Monday, August 31, 2015

Preparedness Review of Fear the Walking Dead Episode 102: So Close, Yet So Far

Spoiler Alert!!!

Madison (to Artie the zombie): Artie, can you hear me?
Tobias (my brother from another mother, in his head): Have you been listening to anything I've been saying?

Synopsis:  People in Los Angeles are gradually getting the idea that something is not right, as officer-involved shootings escalate and people begin staying indoors. The schools are closed, and the streets are starting to empty.  Alicia, being a teenager, does not do anything her mom says, but goes to her boyfriend's house to check on him, only to find him bitten and infected, but not dead yet.  Madison and Travis meet her there and manage to convince her to come home, while Nick begins experiencing serious withdrawal from heroin.  Travis goes to find his son and ex-wife, but gets caught up in a riot and are forced to hide out in a barber shop with the owner's family.  Electricity and cell service become spotty, and the police move in with riot gear to keep the peace. Madison finds some medicine - the powerful opioid drug Oxycontin - to help her son at the high schools law enforcement office, and runs into Tobias, who is there to steal food from the cafeteria.   The two run into Artie, the principal, who has turned.   Madison kills Artie before he can harm Tobias, and makes it back home where Alicia has been helping Nick.  A final scene shows their neighborhood starting to come under siege as a turned neighbor attacks another neighbor.

The second episode of Fear the Walking Dead picks up where the first ended, with Travis, Madison and Nick in the truck trying to process what has just happened.  Madison and Travis decide to get way from the city with their extended families; Nick is flipping radio stations and remarks that no one is talking about what is happening, although there is a short news story regarding an escalation in officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles.

Alicia, meanwhile, heads over to her boyfriend Matt's house and finds the door open and him inside with a high fever and a bite on his shoulder.  She begins taking care of him, but Travis and Madison track her down and convince her to leave, with Matt's help. He knows what might happen, apparently, and doesn't want to hurt Alicia if he dies and turns.  His parents are supposed to be home from Las Vegas later that evening.

Chris has replaced Carl Grimes as the biggest douche.
They arrive at home, and the neighbors invite them to their daughter's ninth birthday party because everyone else has canceled due to the flu going around.   They notice another neighbor packing his car with food and supplies but he coughs and looks feverish when he waves.  Nick is entering full withdrawal from the heroin, and begins chills and vomiting as his body adjusts. I have to say this part is being played wonderfully by Frank Dillane, who at this point is the breakout actor of the show.  Madison tries to call their doctor, but cannot get through.  Likewise, Travis can't get through to his son Chris, but that's because he refuses to answer the phone.   He decides go try to find his son and ex-wife, Liza.  Travis tells his new family if they don't here from him soon to leave without him and he will catch up when he can.

Downtown traffic has come to a standstill.   Chris gets involved in a protest against the police, who seemingly have just killed a homeless man for no reason. The crowd begins threatening the police.    Travis gets in touch with Liza, who thinks his need to pick up his son has more to do with their custody agreement.  She doesn't know what's really happening and won't listen to reason.   Travis cuts through a gas station parking lot to get around a red light and takes notice of a police officer loading the back of his trunk with water.

Tobias is the man! I hope he lives past this episode.
Madison decides to search the school's police office evidence locker for a drug that could help Nick.  Alicia tries to leave to help her boyfriend again, but has to stop when Nick suffers a grand mal seizure and begins choking on his own vomit.  Madison runs into Tobias, whose nickname should be Basil Exposition, and as they explore the school he begins explaining how civilization is starting to unravel.  She finds a bunch of seized drugs and puts them in her bag, while Tobias, with her help, loads a cart of cafeteria food.    They run into Principal Artie on the way out, who has turned into a walker and attacks Tobias. Madison smashes his head with a fire extinguisher.   She drops off Tobias at his house, but for some reason they leave the food at the school.  Madison gets home and breaks down crying after giving Nick an oxycontin to help lessen his withdrawal.

In the meantime, Liza and Travis have found Chris downtown at the police protest.   Just as they arrive, an ambulance with a hazmat crew begins loading the body of the homeless man.  Liza, studying to be a nurse, realizes something bad is happening when she sees this and tells Chris to listen to his father.  As they try to leave, riot police move in to quell the protest, and a female officer is forced to shoot another walker in the head. Chaos ensues as people begin to destroy cars and set fires. They seek refuge in a barber shop, and we are introduced to some new characters:  Daniel Salazar, his wife Griselda and their daughter Ofelia.  Daniel does not want to let them in, but his wife insists.  

As the episode closes, power begins to flicker, cell phone services begin to become disrupted, and the violence downtown escalates.   Alica looks outside with a flashlight and sees someone attacking the female neighbor who invited them to the birthday party earlier.  Madison refuses to let her leave.   In the final shot, we see Alicia's boyfriend's house again.  There is a car in the driveway and luggage strewn around the back of the car near the open trunk.

Preparedness Discussion

This episode underscores the need for communications and back-up plans in case your family is split up or works in different areas of the region in which you live.   Keep in mind that zombies for the preparedness community are stand-ins for any number of major disruptions or disasters - natural disasters, terrorist events, pandemics, economic upheavals, civil unrest, etc. Travis, Madison, and their families are dealing with a spreading pandemic, disruptions of essential services, and civil unrest in the same episode.   Conditions are beginning to deteriorate rapidly.   When events like this happen - see Ferguson riots, Hurricane Katrina, the deadly influenza of 2010 that seems to strike down young people disproportionately, or the massive derecho that wiped out power lines for over one million people in the West Virginia area in 2012 - having a back-up plan is essential.

Cellular service is subject to disruption, but even when cell service is spotty, in many instances text messages will still work because it takes much less data bandwidth than voice calls.   Los Angeles has periodic blackouts, civil unrest, and natural events like earthquakes and wildfires.   Using text messages would have allowed for more communication and less frustration, most likely, and could have been reduced to one or two words.  A code word or phrase, which has been agreed upon by all parties, could have been a signal for everyone to get home and button up inside until things blow over.

Lastly, you have to tell everyone what is going on when it is safe.  I was throwing things the television because Travis and Madison were not telling family members what they saw with Cal.  Do you think Alicia and Chris might have been less pains in the butt had they had full knowledge of what is happening in the world?  Then again, they are teenagers ...

In contrast, Travis' use of alternate routes to get to his ex-wife's house was nice.   Once he realized the primary routes were jammed, he moved to the side streets.  If you have to drive a long distance to get to your place of work, you most likely have dealt with traffic jams caused by road maintenance or car crashes.  You most likely know of alternate routes you can take to get around the blockage.   The same principle applies here.  Know what alternate routes are available, and program into your GPS if you have one.   Google maps will provide alternate options when the type in the destination, but don't depend on technology that could lose signal or fail.  Grab a map of the area, highlight the routes, and practice driving them a few times.  Make sure your family does the same if they drive separately from you.  Have a central rally point and an alternate point planned for everyone to meet once they are out of danger.

Make sure you have enough gasoline as well.  I used to like to fill my tank up and a quarter full, but I now attempt to do so at half a tank. I also store gasoline with stabilized added in case service stations are closed.   If you are under a quarter tank and get stuck in extended traffic delays, you could run our of gas or be forced to conserve.   A massive storm in the northeast in 2009 crippled the West Virginia turnpike, stranding motorists in a miles long traffic jam for over 18 hours. The National Guard had to be activated to help clear roads and assist stranded cars.  Imagine being low on fuel and having to choose between keeping your family warm and retaining the ability to move the car when traffic starts flowing. With a little planning you can mitigate your chance of encountering difficulties by taking alternate routes and having sufficient fuel on hand.

Our characters decide on a strategy of social distancing to insulate themselves from the spreading disease.   Social distancing means you keep away from others to minimize your risk of infection, either by staying inside your house or apartment or relocating out of the outbreak zone. It is an effective strategy if you have sufficient leave to take off from work and supplies stockpiled so that you do not have to go outside.  Food, fuel, medications, and other supplies have to be on hand in sufficient quantities in order to support your household.   Your family has to be able to support itself for the time you estimate it is going to take for the event to pass.   This is dramatized in an excellent book, The Jakarta Pandemic, by Steven Konkoly.   Problems in this episode arose when Nick needed medication to ease his withdrawals and Tobias needed food.   Characters were forced to put themselves in harm's way.

Finally, Travis and Liza's decision to run once the police moved into the area in riot gear was a good one.  Just because you aren't doing anything wrong doesn't mean that you aren't going to get arrested.   The police I know don't relish arresting innocent people, but in a confused situation like that there is no way they can tell who is who.  Get off the street and away from the disturbance as quickly as possible.   The Preparedness Podcast has some information on riots and what to do in Episode 170.

Finally, two last random points:
  • Why did they leave the food at the school?  It is suggested Tobias comes from a broken home of modest means.   He and his uncle need that food to survive.
  •  Who carries a camcorder just waiting to film police brutality?

Preparedness Lessons for Episode 102:

  • Work on a communications plan for your family that concisely communicates the situation and sets into motion per-arranged actions designed to keep everyone safe and as far away from danger as possible.
  • Plan and practice alternate routes to your home or central rally point.  Familiarize your family with them.  Do not ride around with your car on empty.  Store extra gasoline if you can do so safely.
  • Social distancing works well during pandemics, but be prepared to "bug in" with adequate supplies.
  • If civil unrest is occurring, get out of the area as soon as possible.  That is your best method for avoiding violence.

 In two weeks:  Travis, Chris, Liza, and the Salazars have to abandon their refuge, while Madison and Alicia have to defend their home.   I imagine Nick is going to puke some more.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Remembering Katrina

New Orleans' flooded Ninth Ward in August 2005.
 Hurricane Katrina was the most costly natural disaster in our country's history, and one of the deadliest.  The storm devastated the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, created damage throughout the rest of the southeast, destroyed the city of New Orleans, killed hundreds, and scattered the people of that city across the country as refugees.  It also laid bare a few basic truths that we, as Americans, needed to remember:
  • Adverse events are going to happen.  They differ in their severity, and the more severe an event, the more widespread the damage and the more pronounced the threat to our survival becomes.
  • A little forethought and planning - preparedness - goes a long way to mitigate the effects of disasters on you and your family. The plans and preparations you make now are the key to your survival.
  • You cannot count on someone to come help you.   It took several days for emergency and disaster relief services to deploy into the New Orleans area.  Count on being on your own.
  • When disaster strikes, a person's true character is revealed.   It took three days for New Orleans to descend into anarchy with widespread looting and theft pervading the area.   In contrast, others spent days on their fishing boats trolling through the flooded city to rescue survivors.  
Here, two days before the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall on the Gulf Coast, let's hope our countrymen are more prepared and ready to take care of themselves.   I also wanted to share this web site, Listening to Katrina, published by a survivor of that storm.   It contains a lot of resources, and more than a hint of bitterness toward the state and federal government for the lack of preparedness each showed in confronting the challenges of the event.

Here's hoping our government and our neighbors have learned their lessons and applied them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Question of the Day

Why is it that you can do a workout routine by yourself with no issues, but when the trainer is there, you're exhausted at the end?

I even timed myself.  My finish time varied by only three minutes.  Go figure.

Here's some preparedness content on fitness for prepping by Rob Hanus at The Preparedness Podcast.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Stocks Crater; $1.8 TRILLION In Wealth Lost

The New York Stock Exchange plunge 1089 points when it opened today, setting a record before bouncing back somewhat.  The Dow ended at -453.

This follows a 1300 point drop on Thursday and Friday, casting the world's economies into further turmoil.  China's economy continues to decline at a rapid rate, and oil dropped below $38 a barrel for the first time in 2009 on sluggish demand forecasts.  That means economists believe because of the slowdowns across the world, oil is not going to be in high demand.

China, America, and the rest of the world are faltering economically.   Damien McBride, a British economic mind and adviser  to former prime minister Gordon Brown, suggested this downturn could be worse than 2008, and suggested people stock up on food and bottled water.  He suggested storing cash as well at home in case of a bank holiday or closure.

If you are prepping, make sure you are getting basics: food, bottled water, toilet paper, etc.  Keep any prescription medications up to date and get them filled at the earliest possible time.   Get some cash together and keep it in a fireproof safe.   If you can do so safely, stock up on gasoline and add stabilizer to it to preserve for the long haul.

It's probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Preparedness Review of Fear the Walking Dead Episode 101: Pilot

Spoiler Alert!!!

Madison Clark (to student):  The authorities would tell us.
Student (who looks way too much like me in high school):  Shrug.

Synopsis:  Fear goes where no episode of its parent series has gone before:  Los Angeles, to a time before the events depicted in The Walking Dead.  Society is still humming along, but cracks are beginning to show.   A new strain of influenza is spreading across the country, and rumors of murderous people are starting to surface.  While a few people are paying attention to what is really going on, most of the citizens of Los Angeles scurry along, content to worry on their day-to-day issues.  The release of a leaked video of police officers taking down a walker forces the spreading zombie plague to the forefront, and the family that is the focus of our story is forced into the realization that something terrible is happening.

The debut episode of Fear the Walking Dead has the unenviable burden of rewinding time to the beginning of the apocalypse and showing us how the world fell apart.   It succeeds in doing so, but drags a bit in the middle.

I think Gloria's got your number, Nick.
The episode opens with Nick, a college dropout and a drug addict, waking in a disused church from a    He stumbles around the church, hearing vague noises and screams, until he finds Gloria apparently eating another addict’s face.  Her eyes are glazed and gray, and a huge pole has been jammed into her abdomen but apparently she is still able to move despite what should be a devastating wound.   Nick flees, exiting the church and running accidentally into the path of an oncoming car, which hits him.  He is transported to the hospital.
heroin-induced sleep to find his gal pal Gloria missing.

Next, we are introduced to Nick’s family:
  • His mother, Madison, who is a high school counselor and is frantically searching for her son.   It becomes clear she has been down this road before with Nick.  Nick’s father, her ex-husband, battled drug addiction as well.
  • Alicia, Nick’s sister, who is a senior in high school and cannot wait to graduate.   She has plans for after school to get away from the family drama and start a new life with her new boyfriend, whose name I forgot.  Let's call him Red Shirt.
  • Travis Manawa, Madison’s live-in boyfriend, a teacher at the same school, and would-be stepdad to Nick and Alicia.
  • Chris, Travis’ son from his previous marriage who wants nothing to do with his dad’s new living arrangement, and his mom, Liza.
  • It appears that the only two people that actually like each other are Madison and Travis, while the kids are stuck in orbit around their new relationship.

    Travis and Madison:  not Mike and Carol Brady
    Nick wakes in a hospital, refusing to answer police questions.   Madison and Nick arrive and toss the cops out, and Alicia makes passive aggressive comments regarding how her sibling sucks.  Meanwhile, Travis, gets a call from his ex-wife stating his son does not want to come over for his weekend with dad, and Travis is forced to accede.

    Nick tries to make sense of what he saw.  Was it the drugs?  Is he losing his mind?  He has no idea.  The part is played brilliantly by Frank Dillane as a person who is not really sure what reality is at the moment.   Travis agrees to stay with him while Madison goes to work.  The principal, Art, stops Madison in the hall and asks if everything it okay.   As they talk, a student, Tobias, sets off the metal detectors at the door.  Madison, who likes Tobias, covers for him with the principal and takes him to the office.   Tobias surrenders a knife, and expulsion-level offense, and tries to warn her that something bad is happening around the country.  Madison, ever the adult, tells him if something was going on the authorities would tell people. 

    Nick, meanwhile confides in Travis regarding the events at the church, and Travis sets off to investigate.  While he is gone, Nick’s roommate, an elderly man, expires, and is rushed “downstairs.”  The nurse starts to raise an alarm with the doctor in attendance, but the physician cuts her off.  

    “We don’t know!” he says.  It’s a clue that “the authorities” know what is happening when people die and are trying to determine the extent of the problem.  The implication is that they don’t want to believe what is happening.  Nick uses the confusion to steal the man’s clothes and wallet and escape.
    Alicia skips class at school to hand out with her boyfriend, an artist who is not as intelligent and probably won’t be going to Berkeley like her.  They agree to meet at the beach that evening to spend time together.

    Travis finds the church drug users are visiting to inject heroin, called a “shooting gallery.”  He finds blood pools and smears on the wall, but strangely, no bodies.   He becomes convinced that Nick saw something, but he still isn’t sure what that might have been. All he knows is, “something bad happened here.”  Madison is initially dismissive of her son’s claims, but they go to the location to see if Nick went back there.   They find some of his belongings, and Madison sees the blood, but no Nick.  

    They visit Nick’s old friend, Cal, who claims not to have seen Nick in a while.  Nick, meanwhile, has purchased a pre-paid cell phone and is calling someone about what happened in the church.  He needs to know the truth.  Is he suffering from a mental illness, or were the drugs laced with something to cause him to hallucinate?  While Travis and Madison search for Nick, Alicia goes to the beach, but her boyfriend doesn’t show and isn’t answering her text messages.  

    Madison and Travis are on their way home that night, but get stopped in stalled traffic caused by a car accident.  Police loudspeakers blare for everyone to stay in their cars.   Gunshots are heard, and Travis decided to cut through the median and turn around.  Then next morning video footage is leaked from a TV news helicopter that shows a crash victim reanimate and attack a paramedic.  The police shoot the man, who refuses to die.  Finally someone shoots him in the head and puts him down for good.

    The next day school is sparsely attended.  Students are watching the video on their smart phones and debating its credibility.   Travis and Madison are forced to call the police to search for Nick and return to the school.   Alicia’s boyfriend is a no show and he still isn’t answering text messages.   The school administration sends students home a half day early, and Madison trades a look with Tobias as he is leaving on a school bus.   

    Nick finally meets the person he was calling.  It turns out his dealer is Cal, who maintains the cover of a respectable person while supplying heroin to the masses.  Cal is concerned Nick is going to compromise him, and takes him to a deserted area (that looks like the same empty storm drainage canal location used in the movie Grease) to kill him.   They struggle, the gun discharges, and Cal falls to the ground, dead.  Or dead-ish.

    Nick calls his mom, and Madison and Travis meet him near the scene of Cal’s murder.   They find his car, and a blood pool like they found in the church, but no body.  Nick is apoplectic.  As they are leaving, they see someone in the tunnel behind the car.  It’s a reanimated Cal, who attacks Madison and Travis before Nick gets behind the wheel and runs him over with the truck.     Cal gets back up, and Nick hits him again, propelling the zombie out of the tunnel and into the canal.  As they watch, Cal again tries to get up despite both legs and arms being broken and a missing lower jaw.

    Preparedness Discussion

    Fear the Walking Dead gets off to a solid start, and does a decent job of building dramatic tension.   Principally, the pilot does a great job of showing just how dependent society is on normality.  We assume things will always be as they are now.   We rely on the police to protect us, the hospital to cure us, and the supermarket to be freshly stocked every few hours with food.  

    This phenomenon is called Normality or Normalcy Bias. Normality Bias (I maintain normalcy is not a real word and was only popularized when Colin Powell used it in 2001 after the terrorist attacks; if you don’t agree, get your own blog) is the tendency of people to enter a mental state that underestimates the possibility of a disaster and the consequences of its effects.   This effect was on full display by people who were unwilling to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina or by the government’s failure to prepare for such a disaster.  This bias kicks into overdrive as the disaster looms.  

    Fear shows this in subtle ways.  Madison’s dismissing of Tobias is something many preppers have experienced when trying to persuade friends and family to makes some sort of basic preparations.   As someone who works in the education field, I have seen adults dismiss teens out of hand like this more times than I would like to count.  Faced with Madison’s assurances, that have no basis in the unfolding reality, Tobias shuts down and shuts up.  I have seen at least one review that describes this scene as poorly written, but it rang true for me.

    Then again, I had a face full of pimples and was about this kid’s size in high school.  I might have a soft spot for him. 

    The media we consume tend to support Normality Bias. News outlets, especially traditional television, print, and radio sources, have only so much time and space to use for news and are forced to make choices as to what to cover.   Some stories that might be of national interest – the encroachment of Mexican drug cartels onto U.S. soil in Texas and Arizona, for example – get little airplay in the traditional media.  As preppers, we have to look deeper and things like financial data, reported terrorist incidents, and other potential sources for disaster and be aware of the threat environment.  
    Watching Nick’s battle with addiction and apprehension for his own sanity is harrowing.  Anyone who has had a loved one suffer from addiction knows the anguish of watching someone you care about self-destruct without having the ability to help, because they don’t want it.  Nick knows he is in trouble, but cannot confide in his mother because of the gulf his addiction has placed between them. 
    If you think your addiction – whether to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, food, pornography, or any other product – isn’t affecting those around you, you’re wrong. Further, if there is a widespread disaster, what are you going to do if the object of your addiction is no longer available?  

    Finally, I want to address the absolute fear of firearms characters display in this episode.  When Nick shoots Cal, he leaves the gun on the ground.  When he, his mother, and Travis return, and are forced to run over a zombified Cal, they leave the pistol on the ground.  While it could be argued that they did not want to touch the gun for fear of being implicated in a murder, the dead guy just got up and attacked them.  

    The pistol is a form of self-defense.  We have the natural right to defend ourselves. You have to be alive to be able to defend your actions.

    I do like that Travis has the initiative to fix his own sink.  That nascent sense of self-reliance is going to come in handy.

    Preparedness Lessons for Episode 101
  • Society exists on a very fragile system of services and assumptions that work to keep us reliant on that system.  Any disruption to those services creates havoc that may or may not be temporary.  Combat Normality Bias.
  • Curb bad habits now while you can slowly wean yourself of the product, instead of being forced to go cold turkey when a disaster strikes.
  • Start thinking about how to defend yourself instead of waiting for someone else to take care of you.

    Next week:  Walkers start overwhelming the city, and Tobias and Madison run down the school hallways with a cart full of food.  C’mon Kirkman, fat kids going for food?  That’s messed up!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

It's been awhile ...

Hello again.

It's been a long time since this blog was active.    I closed it without explanation in November 2013 in order to focus on some other pressing matters in my life.

I realized I wasn't "walking the walk" as a prepper and as a person.   I took some time off to focus more one doing instead of writing about what I should be doing.

I've missed it. I have missed writing about topics other than those affiliated with my profession, and I missed interacting with the people in our community that enjoyed my writing. 

So, what's the plan?

My intention is to write reviews similar to my previous work for the new AMC series Fear the Walking Dead.  If you haven't heard, this is the new "companion" series to The Walking Dead.  I also plan to pick up Season 6 of The Walking Dead and review preparedness lessons from those as well.

The Walking Dead has become a cultural phenomenon and has placed preparedness in the mindset of the general public.   How many water cooler conversations revolve around "what would you do" topics after an episode airs?

I will also use this space for other topics of preparedness interest, including product reviews,  preparedness strategies, home projects, etc.

See you around the blogosphere!