Seven years ago, Karl Rehn of KR Training and I began an experiment of hosting a preparedness conference in the Central Texas area the first full weekend of January after New Year's Day. I don't think we envisioned this going beyond two or three years, but last weekend we punched the ticket for a seventh time.
Our conference has morphed over the years, with the biggest change coming last year with a move from the conference room at Cabela's and the one day format to a two day event at Karl's facility near Giddings, TX. This move allowed us to add a firearms component which has really increased the utility of the conference.
Speakers and Presentations - Day One
We led off with Ben Weger, M.D. and a bunch of other letters behind his name I'm omitting. One of the reasons Ben is such a draw to the prepper community is that not only does he get the need to be prepared, he has also worked as a paramedic and nurse before becoming a doctor. From scraping people off the sidewalk and loading them into an ambulance to making the big decisions as a physician, he has seen it all. It's not just theory to him - he provides a full spectrum analysis of the medical challenges preppers face.
Dr. Weger spoke for two hours on both medical (illnesses) and trauma (injury) issues we are likely to see post disaster. Preppers tend to fixate on exotic pandemics and trauma caused by gunshot wounds; the reality is that the more common medical issues stem from infections we often see working in a post-disaster environment (tetanus and hepatitis from puncture wounds; gastrointestinal upset from lack of hygiene and sanitation).
Some of my takeaways from this include:
Dr. Weger has previously done two day seminars on medical issues for preppers. We hope to have him come back for another round of similar training.
I gave the lunch time presentation on the 2019 Outlook. This is a presentation I started doing at the conference a few years ago during the lunch break to help provide more information to attendees during our limited time with them.
I covered a number of things, although not surprisingly the topics in the outlook briefings have not varied much from year to year.
We continue to see the debt issue - both government held debt as well as corporate debt - growing and becoming a bigger concern as time goes on. I quoted from Porter Stansberry in one of his latest missives on the markets:
"And it's not just the amount of corporate debt that's concerning... It's also the quality. Today, $3 trillion of debt is rated at the lowest level of investment-grade debt – by far the most than at any other time in history. These companies are teetering on the edge of becoming junk credits. By taking on more debt to buy back their own stock, they risk a credit rating downgrade and much higher interest costs."
In addition, experts warn we should be preparing ourselves for the possibility of a cyber attack on the grid, affecting water, gas and electrical transmission to our homes.
We also looked at growing first responder response times in various cities. Here in Austin, we continue to see response times get longer, in part due to our growing population and under staffing of first responder jobs.
I outlined a seven point action plan for 2019:
Tracy Thronburg gave us an introduction into the use of the kubotan, a self defense method relying upon a short rod or stick. It can be very effective and is capable of being used in situations where other self defense techniques cannot be used.
The nice weather allowed us to get outside and practice strikes using trainer kubotans (graciously made by her husband, Scott, who is in the far right of the picture below). The trainers are mouse pads rolled up tightly and rubber banded together.
A kubotan can be a tactical flashlight, a wooden stick, or just a metal rod.
At the end of the day, I had Tracy go faster and with more power on me with the kubotan. I found out quickly it's a quite effective way of defending yourself.
John and Kelli Kochan then led a discussion on best practices for chainsaw safety in a post-disaster environment. Unlike the typical use of a chainsaw - in daylight and fair weather conditions, in a yard or forest away from other hazards - using a saw after a disaster might mean doing so in the dark, with flashlights, in the middle of the road during a heavy rain. It's a much different environment than most expect.
The Kochans never disappoint, and this was no exception.
The presentation covered necessary safety apparel and chainsaw accessories to make the job easier. The Kochans report they regularly have to use saws after a big storm to cut their way in or out of their driveway or on the country road they live on; they regularly carry their saws with them to work if there is a chance of severe weather before they get home.
Unfortunately, while there are plenty of places to buy a chainsaw, there are precious few ways to actually learn how to use them safely. YouTube videos are good, but they are no substitute to getting your saw out and practicing with the gear and the techniques to fell trees and process them once they are on the ground. John and Kelli's presentation help fill some of those knowledge gaps.
Karl summed it up nicely on the KR Training Facebook Page:
Chainsaws are like guns - a lot of people own them, very few use them as safely or correctly as they should, and they sit unused most of the year with the expectation the user will be good at using that tool in an emergency situation.
But if flooding or high winds cause a fallen tree to land on your house or car or blocking your road, the chainsaw could become important - and the likelihood someone might use a chainsaw is probably higher than the likelihood they'll need to shoot someone.
John "Hsoi" Daub - a man of many talents - shared his thoughts on nutrition and exercise issues for those in the preparedness community. This is an area where many preppers fall down - it's tempting to buy a bunch of gear and declare yourself "prepared" without taking any effort to get yourself into shape for the physical demands that accompany a disaster.
Daub will admit he's tried a lot of different forms of exercise and activities to stay in shape. But one of his all time favorites is lifting weights. He quickly pointed out that we should all find some form of exercise we like and get started.
What I really appreciated about John's presentation was his candor about the challenges he faces with exercise and diet. He's a very fit guy with good nutritional habits; he will tell you that it takes effort on his part to make that happen. It's not something that comes natural to him, and thus we shouldn't expect it to come natural to us.
I also appreciated his encouragement for preppers to take up walking. It's a great form of exercise that has a low risk of injury. It's also practical - depending on the crisis affecting a community, a prepper may be doing a lot of walking after a disaster.
Nutrition and exercise should be a top priority for preppers going into 2019.
I finished the day with two different presentations.
I spoke on the need to Become Your Own First Responder. This is a tag line used by many in the firearms training community; I'm thinking we need to get trainers and leaders beyond the gun culture to start using it as well.
Here in Austin, for a priority one call for Austin/Travis County EMS, the stated response time goal is under ten minutes. Put another way, for the first ten minutes of a priority one medical emergency (think CPR in progress), you are on your own.
Being your own first responder can mean different things to different people. For me, it means helping to stabilize a situation by providing security, basic first aid and scene management until professional first responders arrive.
First, a bit of good news: skills are easier than obtain than ever. You can become an EMT by taking classes on line, get a ham radio license without learning Morse code, take several FEMA classes on line for free, and take Stop the Bleed classes.
It's important that people tailor their skills and training to their lifestyle. For example, a parent of two young kids may want to focus on medical emergencies pertaining to children. Meanwhile, an empty nester may want to focus on medical issues pertaining to middle age and elderly people.
Look for ways to better prepare yourself to provide basic security, first aid and scene management. What skills do you need? What training do you need? A good CPR/First Aid class, some Stop the Bleed training and exercising your License to Carry privileges will enable you to be better able to be a first responder until help arrives.
We closed with my final presentation on Checklists for Preppers. I was inspired by the book by Atul Gawande, M.D., entitled "The Checklist Manifesto." Checklists do four things for preppers:
I provided my checklists for hurricanes (thanks to Hurricane Harvey) and winter storms (thanks to the ice storm we had in January 2018) to the attendees to help jump start their efforts. But perhaps the most critical part of our discussion came we talked about how to decide prioritization between:
For example, which should you do first? Recharge the GoalZero lights (takes a long time to do) or secure the pool furniture (doesn't take long but is critical to keeping the furniture from becoming projectiles)?
When creating your checklist, ask yourself:
Speakers and Presentations - Day Two
Karl led off the Sunday morning discussion with a presentations on Firearms Preparedness, which covered such things as:
Many preppers tend to focus on firearms and knives, at time to the exclusion of other supplies and skills they need. But as Karl pointed out in one of of his PowerPoint slides, the odds of needing to use force is less than the need to have food, water, shelter, power and heat.
At the conclusion of his presentation, we undertook a Get Home Bag exercise. This required attendees to walk with their actual get home bag 0.6 miles so they can experience what it is like to actually use their bag. About half of the attendees indicated they had never gone on a walk before while wearing their bag.
Just for fun, we weighed everyone's bag prior to the start. A few data points:
During our short walk, we undertook a number of activities, including:
This was by far our best conference yet. We really struck a good balance between classroom and hands on, along with firearm and non-firearm training.
I told attendees at the end of the first day that what I find really remarkable is how speakers, with no collaboration with each other, are able to create presentations with similar messages and congruent narratives with the other speakers. I think it shows the preparedness movement is continuing to develop and mature.
We are already working on the Eighth Annual Preparedness Conference - which I am calling THE OCHO - tentatively set for January 4-5, 2020.
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