Submitted November 6, 2008

Stranded in Death Valley, washed off a mountain in Hawaii

Hi Tom,

Great questions! We are a military family and have lived in many places and we have personally had to put into practice survival skills during blizzards, floods, loss of electrical, heating, and water sources for extended periods of time. We have been stranded in Death Valley, washed off a mountain in Hawaii, and been camped out in a MAC flight terminal with a newborn baby for seven days at Travis AFB during a power outage. Wheee! I am "da Mom" and have learned the following, which I put into practice at all times:

1. Do not allow yourself to get into a hazardous survival situation in the first place. Plan, plan, plan! 2. Always carry layers of survival gear from your person, to your purse/bag, to your knapsack, to your suitcase, to your car, to your house, to your excess storage areas. 3. Think! Always analyze your situation, stay calm, and THINK it through! Use what you have, be creative.

If you know you are going to drive through Death Valley, do it SMART! Make sure the car is in good repair, have plenty of water, a cooler full of ice, and drive at night when it's not so hot. Stay in good physical shape so you can better handle heat stress. Stay hydrated! We did all of the above and our well-maintained new car gave out in Death Valley during a trip with temperatures in the 110's. We had food, water, and ice. We did travel at night, but it quickly got hotter as the day wore on while we waited for rescue in a time before cell phones. Even the CB radio couldn't raise assistance. We were in big trouble!. We made a shaded spot beside the broiling hot car by setting up a tarp that we always carry in the trunk for survival situations. It would have been too hot to stay inside the car, so the tarp allowed for shade and shelter. Drink water continually in a situation like this. Stay calm, and think!

Always have survival gear and survival plans, even if you are driving to the grocery store. You don't know if an accident on a main street is going to prevent you from easily getting home. Layering your survival gear means that if you are stranded without your "gear" you should at least have a tiny survival kit on your person that contains at the fire making tools, water purification tablets, baggies to collect and treat water, single edged razor blade for cutting, paper and tiny pencil for notes and communication. I also carry ibuprofen, aspirin, and benadryl for first aid, plus a few band-aids and antibiotic ointment, really the bare minimum. My purse contains a little more of the same, plus additional survival gear: space blanket, two large trash bags for shelter. I always take a tote bag with fresh water, food, bug spray, bug netting, and more first aid on any excursion, even if it's to the post office a mile away, plus an umbrella and a . Oh, and I always have at least a tiny button light on my person and in my totes.. That practice harkins back to my days with young children and serves me well in an urban environment. I can be stuck in traffic and can still eat and drink if I need to, or find my way in the dark. So far this is three layers of survival - body, purse, tote. The trunk has 12 gallons of water in plastic jugs, extra food, tarps, poles, tent, screen tent, Hennessy Hammocks, trekking poles, boots, sneakers, extra clothes, rain gear, sleeping bags, emergency bivvy sacks, blankets, space blankets, backpacks, bigger first aid kit, knives, saws, firestarters, hikers stove, hikers cookware, cooler, windup/solar radio & light combo, headlamps, portable potty (toilet lid on a 5 gallon paint bucket), lots of trash bags, toilet paper, books to read, games, cards, and TWO water purification devices with extra cartridges and repair pieces. Katdayn Hiker Pro and First Need. This is enough to camp out on the side of the road for about two weeks, or a minimal amount can be quickly packed up and backpacked out if the vehicle is no longer a viable option - I'm thinking serious urban conflagration, because ultralight weight hiker that I am, I'd prefer to hang out with the bears than with rioting humans. Also keep a bigger stock of food and water at home and in any external storage that you may have, such as public storage, garage, barn, whatever makes sense in your situation. You may need to gather the family and supplies and skedaddle on a moment's notice.

At home the power has gone out for a week on at least four occasions in foreign countries and here at home. Ice & storms can hit a large region and keep you in the dark for a significant amount of time. When it's cold out, move everybody to one main room and "camp out", because with a kerosene heater you can keep one room safely comfortable for eating, sleeping, and even bathing. Use your camp stove to heat water for cooking and bathing, use a big laundry tub or child's swimming pool for baths, string up a temporary curtain for privacy, play cards and drink lots of hot chocolate. We've lost water to the whole house in the middle of winter. We cracked the ice on the swimming pool and used the water for "flushing" toilets and treated it for drinking and bathing with the Katadyn water filter. We always have a year's worth of food stored. That's what our Depression era grandparents considered the bare minimum. Use your noodle and resources wisely. Plan!

My newborn baby survived the MAC flight terminal wait with no problem at all. This mom completely breastfed from the start, used cloth diapers, and made do with what we had until it was time to fly. The situation was not so pleasant for the bottle fed baby. Those parents ran out of formula the first day and there WAS NO FORMULA TO BE FOUND within a 100 mile radius. NOTHING! Back then the digs were very, very primitive and the military did NOT stock formula in a MAC flight terminal. Guess what we did for that crying baby? Yep, she too became a breastfed baby. Everyone was shocked at first, then it quickly made total sense. What doesn't make sense to me is why anyone would put their child at risk by bottle feeding, depending upon local supplies of canned cow's milk, when nature gave humans the perfect infant food. I can't stress enough that bottle feeding means an uncomfortable DEATH in a survival situation for a baby or toddler. The toddler may be able to eat but what is the quality of the food and water available? Mom can eat and drink just about anything and the infant is still protected by her filtering system and her antibodies. That's what nature intended. Duh!.

That was a lot of information and we've put a great deal of thought into it, have been in bad situations, and the keys are always: don't get in a survival situation if you can avoid it, plan and carry layers of gear in this order: first aid, shelter, water, fire, food, and lastly: THINK!

Let's hope we never need to have this much survival planning in place. I've had to be prepared, it's a no-brainer to be this prepared. It isn't paranoia if you've lived through a survival situation. I'll bet there were a lot of folks in Louisiana who wished they had made better survival plans. Don't think it won't happen to you. It will.

Sandra Lewis

Trappe, Pennsylvania

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