Category Archives: Health

Basic Emergency Planning

Most emergencies you’re likely to encounter are simple domestic ones.  If you lock yourself out, you’ll need a locksmith. Here’s some simple precautions to take, and a few things to try first.

Sometimes things may get more serious.  Suppose you’re snowed in and can’t get to work? Take a look at this guide to your legal position – as both an employee and an employer.  Is your area at risk from flooding? What should you do?

Hebden Bridge floods

Do you know how to turn your utilities off safely? You can protect your home better if you understand these basic principles.

If your area is hit by an emergency, you will either be evacuated or isolated from one or more mains services.   There’s a whole section in the Resilience Handbook about coping with both situations, but here’s some quick tips:-

Keep a camping stove and a portable heater; if you don’t have room for the latter, some hot water bottles at least.  A large flask is also useful.  Have a store of food and water – its size depends on how much suitable space you have.

a box of emergency food supplies

In the UK, the National Health Service and the Government websites will be used for emergency announcements; you could bookmark them.  Announcements can also be made on local radio – it’s a challenge to list all the local radio stations in the UK, but Wikipedia have had a go!

If you’re evacuated, you’ll need a grab bag;  keep this ready packed and check it once every few months.  American preppers are always good for practical survival tips; here’s instructions for assembling a first aid kit.

On the subject of medicines – always take your medications and a copy of the prescription with you in an evacuation!  You may expect to be gone for only a couple of hours, but these situations have a habit of escalating; pack for at least one night away.

There are many ways you can contribute to forming a resilient society, but keeping a grab bag ready is only a small chore.  There may not be much time to escape a flood, so people who are ready to go are really helpful.  If you’ve packed some useful things to share – a deck of cards, some sweets, a spare torch – things can go much better during the long wait at the evacuation centre.

And, if there’s never an emergency….take your grab bag out on a camping adventure and see how it works for real!



Some tips to reduce mould in your house

In the interests of networking, an important part of resilience, I keep in touch with Green Wedmore. This is an active and effective community group out on the Levels. When I discovered they were involved with a plan to conduct an energy survey of the area, I was keen to join in. I’d qualified as an energy assessor some years ago, but the project which sponsored me fell through before I got any practical experience.

Last Saturday, we had an Energy Essentials Training day, presented by the lovely Lisa Evans of the Centre for Sustainable Energy in Bristol. Although I found a lot of the material familiar, it reminded me how important this information is to people.

Cold and damp are bad enough, but it’s the resulting mould that’s really unpleasant. It looks awful, stains clothes and ruins furniture. The spores of black mould can cause health problems; even touching it can provoke an allergic reaction.

Sometimes it’s not enough to wrap up warm. My daughter and her friends, in their new basement flat by the river, were faced with electric storage heaters. Not certain how they worked, and alarmed at the cost, they didn’t use them. Well insulated, the flat wasn’t particularly cold, but by December their walls and furniture were covered in mould!

black mould

You can search online for instructions if your new home has an unfamiliar heating system. If you’ve got a problem with damp, here’s a few tips…

If you have an empty room which you’re not heating, keep the door closed. Steam from the bathroom and kitchen doesn’t stay there, but wanders through the house looking for a cold surface to condense on. Move the furniture away from outside walls, and check behind it regularly. Narrow gaps and poor air circulation encourage mould; open the windows on sunny winter days.

After a shower, close the bathroom door and open a window, if you have one; let the water vapour escape. Otherwise, use extractor fans. They’re usually under 30 watts, so cheap to run. Make sure your tumble drier is vented to the outside.

Do you have a loft? If you go into the roof space, having found out about safety precautions first, there’s often a gap where the end of the roof meets the floor. Sometimes you can even see daylight through it. This gap is crucial to the overall ventilation of many houses. If it’s blocked by insulating material, you may get a problem with damp.

There’s lots more useful advice on the internet. Don’t just live with a dangerous condition like damp; do some research and find out what you can do about it!

People used to interact with their homes far more than many do today. Learn about yours – where does the power comes from, where does the water go? What’s your score in the Housing section of the Resilience Handbook? Which action should you do next?

Remember the free assessment PDF can be found at the end of the Learning Resilience page on this site.

Iodine and Radiation

Iodine is important in the thyroid gland, which produces hormones affecting the entire body. A lack of iodine can stunt mental and physical growth in children; it causes a variety of symptoms in adults. Goitres – where the neck is swollen from an enlarged thyroid gland – used to be common in certain areas. The provision of iodised table salt has helped eliminate this uncomfortable problem.

The thyroid is a temperamental part of your body. It can be overactive; this makes you ill as well, and can be brought on by an excess of iodine. The USA recommends a daily intake of 0.15 milligrams (150 micrograms) for adults.  Most people in developed countries take in more than this RDA, around 0.25 to 0.4 milligrams.  In Japan, where the diet is full of iodine-rich seafoods, people can be eating up to three milligrams a day. One milligram a day is generally considered excessive though.

The effects of too much iodine are most pronounced when suddenly increasing your dose. This effect was observed in the salt supplement programme, and is a danger if taking iodine as protection against radioactive fallout. You should have a pack of the right type of iodine tablets in your emergency stores as speed is crucial to protect your thyroid, and they are quite hard to come by in Britain. ‘Thyrosafe‘ is recommended by some prepper sites.

The tablets need to be taken on exposure, and while the risk of breathing contaminated air lasts. They also protect your thyroid gland – and only this – against radioactive iodine from fallout dust in your food and drink. Iodine-131 and many other isotopes of iodine released by a nuclear accident decay over the course of days if not hours – hence the need for speed. By taking in clean iodine, you are preventing your body from taking up the poisonous sort. As your body excretes the unused portion, you have to repeat the dose every 24 hours until out of danger.

The risk from radiation will reduce over time; the pills may make your neck feel swollen and uncomfortable. There are other unpleasant side effects, even severe allergic reactions. The Thyrosafe ones contain 65 milligrams of iodine each, which is way over the RDA. You have to balance the dangers; the situation differs for children and the elderly. Have a packet of dried seaweed in your stores to keep up good iodine levels in an ordinary diet.

Don’t drink the sort of iodine you dab on wounds. This is poisonous tincture of iodine and not meant to be swallowed, though it can be used to purify water for drinking, as can bleach. Do some serious research before you try out any of these emergency life savers. Uninformed use can be harmful.

The Resilience Handbook is a book designed for the digital age. The information in it is tightly packed and depends on you getting involved with the suggested actions to unlock it. I’ve supplied a framework from which you can explore the wealth of knowledge available in the internet to fill in the details according to your own way of life, the options you have.

When I looked at iodine and radiation, researching for my next book, I learned that not all forms of iodine can be taken in by the body at all. There were a large number of ‘iodine supplements’ on the market. Many of the websites offering these for sale were full of cookies and pop-ups. I don’t trust these sites for information.

I looked down the search list and picked some more reputable sites to get the scientific version. The FDA have published ‘Potassium Iodide as a Thyroid Blocking Agent in Radiation Emergencies‘ which explored its use post-Chernobyl. From that information, I was able to refine my search, filtering down through survivalist sites to a market place and finally to a UK supplier. You’ll expect to pay about £35 for a ten day supply; half of that seems to be shipping from the USA.

For more information about emergency planning and food stores, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’

Growing Rocket

Rocket leaves are good in salads. Once you are used to the slightly peppery taste, you may find ordinary lettuce too bland.

It’s this taste which makes it resistant to slug attack. Rocket is easy to grow, and can be sown any time of year for a crop of fresh leaves. These contain the essential vitamin C not found in preserved foods.

If sown in autumn, the plant will overwinter as a small form, about 20cm (8 inches) high, with many leaves. These are densely packed, providing good ground cover so that little weeding is required.

You can use this as cut and come again for winter salads. Even if covered by snow, the plant can quickly regroup to produce more leaves. If it is protected from frost, you can browse on it all winter.

When spring arrives, though, it will grow quickly, with long tough stems. Flowers, as shown in the picture, appear. The energy of the plant will be directed to seeding, so the leaves will gradually become tatty from the attacks of small pests. All parts of the plant remain edible, though, and the flowers make a pretty decoration for summer salads.

The leaves become more fiddly to collect, so once the wild garlic is out and if you can use the space for more seasonal vegetables, dig up most of the rocket at this point. Leave the best looking plants to carry on flowering. They’ll produce seed, which you can harvest when the seed pods are dry. You can use this seed to sow your next crop of rocket.

It is a prolific self seeder as well, so learn to distinguish these seedlings from inedible weeds. If you allowed any rocket to go to seed this spring, the seedlings will be coming up right now. Sowing on a different patch with saved seed can be left until September.

flowering rocket plants

This article was written to accompany packets of rocket seeds donated to the Fair Frome Food Bank in Somerset.  For more information about this project, please visit here

Radiation Measuring Devices

One click on a Geiger counter signifies a single nuclear disintegration, but not the type of radiation released by it. This could be alpha, beta or gamma. The clicks per second can be easily translated into becquerel, and will give the rate at which the living tissue is receiving radioactive particles. The intensity of the radiation source is being measured here.

The biological effect of this, expressed in sieverts, depends on several other factors. A conversion between these units is not easy. Modern devices provide a ‘best guess’ of the sievert equivalent. Some may not detect alpha or beta radiation. Incorporating a mica window allows these particles to be measured, though calibration to sieverts becomes more challenging then.

Microsieverts (µSv) are the most common unit. American equipment may be calibrated in millirems (mrems). One millirem equals ten microsieverts.  Millisieverts (mSv) may also be used; one millisievert (1000 µSv) is a dangerous dose.  [100 mrem; the recommended maximum yearly exposure for the general public]  As radiation is accumulative, you should leave the area as quickly as possible.

Some Geiger counters will give data on dose per hour. The average safety limit for workers in the nuclear industry is 20 mSv/year. Firefighters at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant received an average 12 Sv over their period of exposure, from which all were ill and 30 died quickly.

Radiation on food or in water is harder to measure. Dust from a nuclear incident lands on these and contaminates them. Careful calibration against background radiation and long measuring periods, up to 12 hours, are required. Although the intensity of these sources may be low, the biological effect is compounded by ingesting them. Covering food, bringing farm animals indoors and filtering water can help.

A Geiger counter will not tell you what kind of radioactive sustance is present on food. Safety limits range from only 10 becquerels per kilogram when dealing with plutonium, to 10,000 Bq/Kg for tritium or carbon-14.

The best use of a Geiger counter in a serious emergency is to find a safe place, with a tolerable level of radioactivity. You should remain under cover until the majority of the fallout has dispersed. Four days is a recommended minimum, so a reading of 10 mSv would be the upper limit.

Remember you are keeping dust out, so you are better off in a building. Make sure there is enough water. The longer you can stay there the better, as fallout will now be covering the ground. The danger comes from inhaling or ingesting these fine particles.

Good luck with survival. You might wish you’d been less hostile to wind power.


Measuring Radiation – Sieverts and Greys

The International System of Units (SI) is the most popular system of measurement globally. Radiation units have been brought into this. Becquerels measure quantity and coulombs per kilogram are used instead of roentgens to denote exposure.

Grays (Gy) measure the absorbed dose. A gray is defined as the absorption of one joule of radiation energy by one kilogram of any matter, not just air as with the roentgen unit. One gray is equal to 100 rads. Five grays at once is a lethal dose. Diagnostic medical treatments are usually measured in milligrays (mGy).

An abdominal X-ray gives a dose of 0.7 mGy, while a computerised tomography (CT) scan is higher, at about 6 mGy. Cancer treatments exceed the lethal dose, but in small increments. Up to 80 Gy can be given, in doses of 2 Gy at a time.

Any given amount of radiation may not have the same biological effect. This is influenced by differences in the type of radiation and the conditions of exposure. Where X-rays and gamma rays are concerned, the absorbed dose is the same as the equivalent dose. If alpha particles are involved, the biological damage is more severe and weighting factors are applied. The sievert is the resultant unit.

A sievert (SV) is the standard international measurement of equivalent dose, replacing the rem. Sieverts express the potential for damage to human tissue, and are related to grays. One sievert is equivalent to one hundred rems, which would be a lethal dose. A microsievert (µSv) is one millionth of a sievert. One tenth of a microsievert is the natural radiation found in an average banana.

part four ‘Measuring Devices’ to follow

What do you need from transport?

You need to get yourself, possibly your family of young children, an elderly relative, maybe a dog, from here to there. You don’t want it to be prohibitively expensive, you don’t want to have to wait around in the rain or lug heavy bags a long way.

A car was the answer! Everybody got one, and then two, even three!

Then you begin to fall out with your neighbours over parking. The cost of running a car goes up by the day. You are getting unfit because you drive everywhere, so you consider a bicycle. The roads are too dangerous because they are full of cars. You think about the bus, but they are costly, infrequent and often unreliable or non-existent in rural areas.

Depending on your car means depending on oil, mainly from other countries. The news is full of the trouble and deadly conflict caused by arguments over who controls these fuel resources. You hear of the vast areas of pollution surrounding extraction sites.

Always the price you pay for fuel rises, and a disruption of supplies brings your entire lifestyle to a stop – this is not resilient!

We are addicted to the use of oil. It will not be easy to cut back, but it must be done. Local initiatives are the key to encouraging government and business to get involved. They will not do so without public pressure, both political and by the use of your spending power.

Change is happening slowly, but it needs more people to engage with the process. Here’s a couple of good places to start.

The Urban Walking route planner gives you a route map between any two points, including your journey time, calorie burn, step count and carbon saving. It’s quick, free, healthy and green!

Sustrans is a charity enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys we make every day. They work with families, communities, policy-makers and partner organisations so that people are able to choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys, with better places and spaces to move through and live in.


© Elizabeth J Walker 2014