewarned is forearmed.

As always, thanks for reading.

~ L.


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  2005. “Solar Radiation Storms”  Retrieved from: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales/index.html#SolarRadiationStorms

Images: Solar radiation map © 2010 greenchipstocks.com

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:  http://www.codylundin.com/  You won’t be able to beat it for no-nonsense survival advice.

As always, thanks for reading.

~ L.

Images © 2007 Cody Lundin

3 days’ worth of calories…

January 10, 2011

So, you’re  operating from the assumption that you’re preparing for three days of not being able to get out and go to the store while the city thaws out from a huge winter storm. And you’re thinking, “Okay. I’ll do it. I’ll put back three days worth of food in case we get stranded at home by an ice storm or something. How much space is this stuff gonna take up in my pantry?”

Honestly, not much. Based on a need for 2,000 calories per person per day, Jaime and I will need to have about 12,000 calories of food put away to tide us over for three days. There are 12,000 calories in the frame above. And that doesn’t include any oils (or other fats), fresh veggies, meat from the deep freeze, or spices we might add during cooking.  Just so you’ll know, the Red Bull can is included to give you an idea of scale. If I piled everything up, it would take around a cubic foot of shelf space – not quite that much, but close. And that’s 3 days of calories for two people. Maybe not the most exciting cuisine, but do-able. You probably already have that much stuff in your pantry now.  The key is getting used to thinking in terms of what you have and not having panic just because the lights go out, or because the city’s iced in.

What  if the power does go out and you can’t use your electric stove? For us, Plan B is peanut butter and crackers, or canned tuna or chicken on crackers (all of which are sitting in the pantry). If it’s cold and we really just have to have something warm, we can heat things up on a camp stove (outside – never use your camp stove indoors), or even in the fire pit. No camp stove, grill, or hibachi? Better get some extra crackers.

The idea of an emergency may be scary, but getting through it doesn’t have to be. At the very least, you won’t starve. With a little creativity and planning ahead of time, you can weather a storm in relative comfort still enjoying your some of your favorite foods.

As always, thanks for reading.

~ L.

 About the photo:

Spaghetti:  +/- 200 calories per serving; 1 package = 800 calories; 8 pounds = 6400 calories.  Pinto beans about 600 calories per package; 4 packages = 2400 calories. Tuna, 3 cans @ 100 calories per can = 300 calories. Misc. cans of veggies & olives account for another 1000 calories. 12 packets of instant oatmeal @ +/- 150 calories each = 1800 calories. About 12,000 calories in that frame.

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: http://arxiv.org/abs/1012.3585

NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/today.html

 NOAA/NWS (National Weather Svc.) Space Weather Prediction Center  http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/

Spaceweather.com http://www.spaceweather.com/   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 http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/spaceweather/      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 http://soho.esac.esa.int/   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, jellyfishes.com ©2010.


Book Review: Patriots

December 28, 2010

This is a review of James Wesley, Rawles best seller: Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse.

Okay, here’s the thing (there’s always a thing): if you’re thinking that you’re going to pick this up and read a riveting, end-of-civilization tale, you’re going to be a little disappointed. That’s really not what this book is about. That’s not what this book is for. Patriots has a different purpose. It is a not-so-thinly veiled list of recommendations for people bent on the “hunker down and ride it out” school of survivalism. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that this is a good thing or a bad thing, and this is not an indictment of that philosophy. I’m just saying that Patriots is less a novel and more a set of recommendations for creating and stocking your TEOTWAWKI retreat. Just so you’ll know.

Historically, Patriots has been distributed under a number of titles and has always done well. It’s been a near runaway best seller for its various publishers since its first distribution as shareware back in the 90’s. It’s wildly popular with hardcore survivalists. The author has penned a sequel and is shopping his screenplay around, trying to get a movie deal for a full length feature. As of 2009, there were no takers, but Rawles is not discouraged and sees his project as the “first of a new wave of ultra-realistic films [that will be] entertaining, thought-provoking, and even educational” (Rawles, 2009). Rawles is also the author of SurvivalBlog.com. For the record, I have and do read his blog.

If you’re looking for a light, entertaining, bathroom read, this is not your book. If you’re thinking that you’re going to pick it up and maybe glean a little information for the day that the fecal matter strikes the air handling device, you may be in luck. I’m certainly not saying that you ought to do everything that the characters in this book do. But I am saying that they do have some knowledge that might be helpful to know if things get out of hand: like how to suture, how to deliver a baby, how to fix cars, how to plant and harvest a garden, and set up solar power arrays. They know how to communicate without telephones or cell phones and they don’t panic when the power goes out. They know some useful stuff. So, there are some good things in this book.

I have to admit: the further I read, the better I liked it. But there are some definite negatives as well. All the characters have great jobs,  and are making tons of money before the collapse. They spend years (nearly a decade) stockpiling cash and supplies. They’re so good at this that when the collapse finally arrives and they inventory their supplies, they have three years of food, hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition and have converted their primary weapons to full auto. Less than 50 pages into the book, they’d already killed a couple of people and performed emergency surgery. 50 pages later they’d killed a couple of guys who were pushing a cart down the road past their property for being cannibals.

For myself, I don’t know that would’ve let the passers-by know they’d been seen. I mean, if you don’t see me, and don’t hear me, I’m not there. If you jump my fence, however, we have another sort of issue entirely. But that’s me. I never would’ve given away my location, never would’ve endangered myself and my group members by stopping the travelers. I mean, what if the two were just point men for a larger group that was coming right up behind them? There would’ve been a firefight in the middle of the road. Dangerous and wasteful. Given how well supplied their stronghold was, there was no need to stop the travelers. After all, what could they possibly have that they didn’t already have in stock? It was reckless and dangerous, in my humble opinion. See where my thoughts go? I mean, if you’re hunkering down, then hunker down, dang it.  But I get it that this was a necessary plot development to demonstrate how bad things get and how quickly it happens. Most people don’t think that cannibalism is a real threat in SHTF or TEOTQAWKI, but modern  history teaches us differently. In the twentieth century alone, due to natural disaster and manmade emergencies, millions of people have fallen victim to cannibalism in various parts of the globe – many, if not most, of them in nations that are considered completely industrialized and civilized.

Anyway, my chief complaint about Patriots is that the members of the Group weren’t exactly part of the American Middle Class before the collapse. They had the time, the knowledge and the cash to make things happen. Most Americans, even if they wanted to spare a thought for preparedness, just don’t have those sorts of resources. Most Americans aren’t making white collar wages. Most Americans aren’t able to pay cash for their houses, or their guns. Most Americans don’t have the time and disposable income to travel the country scouting out places to create their survival compound. Most Americans are not creating fake identities and renting post office boxes in order to purchase parts for illegal weapons conversions. Most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and sweating the small stuff. If things really go to hell, most Americans are going to need to figure out a way to survive if they haven’t already. For that, Patriots is going to be short on advice.

As you can probably tell, I’m one of those “Most Americans.” That is to say that I believe that each of us must decide what we’re preparing for, plan how best to do that, and then put that plan into action. We have to live within the circumstances in which we find ourselves – which may not be ideal. I’m betting that none of us has as much money or time as we wish we had. And I believe that we all have to find a way to do the best we can with what we have. Again, it may not be the circumstances we wanted to find ourselves in, but here we are and now we have to find a way to deal. Money can buy you MRE’s, but it can’t buy you smarts, or mental and emotional resilience.

So, to recap with the lessons I’m taking away from the book. Bad news first so we can end on a high note. Not the greatest story. Pretty much strictly doom and gloom, murder and mayhem. The Group’s survival strategy involves doing things that can get you arrested now – when laws are still being enforced. The survival strategy advocated in this book isn’t going to be a viable option for the majority of folks.

But I promised you a high note, right? So here it comes. Here are the good points I took away from Patriots. There is a wealth of information on survival, preparedness and firearms in this book.  Glean from it what you need. Preparedness is a mindset as well as a process of learning and accumulating necessary supplies. It cannot happen overnight, so you should start preparing now, before things get really rough. Start learning the skills you think you’ll need now. Plan your work and work your plan and your odds of success and survival are greater. Your faith** will sustain you.

As always, thanks for reading.

~ L.

** That would be based on Early’s definition of “faith” as found  in his work on compassion fatigue and in  his self-care pyramid… but more about that in another entry. I promise.


Rawles, James Wesley. “New Edition from Ulysses Press Now Available.” Retrieved from: http://www.rawles.to/patriots.htm.

Cover photo: ©2009. James Wesley, Rawles.

Home defense, or zombie hunting…?

December 24, 2010

Okay, I think we may have established that we’re not an anti-gun household. For the record, we’re not gun nuts either.  A gun is a tool. Like a 9/16″ wrench, if it’s the tool you need for the job, nothing else will do.  Okay gear heads, I hear your mumblings. For the 9/16″ wrench there may be a Metric near-equivalent, but you know what I meant. If a home defense shotgun is part of your preparedness plan, then a home defense shotgun is part of your plan. The question is, “Which one?”

Well, that’s always the question.  But there are a number of others as well. What gauge (10, 12, 20, .410)? What style (single barrel, side-by-side, over-and-under, pump, semi-auto)? Barrel length (influenced to some extent by the answer to the previous question)? But which one? Do we want or need accessories for it? Below are the answers we’ve come to, along with how we got there.

We know we want 12 gauge  ̶  for ammo variety. No other size of shotgun offers the variety in available ammunition that the 12 gauge does. 20 comes close. But for sheer off the shelf variety  ̶  from low recoil practice loads to heavy magnum loads for hunting larger game   ̶   you’re not going to beat the 12 gauge.  The wide variety of manufacturers and volume of it available also seem to make it cheaper, relatively speaking. 

We know we want 12 gauge  ̶  for power. So, why not a 10 gauge? It’s overkill. 12 gauge is plenty.  Back in April of 2009, a user on  shotgunworld.com  – someone called “Montana Bound” – posted a truly awesome article on the penetration and ballistic qualities of a number of off-the-shelf shotgun loads for the 12 gauge. It is perhaps the most comprehensive article I have ever seen on the subject. It is replete with photos of the effects of the various loads on a standard depth and density of ballistic gelatin.  You can access the article here:  http://www.shotgunworld.com/bbs/viewtopic.php?t=109958   

We know we want a pump action shotgun. For one, it is relatively easy to operate.  The loading is intuitive. Chambering a round is intuitive. Also the sound of the pump itself can be a serious auditory deterrent.  Everyone  ̶  and I mean everyone   ̶  knows THAT sound.  The only time I ever needed to use a shotgun against an intruder, all that was necessary was to chamber a round.  The guy dropped everything he had in his arms and ran shrieking away. Auditory deterrent.

We know we want  a barrel length of 18 – 20″ to be faster, lighter and adequately maneuverable in tight spaces  ̶  like my house.  My house is old. My walls are thick. I don’t have a cookie cutter floor plan with predictable squares and turns. I have nearly square angles and tight turns and narrow doorways. Shorter, faster, lighter and more maneuverable are good.

Now, if you’re like most, you’ve already chosen one of the two following shotguns: the Remington 870 or the Mossberg 500  ̶  or one of their variants   ̶    and you’re probably thinking we’ll do the same. Heaven knows they’re both available in different colors and finishes to match every taste or school of thought. Both companies even make “marine” versions  ̶ not the Semper Fi kind of Marine, but the gonna-be-exposed-to-salt-spray kind.  Some say these make it easier to acquire a good sight picture in low light conditions because of the brighter metal. But I digress.  If you chose either of these guns, you wouldn’t go wrong. But we’re choosing neither.  

Huh? That’s right. We’re choosing a different gun entirely. Because we have a special consideration that often gets overlooked when buying weapons in a world of right-handers. That’s right. We have both right- AND left-handed shooters in our house. Both the Mossberg and the Remington are right-side eject. What this means is that left-handed shooters will get “tinked” in the face by spent shells and will be forced to reacquire their sight picture every time. So we’re choosing a shotgun that solves our problems: the Browning BPS High Capacity. Manufactured in Belgium. Forged and machined steel receiver. BOTTOM eject. Spent shells drop at your feet instead of hitting you in the face. Magic. Basic black. Nothing fancy.

Plus, if push came to shove, the Hi-Cap could be used to take small game, or spook varmints. It wouldn’t be the greatest shotugn for hunting as it sits, but in a pinch, you could make it work. Plus, Browning makes a variety of replacement barrels. It would be a simple matter to swap out the original barrel for  “bird barrel” with adjustable chokes. That is, if we suddenly developed a taste for duck. Still, multi-use is good.


We don’t much think we’ll be shelling out cash for all those “tactical accessories.”  We sort of figure that simple is good.  Some people are fond of  “the look” of a black shotgun that’s weighed down by tactical flashlights, slings, shells carriers, folding stocks, pistol grips and all sorts of doo-dads that look great on film in the hands of zombie hunters…  or Milla Jovavich.

Too many bolted-on gee-gaws  and a tool becomes useless.  Like most things, we figure that any tool’s functionality is more a matter of technique than gadgetry.  And gadgetry won’t overcome poor technique. It’s like a sensei of mine once said, “You can’t speed up bad code.” In the future, once we’ve bought the gun, brought it home and played with it a while, we’ll be able to tell you what we wish we had on it, or what we’re glad we didn’t buy… and then we’ll write about that, too.

So, the Browning High Capacity is our choice. When we get it, we’ll take it out for a spin and post pix.

As always, thanks for reading. You’re the best. Happy holidays.

~ L.


Browning logo and BPS Hi-Cap image ©  2010 Browning. Morgan, Utah.

“Resident Evil” © 2006 Constantin Film Produktion

Zombie Hunter patch image   © milspecmonkey.com