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.


  • 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!


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.

Buggin’ Out with Fido

November 3, 2008
Palisades Pack by Ruff Gear

Palisades Pack by Ruff Gear

If you’re a dog lover like me, you probably take your pooch hiking, camping and even skijoring whenever you can. If you (and your dog) need a little inspiration to spend more time on the rough and rugged trails together or to pursue your bushcraft skills, the following tips are excellent for both adventure and emergency purposes.

Quality of gear is important to prevent injury to your dog, and wasteful loss of cash due to shoddy workmanship. I tend to avoid the national chain dog supply stores for this reason. The best places to get your dog’s trail gear is from specialty purveyors of working dog equipment. You can also check with your local search and rescue or police canine units for recommendations in your area or online. I personally like Wolf Packs (who made my own dog’s pack nearly 10 years ago) and Ruff Wear products.

Booties: Your dog may encounter rocky trails, hot asphalt, broken glass, sharp rocks and long roads in any bug-out situation. Booties will prevent injury, and also keep your pup’s pads in good condition on regular hikes. Make sure your dog is accustomed to his or her booties, and correctly fit with a set that are durable. Ruff Wear makes some of the sturdiest boots, worthy of checking out.

Dog Pack: A dog in good health should be able to carry up to 25% of his body weight. It’s imperative to distribute weight evenly between packs, as they can slip quite easily. Make sure the pack you purchase can be easily removed if your dog becomes caught up, and that it’s equipped with adequate padding at potential pressure points or where fasteners could pose a chafing problem.

My advice is to keep all contents in two large Ziploc baggies or small dry bags, and keep a lightweight fishing scale on hand to weigh loads. Watch out for high-volume bags: You don’t want to be tempted to overload your dog, nor do you want your dog’s lateral profile to protrude more than necessary.

Portable Dog Bowl: You’ll want to be sure your dog is hydrated, and collapsible dog bowls ensure that your dog’s slobber doesn’t get into your squirrel stew.

Vet & Vaccination Records: You never know when you’ll need to drop your dog off at a boarding kennel or FEMA/HSUS evacuation shelter. Keep a waterproofed copy of your vet’s business card and current vaccination records in your dog’s pack at all times, and additional copies in your emergency file folder.

Pet First Aid: A basic pet first aid kit would include elastic vet wrap, sutures, a blood clotting agent (cornstarch works in a pinch), nail clippers, vet-prescribed sedative tablets and gauze. It’s not a bad idea to keep a good broad-spectrum wormer in your dog’s longterm kit, as your dog will be more prone to picking up parasites. Packets of electrolyte powders never hurt, nor do cold packs. Talk to your vet about other items you might include; he or she may even give you some supplies for a nominal fee.

Here’s something else you should SERIOUSLY consider: A muzzle. Dogs that are injured or under extreme stress are more likely to bite. Yes, even YOUR dog. The Mikki Muzzle is a compact, lightweight muzzle that has worked well for my aggressive dog, and it can also reduce barking. Even better–it’s super cheap, usually less than $5.

Leashes, Collars & Harnesses: How well trained is your dog? Is he or she prone to pulling? Seriously evaluate your dog’s restraint needs, and consider upgrading to a pinch collar or a harness if your dog strains at the collar. Pack an extra leash, and be sure your dog’s ID tags are updated with rabies info and perhaps an additional contact person, such as your out-of-state contact.

Ruff Wear has a harness that can double as a working harness, by the way. You wouldn’t want to use it to pull carts, but it has been known to be popular among skijoring fans.

Food: You should always keep a supply of quality canned dog food on hand for long-term pet food storage, since oily kibble goes rancid after a short time. You’ll also need to consider the effects suddend dietary changes might have on your dog’s digestive system For bug-out situations. My own dog is on a mix of kibble and canned foods. In her bug out stash, I keep 5 days’ food (about 10 cups kibble) at the ready. Each time I buy a 50lb sack of kibble, I rotate out the stash. I also recommend keeping freeze-dried dog food on hand, such as Stella & Chewy’s Lamb Steaks or ZiwiPeak products. Mix familiar with new foods gradually, to reduce gastrointestinal problems. Speaking of….

Water: Last thing your pet needs is a case of giardia, so be sure you treat your pet’s water as well as your own. Some dogs and cats are finicky about water that tastes different than their home tapwater supply, and sometimes adding something like RescueRemedy will assist with the transition, as well as act as a calming agent.

For Small Dogs: If you have a pocket pooch or a small dog that won’t be able to cover long distances, shop carefully for a carrier that will be comfortable for both you and your pet. Sherpa soft-sided carriers are fantastic, and most of their models are airline-approved.

Other Considerations: If you have the means, take along a hard-sided, sturdy crate for your dog. It should be large enough for him to turn around, stretch, and lie down comfortably, and should have a decal with contact information, dog’s name, vet’s name and number, and any dietary or medical requirements. Depending on the scenario, you may need to leave the dog with a shelter or friend, you’ll want to be sure he or she is well-equipped. Shelters will be overcrowded, and you don’t want your dog stuffed in with strange animals.

Whatever you do, do NOT plan to simply turn your pets loose in an emergency situation. Not only is this cruel to your animals, it leaves them as a danger to rescue workers and others.

I’ll continue to post about prepping for your pets. In the meantime, here’s a tearjerker to get you motivated…


November 2, 2008

Let’s get something clear: I am, by no means, an expert on survival and preparedness. You’ll probably learn stuff here, but most of what I’ll be sharing will be observations on established techniques, ideas and schwag from the perspective of a female. A female who, as a matter of fact, is too cheap to dish for a fake Prada bag, much less a real one, and who wouldn’t want one anyway. Let’s face it; I prefer Hoppe’s Number 9 to Chanel No. 5.

I was inspired to start this blog after reading post after post on forums exalting the virtues of firestarter kits. Kits that include the ubiquitous wad of cotton dabbed in Vaseline. For crying out loud, I kept thinking to myself. Just use some fluff from an OB Regular and a bit of Chapstick! Everyone carries that in their survival kit, don’t they?

Oh, wait…

Truth is–and here’s your very first tidbit of useful information–I’m convinced that OB tampons rate right up there with multitools for Things You Can’t Leave Home Without. With a Swedish FireSteel purchased from the wonderfully darling and brilliant Ron Fontaine of Survivaltopics.com, a rough metal blade, a bit of oil or wax-based beauty product and a nicely shredded (and absorbent!) OB, you can light a fire that would put Texas A&M to shame. Not to mention the nearly 12 inches of string you’ll have on hand for such things as hanging snares, repairing gear or maybe flossing that chunk of cattail tuber out of your teeth.

(Sigh). OK, so I know that any guys reading this might be a bit shy about carrying feminine products around in their gear. It’s not like you’re going to get sudden urges to get the Hello Kitty AR-15. But most of you already know how sanitary pads make great wound dressings right? Well, they do!

OK. So back to the purpose of this little blog. Which is…

  • To add a little bit of female perspective to the somewhat testosterone-sodden subject of survival.
  • To share what I’ve learned in my research and experience with survival and emergency preparedness.
  • To remind my gentle readers and myself that, as serious as the subjects are, life is what’s happening now…keep a sense of humor, keep your attitude positive, and make it fun.

(If some of you guys happen to find this site handy when introducing your better halves to the sport/hobby/obsession of bushcraft/survival/preparedness/tin foil hats, all the better.)