by Don Russell,
In the aftermath of ‘Superstorm Sandy’, sad news of the loss of life filters through; what makes it even worse is the fact that many of these deaths may have been avoided by taking some very simple precautions. I meant to write this article a month or two ago but sadly didn’t get around to it. Although too late to be of any use for the victims of ‘Sandy’, I sincerely hope that the information below will be of some use during the inevitable subsequent events wherever they may happen.
On the whole, we deal with the dangers of everyday living very well; the vast majority being man-made. We have all come to rely on the brave men and women of the emergency services that risk their lives every day in order to save the lives of others; it’s this reliance that can cause complacency during extraordinary conditions and increase the load on the emergency services during these times. Natural disasters can take many forms, all producing multiple hazards and constantly changing conditions; however, our needs during these often frightening times are relatively simple. Thankfully, the vast majority of natural disasters are short lived and rarely extend past 48 hours duration; of course, the aftermath continues much, much longer. It’s this initial, extremely high risk 48 hours that we need to focus on.
Do We All Need to be Survival Experts?
No! The thing we need most is good, old fashioned common sense. We are talking 48 hours here so very basic survival skills will be more than adequate for an extremely high level of protection. The power of nature is awesome; you have to work with it in order to keep yourself safe. In the developed world, many natural disasters are predicted a few days before, just as ‘Sandy’ was. On rare occasions we have little or no warning but these situations should still be much more manageable with a little preparation.
So! What Preparation?
Recently, I wrote an article about a dry sack and a dry bag, let’s start there. When used for this purpose they are often referred to as ‘ditch bags’, so called because when the time has come to leave everything you’ve got it’s commonly called ‘ditching’. The ‘ditch bag’ then, needs to hold whatever you’ll need. The dry sack in the article is absolutely ideal for our purpose as it has a rucksack harness attached. Before we move on to what to take, let’s look at the sack itself. The sack forms part of your equipment and is often overlooked as any use other than to carry your stuff in, but it can be extremely useful for other tasks as well. The ‘dry sack’, as the name implies is watertight; that means that it not only keeps water out, it also keeps air in! By trapping air inside the sack along with all your gear, it will make an extremely efficient buoyancy aid. If you use it for this purpose, wear it on your front not your back, that way, it will keep your face toward the surface. You can also swim holding it in front of you in calmer water and it can be used to carry drinking water from one place to another. Now that we have our ditch bag, we have to decide what to put in it.
What to Take
This will vary to some extent depending on where you are and what natural disasters you are likely to encounter but the core basics will always be the same. There are two considerations, size and weight. The ditch bag has a capacity of 35 litres, this size is ideal as it isn’t bigger than a normal adult’s torso so it shouldn’t impede you when moving through tight spaces. The second consideration is weight; the heavier the sack the less agile you will become. Your size, agility and speed are extremely important in situations such as these so we need to keep everything sensible and in our favour. It has to be said that the better your survival skills the less stuff you’ll need to take but your biggest asset by far is making the right decisions at the right time. Let’s take a look at the items that should be in your ditch bag.
The Bits and Pieces
First-aid kit– A small watertight sandwich box (the ones that have 4 flaps and a seal in the lid) will be ideal. It should contain the normal things like micro pore tape, plasters, individual antiseptic wipes, ‘sticky’ wound butterflies, dressings, bandages, laxatives/Imodium and any personal medication that you need to take; pack 1 weeks supply if possible, that way you don’t have to make your restock an immediate priority after 48 hours. It should also contain water purification tablets/fluid to treat 30 litres. I would personally recommend that this is in the form of iodine droplets; the reason for this is that iodine is much more aggressive and that you can also use the iodine to treat cuts and grazes. It’s worth remembering that you shouldn’t use iodine if you’re pregnant or have a thyroid condition; if this is the case go for chlorine tablets. If you’re female include a few tampons in your kit; these are often overlooked and your body still needs to be attended to; they can also be used to start a fire in wet conditions.
1 litre water Container – A 1 litre water container filled with fresh drinking water. It needs to be a 1 litre container as the vast majority of water treatments are in increments of 1 litre so you’ll get predictable results.
Fire – Some means of producing fire in adverse conditions. If your survival skills are reasonable your knife and sparking tool will be all that is needed; if not, put 2 wind-proof storm lighters in your kit.
Cooking – A small stainless steel cooking pot so that you can use it on an open fire; use it to cook in and drink/eat from as well. You can also boil water for drinking should the need arise.
Personal Kit– Toothbrush, toothpaste and travel towel. No deodorant, hair gel, shampoo, aftershave, perfume or mascara.
Food – Pack dried food as this is light and doesn’t go off; soups, noodles, dried meals and the suchlike, there’s plenty of stuff to choose from in the supermarkets.
Light – A good quality waterproof L.E.D. head torch and a small hand held torch, again L.E.D. with a spare set of batteries for both. I have specified L.E.D. only because the burn time is much longer for the same size unit.
Shelter – If your survival skills are minimal take a Gore-Tex bivi bag; it’ll take up very little room, it’s 100% wind-proof and it’ll keep you dry.
A Knife – A good, sturdy sharp knife should be included. A fixed blade is always better than a folding blade.
Clothes – Your
clothes are what you’re standing up in. You can put a few extras in but clothes are by nature bulky. Go for good quality fibre pile stuff as it’s warm and it still retains much of its insulation properties when wet. A warm hat is often overlooked but all this depends on the temperature of where you are and you should adjust your clothing needs to the conditions you are likely to encounter. Always keep a good pair of sturdy boots at hand as these will handle all conditions; not only protecting your feet but also making you much more sure footed.
Other Things – It’s wise to take a credit or debit card, driving licence (for identity), a copy of your house/car insurance certificates or the policy numbers and some cash (about £200). The cash is so that you can get some things if the opportunity arises, you may not be able to use your credit/debit card if there is no power and if you can they may insist on some identification under the circumstances (driving licence).
Is That It?
For the bits and pieces, yes. These things are always difficult to quantify because each individual has a different level of ability; in addition to this, the mental strength that is so very important during these situations is again very unpredictable. Use this as a basic guide and modify as you feel necessary. Keep it packed and ready to go, if you don’t, when it comes to packing your stuff in an emergency you’ll forget or won’t have half of it. Check it every 3 months or so replacing the stuff that’s going out of date immediately.
In part 2 we’ll take a look at what to do and when to do it.