Surviving the Disaster Golden Hour – Part 5, by J.M.

(Continued from Part. 5. This concludes the article.)

If I’m going to be operating in a rural or wilderness area there are some changes I make to what I bring with me. I lose the Boker tool and the shove knife (since there probably won’t be many doors I need to get through), and I add in an Orion Pocket Rocket Aerial Signal Kit. That gives me 4 signal flares that will go up to 300’ and burn for 6+ seconds, which should significantly increase the odds of being spotted by rescue personnel. As I mentioned previously, when I’m backpacking I also have a smaller bailout bag attached to the outside of my backpack with a first aid kit, the flares, the rest of my emergency kit and some water in case I need to dump my backpack and run to try to stay ahead of a fire. I also make a point of always making sure I know where I am and have some possible escape routes planned out in case I need to get away or to from something. If I’m worried about a wildfire I’ll have routes planned to the closest nonflammable terrain such as a rocky area above the treeline or a local lake or river. Even if I’m only going on a short day hike I make sure I have my emergency kit and enough supplies to get by for one or two nights in the woods.

If you operate on or around any large bodies of water or are concerned about getting caught in a flood there are a couple of additional kit items you may want to consider:

  • A pony SCUBA bottle can provide you with roughly 5-7 minutes of breathable air in the event you get trapped underwater. This would be useful to have in your car if you drive over or near lakes or rivers, but it’s probably too bulky to carry with you on a regular basis.
  • A Belt Pack Manual Inflatable Life Jacket (PFD) is a compact version of a standard life jacket and can help you keep your head above water a lot longer than swimming. It’s pretty light and compact so you can wear it a lot easier than a full-size life jacket.
  • The Klymit Lightwater Dinghy is a compact inflatable one-person boat that can help you get to dry ground after a flood or tsunami without having to wade or swim through deep water filled with all kinds of nasty stuff. It packs down to about 5” x 10” and weighs a couple of pounds, so you could carry one in a backpack if flooding is a significant potential issue. You may also want to include a small collapsible paddle, or you can jury-rig one from poles, branches, etc.
  • The Orion flare kit I mentioned previously was designed for boaters, so the container is waterproof and floats.
  • I’ve mentioned several flashlights previously, but if you might end up under water in an emergency you should look for a flashlight that’s actually waterproof, not just ‘water resistant’. Lights like the Olight I5T EOS and the Petzl e+LITE have an IPX rating of 7 or higher, which means they can survive being submerged for a period of time and still work. The Petzl is an especially good option, since you’ll probably need both hands if you’re trying to get through water, and Petzl claims it can be stored for up to 10 years with batteries and still work.

The final type of kit you should consider is what you keep in your car. Most of us have a Get Home Bag (GHB) in our car, but what if you’re trapped in a blizzard and can’t get home? Your location and time of year will obviously play a big role in the best options for your car kit, since what you should carry in northern Montana in the winter will differ significantly from what you should carry in the Nevada desert in the summer. The focus for your car emergency kit should be the same as for any other type of emergency – survive the incident, get to safety and get help. The things I always have in my car no matter when or where I go are:

  • An escape hammer attached to my center console where I can access it no matter what orientation I’m in. I also have one attached to the back of my center console so anyone in the back seat can access it. I gave one to a friend of mine who thought it was a great idea, then promptly stuck it in his glove box ‘for emergencies’. I pointed out that he may have a problem accessing it quickly if he was hanging upside down from his seatbelt in a car that was on fire or underwater.
  • An automotive fire extinguisher that will allow me to put out a small fire to keep it from spreading. Same thing as the hammer – make sure it’s in the interior where it can be easily accessed. Note: if there’s smoke coming out from under your hood, DO NOT open it! You can be severely burned if there’s a fire under there and it flares up – just get a safe distance from the car and either wait for help or for the fire to go out on its own.

The rest of your car kit depends on where and when you plan on driving. I have a bag with clothes that I swap between summer and winter gear, a couple of lifeboat ration bars and water packets, a serious first aid kit, a folding bow saw, an e-tool, a small alcohol stove with a canister of fuel, a zero degree sleeping bag, some wool blankets and a GHB kit. The saw and e-tool are useful for getting rid of branches in the road during winter and digging myself out of the snow if I get stuck.

Home Base

Most of what I’ve been discussing has focused on responding emergencies when you’re out and about, but the exact same practices apply as well in your own home and property. One advantage of planning for emergencies at home is that you (hopefully) have intimate knowledge of the environment and can control what preparations you make to handle emergencies. There’s a lot of information available on prepping your home for emergencies like fires, floods, gas leaks, earthquakes, etc., so I’ll just focus at a high level on what I call the four ‘Ps’:

  • Plan – Know your home, your property and your immediate area and what kind of emergencies you should be planning for. Is there a chemical plant or railyard close by? Are you in a flood zone for a nearby river? Are you near brush or trees that cloud help spread a brush fire? Are there tall trees that could fall into your house in a blizzard? Spend some time walking around your house, property and local area and document the different types of disasters that could occur, how they could impact you and how they might unfold.
  • Prevent – Once you’ve identified the potential disasters, take action to minimize the risk of them occurring or their impact if they do occur. Things like clearing the brush/trees near your house to minimize the risk from a brush fire, removing trash and oily rags from your basement or shed to reduce the risk of a house fire or cutting down tall trees that could fall on your house are all ways you can minimize or eliminate the risk of a disaster.
  • Prepare – After you’ve done all you can to minimize or eliminate various risks, the next step is to make preparations to handle the remaining ones. This is obviously dependent on the specific risks you’ve identified, but it can include steps such as installing a gas leak monitor, installing smoke detectors in all rooms, buying and staging an inflatable raft on your second floor balcony in case of a flood, making sure there are smoke hoods easily accessible around the house and placing escape ladders in all second floor bedrooms. You should document your preparations and make sure everyone in the house reads and understands them.
  • Practice – The last step is to make sure everyone knows what to do in an emergency by practicing the various emergency responses on a regular basis.

Your home is the place you typically spend the most time, so you should leverage your advantage to control circumstances relating to life-threatening emergencies to ensure you and your loved ones will survive.

Doing Nothing

I’ve discussed a lot of ideas and options for handling emergencies and escaping from dangerous situations, but it’s also critical that you be able to recognize that sometimes it’s better to stay where you are and just wait for help. If you get lost hiking and can’t find the trail, find a comfortable spot and try to signal rescuers with your signal mirror, flares or whistle. If you followed safe practices and gave someone a trail plan before heading out and you don’t return on time, they’ll most likely notify search & rescue who will start looking for you. The further you are from your original planned track the harder it will be for them to find you. Or say you’re relaxing in a large park in some city and a major earthquake occurs. If you’re in no immediate danger from falling buildings or fires, you may just want to sit tight. You can try to help others close by who may be injured or in distress, but you’ll hopefully have done your homework and know that aftershocks can cause a lot of additional damage, so digging through the rubble of a partially collapsed building to look for survivors might result in the rest of the building coming down on you. During any emergency you need to consider all possible options available at the time and figure out which one makes the most sense based on the information you have.

Additional Reading

If you’d like to learn more about emergencies and disasters and how people react (and you should), I highly recommend the following books:

Conclusion

Unless you’re with law enforcement, a first responder, or in the military, the odds of you experiencing a life-threatening emergency during your lifetime are relatively low. However, if you do encounter such a situation and you’ve done nothing to prepare yourself, your odds of surviving are a lot lower. Like any activity, planning is critical – take some time to think through where you go and what you do on a regular basis and make a list of the types of emergencies you could encounter along the way, and then figure out what you can do to improve your odds. With even a moderate investment in time and resources, you could significantly improve your chances of surviving many of the types of localized disasters you might encounter.

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