Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 405: Internment

Spoiler Alert !!!!  

Daryl (to Hershel): You're one tough sumbitch.

Hershel: Yes I am.

Synopsis: Rick returns with supplies, but people are already dying.    Hershel battles to save those he can with the help of the quickly fading Sasha and Glen, while Rick and Maggie try to shore up the fences.  The situation in the quarantined block turns critical and multiple patients die at once, forcing Hershel to take drastic measures.  By the time it's over, at least eight more people are dead.  Glen is critical and on a vent bag, but the crew from the veterinary school gets back in time with needed medication in time to stabilize him.  During the crisis in the ward, the walkers overwhelm the fences and almost overrun the prison, but Rick and Carl turn the tide by standing against the horde and taking them down with automatic weapons.   Carl and Rick get up the next morning and go back to farming, watched by the Governor from the woods.  

Internment  is an episode about facing a crisis and staying true to one's self.   It's also about standing in the face of adversity and doing whatever you can with what you have to affect the outcome.

Hershel is the constant of hope.
Hershel is getting desperate inside the cell block.  They have lost two people so far, and more patients are sinking fast, including Doc. S, who knows he is terminal and not likely to survive.  He makes IV bags for the other patients with sterile water and sodium, but has another resource for Hershel - shotguns and ammunition to help take care of those who die and turn.   He warns Hershel to make sure everyone's cell doors stay shut so that if someone turns they cannot get out.

Hershel, Glen and Sasha intubate a patient with a manual ventilator bag to keep him breathing until help arrives.  Another patient dies and Hershel must, for the first time, end the walker threat himself, as Sasha is too weak and Glen is bagging the other patient.

Rick returns with supplies and without Carol. He tells Maggie that Carol is gone - banished for the murders she committed.  He tells Hershel as well, but no one else.   He and Maggie start working on shoring up the fences, which are under renewed attack from a herd of walkers.  Maggie wants to help her dad, but he insists he is okay.
Action Hershel has it in the bag.
The crap literally hits the fan in the cell block.  A female dies and comes back as a walker, attacking Hershel.   A man staying with a family member comes out of his cell with a gun to shoot the walker, but ends up shooting another woman in the head when he is attacked by his own now-zombified  family member.  Hershel manages to get away and goes up to the cell where Doc S. hid the guns, only to find Caleb has turned as well.  Hershel stabs him in the eye, gets the shotgun and ammo, and dispatches the walkers.

In the meantime, Glen has collapsed and the patient he was bagging has turned. Lizzie, the little girl sees this and lures the walker from Glen, but trips.  Hershel pulls the walker off of her and throws it onto a cage below the upper walkway, then jumps down with it to get the vent bag to save Glen.   Maggie heard the shots and gets into the cell block just in time to kill the guy with the gun who is now a walker, and save her dad.  They intubate and save Glen.

While this is happening, the fences outside collapse. Rick and Carl escape through a guard tower to the inner perimeter with the zombies on their heels.  They retrieve two M4A1s with red dot scopes and ammunition, and working as a team, dispatch dozens of walkers.   They then move through the mass of downed walkers and make sure each one is dead.  Rick realizes that Carl is no longer a little boy and he can trust him with his life.

Daryl and the run crew arrive with medicines and Bob, in his first useful role which shows maybe he is not a load after all, mixes dosages and injects the patients through their IV lines.  Glen is saved, and the surviving patients live.

The cleanup begins.   The fences are reinforced and Michonne loads the dead zombies on a trailer.  Rick offers to help, but she tells him to go "do his thing."  He heads to the garden.   Daryl asks about Carol, and Hershel tells him she is fine but he needs to talk to Rick.   Carl and Rick head down to the farm in an almost beat by beat repeat of the scene from Episode 401, except this time both have their guns, and Carl has his hat.  They sample some produce, symbolizing that one can find a balance between the horrors of the world and the good people can do.  They had back up to the cell blocks .... while the Governor watches from the woods nearby.

Preparedness Discussion

There are dual themes prevalent in the episode that are applicable to preparedness.   The first involves the importance of hope and a positive mental attitude in difficult situations.

 When I was a teenager, I purchased a copy of the U.S. Army Survival Manual.   One of the key lessons that I learned from the manual came in the first few pages. From the 2002 edition:

All of us were born kicking and fighting to live, but we have become used to the soft life. We have become creatures of comfort. We dislike inconveniences and discomforts. What happens when we are faced with a survival situation with its stresses, inconveniences, and discomforts? This is when the will to live—placing a high value on living—is vital. The experience and knowledge you have gained through life and your Army training will have a bearing on your will to live. Stubbornness, a refusal to give in to problems and obstacles that face you, will give you the mental and physical strength to endure.

You have to keep hope alive, even under the most dire circumstances.   There are many cases is survival literature of survivors of plane crashes and other disasters who perished simply because they lost the will to live.  Likewise, there are stories of people who should not have survived, but managed to endure and overcome remarkable obstacles.

Hershel works to keep the sick alive mentally and physically.   He refuses to re-kill the dead in front of the cells as a way to ward off despair.  He is desperate to help Doc S., but the younger physician knows he is fading fast and has given up hope.  He keeps pushing Sasha and Glenn to help him to keep them occupied.

Prepping gives us hope, not hopelessness.  It gives us the comfort of knowing that we can weather the storm if it comes.  

The second theme revolves around the children of Hershel and Rick. Maggie and Carl both want to help their parents address the issues at hand, and both fathers try to keep them at arm's length to protect them.   Eventually circumstances dictate that the children have to step in to help save the group.  This poses an interesting question for preppers with kids:  when do we decide to bring our children into prepping, and how much to we let them know at first?

Rick realizes Carl can be a fighter and a farmer.
It is not appropriate for small children to get the full doom and gloom view of what could happen. Children have to be brought into the fold slowly and how you do this is dependent on the age level.  For example, one of the easiest prepping projects you can accomplish is a blackout kit.   Get a plastic tub and put in batteries, flashlights, maybe a battery powered lantern, and an emergency radio in it.  Get cheap flashlights and put in your children's top nightstand drawer.   Place emergency lights in selected outlets in your home so that they come on when the power goes off.   Everyone has suffered at least a short term power outage, so putting this together and showing the children what it's for is a very practical way they can relate to prepping.
Remember, prepping is not about sitting around waiting for the downfall of civilization to occur.  Preppers are, above all, about hope.  We hope we are wrong  about what might happen.  We just refuse to stick our heads in the sand and deny nothing ever bad could ever happen.

Texas barriers in Iraq.
Finally, I am going to address the security situation.  The fences cannot hold in their current state. They need more than some cut logs to shore them up.   At this point perhaps the the best idea would be to park abandoned cars up next to the fence, or find some tall jersey barriers (called Texas barriers because they are so tall) to place outside the fence. There is no way the walkers are going to be able to move them.  They already have guard towers to provide overwatch of such a perimeters, and the Governor would be hard-pressed to penetrate such a barrier.  For that matter, do it the hard way and pour a concrete wall.

Finally, I am dumbfounded that the production design team thought storing guns and ammo on open tables outside in the weather was a believable strategy.  The people who thought up that visual have no idea what water and humidity do to firearms. Why couldn't they have just stored them in the bottom of the guard tower?  Can someone please make me the technical advisor for this show?

Preparedness Lessons for Episode 405:

  • Your mental attitude is just as important as your physical preparations.
  • There are no hard and fast rules for introducing children to preparedness.   Go slowly and base your progress on factors like child age. Keep it positive.  Use the phrase "just in case."
  • If you possess firearms, make sure you know how to maintain them and how weather can adversely affect them, because obviously no one at the prison does.

Next week: The Governor is back, and he looks mad.   Can we please kill this guy this time?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fiction Becomes Reality: Why NatGeo's "American Blackout" May Predict Future

Last month the National Geographic Channel aired a two-hour special called American Blackout that dramatized what might happen should the United States come under a cyber attack that disabled the North American power grid.   The program depicted society's gradual descent into chaos as the eastern, Texas, and western grids collapsed when computer hackers managed to crack the systems and insert malicious code into the computers running the grids.  In other words, someone gave the electrical companies' computers a virus that crashed them.  A link to the program web site is here

While there was as all the usual melodrama one might expect of such a production, and of course, keeping with NatGeo's "preppers are nutjobs" attitude the one prepper featured makes several key mistakes that jeopardizes his family's survival, there remains one key question:  could this actually happen?

The answer is yes.   Cyber attacks on government organizations and institutions are more commonplace than we realize.  Officials in Mexico, Canada, and the United States are preparing to conduct a simulation called GridEx2 that presupposes a massive grid failure on the North American continent.   According to, some officials are worried the exercise might "go hot" and cause real power failures.

The scariest part is that for the purposes of the exercise the participants are no longer working under the assumption that the grid can be brought back on line quickly.  According to experts involved, that's simply not true.  Americans could be without power for weeks - a lot of Americans.

According to as story regarding the GridEx2 on
The National Academy of Sciences has warned for decades that that terrorists could destroy the U.S. power grid using EMP attacks. The fact that this has neither happened, nor do we have any public knowledge of such an attack being thwarted is more a testimony to the lack of will amongst enemies of the State, than it is lack of ability.
But former CIA Director R. James Woolsey explained that there are such attempts, but they are not being reported on when they are foiled: “The grid is under attack already, and regularly fending off hacking attempts.”
So, the U.S. electric grid is under threat already, and this could happen.  The U.S. government is already spending $4.5 billion wargaming a response plan with GridEx2.  

The expert panel that worked with National Geographic for the special estimated that over 300,000 fatalities and financial losses totaling 1.2 trillion dollars would occur in a 10-day nationwide blackout.

How bad can it get?  Take this test.  Flip the main breaker in your home's electrical panel.  Pretend there is no power for a weekend.  Just a Friday night and Saturday night.  Cut the power back on at 5 p.m. on Sunday and try to live without power.

For a bigger challenge, cut off the water supply to the house at the meter.  While much of the water supply to individual homes is gravity fed from large storage tanks, electrical pumps and machinery at the treatment plant still have to fill those tanks.  While most facilities have some backup power and resiliency, after a few days generators are going to start running out of fuel.   If you are on a municipal or county sewer service that relies on pumps to move the sewage along, count on that to go out as well.  If your water is supplied by an on site well, the pump that moves the water needs electricity, too.

How would you fare?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 404: Indifferent

Spoiler Alert !!!!  

Carol (to Rick):  I stepped up!

Synopsis:  Rick and Carol go on a supply run to a nearby town for something to help the sick survivors and find more food; Daryl, Bob, Tyreese and Michonne continue on task to the veterinary school.  Both groups are successful in finding resources, but Rick banishes Carol from the prison as a punishment for killing Karen and David. 

If the previous episode, Isolation, was about control, Indifferent was about letting go. It's about Carol letting go of a part of her humanity and suffering the consequences, Rick letting go of Carol, Michonne letting go of her quest for the Governor, and hopefully, Bob letting go of his demons.

The episode opens with Carol and Lizzie discussing the impending run.  They need something to fight the fevers of the sick people, and to replace the food now lost in Cell Block D.   Carol tells Lizzie to fight to stay alive.

Bob almost gets a face full of walker. 
Meanwhile, Daryl and company are still on the road, looking for a new ride.  They have managed to lose the herd, and hopefully they can get something to help Sasha and the others.  Time is running short, though.  They have lost a whole night.  The crew find a van hidden behind some vines, and after killing some walkers inside a garage, snag a new battery and get it running.    Daryl has some experience in working with cars and is able to get it going.   Tyreese has been increasingly reckless the whole time.  While inside the garage, they notice pictures on the walls depicting the zombies they just killed when they were alive.   Bob has some difficulty dealing with this, and he gets to talk about the two other groups he was in before they fell apart and he walked away as the only survivor.  Basically he gets to talk about other times when he was a load.

Rick and Carol meet a young couple, Ana and Sam, in a house.   They desperately want to come back to the prison and promise to help clear the houses of supplies, despite Ana's deformed leg.  It was broken at a refugee center and healed improperly.  Rick wants them to stay put, but Carol says it will cut down on their time in the field.  Rick hands them his watch and tells them to meet back there in two hours.

This whole time, Rick has not mentioned or addressed Carol's confession of the previous episode.   Carol forces the issue, and tries to justify her actions.  She says she was trying to save lives, and she made the hard decision to do it to protect the group.   Rick says it was the wrong thing to do, and he would never have murdered two people in cold blood.  Carol replies that he only murdered one person in cold blood -- Shane.

Carol prepares for life on her own in Sam and Ana's ride.
There is a conflict in Carol. She cares about people, but the moment she thinks they might pose a threat she treats them as an enemy.  Her actions with Sam and Ana demonstrate this dichotomy.   As they are going about their rounds, they spy Ana's body.  She has been killed and is being consumed by walkers.  Sam is nowhere around, and there have been no gunshots.  Later, back at the rally point, they wait, but Sam never shows.  They are forced to leave without him.   Rick wants to wait, but Carol is adamant.  They need to go.  She is likewise steadfast in her defense of her actions at the prison.

Daryl and his group make it to the veterinary school and grab several bags of medical supplies, but get cornered by walkers who have clearly died of the infection afflicting the prison.   Daryl manages to make an exit out a window onto a high ledge, but Bob nearly tumbles over and his bag dangles into a crowd of walkers below.  He refuses to let go, and when they pull him up Daryl discovers his bag contains not medicine, but booze.  Bob confessed his alcoholism previously in the episode, and admitted that his mistake in slamming the bottle down in the Big Spot is what got Zach killed.   He threatens to draw his gun on the group when they try to toss the bottle, but Daryl takes it instead.

During the episode, there is an interplay between Michonne, Daryl, and Tyreese.   Michonne wants justice for Andrea, but the Governor's trail has long since gone cold.  He has either left the area, or he has covered his tracks too well.  Daryl keeps trying to get Michonne to give up and stay closer to the prison.  She admits to Tyreese she doesn't know why she is still searching for him.  She finally admits she is nowhere close to finding the Governor's whereabouts and will stop going out on her own.   Her constant excursions are in a way a defense mechanism to protect her from loss by keeping her from getting close to anyone at the prison.

The Ricktatorship returns.
The episode ends with a final confrontation with Rick and Carol as they are about to head back to the prison.  Rick informs her that she should never have taken it upon herself to kill Karen and David.  If she returns to the prison, Tyreese will kill her, and even if he doesn't, no on will trust her, including him.  He states even if everyone else dies and it was just him, his kids, and Carol, he would not allow her to stay.  He gives her some supplies, puts some gas in Sam and Ana's now abandoned car, tells her to hit the road and find another group who don't know her past, and start over.  Carol had told him at one point that he was a good leader, and that he can still be a farmer -- but he can't be just a farmer.   Rick seems to have taken her words to heart, and decided her fate himself.  

Preparedness Discussion

This episode contains some of the nightmare scenarios that keep preppers awake at night.   The first and most obvious is the loss of most of the groups food in the now blood-soaked Cell Block D, which apparently served as the main storage facility.

Many preppers make this mistake.   Most people store their household foodstuffs, shockingly enough, in the kitchen or in a pantry just off the kitchen.  While this makes sense from a convenience standpoint, it has its drawbacks:

  • You are limiting your storage space to that area only, thus limiting the amount of food you can store overall.
  • You put your resources at risk.  If there is a fire or other damaging event in that area of the house, you could lose all your supplies
  • If the societal situation breaks down enough that people actually begin breaking into houses for food, all your supplies are there in one spot for the taking.   
Minimize risk by storing additional food in other areas of the house.  Make sure these areas are climate controlled to ensure the food will keep for a long time.

The second worst case scenario deals with Carol.  Granted, the survivors at the prison were thrown together by circumstance, not choice.  Carol was a trusted individual in the group.  She was part of the governing council.   Yet she murdered two people "for the good of the group."  

As preppers, we cannot survive as lone wolves.  We must work together, because no one person or small group of people can hope to accomplish all the tasks in a survival situation.   That being said, who we decide to work with and the framework for how we all work together is important.   What structure do you have in place, and how do you handle someone who no longer has the trust of the group?

The ability of Daryl to get the old van going brings up another issue.   How many of us know enough about batteries and cars to accomplish that task?  For that matter, can you even change the a flat tire?   It would be a good idea to run through that procedure at least once for your vehicles to make sure you know what to do.

Finally, there is the psychological aspect of survival.  Tyreese is clearly being reckless, and Bob is clearly, yet again, being a load.   He is an alcoholic, and he admits it.   Mental health is as important or more in a survival situation.   If you are not prepared to deal with the mental aspects of prepping, you have lost the battle before you started.
Preparedness Lessons for Episode 402:
  • Store vital resources and preparedness supplies in multiple locations to minimize vulnerability.
  • Decide with your group how to screen and admit people; have a process for kicking them out as well.
  • Familiarize yourself with basic car maintenance.
  • The psychological aspect of survival is an important consideration.  Survival situations are highly stressful and will take a mental toll.
Next week:  things at the prison reach a breaking point as Daryl's group races back with the supplies.   Will they be in time?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 403: Isolation

Spoiler Alert !!!!  

Hershel:  You take a breath, you're risking your life.

Synopsis:  The outbreak at the prison officially spirals out of control, with multiple people becoming symptomatic, including Sasha, Doc S, and Glen.  Tyreese becomes aggressive and angry over Karen's murder, and Rick beats him down after being punched while trying to calm him. Hershel brews up an herbal remedy to help the sick while Daryl, Michonne, Tyreese and Bob go on a run to a veterinary college for medicines that will work with humans. Maggie and Beth deal with the fact that their dad is in harm's way and may not survive.   Carol admits she killed Karen and David in an attempt to stop the illness from spreading.

Isolation is a story about control.   It's about losing control of the infection, trying to maintain control of the prison, and maintaining personal control and calm in the face of horrific suffering.  Twelve people have died of the illness and subsequent walker attack; two more have been murdered. Rick surmises that they were killed to stop the spread of the disease.

You won't like me when I'm angry.
Tyreese, meanwhile, is inconsolable and filled with rage.  He wants blood, and demands Rick immediately find the killer.   This leads to a confrontation with Daryl, who keeps calm and tries to soothe Tyreese by explaining that they have all lost someone.   When Rick attempts to further calm Tyreese, the bigger man whirls and punches him in the face.  Rick's facade of control evaporates, and he beats the admittedly bigger man silly.   Tyreese is mad, but he is not naturally aggressive.  Rick is used to handling out of control people as a deputy and touches that inner bit of savagery that helped him lead the group last year.   Daryl has to pull him off a barely conscious Tyreese.

Most of the survivors in Cell Block D, and some of their rescuers, are now confined to Cell Block A battling the illness that killed Patrick. The rest of the group (Carl, Beth, Hershel, and the smaller kids) quarantined in the administrative block to protect them from the disease.   Glen and Daryl are burying the bodies, and the Council is trying to decide what to do next.

Glen and Sasha come down sick, and Hershel says without needed medical supplies, including antibiotics, most of the ill will not survive.   There is a veterinary college 50 miles away that might have what they need, and Daryl, Tyreese, Michonne, and Bob (oh great) head out on a run to get the supplies.   On the way, they hear a garbled radio transmission and run smack into a massive pack of walkers.   There are walkers as far as the eye can see on the highway, and the car gets stuck on a pile of them as Daryl tries to reverse the car to go back the way they came.  The crew is forced to make a run for it, and Tyreese, after stewing for a moment, gets out gets starts swinging his hammer for all he is worth.   His control is gone, as is his humanity for the moment.  This is all about blind rage.  Eventually he and the rest of the group link up and they head to the college.

Meanwhile, Carl and Hershel go into the woods to find elderberries to brew elderberry tea, a natural flu remedy.   Hershel disperses the tea inside Cell Block A and gets exposed to the illness.  He is now stuck inside.  Maggie and Beth have a conversation about needing to do their jobs, and both are teetering on the edge of despair knowing their father and Maggie's husband are among those at risk.  Beth shows that she is not as hardened as previously thought, but both agree to "do their jobs."

Carol, the new Colonel Saul Tigh.
Carol and Rick work outside to get water to the sick, eventually having to go outside the wire to unclog the pump line.    Carol went outside by herself, taking what looks like a foolish risk.  This leads to a confrontation with more walkers and a narrow escape.     We've seen all through the episode that Carol has had moments of breakdown when people are not around.  She seems completely in control on the outside, but is obviously conflicted about something.  The becomes more apparent after Lizzy, one of the girls she agreed to raise, comes down sick.

Finally, at the episode's end, Rick confronts Carol about the murders.  She readily confesses in a matter-of-fact manner. The relative peace the survivors has known is shattered, perhaps for good.

Preparedness Discussion

Sanitation, proper hygiene, and the threat of illness is always a consideration in a survival situation.    The illness that swept the prison is suspected to be a form of the influenza virus by the survivors, but truthfully no one knows.    There are no labs or ways to test the theory, so Hershel and Doc S are really just taking a guess.   These types of bugs can sweep through a facility like this under the best of circumstances -- as a father, I know what happens when an illness hits a modern school -- so there was really no way an outbreak could have been prevented.   The surprise is that it took almost a year to happen.

Some basic biology:  illnesses like this are caused by either viruses or bacteria.   Viruses are smaller than a single cell, and are untreatable by antibiotics. Bacteria are treatable with antibiotics, but only certain drugs are effective against certain microorganisms.  Further, some bacteria have developed a resistance to all but the most potent medicines.   These drugs come with side effects as well.   The Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy is a good resource for more information regarding these drugs and their effects.  Just get a magnifying glass out, as  it is printed in a tiny type size.

Let me preface my next statement with the following qualifier:   I am not a medical professional.  I am not a pharmacist.   I have a layman's knowledge of biology, anatomy, and pharmacology.  I urge you to do your own research in this matter. Always consult with a medical professional when considering taking a drug of any sort.

Hershel is correct in that many of the drugs used for animals are the same drugs used in humans.    Please see this post at that covers this topic fairly well (again, do your own research).  The topic of survival antibiotics has been covered extensively on James Wesley Rawles' Survival Blog here, here, and here as well.

Antibiotics don't automatically turn to poison when a magical date passes, but some drugs, such as the -cycline family, might become toxic (see  this post about the hazards of antibiotics).  Hershel should know what he is looking at, so hopefully the group can get something to help the situation.

Tea for two.
The scavenging group should be looking for saline bags and IV equipment as well.  Rick and Carol's constant battle during the episode to obtain fresh water is not just busy work.    Patients with fever, vomiting, and heavy perspiration are at risk of dehydration.   They should also be searching for fever reducing medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which can help control fevers.  Hershel's use of an old herbal remedy deserves mention here as well.   Elderberry extract is a traditional flu remedy that has some scientific backing, and in a long term collapse scenario,  everything must be considered.

For more information regarding survival medicine, another good resource is the Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy web site,

The interpersonal dynamics of the people who are still healthy take front and center throughout the episode.   Rick is trending back into a leadership mode, but the brutality that made him so effective earlier last season still lurks just below the surface.  Tyreese is out for blood, and refuses to help do anything but find Karen's killer, but when Sasha becomes sick, he realizes that he cannot help his dead girlfriend, but he can help Sasha.   Hershel wants to help the sick, and puts himself at risk to do so.  At least one third of the the population is dead, with many more sick or dying, and everyone is being tested.   People have to do what they can over events they can influence.

Finally, there is the shocker that Carol killed the two in the cells.   She admits it as a matter of fact, then moves on.   The episode ends on that note, but I am sure it will be explored in the next one. What would you do in her situation if you thought you could save lives by killing two of your group? 

This review is already long, but here are a few more observations:
  • How are they sterilizing their water?   If the group is pulling that water straight out of the pond and drinking it, they should have all died of cholera by now.  Likewise with the rain catchment system.  It all needs to be boiled.
  • All the patients' cell doors should be closed and locked, with Hershel having the key.  This controls the threat of walkers via expiration.
  • Where is Bob's AR clone from Episode 401?   Maybe he realized without a rear sight it was a load.  Just like him.
Preparedness Lessons for Episode 402:
  • Hygiene, sanitation, and hygiene.
  • Simple infections that are treatable with a dose of antibiotics can kill after a disaster when resources are limited.
  • Everyone will be tested in a survival situation, and everyone has to contribute, because there will come a time when the "old reliables" in your group might be incapacitated or dead.

Next week:  Rick and Carol go on another supply run.  Alone.   Last time someone went out alone with Rick he put a knife in Shane's chest.