Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Preparation and Adaptability: "To go" bags and ID notebooks

(I welcome your thoughts, signed or anonymous, in the comment section below any blog entry)

Life is full of surprises, which is why adaptability and preparation go hand in hand to successfully navigate some of those twists and turns.  Most events do not surprise us BECAUSE they occur but rather because of when, where, how they inconveniently transpire. Below are three recommendations pertinent to anyone, anywhere: an identification notebook and “to go” bags at home and in the car. I’ve also described our emergency supplies for our snow machine, since that is our mode of transportation to the nearest town (42 miles) to buy food and supplies during the winter.    

The potential for natural disasters varies across the country, but virtually every region offers something catastrophic: Rapid departures or an inability to get home for unknown lengths of time can be caused by tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, or rain or snow storms that cause extensive damage and loss of power.  

When we lived in TX, the following preparations came in handy not only during hurricanes, but also during less obvious intrusions, like street flooding and a fire in our high-rise.  My son, who never would have made such plans, has benefited from the car supplies several times when he had car trouble. Friends and relatives around the country, on the other hand, have been stranded without supplies by various catastrophes or inconveniences.  A bit of forethought can ensure greater comfort and self-sufficiency when the immediate surroundings are in turmoil.  

ID notebook

During Hurricane Katrina, about 250,000 people evacuated the flooded areas of Louisiana and Mississippi and moved to Houston, TX.  As one of the many volunteers helping to feed and shelter them, the biggest preparedness lesson I learned was the importance of keeping identification papers in an easily retrievable location.  Many people fled without clothing, food, or medicine of course, but without identification, they could not even prove who they were, to get healthcare or bank wires or start the insurance process once they reached a safe destination.  What ID might you need that you can grab in a panic situation?

Like most people I had previously stored documents in separate places in my purse, car, and home.  Do you do the same?   However, in a time sensitive emergency, how likely is it that you would go through your file cabinet's many files, in poor light, to pull out what you might need in a situation you had not planned for, as you leave your home or maybe even your city?     

Now, my husband and I copy important documents into a binder that we update from time to time.  It is the same prudent practice of international travelers, who keep a copy of their passport and itinerary somewhere in addition to the originals. Our binder is stored in the "to-go" bag we keep at home, so in case of a rapid departure, we can grab it and go.  The binder includes copies of the following documents:

Our driver’s licenses, voter registration cards, passports, social security cards, birth certificates, banker’s contact information, emergency contacts (relatives, doctors, dentists), vaccine records, organ donor forms, physicians directives, voter registration, household inventory, wills, and various types of insurance.   

“To-go” bags    

My husband and I have each packed a “to go” backpack that we keep in a closet with the identity binder.  In addition, we have a lockable bin in our car.  Some items are duplicated, in case we can access the car but not the home or vice versa.  Our rather arbitrary goal is to be able to clothe, feed, and transport ourselves for three days.  You might pack other items than I suggest below, but the following categories will help you organize your list: clothing, cash, toiletries, food, entertainment, communications, and transportation. We found these organized supplies helpful even when we have “sheltered in place” during a hurricane, ice storm, and subsequent losses of power.  Meanwhile, procrastinators who dashed to stores, ATMs, and gas station behind their neighbors often found shelves emptied by prior shoppers and ATMs and gas stations depleted of cash and fuel, respectively.  After the storm damaged electricity delivery systems, some stores reopened for customers with cash but they could not process credit card payments further stranding those who were unprepared.  So think ahead of the crowd!

Clothing:  3 days’ worth of comfortable, versatile, seasonally appropriate clothing that can be layered, including a rain poncho and cap. 

Toiletries: (in addition to normal weekender products, we include soap, toilet paper, a small super absorbent towel, bug spray, sun lotion, a small selection of medicines and bandages, and Chapstick)

Cash:  You can determine an appropriate amount, but our logic when we lived in Houston was to have the amount of money it would cost to drive to a relative in a region of the country unaffected by Gulf Coast hurricanes, (and the amount of food in the car if it took us three times as long as usual to get there). Recent East and West Coast power outages, hurricanes, tornadoes and Midwestern flooding have affected hundreds of square miles, and news reports have depicted huge traffic jams as thousands (or millions in the case of Hurricane Rita) headed out of town at the same time, often in the same direction, looking for the same sets of services along the way. So the issue is not just "getting out of town." It is getting far beyond all the other people getting out of town, too. Hurricane Ike, for example, was an enormous storm, 500 miles in diameter.  It caused extensive damage, even beyond this range, by spinning off tornadoes and causing flooding farther inland than one might expect from a hurricane.  Many communities, both inland and along the coast, lost power for several weeks.  If evacuation is your goal, you need to not only plan but to plan ahead of all the other planners.        

Cooking/eating supplies:  a one flame camp stove, propane canisters, pot, dehydrated meals, food bars, peanut butter, raisins, tea bags, flatware, cups, matches, lighter, multi-plex knife, a case of water bottles, a few garbage bags, handy wipes, and a plastic bin that can double as a sink or storage container.

Temperature and light:  chemical foot/hand warmers, battery powered portable fan, two flash lights, extra batteries, matches and lighters

Entertainment:   Having to evacuate or just being stranded involves a lot of boredom. A deck of cards, two paperback books, and a pad of paper and pen are handy, in both the car and the to-go bag. A hand cranked, battery powered radio at home is helpful to know what is going on beyond your windows.

A well prepared car

Our car is stocked with inexpensive but important items in preparation for travel glitches we may need to address by ourselves in remote areas or, if we are lucky, with the help of a passing stranger.  These include a tire gauge, air pump, Fix-a-flat, a good spare tire, battery jumpers, a tow strap, bungie cords, duct tape, an empty gas can, a funnel, water, a jack, a blanket (to sleep under, lie on when changing a tire, picnic on, and cover up items in the car), two camp chairs, flares, current regional maps and an atlas.  We also include a compass, a pair of binoculars, a digital camera, a GPS, a small sewing kit, and a whistle.  In Alaska, we keep warm clothing and a sleeping bag in the car year round.

For communications, we installed a device that enables us to charge several computers, cell phones and other devices simultaneously while the car is running (we keep extra recharging cords in the car) and a ham radio (my husband has the licenses to operate one).  Since we have experienced periods when electric gasoline pumps did not work and stations ran out of inventory, we bought a bike trailer wide enough to accommodate two bikes and five gas cans.  Thus, we may be able to fill gas cans to extend our driving range past dysfunctional gas stations or ride bicycles if our car runs out of gas.
Storage in silver box and under the driver

A well prepared snow machine    

In Alaska, we keep a car in a nearby city since there is no road near our home.  In the winter, we rely on the snow machine (same as a snowmobile) to get to the town, about 42 miles away, usually to haul bulky supplies on our 14 foot snow machine trailer (like construction supplies and drums of gasoline). 

Because the route crosses lakes, creeks, bogs, and rivers, as well as woods, and because most of the way one is unlikely to encounter another person, we carefully maintain our emergency supplies.  Some are stored in gear boxes on the machine, but some are very important to wear the whole time, in a backpack or on one’s person, in case, for example, the machine and the driver separate in an emergency. We try to anticipate a variety of likely scenarios, such as breaking through thin ice or driving through overflow (water seeping up over the ice from some opening), tipping over or getting stuck in deep snow, being blocked by an over turned tree or an ornery moose, getting lost, getting hurt, suffering machine damage, and running out of gas.

I used to worry about my husband getting lost or stranded.  I don’t anymore.  He knows his routes and perhaps more importantly, he recognizes landmarks that indicate how far he is to the nearest likely place to find people or shelter, like a cabin or a frequented ice fishing spot, or one of the rivers that serves as a transportation artery in the region.  As a backup, he also bought a Garmin 62s handheld GPS with a topographical map, particularly useful in a disorienting snowstorm.  If the machine broke down or he got hurt along the normal route, we figure that the farthest point he would be from likely shelter or a person is 10 miles. If he had an accident but could walk, he would be able to reach help on snow shoes in several hours.  Alternatively, we hope that the supplies would enable him to stay warm and safe until someone found him (if he stayed on his normal route).         

Tools: The toolbox includes:  a collapsible cable winch, a collapsible shovel, a geologist type hammer (to tap components that have become iced up), a nylon ratchet strap, a pocket chainsaw, bailing wire, a carabiner, spare parts for the snow machine, a multi-function tool, needle nose pliers, miniature scissors, bungie cords, nylon rope, duct tape, a flashlight with spare batteries and an extra can each of gas and oil.    

Warmth:  In separate dry bags are stored clothes, fire starters, food supplies and camping equipment.  A full extra set of clothes, including socks and gloves is imperative in case one gets wet.  Chemical hand and foot warmer packets are handy, small, and effective.  We generally pack three different ways to start a fire, such as waterproof matches, a lighter, one baggy with birch bark and another with a Vaseline soaked cotton ball), a 9 volt battery and steel wool or a magnesium bar with flint attached.  To shelter in place, we carry a silver, reflecting emergency blanket and a tarp, a bivy sack, a sleeping bag, a portable, one person propane backpacking stove, with a metal cup or pot, tea bags, and dehydrated food packs.  

Communications:  Like any camper who prudently informs someone of where he is going and when he expects to return, Bryan calls me from town when he is ready to leave, so I know to expect him in 3 hours. He also carries his cell phone and charger and one of our two way radios since the phone and/or radio sometimes work at a few points along the route.    

Other: A pair of snowshoes and ski poles, toilet paper, plastic bags, a gun, a flare, a  compass, permanent marker, paper, identification, cash, a timepiece. 

Food:  three meals worth of food, like sandwiches or snack bars and raisins.  A bottle of water or a camelback is stored inside one’s jacket to keep the water from freezing.


I know that we can’t plan for every eventuality, but perhaps the tools assembled to preserve Maslow’s hierarchy of water, food, warmth, shelter, etc may be useful for adapting to other, unforeseen circumstances.  After all, isn’t duct tape good for just about anything?  We have adjusted our inventories over time as we have heard other ideas or found lighter or more versatile products.  Another benefit of thinking ahead like this is that it forces one to be more aware of our vulnerabilities which, in turn, makes us less likely to take things for granted, like "a short trip" or "I'll get it later," or "that only happens to the other guy."   This awareness is a good life lesson that pays dividends in many other aspects of life, too.  I recommend it.      


No comments:

Post a Comment