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Tualatin man writes the book on survival

Tualatin resident publishes common-sense guide for families.


Tualatin resident Alan Corsons book on emergency preparedness offers common-sense ideas to get through a disaster.After 25 years as a detective with the Oregon State Police, and 13 years running his own private investigation firm, Alan Corson is winding down to retirement.

The Tualatin resident is kicking it off with a book tour of sorts, but his is not a memoir of the more grisly cases he worked in the homicide division. In May, he published “The Family Guide to Survival Skills that Can Save Your Life and the Lives of Your Family,” what he sees as an accessible, common-sense manual to getting through a disaster.

The book took him about eight months to write, and is part first aid reference, part illustrated compendium of tips to living off the land — including how to gather clean water and how to build a salmon trap.

“It seemed like a reasonable transition when I got out,” Corson said of writing the book. “I could do something for the public that they could use.”

Are you prepared?

Alan Corson will give a free talk on disaster preparedness at the Lake Oswego Public Library, 706 Fourth St., on Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m. The presentation is open to everyone. For more information about Corson's book, go here.

Corson may have eight years as an OSP SWAT Team sniper under his belt, but his book contains nothing about fortifying one’s home with firearms, nor does he advise heads of households to brush up on their sharp-shooting skills. In fact, he doesn’t discuss weapons. For Corson, that’s beside the point when it comes to survival.

“The number one thing to have is mental preparation. That’s it,” he says. “People who are mentally prepared for a situation have an extremely high rate of survival. You have to have the will to live. With a catastrophic situation, like the earthquakes in California, you see people walking around as if they were in a war zone, shell-shocked. They weren’t prepared for it. Mentally, they couldn’t cope with what they saw when the earthquake was over.”

Corson self-published the book through Balboa Press largely because he saw the market crowded with a lot of overly complicated, impractical advice.

Few families have the means or the will to construct a bunker on their property, and such an approach misses the point — during a disaster, Corson says, it’s likely families will be out of the house, at work and at school.

He urges families to sit down and figure out logistics long before catastrophe by asking simple questions.

“How would you get home? If the roads are destroyed or congested, do you know alternate routes?” Corson says. “If you have to walk, do you know which way you can get across the Willamette River to get home? If the bridges are out, have you thought about the railroad trestle?”

He also urges individuals and families to consider whether they live in higher-risk areas that could impose additional hazards in the event the earth shakes or the city’s infrastructure collapses: Those who live on hills, near dams or near a high concentration of chemicals, for example, should find secondary meet-up points.

Corson says he’s made sure members of his family have copies of their shared disaster plan on their phones.

“When a disaster occurs, you are so inundated with trauma, you’ve got so much going on, you’ve got so much stress, you don’t think clearly,” he says.

Corson’s philosophy is to be prepared both at home and when leaving the house — on a material level as well as a mental one. For that reason, he writes extensively about keeping what are popularly called “bug-out bags,” essential items for the home and the car. His recommended list includes the expected — tinder and fire-starting materials, a medical kit, a flashlight, to name a few — as well as clever items, like large plastic garbage bags, which in a pinch act as effective emergency blankets, and homemade stoves that can be powered by rubbing alcohol.

And of course, emergency road flares are never wasted: Not only can they signal distress, they can quickly ignite a fire.

He gave the hypothetical example of driving on a secondary road near Mount Hood and becoming stuck in a snow bank, 20 miles or more from the main road.

“What many people do is, they panic,” Corson explained. “They say, ‘I’m gonna walk out.’ And most of them aren’t found alive.”

A better approach would be to take stock of immediate resources when stuck with your vehicle, Corson said.

“You’ve got gasoline, you’ve got a spare tire that’ll burn for four days once you’ve lit that thing on fire. There will be black smoke — anybody who passes aerially will see that. You’ve got four more on your car to take off and use. You’ve got a gas tank full of gas.”

Corson’s guide doesn’t address any one disaster, because he believes the basic skills and supplies apply to any situation. But if that scenario is too vague, Corson reminds us we’re due for a huge earthquake.

Indeed, Willamette Week reported in 2010 that studies showed the next big quake to hit Portland would likely be centered 75 miles off the coast and cause a tsunami, last as long as four minutes, and could reasonably be expected to take out at least three major bridges over the Willamette.

In the face of such a doomsday scenario, Corson seeks to empower laypeople whose primary focus may not be survivalism.

“It is survivalism in the context of what ordinary people, ordinary mothers and fathers, can do to significantly increase (their family’s) chances of survival,” Corson said of his message.

Aside from assembling supplies and consulting Google maps, what is your average family to do?

Learn CPR, Corson says.

“If you take a CPR class, the people you’re more likely to help is members of your own family,” he explains, calling the method of cardiopulmonary resuscitation a “perishable skill” that needs to be reviewed.

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