Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ordinary Items for Extraordinary Survival

A member of my ward sent this article to me. I thought you might find it useful. It was written by Carolyn Nicolaysen and published in Meridian Magazine on 1/23/08

A few years ago, my niece and her husband went for a mountain drive on a winter's day. Their car broke down on a remote snow-covered road, and it was two days until they were found. Under this scenario, the ordinary things they found in their car became things of extraordinary value.

Sometimes it's the everyday things that save lives or help us avoid tragedy during a crisis. Whether stranded in the snow, by a heat wave, power outage, hurricane, or by the simple cancellation of our return flight from abroad — we need to take a new look at the items we commonly have in our possession for their possible value in our emergency.

As an example, let's talk about some items we could use if we were stuck like my niece on a cold winter's day. The first thing to do is to assess the items you have in your possession that will help in your battle to survive. Search the trunk, your purse, luggage, pockets, under the hood, storage compartments and even the parts of the car itself, for things that will help.

Let's begin by emptying pockets, purses, backpacks, briefcases. Have we got a cell phone that works? Do we know our true location? Have we got a map? Can we see a populated area from where we are? Is there any traffic in the area that can be seen or heard? If we can answer “Yes” to any of these questions, help may be not far away. If “No” to all these questions, then you may need to prepare for a long wait.

Great for writing a message on the window of a car if you are leaving the car. However, leaving the car is not a good idea unless you know exactly where you are going and are sure of the walking distance, or the car is in danger because of a gas leak. Because of the wax and oils in lipstick, it is also good to help start a fire. Just rub some on a flammable material, and light.

Petroleum Jelly
Often used as a lip balm, and can be used to start a fire. Rub on another flammable material and light it with a match or the car's cigarette lighter. It can also be rubbed on the door gaskets to help stop drafts.

A great signaling device. Not only your makeup mirror but also the rear-view or side mirrors on your car. Rip one off and use it to signal when you hear aircraft (obviously, you need direct sunlight in this situation). If you are leaving your car, take a mirror with you.

Hard Candy, Gum and Mints
These should be grouped together and used sparingly, especially if you have no other food. All of these will help to keep you feeling hydrated as they encourage production of saliva. I read a few years ago about an elderly woman whose car went off an embankment and was unnoticed for several days. She stayed hydrated by sucking on a button. Gum can also be chewed and use to attach a Mylar blanket to the top of the car as a signal, or to the inside of a door to cut down drafts.

Keys can be used to pry bark from a tree to start a fire, cut the upholstery on your car seats if you don't have a knife (see below), and to carve a mark on a tree to mark your path as a guide to return to your car. Everyone in our family carries a small Swiss knife on our key chains. Just remember to remove the knife before you fly, or TSA will confiscate it.

Checks, store receipts, gas station receipts and all the other miscellaneous papers we carry around are great to crumple up to start a fire. Make sure you apply the lipstick or petroleum jelly to crumpled paper and it will burn longer, giving you time to add other kindling to get a real fire going. See the Boy Scout Handbook for more fire starting ideas.

Feminine Products
These are a great item to add to that small fire you have started. Remember adding the lipstick and petroleum jelly will increase the time they will burn. Feminine pads can be burned, but are also valuable first aid compresses for an injury.

Other Fire Starters
If you happen to have these items, they are also great to help start a fire: cotton balls, cotton swabs, paper towels, newspapers, cardboard.

Pencils, Rulers, Wooden Toys, and Everything Wooden
These make great kindling once you have a small fire started. Search outside the vehicle too for dry wood scraps and any flammable material that can be used to build a fire.

Hair Spray and Perfume
Both of these products contain alcohol and will aid in fueling a small fire.

Prescription Glasses
Do you remember as a kid starting a leaf on fire with a magnifying glass? Prescription eye glasses will accomplish the same thing.

Credit Cards
These make great ice scrapers. Be sure to wear gloves or a plastic bag on your hands to minimize getting wet.

If you are caught without a hat, find something else to wear on your head. Even your purse — really. Forty to fifty percent of your body heat is lost through your uncovered head. Keep it covered in cold weather survival situations. If you are in your car and your feet are cold, slip them into your purse or tote bag. It will help to contain and maintain the temperature, and after a few minutes the temperature inside the bag will increase. You may feel silly but you will stay warmer.

This can be a great “game” if you have kids with you — who can look the silliest. If you have a very brightly colored purse and no other materials to do the job, hang your purse on the radio antenna or door handle or place in the rear window. Bright colors can be seen for long distances by rescuers. Backpacks also work great!

Now for the car ...

Floor Mats
Floor mats are great insulators. You can wear a floor mat under your clothing for added warmth. Prop it against the bottom of a door to help eliminate drafts. Put it under you if you need to change a tire. Remember, we want to avoid getting wet at all costs to survive a winter emergency. You can also use a floor mat under your tires to create traction, if being stuck is the cause of your problem.

Wheel Covers
A “hub cap,” or wheel cover as they are called now, can be an important tool. Use it as a shovel to make a path for a car that is stuck, clear the snow from behind the exhaust pipe, or to build a snow cave. Use it as a fire ring to hold a small fire. Wash it out well with some snow and use it to melt snow to drink. If your engine runs, you will want to run your car for ten minutes every hour to warm up the car. Fill a hub cap with snow and place on the engine as you run your car. It will melt and heat the snow. Be careful when removing it as it will be hot. Remember you have four of these!

Sun Visors
These are great for use as a signaling device but also as a scraper to remove the snow from your car. Removing the snow from your car will make it more visible to rescuers, even if you have a white car. Remove the snow regularly, because the car will reflect search lights and snow on the car may look like just more snow.

CDs and DVDs
Take them out of the players and use them to signal, like a mirror. They also make great reflectors if you are pulled to the side of the road and want to be seen by oncoming traffic.

Upholstery foam can be used as an insulator. Use your knife or key to cut a hole in the seat and remove what is needed.

Oil, Antifreeze and Gasoline
If you have engine oil in the trunk, be prepared to help search aircraft find you. Place some oil in one of your hub caps. Use a small amount of gasoline and ignite. The smoke will be seen for miles.

To remove gasoline from your tank, tie a rag to a coat hanger or dip stick and carefully lower into the gas tank. Even the small amount of gasoline on the sides of the pipe will be enough to ignite and help start a fire. Naturally, you will want to use all these materials away from your car.

The coolant in your radiator cannot, repeat, CANNOT, be used for drinking. Antifreeze will kill you! Antifreeze is ethylene glycol. If you have a jug of 100% antifreeze, it can be a fuel for a signal fire; it has a much higher flash point than gasoline, and a much lower flash point (minimum ignition temperature) than engine oil.

The Horn
Don't forget your best signaling device. The universal signal for help is a long blast either from a whistle, horn or as a last resort, your voice. Sound it long, follow by a short pause and then another long blast, and then a third.

Newspapers and Magazines
These are not only great for fuel, but also for insulation. When my children were young I was asked to train as a counselor for girls' camp. At the time this involved a two-day hike and night in the great outdoors. Boy, did we pick the wrong week. As we got our little two-man tents up, down came the rain and up came the wind — and then there was lightning and thunder. It was a really frightening night.

As we lay awake in our tent watching it sway, we got little sleep. When we ventured out in the morning, we discovered some of the women had taken refuge in a car. They froze — while we were nice and warm. The difference? We were on the ground, and they were in a car with the cold winds blowing not only around them but also under them.

I learned the lesson. When you are in a car, you need to keep in as much heat as possible and prevent cold air from coming in. That means insulating the floor. Newspapers and magazines are a great insulator. Layer them on the floor and then cover with any extra clothing, rags or blankets. Search out all the empty backpacks, clothing, or paper grocery bags you may have in the car.

Most of us have an umbrella in the trunk. If not, get one. If you are stranded in your car, it is important to keep a window open slightly, especially when the engine is running. This window should always be one that is downwind. This may not always be possible because during a storm the winds may be blowing. If this is the case, open the window slightly, slip the handle of the umbrella out the window, and open the umbrella. Pull the umbrella tightly against the car and close the window. The small space that remains will support the umbrella and will also provide air circulation. The umbrella will prevent cold gusts and snow from being blown into the car while allowing air to circulate, thus preventing carbon monoxide poisoning. Try to choose a window that is upwind from the path of the exhaust when the engine is running.

Umbrellas can also be used to shield a fire from wind gusts until it can become established.

When building a snow cave or other shelter, an umbrella can be used to “seal” the doorway. In the case of a leaky roof in your snow cave, an umbrella opened inside may protect you from getting wet. Again, don't leave the shelter of your car if it is possible to stay safely there. If you do leave, leave a message on the car with your location or direction of travel. But generally, do as Scouts do. They are taught to hug a tree if they become lost. The same wisdom applies here — stay in your car or you may not be found by your rescuers.

What's in the luggage? If you have been headed out on vacation, you will have luggage in the trunk. Carefully plan what you will need to retrieve from that luggage so you only have to leave the vehicle once to fetch it.
Hard-sided luggage can be used to provide shelter or a windbreak. Soft-sided luggage can be placed on the floor to provide insulation.

Food and Drink
Food and drinks should all be brought into the passenger space because they will be valuable and needed. In the trunk, drinks may freeze.

Clothing should be a top priority, but only the right clothing. Any sweater, long-sleeve shirt, long pants, coats, scarves and mittens are absolute necessities. Remember you will remain warmer in loose fitting layers because the air trapped between layers will warm up and thus keep you warmer.

In addition to these items, be sure to get all the socks. If your socks become wet, they should be changed immediately. Socks should also be layered for warmth and they make great mittens. You may feel you won't need all that clothing and couldn't possibly wear it all, but it can be used as a blanket, pillow, or to place on the floor over the newspaper you have put down to provide more insulation from drafts. Try rolling some clothing and placing it at the base of the windshield and rear window to cut down drafts.

My niece and her husband were found safe and in time. It was a humbling experience for the whole family, but a close call.

The first step if stranded in snow on a lonely road is to assess what things are available, then to plan for ways to protect ourselves and family from the elements, provide something to drink and eat if possible, clothe ourselves to stay dry and warm, maintain clean air to breathe, find a way to signal our location to searchers, and never to go anywhere without leaving a message for rescuers with details of our plan. Better yet, stay put until help arrives.

Hopefully, we are working to be prepared for emergencies. Prepared in our homes, prepared in our cars, prepared at work, and while traveling by air. But there are lots of exceptions when all our best plans and intentions are out of reach, or when we may have trusted our safety to others. In such situations, we have to look around us at what is available, and apply those things to solving our situation.

Remember the adventure series “MacGyver”? There was no situation he could not resolve with the ordinary stuff at hand.

For more ideas on this topic, see our Meridian article “Surviving the Hazards of Winter Travel” and “Survival in your Pocket” at It's time to get ready for whatever comes!

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Preparedness Quotes

"When faced with the choice to buy, consume, or engage in worldly things and activities, we all need to learn to say to one another, 'We can’t afford it, even though we want it!' or 'We can afford it, but we don’t need it—and we really don’t even want it!'" - Elder Robert D. Hales, April 2009 General Conference

"Many areas of the world have experienced difficult economic times. Businesses have failed, jobs have been lost, and investments have been jeopardized. We must make certain that those for whom we share responsibility do not go hungry or unclothed or unsheltered. When the priesthood of this Church works together as one in meeting these vexing conditions, near miracles take place.

"We urge all Latter-day Saints to be prudent in their planning, to be conservative in their living, and to avoid excessive or unnecessary debt."
- President Thomas S. Monson, October 2008 Priesthood Session, General Conference

"Avoid the philosophy that yesterday's luxuries have become today's necessities. They aren't necessities until we make them so. Many enter into long-term debt only to find that changes occur; people become ill or incapacitated, companies fail or downsize, jobs are lost, natural disasters befall us. For many reasons, payments on large amounts of debt can no longer be made. Our debt becomes as a Damocles sword hanging over our heads and threatening to destroy us."
- President Thomas S. Monson, April 2006 General Conference

“We have built grain storage and storehouses and stocked them with the necessities of life in the event of a disaster. But the real storehouse is the family storeroom. In words of revelation the Lord has said, ‘Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing’ (D&C 109:8.)”
President Gordon B. Hinckley

"We need to make both temporal and spiritual preparation for the events prophesied at the time of the Second Coming. And the preparation most likely to be neglected is the one less visible and more difficult--the spiritual. A 72-hour kit of temporal supplies may prove valuable for earthly challenges, but, as the foolish virgins learned to their sorrow, a 24-hour kit of spiritual preparation is of greater and more enduring value.

"We are living in the prophesied time 'when peace shall be taken from the earth' (D&C 1:35,) when 'all things shall be in commotion' and 'men's hearts shall fail them' (D&C 88:91.) There are many temporal causes of commotion, including wars and natural disasters, but an even greater cause of current 'commotion' is spiritual." Elder Dallin H. Oaks

“Every father and mother are the family’s store keepers. They should store whatever their family would like to have in case of an emergency…(and) God will sustain us through our trials.” President James E. Faust

“We live in a most exciting and challenging period in human history. As technology sweeps through every facet of our lives, changes are occurring so rapidly that it can be difficult for us to keep our lives in balance. To maintain some semblance of stability in our lives, it is essential that we plan for our future. I believe it is time, and perhaps with some urgency, to review the counsel we have received in dealing with our personal and family preparedness. We want to be found with oil in our lamps sufficient to endure to the end.”- Elder L. Tom Perry, Ensign, Nov. 1995

"Many more people could ride out the storm-tossed waves in their economic lives if they had their year's supply of food. . . and were debt-free. Today we find that many have followed this counsel in reverse: they have at least a year's supply of debt and are food free." President Thomas S. Monson

"Just as it is important to prepare ourselves spiritually, we must also prepare ourselves for our temporal needs. … We have been instructed for years to follow at least four requirements in preparing for that which is to come.

“First, gain an adequate education. Learn a trade or a profession to enable you to obtain steady employment that will provide remuneration sufficient to care for yourself and your family. …

“Second, live strictly within your income and save something for a rainy day. Incorporate in your lives the discipline of budgeting that which the Lord has blessed you with. As regularly as you pay your tithing, set aside an amount needed for future family requirements. …

“Third, avoid excessive debt. Necessary debt should be incurred only after careful, thoughtful prayer and after obtaining the best possible advice. We need the discipline to stay well within our ability to pay. …

“Fourth, acquire and store a reserve of food and supplies that will sustain life [if local laws permit such storage]. Obtain clothing and build a savings account on a sensible, well-planned basis that can serve well in times of emergency. As long as I can remember, we have been taught to prepare for the future and to obtain a year’s supply of necessities. I would guess that the years of plenty have almost universally caused us to set aside this counsel. I believe the time to disregard this counsel is over. With events in the world today, it must be considered with all seriousness.” - Elder L. Tom Perry, October 1995 General Conference

“Maintain a year's supply. The Lord has urged that his people save for the rainy days, prepare for the difficult times, and put away for emergencies, a year's supply or more of bare necessities so that when comes the flood, the earthquake, the famine, the hurricane, the storms of life, our families can be sustained through the dark days. How many of us have complied with this? We strive with the Lord, finding many excuses: We do not have room for storage. The food spoils. We do not have the funds to do it. We do not like these common foods. It is not needed -- there will always be someone to help in trouble. The government will come to the rescue. And some intend to obey but procrastinate.” - The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.375

“All too often a family's spending is governed more by their yearning than by their earning. They somehow believe that their life will be better if they surround themselves with an abundance of things. All too often all they are left with is avoidable anxiety and distress” - Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin

"Be prepared in all things against the day when tribulations and desolations are sent forth upon the wicked." D&C 29:8

"Too often we bask in our comfortable complacency and rationalize that the ravages of war, economic disaster, famine, and earthquake cannot happen here. Those who believe this are either not aquainted with the revelations of the Lord, or they do not believe them." President Ezra Taft Benson

"Fear not little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. . .Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not." D&C 6:34, 36

"I believe that the Ten Virgins represent the people of the Church of Jesus Christ. . . They (five foolish) had the saving, exalting gospel, but it had not been made the center of their lives. They knew the way but gave only a small measure of loyalty and devotion.

"The foolish asked the others to share their oil, but spiritual preparedness cannot be shared in an instant. . . . This was not selfishness or unkindness. The kind of oil that is needed to illuminate the way and light up the darkness is not shareable. . . . In our lives the oil of preparedness is accumulated drop by drop in righteous living." - President Spencer W. Kimball

“We encourage families to have on hand this year’s supply; we say it over and over and over and repeat over and over the scripture of the Lord where he says, “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord and do not the things which I say?” How empty it is as they put their spirituality, so-called, into action and call him by his important names, but fail to do the things which he says." - President Spencer W. Kimball"/>


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