Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Rally Point Shoot 8/26/06


Date: Saturday August 26th,, 2006
Place: in Southeastern Pennyslvania (just North of Philadelphia)
Time: 9am-5pm

Rally Point events and socializing will be going on at the:

Pistol range: 15yds-25yd
Pistol/rifle range: 50yd
Big Bore rifle range 100yd-200yds
2 fields for shooting trap

Food and drinks will be available.
For Directions
Admission is $15

Sponsors: Will be announced in a few weeks.

TheRallyPoint event tends to be informal, and there will be plenty of time to socialize, but since the is very big, we decided to join forces with to further our cause. We will be having a Mini-Appleseed clinic

Training: NRA Certified Firearms instructors will be available to instruct new shooters. If you have friends or family members that want to learn how to handle a firearm, please help further our cause and invite them to come out. This is a family friendly event.

Competitions are only a short part of the days events and are separate from the Mini appleseed clinic. The big bore (100y / 200y) will be open from 9am-5pm for open shooting, and the smallbore/pistol range will be open after the appleseed program is done.

Competitions: Rifleman survival competition, shotgun competition

Theme: Rifleman boot camp. Bring out your favorite rifle and practice with others. If you have something unique to add to the Rifleman firearm theme, please let us know what you are bringing.

Please note:

There are sponsors for this event that are contributing to the event and helping to keep costs down, please do not show up and open up a store front on the firing line and start selling things. If you have something of value to the members of TRP please contact me first. If you are interested in sponsoring future TheRallyPoint, please feel free to contact me.

Secondly, The board at LRGC asked that we not allow the buying and selling of firearms on their property. These shoots look like gun shows, but we do not want to bring in unwanted attention. Feel free to network and build friendships, but please do the transfering of firearms off LRGC's property.

Meet us at TheRallyPoint!!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Kim's Survival Kit

Kim du Toit has a list of the ingredients for a one-person survival kit. It looks to be based more on surviving an emergency in the outdoors than a SHTF situation, but it's a good list. It's worth taking a look.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Good Emergency Supplies List

Les Jones has a post on his blog detailing his emergency supplies list. Good stuff.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hezbollah a Possible Threat

Hezbollah seems to have gotten a lot more than it bargained for, judging by how things are goin in Lebanon. The Israelis are pissed and rightfully are taking care of business. But what does this mean for Westerners not in the Middle East?
It's almost certain that there are Hezbollah sleeper cells in Western countries, the US included. If the current war widens, especially if Iran gets directly involved, it's very possible that those cells could go active. For example, the FBI sent out a warning earlier today that Hezbollah may target Jewish targets.

Preparing for a Hezbollah terrorist attack is problematical. If they launch an attack on US soil, for example, it's unlikely that they'd shoot off Katyusha rockets. Suicide bombings, shootings, or the use of WMD would be more likely. There's not much you can do to prepare for such an attack, unless it was a case of a terrorist going into a mall and shooting up the place. In such an attack a courageous person with a concealed pistol could have a chance of stopping it. (Although the idea of going up against an AK-47 armed terrorist with a pistol is not appealing.)

Preparing for the aftermath of terrorist attacks does make sense, however. Based on what happened in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 or the Washington, DC area sniper shootings, it's likely that a series of coordinated nationwide attacks would cause American commerce to grind to a halt. Depending upon the proximity to and the nature of a terrorist attack, some basic services may be interrupted. E.g., power outages or disruptions to the water supply. So, having stored food and water will be prudent.

In general, try to think like a terrorist. Ask yourself how you would cause the most fear and aggravation to your countrymen, and prepare accordingly.

Bird Flu Vaccine May Be Ready in 2007

Some good news for a change:

LONDON — A British company reported Wednesday it had achieved the best results ever seen on an experimental human vaccine for bird flu and said mass production might be possible by 2007.

A global health official called GlaxoSmithKline's early results "an exciting piece of science." If future tests are as promising, it would be a major step in the frustrating campaign to protect people from a possible deadly flu pandemic.


Emergency Radio Communications

In the event of a terrorist attack, natural, or man-made disaster, good communications can make the difference between coming through safely or not. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina radio operators were credited with saving many lives when people couldn't pick up the phone and call for help. There are several options available to you for emergency commo:

Obviousl, the first option is your land line telephone. Your plain old telephone may still work. If it does then it's the first thing to try. If not, then fall back to other methods of communication.

Charged cell phones along with car chargers, or your regular wall charger + a power inverter for the car. If you are in an area where they work, a cell phone can let you call relatives/friends outside the danger area. Phones with text messaging capabilities are more useful in emergencies than those without. Text messages require less bandwidth than voice and are therefore able to get through clogged circuits more easily, although the messages may be delayed in transit depending upon how saturated the network is.

FRS/GMRS radios. FRS doesn't require a license, while GMRS does (although it's just a fee, no test required, and the license covers your immediate family). Good for short range commo, e.g., between vehicles in a bug out situation. GMRS gives you somewhat longer range, though both require line of sight. FRS/GMRS radios can be picked up cheap at any of the big box stores, from Home Depot to WalMart, to Radio Shack. If you keep an eye out you may be able to find them DIRT CHEAP. E.g., I got a pair of Midland FRS/GMRS a couple years ago from MidwayUSA for the whopping sum of $6 + S&H.

CB radio. No license required. These are still useful, although you do hear a lot of garbage, much of which is not suitable for sensitive ears. I have a portable in my truck with an external magnet-mount whip antenna. It's great for listening to truckers for real-time traffic reports and has kept me out of several jams. Also good for short-range commo. Most CBs are AM, but Single Side Band CBs will give you longer range, although you'll only be able to talk to other SSB CB users.

Ham (Amateur) radio. Here's where it gets good, in my opinion. I got my ticket last year. Although you need a license, the entry-level Technician class license isn't hard to get, and the info you learn while studying for the exam can be useful. You can get a good handheld (AKA "handie talkie" or "HT") for as little as $100 which will allow you to transmit and receive on the 2M FM band. These are good for commo up to several miles if you have line of sight. I've been able to hit a 2M repeater ~10 miles away with my Yaesu VX-5RS using only 5W of power. I also have a Yaesu FT-7800R 2M/440MHz mobile radion that I'm in the process of installing an antenna on my house's roof for. With the roof mounted antenna and the 45W maximum output of the 7800R, I should be able to communicated with other radio operators for quite a ways. Since it's a mobile unit I can also pack it in a box with a 12V battery and a portable antenna, and take it with me.

Once I get my General Class license I'll be able to use the HF bands and transmit much longer distances without relying on a repeater.

I don't want to encourage unlicensed use, but in an emergency FCC rules about unlicensed transmission go out the window. You're allowed to use any means of communication to secure aid to preserve human life or property against immediate threats. IMO, the most important part about getting one's ham license is getting familiar with proper operating procedures, which are critical when TSHTF.

The resources I used to get my no-code Technician's licence were:

1. Now You're Talking! published by the American Radio Relay League.
2. "Amateur Radio No-Code Technician License Examination Study Guide and Workbook," by Bruce Spratling, W8BBS. (PDF document.)
3. The free online tests at

Satellite phone is another option, although I have little knowledge of it.

A NOAA weather radio should be in your disaster kit, if one of your other radios doesn't also pick up these channels. In my case, both my Midland CB and ham radios already do, so I don't have a separate unit.

A portable AM/FM radio for listening to local news reports. If it picks up shortwave or the NOAA weather channels, it'll be more versatile. Some also allow you to listen to the audio portion of TV broadcasts.

Don't forget plenty of batteries, chargers, appropriate AC adapters, and a power inverter so you can plug them into the cigarrette lighter in your vehicle.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Thoughts on the Ruger Mini-14

(This is a revised version of a post I made to the Backwoodsman mailing list a little while ago.)

I have an early-1980s vintage Mini-14 that I bought used a few years ago. One thing to keep in mind about the Mini-14 is that it is fundamentally a sporting rifle, although it is suitable for civilian
(including law enforcement) social use.

The design of the Mini-14 is relatively simple, especially when compared with an AR-15. Field stripping it results in a few large subassemblies, with no small parts to keep track of. The gas system is very simple: the piston is hollow and stationary, while the cylinder is a matching whole in the op rod (IIRC, Ruger calls it the slide).

Due to the simple design, clearances that aren't too tight, and the ample amount of gas vented into the system, Mini-14s tend to be extremely reliable, even if neglected. I have found that if you don't wipe down the piston and cylinder with a *light* coat of oil after shooting, a little bit of rust can develop and freeze the op rod in place, requiring you to whack it to open the action.

Mini-14s may not stand up to outright abuse as well as true military rifles. That's neither here nor there, just a matter of selecting the correct tool for the job.

Reliability is contingent upon using good magazines. During the Assault Weapons Ban 1994 - 2004, good mags holding over 10 rounds could be very difficult to find. That's no longer the case. The best magazines are those from Ruger, followed by pre-ban PMIs, then new-production Pro
Mags, which surprisingly enough, have a good reputation. Ruger officially doesn't sell 20 round magazines to Joe Citizen, but they are available for about $35 - $40 each if you look around a little.

Another way to ensure reliability is to use grease to lube the Mini-14, instead of oil. The Ruger is descended from the M-1 and M-14, so I lube mine accordingly, with grease. This stands up better than oil to rain and heat.

My Mini-14 will eat anything I feed it, including Wolf steel cased ammo that causes malfunctions in my Colt AR-15. Note that if you shoot steel cased ammo, make sure you clean the chamber well afterwards. Steel cases don't obturate as well as brass, so the chamber will often get dirty, leading to failures to extract. This advice goes for any gun in which you shoot steel cased ammo.

The Mini-14 has a thin, whippy barrel that causes groups to open up when it gets hot. Adding a muzzle brake or flash hider can dampen the whip. Chopping the barrel to 16" achieves the same effect, I'm told. Doing so does slightly reduce velocity, however.

I really like mine. I'd prefer an AK or a FAL if I was heading into battle, but I'm not a soldier. For a civilian like me, the Mini-14 is great. It's rock solid reliable, accurate enough for what it
is, and fun to shoot. IMHO, new Mini-14s are too expensive at around $600 MSRP. But you can pick up a used rifle for about $325 - $400, which is a reasonable price. For a hundred or so dollars more you may be able to find a used stainless steel Mini-14, which when combined with a synthetic stock gives you a very weather resistant rifle.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Arsenal, Inc. SAM-5 Range Report

Last Friday night I ran across an Arsenal SAM-5 AK in 5.56mm at Surplus City in Feasterville, PA. Having been on the lookout I snagged it in lieu of the Colt 6520 I was this close to buying. Today I got the chance to shoot it at Wicen's Range in Furlong, PA.

According to the datestamp in the manualy, my SAM-5 was made in July 2005. The manual states that it should have the Warsaw Pact length butt, while Arsenal's website says it should have the NATO butt. My rifle has the longer, NATO butt, which I am going to replace. Fit and finish are excellent, while the trigger is outstanding. It's got a little bit of creep but it is light. The muzzle is threaded and fitted with a removable fish gill muzzlebrake. I may replace this with a flash suppressor.

Before leaving the house this morning I field stripped the rifle, lubricated it, and ran a patch through the bore to remove any excess oil.

The SAM-5 came with a single Bulgarian 30 round black polymer waffle magazine. I ordered a half dozen clear Bulgarian 20s from K-Var so hopefully they'll arrive soon.

I ran 100 rounds of Wolf Gold M-193 Ball (made by Prvi Partizan) through the SAM-5. Early on in the first magazine, twice the trigger failed to reset until I tapped it with my finger. My SLR-101SG did the same thing and has been flawless for several hundred rounds since then, so I figure that there must've been a burr than needed to be smoothed out.

Aside from the two aforementioned trigger reset failures the rifle performed perfectly. Accuracy at 100 yards was so-so: I could keep all my shots inside the black of a 100 yard smallbore target. That's about as good as I can do with open sights on a gun with such a short sight radius.

Arsenal states in the manual that their rifles are laser boresighted at 100M. If so, somebody putzed with the sights afterwards, because while windage was very close, elevation was about 10" high at 100 yards. One and a half turns to raise the front post fixed that.

The Wolf Gold ammo is pretty clean. Very little fouling made its way back into the action and the bore didn't require much cleaning. I plan to buy more of this ammo.

When I tried to remove the gas tube I needed a hammer and brass punch to move the retention lever. I discovered why when I tried to put the gas tube back on. The surface on the top of the gas tube where it's cammed into place by the retainer needed to be beveled more. A minute with my Dremel and a grinding stone fixed that, but I have to wonder how the factory got the gas tube on withouth marring the finish, something I was not able to do. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that my rifle came from the factory this way, given Arsenal's reputation and my previous experience with my SLR-101SG.

Overall, the SAM-5 is a very nice rifle. I had a couple of minor malfunctions very early on but that issue seems to have been related to break-in. The gas tube problem was annoying but easily fixed. Once I receive the shorter butt stock and extra magazines, this may become my go-to rifle.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Deception at the WHO regarding bird flu?

No, not Pete and Roger. This WHO.

If ever there was a need for clear and accurate information about the spreading and rapidly mutating avian influenza, it is now as the threat of a pandemic looms increasingly large. At a time when governments and individuals around the world are making preparations to battle a potentially life-altering disaster, there is no need for a group of bureaucratic elites to decide what information people are capable of handling.

The U.N.'s World Health Organization (WHO) has published its guidelines for the communicating of information about disease outbreaks, but these guidelines have not prevented a deliberate culture of deception from dominating the statements WHO makes to the press.

It has been suggested that WHO does not want people to panic, hence they are not candid when significant events in the evolution of a pandemic are unfolding. What is wrong with this rationale?

Full article here.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Survival Knives

One of the most useful implements for a survival kit is a good knife. Note that I said a good knife. You don't need to spend hundreds of dolalrs on a custom made knife, but it shouldn't be a cheap piece of junk, either. In my opinion, no one knife will serve all of your cutlery needs. I'm going to concentrate on knives as tools in this post, rather than knives as weapons. I'm no knife fighter but I have used knives in the field.

In my opinion, hollow handle survival knives are best avoided. Generally, unless they are made by a real craftsman, they are much weaker than a fixed blade knife with a full tang. Most such knives are chealply made, and you'll be better off by storing your matches or fishking kit somewhere other than inside your knife's handle. The only inexpensive hollow handle knife worthy buying is the Cold Steel Bushman, which is made from one piece of steel. Even so, before it's really usable it needs something wrapped around the metal handle, a cap for the butt, and a better sheath.

Most cutting needs will be served with a small blade, five inches long or less. Large blades have their place but if you need to do fine work doing so is made more difficult than it should be. Everything else being equal, fixed blade knives are stronger than folders.

A good basic knife for a survival kit would be one of the Moras made in Sweden. These can be had from Smoky Mountain Knife Works or Ragnar's Ragweed Forge. I've been a satisfied customer of both. (Click here for a picture of a Mora on Ragnar's site.) Last year when I needed to knock down a section of wall in my house I abused my Moras on the sheetrock. Even after a fair amount of hacking and stabbing into the drywall they were still shaving sharp.

If I feel the need for a bigger knife that would allow me to do some chopping and be a better weapon, the Becker Combat-Utility 7 is my choice. It's comparable in size to the Kabar USMC Fighting Knife but I like the handle better. I also prefer the factory Becker sheath to that of the Kabar, since the former is (a) ambidextrous and (b) made of nylon, which requires minimal care. The Becker sheath also has a pocket on it which is big enough to hold a folding knife, multitool, or in my case, a fire making kit inside an Altoids gum tin.

Speaking of multitools, add one to your kit. As with knives, you can buy cheap Chinese or Pakistani junk, or you can buy quality, which doesn't have to be all that expensive. I like the Gerber Multi-Pliers. One is kept in my truck while another rides in the laptop bag I take to work every day.

Leatherman tools are high quality, but because Tim Leatherman was a vocal and financial supporte of John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, he won't be seeing any of my money anytime soon.

Folding knives have a place in your survival gear, too. A good pocketknife can be slipped unobtrusively into your pocket and carried almost everywhere. My everyday carry knife is a Benchmade 550 Griptilian, with a black handle and plain edge. Swiss Army knives by Victorinox or Wenger are other good choices with some additional functionality.

Obviously I've only scratched the surface here. There's an endless variety of knives available but the ones I've discussed here are those with which I have first hand experience.

In a future post I'll look at knife sharpening.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The M1 Carbine as a SHTF Gun

The following quote was originally posted as a comment to one of my posts on Blog O'Stuff (my other blog). It's relevant to this blog, so I am reproducing it here.

I have had great luck with both WW HPs and RP SPs in my Quality hardware. Hundreds of rounds with zero failures from 30 rounders. The mags are either early pattern WW2 30s, or my recent SEY 30s. In my gun, thee POI is withing an inch of the LC53 stuff I also shoot.

I personally dropped a deer (200+ pound blacktail buck at 75 yards with a single heart-lung shot) about 12 years ago. It was a WW 110 HP. It ran about 20 yards and dropped eader than Hogan's goat. The exit wound looked identicle to the 30-30 exits I have had.

I carried this gun for years as a trunk gun as a deputy. I know a Postal Inspector that took out a bad guy that was shooting at him. One shot in the Ten-X, and he stopped shotting forever.

Posted by Bernard Molloy to Blog O'Stuff at 7/10/2006 02:35:00 AM

The M1 Carbine is often looked down upon by Internet commandos and many gunnies. It's often called a "two-handed pistol," and it was intended by the Army to be a replacement for the M1911 for soldiers whose primary job title wasn't "Rifleman." It developed a bad reputation in Korea, but a lot of the blame for its poor performance can be pinned on improper use, bad shooting, and insufficient maintenance. That many of these Carbines were full-auto M2s with the fun switch set to rock & roll certainly didn't help.

One myth dating from the Korean War is that M1 Carbine Ball couldn't penetrate the heavy quilted uniforms of North Korean and Chicom soldiers. I call B.S. Check out the results Ol' Painless got when he shot .30 Carbine Ball into the Box O'Truth.

As civilians the vast majority of us won't have access to full-auto M2s (no loss IMO) but we're not limited to Ball ammo, either.

By and large a GI Carbine in good condition, that's properly maintained and fed good ammo from good magazines is going to be very reliable. Some will only feed Ball but a lot will run good with JSPs from Remington or Winchester. As noted by Mr. Malloy, .30 Carbine softpoint is nothing to trifle with. Its ballistics are similar to .357 Magnum as fired from a rifle, which is used by many folks to hunt deer.

Tactical Forums has several interesting threads on the .30 Carbine's terminal performance. E.g, this one and this one.

M1 Carbines are light, simple, and easy to shoot even by small-statured people. They make excellent defensive weapons for women and teens, but plenty of us guys like them, too. (I'm no giant myself at 5'6".) When put into a folding stock they can be made very compact. With the stock folded an M1 Carbine is close to a foot shorter than a 16" barreled CAR-15 with the stock collapsed. Because of this, I am really liking the M1A1 as a gun to put in the truck during a bugout. I figure the primary load would be Remington 110 grain JSPs, which run well in both my M1s, but with a couple magazines loaded with Ball in case extra penetration was needed, e.g., car doors.

If you want to mount an optic there are a few different mounts available but probably the best one is the Ultimak, which replaces the handguard to allow for forward mounting. I wouldn't put a magnifying optic on an M1 Carbine. The gun's effective range doesn't call for it. However, a red dot sight would be the cat's pajamas, allowing you very fast target acquisition with the ability to see your aiming point even in poor light.

My two Carbines are shown below. The one on the left is a Rock-Ola, while the folder is an Underwood.

Several vendors have replicas of the World War II M1A1 paratrooper stocks; the one pictured came from Cheaper Than Dirt. (The wood came stained but seemingly unfinished. I put on 4 or 5 coats of tung oil.) If you like black plastic, Choate Machine & Tool makes a modern folder. If like me you're lefthanded, the M1A1 replicas are more comfortable than the Choate stocks, which have a prominent "knuckle" on the right side where the hinge is located. This may tap your nose when shooting, which I find annoying.

Generally speaking, USGI Carbines are the best, although depending upon the specimen may be a bit worn. After all, the last one was built in 1945. Plainfield, Iver Johnsons, and IAIs are hit-or-miss from a quality standpoint, while Universals are generally to be avoided. Aside from poor quality, most Universals are not true M1 Carbine clones and won't accept most GI parts, or fit into aftermarket stocks meant for GI Carbines. The other commerical Carbines will. The new Auto Ordnance M1 Carbines are developing a pretty good reputation on the various gun boards. One fellow Carbine fan I spoke to at the range a couple of months ago showed me his AO, and described it as both reliable and the most accurate M1 he's shot. I put 10 rounds of Wolf FMJ through it and got a very nice group at 50 yards.

AR15s and AKs are great guns for your SHTF arsenal, but don't overlook the good old M1 Carbine.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

New Bug Out Box

Every home should have a 72 hour kit. The idea behind such a kit is that in case you need to evacuate in a hurry due to weather, chemical spill, or whatever, you can just grab it and go. For this reason, 72 hour kits are often called "Bug Out Bags," "Bug Out Boxes," or "BOBs" for short. The items in your kit should be able to cover the basics for three days. The basics are:
  • Warmth
  • Shelter
  • Water and food
I'd also add defense to the list of basics but will cover that separately.

With a four-person household the BOB that I created is actually in a few boxes. Up until today I've
used a few Rubbermaid tubs containing items like a couple Swedish mess kits, canned tuna, powdered soup, tea, sweetener, a couple tarps and space blankets, flashlights and batteries, MREs, toilet paper, etc. The Rubbermaid tubs are sturdy, water resistant, and cheap at Lowe's, but I haven't been entirely satisfied with them, mainly because the lids aren't really secure. So, after seeing ar-jedi's BOB on Arfcom which used an MTM Sportsmen Utility Dry box, I decided to pick one of those up. I got it from Natchez Shooter's Supply. It's shown below for scale next to a 2 liter soda bottle full of water.

I'm quite pleased. The lid latches securely and contains a small compartment which is accessible without opening up the main compartment. I also like the shoulder strap, which will help for short distances. MTM labels it as "water resistant," but not submersible. Aside from green, they're also available in camoflauge and blaze orange. I may get another one for additional items such as food and cooking supplies.

I keep a Swedish Mora knife, a 50 foot hank of paracord, two chemical light sticks, and a few cable ties in the top compartment.

Opening the box up, we can see the removable tray:

In the top tray I have a bottle of Deep Woods Off! insect repellent inside a Zip-Loc bag (in case it leaks), some strike anywhere matches and candle for a candle lantern in a second Zip-Loc, another candle, a knife sharpenr, a notebook and pen, a couple toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss, a Nite-Ize belt holster containing a Mini Maglite with LED conversion, AA batteries, a lock blade knife, and P-38 can opener dummy corded to the holster (the yellow cord). You'll also note a pair of FRS/GMRS radios. While I'm a licensed Ham, my wife isn't and these could come in handy.

The next layer of stuff below the tray consists off a Marpat poncho and poncho liner and a Pur water filter. The poncho liner (AKA "woobie") is a lightweight polyesther quilted blanket that can be tied to a GI poncho and used as a sleeping bag. The poncho can be used to keep dry (duh) or with the paracord, be rigged as a tarp shelter. I bought the water filter years ago at REI, while the poncho and liner came from Cheaper Than Dirt.

Finally, the bottom layer, which has a roll of duct tape, four MREs, four cans of tuna (not visible in this pic), a box of trioxane fuel bars (also good for fire starting), a Zip-Loc bag containing some Lipton Cup-A-Soup, tea, and Sweet & Low. Not shown in the pics are the six Quaker oatmeal bars I tossed in as well. There's a roll of TP in a Zip-Loc in the upper left corner, and the blue thing in the top right corner is a candle lantern from REI in its fleece bag. I'm considering removing the MREs which are bulky, and adding some more oatmeal bars/PowerBars and first aid supplies.

Aside from all of the above I plan on adding a couple of the pocket sized space blankets.

In the event we need to get out of Dodge in a hurry, this box along with two Rubbermaid tubs of stuff and several 2L bottles of water will get put in the back of my Expedition. It'll also go along when we take long trips. I already have a first aid kit, Gerber Multiplier, additional flashlights, and tools in the truck.

Whether its kept in a vehicle in case you get stuck somewhere while on a long trip, or for use as a BOB, this kind of kit can make the difference between being miserable and moderately comfortable. It can even safe your life, if you need to bug out in an emergency. Packed as shown, this part of my BOB kit weighs about 15 lbs and cost under $100 to put together. As insurance, I think it's money well-spent.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Five Lessons from Avian Flu

Avian flu has so far proved more fizzle than firecracker: It has killed fewer than 150 people, compared with the 35,000 Americans who die yearly from ordinary flu. But the scientific frenzy it sparked is paying off with an array of insights into how the next real epidemic might emerge.

Full article here.

My $0.02: It's too early to write off H5N1 as a non-event like the swine flu of the 1970s. And even if H5N1 does turn out to be a non-event, preparing for an epidemic is prudent, because it's only a matter of time before some other bug turns into a real epidemic.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Internet for Disaster Communications

Will we be able to depend on the Internet in the event of a disaster? As with many questions the answer is, "It depends."

Although it's primarily operated by commericial interests now, the Internet -- at first called ARPANET -- was originally a Department of Defense project to create a decentralized national communications system that could survive a nuclear war. No one entity owns or controls the Internet. In fact, the Internet is really made up of an ever-changing collection of inter-connected networks, albeit one controlled by a relatively small number of network backbones operated by major carriers, connected via peering arrangements.

What this means is that taking down the entire Internet is difficult. One carrier or another may suffer significant outages but it is unlikely that all of them will simultaneously.

A more serious threat to the Internet would be a coordinated attack on the root domain name servers. The root DNS servers are at the top of the hierarchical DNS system, which translates host names (e.g., into the numerical IP addresses computers use to access other systems on the Internet. Thankfully, the root servers are well protected against hacker attack and are geographically dispersed.

Because the Internet is made up of multiple redundant systems, chances are that during a widespread disaster that large parts of it will remain available. There are several tools we can use to communicate during such an event:

Email allows us to send and recieve text messages along with attachments. It's a good idea to have one or more free webmail accounts that you can fall back on if your Internet service provider's mail servers are offline.

Instant messaging allows us to do real-time text messaging with others. Many IM clients also allow voice chat, so that with a speaker and microphone, you can carry on a voice conversation. The most popular IM programs are free and include AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! Messenger, and Windows Live Messenger.

A personal anecdote: On 9/11/01 I tried to reach several family members in and around New York City from my home in Philadelphia. Getting a telephone connection was largely impossible, all circuits were busy. However, I was able to get in touch with a couple of my cousins on Long Island via AIM. Even though the fall of the World Trade Center took out a Verizon telephone siwtch and a lot of Internet equipment, the Internet is designed to route traffic around outages, as long as another path is available. This worked on 9/11.

One advantage the IM clients have is low bandwidth requirments. Passing login information and plain text messages doesn't require much available network bandwidth. One disadvantage is that the major commercial IM clients require a central server to handle user logins and traffic passing. So, if the central server is offline the system is useless.

Skype is an exception to this. Primarily a voice messaging system, Skype also includes a text messaging function as well. But what makes Skype especially attractive for emergency communications is the fact that it is a peer-to-peer system. Instead of depending on a central controlling server, Skype works in a decentralized manner, which makes it more resilient in the event of a widespread disaster.

SypeOut is a cool feature that allows you to make Skype-to-telephone calls. It allows you to make a call from your computer to a regular telephone. Through the end of 2006, SkypeOut is free when both the caller and callee are within the USA or Canada. SkypeIn is the reverse -- assigning a telephone to your Skype installation on your computer so that you can receive calls from regular phones.

Voice quality for Skype is usually quite good. Having a good set of speaker and mic, or a headset will greatly improve call quality.

One final feature of Skype makes it especially attactive: all Skype-to-Skype communications are encrypted, allowing you to maintain privacy.

Blogs can be used as a way to provide updates on a situation to many people at once. During the immediate aftermath of Hurrican Katrina, employees of a New Orleans-based hosting company directNIC maintained the "Interdictor" blog so that people on the outside could get a participant's view of the situation, including webcam feeds. Blogger and Livejournal provide free blog hosting services.

Obviously, if your area is heavily impacted by a disaster, immediate Internet connectivity may not be easily available. For example, power may be out for an extended period. Even so, ISPs usually have their equipment on backup battery and generator power. If telephone or cable lines remain intact, you may be able to get online if you have a charged laptop and a dialup modem, or a cable or DSL modem on an uninterruptable power supply (battery backup).

Still, like anything man made, Internet access in an emergency is not a given. Make it one of the tools in your toolbox and you'll be better prepared to get safely through a disaster.