The Ebola river is a tributary of the Congo river and runs for about 150 miles through the northern jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 1976 there were two simultaneous outbreaks of a new hemorrhagic fever. Forever after, Ebola, or more properly EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) is a single word that conjures up the ultimate enemy; a microscopic villain that grotesquely kills indiscriminately, and then kills those who try to help. I’ll be honest here. I don’t personally work with Ebola, but I do know people who do. Not far from where I live is a bio-safety level four lab that contains all manner of nasty viruses, Ebola being one of them.
And recently, a local hospital was identified as one of only four hospitals in the United States specifically prepared to take in Ebola victims. In other words, Missoula, Montana has become a ground-zero for Ebola even though the state is still Ebola-free. Looks to me that my slice of the Great American Redoubt could become a Hot Zone overnight since I doubt the four beds in our special Ebola isolation ward will do much good if the big picture gets ugly.
I actually do trust the scientists and doctors I know who work with killer viruses, but I do not trust average citizens who may have been exposed. The behavior of Ebola is well known, and regardless of fear-mongering conspiracy theorist talking heads, for me Ebola does not need any embellishment. It seems to be a scary-as-hell killer without the media’s help. Ebola is not an airborne transmitted disease, it is not mutating any faster than any other virus (although the flu mutates fairly predictably when it has millions upon millions of hosts), and barrier methods of containment do work…if followed to the letter. Where Ebola does scare the hell out of me is in the predictably unpredictable behavior of those individuals who may have come in contact with an infected person.
The utter stupidity of the actions of Dallas hospital executives & the front line ebola workers has put the nation at risk. And each selfish act of contact with others whether airplane ride, TSA pat down, bridal store visit, or cruise ship trip amplified the risk and also provided a viable template for the anticipated behavior of anyone else who believes themselves to be bulletproof. In other words, people will not follow rules. People will ignore protocols and make contact with crowds. People will be selfish idiots. So we need to prepare now. But how?
To respond appropriately to an Ebola threat, you must play by Ebola’s rules and the psychology of panic. The facts of Ebola are known, and they do not need any exaggeration, distortion, or have bestowed upon it magical powers that violate physics, biology, and chemistry. Although Ebola is being weaponized for political gain, one must maintain a clear head about the realities of viral infections, and avoid contact with dangerous hearsay since it will lead you to make bad decisions.
The incubation of Ebola is 21 days on the long end, so my preparations will run in 21 day intervals. Every exposure requires 21 days to clear itself from the radar. If anyone emerges with the disease within that 21 day interval, the calendar is reset again to zero and the day-count starts again. Until there are 21 days–three full weeks and not a second less– with no new victims, only then will can we consider relaxing our defenses.
As of this writing, there are two plane loads of the possibly-exposed and one cruise ship, as well as all the collateral in between. That is a lot of people, and each person on the ground, boat or planes must be tracked. But if the lunacy of behavior demonstrated by the multiple health care workers who did have direct contact is any indication, those bad decisions will only be magnified by the general public.
As I considered the facts of Ebola Virus Disease and the reaction of the sacred public, two glaring requirement immediately come to mind; the bug in and the bug out. Luckily the statistical models of disease spreading provide some comfort since it cannot infect everyone. There will be a situation where the disease cannot continue. That point has the colorful name of “burnout.” The disease goes back into hiding somehow preserved in a reservoir like a fruit bat or cave mold until a disturbance allows it to once again burn through a population. In addition to locking in your bug in and bug out plans, you will also need to make ready your Get Home kit.
The Get Home Kit
The other day, I noticed a couple walking by, both wearing small backpacks. Not unusual, but both were the same MOLLI-capable packs, one red and one black, and both hard with gear. A double-take enhanced my suspicion that the couple were wearing their bug out or get home bags. They were prepared. Was I? I thought so, but then ran my scenario out a little longer than my usual quick trip home from work. Water and food are not of concern yet. What is of interest is how to get the family to one spot, preferably our house especially if they are spread about town when the alarm goes off. And do I have the necessary tools to make it home on foot by a securatus route, maybe even over a mountain in the dark? Will my family members make it back home as well?
As the self-declared survival know-it-all in the family, I need to take charge of all scenarios and decisions. Somehow I need to reconstitute the family in a safe place with enough supplies to ride out a cycle or two or three of a worst-case Ebola outbreak. The first principles of survival remain the same, but the wild card of human behavior must be anticipated. With that in mind, I have identified four concerns for family reconstitution, and a few rules for bugging in. If things go to the bug out level, you probably won’t be reading about it here.
Rules for Reconstitution (Family, Survival Group, or Extended Community):
- Communication – Cell phones are great, but I have implemented a walkie-talkie backup. At the first sign of… no never mind. I am going to implement this right now. A fully-charged walkie talkie with extra batteries will be provided each of my family members. Should the cell system be overloaded or go down, we will switch to the walkie-talkies and when within a few miles of each other, we have unrestricted communication. Everyone also needs weather-appropriate clothing and outerwear for the long walk home.
- Masks, Gloves and Eyewear – Ebola is virus, plain and simple. Proper barriers are effective at preventing the spread. But “proper” takes practice, and practice takes seriousness. Ebola demands respect. From what I can tell about the transgressions in Texas is that the entire situation was not taken serious. At least not soon enough. The discord caused by a panicky populous will take some personal leadership. The authorities will be just as disoriented and scared as the masses, so my ticket to freedom is to play the confusion card and make decisions fast and furiously. This will be everyone’s first Ebola rodeo so there is no playbook, and I cannot imagine law enforcement will be shooting Americans in the back for not staying put. But that could change.
- See You Later – Once back together, we will say goodbye to the outside world for a while. Those infected with Ebola are not Walking Dead zombies. They will not attack or appear out of nowhere grabbing at you. They will be weak, sick, collapsed, or dead. And their fluids are more toxic than a zombie bite. Distance and time are the best barriers.
- Decontamination 101 – And the final act of getting home will be to doing the decon dance before entering the house. If the above measures are actually implemented, then everything from the outside stays outside. Clothes, bags, shoes. Ebola cannot live long without a host so it’s not as if my computer bag is going in the landfill. It will just need some time alone and a bath. The bleach solution is in the garage, or just inside the back door when the temp drops below freezing.
Since Ebola runs on a 21-day schedule, having three weeks of food gives you one infection cycle of sheltering in place. My suggestion is three cycles minimum of bug-in potential including the needs of your pets. Ebola is not martial law but might as well be. Ebola will cause barrier shopping and deliberate distancing similar to life during other outbreaks such as the 1918 Flu pandemic. Unless there is massive rioting and widespread death, public services will roll along like normal except we will keep our distance from each other. But having an extra water source available is important.
A few other things to have on hand are protective masks, N-95 minimum. Protective eyewear is also important since mucus membranes are great intake valves for the virus to enter your body. Bleach is another necessity since decontamination may be necessary, and if in the presence of Ebola, you don’t have the luxury to go shopping for supplies after the exposure. Finally, as much of the US heads into winter, you will need to make and deliberate plans in case you’re forced “off grid” if the virus enters without knocking.
Off-grid in this case is simply a reduction or lack of public services for a short time. Unless some other country decides to attack us during the outbreak (which would be an interesting but foolish strategy), services should be restored by skeleton crews. But your mileage may vary. (Reference Flu Pandemic)
The Bug Out
Living in a tent for 21 days in November, December or January might sound like a great hunting trip to some, but not everyone will be happy about it. The bug out should be your very, very last resort. But definitely in your survival bag of tricks. In essence, the bug out saved many in Africa who fled the virus infested villages. Viral transmission was often reserved for immediate family members, health care workers, and those incapable of moving far enough away fast enough. And if you are infected, then your bug out will be a kind gesture to the rest of us. I’ll be the first and say it, “Thank you.” Nature will give you a proper burial in the spring.
Also Read: Are You Prepared to Quarantine?
For those lucky enough to have a second home or cabin in the woods, keep in mind that timing is everything. If you really need to bug out, then all has gone to hell and you truly will be on your own. I cannot foresee the National Guard blocking any roads unless there is a localized outbreak. In that case containment is critical and I do want the army to step in and surround the area just like in the movies. Tough luck if you are inside the perimeter, but if you enter my parameter I just might have to put a small hole in you to keep you away because you should have set up your own tent at the edge of the city yesterday, or even last week. Like I said, barrier methods do work if you follow the rules so while living in an Ebola infested town is far from comforting, you will survive if you can maintain distance. Those infected in Texas and New York broke a rule or two somewhere, probably touching their face with a contaminated finger. It’s so easy to do, but nowhere does it involve magical powers by the virus. Just foolish habits of the human.
Some Parting Words Of Comfort
Several years ago at a science conference I had the pleasure of spending some time talking with Jerry Jaax, the hero in Richard Preston’s book The Hot Zone, later played by Dustin Hoffman in the movie Outbreak. Besides Jerry putting a reality check on the book (yes, a monkey escaped. Yes they chased it around, but only for a couple hours. Yes, they caught it. Then went out for pizza.), Jerry also put hemorrhagic diseases like Ebola into perspective. He was not too scared of Ebola because it kills too quickly. Ebola cannot move around freely since only those who have symptoms are contagious, and if expressing symptoms, the end is near. Real fear should be reserved for those viruses that can fester for years slowly contaminating the population, and damaging the immune system of the victims to the point that other diseases can take hold, mutate, and ultimately become much more virulent. The virus that causes AIDs for instance. And take a hint from Dr. Jaax, don’t shake hands.