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Head on a Swivel

PayAttentionAfter a survival mentality, what is the one skill a person can possess that will save their life? There are many important skills, many that will improve your chances of continued survival, but the most critical is situational awareness. What is situational awareness? There is more to this than simply paying attention to one’s surroundings.

Due to our being born and raised in a civilized society for hundreds of years, most humans have had many of their natural instincts bred out of them. In a world of smart phones, tablets, personal computers, internet, email, text messages, social media and the 24 hour availability of hand-held electronic entertainment, it is far too easy to be sucked into that device and become oblivious to the world around us.situational-awareness We can however, with effort and training get those instincts back. We need to retrain ourselves to use all of our senses, when analyzing our surroundings. Am I saying trash the smartphone, move to the Klondike and live off the grid? If that’s the lifestyle you desire then knock yourself out, but it’s not at all what I’m suggesting, nor is it a conceivable reality for most people. Most of us still have a 9-5 (or in my case a work when the phone rings) that we depend on to pay the mortgage, bring home the groceries and put braces on the kids! What I’m suggesting is master the technology, don’t become its servant.

At home, in your environment you can be totally relaxed, watch movies, listen to headphones and be blissfully unaware of your surroundings, but when you walk out that door you should go to relaxed alert. You should put the cell phone in the purse or pocket, have your eyes and ears (and nose) open and functioning. If you don’t have a good feeling about something or someone listen to your instincts. It’s that primal part of your brain waking back up and warning you that danger could be ahead.

Because your brain can only process so much information and there’s little chance that it possesses the capability to be aware of every person or situation in your environment, you need to take some shortcuts.brain In your daily life establish a normalcy baseline for your environment, and then analyze anything or anyone that falls outside your baseline. For example, if you’re in Aurora Colorado walking to a Starbucks on a snowy January morning and if you see a woman in a tank top sitting beside the road, that is someone that deserves a second look. Now this woman may not be an obvious threat, but there is a story here and that story is what we want to figure out. If she’s muttering to herself and has blood on her clothes, we may want to keep clear and notify the authorities. However maybe she just got out of her car to get coffee and locked her keys in her car and is upset at herself for doing so and she just needs to use a cell phone to call a locksmith. Similarly a guy in tactical dress with a bulky jacket on an August afternoon in Manhattan is also outside any normal baseline.

When you observe people around you look at their eyes, the old saying, “the eyes are the window to the soul” is true. If you’ve been in combat or know people that have you’re probably familiar with the “thousand yard stare” when you see it, that is a person that is alone within and attempts to make contact may be met with hostility. This is a person you want to keep at a distance. Likewise squinting of the eyes narrows your vision and increases your depth perception and is a classic attack stare.Mugger-and-Woman

Similarly according to Psychology Today criminals frequently pick their victims based on body language. A person that is aware of their surroundings, walks like they have a purpose and meets the gaze of other people is far less likely to be targeted than someone who is distracted, disengaged or fearful. In other words, shuffling down the sidewalk, with ear buds in your ears checking Facebook or your Twitter feed makes you a prime target for criminals no matter what sex or age you are!

We’ve talked about what situational awareness is, but why is it important? How is it beneficial? As we have discussed having situational awareness is the practice of using your senses to establish and be aware of baselines of appearance and behavior in your surroundings. Once those baselines have been established we note behavior outside the baseline and interpret those anomalies using an OODA Loop.

The OODA Loop is a decision making loop developed by USAF Col. John Boyd who was a military strategist and pilot. OODA is an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decision, and Action. Boyd’s theory was that the person that completed the loop first had the tactical advantage. The loop then continues based on the new observations of the actions taken. So utilizing the OODA Loop, if you are constantly observing and orienting your surroundings, you will not only see a threat before it becomes a threat, but will know possible escape routes, barricades or hindering terrain to avoid and/or exploit, allowing for immediate decision and action because you will already have a head start in the OODA Loop.OODA_Boyd_svg

As you go through your daily activities and begin to practice your situational awareness, often you will observe the sheep of society with their heads and attentions absorbed in their electronic devices. You will see families or people at restaurants that although they are sitting together each has their attention focused on their personal device. So much so, in fact, many places this will become a normalcy baseline in your environment.

Although I have talked about setting a normalcy baseline, this is much different than a person’s normalcy bias. A normalcy bias is a person’s attempt to fit some outside behavior into what’s normal.normalcy-bias-wwz-800x510 Many times when you hear eye-witness accounts of shootings, people often times describe what they thought were firecrackers. That is the persons attempt to fit gun shots (a very abnormal thing) into what is normal so they don’t have to deal with this new and uncomfortable situation. By setting a normalcy baseline, it allows us to observe and act on anything that is outside the baseline, what is not normal, it doesn’t try to fit anomalies into our baseline. So a normalcy baseline allows us to notice things that are not normal and can save your life, while a normalcy bias is the minds tendency to rationalize abnormal things as normal and can get you killed!



The Old World Revisited


I read a popular blog post last week that posed the question, “Is living within 100 miles of a city of 1 million people safe after an SHTF event?” After posting my opinion. We had my son and his family at our house for the Christmas holiday and I started thinking about family separation in an SHTF event… I live northwest of Fort Worth and my son lives southeast of Dallas, in other words my concern is that I have over 7 million people separating us! I also have 2 daughters and grandchildren in Southern California, a grandson in Washington and a son in Utah. In an event such as a nuclear or EMP attack, travel of thousands of miles would be difficult and deadly, but even hundreds of miles with certain obstacles may as well be thousands!


To start with, in an EMP/nuclear attack all distance communication would be wiped out. Any vehicle with electronic ignition and fuel injection would be absolutely useless. Any vehicles that still work would be subject to confiscation by governmental officials under martial law or by outlaws. Horses or other pack animals would be desired not just for their use to ride but as meat for starving people, since hunting/trapping has become a lost art to the common city dwelling modern human. Even with a car, how far could a person get? 5 or 600 miles then what? What happens when the gas runs out? What happens to families like mine that are scattered around the country, to kids that are off at college, dads that are truck drivers or moms that are flight attendants or on a business trip in New York when it hits? How many of us are prepared to walk hundreds or thousands of miles to get home? Do you have a plan in place for your family to execute in your absence?


There’s no question that large population centers will be a dangerous obstacle when traveling. Whether they are run by a government official, military force, or former criminal boss turned ruler, what he/she/they see as most beneficial may be at your expense with very little you can do about it! Whether by vehicle, horse, ox cart, or on foot large population centers should probably be avoided!


If you travel on a regular basis, have and know how to use paper maps. Large scale maps of where you are and possible routes home and small scale maps of the area you are visiting and any points of interest/concern in your proposed path. A thought worth mentioning on this subject however… Any points/routes plotted on a map will be subject to compromise if the map is lost or stolen! If you don’t want your bugout location or families location known, plotting them on the map is probably not a good idea! Besides look at it from an outsiders point of view, someone who has a map and a plan is noteworthy and probably has resources worth taking.


Many possible threat events could push us back 150 years or more. The problem is that travel in the ways of the old world is only the beginning of our problems! 150 years ago there was an infrastructure in place that was based on a technology that has been antiquated and replaced many times since then. How do we go from cell phones and robotics back to pony express and carrier pigeon; from supermarkets and fast food to hunting, harvesting and non refrigerated food storage? Do we have the knowledge and skills to survive without modern conveniences?


Putting the Right Foot Forward

I have to confess that after 22 years of marriage; getting into my wife’s car and finding an empty gas tank still irritates me beyond words! I have been preaching to her for years that allowing it to get below a quarter tank, lets dirt and debris get into the fuel line and clog the filter and worse yet, any that gets through, is extra wear and tear on the engine. No matter how much I talk, lecture or complain, it makes no difference; periodically I get into her car and see “20 miles to E”.  I suppose it irritates her that I start looking for gas stations when my truck is on a half tank…

Since we’re discussing survival techniques, I think this, needs to be talked about, and few give it the attention, I feel it deserves! When I was young and broke I have to admit I was guilty of it as well… Nothing is as frustrating as running late and having to stop to get gas because you’re on empty! What if, it wasn’t something as simple as running late to work or an appointment? What if, your kid broke their arm or leg and you can’t get to the hospital until you get gas? That’s 10-15 extra minutes of pain your child has to endure because you failed to do something you’re going to have to do anyway, put gas in your tank! Ok, now let’s take it to the next level… What if you and your family were in the path of a tornado, wild fire or some other life threatening disaster? Now you have to wait in line at the gas pump with all the other people that have procrastinated getting gas until they have no other choice! It’s true that I will have to get gas in an emergency too, but even worst case scenario and my truck is as empty as I let it get, I still have 250 miles to empty.scooter

I’ve been thinking a lot about transportation lately… I think in part, due to the book I have been reading. The book is, “One Second After” by William Forstchen, if you haven’t read it I highly recommend it and have had trouble putting it down (that’s why I’m writing this on Sunday night so I can meet my Monday deadline), if you haven’t read the book I won’t say more than it’s about an EMP attack on the United States. I’m not going to discuss the unique challenges that an EMP poses to transportation, because I have a full article scheduled for discussing EMP survival later in 2016.


Everyone has different transportation needs. Living in Texas, as I’ve mentioned, I own a truck. While my youngest daughter lives in southern California and drives a Prius. I’m sure there are many people that live in places like NYC that don’t own a car at all. To some people their vehicle is a symbol of their status or success, while others see it from a more practical angle. Regardless of your transportation needs, you have primary, secondary and tertiary means of transportation. The beauty of this blog is that I can’t possibly tell you what yours are, but by discussing it, it causes you the reader to think and examine your own situation and hopefully setup your own transportation plan.

Your primary mode of transportation, is the mode you use most often and you should allocate the necessary recourses to protecting it, if it goes down you drop one level in preferred transportation. If it’s your car, you should take time, every time you get gas, walk around it and conduct a visual inspection. Check your tires, for wear and the pressure, including the spare and know how to change a tire. Check oil and other fluids and change them when required. If you don’t know how, ask a mechanic what you should check regularly, most will be glad to point it out. If your primary mode is public transportation, identify alternate routes/busses/stations, always have an exit plan.

Your secondary mode, is the one that you use when the primary fails. This could be public transportation, a second car, a bicycle… whatever. The point is to identify it and know its condition before you need it. If you don’t have one maybe it’s time you identify what you do if you get in your car and it won’t start or there’s a fire or bomb threat at your subway station and trains aren’t running. This is a good time to mention, if you live on the coast, a lake or river, boats are a great means of transportation! In normal everyday life they can be a source of entertainment and enjoyment but in an emergency they give you access to waterways that contain fish and water fowl a very real food source. Small kayaks and canoes are relatively inexpensive and don’t take much space.


The tertiary mode for most of us is walking. In the immortal words of the comedian Steven Wright, “any where is walking distance if you have the time”. I’m talking here about everything has gone down, you have to get from A to B and staying put isn’t an option. Like I used to tell my children when they were teenagers, “ I guess you’ll be using your Chevro-legs”. Ensure you have a good pair of broken in hiking shoes in your closet. They should provide good foot and ankle protection and support with a slip resistant, high traction tread.

Many governmental agencies and private foundations recommend having fire drills at home so your children will know what to do in, and be able to escape a fire. They tell you, that you should have a primary and secondary escape route. Well in my opinion your town or city is no different. Have an egress destination in mind and primary and secondary route plans to get there. Keep a map in your glove box/bugout bag (don’t rely on GPS!) Plot the destination and the routes. Identify potential obstacles that could hinder your way. We’ll talk more about maps and using them in a future article.

I hope this has given you cause to pause and consider the importance of transportation and having a plan for it! See you next week…


Survivor Mentality

According to Psychology Today, the survivor mentality has a list of traits: Hope, True Grit, the ability to Soldier On, the ability to Grow after Trauma and a Spiritual Component. There have been hundreds if not thousands of books analyzing the subject. You see and read about survival all around you every day: Cancer survivors, terror survivors, storm survivors and drug abuse survivors just to name a few.

The field is called “human factors in survival” basically the study of why some people die and others survive. Everyone goes through trials and adversity in their lives, some are ground down, others come out the other side stronger and more capable. Victim or survivor; what’s the difference? Well, for starters, accountability! Being a victim is easy, whenever something happens or goes wrong, a victim can always blame someone else, a situation or society in general. The problem with being a victim is that you aren’t in charge of your own destiny. A victim always looks to someone else to save them, care for them or validate them. In other words, in a crisis victims are the bodies that get cleaned up afterward.

There is nothing physically different about a survivor, no special training is required. In fact, no matter what training you’ve had there is no guarantee that you will be a survivor! Wait Dave! What about members of the Special Forces? SEALs, Green Berets, Rangers; they’re all survivors! Yes, you’re right they are, but their training didn’t make them survivors, only the survivors made it through training! 29 years ago this month, I graduated from bootcamp in San Diego. While I was going through training, several of my fellow recruits would say, “I don’t know how much more I can take”, my response was always the same, “it’s almost over just hold on, it’s all in your head!”.

That ladies and gentlemen, is the secret to survival, attitude! Easy huh?!? Don’t you believe it, being a survivor is hard! There’s no one to blame, it’s all you! No matter what you’re going through, you will triumph you will come out on top. I will die someday, but it won’t be today and not by your hand! I will get through this, there is no way I die here, or like this, not this way! It’s easy to say, the problem is meaning it when it counts.

However you have to start somewhere!

I issue this challenge: Take control of your own destiny! Adopt the philosophy that you will not be a victim!


Why Am I Writing This Blog?

Why am I writing this blog? As I contemplate this question, it occurs to me the answer is a bit like an onion; in that, there are many reasons. As I sit here mentally pealing back all the layers, getting to the heart of the matter, the years fly by and the experiences that have lead me to begin this task fill my mind. To begin, in October 1979 I became 1 of 22,188 young men that would be awarded the Eagle Scout award in that year. That award isn’t something I lead with, “hi, my name is Dave Kunz and I’m an Eagle Scout”. You won’t see it on my resume and in fact, there are few people in my life that know I received scouting’s highest award, and fewer still know it was the at the age of 13 ½. So why if it’s not something I normally lead with, why do so here? There are 2 basic reasons for this blog and one of them is the Boy Scout motto,” Be Prepared”, the other is, the enjoyment I get from writing, researching and learning.

As time goes by it is my intention to explore survival from many different angles. We will talk about the survivor mind set. We will spend many episodes on skills that will be, not only essential in any situation, such as hunting, farming and shelter, but also those that would be useful in a post event society, like making beer, cheese and preserving meat. Devices, equipment and technology are important pieces of our everyday life. How can they help us prepare and how much help will they be post event?

I’ve mentioned an “event” a couple times so far, but what event am I talking about? For now let’s just call it a survival event and they come in many different scopes. From the zombie apocalypse (hey it’s on the CDC website) and nuclear war to hurricane and earthquake devastation, even personal loss or heartbreak requires survival skills! We will discuss them all in time!

So… Let’s get started!