Bug Out and Strategic Planning Aids Using Freeware and Open Source Software, by Josh M.

The following is intended to introduce some free computer resources to use for disaster planning. Topics covered are Bug Out Route planning, neighborhood  resource identification, and offline data back up.

My background includes growing up in the Arizona desert. Living forty miles from town and two miles to the nearest neighbors encourages one to be self reliant. Later in life I moved to and still live in the Pacific Northwest. During most of this period I was in complacent consumer mode. After the birth of my two children I began to question my abilities to provide for my family in an emergency or tough time. Around the time of the tech stock crash in 2000 I began to question the path of our nation and its political and economic choices. Fast forward to the pop of the housing bubble. That event spurred my quest for answers and leads us to today.

There are two free programs I will cover using for disaster preps and planning. One is Gadwin Systems PrintScreen. The other is
WinHTTrack, an open source offline browser.

Gadwin PrintScreen has the ability to save images to a file or capture portions of anything viewable on your screen to a JPEG.
These can also be saved in a numeric sequential order for ease of identification.

WinHTTrack allows the user to assemble entire web sites for offline  use. This is a powerful tool that comes with responsibilities. Sites such as Survivalblog.com offer an archive of their site for purchase but also encourages offline backup by other means [as long as it is for private, noncommercial use.]. The other consideration is the usage of bandwidth. Whomever is hosting the site your are considering downloading is paying to keep their site up and may have bandwidth caps or fees based upon the amount of data transmitted.

Setting up Gadwin PrintScreen will only take a few moments after installation. Get to the properties or options menu in Gadwin while it is running. Set your hotkey. The hotkey is what will be activating the capture. A common hotkey is the “Prt Scr” button. Check the preview captured image box. Under the source option box check rectangular area. Under destination option box check copy captured area to file. Also check automating naming and set the filename to the number 0. Doing this will begin naming files as 0001, 0002, 0003 an so on as you save them. Set the Capture  Directory or destination folder as well. Under image menu set as JPG. Hit “OK”. Upon pressing the hotkey an instruction should appear showing you how to size the area to be captured. 

This only covers web browsing map interfaces as I have chosen not to use Google Earth.

One use for this tool is probably already obvious to many of you.

Go to your favorite online mapping tool or web site. I use Google maps. Personally I began from a regional view and began setting and saving files/pictures as I zoom in. You may get to a point where everything you want will not fit on one JPG. At this point I find my focus point and using the map tool move it to a far lower or higher corner and screen capping that. Keep moving your focal point around your four corners and capturing those images until you have made a satisfactory assembly of images. For vehicle route mapping I tend to use a standard map view. For area specific maps I use the satellite view. These settings are visible in the upper right area of the map.

Clearly making a bug out map is one use here. The following is of the most use to those of us living in major metropolitan areas. While browsing a specific map area to the top and right of the screen there will be a menu to check a few selections. The one that will be most valuable to the bug out in a vehicle is the traffic box, put a check mark next to it. An overlay will appear showing the live traffic flows for the viewable area. To the bottom left there should be a box saying live traffic and small text saying “change”. When you change the times you can cycle by day and time to simulate morning or evening rush hours in your area. I have had varying effectiveness with this setting.

Many have said it before but here it is again: If you and yours are going to relocate, then do it before the majority of the population decide to flee in a panic.

Google Maps also enables one to type in the starting point and destination for a suggested route. The information given by this auto trip planner is valuable. You can set it for car, bike, or foot travel. It also notes car travel minimum and maximum predicted times with traffic. You are easily able to interface with the map and “drag” your route away from areas you wish to avoid and toward predicted safer lanes of travel. Every time you do this it will refresh distance and predicted travel time. It is easy to create several folders of screen captures on your pc to hold individual routes and means of travel. The wise choice here is to verify as many of these routes as you can physically. It may be as simple as a picnic with the family or a new route to the hunting camp. To put ones trust in an untested route is asking to get stuck in a bad spot.

Another valuable use for the browser maps is scouring your neighborhood, region or retreat for visible resources, threats, and unknown avenues of travel. An example is a friend just moved into a new house and looking online at his house showed me his neighbor owns a pool, relatively uncommon for the Northwest but an item of note. Several blocks away but invisible from the street are a few homes with large undeveloped backyards. In time of shortages, the owners of those parcels might me agreeable to someone planting that ground with vegetables, in exchange for a share of a crop.

During neighborhood walks you may notice fruit or nut bearing trees and berry vines on public land. These can be noted on your map with a simple mark in the Paint program that comes with many operating systems. Resource awareness and becoming friends with your neighbors at the same time. There may be areas or neighbor that receive a mark for one or more reasons. Perhaps evidence of unsavory activity or even the presence of arable land. Fresh water is worth noting, especially if it is not visible from the street.

The next step is for intermediate users. GIMP is an open source photo editing program that uses layers just like a well known photo editing program. With it you can now take your captured images and combine them to build large medium resolution images.

 You see where I am going with this. Four screen captures assembled into one image comes to 19″x13″ at 72 dots per inch on my pc. This covers 3 block to the North and South and 6 blocks to the East and West. At this resolution viewing at 100% cars can be identified by their color but not make and model. Houses, driveways, and greenspaces can be seen but not in great detail. An additional benefit of Google maps is the auto labeling of businesses, parks, and streets.

For the budget minded prepper consider printing out sixteen 8″x11″ black and white pages and pasting them on some cardboard. The next step up is a 25″x25″ b+w laminated at Kinko’s for $16. A 25″x25″ color laminated is $41. The final destination is a 50″x50″ color laminated map that runs $184.

This is not my area of expertise but I am also attempting to define perceived threat or awareness areas. Part of this includes lines of travel, fields of fire from my home and block, as well as effort required to seal off areas from vehicle traffic.

For the more advanced computer user let us consider WinHTTrack. Part of the power of this program is the ability for it to set filters for file type and size.  In the help menu of this program you will find a robust  “how to” that will allow you to download portions of web sites for personal use. There are examples of good/bad scan rule interactions as well. WinHTTrack will not download Flash or Javascript well or at all.

It is up to the individual to use good judgment when using this tool. When set on below dial up speeds you will be able to assemble large amounts of text and pictures over the course of one nights sleep.

At the end of the day it should also be considered what to do with and how to manage this data. Consider printing, burning a CD or purchasing several USB flash “thumb” drives for data redundancy. Every member of the family could easily carry 4+GB of information for as little as $12. That might be most or all of the families pictures, documents, plans, maps, and collected reference material. This article does not cover data security but it is a major consideration if personal, financial, or medical documents are digitally backed up.