When the floodwaters from Hurricane Isabel came lap-lapping up Olde Towne Road last September, turning the street into a river and coming to rest 100 yards from Kelly McCarthy's Fairfax County home, she was ready.
McCarthy -- Girl Scout leader, newsletter publisher and would-be urban survivalist -- had stockpiled water. She'd put emergency light sticks in all the bathrooms. She'd cooked up a big stew to reheat on the camp stove, which came in handy for the five days the power was out.
After the floodwaters receded, McCarthy felt she had done so well she wanted to share her experience with others. So she founded her own newsletter. Called "Self-Reliance for Women," it is dedicated to helping women prepare for the unexpected, whether that's a flood or a terrorist attack.
"I don't think people should be paranoid. They should be ready," said McCarthy, 47. "That's the purpose of our newsletter. It's made people ready for the unexpected. It's about solutions."
First published in May, the 12-page newsletter -- filled with articles on such topics as how to decode terror alerts and how to purify water -- now has 600 subscribers, with new readers signing up at a rate of 25 to 30 a week, McCarthy said. That's a fair clip for a low-budget venture.
The monthly newsletter costs $39 a year. McCarthy markets it online at www.srfw.com.
Although she comes from a rural background -- McCarthy is a native of the Isle of Man, a small, independently governed island that is part of the British Isles -- she spent most of her adult life in London, where she became used to the threat of terrorist attacks after repeated bombings by the Irish Republican Army.
"To this day, I don't go into an office building without knowing where the exits are. I stay at the end of crowds," McCarthy said. She also takes a purse-size "urban survival kit" with her everywhere, including an ultra-thin flashlight on a lanyard, a whistle and a small first-aid kit.
McCarthy and her two children moved to Northern Virginia in 2000, after she met consultant William McCarthy at a newsletter conference, fell in love and got married. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, she had the misfortune to be touring the White House's public rooms with some guests from her home country when the building was evacuated amid chaos -- a terrifying experience, she said.
Her experiences with Hurricane Isabel helped solidify McCarthy's theory that families have grown too reliant on cushy suburban conveniences such as washing machines and takeout food, and that too few know the basic skills that would be useful in times of real emergency, such as first aid.
"We are very tied to consumerism now," McCarthy said. "People are very used to going to the supermarket for everything. We're very reliant on the infrastructure and very vulnerable if that infrastructure is taken away."
Her home office in the New Alexandria neighborhood of Fairfax -- where she works with a staff assistant and an editor -- has become a virtual self-reliance laboratory within the last several months.
McCarthy' s latest endeavors include researching biological warfare masks and teaching herself home canning. She and the editor nearly set the contents of an ashtray ablaze testing a fire-starter kit from a local outdoor sporting company.
She's learned -- and written an article about -- how to build a box stove, a cardboard box covered in aluminum foil and heated with charcoal that can, in a pinch, be used as an outdoor oven. "I've already baked a chocolate cake in it!" she exclaimed.
She hopes ultimately to have 10,000 subscribers or more.
"This isn't for gun-toting, hard-core survivalists," McCarthy said. "Everything I'm trying to do is for real women, for us. Suburban women, urban women who need real skills."