Penthouse Retrospective

by Michael Estrin Originally Published: July, 2010

Survive Alive | 10 Years Ago This Month

That’s why Emergency author Strauss says he learned how to escape from the flex cuffs and tie wraps that are often used in lieu of metal shackles during widespread disasters.

“It’s actually pretty easy,” Strauss says. “But it helps if you’re wearing shoelaces made of paracord [a super strong nylon rope used by U.S. Special Forces]. “

The idea is pretty simple. Use a lace to burn through the plastic tie. To do that, you need only remove one lace (easier if your hands are tied in front of your body), tie loops on each end of it, place the length of the lace across the flex cuff, and place your feet in each of the lace loops. By making a bicycle motion with your legs, you create friction, which will eventually disintegrate the flex cuff, allowing you to snap it apart.


There aren’t a lot of disaster scenarios in which a car doesn’t come into play. But if you don’t have access to a car, and you need wheels pronto, you’re going to have to make use of what’s handy.

Your first instinct might be to hot-wire a car. But there’s an easier way that could save you valuable minutes, and all you need are a screwdriver and a wrench. “Just put the screwdriver in the ignition and use the wrench to turn it,” Strauss says. “You’ll fuck up the car, but you’ll get it going.”

It’s a pretty foolproof method, but Strauss warns that you’re better off sticking to older models because the more electronics in the car, the harder it is to “borrow.”

And with lots of abandoned cars cluttering the road, you might think a motorcycle would be easier to get around on. Forget it, Easy Rider. “It’s not hard for someone to knock you off a bike, and then you’re screwed,” Strauss says.


If you’re dealing with a large disaster area, you’re going to be in for quite a trek, and it’s important to know where you’re going and — if possible — what’s ahead.

“The key is the high ground,” Reyes says. “Get somewhere that’s elevated-you’ll be able to plot a way out, and you’ll be safer because it’s easier to see if someone is coming.”

Of course, if you happen to have a map and a compass, you’re way ahead of the game. With those tools in hand, Reyes suggests orienting the map, which is an almost foolproof method of navigation. To get on-course, simply lay the compass along the north/south lines of the map and turn the map until it lines up with the terrain. From there, you should be able to navigate using major landmarks like rivers and tall buildings (assuming they’re still standing).


There are some basic no-brainers that everyone should be aware of when it comes to surviving a disaster. Have cash on hand. Have duplicates of important documents like passports and birth certificates. And have a couple of phone numbers memorized. But, according to Strauss, one thing you might consider is looking into dual citizenship.

“Depending on the disaster, it’s possible that some countries will be better off than others, and you’ll want to have citizenship lined up elsewhere in case you need it.”

If you’ve got parents or grandparents from other countries, there’s a good chance you qualify for dual citizenship, Strauss explains. You should research this immediately. But even if

your U.S. heritage runs deep, there are countries that will take you in if you buy land there. Which is exactly what Strauss did in St. Kitts.


Unless you’re a military commando, you probably won’t get very far on your own. But teaming up with other survivors after a disaster can be a dicey proposition. “You’ve got to look at everyone as a potential threat,” Reyes says. “If you come across other people, there could be an opportunity there. But you have to operate from a position of strength.”

According to Reyes, that means leaving nothing to chance when you set up a meeting. “Observe them to gather intelligence and establish their routines,” he advises. “After that, sneak into their camp and leave a note directing them to meet you at a specific time and place of your choosing. But get to the meeting place first, and make sure that you have an escape plan if you don’t like what you see.”


Sex should be the last thing on your mind in a disaster, but if you get the urge or the opportunity, Ramirez offers this advice: “Don’t do it. You don’t know who’s about to get sick, and sex, or even kissing, will spread diseases that can be fatal in a disaster.”

So if by some chance you’ve managed to save a total hottie, wait until you’ve made it to safety to get it on.


It probably will be the last thing on your mind when the world goes to hell, but if you can remember to grab some laminated photos of loved ones, you’ll be a lot better off, says Reyes.

“It may not sound like much, but pictures of the people you love can help you keep your sanity, and that will help you make good decisions and save your life.”

The boy scouts are a mess these days, but that does not mean that being prepared has become a horrible idea. We just need to survive.

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