How Not To Fail...Yourself

"Louisiana is a city that is largely underwater." ~ Michael Chertoff, Sect’y of Homeland Security

Of 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.

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.

Thus, "survival" courses are generally only offered by private institutions, like Outward Bound, 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…"?

Also (and I think John Lott 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 it.

In 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 realities.

This 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.

It’s 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 gear".

According 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.)

If 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??

The 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 covered…

Although 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.

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

September 9, 2005