THE OCHO: THE EIGHTH ANNUAL PREPAREDNESS CONFERENCE JANUARY 3-5, 2020
Current events serve as a very good reminder of the need to be prepared for a variety of things that can go wrong. As political rhetoric heats up on both the local and national level, how will you deal with potential outbursts of anger and frustration that seem to become more pronounced as we approach national elections?
For the last eight years, I have steered the topics of previous conferences away from talk of civil unrest and riots. I felt like people needed to focus on the more common perils of severe weather, fire, medical emergencies and violent crime. Discussions of civil unrest and civil war are unsettling – more so than conversations of floods, hurricanes and wildfires.
But in 2019, we no longer have that luxury.
Earlier today on Townhall.com, an article entitled “Are We Headed Toward a Second Civil War?” appeared. From the article:
Yet, in today’s polarized age, most people now genuinely believe civil war to be a very real possibility. An October Georgetown Institute poll found that the average American believes we are “two-thirds of the way to the edge of a civil war,” while a solid majority believes that “political, racial, and class divisions are getting worse.”
Regarding that same Georgetown study – here’s what New York Magazine had to say about it:
That division is leading to a dark place, respondents said. Asked how close the country is to the “edge of a civil war” — with 0 being not close at all and 100 being time to get the “go” bag — Americans say we’re at 67.23. So, two-thirds of the way to internecine bloodshed. Could be better. Could be worse.
From the New York Times, just two days ago:
A sense of disbelief seemed to take hold of the room when Lilliana Mason, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland, began to show the results of a survey she had conducted among voters on the issue of political violence around the 2018 midterms. While 77 percent had said they were against violence of any sort, around 20 percent appeared willing to tolerate some kind of violence in politics.
She flipped to another survey. Twenty-five percent of respondents had said they favored the country being broken up along party lines into separate nations.
Even commentator/comedians are speaking about it. Bill Maher on his HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher” last Friday:
“Lately we’ve been hearing more and more about a second Civil War, which sounds impossible in this modern affluent country. It is not.”
This year’s conference will include extended analysis of the factors and actors in the conversation surrounding the potential for a Second Civil War. You need to know what is being said, how to evaluate the inflammatory rhetoric, and prepare your family for further tensions in our country.
We’ll also be covering using pepper spray as a less than lethal means to deter violent crime, along with a presentation on electrical generators and night vision equipment. On Sunday, we’ll focus on self defense skills, such as managing and de-escalating conflict in public spaces, as well as some Defensive Long Gun training with the long gun of your choice.
Click here to get read more and get signed up.
AUSTIN POLICE: APD RESPONSE TIMES ARE GOING UP. THE TREND WILL CONTINUE.
At last week’s Preparedness Meet Up, we invited the Greater Austin Crime Commission and the Austin Police Department to come discuss crime trends in Austin. Here’s some of the data they provided:
Take a look at those numbers. APD response times for calls requiring “lights and sirens” – the really big ones – now averages 8 minutes. Note that’s a 10.3% increase from last year.
Eight minutes. That’s 480 seconds on average. Which means some calls, depending on a wide variety of factors, can take much longer.
What can happen to you in 8 minutes? What can happen to your family in 8 minutes?
What if your call takes 10 minutes instead of 8 minutes? What if someone is attempting to break in to your home at 3 AM or hurt your family in a parking lot of a grocery store?
What is your plan to deal with that?
The Greater Austin Crime Commission reports that the combination of increased population, coupled with the failure of the Austin City Council to adequately staff the street officer ranks of APD, are driving up response times.
These trends will not end any time soon. Plan accordingly.
ARMED CITIZEN STOPS WALMART SHOOTING IN OKLAHOMA TODAY
A key detail being omitted from many news reports about today’s shooting at an Oklahoma Walmart is that the shooter took his own life after being confronted by an armed citizen.
Carry your gun. Get training to do so safely and effectively. The life you save may be your own.
SPEAKING OF BEING AN ARMED CITIZEN, I AM TRANSITIONING TO A NEW EVERY DAY CARRY GUN
I’ve alternated between two extremes in size over the last 7 years – a Glock 34 (large frame gun) and Glock 26 (a subcompact), both of which are 9mm.
However, I’ve been quite impressed with the reviews on the Glock 48 – a single stack 9mm. I’m in the process of switching to that as my everyday carry (EDC) gun. The Glock 34 was simply too long and the Glock 26, while shorter, is a “fat” gun making it a challenge to carry concealed with nicer clothes (suits and dress slacks). I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
Q1 2020 SEASONAL WEATHER OUTLOOK – WARMER, DRIER
The official seasonal forecast for the first three months of 2020 doesn’t bode well for our current drought situation:
That’s all for now. Stay safe out there. And get signed up for The Ocho.
We’re pleased the Preparedness Conference is in its eighth year. To sign up, click here.
The theme for this conference is “Austin in Crisis.” We will look at the recent problems in the Austin area and what a prepared citizenry needs to know heading into 2020, focusing on:
Friday, January 3
OC spray/less-lethal weapons for Civilians Instructor Course – Chuck Haggard, a nationally respected self defense instructor in a number of disciplines, will be teaching attendees how to train others in the use of OC spray and less than lethal weapon systems. OC spray (aka pepper spray) and other systems provide the preparedness community a viable option when confronted with a dangerous situation requiring force that is less than deadly force. This is a great option for those who wish to help prepare their families, houses of worship and workplaces with self defense skills that don’t involve firearms. This is an all day class. Tuition is $300.
HALF DAY WEEKEND SESSIONS
Each of the half day sessions is $100. Attend two sessions for $180, three sessions for $240, and all four for the package discount price of $280, a savings of $120.
Saturday morning, January 4
OC spray/less-lethal weapons for Civilians – Chuck Haggard will make another appearance on the second day of The OCHO to teach a half day class for those just wanting the actual course content. This is a great option for family members and others who want to learn how to use less than lethal self defense systems but do not want to train others in how to use them.
Saturday afternoon, January 4
Generators 101 – More people are wanting to purchase generators for power outages caused by storms and cyber attacks on the grid. Kurt Summers of Austin Generator will be on hand to explain the basics of generators and help you make decisions as to whether you need a generator and, if so, what kind of generator you should acquire.
Paul Martin will be leading the discussion on the following topics:
The Second American Civil War – The Deep Dive – The mainstream media and major policy publications have published articles and stories on the likelihood of a Second American Civil War, or CW2. We will do a deep dive into the material to see what is driving this, whether it’s something we should actually be concerned about, and how prepared citizens should respond and react to the increased attention to this subject.
Austin in Crisis – The past 24 months in Austin have been challenging for the city, including a serial bomber, a massive boil water order for the city, an escalating level of violence downtown, increased response times for first responders, and a massive shift in public policy priorities creating health and safety hazards throughout the city. We are going to spend some time focusing on the public safety and health challenges facing the Austin area.
Preparing for Civil Unrest – As we head into 2020, political tensions will undoubtedly escalate creating a very tense election year which may go beyond November 3, 2020. Add to these growing tensions the increased attacks on our power grid and extended response times by first responders. What should prepared citizens anticipate in the event of a civil unrest event, and how can they prepare for it in 2020? We will be offering a number of ideas to help get you ready for this possibility.
Night Vision Equipment Demonstration – Once it gets dark outside on Saturday, Cliff Cheadle of Third Coast Thermal will be on hand to demonstrate the newest night vision equipment and how best to deploy it in a suburban and urban setting.
Sunday morning, January 5
Potential Threat Management – KR Training Instructor Dave Reichek will provide hands on training in managing communication, position, movement and body language when interacting with unknown individuals in public places. This block will include simulations where students will practice evading, avoiding, deterring and physically interacting with potential threats. Some drills will incorporate instructors wearing protective headgear so that students can practice unarmed techniques.
Sunday afternoon, January 5
Defensive Long Gun – Karl Rehn and Wendell Joost will be teaching the 4 hour Defensive Long Gun Essentials course that is a staple in the KR Training curriculum. We encourage attendees for this particular offering to use any type of long gun of their choosing, especially one that they may not be their primary defensive long gun. This includes rifles chambered in 22, pump and semi auto shotguns, lever guns and bolt action guns.
Today is the first day of National Preparedness Month! Use the holiday weekend to assess your readiness for power outages, severe weather, medical emergencies and criminal activity.
LTC AT KR TRAINING ON SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 29
I’ll be hosting another LTC class on Sunday, September 29 at KR Training. This will run from 1 PM to 6 PM. Get your church on that morning and then come out and learn to defend yourself and family from evil the way the Lord intended.
If you need some training before the class, Karl is teaching a Basic Pistol 1 class that morning from 9 AM to Noon. This is a great opportunity to get some basic training and practice if you need it before you take the LTC class.
Current turnaround time at DPS for licenses is around 3 weeks, which is about as fast as I’ve ever seen it. Get signed up. Get friends to do it as well.
Click here to register for classes, and click here to pay for them. Note – your registration is not confirmed until you’ve paid the class fees.
YOU CAN NOW GET YOUR LTC FEES WAIVED EFFECTIVE SEPTEMBER 1
HB 1078 will take effect on September 1. You can read it here. If you have a valid CPR certification card, your application and renewal fees for both driver’s licenses and LTCs are waived.
HOMELESS SITUATION + DOWNTOWN VIOLENCE IN AUSTIN = NO-GO ZONES
I don’t use the term “no-go zone” lightly; in fact, I’m effectively borrowing it from Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday:
Until the department can get this under control, I would recommend that people don’t go to East Sixth Street or a six-block area around the ARCH.
You can call it whatever you want. Sounds like the very definition of a no-go zone to me.
Lest you need further proof of this, I encourage you to follow the TX Street Fights channel on YouTube. Much of this was filmed in Austin, and much of that Austin footage was filmed downtown.
Look at your property tax bill and think about your sales tax bill. This is what you’re getting for your investment.
I’ve had conversations with the staff of my city Council Member as to the wisdom of this policy. Like the rest of you, I also believe we should look for effective ways to end homelessness. Creating an environment that encourages them to camp wherever they please isn’t a sustainable one.
What can you do to protect yourself? What can you do to help address these issues?
PREPAREDNESS MEET UP SEPTEMBER 12: CREATING A BASIC FOOD AND WATER STORAGE PLAN
Our Preparedness Meet Ups continue to grow in size. Our next one will be Thursday, September 12 from 7 PM to 9 PM at Riverbend Church, where I will be previewing a new training program I created for ADRN. We’ll talk about how to create a basic food and water storage program for emergencies that allow you to get prepared quickly, effectively and inexpensively. Email me if you’re not already getting my Meet Up emails for more information.
EL OCHO ES AQUI!
The OCHO – the Eighth Annual Disaster Preparedness Conference, sponsored by myself and KR Training – will be January 3-5, 2020. I will have more information out in the next week or so, but for now, get it on your calendar.
Those of you of a certain age will recall LL Cool J's "Going Back to Cali" video from the 80s.
Later this week, I will be heading to California myself for a work conference, just days after large earthquakes rocked Southern California.
My preparedness plans for this trip are a little different than my usual work trip. The L.A Times reported yesterday there is an "11 percent chance of another huge earthquake in Southern California." The Sacramento Bee reported today that some experts say Southern California is overdue for "the big one" along the San Andreas fault.
I am not particularly worried about a big earthquake hitting the area while we are there. That's in large part because I am taking additional precautions. These include:
Meanwhile, my wife says my plans are not as solid as I believe they are, citing The Rock's definitive work on surviving a major quake in SoCal:
My wife will likely be trying to purchase life insurance on me should this unfold live on cable news while I am there.
More posts to follow as this adventure unfolds.
Although I am an NRA certified instructor for basic shotgun, I am not a "shotgun guy." I've shot plenty of them, but most of my shooting in my adult life has taken the form of self defense training. As a result, most of my range time has been devoted to handguns and AR rifle platforms.
I have a number of License to Carry (LTC) students who do rely upon a shotgun as a home defense weapon. I'll be honest: until Saturday, I had not spent much time learning about the utility of shotguns for such applications. I suspect that's in large part because the rifle and, to a lesser extent, the pistol, provide sufficient means for self defense.
But as an instructor, I really owe to my students to learn more about shotguns and their self defense utility. Many of them may own a shotgun but not be in a position to buy another firearm. If a shotgun is all you have, what's the best way to get as much defensive utility out of it?
Nationally recognized firearm instructors like Tom Givens have been teaching defensive shotgun classes for quite some time, and so my recent interest in this doesn't put me on the cutting edge. In fact, I freely admit I am always one of the last people to migrate to whatever is the "it" thing within the firearm instructor community. I carried a .40 S&W until 7 years ago this month when I migrated back to 9mm for my carry gun caliber choice, long after most instructors had gone back to 9mm. I'm no pioneer.
A few other factors increased my interest in taking a defensive shotgun class, including:
Lee Weems of First Person Safety provided his Social Shotgun/Levergun Manipulations course this weekend at Karl Rehn's KR Training. Although you had to pick whether you were going to run the class with a shotgun or lever action gun, you got the benefit of learning about how to use these guns in defensive situations.
The obvious limitation on shotguns and lever action guns - limited ammo capacity - can largely be addressed in the following ways, according to Lee:
The class had a relatively low round count for an all day class - 110 rounds - but after firing 110 rounds of 12 gauge, that's sufficient for all but those who are gluttons for punishment.
We spent much of the morning learning rapid reload techniques and practicing that on the range. After the morning session, I was pretty convinced that while I appreciated what I was learning, the AR platform would remain my go-to choice for a defensive long gun.
After the lunch break, Lee went through the classroom portion of the class. This is where my attitude started to shift as he filled in the knowledge gaps and answered the questions I and others had about the wisdom of relying on a shotgun or lever action gun over a modern sporting rifle like the AR-15. Unlike many firearms instructors who will insist their way is the best way and everyone who disagrees with them is an idiot, Lee was quite objective about the pros and cons of using such guns for self defense.
One of those cons stems from the fact most shotguns and lever action guns were not designed for self defense usage. Most of them serve as either hunting guns or sporting clays (trap and skeet) shotguns. They are not as ergonomic as an AR, nor do most of them have the ability to add accessories such as lights or high speed optics. Yet for the citizen who does not own a modern sporting rifle but who does own a shotgun or lever action gun, they can utilize that firearm as a solid home defense tool.
The highlight of the class for me - and the thing that continues to challenge my preconceived notions the most - was when Lee had us take our shotguns out to 25 yards and fire three rounds at a small target using Federal brand Low Recoil 00 buckshot with FLITECONTROL wads. From my brand new, off the shelf Mossberg 590a1 with no mechanical modifications, I was able to keep every pellet within a 12 inch by 24 inch box at 25 yards. Since I was using 9 pellet shells, that meant 27 pellets - each of which is roughly the same size as a 9mm round - within the box. I had heard this ammo was good, but I had no idea it was capable of holding such a tight pattern at that distance. I became a big believer in FLITECONTROL wadding and the viability of a shotgun in home defense applications.
A side note: many believe the "you don't have to aim a shotgun" mantra that so many others have said over the years. You most certainly have to aim a shotgun. And it's not as easy as aiming an AR-15, given the additional recoil of the shotgun. Using any type of firearm for self defense requires training. Shotguns are not magical boom sticks that you point in the general direction of the bad guy and pull the trigger. This is especially true if you want to get the full benefit of the high quality defensive shotgun ammo now available.
Is the shotgun (and the lever action gun) the future of self defense? As ammo technology gets better and as political pressures mount to restrict access to modern sporting rifles, we may likely see more people turning to them as their primary defensive long guns moving forward. While shotguns make up a smaller portion of the overall number of firearms sales in America these days, the total number of shotguns sold in the U.S. continues to increase.
If you own a shotgun or lever action gun, plan on learning more about how to most effectively use these guns for self defense. As always, seek out the help of a qualified professional like the ones listed above.
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.
Originally posted at Medium.com
Like many Americans, I regularly shop for groceries on Friday afternoon.
A year ago this weekend, shopping for groceries here in Austin, Texas took on a surreal feeling as Hurricane Harvey was no longer the product of an over imaginative staff at The Weather Channel. Harvey took aim at the Texas coast, prompting everyone within 200 miles of the coast to start taking their hurricane preparedness seriously. (Why do it early when you can do it with everyone else at the same time, right before the storm hits?)
I regularly shop at our local H-E-B, which is a privately owned chain of grocery stores in Texas. I’m a big fan of H-E-B. I love their employees, along with their commitment to disaster preparedness and response. On the Tuesday before Harvey made landfall, I topped off my supplies during an evening visit to the store. The shopping excursion gave me not only the opportunity to secure any last minute items we needed, but it also allowed me to gauge how my fellow Austinites were preparing for the possibility of a hurricane, then hundreds of miles off shore.
“I grew up in Houston, so I don’t wait to get prepared for these things,” the young lady serving as my cashier told me as she swiped my purchases across her scanner. “I’ve seen what they can do, and I take it seriously.” I thanked her for her candor and for answering my questions about what she was seeing/hearing from shoppers about the storm — which, on that Tuesday night, was not much. “A few have come through buying a lot of bottled water, but so far, no one has really mentioned it.”
Most people don’t realize it, but grocery store staff can be some of the best sources of intel as to what’s going on in your community that you can find. They are not inhibited by the usual “be advised to stay calm at this time” messaging we often receive from community first response leaders. They see and hear a lot, and when things are starting to go bad in a community, they often have a lot of anecdotal data to share.
Every day leading up to the storm, and in the days thereafter, I made a point to visit that same H-E-B to see how people’s shopping habits changed as it became clear that Harvey would have some impact on Austin. The usual flow of soccer moms and retirees during daytime shopping hours quickly mutated into a crowded stream of suburban dads and working moms taking time off from their workday to buy the usual storm gourmet items — canned soups and pastas, chips, sports drinks, crackers, cereal, bread and peanut butter. Bottled water ceased to be available. Checkout lines grew to thirty minute wait times. Everyone remained cordial, but everyone was a bit put out that “all of these people” were there at the same time they were to buy their last minute items.
Fast forward to this past Friday — when there was no massive storm threatening Central Texas. There was no massive anything threatening Central Texas, as best I could tell. Other than the seasonably oppressive heat outside, Friday was just like any other day in Austin.
I finished up buying a few items for the dinner party my wife and I were hosting for some friends on Saturday. As I pulled my grocery cart into the check out line, I noticed something was wrong. The cashiers, normally whisking customers through the check out lanes by scanning products and occasionally punching things on their keypads, were essentially motionless. I turned around just in time to see a manager tell an employee to open up her register as the lanes were quickly filling up. And that’s when I heard what was holding us up:
“My credit card reader on my lane is down…they all are.”
Commerce at the local grocery store had been brought to a screeching halt because, for whatever reason, all of the card readers were down. The H-E-B staff, always demonstrating agility, began to announce that customers who could pay with cash should move to one of two lanes now set aside for cash-only transactions.
I quickly moved my cart from the lane now stuck with credit card only purchasers to one of the cash only lanes. As others began to bring their carts in behind me, I wanted to make sure they knew what was going on.
The two ladies behind me — we’ll call them Lady 1 and Lady 2 — did not receive the news well. Lady 1 became quite indignant. “Well, they MUST take my charge card,” she insisted, despite the fact that I had just told her what the store staff was telling everyone else — the credit card readers were down throughout the store, and they could only complete transactions in cash. She pointed to the sign above the register with great enthusiasm — “It doesn’t say ‘cash only’ on the sign!” as if I was trying to mislead her.
Not believing me, she skipped ahead of me to ask the cashier herself, who promptly confirmed what I had just told her. Lady 1 could not believe the store would not take her “charge card” (is this term still used these days? I don’t hear it that often). Her frustration was palpable.
Lady 2 had a less expressive response — in fact, it hardly expressive at all. She seemed to struggle to comprehend what I was saying, as if I were speaking in a foreign language. “They aren’t taking credit cards?” she asked, looking puzzled, right after I had told both her and Lady 1 the store’s credit card system was down, and that cash was the only way to continue with your transaction.
I carry a reserve amount of cash on me, in a separate part of my wallet, for such situations. (A friend who passed away two years ago this week suggested I start doing that — thanks Jeff). I paid for my groceries, watching as my fellow shoppers continued to crowd the check out lines while they vocalized their frustration. I quickly left, not wanting to stay cooped up with a lot of upset shoppers.
As someone who regularly advocates preparedness for a wide spectrum of perils, it takes a lot to surprise me when it comes to the lack of resilience we have in America. Friday’s experience, however, was surprising even to me. In a week where the S&P 500 set record highs, Austinites became visibly upset when their grocery stores would not accept their credit cards for payment.
In the bigger scheme of things, this was clearly a first world inconvenience. The card readers eventually came back on line (I’ve been to that store twice in two days since the incident, and the card readers worked just fine.) This wasn’t anything which should have upset people.
But that’s not how people responded. I guesstimated that five percent of the shoppers had sufficient cash on them to purchase their items. The other 95 percent expressed various responses, ranging from C’est la vie to disbelief to downright anger.
This is what happened when there was no crisis coming to our community. There was no hurricane or shortage of food. There was no Bank Holiday of 1933 type of event. What would have happened if the credit card readers had stopped working when something was actually going wrong in our community?
September is National Preparedness Month, and one of the things I am stressing to anyone who will listen (besides getting themselves and families prepared for the possibility of a disaster) is to start carrying cash in the event there’s a larger scale problem with electronic transactions. Carry enough cash at all times to buy groceries and a tank full of gas to get you home.
This isn’t an extreme idea or evidence of a doomsday mentality. Some days, the credit card readers just don’t work for whatever reason. Be ready to take care of yourself and family should it happen at your local grocery store or gas station.
I travel a lot for my day job, which means I spend a lot of time on airplanes and in airports. I got my pilot's license when I was 18 and my instrument rating ten years later, so I don't think of myself as a fearful flyer.
Overall, I've had decent luck while flying. I have had my fair share of hiccups, but I don't remember most of them - it's just something that goes with the territory.
Yesterday's flight to Salt Lake City was an exception.
Like many of you, I've read some articles lately about the rise of air rage as of late. And while I've seen an increase in tempers recently, it's never really impacted me until yesterday morning. Sitting in my assigned seat, a man in his mid twenties stowed his bags in the overhead bin and violently slammed it shut above my head. Without saying a word, he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to his seat.
Red flag number one.
I stood up (I always pick the aisle seat) to give him easier access into his seat, and I noticed he wreaked of alcohol.
Red flag number two.
At this point, I was not worried. I am quite used to tuning people out sitting next to me, thanks in part to the Bose headphones I take whenever I fly. (Bose headphones are one of the greatest investments a business traveler can make.)
Despite the fact there are three seats on this row and it's clear that there are only two of us sitting on this row, he elects to sit next to me in the middle seat, leaving the window seat empty.
Red flag number three.
A flight attendant came by to ask him a question about his ticket. He slurred his words in response in a completely incoherent fashion. Trying to be nice, I made some comment about how I hoped the airline got their seating arrangement squared away soon.
His response? "I hope your <expletive> shirt doesn't piss me off."
Red flag number four.
I'm mentally turning on all of the switches now: Full situational awareness on. Conflict resolution optimizer on. Verbal judo mode engaged. Aisle arm rest now in the up position in case he starts punching me and I need to get up quickly.
Gear check: my Fenix flashlight (with strobe capability) in my pocket. The heavy carabiner I keep clipped to my briefcase is now off and in my pocket as well.
Seat belt check: belt buckle opens to the right, in case I need to quickly stand up.
He continued to talk incoherently, encouraging me to engage in sexual relations with myself. Occasionally he asked me a question. I couldn't understand him, of course, because he was hammered. I told him I'm hard of hearing (which isn't true) in an effort to use verbal judo to throw him out of his OODA loop; I asked him if he could repeat the question. In reality, I'm baiting him: I was hoping he raised his voice to overcome my alleged hearing deficiencies so that other passengers can be made aware of the situation. He didn't take the bait, however.
We took off, and five minutes later I decided to get more people in the boat with me. I ignored the "fasten your seatbelt" sign and walked back to the rear galley to advise a flight attendant, "The gentleman in 23 B is drunk and wants to fight me."
The flight attendant reports they are aware of his intoxication - "we've already had one issue with him, and he shouldn't have been allowed on the plane. We won't be serving him alcohol. Would you like to move to another seat?"
I declined, because I was somewhat concerned that me moving my things may make the situation worse. I'd already made a mental note that there was a young boy sitting directly in front of him. Had things deteriorated, that kid would be in the danger zone. I told the flight attendant let's see how the next few minutes go before we take any further action.
At some point, The Gentleman In 23 B realized I was not going to be belligerent with him. As we teach in the Texas License to Carry class, Ego State Theory suggests people remain in the adult ego state in this scenario - try to de-escalate the situation - and not respond in kind to his verbal aggression. It seemed to be working, and he attempted to apologize for his behavior in a sloppy drunken fashion.
A few moments later, the flight attendants began taking drink orders, and of course, he ordered more alcohol. The flight attendant was professional but firm - they refused to serve him. And while he was drunk, he was not stupid - he lobbied me to buy a drink to give to him. I just kept smiling and saying "No, I am good, man - thanks anyway" - which is a nonsensical answer to his request, but he was having a hard time processing it. (Knocking drunks out of their OODA loop is pretty easy to do.)
He even reached forward to tap the boy sitting in front of him on the shoulder - presumably to ask him to buy him a drink - until he realized the kid was way too underage to be of help.
The remainder of the flight was fine, although he was annoying. Despite the fact I was wearing Bose headphones, he kept tapping me on the arm to ask me what I am reading, whether I was a Mormon, and how he learned to fly a plane before he could drive a car. He continued to talk even though I had the headphones on.
The flight attendants appreciated my patience, asking me for my ticket so they could give me some frequent flyer miles for my trouble.
Throughout the ordeal, I made the following notes:
Many of you will find this final point odd. But last night during my evening prayer, I thought of that young man and prayed for him. I will continue to do so. Anyone that drunk at 8 AM who thinks it's a good idea to threaten and berate someone he's sitting next to has a lot of problems. I don't know what's going on in his life. I prayed for peace and healing. I prayed he would find his way and become a responsible citizen.
At the end of flight, this was a "no harm, no foul" event. But it could have turned out differently.
This is not a political statement. Please don't try to read anything political into this. If you're looking for political commentary on the current immigration situation on the southern border, this blog will disappoint you.
I'd like for us to look at the current immigration situation as an allegory for the state of preparedness in the United States.
In short, it looks something like this:
I would argue you could use these same seven events for essentially any disaster that affects America. Hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, flooding - the pattern is quite predictable.
What is missing from both the immigration emergency and every other disaster we face is a noticeable lack of interest in fixing the root of the problem.
How can you say that, Paul? Congress could fix this if the <insert political party here you don't like> would come to the table and pass a bill to fix it!
No. That's not the fix.
In preparedness, in immigration, in gun violence, in poverty, in virtually every problem that befalls us, we conflate the band aid with the cure.
This is best demonstrated by surveying your own social media feed. Count the number of stories that depict what's going on at the border, that talk about our immigration laws, that complain about the government's policy, that complain about the current or previous president. That's your denominator.
Now count the number of stories that provide any meaningful explanation of how to fix the problems causing these people to leave their home countries. That's your numerator.
Numerator divided by denominator = The Fix Ratio
I did this myself. One day earlier this week, I counted 50 stories in my Facebook feed complaining about our immigration laws, President Trump, and President Obama. How people who support President Trump are horrible people, and how people who support President Obama are horrible people.
In that same space of Facebook feed, the number of stories that addressed how to fix the problems in the home countries motivating people to try to immigrate to the United States? Zero.
That gives us a Fix Ratio of 0/50 = 0.00 percent.
Disasters are no different.
After Hurricane Harvey, how many posts did you see on social media about the storm itself? How many did you see of the damage and suffering? About how much government aid will be necessary to rebuild?
And then compare that with the number of posts you saw on discussing how much of that damage and suffering could have been avoided if people had taken preparedness seriously?
The Fix Ratio for Harvey? Still pretty low.
In America, we aren't interested in the fix.
Because the fix is hard.
The fix requires us to do something beyond changing our Facebook status to make sure we register the correct outrage congruent with our political team.
The fix requires money.
The fix requires a changed mindset.
The fix requires different priorities.
The fix requires effort, training, and sacrifice.
The fix requires that we stop dividing ourselves into tribes along economic, religious, political, racial and gender lines.
The fix requires us to look at things in a non-emotional manner, where political scores aren't kept.
In preparedness, the conversations we really need to be having are:
UPDATED 3:25 PM CDT 6/24/2018
At the risk of being accused of making this political, I urge you to watch this short interview of former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson from today. I just saw this right after I posted this. Listen to the last sentence he makes in this clip: "You can deal with this on the border, you can try different things....but unless we deal with the underlying causes that are motivating people to come here in the first place, we are going to continue to bang our heads against the wall on this issue."
He's absolutely right. And this is the kind of thinking we need to be applying to our preparedness challenges as well.
See for yourself:
OBSERVATIONS IN TRENDS AMONG LTC STUDENTS
I am but one instructor, who teaches maybe six LTC courses a year. But here are the trends I am noticing as the last year or so:
MONTHLY PREPAREDNESS TRAINING IN AUSTIN WITH ADRN STARTS OCTOBER 11
This is big news – The Austin Disaster Relief Network (ADRN) is hosting some great preparedness training opportunities.
First, make sure to register for the I AM Ready Preparedness Conference on September 27-29. Emergency medicine, food production, civil unrest, emotional readiness, and other topics will be discussed. I plan to attend. I hope to see you there!
Next, ADRN is in the process of creating monthly training opportunities to help people get better prepared. These will be held on the second Thursday of the month, starting October 11, at Riverbend Church on 360. More information will be forthcoming. I want to make sure those of you who are interested get this on your calendar….especially the fact it will be every second Thursday.
I will be helping out with the monthly preparedness training. For those of you who have been asking for a monthly preparedness get together to hear presentations and learn new skills, this is what you are looking for.
MORE TEXAS SCHOOL DISTRICTS ARE ALLOWING STAFF TO CARRY FIREARMS
As of last month, 217 school districts in Texas allowed staff to carry firearms. There were only 172 in February. That’s a 26 percent increase in two to three months.
Note that the Texas Association of School Boards anticipates more schools will move to the armed staff model in response to the Santa Fe High School shooting.
In case you are wondering, there are 1,023 ISDs in Texas. Now, 21 percent of them allow for armed staff.
NEXT THREE MONTHS: WARMER AND DRIER THAN NORMAL
Here are the latest forecasts from the National Climate Prediction Center. This was issued yesterday.
The rains we’ve had of late are helping reduce our wildfire risk, but please note the official forecast for the rest of summer calls for hotter and drier weather. Please be mindful of the heat risks while outdoors as well as the wildfire risks.
Here's where I tell you what I think about things I think about.