As we progress through this book, I’m going to compile idea after idea for you so that by the end, you’ll have a much greater understanding how you can prepare for nearly any emergency. If you didn’t notice the mistakes we made in my latest Christmas vacation story, don’t worry… You will. I’m going to start with some simple ideas to get your mind in gear and prepare you for the rest of the book. Everything you learn and every detail from this point forward will build on the previous steps. Think of this as the preparedness pyramid… You are currently standing on the ground. Before we’re done, you’ll be your family’s hero standing at the top of your own pyramid.
So what’s the first step? Observational preparedness.
I want you to think for just a second about your home. Does the front door open to the inside or to the outside? Are you sure? Go ahead and check if you need to.
Now think about the doors at a public establishment. Does the front door open to the inside or to the outside?
Chances are, your front door opens inward and your favorite restaurant opens outward. There are numerous reasons for this (not to mention possible laws in your area), but the real point is whether or not you noticed.
Being observant of the little things around you can make a huge impact in your daily life. You goal isn’t to be like Jason Bourne, but to be more like the observant guy who doesn’t let things slip by him much. If you can train yourself to simply notice the direction of a door opens up, you can train yourself to notice much more useful things as well. Here are a couple of similar practical observations:
Has your neighbor taken their trash out in the past couple weeks? You’re not trying to be nosy; but observations like this can help you ensure they’re ok even if you don’t know them very well.
What time in the morning is the trash pickup at your house? This is a very practical observation that can help you figure out whether or not you can still get that early morning, very dirty, very smelly diaper off your property before trash comes again…next week.
Try this… Next time you’re in a large store, take a moment and just stop where you are. Now, look around. First, look for the nearest exit. Second, look at the people. Go ahead and stare at somebody for a moment or two… Chances are they will never look up from their shopping to notice. Most of the world walks around as if everything is perfectly fine. Most of the time, they’re right. You’re not most of the people most of the time. You are the one who will make everything perfectly fine all the time, despite the events surrounding you. When the fire alarm goes off, you already know which exit you’re going to move towards. You already know where your entire family is and how to get to them. You probably already knew there was a threat before the alarms went off. You are observant… Or at least you are going to be.
In order to get to that point, you need to practice being more observant. You can do this every waking moment of your life if you so desire. Was the person who just passed you on your way to work male or female? Old or young? How much milk is in your refrigerator? How about eggs? The IT guy who just fixed your office computer, the cashier at the gas station, or the person who just walked by the house… What color shirt were they wearing?
It’s honestly not difficult to become more observant, it’s just different. There are a lot of things you can do to get started if you don’t feel like memorizing the contents of the refrigerator just yet. My best tip to get started is to take a trip down to the local thrift store and buy a couple cheap puzzles. Thrift stores often have them for pennies on the dollar. It doesn’t matter what the puzzle is or even if all the pieces are there. You’re not looking for a work of art to save and put on the wall, you’re just trying to practice making mental notes—this piece goes here, this is a corner piece, here’s my edges… Oops, I’m missing a piece—no big deal.
Speaking of making notes, don’t be afraid to carry a small pen and paper with you and actually take physical notes. When I prepare for large group presentations, I often place my notes on the ground in front of me with giant font that I can see while pacing the front of the room. As I get more confident in the material, I can replace those notes with simple blank pieces of paper. The very sight of the paper reminds me of what I need to remember. Later, a simple glance towards the floor is all I need to refresh my memory. Taking notes is the same way. If you write down a “honey-do” or shopping list in your notebook, the very sight of it, or even the feel of it in your pocket, can refresh your memory.
Like most people, my short term memory often only lasts a few minutes. The family I just met at church… If I don’t write down their names, I’ll forget before seeing them again. Wife wants me to pick up some bananas from the store… write it down. Guy in the car behind me wearing a ski mask in July—did I get the plate number, of course—will I remember it, not a chance—write it down.
I’m also going to issue a challenge to start writing in a journal. Take notes on anything and everything you see, hear, and do, including what you dream. For the most part, it’ll just be your private history, but in some cases, it might come back extremely useful.
In another one of my books, titled “Give America a Chance, the Rants and Raves of an American Patriot,” I had a journal specifically designed to document my one year attempt at purchasing only American made products. Re-reading the journal allowed me to remember the places I bought the products I needed. It also helped me remember a lot about how history repeats itself, even in just a few short years.
I also kept a journal from my early military years. As I re-read notes that I put in there from well over a decade ago, I was able to see how my life had matured from the things that were important to me when I was young and single. The little changes in my life from day to day were unobservable to me, but when I looked back, I could see huge changes in my life. I’ve also kept journals for my dreams and nightmares.
Think of a journal like a photo album for your mind. What you write is your own thoughts, fears, accomplishments, frustrations, and anything else that may have been important to you. Don’t be afraid to document your failures as well… They can be especially beneficial.
As you continue to work with your mind to become more observant, you’re next step is to start networking what you observed with everything else you observed. Your journal will be crucial for your success in linking observations.
The ability to link, or network, your observations is a bit more than I can explain in a short chapter. The basic concept is simple, though. Take what you know and integrate it with everything else you know. In practicality, you do it all the time. If I take this cup of water and place it in the freezer, it will turn to ice.
Now, take that same practicality and use it with your basic observations. For example, let’s say that you are going to the grocery store. If you get lucky, you might get the opportunity to near the entrance. Here, you can get in quick and have fast access to your car to unload your groceries and go home. But, every single person walking into and out of the store will pass right by your car, some might scratch it. You could park next to the cart return area and have easy access putting your cart back after unloading your groceries, but again, a stray cart might scratch your car. You could park as far from the entrance as possible where no other cars are parked, but if you’re isolated in the back of the parking lot… well, that seems like a recipe for disaster in itself. What about next to the minivan where kids get in and out of? Or next to the coupe with the car seat in the back (those doors have to open mighty far to get the kids in and out).
Granted, there are a lot more important things to think about other than a scratch or dent in your vehicle, but it’s an easy way to start networking all your observations with other observations. The trick is getting your mind to start waking up to these observations and spending a fraction of a second to think things through. Once you start that process, you’re well on your way to becoming your family’s hero in any situation.
Now that you’re practicing to be more observant, it’s time to get to the first rule. Like I mentioned earlier in our Christmas vacation story, rule number one: NEVER LET YOU’RE GUARD DOWN.
I could rephrase that to say something along the lines of always be prepared, be ready for anything, or have a plan B. But for me, saying “never let your guard down” feels like a stronger term.
My first two mistakes during our Christmas vacation revolved around the expectation that we would be home soon, so, I let my guard down. I observed that the weather was bad and I observed that the flight had been delayed, but I did not network my observations to the point of saying… “We might not make it home today.”
No matter how well you’ve trained yourself to observe and network your observations, you will make mistakes. Maybe you have three tired kids ready to get home and play with their Christmas presents and you’ve just been driving in a snowstorm for the past four hours trying to avoid traffic and you’re exhausted from carrying one of your children and your wife is exhausted from carrying the other child and you’ve all got on backpacks with the “necessities” of air travel with children so you don’t want to add heavy winter jackets your carrying load and you’re not looking forward to the security checkpoint at TSA and one child has to go potty while the other child needs a diaper change and everybody is hungry but one person wants a hot dog and the other wants ice cream and the first one just changed their mind and now wants ice cream too… And a hot dog. Just maybe.
The mistake has been made. You let your guard down for one second. It happens. Put it back up and move on. There’s a great phrase made famous by a talking by a talking meerkat, warthog, and lion from Walt Disney, “Hakuna Matata.” It means no worries. Leave your mistake in the past and move on, the mistake has been made and you can’t change it, so get back to reality and get your guard up! It might be worthy of putting in your journal as well.
Once you’ve got your guard back up, keep it up… all the time. This doesn’t mean that you have to walk around like a ninja sneaking into the emperor’s palace; it means that when you’re walking, driving, or even just sitting in your own home, you’re ready for action.
Never letting your guard down starts with being observant of the things around you. Since we’re thinking about ninjas, let’s expand on them a little bit. Ninja’s of folklore and movies are probably quite different from the truth. I say probably, because assassin spies who specialized in stealth didn’t do a whole lot of television interviews. Ninjas were most likely farmers or craftsmen who devoted their lives to a specialized form of martial arts. Converse to western gun-slingers, when a ninja came to town, nobody knew. So as were planning to never let our guard down, we should do it in a way that nobody knows.
If you’re curious as to how you can be ready for anything, without revealing you’re ready for everything, keep going… It’s actually not that difficult. Being prepared doesn’t mean that you are carrying everything you need for every situation all the time. And I’m not just saying this to justify checking our winter jackets at the airport. Fact of the matter is, most of the time, the tools you need to accomplish something are usually relatively close at any given point in time anyway.
While we were stuck in Chicago for a few days, my wife was able to go to Wal-Mart and get some necessities. Although I call them necessities, some were really just luxuries. We could have spent the next few days wearing the same clothes and not worrying about how clean they were. Jackets for the kids when it’s 10° below zero, however, are a necessity.
My wife picked up a few things including new jackets, pants, and underwear for her and the kids and socks and shirts for all of us. She also got laundry detergent which was the greatest purchase of all. So even though my guard was down when we packed the gear, we put our guard back up and it wasn’t that tough to go and get more supplies. It could have been tougher in the case of a major city-wide or country-wide scenario, but in our little scenario where the “victims” were confined to a few thousand people at an airport, the resources we needed were relatively close by.
It sure makes it easy when you consider a Wal-Mart less than a mile away is a resource, but what do you do when that’s not an option? You have to put your creative caps on. I’ll start with a very basic creative option that we went with during our vacation and move into other creative ideas with the intention of getting your own creative juices flowing.
The pants my wife bought my oldest son fit a bit on the large side. In fact, without a belt, his pants would have been down around his ankles most of the day. Although a run to the store was still an option, it seemed overkill for such a minor task. This is where our powers of observation came in handy.
About a year prior, my family started making para-cord bracelets. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re great little bracelets that are made out of a single 10-12 foot section of parachute cord. You basically make a fancy braid with the cord and in a couple minutes time, you have a bracelet. If you ever needed it for other purposes, you simply unbraid it and you’re back to a 10-12 foot piece of cord. My daughter always carried one on her carry-on bag. Unfortunately, we decided to check it. So now, looking around the room, we were on the hunt for a belt. My wife pointed out the elastic strap that was on her backpack. Perfect! We pulled it off, wrapped it around the too big pants and voila, a belt.
When the search first started, my mind went into hyper drive looking around the room. There were literally hundreds of places to find a belt should the situation be dire enough to warrant one. I could wrap a cell phone charging cord, I could take the shoelaces off my shoes, I could rip a portion of my undershirt, etc…
The moral of the story isn’t really about the belt. It’s the ability to find what you need in a pinch. Just make sure the solution fits the severity of the problem. For example, had the situation been severe enough, say a massive power outage and everything was shut down for an indefinite amount of time, I could have kept my kids warm by taking the cushions from the couch, cut rudimentary holes in them, wrapped them on my kids, and stuffed the stuffing around for insulation. Would it work? Yep. Would it have been overkill in my situation? Definitely!
To keep on the clothing topic for a second, I want to shoot you a piece of advice that I have done for years. This one’s primarily for the men… Wear an undershirt. It doesn’t matter if its 120 degrees or 20 degrees, I always wear at least two shirts. If I get extremely warm, I can take off the top shirt and still be respectful of the people around me (although I don’t often need to take it off). There have been dozens of times in the past few years that having two shirts came in handy. When I was at an airport about a year ago, my son got sick and threw up all over his clothes. I was able to take off my undershirt and put it on him while we cleaned his other clothes in the sink. As a gentleman, I’ve removed my overshirt many times to give to my wife or my kids when they’re chilly. And more than a handful of times, my shirt has become a blanket for my wife when she needs to breastfeed in public. If you think about the potential uses for a second shirt that you always carry with you, the possibilities are endless. The best part is, I’ve been doing it for so long, its second nature wear one.
Between the things you wear and the things you don’t, when you open your mind, you will see that nearly everything you need is very close at hand. Think about your car for instance. If a massive solar flare hit our planet rendering electronics completely useless for a matter of years, you car is a treasure trove of useful materials. Seat belts could be tourniquets, rope, or even a fashionable belt to hold up your pants. The seats could be shirts, pants, shoes, or with a little creativity, a backpack. Scrap metal can be sharpened on a rock to make a knife. Electrical wiring could become shoelaces or ties for your new backpack. Broken glass from windows and mirrors can be used to start a fire. The resources you need are all around you. You just have to be observant of what you see and be in the mindset to keep your guard up and be ready to do what needs to be done.
I want to get back to ninja’s for just a second. In Japanese, the word ninja loosely translates into “one who endures.” Enduring implies some sort of hardship. I think it’s safe to assume that ninja’s were born out of hardship. When things got tough, ninjas started looking at what they had and put them into practice. A walking stick became a staff and a formidable weapon. A masonry trowel became a dagger. In a time of hardship, resources are there, you just have to know how to find them. And that’s a whole lot better than trying to carry everything, for every situation, everywhere you go.