Read an Excerpt
The Disaster Survival Bible
By Junius Podrug
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2012 Junius Podrug
All rights reserved.
Surviving Is A Lonely Business
An expression I heard as a kid, which I suspect came out of the Old West, is that we all have to kill our own snakes. I take it to mean that we have to handle our own problems because we can't rely upon anyone else. Of course, we cannot personally take care of all of the problems that life throws at us, but when it comes to surviving disasters, all of us have a duty to be prepared.
By their very nature, natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes and disasters caused by terrorist attacks with chemical, biological, or nuclear devices are widespread occurrences that hinder and sometimes totally cripple rescue agencies.
Surviving more localized emergencies like fires and terrorist attacks requires an immediate response by us rather than waiting for the police, fire department, or emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to save us.
Since rescue agencies may be crippled or the danger may have occurred too quickly for outside help to reach us in time, we all need to be prepared to take care of ourselves.
This guide to dealing with the often insane ravages of man and nature is based upon my own experiences coping with crimes committed against me and those close to me, the thousands of criminals I dealt with as a criminal defense lawyer, and the times I have had to deal with angry Mother Nature.
In my own mind, one of my best qualifications for giving advice is that I am paranoid — a mind-set that makes me avoid anything higher than the tenth floor of hotels because fire ladders don't reach any higher, and the first floor of motels because the bottom floor is the most easily accessible to criminals.
I do not believe that the government is completely capable of taking care of me in a crisis, and that means I have a ready-to-go plan and a stocked survival kit. I also follow a nuclear warfare preparation mentality that advises keeping at least a half tank of gas in my car at all times — advice my brother failed to heed and thus couldn't get quickly out of town when a trainload of military munitions began exploding near his neighborhood. He survived, but it's the sort of experience that can eat a piece of your soul.
While the government tends to handle large crises poorly, many governmental agencies are excellent sources of information about surviving a disaster. One of the best and most comprehensive is the publication Are You Ready?, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, as you would expect from a governmental agency, the very long (over two hundred single-spaced pages) guide also has information overload and often speaks in technical language.
Because the guide is valuable, I have included it as a significant part of this survival manual, and have gone through it and removed some verbiage that I feel increases the difficulty of grasping survival tips from it.
In addition, because large-scale emergencies commonly result in the loss of electrical power and an inability to access the Internet, including the FEMA guide in this book means it is readily available to you wherever you are in an emergency, as long as this book is in your survival kit.
Included at the end of my reflections on surviving are lists of governmental and nongovernmental entities that are good sources of materials on surviving a crisis — but again, survival is a lonely business and those online sources may not be available during a crisis.
Dealing personally with emergencies is discussed below in the chapter called Surviving on Your Own.
Can you benefit from reading about surviving a disaster?
The point about survival being a personal snake to deal with is emphasized not just by me but by governmental agencies: During a disaster, whether it be a terrorist attack, angry Mother Nature, or a man-made disaster such as a chemical or nuclear reactor contagion, there will be a time during which you and your family have to survive on your own.
That is the message, the warning, from every agency that has assessed the threats from terrorism and other disasters.
You must have the tools and plans to make it on your own, at least for a period of time. The rule of thumb being used by the security agencies is that you should have a grab-and-go bag (to grab as you go for your car) that will last you at least three days, and a shelter-at-home two-week supply.
Most people assume there will be a police officer, fireman, emergency medical tech, and Red Cross shelter staff at their elbow when disaster strikes. By not purchasing and storing emergency supplies, they act as if people who work in groceries and drugstores are going to leave their families and put themselves into danger to open store doors.
Don't plan on it. The ultimate responsibility for your survival falls on your shoulders. That is what the government charged with protecting you is telling you. As Harry Truman would have put it, the buck stops with each of us.
Consider this: A suitcase-size atomic bomb exploding on Wall Street in New York or in the National Mall area of Washington, DC, would rip the heart out of this country's well-being. But even short of a staggering blow against the integrity of the nation itself — the wet dream of terrorists — there are numerous city- devastating scenarios involving nuclear power plants, subway systems, chemical and biological facilities, and sporting arenas that could take place.
There is a threat to you if you live in a city; if you are within fifty or even one hundred miles from a nuclear power plant; if there's a chemical or biological facility, an oil refinery, rail tracks that carry train cars, or freeways that carry tanker trucks in the region; if you attend sporting events, gamble in a casino, drive over a bridge, live at or near a port where ships dock, fly in a commercial airliner ... etc., etc.
In other words, if you live and breathe in this nation or even on this planet, you probably are in a danger zone where you could be subject to an attack.
That doesn't mean there are terrorists lurking near your city's water reservoir, waiting to pour a vial of toxic bacteria in the water supply. Or that you have to keep an eye out for a suspicious-looking van when you're driving across a bridge. It just means that there is a new breed of supercrime in this world, and you need to have an awareness of it and have a personal security plan to deal with it.
Most of us believe the police are our main line of protection against crime — but we still lock our doors at night, don't leave valuable items outside, and invest in security systems. We don't do that because we expect to get murdered in our beds every night — we make these simple security plans for the possibility that sometime during our lifetime, a locked door, a big dog, or an alarm company sign on our lawn may save our lives.
Federal statistics indicate that disasters disrupt hundreds of thousands of lives each year, including killing and injuring people, making natural and man-made calamities more likely to harm you than even violent crimes.
The security measures you need to take in regard to a possible emergency are easier and less time consuming than even the simple things mentioned above that protect you from more conventional crimes. The measures are most often one-time preparations, in which you arm yourself with the knowledge of what to do and make a few relatively inexpensive purchases to have the necessary "security" devices.
And it doesn't matter a great deal whether the emergency is a man-made or a natural disaster, the basic items you need and your mental processes are pretty much the same.
Is it really possible to learn a few simple tactics that can save your life when you are suddenly confronted by a life-threatening act of terrorism, an accident, or Mother Nature with a vengeance?
Yes. Absolutely. For people with a will to survive, the simple tactics outlined in this book can make the difference.
The most important trait you need in order to protect yourself is the will to survive.
The Survival Instinct
Everyone has a "survival instinct." But most people do not have a finely honed survival instinct that can carry them to safety during emergencies.
While no one has to be told to get out of a burning building, only a small minority of people take a second to look to where the exits are when they enter a high-rise building, a theater, a hotel, or a nightspot for the first time.
Locating the exits is a habit of those people who have finely honed survival instincts. It takes no effort, no serious thought or planning on our part — but once we have the habit of locating where the exits are (most of the time it's just a matter of a quick glance), our chances of survival during a man-made or natural disaster soar.
This book provides: (1) common-sense tactics that can save your life and the lives of your loved ones; (2) simple-to-follow instructions that can prepare you at home, work, or school for most emergencies; and (3) an easy-to-use checklist that will guide you in making your living and working environment safer in the event of a life-or- death crisis.
It also takes the enormous amount of "survival" information published by governmental security agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FEMA, and explains and simplifies the material so the information can be easily used.
Most of us have an "emergency plan" for some of the contingencies in our lives — we have some savings in case of illness or loss of employment and a retirement plan for the future. But for disasters, most people have little more than a smoke detector in their bedroom and a spare tire in their car.
Sixty years ago, when the only significant threat to our national security was thermonuclear warfare with the Soviet Union, that was perhaps about all we needed. As incredible as it may sound, during the nearly five decades when atomic sabers were rattled between Americans and Soviets it was a far safer world for the average person than it is now in the post-9/11 age of terrorism and rogue nuclear states.
Why was the world safer when the Cold War produced enough nuclear weapons to destroy the entire planet several times over?
It was safer because the weapons were in the hands of rational people who had something to lose if the weapons were used.
Everyone, from the person pushing the button in a missile silo to the Soviet leadership in the Kremlin, understood that they, too, would die if the "balloon went up" (that was an expression from conventional warfare that came to be used in regard to launching atomic warfare).
One thing that has radically changed is that many of the "button pushers" and leaders today are suicidal crazies who are not only willing, but sometimes eager, to die for their cause. Or at the very least, they are capable of getting others to die for their cause.
What is most incredible is that these insane murderers are not uneducated or from the dregs of society. The 9/11 perpetrators, for the most part, spoke two or more languages. They tended to be intelligent, well educated, and technologically sophisticated — extremely dangerous traits when combined with the fact they were also mass murderers with suicidal death wishes. They were driven by hate, fantasies, and fanaticism.
Their living counterparts are not the type of people who are going to strap explosives around their waist and get on a crowded bus, or load a bomb under the seat of their car and drive into a crowded area in hopes of killing a dozen people. Instead, they are going to strike exactly as their "brothers" did before — using a complex, highly technical plot that will create massive damage and perhaps undermine the superstructure of our political or economic system.
Perhaps even more dangerous than terrorists who have to travel thousands of miles to harm us are the ones that may be living next door — the homegrown variety like Timothy McVeigh, who killed or injured nearly a thousand people with the Oklahoma City federal building bombing.
These fanatics cannot be expected to act "rationally" as most of our enemies have done in the recent past. There is nothing that will stop them from trying to kill us except killing them first. The problem is that fanaticism grows like a cancer; once it metastasizes, it is almost impossible to kill.
The question is not whether we should prepare for future terror attacks, but what type of preparation we, as individuals, should do in case we are attacked.
That does not mean we should panic or even worry about it. If we have a healthy outlook on life, we do not worry about fires, traffic accidents, or even our health — we simply take ordinary precautions to protect ourselves from these sorts of contingencies.
The same is true of accidental and intentional disasters that threaten our well- being today. We need to take ordinary precautions to protect ourselves from these new contingencies.
The second major change that has occurred is that many stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction — from chemical plants and nuclear reactors to "suitcase nukes" (small atomic bombs that can be carried to a detonation site by car) — are no longer under the complete control of civilized governments. The collapse of the Soviet Union left that nation's nuclear facilities hemorrhaging weapons of mass destruction — there have been hundreds of incidents of bomb-grade uranium being sold on the black market and reports that dozens of suitcase nukes are missing.
Added to the insanity is the proliferation of nuclear weapons by rogue states like Iran and North Korea, as well as by individual Islamic fundamentalists. No scenario of terrorism is more chilling than the discovery that the scientist who is called the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb program went to Afghanistan and had secret talks with Osama bin Laden about al-Qaeda obtaining nuclear weapons.
Our parents were fortunate in another significant way during the Cold War: Civilians were not the designated target of our enemies.
Not so anymore. Civilians are the target of choice for terrorists — that is the express message Osama bin Laden gave to his followers. And their success at murdering over three thousand innocent people during the 9/11 attacks has not satisfied their bloodlust, but increased it. They now know they can do more than kill a dozen people on a bus with a suicide bomber. They are not stupid — they have read the reports that had one of the 9/11 planes crashed into a nuclear reactor or chemical tank, the casualties could potentially have been in the hundreds of thousands.
Anyone in this country who thinks they are safe from the intentional — or accidental — release of radiological or chemical toxins has not been heeding the warnings of the government. There is one major thing that we should all realize about agencies like FEMA and Homeland Security: For political reasons, they tend to understate threats rather than overstate them.
If you are still under the impression that an atomic bomb is a complex device that must be delivered by a superpower in a bomber, you still have a Cold War mentality. The atomic bombs our security people are worried about are more likely to come to the capital or a metro area in a van or the back of a truck.
When the government puts out repeated warnings not only that terrorist plans have been uncovered concerning major nuclear and chemical threats but that an accident caused by human and machine error — such as those that occurred in the nuclear power plant disaster in Ukraine and the incredibly deadly Union Carbide chemical release in India — can happen here with catastrophic results over an enormous area, we should start asking ourselves what we need to do to protect ourselves and our families.
President Obama has stated that the most serious threat to America is a nuclear attack by terrorists.
The terrorists know that is the ultimate weapon and there is clear evidence that the late bin Laden and his terrorist network have tried to obtain a nuclear weapon to use against us.
"Killing Americans and their allies — civilian or military — is an individual duty for every Muslim ... We — with God's help — call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God's order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it."
Osama bin Laden, 1998
Excerpted from The Disaster Survival Bible by Junius Podrug. Copyright © 2012 Junius Podrug. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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