Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The 72 Hour "Get Home Bag"

What do you need to help you get home if a disaster strikes?

Can you answer the following questions?  Do you know where you will be if a natural or man-made disaster occurs?  Will you be at home, at work, at School, across town, or across the State?  Will you be with your family, or alone and separated from them?  Where would you need to go to be safe, and how would you get there if you couldn’t drive because the roads were damaged?  Do you have a plan for how you would get where you need to go?  Have you talked about a plan for how to re-unite with immediate family members in case you’re separated?  In most cases, we cannot predict what kind of disaster may strike –man made or natural- when it might occur, or where we will be.  But this does not mean that we are just doomed to fate or luck.  We can have a contingency plan in place for where we will go in the event that it’s unsafe to stay where we are.  A good plan includes a modest investment in gear that could make such an ordeal easier and may even save your life.  We can prepare and keep a “72 Hour Survival Bag” in our car to help us get home if we have to abandon our car and walk.   
Most people commute to work or school an average distance of thirty (30) miles round trip each day.  Even if you don’t work or go to school, it’s likely that you don’t just stay home all day every day.  If you live in a metropolitan area, you likely drive past the homes of MILLIONS of people every day. Spend some time considering that.  If a disaster strikes, the millions of people who you share your organized metropolitan world with that you drove past when you left your home to go where ever you went may not be so civil as during more ordinary times; and they will be in-between you and home which could become a problem if you’re walking.  You may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t have to worry about this because I live in the country.”  That may be true, but do you ever go to the city? 
If you've ever been stuck in freeway traffic for hours at a time, consider what a major infrastructure outage affecting the power grid, or a magnitude 7.0 or greater earthquake severely damaging the road surfaces and elevated freeway would be like.  If the electrical grid is down gas station pumps won’t work and any food business using an electric cash register won’t be able to sell you something to eat.  You may not be able to drive home. You may be forced to sleep in your car if it is safe.  You may be unfortunately stuck in gridlock where the freeway passes through the worst part of the city with night approaching.  You may have no other choice but to strike out on foot to reach your safe place, or even just to try to find food and water.  It’s likely that there will be no emergency personnel available to help you, or keep you safe.  They will be busy.  If it’s real bad, they will be responding to the aide of their own immediate families.  If you find yourself in a dire situation, far from home and are forced to abandon your car to start walking, you’re going to need more than a snickers bar and a bottle of water.  If you had stashed a “72 Hour Bag” in your trunk, it would allow you to safely leave your car with the confidence that you are prepared to  start walking for home or a pre-planned meeting place (rally point).  
Most people are familiar with an emergency kit for their car. It may be comprised of a reflector triangle, jumper cables, road flares, some sort of first aid kit and maybe a pair of gloves.  This is not preparation for any kind of emergency other than a flat tire or a dead battery.  If you need to shelter in place for the night (such as in your car), you will need a blanket, flashlight, food, and water at a minimum. If you plan to strike out on foot and you’re 30+ miles from home, you will need a lot more gear than that.
The gear needed for getting you to your home or your designated safe location or rally point is typically referred to as:
·       Get Home Bag (GHB)
 ·       Get Out Of Dodge Bag (GOOD)
This gear is not intended to be for wilderness survival, Special Forces operations, or for mountain man or "live off the land" type of situations.  It is intended to be just the basics that any intelligent adult can make use of with little or no training.   At a minimum it should include shoes suitable for walking, some kind of very basic shelter (rain poncho, tube tent, bivouac sack) from inclement weather, extra clothing, appropriate food (long shelf life & high protein), drinking water and the ability to filter more, extra Rx medications, some cash, a flashlight, and a number of other items including something for personal protection. 
Most articles I’ve seen on this topic include fire starting materials.  I agree that it should be included.  But I urge the highest caution and strongly discourage the use of fire for any reason unless it is absolutely necessary.  Fire is highly visible, it attracts attention.  In a survival situation such as I am talking about here, it is possible that some other people may be of help to you, but the fact is that other people would also present the single greatest danger to your personal safety.  Every person who you come into contact with would be a potential threat, especially if they are desperate.  If unprepared, they will at minimum ask you to share your food and your water, and they will not care if you don’t have much.  At worst, they will try to use force to try to take your provisions from you.  A fire would announce your location like a flashing neon sign that says, “come here.”  There is a saying that civilization is only 4 missed meals away from lawlessness.  This means that by dinner time on day two, with no hope of a meal on the horizon, otherwise civilized people are going to start resorting to violence.           
For the purposes of this article, I'll refer to this gear as the GHB (Get Home Bag).
The likely scenario if disaster strikes is:
·       You are going to try to drive home.

·       You will encounter traffic gridlock, or impassible streets or highways and may stay put for some period of time waiting to see if the road clears or help comes.  Or maybe your fuel tank was low and you can’t find a gas station that’s open for business because the electrical grid is damaged. 

·       Finally, you will strike out on foot for home

·       You may have to find shelter or sleep at least one night out in the open before reaching safety. 
You should stock and store a GHB in your car because in our culture, we tend to be where ever our car is.  A GHB is not going to do much good if it’s at home in the garage when we need it because we are stranded 30 miles from home.    
Okay, enough already...what should go into the bag?

72 Hour Go-bag (Get Home Bag)

A component of your disaster kit is your Go-bag. Put the following items together in a small backpack in case you must evacuate quickly or end up on foot.  Keep this in your car and out of sight.  I’ve divided this list into 3 categories:
1. Must Have.  2. Nice To Have.  3. Optional.  This information is presented as only my opinion, based on a lot of reading and a little experience.  
          MUST HAVE:
·       Small backpack, (book bag, day pack). Quality enough for all day carry, but cheap enough to leave in your vehicle.  Wal-Mart currently has suitable packs for under $30  
      Emergency cash in small denominations and quarters for phone calls (leave the $ in the bag!)
      Quality flashlight or head lamp w/LED bulbs (LED’s last longer & are brighter)
·       Heavy weight (not thin emergency type) reflective space blanket.  Can be wrapped around yourself to sleep in above freezing temps.  Also puncture resistant for sleeping outdoors on the ground.  I’ve slept in these many times in the mountains during the summer and fall.   
·       GHB for your pet if you are in the habit of taking your pet with you when you leave home (food & and medications). 
·       Extra sox & underwear in a dry bag or zip lock bag to keep dry
·       Hat based on season (wide brim or warmth)
·       Compact rain poncho (staying dry is critical to staying warm).
·       Pants (jeans or similar), particularly for women who may be in a skirt, or light shorts.  Leave suitable minimum clothing in your vehicle with your GHB to keep your backpack load smaller.
·       Keep a quality pair of comfortable walking/hiking shoes in your car at all times in case you find yourself stranded far from home and you’re wearing high heels, or sandals.
·       1 base layer (moisture wicking) type LS shirt
·       Local map of area.
·       Water (minimum 2 quarts)
·       A means to filter additional water (filtration straw, filtration bottle, hand pump filter, etc)  Read carefully & don’t buy something that only improves taste.  A good device should contain language like this- “Removes up to 99.99% of bacteria, virus, contaminants and pollutants found in drinking water sources.”  These devices are expensive, but clean water is probably the most important thing on this list.  If the power grid is down, water probably won’t come out of the tap or faucet because municipal water is usually dependent on pumps.
·       Food- long shelf life, high protein (jerky, nuts, dried fruit, MRE’s, protein bars, survival rations)
·       Toilet paper, in a zip lock bag
·       List of emergency point-of -contact phone numbers
·       Individual needs: e.g. feminine products, prescription medicine
·       First aid kit
·       Multi frequency (AM, FM, weather) Radio – hand crank & solar capability is best.
·       Extra batteries for flashlight and/or headlamp
·       Loud rescue whistle
·       List of allergies to any drug (especially antibiotics) or food
·       List of Rally Points in case of family members separated from each other
·       Health insurance identification cards or photo copies
·       Extra prescription eye glasses, hearing aid or other vital personal items
·       Sunscreen (small tube of SPF 30 or higher.)
·       Dust masks
·       Gloves
·       Multi tool (Leatherman type)
·       Pocket knife
·       Extra tee shirt
·       Sharpie marker, pens, writing paper
·       Duct tape (small roll), or electrical tape (good multi-purpose & packs small)
·       Light sticks
·       Fire starting materials- lighter, some kind of wet start tinder, some kind of firesteel
·       Length of para-cord (50’), cheap & easy to find 
·       Tube tent
·       Extra cell phone battery
·       Wet wipes (personal hygiene) in sealable container so they don’t dry out.
·       Bug spray (small, non-aerosol container.)
·       Small bottle of Ibuprofen
·       Extra keys to your house and vehicle
·       Pepper spray canister
·       Consider a carrying handgun & ammunition. 
California law states that we can legally transport an unloaded handgun inside of a locked secure container with bullets or magazines also inside of the same locked container.  Some people mistakenly believe that the “locked secure container” means the trunk of a car.  The term “secure container” is not defined by the law.   I use a high quality locking soft sided bank deposit bag for this purpose.  The key is never further away than my pocket.  The unfortunate reality that we must be aware of is that there is a segment of society who during times of civil disturbance or disaster will not hesitate to loot and victimize others if they believe that they can do so without risk to themselves.  If we have to travel on foot through populated areas, we will encounter other people.   We can just hope for the best with each encounter, or we can be proactive to protect ourselves.    

I neglected to encourage gun owners or new gun owners to seek out training.  This is a MUST, not only legally to purchase, but because it's a valuable experience and the smart thing to do.  Currently in California, a Basic Firearms Safety Certificate is a requirement to purchase a hand gun.  This consists of a written test as well as a simple "hands on" practical requiring the gun owner to load and unload the hand gun as well as visually check that the chamber is unloaded.   There is a study guide available.  The Basic Safety Certification is the minimum requirement. 

I strongly urge the new gun owner, or the long time gun owner with no firearms training to seek out quality training.  You may feel that you already know everything you need to know about safe gun handling and tactical firearms use, but these courses are usually taught by retired military, and/or law enfocement types who have a lot of real life experience and the desire to share it.  The Carry Concealed Weapon (CCW) course is an excellent training program that covers safe handling, very basic tactical use, equipment, legal aspects, and a day at the range of live fire practice.  Even if you have no intention to get the CCW permit, or carry a hand gun outside of your home, this is excellent training.  

Shooting ranges are ordinarily managed by a gun club and the gun clubs should have National Rifle Association (NRA) certified instructors.  There are other certifying bodies, but NRA is the best known.  The courses are inexpensive and usually offered on weekends and evenings.   Currently the local gun club in my area offers training courses such as, Refuse To Be a Victim, Personal Protection in The Home, and Basic Pistol.  The best thing I've learned from a handgun course had nothing to do with gun use.  I learned that avoiding being a crime victim in the first place by maintaining an awareness of my surroundings and the people in it everywhere I go is the best way to stay safe.  I thought that I was already a highly vigilent person, but learned I had room for improvement, particularly on the subject of understanding how criminals choose targets and locations for personal crimes. 

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