Saturday, December 9, 2017

Cell Phones in a Suburban Disaster


     I think that in the event of a large scale incident everyone's initial reaction will be to use their smart phone for emergency communication and as a source for news. The smart phone has become an integral part of our daily existence. In one small device we have the ability to communicate both verbally and in writing. We can send and receive texts, emails, and social media posts. We can search for answers on the internet to most of lifes problems. We can get directions,  take pictures and record videos. You get the picture.  That's a good thing....sort of.

     Smart phones are very convenient, there's no doubt about that. However, convenience comes at a price. Sometimes that price is marked in big read letters on the front of the package, and sometimes its hidden and you don't realize it until its too late. For all the convenience they provide smart phones can be a pain in the ass also. They're fragile, sensitive to adverse conditions, require a constant power source and a cellular or wifi signal to provide all of those wonderful conveniences we have become accustomed to having on demand at our finger tips.

     With all that being said, they're still the best thing going. They bundle so many features and capabilities into one small, portable, relatively inexpensive package. Here are some of the most common problems,  and solutions to those problems that will help you retain your ability to communicate in the event of a disaster.


  • Cellular network is not available - there is nothing you can do to fix this issue. You can try to work around this issue by finding an available WiFi signal that you can use, but you will not be able to restore the cellular network. 
  • Saving Battery Power - There is a setting on your phone for Power Saving. Turn it on immediately. Turn off WiFi, and Blue Tooth....both of those are power hogs. Turn the ringer down and the vibration off. Turn off notifications for anything that is not critical. You dont want bullshit apps vibrating your phone and depleting your battery. Stop checking your phone every 20 seconds. Conserving the power you DO have reduces your need to recharge your battery. Rest assured, your device will run out of power at the worst possible time.
  • Recharging Your Battery - Have a secondary power source. Have a charging cord. I keep a small battery source like this, short charging cord, micro-usb to usb-c adapter,  and micro-usb to iPhone adapter in a small waterproof container like this in my truck at all times. Keep your battery source charged. Keep an AC wall adapter in your vehicle. You can use other battery sources to charge your smart phone like a laptop, PC, car battery, solar charger, automotive battery jump-starter. Think outside the box.
  • Critical Contact Information - Keep your top 10 critical contacts information somewhere else in addition to your phone. I keep my top 10 in a piece of laminated card stock the size of a business card. Business cards fit everywhere. I would hate to find a working telephone and not be able to contact someone critical because I cant remember their number....which is stored in my broken or powerless phone.
  • Critical Documents - I keep images of my passport, drivers license, social security card, birth certificate....and all of those documents for each member of my family in a hidden, password encrypted folder on the sim card of my phone. If you need them, you have them, and you can open them on your phone and email them anywhere....like an Embassy.
  • Texting - This is the preferred way to communicate in a disaster. Texts queue up on the network in a different way than cellular calls. Texts will stay in the queue and be delivered even if the network is going up and down. Texts will also deliver in areas of very poor signal reception. I would build a group text list that you can blast a single text to multiple people versus sending multiple texts. Texting also leaves a permanent message on your phone unless you delete it. You can refer back to that text instead of trying to remember what was said during a stressful and overwhelming moment. 
  • Location Services - GPS may or may not function properly if the cellular network is not available. Cached data is still view-able in Google Earth even if you're not connected to the network. If you have time, and most often you will, cache the area you're in and you can use Google Earth as a basic navigation tool in that cached area. If you're leaving, cache the route to the area and the area you're moving to.
  • Learn The Skills - Learn the skills you're replacing with your cell phone. The phone is great, but when the phone is no longer usable, you will be under alot less stress if you know how to actually perform some of the skills your phone is doing for you....like navigation. Learn how to read a map. Learn how to determine roughly where you are. Implement some alternate methods of communication, like 2-way radios.
  • Have A Plan - Don't just try to wing it as things happen. this is a recipe for disaster. Plenty of stuff will happen that you aren't able to plan for, give yourself every opportunity to be successful by having some sort of plan in place. Develop a plan, and then practice it.
     The key to surviving any type of disaster is keeping your wits about you. Having a minimal amount of gear in your vehicle, or on your person, that will help you execute a contingency plan can be a life saver. At a minimum it will give you options and reduce mental stress, which will allow you to more clearly process and act on the environment you are in.


Here are some examples of  types of gear mentioned in the post:
     Remember I'm not an expert, and I don't play one on the Internet. My opinions are exactly that....my opinions. Thank you all for reading and being patient with my lack of posts while I sorted a few things out.  As always, comments, suggestions, topics are always welcome....criticism not so much  :)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Everyday Uses For A Vacuum Sealer In The Suburbs.

Anyone who is self reliant or who buys in bulk has considered a vacuum sealer. We've all seen them at savings club stores like Sams, BJ's,  or Costco and other retail outlets like Walmart. Most of us have seen them on infomercials where a thrifty, creative home maker is vacuum sealing bulk purchased meats, or prepackaging every meal, marinating chicken in a hurry, or sealing up left overs so they last longer, etc.

They seem like a great idea and hit us in the budgetary sweet spot of not wasting money by not wasting food. I mean, who hasn't thrown out food that spoiled before it got cooked, or food that got freezer burned? Vacuum sealers seem easy to use....just place whatever you want to seal in a pre-sized plastic bag, place the open end of the bag on the bottom shelf of the sealer, close the lid, and press a button. What could be easier, right? Easy peezy lemon squeezy.

It really is that simple, at least at that stage of the process. But you should know, there's A LOT of things that have to happen before you place the bag in the sealer and press the go button. The first of those things is....you have to own a vacuum sealer. I own a Foodsaver brand. It's by far the most popular, to the extent that people refer to vacuum sealers as "food savers", much like people ask for a Kleenex.

Foodsaver isn't the only brand of vacuum sealer by any means, and this is in no way an advertisement for or an endorsement of their products. It just so happens to be the brand I bought 20+ years ago, which i still have and use. They have many models, with many features,  and you can find some comparisons here.

This post isn't about which vacuum saver you should get, or which attachments they offer for which models, or even how awesome your vacuum sealing experience will be. This post is about what I have used my vacuum sealer to seal, the tips and tricks I learned along the way, and the results I experienced.

So, lets get right to it. As I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few things that need to happen before you press the Seal Me button, or whatever its called. We will assume at this stage of the process, you already have a sealer. So the next two decisions you need to make are what am I going to seal, and what am I going to seal it in? Simple right? Not really.

In my experience there are two types of things you would seal for storage; food, and not food.
So lets take a look at food first. There are three scenarios for sealing food:

     1. Frozen, long term storage - meats, vegetables and fruits that you want to store in your freezer and use longer than 10 days from the day you sealed them. I've frozen meats that have kept for close to a year with my vacuum sealer. They might have lasted longer, but we ate them. It wasn't a science experiment, its just meat for dinner. What you store these items in is an important determining factor on how long they will store with little or no degradation. I used the vacuum bags and bag rolls made by Foodsaver. the bags are easy to use if what you want to store fits in them, but they cost more. they're already sealed on one end. So you fill and seal. the bag rolls on the other hand are just that.....a roll of bag material that you cut to size and seal on both ends. The rolls are less expensive, but you have to cut it to the length you think you'll need, seal one end, then fill it and finally seal the other end. More work, and 2 times the chance of a seal failure. There are things you can do to minimize the chance of seal failure:
    • Portion out the food you want to go into the bag ahead of time, don't try to do it as you fill the bags. If you'll 2x a portion for a recipe I would use two bags, dont try to fit a double portion in one bag.
    • Wash your hands after you portion the food. Meat will leave fat and grease on your hands and the bags as you fill them. This can affect the quality of the seal. I rolled ground beef into a big ball and dropped it into the open bag so it didn't brush the sides going in and contaminate the seal.
    • For ground meats I flattened them out before sealing and tried to get them all roughly the same dimensions. This lets it rest flat on the counter, keeps the bag in a relatively cohesive shape for sealing that doesn't have peaks and valleys in it. Those peaks will cause wrinkles the length of the bag and when the wrinkle reaches the sealing pad of the vacuum sealer it will fold over and create an air leak. Flat meat is also easier to store as it can be stacked.
    • Vegetables i just tossed in the bag, gave it a good shake to settle them into the bag, laid them on their sides flat,  and sealed them.
    • I put a second seal on each end of the bag about 1/2 inch from first seal on the outside of the first seal. Make sure the seals don't cross each other, and make sure the first seal is good before you set the second seal. 
    • If you mess up a seal, don't cut the bag shorter and try again, get a new bag. If it wrinkled with a longer bag the first time it will definitely wrinkle on a shorter bag the second time.
    • Let your food sit out for 15 minutes before you put it in the freezer. Most seal failures happen pretty quickly. If your bag doesn't look exactly like it did when you first sealed it, cut it open and use a new bag.
     2. Frozen or refrigerated, short term storage - meats, vegetables and fruits that you want to use within 10 days of sealing them. This could be for marinades, left overs, stuff you want to cook in 5 days, etc. Newer machines will allow you to seal zippered bags, or any other food grade plastic bag. Those might be a better option for this than the rolls and heavier bags mentioned above. They wont have to hold a seal for months and I wouldn't bother with a second seal. Follow all of the steps for handling the food before you seal it, follow all of the steps should you notice a seal failure, and you should be good to go. I don't have a lot of experience with sealing short cycle foods because we either used it within a few days or kept it as part of a longer cycle rotation because we bought in bulk or on sale. I have however resealed jars once they've been opened, so they make that cool *thock* sound when you reopen them.

    3. Dry long term storage - Dry goods that you plan on storing for an extended period of time. This is one of the ways I heavily used my sealer. I have stored many different dry goods, but they basically fall into grains, beans, and granules.They're sealed in slightly different ways and stored in differently ways as well.
    • Grains and granules - Flour (wheat and corn) and salt (not iodized) mainly. I used bag rolls cut to size. I simply placed the grains or granules in their original packaging inside the bag and double sealed them. This will protect them against airborne and insect contaminates. This will not protect your stored goods from rodent contamination.
    • Beans - All types of dry beans. I remove them from their packaging and put them into the bag rolls i have cut to length. I double seal them and place them into 3 gallon food grade buckets with lids. I get my buckets from Walmart. I ask the bakery for their empty icing buckets. They are always happy to get rid of the buckets, which I wash then dry and store my beans in.

The second type of items you would use the vacuum sealer to store is non-food items. these could include things like firearms parts, documents, matches, batteries, primers, medicines, the list is almost endless. these types of things would be stored in much the same way as beans and grains/granules. I stored small, sharp parts inside a small metal tin, and larger parts inside plastic potato chip tubes (think Pringles can) and double sealed them into cut to length roll bags. One complete parts kit per weapon into individual sealed packages. I tossed a parts list in each package, and wrote the weapon name on the outside with a sharpie.

Things like prescription medications, primers, and things that come prepackaged into small to medium sized packages, I simply dropped into the cut to length bag rolls and double sealed them. This will be a judgment call for you, things the seem easier to store, identify, and use/administer by their original packaging would probably be better served to bag and seal in their original packaging. This way you know exactly which medicines you have in the bag and the correct dosages.

Important documents and photographs would of course be sealed flat in cut to length bag rolls. As an additional step for documents I put them into envelopes and marked the envelops so I could tell the general contents of each one. I grouped the documents by each person in my family, I had a birth certificate, social security card, immunization record, and ID card among other documents for each person. I marked the outside with a sharpie by name. I had all the documents imaged to disk prior to vacuum sealing them. you could also group the documents by type instead. So you would have all birth certificates in one package, social security cards in another, etc.

In conclusion, a vacuum sealer is a great tool from a financial perspective in that it allows you to safely seal and store your food purchases for the log or short term. It's also a great tool from a practical perspective in that it can be used to protect non-food items from the environment and extend their life by a very long time.

I encourage you to do your own research on brands, models and features. I'm not an expert and I don't play one on the Internet. The opinions in all my blog posts are just that, my opinions. They're worth exactly what you paid for them. Feel free to comment, make suggestions for new topics, or just suggestions in general. You can submit them in at the blog site, anonymously if you want. Or you can e-mail me directly: survivalinthesuburbs@gmail.com  As always, thank you for reading.