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Friday, August 13, 2010

Getting My Lists Together, by Old Dog in Wisconsin

A Life Altering Moment
There are times in one’s life when everything changes.  For me it was it was in early May, just two months ago.   My wife and I were visiting my parents in Florida, and taking the opportunity to check out places where we thought we would like to retire in a few years.  We have been traveling to the west coast of Florida from Wisconsin for over 20 years and were trying to finalize the community we would choose.  As I am still employed, life is basically good.

After another round of exploring we chose to escape the midday heat by visiting a large bookstore.  On one display table were several copies of JWR’s "How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It", Cody Lundin's ’When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes, and a several other related titles.  I sat down with both books, and “armed” with some coffee (yeah, I drink hot coffee is all weather conditions) decided to look at these books more closely.  I was immediately hooked.  Holy Cow! Talk about opening a new door and finding something completely unexpected.

From “How to Survive TEOTWAWKI” I found SurvivalBlog, and from there discovered the previously (to us) unknown universe of preparedness, survival, and everything else.  I showed my wife the material, and she was “hooked” as well.  I think our conversions were “easy” because of our ongoing domestic conversations related to the shifts in the economic and political climates of the past few years.  In one day we were both in sync on our beginning to understand what preparedness means and how unprepared we actually were.

Getting Lost
The Internet is a journey of 1,000 clicks.  For me, every new term needed to be looked up.  From there I would find a site that had a whole bunch of new information, new terms, and new searches: rinse, repeat.  Night after night, even stealing a long lunch at work, I would read a new blog or forum entry with an unfamiliar term or concept,  and from there look up “Ka-Bar” or “Dakota Fire Pit” or the shelf life of Butane lighters and find myself on another blog site being introduced to even more new concepts, lists, ideas, problems.....arghh!

This education process was enlightening and at the same time frightening.  I feel like we have come late to the party.  The sheer volume is overwhelming, and the clock is ticking.  We are not millionaires, and at our stage of life (late 50s/early 60s) we have finite energy plus a few preexisting conditions that limit our “bugout” options. Let’s see, we have both read “Alas, Babylon”, “One Second After”, “Patriots”, and “The Road”.  Our library now includes “Boston's Gun Bible”, “SAS Survival Handbook”, “The Encyclopedia of Country Living”, "Where There Is No Doctor", "Where There Is No Dentist" and several other titles. We read as much as we can when we can.

I downloaded JWR’s “List of Lists” and on first read said to myself “this is cool”, but felt a bit overwhelmed by the detail.  I ordered and read the “Rawles Gets You Ready" preparedness course”.  There are more details on what needs to be consider, but I am still feeling overwhelmed.

I was lost.  I know that the journey of one thousand miles starts with a single step, but I didn’t want to head off in the wrong direction.  I am not in a position to waste any time, effort, or money.

But then I remembered something that I had come across a week or so earlier.  Where was it?  As I use www.delicious.com to save my bookmarks on the net, any sites that I want to revisit are bookmarked, tagged, and readily searchable.  I found it in a few minutes.

It was a post on another survival web site.  The author provided an easy acronym for a person to remember when they get lost.  “S.T.O.P.”:  Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan.  For all the survival old-timers this is grade school stuff, but to the newly initiated it is fresh material.  After some thought it does make perfect sense.  I was lost in the jungle of preparedness and needed to STOP.

Getting Un-lost
My subconscious must have been working on this for some time, because I immediately knew what I had to do for myself.  I also realized that my work might be useful to others in a similar position, those others coming late to the preparedness party.  I asked and received JWR's permission to modify his List of Lists.  I reformatted the spreadsheet to meet my needs, and the remainder of the article explains my modifications.

“Stop” I did, literally.  The web site recommendation was to try to relax for 30 minutes.  After reading “One Second After” I allowed myself to stop for 30 seconds.

“T” usually means think, but for me it means “Take Inventory”.  I am not just counting boxes of ammunition or crackers or air filters, I am also taking inventory of my skills.  What skills do I already have, and which ones do I need to learn, or which ones am I willing to outsource to others or go without if I have to.  The admonition is repeated time and again in books and magazines and here at SurvivalBlog and others, that it is your skills and your attitude that will be your primary tools for short and long term survival and sustenance.  One can have all the hardware, but if it stays in the wrapper and you don’t know how to put it together or use it, then it will not help you when you need it.  I know I am preaching to the choir here, today I quickly found http://www.survivalblog.com/2009/02/letter_re_gaining_situational.html and http://www.survivalblog.com/2008/06/after_10_yearssome_observation.html for example. 

I am now in the “Take Inventory” phase of my becoming un-lost.   Tools, skills, books...there are 34 pages of checklists (including additions I have made), a lot of detail because that is what is required.  Several of the lists are generic and need further development by each person to meet their individual requirements. When this phase is completed, I will know what I have, and I will know what I know.  The last part sounds silly, but seeing it on paper makes prioritizing future actions a whole lot easier.  If others find my work useful, they too will build their own lists.

“O” is for observe.  I am going to bend the definition a bit and say that observe means to understand the market for each item you decide to purchase.  My dollars are finite, so I cannot be spending them foolishly.  My Dad always said “never buy anything the first time you see it”.  To help me in my purchase decisions, I created a worksheet that can be used to help evaluate the best option available.  I will explain this in more detail a bit later as I describe the modifications I have made to the JWR's List of Lists .

“P” means plan, but for my purposes it has the double meaning of Prioritizing and Planning.  No sense in worrying about a year’s supply of food when I don’t have 30 days yet.  Back to the basics, first things first, second things second.  My priorities will be different from yours, but I need to identify my requirements before I start sending dollars out the door.

With my resource and skills inventory in place, I now can prioritize our acquisitions of material and skills.  I will be using savings to front load the absolute priorities.  Then I will enter a phase of long term budgeting and procurement.  Wishful thinking will not put three years food supply up for two people.  I need to develop the discipline of buying appropriately, getting what I can when I can.  When I refer to priority development, I have several competing needs that need to be addressed at the same time.  I might have the money to buy three years food supply, but I can’t neglect first aid supplies, getting a proper BoV, finding a retreat location, etc. 
If TSHTF today I would not be in the best place.  But I would certainly not be in the worst either.  I have resolved that every single day I will make progress on at least one of my unfulfilled items.
My Changes to the JWR's List of Lists
I made one major change to the JWR List of Lists, as well as several small ones, and one set of additions:

The most noticeable change is the addition of five columns in each list: “Own”, “Qty”, “Buy”, “Priority”, and “Notes”.  I realized that I needed to know what I had before I went of acquiring what I needed.  How many times have I gone to the grocery store and bought something I thought we needed, and came home to find three other packages waiting.  I suppose in the new paradigm that is a good thing.  But I really don’t need to spend any more money on screwdrivers when I know that I don’t have a water filter.  That’s an easy enough call, but for many other items I cannot with certainty say yes or no. There are more than enough new things to get without purchasing items that I already have.  I added the “Priority” column so that I could highlight the items that should be targeted for the next round of purchases.  The “Notes” column is for just that, though some may be pre-filled with some of JWR’s comments from his original list.

Other changes were more cosmetic.  I developed the modifications in Google Documents.  I did this to allow non-Microsoft Office users access to the material.  I eliminated some blank columns at the end of each sheet, and added the name of the sheet to the top row of each.  The large comments that JWR placed at the top of some lists have been moved to the bottom.  I added very few additional rows to the lists that JWR prepared, but they are there so I hope I don’t confuse anyone with their insertion.

The current version of the Google software does not allow internal linking.  Navigation to the sheets is done by using the tabs and arrows at the bottom of the screen.  Another feature of Google Docs is that when you print a document, it creates a PDF file which you can either print or save.  An individual sheet or the whole workbook can be printed.

The Appendices

These were created for my own purposes.  At this time I am solely responsible for their structure and content.  I am hoping that others may find them useful in their quest for more complete preparedness.
Appendix A is the Acquisition Worksheet.  I developed this for formalizing a comparison of non-standard product offerings.  I wanted to end my “back of the envelope” notations when trying to determine what to buy.  This is important stuff and I didn’t want the notes thrown out accidentally or confusing when read later.  What do I mean by non-standard products?  Here are two examples.  Up until two months ago I didn’t even know paracord existed.  Not only does it exist, it has a multitude of uses.  I started searching for a reliable place to buy it from, and then discovered that it comes in all sorts of types (civilian, military), strands (4,5,7, are there more?), and of course lengths and colors.  I thought I found an inexpensive source selling 50’ lengths for less than $3 each.  It seemed a “reasonable” price, I could put one each into our BOBs.  Reasonable, until I discovered that their shipping cost was almost $7 each.  I have to go back and do more research for paracord.  Another example is bulk winter wheat.  There seem to be several viable sources, some ship in 5 gallon buckets, some in 6 gallon buckets.  I need to find out the unit costs and the freight costs to determine which offering is better. 

Appendix B is really a placeholder for me to develop my personal bag inventories.  It has been not stressed enough that outside of key basics, it is better for each person to build their own list of BoB, vehicle BoB, Everyday Carry and Get Home Bag contents.  I also found an excellent reference for a medical supply bag and have noted that source.  If I need to do this, I am guessing others need to do this as well.  There are plenty of examples out there.  I am already getting started on my BoBs.

Appendix S is the area where I hope I can get some help from the SurvivalBlog community.  What I did was create a set of categories and lists “off the top of my head” on what skills might be needed in different SHTF scenarios.  I am guessing I left a few holes, and comments are welcome.  I will gladly update this appendix with solid input.  This is an area where I (for myself, and you, well, for yourself) need to be hypercritical of your knowledge and experience.  Your self-assessment can be as glib as Sully’s response “I read a manual” in ‘Avatar’, but reading is not doing.  Recent articles on notes from a first hunting trip  http://www.survivalblog.com/2010/07/lessons_learned_from_a_novice.html, desert gardening http://www.survivalblog.com/2010/07/starting_your_desert_backyard.html,  developing a G.O.O.D. vehicle  http://www.survivalblog.com/2010/07/my_good_vehicle_by_matt_m.html all provide examples that for every skill there is at minimum an article’s worth of experience derived for each example.  [LOL, article’s worth? How about several books or college degrees worth of experience?]   But even reading this expertise is not doing.  Quoting Sully again, “It’s like field stripping a weapon: just repetition, repetition”.
Do you own and want to keep a dog?  Do you clip your pet’s nails or take the dog to a groomer?  That’s a new skill you will need.  It sounds easy, but you don’t want to injure the animal.  How heavy is your BoB?  How far have you carried it?  Are you fit enough to get home with your GHB?  There are general skills, and specific skills.  Which ones do I (and you) need to know?  That is for each to decide.

Even though I would consider myself a suburban creature (10 miles from a large enough city that I want bugout from if necessary), I grew up next to and was literally raised on a farm.  I have tended chickens and cows and pigs.  I have raked and scythed hay manually and with machines.  It is very hard work. That’s why I now work in IT.  I listed the basic farm animals as a starting point for skill requirement definition.  As there are many articles, books, and web sites discussing these animals for homestead living, there are plenty of resources for those that are new to self-sufficiency.  These again are noted for people to think about which animals they may want to raise, and then for each my next section covers the basics (I think) for the care of those animals.  Read this at Grandpappy's site for a non-sugarcoated summary.  As I skim the skills list “one more time” I see that I am missing things already.  I could spend weeks polishing this off, but I am sending it in now.  Additions will have to wait for V1.2.  Your input is welcome.
Appendix W contains two sets of web sites.  The first part consists of web sites that I have come across in my first 60 days of preparedness education and enlightenment.  As I have found these sites useful, I am hoping that others will get value from them as well.  The second list of web sites are taken from JWR’s original list and summarized here for completeness.  The Tools List is the only page that has kept JWR’s original site references intact.

Access to the Updated List of Lists

As stated earlier, I decided to develop this in Google Docs spreadsheet format to give as wide exposure as I could.  The one caveat is that if you do not have any kind of Google account, you will be asked to create one when trying to directly access the file.

I have created a public folder that can be accessed here.  The spreadsheet JWRLoLv1.1 is found there.  Click on the link, and you will be asked to login to your Google account.  Once logged in you will be able to use the File menu to copy the spreadsheet into your own documents folder, or export the file to a file type of your choice. [JWR Adds: Some readers have had difficulty opening the file. I will post a copy directly to the SurvivalBlog server sometime in the next few days, and will post a link.]

Utilizing the List of Lists

My version of the “List of Lists” will be a living document.  I will keep a current “master” in a three ring notebook.  As I update my inventories the updates will be hand written.  As needed other notes will be added as well.  I will keep my working acquisition sheets in another section, moving the completed sheets out to a permanent file.  I will update the computer version once or twice a month so that the hand notations don’t become confusing or forgotten.  A new “master” will be printed which will replace the old version.  I can easily determine how much I have of what, how much I want to target, and how much to buy, setting new priorities for the current period. 
For those familiar with spreadsheets, navigating the Google versions is not that difficult.  Most of my customizing of the sheets will be adding or deleting rows.  Click into the row “header” just left of the first cell, then right-click to get a context menu.  Of the several options, two will be to add a row either above or below the selected row.  If you want to insert multiple rows, select that number of row headers (for example 5) and then you will be asked to insert 5 rows above or below the selection.  There is also a shortcut after the last row for easy addition of rows at the end.  For those that want to customize the columns, follow a similar sequence.

Feedback Welcome

If there is enough feedback on the structure of any of the lists themselves I will update the existing version.  As I said previously, the Skills List is open to all suggestions.  The Firefighting List had no items from JWR’s original.  Perhaps some professional firefighters can make some suggestions.  I think that there could be some specific “grid up” and “grid down” checklists for fire safety.  It is a universal requirement (ever practice a family fire drill?).  This will get added into a newer version.  Any suggestions can be sent to me at taodnt@gmail.com (“teaching an old dog new tricks”).  I am never too old to learn.  I will post the changes, and anyone knowing the link to the folder can get the new version any time.  I will also pass a note to JWR so that he can announce the updates as they are made.  Thanks for listening and I hope you can benefit from my efforts.