This is a guest post by Roberts E
[This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win a number of prizes including an 84 serving storage bucket of Wise Food Storage, 500 rounds of 9mm ammo, a NukAlert a copy of my book The Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat and a copy of my CD It’s The End Of The World As We Know It – And I Feel Fine . For complete rules and list of prizes see this post.]
I previously wrote a contest entry which I suspect was lost as M.D. recently let us know he had some email problems for several months through no fault of his own. I was going to resubmit it, but in all honestly, the content may have been too simple to be published and it was a fairly short article. Since I cannot locate my original draft of the essay I decided to rewrite it to include some lessons from my own past experiences.
In my original essay I suggested having drills which would put your preps to the test during a simulated emergency which required evacuation. It might sound silly, but evacuations are not as uncommon as we might think. In May of 2011, all Japanese citizens within 12 miles of the Fukushima nuclear power plant were given 2 hours to leave their homes.
They have yet to return home even now and the evacuation order has since been expanded to a 25-mile radius. This situation could happen in any one of the 100+ American cities which have a functional nuclear power plant, waste dump, or missile silo; such as Los Alamos, N.M. In June of 2011, more than 12,000 people were evacuated from Los Alamos due to a 61,000-acre wildfire which threatened the nuclear facility located there. Also in June of 2011, the entire town of 40,000 in Minot, North Dakota was forced to evacuate immediately due to flooding of the Souris River.
Evacuations due to flood have also occurred many times in the past in towns located along the Mississippi and other rivers. Hurricane threats often inspire mass evacuations along the south/southeast coastlines as well. A day may come when an earthquake could result in massive evacuations too, for a full 39 of the 50 states have moderate to high seismic hazard risks. Hundreds of thousands of people can be subject to mandatory evacuations at virtually any time. Are we “really” prepared for an evacuation? There is only one way to find out: Put your plans to the test!
To make an evacuation drill more tolerable as a learning experience I would suggest a camping trip during a three-day weekend. After all, both an evacuation drill and a camping trip involve many of the same activities such as packing the car, a road trip, and living elsewhere in temporary housing. The difference is the amount of planning involved, for virtually no amount of planning time is allowed for an evacuation drill whereas a camping trip is usually planned weeks in advance.
Why a camping trip when heading for the woods is not really a good long-term strategy for survival? Several reasons can apply here. First, most people live near friends or relatives who could shelter them, but during a real crisis they may be evacuating also. Those who have relatives living far away will likely camp for at least one night when travelling to those safe destinations. Do not assume we’ll always be able to find motels with vacancies or that we’ll maintain a fast and predictable speed when using our vehicles.
During an evacuation delays caused by traffic jams, detours, car accidents, and empty gas tanks will slow us down. If we’re among thousands who are also needing lodging and travelling at a slower pace than the posted highway speed limit chances are we will be doing some primitive camping as we make our way towards safer places. Camping also gives us a chance to practice little-used survival skills such as fire making, outdoor cooking, navigation, fishing, etc.
The evacuation drill I recommend (and practice myself) has only a few simple rules:
1) There can be a set date and time for the drill (especially important if family members will be joining you), but there cannot be any special planning, packing, or preparation for it. Of course, participants will be thinking about it in advance, but that mental exercise is good training. When the drill begins everyone involved has only a short time to pack (e.g. 1 hour maximum).
2) The “safe zone” destination of your choice has to be more than 60 miles from home and the primary goal is to get there as quickly and safely as possible. Conducting the evacuation drill during a major holiday weekend such as the Fourth of July can add a bit more realism (e.g. more traffic jams, fewer lodging vacancies).
3) Nothing can be purchased from retailers along the way, although buying from stores is acceptable after travelling to a “safe zone” which is more than 60 miles from home. After all, everyone else in town will be emptying shelves and lining up at every gas station, grocery, and retail store. During a real evacuation we would do well to avoid wasting time, as well as to stay away from places where desperate and unruly mobs can become violent looters or dangerous rioters. Expect to stay in the “safe zone” for at least two nights.
Sixty minutes of packing, sixty miles of traveling, and sixty hours of camping. That’s a good starting point, but it would be an awesome accomplishment to hit the road in 15 minutes or less. Winter drills can offer additional challenges as can week-long drills in any season, but I would recommend a warm-weather drill during a three-day weekend to start.
On a side note, this article cannot begin to cover how best to prepare your home before an evacuation. Boarding up windows, for example, is appropriate in some situations but not in others. However, this level of responsiveness isn’t necessary for an evacuation drill. For sure we should know how and when to best secure, protect, and safeguard our home during a real crisis; but for the sake of brevity this article will focus on the evacuation drill as it relates to packing, fleeing to safety, and making the most of our survival camping experience.
One thing I quickly learned to appreciate right off the bat was the value of having a clean and fueled vehicle at all times. There is nothing more frustrating than having to clean out miscellaneous stuff from a car at a time when you’re supposed to be packing it in a hurry. Just as irritating is having a car that is running on fumes at a time when you need to be travelling far and fast while avoiding long lines at fueling stations. Keep all vehicles in ready-to-go condition at all times and never let the fuel tank level fall below half-empty.
A GOODIE bag (Get Out Of Dodge In Emergency) is an absolute must for evacuations. I expanded mine to include absolutely everything I would need for a three-day drill, including a solo bivy tent. It is virtually the only thing I have to take with me and I could evacuate in a literal minute. However, in a real evacuation I would also take a few more moments to fill the car up with some additional gear and tools, extra clothes, and more emergency food supplies. If you don’t have a GOODIE bag, please make use of the many articles have been written to help you make one.
Keep your home clean and organized. If you wish to take fishing gear, for example, you won’t have time during an evacuation order to detangle a knotted mess of fishing line from a dozen separated two-piece rods which were carelessly stacked in a basement corner. And where did you store your tackle box after last using it two years ago? Keep important gear and supplies readily accessible, not in hard-to-reach attics or buried deep in the back of a messy storage room. Being highly organized can reduce the amount of time you need to pack food from the pantry, clothes from the closet, supplies from the medicine cabinet, and gear from the garage or basement. That time savings can get you on the road faster as you head towards safety.
Have a few Rubbermade tubs, coolers, and/or sturdy moving boxes to transport food and supplies in a hurry. Containers for storing and transporting water are just as important to have on hand. Load the big items into the vehicle first and fill in the surrounding spaces with smaller items. Secure items to the roof of the vehicle as well, if practical. However, do not overload the vehicle to the point it becomes unsafe to operate or your vision is severely obstructed. A breakdown or traffic accident is the last thing you need to deal with during an evacuation (even if it is only a drill).
If in doubt about whether to take an item or leave it behind, remember your priorities: Material possessions can be replaced, but lives cannot. If the item in question has no legitimate survival purpose chances are you should not take it with you, but do be reasonable. One does not really need shoes to survive, but having a few pairs of sensible shoes is desirable whereas packing a dozen pairs is a waste of vehicular storage space. As space allows, permit reasonable exceptions for each person to bring a few personal items. Giving in to some minor demands at this point in time can spare some major disruptions of the family peace later on.
While on the road take breaks and help others learn how to use a compass and read maps to improve their navigation skills. Teach them how to find north using a variety of natural means involving the stars and shadows from the sun. Show them how some man-made objects can help orient a compass bearing, such as satellite dishes which almost always point towards the south/southwest.
When conducting evacuation drills more often than not my intended destination (a commercial campground) was already full and I was out of luck because I (purposefully) did not have a reservation. Sometimes I had to travel additional miles to locate a National Forest or other suitable place for camping. I have even slept in the vehicle on occasion, so be prepared for minor setbacks and have backup routes and destinations planned in advance. GPS devices are great, but paper maps will always be useful.
After you arrive at your campsite the evacuation drill takes on a new form, one having deeper roots in true survival skills. It is a great time to practice building a fire, experiment with various fishing or hunting strategies, prepare dinner without having the luxury of a stove or microwave, etc. Yes, this time can be fun and relaxing too, but remember it is supposed to be a learning experience above all.
One of the things I quickly learned is that I use far more water when camping than I originally estimated. During hot summer months most people live fairly comfortably in their homes with air conditioning units, fans, roofs which provide shade, tap water, bath tubs, swimming pools, etc. Because they keep cool in various ways they consume less water. However, camping outdoors subjects a person to constant exposure to the sun and sometimes high humidity too. As a result, stored water is not only used for cooking, personal hygiene, and cleaning; but also in greater amounts for drinking and cooling off our skin.
Unfortunately, that stored water will also become hot from the sun unless you make some effort to keep it cool by natural means. Ice in the cooler won’t last long, but burying a two-liter bottle of water a few feet deep in the earth or submerging it at the bottom of a deep lake can keep that water cool and refreshing. Just remember where you stored it and ensure you can retrieve it quickly and easily. This drill is also an excellent time to practice purification techniques using water collected from rain fall, lakes, streams, and other sources.
Speaking of the summer heat, little else will tire a person faster than being exposed to constant sun and humidity. As if that were not exhausting enough a camper will also be required to perform more physical labor than usual, such as hiking everywhere, fishing for dinner, gathering firewood, hauling water, etc. Sleeping in such hot conditions on hard ground is not truly restful either and an exhausted body can quickly become vulnerable to various accidents, injuries, ailments, and illnesses. Further, nature can inflict other bodily damage through sun burn, allergies, and various plant or insect toxins such as poison ivy and mosquitoes.
Take care to plan for the prevention or treatment of medical conditions such as body aches and pains, minor abrasions and cuts, allergies, intestinal problems, sun burn, and insect bites. If possible and practical, also provide yourself some minor comforts to minimize physical exhaustion such as a sleeping pillow, air mattress, lawn chair, etc.
One can go overboard with too many comfort-related items, but don’t feel bad packing some of them in a vehicle if they really help you endure a survival situation. In my own case, I cut a standard pillow into fourths and sewed them up tight to create an extremely compact yet comfortable camping pillow which stores under a vehicle seat. A small packable hammock can provide a comfortable place for afternoon naps in the shade of two campsite trees. They take up a little valuable space but your body will thank you for it time and time again.
In my own experience, I initially found it to be extremely difficult to make a fire without starting fluid but it wasn’t hard to graduate to using only newspaper as tinder. Yes, I can now make fire “caveman-style” if you don’t mind hearing some new curse words while I do it, but I simply do not ever want to be without a means of instant fire again. It’s just not worth the hours of frustration given the fact instant fire is so affordable so I keep plenty of BIC lighters on hand.
Although they don’t work as well in storms or cold weather, the manufacturer claims each lighter is good for a minimum of 3,000 strikes (both in terms of fuel and flint usage). With this estimate in mind I have enough BIC lighters in my GOODIE bag to start 30,000 fires, which is equivalent to three fires a day for 26 years. Accounting for accidental breakage and other incidentals, ten good quality BIC lighters should be more than enough for a few years of instant fire and I consider that to be a well-spent $15. Regardless of which form of instant fire you prefer to use to ignite tinder, stock plenty of it!
Reliance on electronic devices will drastically fall during a camping outing, but an LED flashlight and AM/FM/Weather radio can be extremely useful in a survival situation. A solar charger and/or hand-cranked dynamo-type charger can prove to be extremely useful in maintaining the rechargeable batteries in these devices (even cell phones too).
Boredom won’t happen too often for most campers, but it does rear its ugly head once in a while. Regardless if the game is solitaire or involves the entire family, I found a deck of playing cards and five dice can offer hundreds of hours of numerous entertainment possibilities for just a few dollars. Best of all, they don’t require batteries and require very little storage space.
When it is time to return home evaluate how future evacuation drills could be improved. What went right and what went wrong? Did you take too much of one thing and not enough of another? Could you improve the evacuation response time? Do you need to replace some old gear or acquire some new ones? If others participated in your drill, what do they plan to do differently next time? If tensions were high what can be done to lower stress levels? After conducting even one evacuation drill you’ll know how to better prepare for and respond to a real evacuation emergency. Of course, camping can be a lot of fun so practice these drills as often as you like.