Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Leaving Right Now - what do you have ready to go?

At the time of this blog entry, the 'Doce Fire' in Prescott, AZ is burning less than 20 miles from where Independence Training is based. It has consumed well over 3000 acres since it started about 8 hours ago, and more than 300 homes have been evacuated, most of those within the first few hours. Livestock have been hastily moved, family shelters have been quickly setup in school gyms and meeting halls, and there are approximately 300 firefighters on the ground with a half dozen aircraft battling it from the skies. The smoke plume is currently blocking out the sun and stretches for many miles to the north and northeast. No injuries have been reported and no structures have been directly threatened as of yet, but with red flag wind warnings forecast for tomorrow and a reported 0% containment level, those who are fighting this blaze have a lot of rough work ahead of them.

The smoke plume around 1pm on June 18, 2013, shortly after the fire started.

One of Independence Training's favorite airframes, 
the CH-47 Chinook, doing some air assault on the Doce Fire.

So what does this have to do with the Sheepdog Lifestyle? Let's approach it from this perspective: you are at home on another beautiful summer day, just like today, when suddenly you get a reverse-911 call and the dispatcher tells you that you are being forced to evacuate your home due to a wildfire that is burning dangerously close to your neighborhood. You have a very short time to get what you need - but what will you take? Consider that you may never see your home again; or if you do see it again it will be a pile of ashes. What if the evacuation comes because of a flood? The local Sheriff's Department is outside waiting, but you only have 15 minutes to get the most important things in your life - survival necessities, family photos, vital records, irreplaceable heirlooms - and you have to be able to carry it all with you, because driving out isn't an option. You can see where this is going: do you have everything that is vital to your survival, and the survival of your family, in an easy to carry setup? And for whatever you can't carry, can you fit it into that large fireproof and theft proof safe that you own? Wait - you do own a safe like that, right?

They are called by names such as Bug Out Bags (BOB), 72 Hour Kits, and Emergency Kits, and while a lot of people are familiar with this concept, few actually put one together for every member of their household and then regularly update them. Even worse, many will go out and purchase the "magic talisman kit"; that is, they will buy a pre-made kit that is generally not suited to their situation and typically filled with cheap, poorly designed items that often fail when put to use in the real world. These kits are almost more dangerous than having nothing, because at least if you have nothing then you know you have nothing. But if you have a cheap "magic talisman kit", which was just another checkmark off the ol' "emergency prep" checklist, then when you need it you'll think you have something, and quickly find out that you still have nothing. Remember that these kits aren't put together because they are the best option for you and your family - they are put together with bulk high profit margin items in order to sell you something and make someone else some money.

Pre-made emergency kits or "survival kits" often won't fit your 
real world needs, and are usually made up of cheap items that may 
fail you when you need them most.

Building your own kit is always a better idea, and here are some thing to consider when doing so. Keep in mind that this is not a complete list, nor is it all that we recommend putting into an emergency kit, but rather it is a list to get some ideas rolling. Kits should be size appropriate for the age of the person who will be carrying it as well as their physical fitness level. Your 8-year-old daughter is not going to carry a 30lb pack for very long, if at all, and neither will the 40-year-old man who is woefully out of shape. In this case, less is usually more, especially if you are on foot or limited by authorities on how much you can take. Focus on multi-purpose items and lightweight options.
  • Sturdy pack designed for carrying large loads for long distances
  • Sleeping equipment, include a shelter or shelter materials of some kind
  • Extra footwear, already broken in and similar to what you are used to wearing
  • Full change of clothes
  • Gallon of water, small water filter (Lifestraw!), and water bottles or other containers
  • Medical kit, including any needed medications
  • High energy snacks and meals for at least 3 days - canned goods and MREs are useful here
  • Eating utensils, small pot or metal cup, small stove or heating unit
  • Tools: knife, small shovel, rope, multi-tool, etc.
  • Flashlight (2 is better than 1), extra batteries, candles/chemlights
  • Survival supplies: fire starters, compass, mirror, whistle, whetstone, etc.
  • Hygiene items (hotel hygiene items are a good option and you can get all you want at the hotel desk)
  • 2 way radios and extra batteries, or even better a HAM or CB radio
  • Family photos and important documents scanned and put onto a USB flash drive
  • Picture IDs for everyone in case ID is needed for shelters, evacuations, missing persons, etc.
  • Personal items: books, note taking gear, toys for kids, diapers for babies, etc.
Now that you've put something together, remember to check it on a regular basis - we recommend a minimum of at least once a year. Medications will expire, food will lose it's nutritional value or become dangerous to your digestive tract, and whoever has stashed clothes in that kit may grow or lose weight and need to change out a few items. We once had a student show us their kit and they pulled out diapers for their now 10-year-old son! And of course we have to mention training here, as emergency kits are not "get and forget" gear. They need to be practiced with and used regularly enough so that when the time comes that you have to use them in an emergency there will be nothing in your kit that you are unfamiliar with or pulling out of a package for the first time. Take them camping with you, or better yet plan a camping trip around using only your kit and its contents. Plan a night in your home where you are not allowed to use lights, natural gas, or anything from the pantry or cupboard and use only what it is in your kits instead. Make it a fun adventure with your friends or family, but keep it serious enough that you realize what needs to be changed out or rotated from your emergency kit.

So now let's switch things up a bit. What if you are in your vehicle, traveling home or perhaps you're even way out of town, and find out that you will be stuck wherever you're at for an extended period of time, or perhaps will be unable to go home since the fire/flood/tornado/hurricane is in your neighborhood wreaking havoc? Perhaps you will not be able to get to your home in time to save anything - so what do you have on you when you are not at home?

The answer is simple: basically the same things you would have on you if you had to leave your home! We call it the Get Home Bag, and it's come in handy for several of our instructors on several occasions, from natural disasters keeping them away from their homes to simple vehicle breakdowns or travel delays. Your Get Home Bag (GHB) should stay in your vehicle or travel with you wherever you go, at least in some configuration, including in rental cars, traveling with other people, on airline flights, etc. Some extra things that you may want to add to your (GHB) include cash and silver coins or other currency (in case you need to purchase something when the electricity is out or similar situations), gloves, some kind of optic (binocular/monocular), extra ammunition if you normally carry a firearm (where legal), a firearm if you don't normally carry a firearm (where legal), and wet weather gear. In your vehicle you should also consider having extra food, water, medical supplies, flashlights and other light options, sleeping bag or blankets, jumper cables or booster pack, and vehicle related tools and spare parts, among other situation-dependent items.

Our head instructor, Glen, keeps this 'Get Home Bag' 
and other emergency items in his truck at all times.

The moral of the story is this: good people are forced into tough situations every day. Based on what we typically see at the sites of many disasters and shelters, most of them are terribly unprepared for it. While you can't prepare for everything, you can prepare for a lot of things, so don't get caught unprepared when all it takes is a few minutes and a few dollars to put some good kits together. It will be time and money well-spent.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I put a bag together and keep it in my truck so I always have it. There are some items on here that I forgot. I have planned an overnight trip a few miles down the road in the Pozo Black Mountain Forest, catch is we can only bring our bug out bags. Should be a good time. Might be sucky and cold but we will learn what is useful and what is not.