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JOHN DeMONT: Cape Breton survival expert as ready for cyber wars as he is for World War Z

- Reuters

The Middle East can seem a long way from snow-stayed Halifax. But everything and everywhere is connected in this world. And so the United States’ killing of Iranian Gen. Qassim Suleimani is sure to impact our lives.

I don’t just mean in relatively small ways, like how much it suddenly costs to fill up your car, and the slumping value of your RRSP.

At the other end of the repercussion scale, I’ve not come across a single expert who thinks that Iran’s announcement that it would abandon its last remaining restrictions under an earlier nuclear arms limitation agreement means they’re about to let the nukes fly.

But even conventional conflict between the U.S. and Iran could mean our sons and daughters are going to war.

Then there’s the threat of a retaliatory cyberattack by Iran on the computer networks that run most everything in the United States.

As the old adage goes, when the U.S. sneezes, Canada catches a cold. So be prepared my friends, be very prepared.

“The biggest threat from a cyberattack is what it does to water, hospitals and our institutions,” Chuck Wrathall told me Wednesday. “You better be prepared for a total blackout.”

He spends a lot of time thinking about the moment when the bombs fall, or a hurricane hits, but also the day when financial calamity strikes and you lose your job.

“If you are prepared for the bigger picture you are prepared for everything,” said this carpenter and photographer, who also describes himself as a survivalist, and prepper, a new word for me that means someone who prepares for worst-case scenarios.

Wrathall would be a good man to have by your side at such a moment. Born in Sydney, he grew up in a military family with a father who taught him outdoor skills and, by 12, was an air cadet, receiving his first rudimentary survival training.

As long as Wrathall can remember he was running around in the woods, learning how to make his way in nature. A full-time carpenter, he’s been all across the country building houses.

Now he’s back in Cape Breton. That’s a good place to combine his twin loves: photography — his work is viewable on Instagram where he has partnered with Destination Cape Breton to showcase outdoor adventures on the island — and the outdoors.

Wrathall, you see, can make a length of rope from cattail leaves. He can fashion a lean-to from a fallen tree. His idea of fun is a month alone out in the deep woods, living by his skills and his smarts.

“Everything comes back to food, water, warmth and shelter,” he said. “If you look after those you will stay alive.” He’s as ready for the cyber wars as he is for World War Z.

Wrathall lives by what he calls the survival rules of three: being able to stay alive for three minutes without air or first aid-treatment; going without water — or surviving in the wilds — for three days; making it through three full weeks without access to a grocery store or some other citified source of food.

That takes a bit of preparation.

So he ensures that he’s stockpiled enough of the right kind of foods: freeze-dried, dehydrated and ready-to-eat meals with long shelf-lives — but also energy bars, and sweets, since sugary treats “will boost morale and keeping your morale up is very important in survival situations.” A person needs cookware to prepare food on an open fire, and multiple lighters, including a flint, to keep the fire going. Purification tablets, he counsels, will keep water potable. A dust or gas mask, or even a respirator will protect you and your family from poisonous air.

His survival to-do list goes on. A warm sleeping bag, with a cover to keep it dry, is a necessity, along with one of those heat-reflecting emergency blankets.

In his view a person should always keep $1,000 in cash, of various denominations, nearby for when the ATMs stop working.

Now, before disaster strikes, is the time to accumulate the knowledge that will help you when the computer screens go down and the lights out: rudimentary carpentry and a knowledge of the terrain near where you live, as well as how to identify plants in the wild, read a compass, and perform first aid.

His bug-out-bag — a knapsack that is always ready in case some quick escape is necessary — includes a hatchet and folding axe for cutting firewood and making a lean-to, and a knife, which could come in handy in a life-threatening situation. There are solar batteries, and a handcranked radio, toilet paper, rope and even a bandana, which, he told me, is useful in dozens of different situations.

Any medications a person needs should be in there, since, if things go bad, there’s no strolling down to the Shoppers for a prescription refill.

In the case of cyberattack, he explained, the first step is always to head for cover, to hunker down at home, while you gather intelligence, as best you can, about what has happened.

“You should have a plan already in place,” he said, although that may have to be altered depending upon the circumstances.

Your generator, if you have one, should be fuelled up. Your cellphone should be charged as it enables you reach out to loved ones, and to access apps that can help with everything from identifying plants and navigation, to more arcane survival skills.

It would be good if your GPS keeps working. Wrathall thinks that city folks like us should have two different routes out of town in mind, in case we have to make a run for it.

“At least one should be back roads, in case the other one is clogged up with traffic,” he said.

Good to know, even if the image of us high-tailing out to the hinterland, running from God knows what, is a chilling one.

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