Emergency Planning for the Divorced Family

November 30, 2008

How do you put together an emergency plan when your kids spend half their time–or more–at the home of your former spouse?

Yeah, that’s a tough one. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common complication in family preps. Talking with your former spouse about day-to-day childrearing issues is often strained enough without bringing up the subject of food storage, emergency kits and contingency plans.

I have no children of my own, but am the stepmom to a wonderful kid whose father–fortunately–has legal custody but equally shared parenting time. The mother lives in the same neighborhood, which is convenient on many levels even if it is uncomfortable–to say the least–to run in to her at every turn. To put it delicately, the woman is unreasonable. This is the major reason she has been denied custody in multiple rounds in family court, and the reason my partner has had no success discussing an emergency plan.

I imagine our situation is probably among the least favorable in terms of cooperation, but at least my stepson’s visits at his mom’s keep him blocks–not counties or states–away from us. And he’s at an age when we can teach him valuable skills so that wherever he is, he won’t be helpless.

The stepparent’s role in legal custodial issues is a tenuous one, and for those of you reading this who are in a similar situation, you understand how difficult it can be to not have much input into issues that have enormous impact on the direction of our lives. But being the primary prepper in this household (I do wear the tin foil crown, indeed) I’ve finally convinced my partner to forge, with his attorney, the ground rules for emergency situations that involve sheltering-in-place, evacuation, basic emergency supplies and other fundamentals. We can’t force The Ex to learn how to shut off her utilities or how to pack a 72-hour emergency kit, but we can impart those skills to The Kid, and send him to her place with the essentials.

The last thing we’d want him to do is choose between disobeying his mother and disobeying us in a time of crisis, but we have determined a neighborhood park within two blocks of her home and told him that that is where we’d rally should the house be destroyed by fire or earthquake. (It happens to be where the local neighborhood emergency response team will rendezvous, and we have friends on that team). Should The Kid find himself at home alone, or should his mother be injured, he knows where to find skilled and familiar help.

If your own kids live farther away, get an idea of that communities emergency response plan. Talk to his or her school and find out what their official policy is on emergencies of varying nature, and do your best to work out a plan with YOUR Ex.

Be prepared for resistance, especially because preparedness is still viewed as paranoid and fringe by many and your ex may attempt to use this fact against you. Don’t worry about that–point out that in the last decade, enormous incidents like Ike, Katrina and 9/11 have made you concerned for your extended family’s safety and well-being. You’re only being responsible and cooperative.

I used the term “extended family“, because that’s exactly what The Ex remains. As much as The Kid’s mother is hostile, vicious and downright Evil Incarnate to us grownups, she is still his mother and we are fully aware that her well-being is important to his own. Our household rules prohibit us from saying anything negative about her in his presence, and our emergency protocol acknowledges that we can’t simply go grab him from her and run.

Not to say that that isn’t a viable, last-ditch effort for some. Just be aware that in all but the worst scenarios, when the dust settles the letter of the law won’t look kindly to disobeying legal custody rules. Best to have laid down the ground rules in advance, or at least have the ability to show that you’ve done your damnedest to do so.

By the way, how many cheesy SHTF type movies show estranged couples getting back together during shared traumatic experiences? Sort of like Parent Trap on steroids? What a load. Stress and crisis can bring people together, but more than likely it amplifies bad relationships. Good communication and mutual trust is crucial to group survival.

For that reason alone, if not for the sanity of your kids and self, see what you can do to make inroads with your ex now, before the SHTF.

Tips:

  • Pick a rendezvous point halfway between your home and that of your ex should your two households wish to meet up post-emergency.
  • Speak to your kids’ homeroom teachers, principals and district representative so you can learn how they will handle various emergencies. Volunteer to help out, if possible, in either the planning or as part of a crisis team during an actual event.
  • Arrange a meeting with your ex and attorneys (or do this in mediation) to draft emergency protocol in case of emergency. Even if you and your child’s other parent have a good relationship, having certain things on paper can make decisions easier when outside stresses and emotions may distort your sense of reason. (Which is why I’m a fan of prenups, by the way).
  • Take basic first aid classes with the Red Cross as soon as he or she is old enough to participate.
  • Teach your child to turn off the water and gas at your home, and encourage him to demonstrate (without actually turning it off) at his mom/dad’s, or to ask his other parent(s) to show him how it’s done at that home.
  • Be sure your ex’s contact information is in your wallet, cell phone, etc. at all times should you be injured. Also make sure your child has all necessary cell phone numbers and addresses memorized.
  • Make sure you have an out-of-area phone contact to call and give your status in an emergency, and establish one for you, your child and your ex to use as well. It’s usually easier to call out-of-state than locally after an emergency. Something to do with phone circuits.
  • Make sure your child, if old enough, knows his or her way home from school, and knows which neighbors to go to if nobody’s home.
  • If your child is on special medications, be sure his school has an emergency supply to last a min. 72 hours.
  • If your child’s school allows, have them store an emergency bag for your child.

I’d really, really, really like to hear feedback on this topic in the comments section. Please let us know your own tips and plans, because every situation is different!

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Random Concealed Carry Stuff

November 13, 2008

Today I stopped by the sheriff’s department to renew my concealed handgun permit. Took a total of fifteen minutes, including filling out the renewal application, and fifty bucks. I don’t carry as much as some people think I should, but having my permit in force makes me feel better.

When I first got my permit, the process took about 6 weeks start to finish. First, I had to take a course in handgun safety–I opted for the classroom course offered by the Sheriff’s department, since if anything ever “went down,” I wanted to be able to have that particular certificate on my side, though I’ve taken quite a few different classes before and since. Then, I had to set an appointment date to show my certificate, get fingerprinted, turn in my application and get my mugshot taken. From that date, it took about another 5 weeks for the permit card to arrive. Of course, this is just in my county, in my state; you can find out what hoops through which you need to hop in your own hometown here.

As I’ve mentioned, renewal was a breeze. Of course, my photo is going to be horrific, because I overslept this morning and last night, I got drenched adjusting the downspouts on my gutters in the middle of the first big deluge of the season. I’d have worn a hat all day at work to hide the horrible do, but knowing they’d make me take it off for the photo, I figured I’d avoid having a hat-head on my license for the next four years. Well, my driver’s license more than makes up for it. In that mugshot, I look totally hot.

Back on topic! While waiting the few minutes for my number to be called, I was pleased to see that several of the applicants were females my age or a bit younger, and two of them were accompanied by their beaus…one was renewing his license, and the other, like his lady, was a first-timer. Do I feel an “Ideas for the Perfect Date” article coming on? Maybe not, but the scene warmed my heart like a Hallmark ad, and without the nausea.

The cheerful, matronly lady behind the counter told me that since Monday, she’d processed 83 new concealed handgun permit applications. “Lots of folks whose permits expired decades ago are coming in to renew, too,” she said. “People are a little uneasy.”

She had her hands full indeed, so I saved my next question for the woman in the front office. Recently, newspaper publishers around the country have found it fashionable to request and print the identities of concealed weapons permittees under the Freedom of Information Act. (Permit applications, both approved and rejected, are usually considered public record). As applications are made at each citizen’s county sheriff’s office, it is the local sheriff who must fight (or invite) the release of this information.

So I politely asked the attitude of our sheriff toward releasing information to the media. The clerk smiled at me, and said, “He’ll fight it all the way.”

“Good,” I said. “Thank him for me.”

If you’re considering a concealed handgun/weapon permit, or if you already have one, consider contacting the sheriff’s department for your counties of work and residence. Let them know your feelings about this matter, and while you’re at it, ask him what his policy is on concealed handgun permits in general. Send an e-mail or write a letter expressing the importance of your right to carry, because he or she is an elected official, and it’s your responsibility to speak up for yourself as a constituent.

Are you on the fence about getting your permit? Here are a few things to consider.

Some folks say, “I don’t want to be on some list.” Well, chances are, you’re already on some list. If you had to go through the background check to purchase a gun, you’re on a list. If you frequent firearms or self-reliance forums, I’d bet my tinfoil hat you’re on a list. Heck, the Men in Black are probably monitoring you right now, this very second, dying to find out if Prada does indeed make a Bug Out Bag, and if so, can they legislate a tax stamp for it?

You don’t think you’ll ever really carry a weapon with you, so..what’s the point? Well, let’s see. Say you have a situation (stalker, disgruntled and violent ex beau/employee/etc.), and you have a good reason to feel the need for immediate protection. Regardless of expedited permits, which are rare by the way, it will take days if not weeks (or months, in some counties) to legally carry a concealed firearm. Having laid the groundwork, taken the required classes, and received your permit well in advance of any urgent need is a pretty good idea. If you’re like me, and you had somebody threatening you with bodily harm, you’d probably opt to carry illegally if you had no other choice, but if you’re caught, or if (gawd forbid) you have to use that firearm against your aggressor, you’re faaaaaaaar better off to be on the side of the law (even if you’re already on the side of the constitution, but let’s leave that one alone for now, shall we?)

Another good reason to have your permit is to show that you value your rights. You’re not supporting RKBA because you like to duck hunt every year with your Uncle Bob. You’re supporting RKBA because you know you’re responsible for yourself and your own when some creep comes barging in the front door at 2am. Other good people will go further, and tell you that your AR-15 is for protecting you from authority gone amok, and I tend to agree.

Even I’m stunned when I learn how many permit holders are in this or that county. When I looked around the waiting room this afternoon, I realized that even I stereotype the typical gun owner. We’re not toothless rednecks (not that there’s anything wrong with being toothless OR a redneck) we’re not gullible to so-called “fear-mongering”, and we’re not police-academy-reject-cop-wannabes.

But I’ll bet my satin panties that most folks who do have a permit, or who simply own a rifle for sporting purposes, have never put forth any effort toward the preservation of RKBA. Dianne Feinstein, for one, has a concealed handgun permit (AND armed bodyguards) but she’s doing her best to make sure us peasants can’t have the same rights to self-preservation. OK, that’s extreme–but what about you? Come on, write a letter to your Sheriff, your Senator, your Congressman, your mayor, your governor, whatever. Choose a viable RKBA organization to support, and send in your dues. Your firearm might be concealed, but you should let your government know exactly what’s on your mind.


Bear Grylls vs. Les Stroud

November 11, 2008

OK. Just for fun…What’s your type? The dashing, risk-taking Brit, or the unassuming, steadfast Canadian? Personally, I love to watch both, as either one has a lot of good stuff to offer.

From Les Stroud, I’ve learned a lot of really cool and useful skills. From Bear Grylls, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to shriek, “YOU’RE FREAKING KIDDING ME!”

Bear’s show is certainly entertaining, but from the first I’ve always been horrified by the choices he’s made on his program. In most survival situations, it’s best to stay put when you’re lost, or at least stay put where you find a safe spot near a good water source. If you have reasonable confidence that civilization is downstream from that water, then go for it…carefully. But leave sign of your direction.

In the first “Man vs. Wild” episode I ever saw, as soon as he found water he jumped right into it, risking serious injury, hypothermia and drowning in order to save time descending to lower elevations. I believe he was in the Sierra Nevadas, an area with which I’m familiar. Having traveled downriver in even the most commonly rafted Sierra rivers, even I know better than to risk unknown whitewater without a PFD. And jumping in without even testing the water? No way. A jump from a high rock, like the one Bear made, risks that involuntary intake of breath one takes when hitting ice-cold water.

Taking unnecessary risks in a survival situation is a bad idea. Even a scratch can become your downfall, as you have little means of staving off infection.

Running off in the middle of the night because you MAY have heard a bear in the area was another move I found laughable. Especially in an area with lots of cliffs. Bears rarely attack people, but hikers frequently kill themselves falling off cliffs or breaking their legs when no help is in reach. Do the math.

Maybe I’m of a certain age when I’ve learned my lesson about rash bad boys. Les Stroud’s approach–slow and steady–doesn’t make for the best entertainment, but pound for pound (or frame for frame) I put more value on the lessons he imparts. Sure, it’s great to know that you can drink the water squeezed from the dung of a Savannah ungulate, but I’d prefer to learn the more likely–and safe–alternatives.

Les Stroud

Les Stroud

Plus, there’s something sexy about bald guys.


One thing I do cluck my tongue at when watching either show is the lesson that both boys have repeatedly ignored: Never leave home without a basic survival kit that will provide you with (or provide the means to obtain) fire, food, water and shelter. The TSA may not allow us to carry our Becker BK7 aboard our flight to New York’s Fashion Week, but the rest of the time we can carry a small kit that would include the basics.

What I do find interesting is that both Bear and Les seem to always have their knives with them, and little else but improvised tools. That improvisation is exactly why both shows are so great, and valuable, but they present less-than likely scenarios for the average Jane.

Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls

Doesn’t matter who’s better, more realistic, more of a showman, which one pronounces “glacier” in a manner that makes me want to shoot the widescreen, or who looks the best wearing his pee-soaked tighty-whiteys on his head. What really makes me happy is that these two shows are on Discovery Channel, and both have a good following. The more people who are interested in self-reliance, survival and preparedness, the better we’ll all be when the excrement hits the oscillator!


Learn Skills for Cheap Thrills

November 9, 2008
Learn to use a real field compass, and to read a topo map.

Learn to use a real field compass, and to read a topo map.

Bored, but too broke to hit up the latest chick flick? Challenge yourself to learn a new skill each week. Pick something that will save you money, augment your fitness goals, aid in survival or preparedness, or all of the above. Bring a friend on board, or even plan an outing with friends to attend a workshop or simply learn together.

Skills I’ve really enjoyed, especially in the company of friends, include knot tying (get your mind out of the gutter), survival fishing, making snares, identifying and preparing wild edibles, survival signaling and old-school orienteering.

Geocaching with a GPS unit is another great way to get friends and family out of the house and on the trail.

Household frugality skills that have become rusty for many of us include bread baking, intensive gardening, soapmaking, candlemaking, knitting, basic home improvement & maintenance, and medicinal herbs.

Many community colleges or county recreation departments offer inexpensive classes on the above topics. Online resources and printed guidebooks can allow you to learn a new skill in the time it takes to drink your morning coffee.

Learning with friends is the way to go. In my old home city, my girlfriends and I took turns planning outings in which we’d either learn something new, or attend a lecture or reading that broadened our own horizons. In addition to learning something new, you learn more about the people in your immediate lives. A favorite activity was an outing to a rock climbing gym, when one buddy earned my respect for the hard-earned skills she’d built in a few short months of training.

Another was a CPR class I took with my family before we embarked on a three-month boating trip through Alaska’s inland passage, by way of Canada’s San Juan Islands. (After that, I learned to suture pickled pigs’ feet and administer insulin injections into oranges, woo hoo).

My general philosophy is to make preparedness and self-reliance a natural part of my life. Never be ashamed to admit you know how to field dress a rabbit, make glue from pine pitch or change the oil on your Subaru.

Building good skillsets benefits your self-confidence as well as your self-reliance, and makes you more interesting at social gatherings. You may be tempted to demonstrate bushcraft firestarting at your cousin’s wedding reception next summer, and I’m here to let you know that that’s a bad idea. Knowing how to use your emergency suture/fishing kit to fix the bride’s bussle, on the other hand, will make you the belle of the ball.


The Lady’s B.O.B

November 5, 2008
This one could use a few extra MREs in her BOB.

This one could use a few extra MREs in her BOB.

Ever check out a firearms or preparedness forum? Threads abound where members show off or list the contents of their bug out bags. It’s the male equivalent of Ally Sheedy dumping out her purse in The Breakfast Club.

What’s a BOB? Well, it’s pretty much a grab-and-go 72-hour (or so) survival kit that you would take with you into unknown conditions in the case of a major emergency–anything from a house fire to massive evacuation to flat-out armageddon. Assembling a BOB is actually a lot of fun, if you’re into gear, gadgets and doodads.

There are variants on the basic BOB, such as the “Get My Arse Home from Work To My Real Bug Out Bag” bag, which you might carry in your vehicle, or the “I’m At Lockdown At Work” bug-IN bag, or maybe the “I’m Stranded in my Car for Weeks” bag. But the true BOB is equipped to provide warmth, a change of clothing and footwear, personal protection, shelter and the very most basic of survival tools.

When planning your primary BOB, take into consideration the most likely catastrophies that could strike your area. Factor in local climate, and whatever plans you and your family have for rallying in the case you have to bail from your home.

And factor in the fact that each person has his or her own requirements to keep safe and sane in a stressful scenario. Especially if you’re female.

I’m not going to list absolutely everything you should have in your BOB, since you can find that information anywhere. But, true to the mission of this blog, I will add a few things you won’t find in the typical survival blog or forum. That’s right–GIRL STUFF!

Feminine Protection: Well, DUH! Of course you’re going to want to pack along stuff to prepare you for the Invasion of the Red Army, if you get my drift. If you’re not familiar with applicator-free products, give them a test run and seriously consider adding them to your bag. Most brands make a multi-pack. Note in my Welcome post, I celebrate the OB tampon as one of the best survival tools due to the compressed volume of fire-starting cotton and bonus prize of 12″ cord.

For longer-term emergencies, consider reusable pads or cups, but ONLY if you’ve familiarized yourself with their use well in advance. Having to bug out is bad. Having to bug out while on the rag is horrible. Having to bug out and all you have to keep yourself tidy is some weird miniature toilet plunger is a catalyst for a meltdown.

You’ll also want to carry scent-proof baggies, or the more rugged and less-disposable O.P. Sack to transport soiled reusables.

Chocolate: I’m not being divine here, I’m serious. Chocolate has positive neurological effects that would be beneficial in a BOB situation, and it’s also a good energy boost. Problem with chocolate is that it melts, so use caution when packing in a BOB that will be stored in your car, for example.

If you have kids, chocolate is a great motivator. Looking after the psychological well-being of you and yours is often overlooked in emergency preps, and attitude is everything.

Toiletries: Along the same line as chocolate, toiletries will help your sense of morale. I’m not a fan of beauty magazines, but you can always rifle through them for sample packets or perfume strips, which are easy to pack and will help you feel better after a few days away from your shower and Spin Spa. Go easy on the fragrances, as an overdose of eau d’parfume can be more offensive than body odor.

I love witch hazel packets and baby wipes. But lacking these, a steaming hot bandanna rubdown is the best part of waking up to a back-country morning.

If you’re a cheapskate like me, you like free stuff. Save complimentary hotel toiletries, or even better, write to the manufacturers of your favorite products and request free samples. Now, you can pack the stuff that works for YOU. Don’t go overboard, though; you want your bag as light as possible, and in spite of the importance of morale, comfort and hygiene, your favorite hair gel will need to be 86’d if it comes down to that or emergency food rations, water purification or first aid items.

Sports Bra: Do you normally subject yourself to underwire, or otherwise less-than-comfortable undergarments? Get yourself a breathable, moisture-wicking, non-cotton sports bra, like this one, to stash in your BOB. It will help regulate heat, prevent chafing, and provide comfort while carrying a heavy pack.

Self-Defense: Whether you’re bugging out over road or trail, you must have some basic unarmed and armed defensive skills. Don’t rely on pepper spray alone to get you through a rough spot. Get a firearm and learn to use, carry and draw it. Get a good survival knife, and take a class in blade fighting. Contact your local police department, city college or YWCA to find out about effective, affordable women’s defense courses that teach simple physical and verbal techniques. I specify women’s defense courses because some of these offer techniques that are rarely taught to men, and I strongly believe that women-only classes allow participants to focus better on learning.

Train, and practice, and remember that you’re worth fighting for.

MISC: It’s a good idea to pack along pharmaceuticals and herbals that will help you if you’re bugging out with Aunt Flo, in addition to a basic first-aid kit. If you’re menopausal, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the shelf life of your medications, and have an extra month’s supply on hand to rotate into your preparations.

The necessities for a woman’s survival pack differ than those for a man’s, and there’s no shame in admitting it. Plan to take care of yourself.