Monday, November 28, 2011

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 207: Pretty Much Dead Already

Spoiler alert!

Shane (to Lori): “See Rick, he ain’t built for this world, not for how it is now.”
Synopsis:  Shane takes preemptive action with the barn walkers to protect the group; Dale realizes how big a threat Shane has become; the group finds Sophia.

Pretty Much Dead Already brings most of the simmering plot points of Season 2 to a dramatic conclusion that will change this series forever.   The events of this episode are going to have long-reaching consequences that may rip the group apart.

The preparedness lessons that lie in this episode have more to do about the psychology of survival than any gear or tactical tips.   This is a study of two contrasts:  Shane’s survival at any cost versus Rick’s survival while maintaining a semblance of humanity.   It’s a question every prepper must ask: what are we really willing to do to survive?

Deep discussion:  Rick pleads to stay at the farm.
As I said in a previous review, we need to understand our motivations and who we are before the survival situation is thrust upon us, and that in a long-term crisis group survival is going to be the only way to thrive.  Rick is willing to live with Hershel’s deluded reasoning to keep his family safe for the time being until he can make him understand just how dangerous the walkers in the barn are to everyone.   Shane is ready to take action.  The situation must be dealt with, but the men come to odds over how to do it. 

How it must suck to be Rick Grimes.  You just found out your wife is pregnant, she’s been sleeping with your best friend, and a dozen creatures who want to eat you are parked about a hundred yards away.  You can’t do anything about it, and these people expect you to find the solution.   Rick’s plea to Hershel is one of desperation both for his family and for his peace of mind.   

Gunfight at the Hershel Corral:  the group kills the walkers.
On the other hand, Shane has a pretty clear idea of what needs to happen and just gets it done.   He goes for the guns, tracks down where Dale had hidden them, and leads a vigilante gang to the barn to deal with the walkers.  He wants to run the group, and thinks Rick’s appeasement of Hershel is going to get everyone killed. He acts to “protect” the group, but at this point anyone who has seen this show should have serious doubts about his motivations.   There is more than just survival on his mind; his discussion with Lori, comparing his exploits to that of Rick’s, is more proof that he cannot let Lori go.  He’s obsessed with her, and is not going to stop until he has her or until his obsession short-circuits his loyalty to Rick with devastating consequences.  His real objective is to marginalize Rick and replace him as both the leader and the man in Lori’s life, and he’s willing to sacrifice everyone to do it. 

If nothing else, Shane is proof that being sociopathic can be extremely liberating.

The walkers did not have to be dealt with right then. Shane provoked the incident to both assert control of the group and to force a confrontation with Hershel.   When the series returns from hiatus in February I expect him to advocate taking over the farm.  Why not?  He already killed Otis and the “nomad” survivors already outnumber those on the farm.  Right? That’s a slippery slope, isn’t it?  He’s no longer a survivor then.  He’s a raider. 

Other points:
  • Dale knows what is coming, and tries to stop it, but in the end cannot pull the trigger on Shane.  Killing walkers is one thing, but he cannot kill a living person in cold blood, not even Shane.  I valued his discussion with Andrea admonishing her not to become another Shane; looking at her face at the barn in the final scene I think she finally understood what Dale meant.
  • Glen and Maggie seem to be the most standout characters in this episode.   They are caught between both camps.  Maggie has fallen for Glen and advocates that her father allow them to stay, pointing out that all the other farms in the area are overrun with walkers or burned out.  It’s very clear that Glen and Maggie mean something to each other, and that they fill a void in each other’s lives.  To me the most heartbreaking moment was when Glen, holding a shotgun as the walkers advance out of the barn, pleads with Maggie to let him help due what needs to be done.  This is hard for her both to see people she knows get put down and to watch her father deal with the grief.
  • Daryl and Carol also have a moment.  Daryl realizes that after a lifetime of being told he’s worthless, someone cares about him.  Carol realizes that after being brutalized by her husband there is something more than just fear.   There is hope.   Then that hope is taken away. 
  • I liked Carl in this episode;   he is starting to assert himself.  Carl becomes a major force in the comic series, and appears on his way here. 
The minor nit I have is with T-Dog; I really hope the writers make more use of him in the back end of the season.  He can shoot, he is good with his hands, and he is strong.  We need a T-Dog episode.

Real action:  Rick ends Sophia's suffering.
Finally, we have the resolution of the fate of the barn walkers, and we learn the fate of poor Sophia.   According to series creator Robert Kirkman, who was interviewed on the Talking Dead show after the episode aired, Sophia was found by Otis, who corralled her and put her in the barn before Rick, Carl and Shane showed up at the farm.  Since Otis died the night after Sophia disappeared, without telling anyone else that she was in there and before they told Hershel they were looking for a little girl, this means Sophia was bitten and died the first night she was alone in the woods, and had been in the barn all along.  It also means that Shane, for all his “this search is putting us all at risk” rhetoric, was the one who prolonged the search by killing Otis at the FEMA shelter. Once again his premature, violent actions have worked to the detriment of the group.

Where does this leave us, the preparedness-minded viewers?  We are left with a vision of what a survival situation might become and how two people with similar backgrounds and training can react in completely different ways.  Once again, we need to ask ourselves:  who are we and what motivates us?  How are we going to react, and how far are we willing to go to ensure survival?

Coming in February:  Rick and Shane FINALLY have it out, and Hershel orders the group to leave.   Will Shane do so voluntarily?  And who is getting put in those graves?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Report: Missouri Survival Store Chain Reports Huge Surge In Sales

Patrons fear economic collapse is looming.  According to Steve Dorsey at Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters Inc. in Webster Groves, "“I’ve had people in here that are very wealthy and they’ve spent thousands of dollars just on backpacks that they fill with survival gear, one for each person of their family.”


Monday, November 21, 2011

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 206: Secrets

Warning: spoilers below!
Carl (to his mom): Everything’s food for something.

Synopsis:  Hope dims as the group is running out of places to search for Sophia; Andrea finds her place in the group, and in Shane’s pants; we learn why secrets in a survival situation never stay secrets for long;  and others in both Rick’s group and Hershel’s group start defining how THEY want to live.

Secrets is an episode that really ratchets the tension between and within the two groups;  Hershel plainly sees that letting the others stay is NOT going to work for him, while Rick and Lori are determined to convince him otherwise.  Glen proves that he would never earn a government security clearance, and Dale confronts Shane (SOMEBODY needed to) about what really happened to Otis and about the fact the he saw Shame almost shoot Rick in the back.

There’s been a lot of expressed disappointment in some online forums for what has been perceived as the “soap opera nature” of the second season.  I can see why people might hold that opinion.   Walker attacks have been less frequent, and the group’s safe haven at the farm, even if temporary, has given the characters the breathing space to start thinking about … other things.

Personally, I think the show is living up to its premise.   We in the preparedness community have to learn to form relationships and partnerships with others to survive any truly long term situation (see my comment in a previous post regarding this issue).  Many of us have families who taught preparedness early and often, and have formed bonds with fellow preppers for mutual support.  Some have purchased locations where a whole group of like-minded individuals can go if things go south and survive as a community.

The characters of this show have not had that luxury.  These are people of different backgrounds, abilities and temperaments thrown together by circumstance and who are forced to survive from day to day against a relentless enemy who will not tire, will not rest, and will not offer even the slightest chance of survival unless they focus and work together.   Given the relative safety of the farm, why is it surprising that they would revert back to old habits and preoccupations with the walker threat abated?

Leaving the drama aside, there are some preparedness lessons this week we should all take to heart.

Time for target practice.
1.  Everyone should become familiar with firearms and how to safely handle them.    There has been another debate raging in online forums regarding how firearms are handled in this show.   Some view the show as anti-gun rights.  It is my opinion that while there have been demonstrated reasons for controlling the firearms (Andrea’s attempted suicide at CDC and shooting Daryl by mistake come to mind) the time to teach everyone in the group firearm safety is here.   They have the breathing space and the time to make it happen.  Firearms are essential to survival in a hostile situation.

By the way, I am taking it on faith here that they managed to find some more ammunition for target practice by scavenging during their excursions from the farm. There are a variety of weapons there, and I'd have to assume that Dale and T-Dog found more.  There are just too many firearms in the United States for there not to be a bunch left in the abandoned cars on the Interstate, and with billions of rounds purchased every year, there has to be ammo as well.

2.  Outside of a secured area, there is no such thing as safe, even if the area is familiar and well-traveled.   Glen and Maggie make another trek to town for pharmacy supplies, and in an inattentive moment, Maggie is almost killed by a Walker behind the counter.  If not for swift action on Glen’s part, she would have died.   Everyone assumed the town and pharmacy were clear.  Their surging sense of normality is going to get someone killed.

That being said, some of Hershel’s group is starting to realize what this world has become.  Patricia, Jimmy and the others volunteer for target practice with Shane, and Maggie moves from taking offense at calling the zombies in the barn “walkers” to using the term by the end of the episode.   A near death experience will do that for you. (Minor plot nit:  how did the Walker get into the pharmacy?   Did someone leave the back door open?)  They are finally beginning to see the world as it is; Lori has become so immersed in its darkness that is all she can see.   It’s an interesting dramatic contrast.

Speaking of which, Andrea really should not have walked away from Shane the way she did.   When members of the group move outside the fence, they are in enemy territory.  Shane was being a jerk, but I am convinced he is the Saul Tigh of this series.  He’s an emotional mess, and he can’t go three feet without antagonizing someone, but he GETS IT DONE.   

Andrea gets her gun on.
3.  Tactical training is important.  Shane and Andrea proved that when assaulted by walkers in the subdivision.  Shane is using the search to teach Andrea how to move tactically through a house and how to move as a unit.  When they exit the final house to a street littered with walkers, Shane communicates how he wants to handle the situation and executes it.  He covers his partners back and gives her the room to become confident on the trigger. The only problem I have is that he didn’t “cut the pie” on the corner coming out of the door next to the driveway all that well (30:32 is the time index if you are watching the Itunes download).  Also, here is another nit for the direction of the episode:   they enter the house, and inside the door is an open floor plan.  There is a garage in front of the room to the left (facing into the house like Shane and Andrea).  They proceed through, find the walled off area, go down some stairs to a basement level, where there is apparently a second garage with the door half open.   How many cars did these people own, and why was their Mustang parked in the driveway with all that space? I know, it’s a TV show …

4.  Drywall won’t stop zombies.   Or bullets, for that matter.    The family that attempted to make a stand in their house had dry-walled off their back hallway in an attempt to hide from the walkers but didn’t do anything to reinforce it.   Some two by fours nailed across the opening would have been of immense value.  If you are looking at staying in your house for a long-term emergency, give serious thought to hardening it against attack.  Some ideas:
  • Plant thorny plants beneath windows intruders might use on the ground floor.
  • Reinforce the strike plate that holds your door deadbolts in the wall by replacing the supplied short screws with longer screws that will anchor it deep into the wooden door frame.
  • Get a security system with a battery backup.
  • Create a “safe room” where the family can gather as a last resort.
  • Consider storm shutters that roll down over your windows. 
  • Have a supply of sandbags on hand to fill and place a layer around outside walls at strategic points when the stink hits the fan.   Typical home construction materials will NOT stop a high velocity round.  News sources are replete with accounts of accidental firearms discharges in which the bullet passed through an outer wall, went through the wall of another house, and struck someone.

5.  A leader of a survival group must use the skills of EVERY person.  I agree with what Maggie said to Glen to an extent.   He showed leadership and planning skill on multiple occasions in the first season.  He’s not in your face like Shane or a lone wolf like Daryl.   He needs to reassert himself. Hopefully his speech to Lori was the beginning of that.

Loose cannon:  Shane taunts Andrea.
6.  You cannot ignore problems and hope they go away.  Shane, despite his value to the group, is a loose cannon and he must be dealt with, whether Rick wants to or not.   Dale might have confronted him for his own reasons (I think Dale is sweet on Andrea, and it was obvious what she and Shane were doing out on their own) but he was dead accurate about the deputy’s character.   Shane would like to be Rick, the one everyone looks to, but he’s not, and every time he gets the chance to show his leadership skills, he makes a questionable call.  I like the way this scene played.  Dale refused to back down even though Shane threatened to shoot him. 

Likewise, Rick finally knows about the pregnancy, and Shane and Lori’s affair.   I think his calm reaction to the news that his best friend was knocking boots with his wife is one of the most incredible acts of forgiveness I have seen … for now.   He already knew in the back of his mind.  I wonder how he will address it with Shane? 

Finally, the secret of the barn is spreading.   Dale confronts Hershel, and Hershel responds with an interesting question.   It seems he has his own doubts about what happened to Otis. Here’s an interesting question as well:  if Hershel said for the rest of the group to stay Shane had to leave, would Rick force him out? 

7.  Finally, cooking or heating your home with auxiliary sources can be dangerous.  The family who tried to hide in their home succeeding in burning themselves alive in the garage with either a cook stove or liquid fuel heater.   Make sure you follow ALL directions for safety if you have such devices for emergency or camping use.

Next week: The crap finally hits the fan as the walkers in the barn become general knowledge, and Rick makes a final plea to Hershel to let them stay.  

Editor’s note:  I am experimenting with changing the format of the reviews and I am working to make them more of a bullet list than a narrative with a bulleted summary at the end.   If you have any preferences, e-mail me or leave a comment.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Holiday Safety Video - Turkey Fryer Safety

Turkey fryers have become popular at Thanksgiving.   This year State Farm has released a safety video featuring the incomparable William Shatner.   Please enjoy and be careful if you fry this holiday season.

No one ever accused Shatner of under-producing anything ... well, there was the ending of Star Trek V ...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 205: Chupacabra

Warning:  Spoilers Below!

Hershel (to Rick, on behalf of preppers everywhere):  It's a wonder you people have survived this long.

Synopsis: Daryl overcomes the demons of this past;   tension between Rick and Shane build; Andrea shoots Daryl by mistake; and the secret of the barn is revealed.
Chupacabra is a Daryl-centric episode that nevertheless manages to build the tension between the two groups of survivors and shows the widening gap between Shane’s pragmatic survival mentality and Rick’s noble, if sometimes risky, belief that he has to save everyone. 

The opening teaser, which depicts Shane, Lori, and Carl stuck in a traffic jam outside Atlanta with Ed, Carol, and Sophia Peletier and witnessing Army helicopters unleash ordnance on the streets of the city was an interesting choice that shows why Shane thinks the way he does.   Another interesting point was Ed’s insistence that Carol keep quiet about their supplies, even using the term “operational security.”

While Ed was his usual abusive jerk self during this scene, he did have a point.   They were surrounded b dozens, possibly hundreds of people who had no way off the road, were running short of supplies, and were already on edge (witness the fight behind Lori and Shane as they walked forward to see what was happening in the city).   As I pointed out in my review of Episode 204, though, a little charity goes a long way.   He could have quietly passed a couple of MREs to the obviously armed and useful deputy and started building an alliance.  As a prepper, you need to know that the people you build a network with are going to have your back.   I get the strong impression Ed would have thrown his daughter in front of a Walker if it came down to him or her.

Daryl manages to skewer himself with his own arrow.
Which leads us to Daryl.  Daryl becomes injured when his horse throws him, he slides down an embankment, and one of his own arrows pierces his side.  He is forced to bind his wound and try to climb out of the gully on his own, and while drifting in and out of consciousness because of a blow on his head sees visions of his long-missing brother (for those who thought Merle had been holding Sophia hostage, sorry to disappoint you.  Merle's appearance was a hallucination).   We get a glimpse of how Merle pushed and bullied Daryl all his life;  it's obvious that Daryl has spent years trying to earn Merle's approval, but through his interaction with the vision-Merle (and I really hope this doesn't become a regular thing) we see Daryl has realized just how full of it his brother was and how his allegiance now lies with the group.   I still say Daryl is going to be forced to make a choice between family and the group at some point.  Norman Reedus has to carry this part of the episode and does his usual fantastic job.

Thankfully the show toned down the melodrama this week with less Lori and Shane and more dramatic tension developing between Rick and Shane.   Shane wants to cut their losses and abandon the search for Sophia; Rick simply cannot abandon the girl to her fate and takes heart in the fact that Daryl brings back Sophia's doll.  I can see Shane's point; except for the supplies scavenged on the interstate they don't have a lot to move out with if they are forced onto the road again, and every available person is searching for Sophia, not engaging in group survival activities.  They need ammo, more antibiotics, food, water in portable containers, etc.   Rick has to at some point realize that and start curtailing the search to get more supplies for the group.  While everyone feels for Carol and wants to find Sophia, they simply do not have the manpower to continue the search indefinitely.

Here is a training note:   Every person in the group needs to be taught how to be found  if they get separated.  Sophia cannot be expected to stay in one place with walkers roaming through the woods, but how much easier would the search be if she had been taught to create some sort of marker that showed where the was headed?   It could have been as simple as  a group of rocks shaped into an arrow pointing out her direction of travel. 

They are running out of time.  Hershel is increasingly uncomfortable with the strangers' presence.  Daryl has taken a horse without permission and lost it, the survivors' attempts to say thank you by fixing dinner is seen as an encroachment on his home, and Rick allows Jimmy (the previously unnamed teen last seen at Otis's memorial service) to take part in the search without checking with Hershel first.  Complicating matters is the obvious friction between Hershel and his family;  Hershel plays it safe and is convinced his way is the best way;  at the very least Maggie and Jimmy are using the strangers' presence to circumvent his restrictions.  The two groups are not gelling, and the dinner, meant to bring them together, instead serves to showcase the tension that is building under the surface. 

Speaking of training, Andrea's nearly killing Daryl with the rifle is proof to me why she doesn't didn't need a gun.   These people need to be trained in firearms safety, and fast.  

Jeff DeMunn turns in a standout performance.
While this is primarily a preparedness review, I have to stop to admire the utter unadulterated brilliance of Jeff DeMunn's performance this week.   The scene between Dale and Andrea is one of the best of the series and shows what happens when the writers realize the full potential of the characters instead of relying on the melodrama of last week.  If he isn't nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Emmy there is no justice in this world.
Andrea:  How's he doing?
Dale:  Fine. What about you?
Andrea:  I shot Daryl!
Dale: Don't be too hard on yourself.  We've all wanted to shoot Daryl.
His look at Glenn and Maggie at the tense dinner speaks volumes, and betrays what is going on to Hershel as well. 

Walkers now inhabit the barn.
Finally, we have the scene that changes everything:  Glen enters the barn (those who have read the graphic novel knew this was coming) and discovers Hershel has at least a dozen walkers locked up in there.   From what he said about waiting on a cure in previous episodes and his insistence of having his people handle any walkers on the property, we can surmise that these are relatives and neighbors he has isolated until they can find some way to reverse the process.  Of course we know how foolhardy this is -- these are walkers,  for goodness' sake -- but Hershel seems determined to keep them around.

Preparedness lessons for Episode 205:
  • Try to have some extra food set aside to help people who may not have the resources they need stockpiled.  A little charity goes a long way.
  • We cannot survive a long-term mass disaster on our own.  Be careful with whom you form survival relationships, because there are people who will throw you under the bus (or in front of a walker) to ensure their own survival.
  • Search in groups, to make sure a rescuer doesn't become the one needing rescue.
  • Understand your motivations, because at some point you may have to make a hard decision as to where your loyalty lies.  
  • Teach people simple skills that will help them survive being separated from the main group, including how to be found.
  • Typically, you will underestimate how things like medical supplies you need in an emergency, at at least 20 percent more than the number of an item you think you will need.
  • Firearms training is for everyone.  
  • Don't underestimate the dangers that surround you.  Assume the worst case scenario.
Next week:  Dale confronts Shane about his actions, and Glen and Maggie discuss why the barn is full of zombies.   Oh, and the worst case scenario appears to happen. Shocking.  Makes you wonder how Hershel came off all high and mighty, doesn't it?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Vehicle Preparedness: Basic and Advanced Preparedness Topics

Our vehicle is the single most expensive thing most of us will ever by with the exception of our home.  It is a complex machine mass produced for a worldwide market, and can carry us hundreds of miles at a time.   In fact, we sometimes lose our perspective of just how far from our homes we travel every day.  If you commute 45 miles one way every day like I do, you realize pretty quickly that what takes you less than an hour to drive could take days to walk.

We’re going to take a look at some of the basics of vehicle preparedness and how you can minimize your risk of a breakdown, maximize your preparedness for adverse events, and prep your primary vehicle as a bugout ride.

The Basics

Let’s start with the first concept:  a vehicle is going to either break down or require ongoing repairs at some point.

Keep your vehicle in good repair.  
  • Minimum Capabilities:
    • Keep all vehicles in good repair
    • Four wheel drive on main vehicle, or traction-enhanced (locking differentials, etc.)
    • Main vehicle needs to be able to carry everyone in family, including a minimum of gear and supplies for 1 week
    • Main vehicle needs to run on standardized fuel (gasoline, diesel), not specialized fuel (high octane, bio-mix, propane,etc.)
    • Stored fuel for one full tank (e.g., if your vehicle’s tank holds 20 gallons, store 20 gallons) in man-portable containers
    • ‘Fix a flat’ or Slime
    • Self-vulcanizing plug kit
    • Air compressor (12 VDC)
    • Hose clamps, various sizes (or hose wrap or duct tape)
    • Siphon hose
    • Funnels (keep in mind that a funnel for your fuel tank will probably be different from the ones that you use under the hood)
    • Full-sized spare tire
    • Emergency road equipment (flares, warning reflectors, etc.)
    • Navigation (maps, GPS, etc.), stored in vehicle
    • Basic spare parts (hoses, belts, sparks plugs, fasteners, etc.)
    • Extra fluids (oil, coolant, transmission fluid, washer fluid, etc.)
    • Tool kit, stored in vehicle
    • Fire extinguisher
    • Jumper cables
    • Recovery strap/tow rope
  • Extended Capabilities:
    • Extended fuel storage
    • Additional spare parts for vehicle

Monday, November 7, 2011

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 204: Cherokee Rose

Warning:  Spoilers Below!

Synopsis:  The Greene farm seems to be the sanctuary the survivors are looking for, but might harbor a secret ...

“Cherokee Rose” slows down the action significantly after the stunning events of “Save the Last One” by offering us a set piece of character development; at the same time, the episode establishes the onset of tension between the farm’s original occupants, led by Hershel and Maggie, and Rick and his band of refugees.

The opening scene, which depicts the memorial service for Otis, is moving.  It was obvious he was cared for, and Shane's lionizing of a man he condemned to a grisly death has its own perverse truth in it.  There is something not quite right about how he described the events that led to Otis' demise, though, and the way the episode is filmed, I think Dale is working it out in his head.

 It’s the quiet beats of this story that make it work.  We get plenty of preparedness tidbits that show how the Greenes have managed to maintain an almost idyllic existence in the midst of the collapse of society:
  • Maggie remarks that there are five wells on the property, with one feeding the house proper and another used primarily for the livestock;
  • Maggie also notes there is a generator shed on the property that obviously houses a generator and a large supply of fuel; if it were my farm I would still want to practice blackout rules;
  • The property is situated just outside of a small town, but is adjoined by large stretches of undeveloped land and fenced in to keep out most of the walkers; you get the sense of how remote it is from the walk Rick and Hershel take and the review of the map;
  • The shots of livestock and the mention that Otis ran the farm for the Greene family in “Save the Last One” indicates that the family has the means to feed itself, although the arrival of more mouths might stress those resources.

All in all, it seems like a location set up for survival.  The only problem is that Hershel Greene is not going to let the newcomers stay.  He tells Rick that once Carl is ready to travel and the group can determine the fate of Sophie, they need to move on to somewhere else.   The scene where Rick and Shane review the property map to set up the search for Sophie is revealing in what it doesn't tell the viewer. The search party agrees that if they find Sophie and she has been turned, they will have to do what they must and tell her mother the truth. Hershel and Maggie exchange a glance, and Hershel indicates she should not say anything.  It seems they are keeping secrets, too.

The discussion between Dale and T-Dog is a nice resolution to T-Dog's doubts voiced on the highway.   In a group survival situation like this, even if only for a few days, tempers are going to flare, doubts will emerge,  and conflict will erupt.  Dale, the wise old one of the party (does anyone else besides me see Jeff DeMunn channeling Ray Walston from The Stand in this scene?)  dismisses the entire discussion.   

Group Dynamics Survival Rule 1:  Sometimes you have to give people the grace to be human.

Maggie and Glen get some one-on-one time.
Shane is still dealing with his actions of the previous episode, and it's nice to see he hasn't gone totally over the edge.  At the conclusion of that scene I had a fresh flash of insight about where his character is heading.  Rick and perhaps Dale are providing the moral compass for the group, but Shane just gets stuff done, like making the call on who should live or die for the good of the group.  I still don't agree with what he did, but he's willing to do the things Rick cannot do, and at some point, Rick is going to have to face that.  Survival situations are like that; you might have to find yourself doing the unthinkable, and the hardest thing you might have to do is defend yourself from someone who means to harm you.  While that was clearly not the case with Shane, it does raise a question for us all, doesn't it?

Glenn and Maggie go on a supply run, revealing the primary source of their medical supplies.  It's interesting that the Greenes didn't confiscate all the antibiotics the first time Maggie went to town, but left some for other people in the area.  I didn't think southern hospitality would extend to a survival situation.

This brings us to our second survival topic for the episode:  how much stuff do you need?  My current plan is to provide for myself and my immediate family for a month if needed.  How would that change if some of my extended family or neighbors show up on my doorstep?  If the emergency turns out to be short term and you turn people away from your door, when it's over you are going to have to deal with the fallout.  Once you have met your immediate goal, start thinking about some extra bulk food, etc., to help neighbors and family who might not have prepared like you have.   One of the principles of preparedness should be to not only provide for yourself but to be prepared help those in need.

Cherokee Rose:  Daryl finds a present for Carol.
There are lots of other character interactions that show the survivors, with the immediate threat abated and a sense of normality restored, have bonded through their experience.  Daryl is showing particular attachment to Carol; they have both obviously been subject of abuse in the past, and in this situation have bonded over the search for little Sophie.  Given what Daryl finds in the abandoned house, I hope we will get Sophie back next week.  Daryl has one focus right now - finding that girl.  Perhaps he is trying to quiet the guilt he feels for not retrieving his brother Merle from Atlanta.   

Group Dynamics Survival Rule 2: Emergencies make strange bedfellows.

There is the zombie action piece that highlights the need to secure a safe water supply.  The well should have been better covered to avoid the swimmer from contaminating one of the ground wells.   In our own preparedness plans, we should reflect on how much water we can store, and if we cannot store enough to meet our needs, identify other sources using the PACE method (see my review of Episode 202 for more details).  This could mean water filters, adding a ground well to backstop our municipal supply, or various catchment and cistern systems.  Check the Preparedness Podcast or The Survival Podcast for more information on this topic.

It is nice to see that Andrea is becoming trusted enough to get shooting lessons from Shane, and despite Hershel's no-guns policy, he allows one armed sentry on the RV. The walker in the well shows that their fences will get penetrated.   Hershel may be worrying more about enemies within than without.  The newcomers outnumber his original family.  What's to stop them from simply overwhelming the Greenes and taking the farm as their own.  Rick's word?  While we should always have an eye toward charity, preppers also have to take practical security issues into mind as well.

Preparedness lessons for Episode 204:
  •  Practice the PACE method to ensure your water supplies are adequate.  A human can live thirty days without food but only three without water.  Make sure you have a way to protect water against contamination or to purify it;
  • Security is paramount.  Have a way to secure your home or bug out location against intrusion.  While you are doing this you need to ask yourself one question: "to what lengths am I willing to go to ensure the safety of me and my family?";
  • Stock enough supplies to be charitable to family and friends in need.  A little good will goes a long way.
  • Group dynamics is still tough.  Give people the grace to be human and understand everyone is going to have to work together. The situation will be helped by providing security and enforcing a routine that provides a semblance of normality;
  • Finally, practice operational security and make sure that your location cannot be overwhelmed by those that mean to do you harm.

Next week:  Walkers mount an attack on the farm, and Merle returns to offer sage advice on survival ... unless you're African American, Asian or Hispanic.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 203: Save The Last One

Warning:  Spoilers Below!

Editor's Note:  I posted this yesterday not realizing my last two bullet points had somehow been deleted.  The have been added back to the review.

"Save the Last One" is a powerhouse episode that pretty much changes the group dynamic of The Walking Dead's not-so-merry band of survivors forever.   For the previous eight episodes, the characters have been riding that fine line of maintaining sanity and humanity in the midst of a world gone mad. Rick, the moral compass of the group, is preoccupied with the health of Carl, who still lies gravely wounded at the hands of Otis, and Dale, the sage voice of wisdom, is still out on the highway. 

Left to his own judgement, Shane takes one of the most shocking actions of the series to date.  Hounded by the undead at the FEMA shelter, almost out of ammunition, and injured after jumping to safety from a tall window, he shoots Otis and leaves him on the ground as a distraction to the Walkers whle he escapes.

Frankly, I have had several days to ruminate on this plot twist, and I am still unsure of what to think.  Some viewers have said Otis got what he deserved; after all, it was his fault they had to go there.  Others see Shane's action as a cynical maneuver to both survive and get back into Lori's good graces.

Crazy old man eyes:  Can Shane live with himself?
I have said before that Shane is a tragic figure, caught as the third wheel of  a love triangle after trying to do the right thing.   He obviously cares for Lori, but has been trapped thus far by his loyalty to his friend and fellow officer, Rick. Looking into his eyes as he stared at his shaved head, one wonders how long that is going to last.  One thing is for certain:  if the other farm dwellers find out his secret, their new found breathing space is going to get hostile fast. 

How will Rick react?  I'm not really sure Shane cares anymore. He has done something unspeakable, and it has transformed him from within as surely as cutting his hair has changed his outward appearance.  He has always been volatile; after all, he beat Ed viciously in the first season for hitting Carol. He nearly shot Rick in the back in the woods, then he attempted to rape Lori at the CDC.

It's almost as if he wants to be Rick;  he wants to be the one others look to for answers, and to be the accepted leader.  He also clearly still wants Lori's approval after being rejected by her.  Whenever he is in charge of a situation, however, he makes disastrous decisions and reacts with violence and anger.
You need to know who you're surviving with, because when the chips are down, you need to know they have your back.

Rick led a party back into the teeth of the undead swarm in Atlanta to save Merle, a divisive, violent bigot, and retrieve the radio to maintain contact with Morgan and Duane.  Shane tried to torpedo that mission, and when it came to a choice between sacrificing himself or using Otis for a human chew toy, he shot the man.

There are some who would argue that Otis got his rewards for shooting Carl, and that Shane was the more valuable of the two because he was more fit and better trained.  Thus, he was more useful to the group.   I don't buy that for a minute.   First, despite being overweight, Otis was a good shot and kept his cool in the midst of a crisis, first devising an escape plan when the pair were trapped in the gym, then urging Shane not to give up. He always tried to do the right thing in the short time we knew the character -- just like Rick.

If anything, the writers have made it clear that every human life is "worth it" because there are so few of us left.   The "needs of the many versus the needs of the few" argument is ridiculously obsolete when only the few remain.

Which one would you have in your survival group?  Moreover. who would you be?  

The Will To Survive - Gotta Have It

 We have seen Andrea and others in the group struggle with the will to survive.   This episode seems to see Andrea turning a corner, but Lori falters and debates with Rick whether they should let Carl die if he is just going to survive to live in a world filled with death.

If life is to have value, we have to value living and the lives of others.  There is more to survival than surviving.  Daryl and Andrea's talk in the woods, followed by Dale giving her gun back, hopefully indicates Andrea has turned a corner.  The fact that she remains concerned for Sophie is a good sign.  This theme is further explored with the discussion between Maggie and Glen.  

That's a lot to think about for an episode of television.  I am also beginning to wonder about the farm and how much fuel they have for their generator.  Obviously they have a large tank for farm use, but there have to eventually run dry.  Also, a little more light discipline would be in order regardless of the fences they erected to keep out the Walkers.  Clearly they are stocked for a long duration bug-in event and feel secure within their perimeter.  That will change should they found out about Shane's actions.

Preparedness Lessons for Episode 203:
  • Every prepper needs to do some serious soul-searching.   Know your values.  Know what you stand for.  When the time comes, you have to be true to yourself.  Are you an Otis or a Shane?
  • You need to get to know fellow members of your preparedness group well, and know that you can count on them not to sacrifice you in an emergency.  Likewise, they need to know the same about you.
  • You need to think about living, not just surviving.
  • Think about light discipline.  Forget walkers.  If you are in a grid-down situation, and your house is the only one with a generator, neighbors are going to start looking your way with envy the longer the event drags out.
  • My defense of Otis above notwithstanding, his lack of physical fitness did complicate their escape.  Include a physical fitness plan in your preparations and execute it.
  • Include some rope in your preps.  Shane could have avoided injury climbing down from the window if he had used rope to loop around the top rail of the catwalk inside the gym, and lowered himself down.  He could have retrieved the rope to use again.  Just because you don't plan on climbing out of windows doesn't mean you won't.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 202: Bloodletting

WARNING!!! Spoilers below!

When we last left the survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse, the group was split apart; T-Dog and Dale are on the highway gathering supplies, and the the rest of the group is in the woods searching for Sophie.   Rick, Shane and Carl found a deer in the woods, and just as Carl approached, an unseen hunter's bullet passed through the deer and hit Carl in the abdomen.

Man down:  Rick races with Carl while Shane and Otis follow.
Cut to Episode 202, "Bloodletting," which opens with Rick racing across a field toward a farmhouse occupied by Hershel Greene, the survivors of his family, and Otis, the caretaker who shot Carl by accident.   Hershel is an old country doc - a veterinarian, to be exact - but he's the closest thing to a doctor in these parts that isn't slouching and moaning.

This scene makes a good case for investing in a good portable personal first aid kit. Rick and Shane had no way to stop Carl's bleeding, and the blood loss almost killed him.  It almost killed Rick as well since Hershel was transfusing blood from Rick to keep Carl's blood pressure stable. Don't buy some pre-packaged kit from a store; most of those are overpriced.  The Preparedness Podcast has a really good episode (Number 15) on first aid kits that will give you some ideas.

By the way, if you have a spouse and family, or other relatives that might shelter with you during an emergency, do you know their blood type?   My wife and I watched this episode and realized we have no idea what our son's blood type might be.   I have mine on a card the Red Cross gave me at the house, and I had to find it to confirm my memory.   My wife's is O Negative; she's what is called a universal donor and in high demand because everyone can take her blood without a reaction.  We know this because the Red Cross robo-calls her five times for every bloodmobile.  (Note to the Red Cross:  she gives two-three times a year already; give it a rest).

Another medical emergency presents itself when Dale discovers T-Dog's arm is heavily infected from the cut he received, and the group has no antibiotics despite searching the surrounding cars on the freeway.   It might also be a VERY good idea to keep a pocket drug reference of some sort to identify pills of different types in case you have to salvage medical supplies in an emergency situation.   Johns Hopkins offers apps of guides for a price on Itunes.  Always have a paper backup to something like this, because technology will fail.  A copy of the Physcian's Desk Reference is a possible solution.

Here is a recurring preparedness principle of the new season.  Gear and guns are nice, but the knowledge of how to use it is vital.  Conversely, you can have all the knowledge in the world, but without the right gear you may not be able to use it.  The survivors have run into this time and again.  Andrea has a gun but has no idea how to use it and maintain it.  Doc Hershel has the knowledge to save Carl but has none of the equipment.  T-Dog desperately needs antibiotics to save his arm.

Let's break this down and localize it to out own preparedness situations and deal with the gear. Josh Robbes at the Got Prep Project advocates using the PACE method of planning, and I have begun putting this into practice.   PACE is an acronym that stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency.  Let's use the survivors' need for medical supplies to apply PACE planning to preparedness:

Primary: this is the main or intended method of execution of the mission or, in our instance, the source for medical supplies.  Normally this would be a pharmacy, medical supply house, etc.

Emergency action: Shane and Otis approach the shelter.
Alternate:  another source of medical supplies that would have little or no other impact.  This might mean another pharmacy, an online supply house instead of the one in town, etc.

Contingency:  a source for gaining medical supplies, and will not be as easy and may be labor intensive - scavenging medical supplies from abandoned cars or hospitals, looting homes, etc.

Emergency:  an emergency method of accomplishing a task or getting supplies that is significantly labor intensive, and takes considerably longer than all other means. 

In the episode, Shane and Otis volunteer to head to an abandoned FEMA shelter to retrieve the supplies needed to save Carl.  Otis remarks that the local hospital burned down a month ago.   So, with all primary, alternate, and contingency methods exhausted, the duo engage in an emergency supply run to get surgical supplies.  T-Dog gets help in the form of an alternate source of anitbiotics -- Merle's stash of anti-clap meds.

Secondly, group dynamics rears its head again.   The group is torn between searching for Sophie, getting to the farm, and moving on.   It's a huge statement about the morale of the group when Daryl and Shane, the two most volatile members, are holding things together.  While Rick is the group's leader, his inability to lead during his son's crisis has forced others to stand up and be counted.  When it comes to survival, you have to have a leader for a group.  It cannot be leadership by committee, but just remember, every military unit has an executive officer that makes sure things get done even if the commanding officer is incapacitated.

For those of you watching the show and thinking you can survive a long-term disaster by yourself as a lone wolf, I'd reconsider.  You cannot be a lone wolf in a long-term survival situation like this.  There's too much to do, and not enough time and energy in one person's day to do it.  There has to be a group or community working together.  Group survival is like a sausage and peppers platter at the county fair; you know you have to have it, but you're going to have to deal with the heartburn later.

Third, never let down your guard in a survival situation.  Andrea loses her focus in the woods and is rewarded with an attack by a Walker at close range.  With no firearm -- Dale confiscated it -- she almost ended up as Walker chow.  A survival situation is physically and mentally taxing. 

The episode ends with Shane and Otis having obtained the supplies, but cornered in the high school/FEMA shelter building by a mass of undead.  I could argue that Shane should have saved some flares to use for a distraction to get out, but how was he going to throw them out of the trailer?   Will they survive?

Preparedness lessons for Episode 202:
  • Practice the PACE method of planning
  • Research and stock medical supplies; check the Preparedness Podcast for information
  • Get trained in first aid techniques
  • Realize long-term survival is a group activity; plan accordingly and seek like-minded individuals
  • Every group needs a leader, but others need to do their part