A Reminder to Be Ready

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Seeing these poor folks in the Phillipines and the Midwest, struggling to cope after massive storms, reminds me to update my “bug out bag” for worst case scenarios.

Make fun of me if you want to. I’m not a doomsday prepper like the folks on the reality TV shows. I have reasonable confidence that we aren’t on the verge of some dystopian Hell because of Obama or whatever. But I am fascinated with shows like “The Walking Dead” where the characters are forced to survive in a world of apocalypse, with only themselves to count on. When the s#*t hits the fan, I want to be Daryl — the badass who everyone else will rely on to make it.

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When I was a kid, I watched a miniseries on network TV called “The Day After” that showed the horrors of surviving a nuclear war. Every Wednesday, if the weather isn’t bad, my town tests the tornado sirens in the mornings. I should be used to it now, but every single time, I feel a sense of unease. It’s as if those Russian paratroopers are landing in the high school parking lot in “Red Dawn” all over again. Earlier this year, I watched the movie “Contagion” about a super-flu wiping out most of the global population. Scary scary stuff. Scary because it could very well happen and would probably go down that way.

Part of the services I offer include Crisis Communications Planning, so obviously I think about scenarios and how to properly respond to mitigate the damage.

I’ve also done newspaper stories on the need to buy the Red Cross first aid kit and talked to EMA directors about some worst case scenarios that are possible and would leave you unable to sleep at night if I shared them all here. There’s train tracks the length of a football field from my home and all sorts of chemicals that don’t react very well to derailments. We routinely have 18-wheelers slamming in a concrete barrier called Joe’s Truck Stop because of a ridiculously sharp turn at the bottom of a mountain. That’s not to mention scary stuff like floods, earthquakes, droughts, hurricanes, power outages, thunderstorms, landslides, wildfires, or acts of terrorism. I’ve seen an entire family lose everything but the shirts off their back due to a house fire.

It’s not a matter of IF something bad happens, but WHEN. 

April 27, 2011 showed us the unpredictable and the horrific DOES happen here. Assuming an EF5 tornado doesn’t come out of nowhere and kill us all, we have to prepare for horrible aftermaths so they are less horrible.

It’s always wise to have a rainproof backpack loaded with the essential things you will need to survive. The U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina showed us that you can’t always count on someone else to take care of you. What do you do if the sirens go off and you’re told you have 30 seconds to leave your house, but you aren’t sure when you’ll be able to return or if your home will still be there when you do?

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So, what should you include in your “bug out” backpack?…

  • A full change of clothes, including extra pants with lots of pockets. Don’t forget a change of clothes for your kid and/or spouse.
  • Gloves designed to keep your hands warm (but with enough dexterity to still operate a firearm if necessary).
  • A wash cloth, hand sanitizer, dish soap, and feminine products.
  • A 3-day supply of food for everyone you’ll be taking care of (Oatmeal packets, energy bars, trail mix). You don’t have room to carry a big feast, but you do need snacks with protein to keep your energy level up.
  • A canteen with fresh water. A Katadyn water filter and Hexamine tablets aren’t a bad investment so you can consume questionable water with peace of mind. If you go three days without clean water, game over.
  • Water proof matches. 
  • A Swiss Army Knife that includes plyers, a good knife and a can opener.
  • Duct tape. 
  • A flash light and spare batteries. And candles. 
  • At least a 3-day supply of critical medicines that your crew will need. A first-aid kit including bandaging is a good idea. 
  • A Hand-Cranked AM/FM Radio.
  • A spare charger for your cell phone (in case you do find shelter where there’s electricity)
  • A piece of paper, laminated or sealed inside a waterproof zip-lock bag, containing the addresses and phone numbers of people you might need to reach. How many phone numbers do you have memorized these days?
  • Bug spray and SPF 50 Sunscreen. 
  • Super Glue (great for closing wounds in a pinch).
  • A Survival Book with info on how to collect water, start fires, build a shelter, catch fire, etc. I keep a small one in my backpack because even though I familiarize myself with it previously, I will damn sure want to have a handy reference when my stress level is so high that I can’t think straight.
  • Some extra cash or something else of value to trade. How will you pay for the motel room or meals if you skip out in a hurry without your wallet?
  • A solar battery charger like a Goal Zero would pay for itself if there’s no electricity for days
  • Firearm and ammunition. Use with extreme caution, of course, with a gun permit. I hate to say it, but if it all goes south, the threat of deadly force becomes the greatest currency left remaining. I’m not suggesting you threaten to shoot people if they don’t give up their supplies. Rather, that your ability to protect against threats unknown can be a means of leveraging inclusion in a group with supplies in need of protecting.

If this sounds like too much for you to be carrying around, compression sacks can shrink the size of bulky items. It might be a good idea to go hiking at least once so you have some idea of what your endurance will be. Lighten or share the load as needed. Ideally, you can have it in a car.

Would you have a copy of your precious family photos and important documents stored somewhere else (a safe deposit box or in “the cloud”) or would these be lost forever if your home were blown away by the winds? Isn’t it worth burning a DVD so critical files and documents can be restored, assuming things aren’t so bad that we still have electricity and Internet and civilization that will care about the inventory and serial numbers of everything we’ve lost.

The American Red Cross offers some great suggestions on their website to make sure you and your family remain safe.

Even if nothing bad ever happens to you for the rest of your life, at least you will have a change of clothes handy in your car if you accidentally poop yourself at work or someone spills a drink on you. Or if you find yourself getting unexpectedly lucky with someone of the opposite sex and have an unplanned sleepover. See? It’s no longer crazy conspiracy theory stuff… It’s just good sense.

A few minutes of strategic preparation when everything’s calm can save you a lot of tears later in the unlikely event that all Hell breaks loose. The one thing you can always count on is that most everyone else WON’T have a game plan.

Written by Steven Stiefel