Written by Jeff Hall
The State of Washington recently completed a huge disaster drill involving over 30,000 police, military, and volunteer Search and Rescue organizations. Air Force P.J’s parachuted on to airfields, large and small, and an amphibious landing was conducted near Port Townsend. Fairchild AFB, located 300 miles east, was designated the operations center since it would be less affected by the disaster.
Why? The Cascade Subduction Zone, a fault running from Canada to California, is overdue for an earthquake. Not a little shaker: a 9.0 quake, bigger than almost (Alaska in 1964 had a 9.2) any in the U.S. in 300 years. According to an article in the New Yorker magazine, “everything west of Interstate Five would be toast. The Olympic Mountains would be a bunch of muddy islands”. It isn’t a question of if, but when. The PJ’s would jump in to survey airfields to see where aid could land, and the military would land an entire mobile surgical hospital to treat the thousands of injured.
If you live in Seattle, adios. The tsunami would be over 100 feet high, reaching miles inland. The exodus of people “heading for the hills” would be huge, and few would have any goal or equipment, running only on adrenaline and hope. You don’t want to be one of them.
Regardless of the disaster, the preparations are all basically the same. The Rule of Three: three minutes without air; if raining, three hours without shelter; three days without water, three weeks without food. If you add in injury, predators (human or animal), small children, etc. it can be daunting, but not impossible. For this discussion, I’ll focus on 12-24 hours- getting home after a disaster.
I fly 65-75,000 miles per year, teaching around the U.S. and abroad. If I go to more than one school, I ship a container with more gear in it; I also keep a good kit in my vehicle. However, if I’m somehow caught away from my gear, I’ll need to rely on what I’m carrying at the time: my 24-hour bag.
The airport is 81 miles from home. If I have to get home by foot, it’ll take 2-3 days, depending on conditions. I carry my little bag virtually everywhere, all the time. When I teach, the bag is on the table or floor next to me, always 2-3 steps away. If sirens blow, the ground shakes, or the lights go out, the bag is over my shoulder within seconds. When I get off the plane (the bag is in the cabin with my briefcase), I retrieve my luggage and recover several items the TSA frowns upon before I leave the airport; more on these items later. I’ll cover the contents in order of need.
AIR: It’s a self-correcting problem in most cases- breathe. Breathe deeply and slowly, oxygenate the blood and calm down. If you can’t breathe, make noise and hold both hands on your throat- it means you are choking, and, hopefully, someone can render aid. Breathing is the bridge between mind and body, so breathe slowly to calm yourself and form an action plan.
SHELTER: I’ve experienced hypothermia a few times in my years in Alaska. It doesn’t have to be cold to be hypothermic; if you get wet, the wet clothing sucks heat from your skin. It doesn’t take long for your core temperature to drop, fine motor skills to decrease, and mental function to slow down. If it’s raining, and if you have safe shelter, stay put. If you have to move out, make sure you’re properly dressed and equipped. I never travel in shoes that won’t carry me home, I wear long pants, a wicking base layer like Under Armor, and socks. Regardless of the season, I carry or wear a wind and water-resistant jacket. Unlike 90% of American males, I don’t wear a ball cap everywhere I go and every time I sit down to eat. However, I carry one with me and wear it when I’m out in the rain. Most body heat is lost from a bare head, so cover it when it’s raining.
Prepper starts a fire with a cotton ball and lighter, while under shelter.
If I have to hoof it home, I set up shelter when I have to stop. I carry two large plastic garbage bags, which can work as an emergency poncho or as a ground cloth to sit or sleep on. I have a very small, compact tarp, the Stasha shelter, from proforceequipment.com. I have it set up with 20 foot long sections of parachute cord (550 cord) so I can tie it to trees, over limbs, or any other feature that will keep the rain off. I carry a common lighter, matches, and fire starting tinder; I carry a compass to verify direction of travel. I have a lightweight bivy bag that will keep me warm down to about 32 degrees- not toasty, but not freezing.
WATER: Nothing on earth can live without water, and water can destroy anything built by man. Those of you have gone awhile without water understand, and there’s a reason why lots of folks walk around with a bottle in hand. The difficulty, especially after a disaster, is drinkable water.
I was hunting in western Alaska when I made a critical mistake. I was a couple of miles from free-flowing water, so I drank from a tundra pond. If you’ve never been hit by giardia, good; if you have, you’ll understand. Water can be full of diabolical little critters that make life unpleasant or can make life short.
My bag carries a water bottle from Proforce Equipment called the NDUR. This bottle takes out 99.9% of the bad stuff when you fill it from a questionable or uncertain source. I test everything I write about, have tested this bottle extensively, and recommend it with no hesitation. Buy a couple of them, extra filters, and carry it with you wherever you go. Water is life.
FOOD: For the food in this bag, forget your paleo/vegan/no carb/organic…whatever. You need fat, protein, and carbs to maintain energy for that long walk. I carry almonds and cashews, jerky, and Cliff bars (any energy bar will work). I avoid candy because the sugar burns off quickly, leaving you tired and hungry. I did a 15-mile test walk, carrying and using this bag. I’d walk for one hour then rest for ten minutes; at rest, I ate a quarter-cup of nuts, drank a cup of water, and some jerky. I filled the bottle twice, from small streams, and drank a little every 30 minutes. It took five hours, but I arrived with energy to spare. I carry enough in the bag to last 2-3 days.
LIGHT: We don’t see well in the dark so; have a small flashlight, some matches, and a candle. I carry a headlamp from Streamlight.com called the Bandit. It’s a great little unit that will charge from anything that has a USB port, and it will last for a couple of days. I also carry a small, high-intensity handheld light, also from Streamlight, designated the X1000. If I have to shelter under a tree somewhere, the headlamp makes setting up the shelter easy, and the bright flashlight allows you to identify whatever it was that made the noise. The candle can add a little warmth to your hands if needed.
TOOLS: I carry two SOG folding knives every day. I prefer the assisted-opening models, like the Flash Two or the Aegis. I also carry a SOG multi-tool, which has pliers, wire cutter, screwdrivers, etc. - you never know when you might need a simple tool. I also carry a credit card size tool called the Tool Logic, which has a couple of little tools that might come in handy. If you fly, put these in your checked luggage- TSA stands for Taking Stuff Away.
The knives, tools and two pistols, are checked luggage a carried in a SOP™ Side Opening Pouch.
MEDICAL: The kit has a small first aid pack from Adventure Medical, which is carried in an add-on bag from Maxpedition called the IMP™ Individual Medical Pouch. It has band-aids, tape, aspirin, etc., good for small injuries. I augmented it with moleskin for blisters, a tube of Neosporin, a clotting agent, and a simple tourniquet for more serious injuries.
PREOTECTION: I teach shooting and martial arts for a living, so I carry two guns. The first is a compact .22 pistol from Browning called the Black Label; if I have the opportunity and need, I can shoot a squirrel or rabbit or bird for food. I can also use it for self-defense. I also carry a larger Colt .45 ACP pistol for a big ugly dog or the big ugly guy who wants to hurt me.
If it’s legal for you to carry a gun, and you feel the need, go to a professional trainer for instruction and for help in selecting a pistol. Try different ones and don’t be misled by the idiot who tells you to buy the biggest thing in the store; get something you can shoot well and take some serious training. This is important: the gun has to fit your hand like your shoes fit your feet.
I carry all of this stuff in a Maxpedition Veldspar™ Crossbody Shoulder Bag. The total weight of the bag, fully loaded, is six pounds. It’s discreet, very well made, in a non-descript color that doesn’t scream survivalist. The med pouch easily attaches to the front, and the bag has a hidden holster and magazine pouch. I’ve used Maxpedition bags for years- my laptop bag had ten years and one million miles on it before I replaced it. Maxpedition gear is bomb proof, and I use many bags for different uses. My vehicle kit is packed in a large Maxpedition duffel bag.
The Veldspar's contents: water, shelter, food, navigation, light, and protection.
The Veldspar with all contents zipped up and ready to go.
FITNESS: I’m long past my paratrooper years, but I walk five miles three days per week, do weight training three times per week, teach karate classes, garden, cut and stack firewood, and always take the stairs up to my hotel rooms. I park in the far corner of the lot at the grocery store, instead of driving in circles for twenty minutes to get closer to the door.
I realize that round is a shape, but not the shape you want to be if you have to walk. Start today with moderate exercise-walk a few blocks. Take a serious look at your diet, and dump sugar, empty carbs, soda pop, etc. You don’t need to be a triathlete, but you may have to walk a good distance carrying a load. Be prepared.
MONEY: I know, your smart-whatever has an app that…forget it. I carry a lot of cash in my bag. I have dollars in 5’s 10’s, up to 100’s. Your credit card relies on computers and a working power grid to buy stuff. If you walk past a convenience store, a five dollar bill will buy a couple of liters of water. A couple of 100 dollar bills might buy you a bicycle at a box store, which would make the trek easier. I also carry gold and silver coins. I used to work in places that didn’t like me, and gold is money everywhere in the world. I carry enough that I could buy a small car if needed.
As you read this, take a moment to take stock of what you have on your person right now. Then think about what you have within a few feet or where you sit; think of what you have at home and in your vehicle that will help make you ready. Use the Rule of Three as a guide to prioritize your purchases, and start now.
Bags, pouches, packs:
Survival equipment by Proforce Equipment
Knives and tools by SOG KNIVES
Quality lights by Stream Light
The author is a former soldier, retired Alaska State Trooper, hiker/mountaineer, and is a martial arts grandmaster. He can be reached at email@example.com.