Cold Weather Safety

US Temperature Map

weather.com US Temperatures

With the current extreme cold temperatures sweeping the nation, we should look at this as an opportunity to reassess our cold weather preparedness. This should not only take into account what we do at home, but should also include what we do while traveling. As always, prepping isn’t just about being prepared for what we can foresee, it’s also being prepared with the knowledge and tools to adapt to the unimaginable. Many communities are experiencing record low temperatures that many of us have never experienced. As the temperature falls, the number of situations we should be prepared for increases.

The highest priority situation to be ready for is fire, rather, taking the necessary steps to prevent a fire. Many of us have space heaters that we use when our standard heating element isn’t sufficient. These are one of the leading causes of fires during these cold spells. The best course to take is to replace older space heaters with newer ones for a number of reasons. Most fires caused by space heaters are from the constant power being drawn and old and ill-maintained circuitry in the home. Modern space heaters have automatic temperature controls that turn the unit off when the set temperature is reached. Another reason to replace old units is the possibility that the cords may be worn and brittle. The very least one should do is to inspect the space heater itself for obvious damage, including the power cord and plug. Be sure to keep flammable material and liquid away from the heater and outlet. This may seem like common sense, but sometimes we get lazy and don’t always do our due diligence. Electric blankets and heating pads should be inspected for damage as they also pose a risk of fire and injury.

Damaged Space Heater Plug

First damaged space heater plug

Damaged Space Heater Plug

Second damaged space heater plug

Another avenue of concern is using an oven to provide heat. This should never be done as it can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. It may be tempting when it is bitterly cold and you have no heat, but the risk outweighs the benefit. Using candles as a heat source also runs the risk of fire and the heat provided by the candle is minimal. Again, this is not worth the risk.

While we should also be prepared in our vehicles, special considerations should be made during the cold weather. Keep a blanket in the car, any blanket. There is no need to get a fancy, fold up into a matchbook blanket, when a regular full sized blanket will work. Check tire pressure; cold temperatures cause tires to lose air pressure. Underinflated tires lessen gas mileage as well as increases the tires’ susceptibility to a blowout. Also, replace worn tires. Driving on snow or ice with severely worn tires is asking for trouble. You may pay a premium now, as demand is high, but it is better to shell out the extra money than to put it off and pay for it with an expensive car repair bill. Keep your vehicle’s gas tank filled to at least half tank. Being stranded in the cold is among the last things you want. No gas means no heat. Invest in roadside assistance. Your cellphone company may offer it, your car insurance company offers it and there is AAA.

These are just a few cold weather preparations to consider. Remember, like in situations of extreme heat, extreme cold can be deadly. A few preparatory actions can save time and money and in some cases, your life.

Passwords and Codes

Code word cloudWhen some of us were young children, we had a password or phrase that our parents told us. This was to be used to either allow someone entrance into the home or when our parent sent someone to pick us up from school. When we became older we abandoned this security measure because we felt it was no longer needed. Odds are, the only time we use this type of security again is when we have children of our own. As an adult, the security password can be invaluable. It can be used to simply communicate to your family that you want to leave a function without broadcasting it, or communicate an important situation, like being under duress.

In a situation where you need to leave the premises immediately, having a code is the fastest way to inform others in your party of your intentions. It is understood that this code is not to be used unless there is a true emergency. When the code is given, it means a time for action, not a time for questions. Here is an experiment you can try with your family. The next time you want to take them somewhere, don’t tell them beforehand. When the time comes, say, “We have to leave right now.” Most people will not spring into action immediately, instead they will ask, “why?” or “what’s going on?” This is not the reaction you want when there is an emergency and time is a factor. You may not have time to give a detailed account of the situation, but you need to convey a sense of urgency while at the same time giving a general idea of the situation.

There is no need for 10’s or 100’s of codes, but you should, at the very least, have two. One code should be for evacuation and the other for duress. Along with the code, there should be a plan for when those codes are given. For evacuation, everyone should know the plan inside and out, who is to grab what and where to rendezvous. When under duress, more information may need to be given with the code, such as the number of assailants and whether they are armed. For example, “Omaha 2A” could mean that there are two armed intruders who are unaware of your presence. “Omaha” because, in my case, it is not a word often used and it is a good distance away. “2” for the number of intruders. And “A” because they are armed. Or “Omaha” by itself could mean an unknown number of intruders and it is unknown if they are armed.

Code names for each family member can also prove to be invaluable. Referring to members by the code name can be used in an emergency to signal distress, safety or masking identities. For example, during a home invasion, dad has been subdued as the intruders wait for the entire family to arrive home. Mom comes home and calls out to dad. The intruders tell him to respond and dad replies, “Did you remember to pick up ‘the baroness’?” Mom says, “Oh no, I forgot. I’ll get her now,” and immediately leaves with haste. Once away from the house she sends a text to the remaining members, “Jellybelly’s home” and calls the police. The remaining members find the nearest restroom and lock themselves in. Mom goes to retrieve them with a police escort while the other cops tend to the situation at the home. While this is an extreme situation, the principles are always the same. Have a plan, everyone should know the plan and execute the plan when the signal is given.

Your codes should mean something to you as you and your family/party will have to remember them. Avoid commonly used codes and complex number codes. The purpose of the codes is for them to become second nature; easy to remember and easy to say. Getting too complex and detailed may work against you in time of need. You may find yourself trying to figure out if the situation is a 10-603k or 10-115g because you didn’t clearly see if it was a handgun or a knife. At the end of the day, what works best for you is ultimately up to you. Keep in mind that simple always works best.

Gun Controlled

Loaded When Up

Ruger SR40

On Tuesday, January 16th, 2013, President Obama laid out a plan that aims to curb gun violence. While many of us can agree that something has to be done to decrease the number of senseless murders, his proposal does little to actually address gun violence. The proposal has a number of points and possible policies that would greatly benefit our sense of security, but they do not actually address the problem of gun violence in a significant way. The proposal seems to only focus on about 2% to 3% of firearm deaths. The proposal is more about gun control than ending gun violence. Or it could be seen as only focusing on mass shootings. With 97% to 98% of firearm deaths (murder, suicide and accidental) coming by way of handguns, the proposed assault weapons ban doesn’t address the problem of gun violence. The proposed ban is an odd addition since it will have little effect on gun violence, which is what the goal of the proposal is said to be concerned with. Banning high-capacity magazines also does not help lower deaths. California and New York had a limit of 10-rounds which hasn’t lowered the murder rate, now NY has lowered their limit to 7 rounds. The approach to the problem of gun violence has always been a focus on the tools, rather than the causes. It’s akin to outlawing “burglary tools” to end burglaries.

I agree with most of the proposal, but if the goal really is to lower gun violence, it falls short and has detracting elements. A strong background check system and background checks for all firearm sales, stronger penalties for illegal firearm sales, particularly straw purchaser, school resource officers (police officers specially trained to work in schools), better mental health identification and treatment and promoting firearm safety and storage is a good starting point. I disagree with the assault weapons ban and high-capacity magazine ban as there are better solutions than punishing every law abiding gun owner and it detracts from what really has to be done. Instead of banning assault rifles, raise the age that is allowed to buy firearms and related accessories. Research shows that the brain isn’t fully developed until age 25. While I cannot support such a restriction without hesitation, as there are countless people under the age of 25 who are responsible gun owners, this restriction may have a greater impact on future mass shootings. Of all the mass shootings mentioned in the proposal, only one (Sikh Temple shooting) was committed  by someone over the age of 25 and that appears to have been racially motivated. Special exceptions would be made for individuals who are under 25 and are in law enforcement, military or private security as it would relate to their job duties.

Another element that detracts from the problem and poses a great safety concern is introducing technology to prevent unauthorized use. The last thing that should be added to a firearm is something that can malfunction or fail during the moment of need. Firearms are known to occasionally fail, but can usually be quickly fixed in the field. Technological failure usually involves significant downtime while troubleshooting is done. Additionally, an “unauthorized” person may have to operate the firearm in defense of the firearm’s owner. Having such a feature looks great on paper and in the movies, but the risk far outweighs the benefit. Promoting proper firearm safety and  storage is a much safer solution.

The President’s proposal would have broad support if the proposed bans were removed and an actual effort to address crime was made. But even with the bans, the proposal is very limited. Too often, more focus and attention is spent on the firearms used rather than on the circumstances that cause gun crimes to occur. The causes of gun violence and ultimately crime, stem from a failing educational system, poverty, unemployment, a failed drug policy and gangs. Any plan that is proposed as a way to reduce gun violence that doesn’t mention any of these factors isn’t serious about gun violence and is only concerned with the perception of security rather than actual security. With the gun violence debate, we should have an all options on the table approach. And if all options are on the table, shouldn’t encouraging firearm ownership and carrying also be on the table?