Surviving the Disaster Golden Hour – Part 4, by J.M.

(Continued from Part 3.)

One piece of kit that almost everyone has with them all the time is a cell phone, and there are a number of ways it can be useful in an emergency:

  • This may sound obvious, but if the situation warrants it and you can safely do so, call for help! If you’re trapped by a fire on the upper floor of a tall building, the 911 operator can usually connect you with emergency personnel on the scene who may be able to rescue you or provide guidance on a safe route for you to take.
  • If it’s an event like an earthquake that impacts a larger area, the cell lines may be tied up (if they’re working at all). In these instances you may have better luck sending a text message, since those require a lot less bandwidth, and many 911 services have added texting support in the last few years. The FCC maintains a list of all text message-enabled 911 locations.
  • Install a mapping application download copies of relevant local maps in case you need to find an alternate route to escape a larger-scale disaster. My preference is Osmand+ since it’s based on crowd-sourced maps, but there are a lot of other options available.
  • Make sure emergency broadcasts are enabled on your phone, and install and configure some relevant emergency alerting apps. Here are some examples:
  • Install a loud sound generator app that can make it easier for rescuers to find you.

My phone these days is a Ulefone Armor 7 that’s IP68 ruggedized, waterproof and has a battery that lasts 4-5 day of normal use, all of which should increase the chances it’ll be working in an emergency. If you don’t have a ruggedized phone you should at least look into getting a ruggedized case for your current phone, since carrying it around in the back pocket of your skinny jeans will significantly increase the odds of it being broken when you need it most. And if you’re the kind of person who waits for your phone’s battery to die before charging it, you may want to consider getting in the habit of making sure it’s at least half-charged at all times.

In addition my everyday carry (EDC) rescue kit and cell phone I also put together a scenario-specific kit whenever I’m heading anywhere for any length of time. Like my EDC I make sure I always have it with me when I’m while enroute and out and about at my destination; I usually fit it into a Maxpedition Beefy Pocket Organizer or the various pockets of my jacket/smock/backpack (Note: that’s why my Leo Kohler smock is my absolute favorite 3-season jacket – 7 large bellows pockets let me carry a lot of stuff with me). What’s in it depends a lot on where I’m going and what’s allowed, but the following are the contents of my urban kit:

  • Boker Plus Cop Tool – I received this as a gift a while back, and at first I wasn’t too sure about its utility but I’ve grown to like it so much that I now frequently carry it as part of my EDC kit. From a rescue perspective it has a super-sharp serrated blade, a seatbelt cutter, a carbide glass breaker, a sharp chisel tip, and probably most importantly, it’s a great heavy-duty pry bar. I’ve tested it out prying open things like elevators, cabinets and doors, and when combined with a shove knife (see next item), I can open a lot of types of doors that might stand between me and escape. I’d love to be able to carry my Becker BK3 or Gerber Downrange Tomahawk with me, but they’re too big to be practical for most EDC situations. If you want a compact pry bar but don’t want the Boker there are other options available like the OKC Para-Pry Tool, Schrade SCHPB1BK and REAPR.
  • Shove knife – In case you have to get through locked doors to get to safety. Like any tool you need to practice with it to get the most use out of it. There are some decent videos on the Interweb on how to use it.
  • Gloves – You may have to climb or move sharp/hot debris out of your way, so I carry a set of gloves. My choice is the Mechanix Pursuit D5 cut-resistant gloves, but you could easily go with a pair of standard deerskin work gloves.
  • Headlamp – Yes, I have a flashlight with me, but there may be situations where you need both hands free. My choice is the Petzl Zipka – it provides up to 200 lumens, and the head band is a retractable line so it’s one of the most compact headlamps you can buy.
  • Glow stick – Another source of light that works even underwater, and you can toss it or attach it to a string to light up areas you can’t reach. Alternatively, you could use something like the Nite Ize battery-powered glow stick.
  • Particulate mask – This is to supplement the smoke hood I mentioned above in case I need to filter my breathing for longer than 15-20 minutes. I prefer one with a band that attaches behind the neck for a better seal, and with exhalation valves to improve breathability. If you want something that’s even more compact but doesn’t necessarily provide the same level of filtration you could go with nose filters (but you’ll need to make sure you don’t breathe through your mouth). You could also go with the standard wet bandana to cover your mouth/nose, if that’s all you have with you.
  • Goggles – I looked long and hard for a set of goggles that could completely seal around my eyes to protect them from airborne particulates but be compact enough to carry in my kit, and what I ended up with were swim goggles. If you wear glasses you can get these with a prescription, but it’s not cheap. An improvised alternative to goggles would be to cut the filter part off of your smoke hood and put a large rubber band around it to hold it over the top of your head and cover your eyes. A friend of mine suggested non-vented skydiving goggles, but I’ve never tried a pair so you’ll have to decide for yourself. Regardless of the type of goggles you use you’ll want to make sure they’re treated with some kind of anti-fog coating so they don’t fog up on you.
  • Line/carabiner – I know I’m going to get some feedback in the comments for recommending this, but I also carry 50’ of 1200lb test Kevlar line and a 12kN wiregate carabiner (supports roughly 3000lb static weight) in case I need to get down from some height. I put the carabiner through my belt and wrap the line around the carabiner and behind my back and use it to rappel. And yes, you have to use gloves if you do this. I have tested this set up out (wearing a safety line and on belay with a climbing buddy), and it supported me through a dozen 20’-30’ rappels. WARNING: THIS OPTION SHOULD ONLY BE USED AS A LAST RESORT WHEN YOU’RE GOING TO DIE IF YOU DON’T GET DOWN – DO NOT USE THIS SETUP FOR ANY OTHER CLIMBING ACTIVITIES!
  • Impulse ear plugs – These allow you hear noises at a normal level but provide some protection from sudden loud noises. I like the Safariland
  • Water bottle – I always have a water bottle with me, which can be useful for washing out wounds or cleaning debris out of your eyes.
Scanning Ability is Crucial

As I mentioned previously, having the ability to listen in on radio conversations between first responders, facility personnel, etc. can provide you with critical situational knowledge that can improve your odds of survival in some scenarios. The easiest and cheapest way to do this is to install an app like Scanner Radio Pro or Broadcastify Police Scanner Pro on your mobile device. Both of these apps allow you to select from a list of public service radio ‘channels’ that are closest to your geographical location, but they’re limited to radio services for police, fire, EMS, etc. – they won’t necessarily provide you with access to radio traffic from local building/facility services. In order to access the complete range of radio traffic you’ll need to carry a handheld scanner radio, and preferably one that supports scanning of digital and trunked radio systems. Most public service agencies, especially in more densely populated areas, are moving to trunked radio systems, and a lot of building and facility management teams are moving to Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) or mixed digital/analog systems.

My handheld scanner of choice is the Uniden BCD325P2, which is a compact 2xAA handheld that lets you listen in on pretty much any radio signal (digital, analog & trunked) that’s not encrypted; other handheld options with similar capabilities include the Uniden SDS100 and Whistler TRX-1. One feature I like on the Uniden is their Close Call technology, which will automatically scan for and play the strongest signal it finds, which is frequently the closest one. If I’m going to be visiting a building or facility for any length of time or I plan on returning there I’ll use Close Call to help me identify the frequencies that the facility and security folks are using and make note of them for future reference. If I’m going to be in an area for a couple of days I’ll create a scan plan for all local emergency services frequencies using FreeScan and RadioReference.com and upload it to the radio. One thing you need to be aware of with the Uniden scanners is that out of the box they support scanning most but not all types of digital radio protocols – if you need to be able to scan Provoice EDACS, DMR or NXDN signals you’ll need to buy a software license key upgrade from Uniden. The upgrades cost between $50 and $60 each, but I’ve found that the DMR one seems to be the most widely used.

Digital/trunking radio scanners are expensive (especially if you need to upgrade them), so I recommend that you spend some time at RadioReference.com to figure out what frequencies you might need to cover; if you live in a less densely populated area where the emergency services haven’t invested in expensive new digital radio technology you may be able to get by with a less expensive analog scanner radio like the Uniden BC125AT. RadioReference.com has a lot of good info for beginners and pretty much complete databases of the different radio frequencies and systems used everywhere around the world.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 5.)

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