Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Get Home Kit

We spend a third or more of our days at work or school. Disasters come in their own time, they don't come on a schedule that allows us to be at home with all our lovely supplies to deal with them. 

So what would you do if your place of business was evacuated for some reason? Say a fire, HazMat spill or someone going postal? It doesn't matter where you are, you'll still be exposed to all the natural and man-made disasters common to your city. 

Manhattan has been evacuated a few times since 9/11. Virtually everyone had to walk home or to a place where transit services were working again. Having some good walking shoes and a water bottle made things a lot easier for them. Seeing women painfully hobbling across the Brooklyn Bridge in their high heeled shoes was a stark reminder of how important footwear is in a disaster. Another thing I saw reported was that shop-owners were giving away bottled water to the evacuees, but that the evacuees were also throwing them away when they were empty. It would have been wiser to keep the empty in case they found someplace to refill but didn't have bottles. 

For this kit we'll assume that you ride the bus or carpool and don't have a car available. This would also apply to a school setting. We'll also assume you only have a very small space to store things, like a drawer or locker. 
If you do have a car, great, you can store all this in there and more, you should anyway. Just make sure to carry your keys at all times so you can get to it. It would be embarrassing to have a perfectly good emergency kit but no way to get to it, because the keys are on your desk while your workplace is burning down.

The basic idea behind this is to get you back home or to your secondary evacuation point.
I have had jobs where I had to commute 50+  miles, so walking home wasn't much of an option. So what could I do? In one case the job was pretty close to my sister's house so I could bug in to her house. 
In another case I was far away from pretty much everyone I knew but there was a hotel just down the street. Having cash on hand for a couple of nights was worthwhile. 
While I had a car in these cases as well, it would be wise to consider how you might get home if the car broke down at work. Do you know where the nearest bus stop is? How much bus fare is? What routes you need to get home? So you have a taxi company phone number programming into your cellphone or in your wallet? How about a family member or friend willing to come get you?

You still need the same basics: Food, water, shelter and medical supplies. 

Food isn't too bad, most people have a small stash of snack food at their desk. A couple of backup meals in case you forget your lunch at home or you are in crunch time and can't head out to a restaurant for lunch. A large cookie jar of GORP or trail mix would be unremarkable and better for you then a candy dish and oddly few people want to snack on that.
One way I found to expand my office food storage is to use the tuna and salmon in retort pouches, they stand up in hanging folders and take up much less space then canned goods. If you have a file cabinet there is usually room in the space under the bottom drawer. It may only be a couple of inches high but it is space you may be able to take advantage of. Just don't forget that it is there. 

Water can be more challenging because it is big, bulky and heavy. I've seen plenty of office workers with 12 packs of soda under their desks so a case of water should be fine. While having 3 gallon of water for 72 hours is recommended, you could get by with just 3 liters if you keep you activity level and hygiene level on the low side. At the very least a water bottle with a jar of water purification tablets would make a huge difference if things go really bad. 

Shelter is much harder. If the building is fine you have it, if not you've got bigger problems. Most of the time emergency services will be able to help get you home if the building burns down or something. If there is a city-wide or regional disaster you may be on your own. 
Shelter doesn't have to mean a tent or house. Many places I've worked were near hotels, so having cash on hand for a few nights stay is important. The homeless have made shelter out of a parkbench (off of the ground) and some discarded newspaper (insulation). 
A emergency blanket can be helpful, particularly since it is so small. But the clothes you have on you may be the most important. If you have the space to store an extra jacket, do so. Get one with lots of pockets and fill them with everything you think you need. Also get one that is long for extra coverage and bigger then you need, which will allow you to wear more layers or stuff paper or other material in for more insulation. You can stuff food, water bottles, extra clothes, socks and good walking shoes into the arms and all it will look like is an extra jacket. An umbrella is shelter too.

Most workplaces have a first aid kit, and you should too. It doesn't have to be a big trauma kit to help out in a mass causality incident with, remember this is to get you home. A few bandages, a small bottle of pain reliever, cold and allergy medications, some gauze and an elastic bandage would be enough to treat some cuts and a sprain. If you think you can walk home, some moleskin for blisters would be a good idea too. 

Survival is staying alive and getting back with your family to help them survive. think about all the different ways you could take to get back home and what knowledge and equipment you would need to do each one successfully. Actually try it to see if it does work the way you think and how long it would take.