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December 13, 2008

Pilots Survive Ditching Despite Mistakes

Two pilots flying a Cessna 337 to Sweden from Canada survived a harrowing 18-hour ordeal recently after they ditched in frigid waters south of Baffin Island, Canada and climbed onto an ice floe. They have received a great deal of well-deserved credit in the general media for surviving and not giving up.

The articles below provide some details and the background you’ll need in order to understand my comments which follow:

The Canadian Press – Two survivors rescued from ice floe after landing stricken plane in Arctic

The Canadian Press – Pilots who survived Arctic crash lucky to be alive

The Sydney Morning Herald – Frozen with fear: how Aussie survived Arctic crash

The more we find out about their experience, the more it seems that they survived despite make some very basic preparation mistakes, so there are some critical lessons to be learned, or perhaps reinforced, from this event. Of course, any conclusions drawn here are based only on the limited information we have so far from these media reports and interviews, and their accuracy is always a bit suspect. Some inconsistencies are obvious, but even so, the lessons are there to be learned. I apologize if I have jumped to any incorrect conclusions based on these reports.

NOTE: Here on ETS we have a great deal of information about ditching and water survival equipment including an article “Surviving A Splashdown” and others. Recommended reading for anyone who might have to deal with a ditching scenario.

In my opinion, the most important lesson to take away from this, at least with regards survival preparations, is that, as I often say, if it isn’t with you, it cannot save you™. These pilots escaped their aircraft with nothing except their survival suits.

It isn’t entirely clear what specific survival and signaling equipment they carried in the aircraft, beyond comments that they didn’t get their raft or any survival equipment out. Nor do we know the quality of the gear. However, that none of it was attached to their person is pretty clear. It also isn’t yet known why they weren’t able to retrieve their raft or any other survival equipment, but that failure alone damn near cost them their lives and certainly contributed to their frostbite injuries from a delayed rescue.

The following quotes from one of the survivors, 25-year-old Oliver Edwards-Neil, sheds some light on the futility of their situation not long after they survived the initial ditching:

“It was dark. But after a couple of hours we started seeing choppers and planes, flying back and forth and back and forth, and they eventually came near us.

“But they just couldn’t see us. At one point they flew about 30 metres (sic) from us … we were shouting and screaming and waving our arms but they didn’t see us.”

“Once the choppers flew so close and didn’t see us. After that I didn’t even want to see the rescue plane any more – because it was totally pointless. They were not seeing us at all,”

Sometimes being lucky is better than being prepared (but you cannot plan on being lucky). Although they didn’t have a 406 MHz PLB, or even the less robust SPOT Satellite Messenger (if might have survived the dunking, possibly), with them to provide a distress alert and location, and the Cessna’s ELT went down with the plane, they did get out a timely Mayday call with an accurate GPS location and heading.

That gave the Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax enough information to get Search and Rescue aircraft into the area. To a certain extent, they were lucky to have gotten the mayday call heard in such a relatively remote area, a PLB would have provided a more robust and reliable means of distress alerting and location, particularly one with GPS. There’s just no excuse not to carry a PLB on one’s person, even more so on a flight such as this. But, once they have a location, SAR still have to actually locate you and at night that is especially difficult if you cannot signal them somehow, as these survivors discovered to their chagrin.

Whether or not Edwards-Neil’s distance estimate is accurate, obviously the SAR aircraft were very close and there’s no question that even the most basic nighttime signaling devices would likely have cut short their ordeal. The SAR resources arrived in short order and they would have been rescued if only they could have signaled them. A laser flare or even a modestly bright flashlight would have made a world of difference. Even a simple locator light or strobe light attached to their survival suit would likely have done it. And, while I am no fan of them, even pyrotechnic flares would have likely resulted in their being noticed that night. Heck, for that matter, the sparks from the Spark-Lite fire starter in one of my Pocket Survival Paks might well have been visible, particularly if the searchers had night vision equipment.

Upping the ante, they should have had a handheld VHF transceiver in the aircraft, the majority of pilots carry one as back-up and for ground communications, but they aren’t waterproof. If they had placed it in a waterproof pouch, and taken it with them when they egressed, they would have been able to communicate with the search aircraft.

As it was, the aerial search was called off, at least for the night, and they were damn lucky to be rescued the next day by a commercial vessel.

As a side note, “shouting and screaming” at search aircraft is an utterly pointless exercise that only serves to waste precious energy. There’s no question that this is a reflexive reaction, but better to keep your wits about you and conserve your limited resources. They can’t hear you. At night, they also probably cannot see you waving.

In any normal ditching, if properly prepared and trained, it isn’t really all that difficult to get survival equipment out of the aircraft, even assuming it’s sinking and filled with water. That assumes both proper training and preparations and that you do the right things without panic. So, what happened after they ditched?

From one of the articles, “Edwards-Neil said he braced for impact by holding his door open, ready to get out of the plane before it sank. The windshield smashed on impact, and forced his door shut, but he managed to stick his head far enough out of the window and smash the glass with his back. The water was to the roof in five seconds, he said.”

This doesn’t make a lot of sense as written, as the windscreen caving in should not have affected the door at all, but I think I can guess what may have really happened, or at least use this to make my point.

It is impossible to “hold” the door open in a ditching of a high-wing aircraft like this Cessna. It can be difficult, at best, on any aircraft. There is simply too much water flowing past. I and all the ditching instructors I know teach that you jettison the door(s) (on those few aircraft that provide for that) or you either block the door open with something (a book of approach plates is often a readily available choice) or lock it open (on those aircraft that allow for this).

This ensures the door cannot be wedged shut by the airframe being twisted. Assuming the quote is close to correct, this suggests that either he didn’t listen closely in class, or he hadn’t received good instruction (or never attended class nor read any good ditching information), or, perhaps, he panicked and simply forgot what he was taught, a common side effect of panic.

However, that’s only step one. Assuming a well-executed ditching in a high-wing aircraft, such as this Cessna, or if your low-wing aircraft flips, another thing you are taught is that you cannot open the door until the water pressure equalizes. Nobody is that strong, not even Arnold. That is one of the potential drawbacks of a high-wing aircraft in a ditching. Unless it flips over just right (and don’t bet your life on that), you are not going to just open the door and step out onto the wing, as is often the case with a low-wing aircraft after the ditching. You have to either be patient and wait for the water to come in before you exit, underwater possibly, or, if there’s time and you are small enough, perhaps go out through a window before the water rises that high, a poor alternative.

For whatever the reason, again the same possibilities exist, he chose the window. That’s a tight fit at best, more so if you’re wearing a bulky survival suit. That likely contributed to the reason why he didn’t take any survival equipment with him.

I could go on at length about this, but other matters are pressing. The fact that these pilots survived proves only that they are lucky and that the old saw about never giving up will often be the difference between life and death. Bottom line take away from this incident is simple. If you are going to attempt risky endeavors such as flying the North Atlantic, make sure you are well trained for potential survival situations (which helps reduce panic and poor decisions in the midst of the emergency) and are well equipped with the right survival gear, carried in a manner that it might actually be available if needed. Remember, if it isn’t with you, it cannot save you™.

December 9, 2008

Limited Recall Notice ACR GlobalFix iPRO EPIRB

Filed in Gear , News

ACR GlobalFix iPRO EPIRBACR Electronics has issued a “limited recall” on their recently introduced GlobalFix iPRO EPIRB. The following is from the ACR release obtained off the U.S. Coast Guard web site (UPDATE: ACR now has a link to the notice on their home page) :

ACR has discovered that a small percentage of GlobalFix™ iPRO™ EPIRBs may not activate manually and has decided to issue a limited recall notice.The condition could exist in a maximum of 400 units built within serial number range of 1000 to 1688. If you own or have a GlobalFix™ iPRO™ that falls within this serial number range you should contact ACR’s Customer
Service department immediately at +1-854-862-2110 or at NBuckle@ACRelectronics.com.

ACR discovered that some of the witness seal tabs require the application of excessive force to put the switch into the correct position when manually activating the EPIRB. The water activation feature works separately and is not affected by the manual switch. The manual switch assembly needs to be reworked on a maximum of 400 units to insure that the switch and witness seal will activate as designed and intended. The 400 units potentially affected by this problem fall into the serial number range of 1000 -1688. If your GloblaFix™ iPRO™ serial number falls outside this range, then your GlobalFix™ iPRO™ is not affected by this notice. The 400 units could be of either the PIN 2846 Category I (automatic deploy) or PIN 2848 Category II (manual deploy) model.

This condition does not occur in any other ACR EPIRB model. This recall is limited to only the GlobalFix™ iPRO™ units falling within the serial number range of 1000 to 1688.

For more information or to obtain a Return Authorization contact:
ACR Customer Service
Telephone: +1-854-862-2110 (in the USA: 1-800-432-0227, ext. 2110)
E-Mail: NBuckle@ACRelectronics.com.

November 25, 2008


Filed in Gear , News

SkyblazerOrion has issued another update in the Skyblazer XLT Flares saga. (The previous blog entry can be found by clicking here):


Orion Safety Products, manufacturer of the Skyblazer hand-launched red aerial flare (“Skyblazer”), previously received a report from the field indicating the safety sleeve on the Skyblazer may become detached from the launch tube body during ignition (see diagram below for visual depiction of parts). A Safety Notice and Product Quarantine relative to the Skyblazer signal was issued on September 26, 2008 (the “Safety Notice”) until investigation and testing of the product could be completed. Based on test information supplied to the USCG by Orion and an independent USCG approved lab, it has been determined that product in stock and in the field can be sold and used. The USCG product status designation of the Skyblazer product has been reissued as a “May Use” classification.

Since issuing the Safety Notice, Orion has tested hundreds of Skyblazer signals from a variety of manufacturing lots and determined the product functions as intended without injury to the user if the product is held properly in accordance with the use instructions on the product. Specifically, the user must hold the Launch Tube Body (not the Safety Sleeve alone) tightly in the upper hand during launch.

Anyone with product on their boat should read the revised instructions set forth below and print a copy to store with their signals. Orion will supply new labels to any customer who contacts Orion customer service at: mcustomerservice@orionsignals.com

(D.R.: It would have been lots better if Orion had provided an easy to print and readable document, instead of a fuzzy image file…)

Additionally, Orion will make every effort to sticker product in the field with new use instructions and a label notifying customers about the change. Orion will also be working with retailers and dealers to post notices at checkout and supplying new use instruction labels which can be affixed to existing product.

Skyblazer XLT Instruction Label

More information and current status can be found on the Orion Safety Products web site.

November 4, 2008

Not Exactly Survival, But Great Customer Service

Good customer service is such a rarity these days, it’s worth mention when it does occur. I have very wide feet (9.5 EEEE). As a result, I tend to gravitate towards New Balance athletic shoes and Dunham casual and dress shoes (Dunham is now part of of New Balance). New Balance has not forsaken those of us with wide or narrow feet, unlike most shoe companies. They fit, are comfortable and stand up reasonably well to the abuse I give them. I’ve worn them for years with no problems.

What precipitated this wasn’t even a problem, per se. One of our cats decided that the end of the shoelaces on my pair of Dunham shoes were a new play toy and pretty much chewed off the aglets (okay, I confess, I didn’t know the tips of the shoe laces were called that until I checked Ian’s Shoelace Site). Easy come, easy go. Who knew the laces were so special? A search of all the local stores turned up zip for anything approaching the look of the OEM laces.

When all else fails, contact the manufacturer. I wasn’t expecting much, but given that the shoes were still in production, perhaps they’d sell me a pair or point me to where I could buy some online. I sent in an email to Dunham/New Balance through their web site and the next day I got an email back from New Balance Consumer Support: “New Balance is glad to send you replacement laces for your shoes. Anytime you would like free insoles or laces sent to you please contact us.” I called the toll-free number, gave them my information and the replacement laces are on the way.

Kudos to New Balance for excellent customer service!

BTW, for insoles I have become a big fan of SOLE heat moldable insoles in my Dunhams. They have made a huge difference in comfort when I do trade shows like SHOT Show and Outdoor Retailer were I have to be on my feet 12 or more hours a day for days at a stretch. Worth a try if you feet are aching at the end of the day.

October 24, 2008

WARNING: Defective StarFlash Ultra Signal Mirrors

Filed in Gear , News

UST StarFlash UltraEarlier this year, Ultimate Survival Technologies, manufacturer of the popular mil-spec StarFlash signal mirror, introduced a “new” signal mirror, the StarFlash Ultra. The Ultra mirror was claimed to be significantly superior to the regular StarFlash; UST claiming it was 90% as reflective as a glass mirror, the gold standard. They also claimed other improvements and advantages, including a hard coating to protect the surface from scratching.

While claimed to be “new,” in fact, the Ultra is very similar in concept to the original StarFlash mirror that was offered years ago, a few companies before the current company existed, and prior to introduction of the StarFlash most everyone knows with the molded surround/case. I have one of those original mirrors from School of Survival Specialties, predecessor to SOS Survival Life Support, predecessor to Survival, Inc. and now, UST, in my mirror collection (and Sue wonders why I never throw anything out). I think I got all the companies over the years, I apologize if I missed one.

The new Ultra is produced from polycarbonate mirror sheet laminated to a closed-cell foam backing (see photo above, lower image) to enable it to float and with an inserted retro-reflective aiming aid. As with the original StarFlash, this aiming aid has a piece of retro-reflective material with a star-shaped cut-out (though larger) and the aiming “hot spot” or “fire ball” is formed on the edge of the star. The polycarbonate material used for the mirror is just a wee bit heavier than water, so it won’t float without some added buoyancy.

Initially, I was quite excited over the prospect of a production mirror that might approach the performance of Malcom Murray’s Rescue Reflectors handmade mirrors, and at a reasonable price and without having to wait months. My excitement was tempered as associates and I noticed issues with the first sample mirrors. The first batch leaked water into the aimer and there were lamination issues and UST quickly called me to tell me to throw those out. Okay, stuff happens and as long as they caught it before sales to the public, no harm, no foul. UST followed up with new production, supposedly with those issues solved, which they did indeed appear to be.

However, as more of these new Ultras got in the field, associates and friends of ETS reported widely varying results. Further testing suggested that there was quite a bit of variability in the mirrors. Some were as good or better than claimed, but others were quite a bit worse, some being no more than 60% as bright as glass when we measured. That’s closer to what the original StarFlash typically provided.

About that same time, we tried testing the new mirrors for water resistance almost by happenstance noticed that after floating in water, the reflectivity of the mirror degraded significantly, to the point in some cases is was effectively unusable after 30 minutes of floating in water. This wasn’t a case of water getting inside, the mirror was being warped in some manner. The wetted mirrors we tested simply lost virtually all their reflectivity. Given that these are supposed to be mil-spec mirrors, meant for use in all environments, and that certainly includes in the water, this would be a problem. This is a far greater problem than the production variability in reflectivness. It can render the mirror useless to a survivor in need of signaling Search and Rescue.

I contacted UST and discussed my findings and concerns and asked them to confirm the issues. After all, we had results only from a handful of mirrors. To give them full credit, they were very responsive at an executive level and started a serious look at the issues. Over a period of weeks we communicated regularly, with UST providing me updates on their testing. While a sunny day to test was easy enough to find here in the desert Southwest where I am located, up in the Seattle area where UST is located it is a problem and they had to also develop other tests that could be done using artificial lighting. In the end, they essentially confirmed the problems and said they were working on solution with their contractor who actually manufactures the mirror for them.

One theory was that by floating the mirror, which results in one surface being exposed just above the water surface, there was some unequal expansion going on between the laminated layers, causing the mirror to warp and the reflectivity degradation. I recently conducted some additional testing (which results I shared with UST); fully submersing the mirror, including overnight, so as to at least ensure it had reached a stable temperature throughout. The degradation problems remained, and if anything got worse.

UST Ultra Mirror ReflectionsTo illustrate the problem, examine these images: On the top is the normal round reflection of the unsoaked Ultra mirror at about noon (+/- one hour) when aimed directly at the wall from 60 feet away. This is about what you expect, with varying sharpness and brightness, from a reasonable quality 2 x 3 signal mirror (the sun’s round disk, reflected off a reasonably flat mirror). On the bottom is another photo taken after the mirror has been fully immersed in water. This was taken with the mirror only 18 feet away because from 60 ft. the reflection was so dispersed and dim it was not photographable with the equipment I had, and it also was far larger than the 16 x 20 inches paper we were using as the target.

At this point, in my opinion, there’s just no question that there’s something wrong with these Ultra mirrors. If you own one of these StarFlash Ultra mirrors, you need to be aware that if it is soaked in water for any appreciable length of time, it may well not function adequately. Under dry conditions the reflectivity degradation issue doesn’t seem to be a problem. The production variability is an issue, however, regardless. Without the right test equipment, you probably cannot tell if your mirror is one of the really good ones or one of the not so good.

StarFlash (left) Ultra (right)When I spoke to UST today, they advised that they have ceased shipping Ultra mirrors to their retailers and customers. UST continues to examine the issues and are working to integrate solutions into new production and have assured me they intend to solve the problems. Once they have resolved the issues, they say they will offer existing owners an exchange. I’d say that this is a responsible and reasonable reaction to these problems we have identified. Kudos to UST.

Note that these issues have nothing at all to do with the standard StarFlash, identifiable by the molded surround/case and triangular lanyard hole. (see comparison above – note that the Starflash was produced in various iterations over the years and by a number of precurser companies to UST. Military version backs were gray, like the Ultra pictured, not yellow, and some came with a black plastic adhesive light shield on the mirrored side.)

UPDATE: Three days after the inital posting on this blog, on Octorber 27, UST posted in the News section of thier web site a “StarFlash Ultra Water Immersion Notice” regarding a “decrease in mirror performance in the rare situation where the StarFlash® Ultra™ mirror is immersed in water for extended periods of time.” Click here to read their complete notice.

I will update details as I receive them from UST and we’ll have a full review of the new production mirrors when they arrive.

DISCLOSURE: Doug Ritter helped design the RescueFlash Signal Mirror produced by Adventure Medical Kits and which is included in the Doug Ritter designed Adventure Medical Kits Pocket Survival Pak. Ritter and The ETS Foundation receive a royalty on sales of Pocket Survival Paks. No royalties are received on the RescueFlash mirror itself.

October 10, 2008


Filed in Gear , News


SkyblazerHere’s the latest on the Skyblazer XLT Flares (the original blog entry can be found by clicking here):

Since our last notification, we have conducted exhaustive testing of the Skyblazer both in terms of measuring the dimensions of the plastic parts as well as live firing. The dimensional testing did not reveal a change. More importantly, however, when the Skyblazers were fired holding the launch tube properly, we observed no injuries. Specifically, we hand-launched 500 signals from our current inventory with the following results:

1 All 500 signals launched properly, achieving desired height, candela and burn time

2 No injuries were reported during the launch process – 100% effective

3 The recoil from the launch caused the bottom of the launch tube to contact the lower hand (the hand pulling the ignition chain) in one instance but without the severity to cause injury (bruising or otherwise) – 99.8% effective

4 In 6 instances the launch tube body and sleeve separated in the upper hand but without effect – 98.8% effective

We also asked a USCG approved independent third party testing facility to hand launch signals they had warehoused from a variety of other lots to verify that the signals function properly and as expected if held properly and in accordance with use instructions. Of the signals fired, no injuries occurred, the launch tube did not recoil onto the top of the lower hand and no separation was observed as between the safety sleeve and the launch tube.

Based upon the foregoing, we do not believe anything has changed relative to the functionality of the Skyblazer signal when held properly. While this signal has a long and successful history with the current use instructions, we do believe the use instructions can and should be clarified to make it abundantly clear as to how the signal should be held during launch. To that end, we have developed new use instructions which will be incorporated into all new labels and packaging.

Based on the above information we are:

1. Working with the Coast Guard to reverse the current “Do Not Use” notification.

2. We will cause all product at retail locations to be stickered with a sticker notifying them of the revised Use Instruction.

3. We will update our website to reflect the new use instructions

4. We will notify the USCG Auxiliary, and Boat US, and work with them to get our new use instructions posted on their website.

5. For customers that are adamant that they do not want us stickering their current inventory, we will lift such stock and replace with new product once our testing is complete but we hope this is minimal since the product in the field is safe and fully functional when used as per the instructions currently on the package (and further clarified by the new use instructions).

In hindsight it may be that we acted precipitously in issuing the original Safety Notice and Product Quarantine however we wanted the time to fully investigate the matter and determine whether there was in fact a safety risk for the product end users. When held properly, we are fully confident the Skyblazer will function as intended and that the quarantine is no longer necessary.

To further augment the protections we are putting in place, we have instituted a mold change to create a more positive “lock” as between the safety sleeve and the launch tube. We are taking this action as a fail safe in the event users do not hold the signal properly despite the improved use instructions. We will be loading and launching parts from the new mold on Thursday (10/9) and hope to get to the USCG with third-party lab data within the next week.

As the plan develops to lift product, which we hope will be minimal, we will be issuing further updates. Any new orders for products containing XLT’s will be inputted to our system and put on hold. If you, or your customers have any questions, do not hesitate to contact your sales manager. We fully expect to have situation remedied prior to the 2009 season.


More information and current status can be found on the Orion Safety Products web site.

September 30, 2008

Skyblazer XLT Flares – SAFETY NOTICE

Filed in Gear , News


It isn’t a recall just yet, but in the meantime, Orion Safety Products has issued a safety notice and has requested that dealers quarentine all Skyblazer XLT aerial flares. To quote from their Safety Notice:

Orion Safety Products, manufacturer of the Skyblazer hand-launched red aerial flare (“Skyblazer”), has received a report indicating the safety sleeve on the Skyblazer may become detached from the launch tube body during ignition (see diagram below for visual depiction of parts). A report from the field indicates that upon this occurrence, users experienced bruised knuckles, a punctured finger nail and a lacerated finger in at least one instance.

Orion is currently focusing on Skyblazer production occurring since April 2008 and is working closely with its injection molder for the Skyblazer plastic parts to determine what the cause of the problem may be and when it first appeared. The detachment of the safety sleeve from the launch tube body does not affect flare performance (i.e., altitude, candela, burn time). This problem is specific to the Skyblazer signal and does not affect any other Orion products.

To the extent much remains unknown at present, Orion is recommending that all retailers, distributors and dealers of the Skyblazer product remove such product from their shelves and discontinue the sale of this product to the marketplace at this time. Orion will notify all such parties as to the proper disposition of this product once the investigation has sufficiently progressed.

Orion has not instituted a recall of the Skyblazer product at this time. For product users that are in emergency situations, Orion suggests that the Skyblazer signal only be used if alternative emergency distress signals are unavailable. For added protection, if Skyblazer signals must be used, Orion suggests:

• The user hold the signal body (not the sleeve) tightly in the upper hand during launch
• Gloves be worn to protect the lower hand (the hand pulling the ignition chain) from being jammed
against the launch tube body and ignition chain following ignition

Orion is critically concerned about the safety of our customers. We are notifying the U.S. Coast Guard of this problem and will be posting updates and consumer information on the Orion website at www.orionsignals.com. We want to make certain more Skyblazers are not sold until the cause of the current problem is known and remedied. We want to make certain that current product users relying on the Skyblazer product are not put at unnecessary risk. We thank you for your patience and understanding while we continue our investigation of this matter.

More information and current status can be found on the Orion Safety Products web site.

September 7, 2008

Backpacker Signal Mirror Miss

I just received my October issue of Backpacker Magazine, their “Survival” issue. I opened the magazine at random and found myself reading page 43 where it has a brief article, “How To Use A Signal Mirror.” The instructions themselves are not exactly clear, for example finding the “fireball” isn’t so easy unless you are told to look for it in the mirror’s reflection. But, that slip pales in comparison to the errors in the illustrations which are totally misleading.

Backpacker Magazine October 2008The illustrations (reproduced at right) are out of scale to begin with. The grid will always cover much more, or in some cases, all of the aimer, with only a small hole in the center. Then they show the fireball visible in the open hole, not in the retro-reflective grid or the aimer. That’s impossible. Then it shows the fireball and the target merged in the same hole. Again, impossible. The fireball is only visible because of the retro-reflective material, either within the grid of a traditional style aimer, or on the edge of the retro-reflective cloth material in the unique Ultimate Survival’s star shaped StarFlash aimer.

Rescue Flash AimerFor an illustration of how the aimer really works, these images are from my directions on how to use the Rescue Flash signal mirror where you will find a much more complete, and accurate, set of instructions on using a signal mirror.

I’ll get around to reading the rest of the magazine on my flight tomorrow; hopefully without finding any other such gross errors.

DISCLAIMER: I helped design the Rescue Flash signal mirror and wrote the instructions on the mirror. The Rescue Flash is included in the Adventure Medical Kits Pocket Survival Pak I designed, the sales of which help support the Equipped To Survive Foundation and for which I also receive a royalty as the kit designer.

August 30, 2008

September is National Preparedness Month

National Preparedness MonthI’m not sure whether to be cheered that we have a National Preparedness Month, or depressed. Monday is the start of National Preparedness Month, as decreed by the Department of Homeland Security . On the one hand, it depresses me a bit that it seems necessary to make such a big deal out of what ought to be simple, commonsense efforts I’d like to believe everyone would take to be ready for whatever comes our way.

Okay, I admit that this isn’t a very realistic expectation. More like wishful thinking, considering human nature. So, on balance, I guess it’s a good thing that preparedness has now become a national level campaign, even if it isn’t yet part of the national consciousness. It’s somewhat ironic that it comes as a major hurricane is once again bearing down on New Orleans, three years after Katrina taught many that depending on government to take care of you might be foolish, or perhaps stupid is a better description.

The sad part is so relatively few that weren’t directly impacted learned that lesson. And, even many in New Orleans still haven’t, but their government at least seems to be reacting more responsibly and they may comply with evacuation orders this time. The vast majority living in the U.S. are still unprepared and still expect the government to come riding to their rescue. Does that make them foolish, stupid, or just lazy? Regardless of the cause, it irks me all the same. Certainly, there will always be a portion of our society that simply cannot prepare themselves for whatever comes their way, whether due to physical, mental or financial issues. However, those are just as certainly the minority of the U.S. population. The rest have no good excuse.

Basic preparedness is not something that requires a lot of money or any extraordinary effort. The basic 72 Hour Emergency Preparedness Kit, as outlined in this article here on Equipped to Survive, is not difficult or expensive to assemble. Those too lazy to assemble one themselves can find lots of vendors selling what I refer to as ”better than nothing” kits at modest prices (just do an Internet search on “72 hour kit”). While I may not think those kits are great, they really are a major improvement over doing nothing. And, some of these kits are actually not too bad at all, though very few include adequate amounts of water or quality tools such as flashlights or knives. But, those failings are easy enough to remedy.

So, why don’t they do it? No doubt some are just plain stupid. There’s plenty of evidence that a significant portion of the population can be described as dumb, stupid or ignorant. That’s just the way it is. But, anyone reading this is unlikely to be labeled as such, except perhaps by those of the opposite political persuasion. I suspect that for the rest of you it’s got a lot more to do with laziness and ingrained habit.

As a nation, we are lazy. One only has to look at the growing girth of society to find evidence that this is a problem. Too many don’t want to make the effort simply because it does take some effort, even if only minimal. Watching TV is easier. Have I ticked you off yet? If so, perhaps you need to do something about it.

Ingrained habit is another way to describe the 9*1*1 effect, and I suspect the primary reason. We have gotten into the habit of calling 9*1*1 when something goes wrong. As a society, we have developed the expectation that someone else is going to take care of the problem, we don’t have to. People who live in rural settings are generally much more self-reliant because they have to be. Help is not just five minutes away. The majority do not live in rural American anymore. These folks have become almost totally reliant on others to solve their emergencies, whether it is emergency services or just calling a plumber or electrician instead of doing it themselves. As a society, we no longer expect to do almost anything ourselves. We expect others to do it and it’s become the only way we know to approach problems.

Even with the lessons of Katrina and other natural disasters, we still don’t want to face reality. You cannot depend upon others in a crisis. Even the government has admitted that, to one degree or another, evidence being this self-declared National Preparedness Month. The more of the population they can convince to be prepared, the more likely they can help the rest with whatever inadequate resources they can bring to bear on the problems created by an emergency. However improved the response might be as the result of lessons learned from Katrina and elsewhere, it will never be fully adequate.

I suppose that National Preparedness Month is a good thing to maybe convince some small portion of the majority of the population that they need to take on a little personal responsibility. Maybe over time, it will help make a dent. For those who have not yet done so, get off your duff and get to it. It can be a liberating experience and it could save your life or that of loved ones, or at the least, make a very difficult and unpleasant experience a whole lot less difficult and much more pleasant.

August 20, 2008

Outdoor Retailer Summer 2008 #5

Filed in Gear , News

My report on Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008 continues (click here for the previous installment):

Leatherman Puts Folders on Diet

Leatherman Crater and ExpanseLeatherman’s line of folders, introduced in 2005 and expanded in 2006, offered a number of unique features including exchangeable bits in some models, and were generally well received. If there was one common complaint about them it was that they were quite bulky in the pocket. Version 2 of the folders, so to speak, have been launched and the knives have been put on a diet to produce a slimmer and trimmer line-up.

The new Crater and Expanse lines also bring a more consistent look to the line, they are all obviously siblings, something that wasn’t the case with the original line-up. There are 10 new models in each line. (Crater c33T (top) and Expanse e55B (bottom) pictured here) Rather than bore and confuse you trying to describe all the permutations, click on the links below for the Leatherman feature sheets (in PDF format) that include a full feature matrix:

Outwardly, the obvious difference is that the Crater knives have black glass reinforced nylon handles, the higher end Expanse knives have stainless steel added to the GRN. Both series offer either 2.6-inch or 3.1-inch blades. The Crater blade steel is 420HC, the Expanse is 154CM. Each model in each line also offers either a plain edge or partially serrated edge.

As with the original lineup, the smaller blades are liner locks with an improved smoother operating version of Leatherman’s Blade Launcher for opening. The larger blades are lockbacks with right-handed thumb stud opening. Various combinations of features include a screwdriver, a bit driver (using Leatherman’s proprietary bits) with imptoved and more compact bit storage in the handle and a carabiner/bottle cap lifter that folds into the handle. Each has a removable non-reversible pocket clip.

The 30% thinner and lighter knives feel much better in the hand and pocket. They look better as well, at least to my eye.

Pricing (MSRP) ranges from $24 – $70 for the Crater line and $44 – $87 for the Expanse. Expect initial deliveries in the Fall.

One-Breath Inflater Pump

Instaflator PumpIf you’ve ever had “fun” blowing up an air mattress, toy or other piece of inflatable equipment, or using a foot pump to accomplish the same, you must have wished there was an easier way. Sure, you can use an electric inflater, but that requires a source of power. You can hand the job off to a convenient kid, if there’s one available, but they have their own issues, of course. Finally, someone has the answer and it’s another one of those forehead slapping why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moments.

The Millair Company’s patent-pending “Instaflator” is so stone simple it is almost ludicrous. Attach the nozzle to whatever needs to be pumped up, unfold the plastic tube, blow lightly into the end of it, then roll the tube up, which transfers that air into the inflatable. The video below shows how simple it is. No huffing, puffing or near hyperventilation.

You can watch a more comprehensive demo on their Web site. It comes with three different nozzles designed to fit most inflatables. MSRP is $3.50 and they estimate that one Instaflator is good for 30-40 inflations.

NOTE: One of our readers noted that a raft manufacturer has been using a similar concept for some time, so how patentable this is may be an issue. Regardless, that does nothing to detract from how great the idea the idea is and how inexpensively they have implemented it.

Check Back Soon for More New Gear

In an effort to speed up the process, I’m going to publish this review of new products from Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008 in stages over the next few days. Check back for more new gear, hopefully tomorrow.