How Not To Fail...Yourself

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is a city that is largely underwater."

~ Michael Chertoff, Sect’y of Homeland Security

all the cogent arguments offered on these pages about the failure
of government at all levels in the New Orleans disaster, there has
yet to be any analysis of how much of the chaos, death and mayhem
could have been averted had only individual people been
simply more aware of their situation, as it unfolded, and been better
prepared to cope with it.

should now be abundantly clear to anyone with a pulse that in a
huge crunch, the Powers That Be won’t be able to get to you in a
timely fashion. More and more, people are coming to realize that
they must depend on themselves first and foremost, before any trust
could be given to the State, if ever. It’s up to you to
keep yourself alive until you can either get yourself out of harms
way, or rescuers can eventually reach you. Unfortunately, "emergency
survival skills" aren’t something the schools teach –
yet another indictment of our wretched public school system. As
the system is now designed to create sheeplike "followers"
instead of self-aware, critical-thinking "leaders," the
resultant loss of life in disaster zones should come as no surprise.
In New Orleans, and now Houston, I’ve never seen so many people
standing around waiting either for handouts, or for someone else
to tell them what to do, instead of organizing themselves more efficiently
or just keeping their own counsel and figuring out a way to get
to safety. This, I am convinced, is a result of decades of federal,
state and local "dependency creation", to justify the
ever increasing grab of our tax dollars.

"survival" courses are generally only offered by private
institutions, like Outward
, or as electives in community colleges. Only a tiny fraction
of us bother to participate, usually due to the expense. Most courses
or books, however, dedicate themselves solely to wilderness survival,
or home emergency preparedness (something you should do anyway).
But what if "cars collide seconds ahead of the car you’re
riding in. Your seatbelt’s unbuckled. It’s too late to stop…"?

(and I think John
and L. Neil Smith
would agree), a populace that owns and is trained in the use of
pistols or rifles could have gotten a rather quick handle on the
New Orleans looting and violence, wrought by social malcontents
who seek opportunity in disaster, and thus restoring order. But
what if your hunting rifle and ammo are safely tucked away in your
home, and you are stuck in traffic across town, as the flood waters
are rising? Little is said about the real things one can do in real
emergencies, emergencies that most often occur when one least expects

1967, at the tender age of 13, I saved my allowance to purchase
(for 95 cents) a remarkable book, one that is still on my shelf
to this day. It’s called The
Book of Survival
by Anthony Greenbank, published long before
the name "MacGyver" was ever heard of. I was happy to
find that this book is still in print, and revised for today’s new

not a text about survival in the wilderness, with the assumption
you planned to be hiking out there of your own free will and just
happened to get lost. This is not a book about home preparedness
in the event of disasters about which you may have advance warning.
This is a book about what to do now, quickly,
be it in the urban jungle or the original one, offering inventive
and practical ways to handle crises at the time they happen.

a book about fires, floods, earthquakes, traffic accidents, train
wrecks, plane crashes, power blackouts, assault, kidnapping, nuclear
attack, terrorist acts, first aid, and yes – even survival in the
wilderness or desert, but assuming the contents of your car, purse,
pockets, or wallet are the only tools you have handy, and you’re
probably wearing a business suit, as opposed to heavy-duty "outdoor

to the author, this book assumes you’re "paunchy, pregnant,
or generally past-it." But the real tone of the book is one
of attitude: Greenbank constantly drives home the point
that you are not "lost" unless you decide you
are, so never give up – ever. (Read the first few pages
from Chapter One on the Amazon site and you’ll see what I mean.)

you can scrounge a tin can or bucket and a piece of plastic sheeting,
for example you can make a solar still for fresh water. Your car
keys are a defensive weapon against an attacker – so is your sense
of humor, depending on the situation. Your camera lens or car battery
can start a fire. Your trousers can become an emergency flotation
device. He shows you how to make a raft out of oil drums, how to
scale a rope, a building, or a mountainside, using whatever you
can scrounge from the landscape to help you. He gets your creative
juices flowing. Just two nights ago there was a report on MSNBC
in New Orleans, about a rescue operation for a single individual
trapped in – get this – a grocery store! For a week! What
items in the store could that person have used to rescue himself,
days sooner??

book isn’t perfect. In the author’s zeal to cover every possible
contingency, there is a section or two where some of his prescriptions
appear a bit unlikely, particularly when dealing with gang attacks
("…back up against a wall….if you can dispatch one
of them in a timely fashion, perhaps the rest will think twice before
attacking you" – yeah, right…maybe if I’m Wesley
Snipes..). And one simply has to laugh out loud when he advises
on how to deal with space aliens exiting their UFO craft, as he
did in my first edition: "Avoid rapid forceful movement;
use no shrill sounds; breathe quietly; avoid giving a direct menacing
gaze." (Perhaps learning a few simple phrases in Klingon
would be more appropriate.) But at least the topic was

obviously no longer 95 cents, this book is nonetheless affordable
by every family in virtually every economic situation. If nothing
else, it gives you, at minimum, the resolve to give yourself
a fighting chance to pull through, with the confidence that comes
from knowing that what one human can do, another can also do. It’s
certainly a "must read" for anyone who’s lost faith in
FEMA (which should be just about everyone by now). Make sure your
kids read it.

as far as the government’s ability to protect you goes, I think
the lead-off quote says it all.

9, 2005

Andrew Olson [send him
is a New York-based systems engineer, writer and
speaker, whose topics range from technology and the future to politics
and policy.

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