Head for Higher Ground

Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,

Have you run into a snag mapping out your emergency plans? Do you feel like you’re stuck choosing between a bad option and worse one? Are you wondering if you’ve covered all your bases?

That’s exactly what I’m here to help with — by answering all your safety and survival questions.

This week, an Oregon reader presented me with a challenging evacuation situation, which I was happy to evaluate. Be sure to check out my suggestions below. And send your own safety and survival inquiries to spy@lfb.org.

Maybe I missed it, but would you give us a selection of emergency/survival items that fit an Altoids can? Thanks for you service and for your help in these days…

— Endo R.

Using an Altoids can is a popular way to carry a small survival kit — you can customize it any way you want, and it’s inconspicuous and easy to carry. Here are some items I would put in my Altoids can kit:

  • Fishing kit with hook, line and sinker
  • Three Band-Aids
  • Hand wipes
  • Mini compass
  • FireSteel
  • Water purification tablets
  • Any medication (pills) you might need
  • Folding knife
  • Superglue
  • Razor blade.

Keep in mind these are just suggestions. See what else you can pack in there, and don’t be afraid to switch it up if you find there are other things you need or want to have on you.

The main disaster that I have been planning for is an earthquake big enough to take down the half dozen or so dams upstream from the southern Willamette Valley. It is estimated that this would release a 30–50-foot wall of water. 

The options:

1) Wait out the high water cut off on a small butte with tens of thousands of people, most of which will not be prepared with any food or water.

2) Try to walk a 10-mile gauntlet heading upstream to get to higher ground before being overtaken by an oncoming 50-foot wall of water.

I thought I would write to see if you had any suggestions that I hadn’t thought of. Of the two not-so-good options, which would you suggest?

— Douglas C.

Wow, Douglas, you’re right when you say those are two not-so-good options.

I think the best thing you can do is evacuate ahead of the dam failing. Now, I realize this is much easier said than done, since we can’t predict the exact moment an earthquake will hit. However, I suggest making the necessary preparations now to be able to evacuate at a moment’s notice.

Basically, when an earthquake occurs, you should immediately leave your home and head to a safe location away from the dam. I recommend planning several different routes, in case one of them is blocked or jammed with traffic. Practice driving these routes so you are familiar with them. It’s easier to flee in an emergency if you know the area.

As a last resort, you could wait out the water on the small butte you mentioned — but only if you couldn’t evacuate.

I’ve heard you recommend the Baofeng radio, but do you recommend anything with two-way radio capabilities for longer distances?

— Greg T.

Unfortunately, Gary, two-way radios aren’t the most effective long-distance communication device. Many brands advertise working distances up to 35 miles, but that’s in perfect conditions. If there are hills or buildings in the way, they won’t work very well at the “maximum” distance.

How do I put a freeze on my credit to stop other people from using it? I have LifeLock but don’t think that is enough…

Michael S.

First off, Michael, the thing about LifeLock is that they are a credit monitoring company. Basically, they can put alerts in your credit file and hopefully prevent fraudulent applications. But a credit freeze makes it impossible for anyone else to access your credit, which means you — and your livelihood — are much better protected.

You’ll need to contact the three main credit agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — by going to each of their websites and applying for a credit freeze. It costs around $10 per company, depending on which state you reside in.

Once you complete the credit freeze application, each company will mail you a personal identification number (PIN) that you can use in the future to lift the freeze. No one else will be able to access your credit history without this PIN.

If you went to purchase a home or open a credit card, you would have to call each company and give them your PIN to temporarily remove the freeze so the realtor or credit card company could check your credit.

I’ve had a credit freeze in place for over 15 years. It’s one of the best ways to protect such sensitive information.

What recommendations do you have for home defense from the street to the front door? I have cameras installed and various levels of defense for inside the home, including lethal force, which I hope never to have to use. I tend to think about nasty, thorny plants with remote fougasse devices, but I think that may bring down every fed and state law enforcement officer on me and I don’t want that kind of popularity…

— Tim N.

The first thing I always recommend for home protection is installing an alarm system along with cameras, which you already have. Also, make sure the outside of your home is well lit, to deter thieves, who would prefer to remain in the shadows. And as crazy as it sounds, get a driveway alarm — it’s not uncommon for burglars to park right in your driveway for a quick getaway.

Additionally, I suggest displaying alarm signs and maybe a “Beware of dog” sign in your front yard. Be sure to keep your yard tidy — any tools or other objects you leave lying around could be used as window-shattering projectiles.

Next, I recommend securing any doors to the outside with a product called Nightlock, which makes your door more difficult to kick in.

I would not recommend using fougasse weapons, which (if you’re unfamiliar with the term) are improvised mortars constructed by making a hollow in the ground and filling it with explosives and projectiles.

Obviously, these weapons are effective in wars but not something you want near your home. You’re right when you say it would cause you a lot of issues with law enforcement.

Stay safe,

Jason Hanson

Jason Hanson

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