BOB/GOOD/GO Bag for the Ultra-Urban Environment – Part 10 – A real world test of urban preparedness

NOTE: The following has been “fictionalized” to protect the guilty. The essence is true, but details have been purposefully changed to prevent identifying the city.

While continuing to work on the mental exercise that prompted this series of articles, I had an unplanned opportunity to test some of my presumptions and preparations. As a world traveler, I sometimes end up in cities that may not be the first world’s image of an ultra-urban megalopolis, but are densely packed, urban environments with building roofs higher than what the local, first responders could normally reach by their standard equipment. In this case, while working late at a Customer’s office building, an explosion occurred that impacted more than a city block. It took until the next day before I was able to return to my hotel. In essence, I had to depend on what I had with me overnight.

INVENTORY

A quick snap shot of what I had with me, both on my person and “at hand”:

– A “breakaway” EDC lanyard attached to a tiny, coin battery operated LED light, a Fox 40 Micro whistle, a Leatherman Squirt P4, and a USB reader loaded with a2 Gig, Micro SD card. All items secured inside a couple inch piece of bicycle inner tube (both to protect the items as well as keeping me from using the light for non-emergency situations).

– A large, suit pocket wallet with money, credit cards, licenses, emergency contact info (ICE), and passport.
– Traveler’s ankle “pocket” with credit cards, bulk of currency, and photo reduced copies of key identification.
– A coin pouch.
– A key ring with assorted keys, ear plugs in a case, and a Pocket Wrench II as the fob.
– A GSM/GPS Blackberry.
– A well-worn, hard wood and steel cane.
– A large, silk kerchief.
– A nondescript, black, Lowepro camera/laptop backpack containing:
– – Laptop (which could be another “flashlight”), USB external hard drive, USB hub, power cords, 12 foot extension cord, international power converter with many plugs, Ethernet cables, Ethernet hub, … (Yeah, I’m a geek!-)
– – Design notebooks, paper files, pencil case with pens, dry erase markers, and the like.
– – A novel, newspaper, local tourist guide, map, and phrase book.
– – Small tool kit with some basic hand tools, suitable for electronic gear. Including a cheap, Chinese made, 9 LED, three “AAA” flashlight.
– – Four, 500 ml water bottles filled nightly from a known good water source.
– – Some fiber and protein bars (bought at the airport).
– – Basic, personal First Aid Kit with some travel sized, over-the-counter drugs and potions.
– – The beginnings of a basic, personal Urban Survival Kit with rain poncho, heat sheet, head lamp, crank operated SW/FM/AM radio, water tablets, 100 feet of “550” cord, magnesium fire starter, zip lock bags and garbage bags (stored inside one zip lock bag), two P-100 masks, a traveler’s “cummerbund” wallet with photocopies of ID and the like, …
– – Assorted detritus that seems to always appear at the bottom of the bag.

I did not have a rental car, so no car-based emergency kit on this trip. I had some more gear in my luggage at the hotel, but in no way did I have the complete BOB/GOOD/GO Bag inventory that I have been developing as a result of this series of articles.

THE EVENT

The business part of the meeting was over. I had finished packing up my laptop and placed the backpack out of the way by the credenza in the conference room high up in a downtown office building. The discussion had now turned to debating going home to wives or heading out to a club.

If it wasn’t for the booming noise, I would have guessed an earthquake hit. Immediately all went dark as the power died. The conference room I was in did not have any windows. The air became a bit thick from the dust shaken loose. There was a delayed crash from one end of the room that later turned out to be the large, decorative, company logo falling off the wall. As I pulled the EDC lanyard out of my pocket and peeled back the rubber by feel, all in the room voiced that we were shaken but OK. As I turned on that tiny LED, there was a noticeable, if non-audible, “sigh” in the room. Just having that small glow of a light was enough to change a few people from silent fatalism to begin to think and take action.

I probably could have crawled to the credenza and found my backpack by feel for a light, if I had nothing on my person.. It was so much easier to find it with that small light. Once I oriented myself in the room, I hung the lanyard with the lit flashlight around my neck and started to move. Just before picking up my backpack, I relocated the Blackberry and wallet to my front pants pockets because I wasn’t planning on wearing the suit coat. I would carry the coat in the backpack – it was too hot for the “tropical” weight suit coat. I didn’t want the Blackberry or wallet to accidentally slip away from me. Without removing the tool kit from the backpack, I unzipped the tool kit to retrieve the 9 LED torch and lit up the room. As a side note; no one else had a flashlight. A couple people did have lighters; the cheap, BIC type . At this point I wondered if the local government required adding the chemical odor to the natural gas supply.

Although a lot of dust was stirred up, I could not detect any smoke. I tested the door, and then the doorknob with the back of my hand and did not sense the heat of a fire. The corridor was also very dark, even though the far end opened up onto cubicles with windows along the outer wall. A quick look determined that all the lights from the other buildings were also out. There were reflected lights from some traffic on the street.

Near the outer wall I could get signal strength showing on the Blackberry, but could not get a dial tone. So I sent out some SMS and PIN messages to people I knew locally and at home base to find out what was going on, and to let people know where I was.. The messages did not go out immediately, but seemed to “dribble” out over the radio waves. Some of my companions wanted to leave immediately. I wanted to first know what was happening. It took a bit to find a station on the hand crank radio. Even if I was totally fluent, I don’t think I could have understood the rapid pace of the news announcer. One of my companions translated saying that while it was not clear what exactly happened (as there were differing reports from a petrol transport explosion to a terrorist event), it was clear that it had happened the next street over and that the area of the city we were in was blacked out.

The first SMS response came in but was also unclear as to why there was an explosion. It was now about twenty minutes since the event and we decided to head out. My companions wanted to head home, and I decided it would be safer to go to the hotel. With an explosion that close, there was always the possibility that this, or an adjacent, building might have been damaged. There was plenty of emergency vehicles and sirens moving on the street, and no further sounds of explosions, gunfire, or anything else unsafe. My hotel was about a dozen blocks away

I donned the traveler’s “cummerbund” wallet under my shirt In it I stashed my passport and other things from my wallet except for one credit card, my international driver’s license (get it cheaply at AAA), and enough money to hire a cab, eat a meal, rent a room, and give tips.

There were some stumbles before finding the stairs and getting down to the lobby, including a pit stop in the men’s room to void bladders. Again, without the light it would have been very interesting.

Actually getting into the lobby was a problem. Probably because it would have been visible from the lobby, the door was unusually heavy and ornate. I’d guess it was a custom made door so it would blend in visually from the lobby side. With the jolt of the explosion, the door was now jammed down hard into the floor. It looked like the hinges had slipped and shifted their alignment. I guessed that the door was really too heavy for the hinges as mounted. Fortunately, unlike the factory made, western doors, the screws holding the hinges were not hidden by the closed door. I could not budge the screws on the door, but did break them free on the jam. I put a screw driver through the now empty screw hole on the top and middle hinge creating “T” handles to pull the door open from the hinge side, at least open enough to slip through.

As it was way past office hours, we seemed to be alone in the building. There was supposed to be a night watchman, but no one was visible in the lobby. And, of course, the exterior, lobby doors were locked. We were discussing searching for other exits or breaking this door when the night watchman jogged up to the exterior door. He had left the building to see what was going on and saw my bright flashlight through the lobby windows. He only approached when he saw that we were in office attire and probably not robbers.

Out on the street there were some people milling about. I turned on the GPS to confirm my sense of direction – the hotel really was about a dozen blocks on the other side of the explosion site. With the Blackberry back in my pocket I started to go around the corner. The first responders were still putting water on whatever it was. The fire appeared to be all but out. However, the police were not letting anyone proceed down that block. All were being shepherded down a side street. I was game for heading towards the next large boulevard before turning towards the hotel. I quickly noted that as I progressed away from the event, the number of people walking down the street decreased. There were some young men hanging out on the street corners ahead, and I started to get uncomfortable with the potential of someone wanting to take advantage of the blackout.

With the international travel, there is no way I can carry a firearm. Even knives or sprays are problematic. My cane was purposefully built to be strong and useful in such situations. The handle is a contoured “T” made of stainless steel with foam covering most of it for comfort (but not the ends, which happened to be rounded almost to a point on each end). The bottom of the cane is a knurled hunk of stainless steel with a rubber “foot” on one side and spikes on the other (for biting into ice covered walks). The foot can be unscrewed and reversed without tools. While the two ends look like they just screw onto the threads sticking out of the wood body, the threads are really the ends of a steel rod running the length of the cane. When the metal detectors go off, the guards see that it is a cane, and even if they unscrew the ends they won’t see any cavities so they have no concerns. I explain the heft as my need for a really strong cane to handle my mass.

But even if I was armed with a “full-auto”, the best way to handle a confrontation with bad guys is to not get into it in the first place. An acoustic guitar alerted me to a dimly lit “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant down an alley. A young couple, hand-in-hand, went in which made up my mind – it would probably be safer in there then on this side street at this hour.

The dim light was from the many candles – the power was still out. It turned out to be a family run place. They were obviously interested in the novelty of a “foreigner” in their place. I played on this and was the epitome of a gregarious visitor. I applauded after every song. I tipped after the set. I entertained any question. After consuming a filling meal, I invited the owner/chef to join me in dessert. I paid in cash, and tipped well. My backpack was securely stored behind the bar and I was at a table with a full view of the bar.

Near closing time a local constable came in and, after surveying the patrons, focused on me. Demanding my identification, I handed him my International Driver’s License. This seemed to be a new wrinkle for him. He took the time to flip through it all and seemed impressed with all the languages, photo, and personal details. I guessed he didn’t know exactly what it was, but he accepted it as “official” identification.

It was obvious that he did not like “foreigners” and was looking for some excuse to exercise his “authority” on me. He demanded to know what I was doing here. I answered that I was invited to his wonderful city by “Big-Name-Customer” to help train their employees, and after spending the day at their offices down the street, I came in here for some real food instead of what is served at the hotel. I was intentionally playing up that I was really interested in participating in the local environment and wasn’t some westerner here to take away a job – or anything else he could object to. He demanded to know which hotel I was staying at, how long I had been staying there, how much longer I was planning on staying, and then came to an interesting question; where was I when the explosion happened. I fibbed a bit and stated that I stepped in here, this restaurant, since the explosion – implying that I entered as the explosion happened. The owner of the restaurant chipped in that I had been here since the explosion happened. Somewhat mollified, and probably miffed, that there was nothing blatant for the officer to use as an excuse to exercise his authority, he stated that he would hold my ID to check out my story. I got the impression he was asking for a bribe to get it back. Even though I knew the magical phrase, “Is there a form or a fee to make this right?”, that would not explicitly acknowledge bribery nor indicate that I was trying to do anything illegal, I was keenly aware that I was in a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” situation. If I paid for the return of my ID, he could arrest me for trying to bribe him. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be seeing that ID anytime soon. I was glad I did not give him my passport. Instead, I complemented him for being so thorough in protecting his fellow citizens and being such a diligent officer. And that as I would be staying here for several more days, I had no concerns with trusting a police officer with my ID.

This seemed to both confuse and pacify him. It wasn’t the response he was expecting. But it was a response he couldn’t object to. He proceeded to talk to a few others as he headed towards the door.

Originally I had reserved the hotel for several more days as a cushion for any additional time needed, but the real work had been completed that day. Some reports to type up, drawings to finish; those could be done remotely. I decided right then to check out of the downtown hotel and move to a hotel close to the airport, if I could not get an earlier flight.

As an apology for the officer’s behavior, the owner asked me to stay as he closed up. He shared one of his special bottles with me as he smoked and talked about the better parts of his city, his country, and his culture. The owner seemed to be very apologetic for the behavior of his countryman. The owner handed me my ID saying the officer had asked for it to be returned to me. From the look on the owner’s face, I got the impression he had taken it upon himself to “pay the fee” to get it back. After taking time for us (mostly the owner) to finish the bottle, I asked if I could return the favor and buy a similar, special bottle. I purposefully overpaid for it to reimburse the owner for the bribe money he had paid, even though I would have gladly never seen that ID again.

I took advantage of the situation when he fell asleep to retrieve my backpack, make myself comfortable, and catch some sleep. I woke up as momma came down to see what happened to her husband. She shifted quickly from scolding him to happy and welcoming, as soon as she saw me. She insisted I stay for breakfast.

In the full morning sunlight, I continued on my circuitous route to the hotel. Two blocks later, at the boulevard, I grabbed a taxi to the hotel. After some phone calls and a shower, I got another taxi to the airport hotel and ended that impromptu exercise in urban preparedness.

LESSONS LEARNED

I really had three situations to deal with; getting out of the darkened conference room high up in an office building to the street, circumventing street thugs, and dealing with an odious official. The most important thing one can have in those or any situation is a knowledgeable and flexible brain. Just like “defensive driving”, one should practice “defensive living”. Situational awareness and creative problem solving, – using one’s brain and thereby anticipating and bypassing or, at least, attenuating dangerous or unpleasant situations. Even worst case scenario planning. A mindset already adopted by “preppers”.

The two physical tools I was really glad to have was electric light and cash money. Every other tool I used – screwdrivers, pliers, radio, Blackberry, etcetera – were not absolutely necessary. I did not have to use GPS to confirm my planned path. I could have used substitute tools found on site, like unscrewing the base of a rolling office chair and using that heavy metal as a pickax to break through the wall or door.

It would have been much more difficult to read a map or hack through the door in total darkness. Unlike the wilderness where it is rarely, totally dark (due to moonshine or starshine), it is too easy for the urban dweller to be plunged, instantly, into total darkness. As examples; a subway car, elevator, room with no windows, parking garage – all get very dark very fast when the power fails. Flashlights are very important in the urban environment.

And money – especially cash in hand – is the grease that works wonders for any human interaction (with maybe the exception of “true love”). Having sufficient cash in hand to get water, food, shelter, or anything else to keep one healthy and independent is the best insurance policy.

Although I didn’t have to deal with fire in this situation, fire was a part of the emergency. And if I was just one block over, I would have had to deal with fire as part of my escape. This has reinforced my perception that personal protective equipment to allow a civilian to egress from a fire and/or smoke filled building is very important for an urban kit.

POSTSCRIPT

“Bravo Zulu, Animal Papa.”

D. Period – All rights reserved – 2009 – Use permitted by all only with attribution.

BOB/GOOD/GO Bag for the Ultra-Urban Environment – Part 9 – Fire Extinguishers

This might be a bit of a tangent as I am not advocating carrying a fire extinguisher in the BOB/GOOD/GO bag. Much better to get oneself safely out of harm’s way. But I’m such a big proponent of extinguishers being available in all habitable spaces that I’d like to underscore this tangible, insurance policy. And since it is appropriate to put them in your BOV, it does, sort of, make sense to explore the topic here.

I have seen too many unnecessary calamities from fire. A fire bottle is no guarantee that anyone can stop a fire. But, in some situations, a trained person can stop a small fire from becoming a huge conflagration. And in some situations, the fire extinguisher can be used as a tool to help clear a path for a person to escape.

Elsewhere you can learn all the fire fighting and fire extinguisher details; Class A/B/C/D/K, PASS method, etcetera. I am not trying to give a mini firefighter course. I am trying to detailing some aspects I think important for the urban dweller.

In the home and car, you need at least one ABC extinguisher. In the home you have all of the basic, three classes of flammable materials. If you have lots of electronics, you may want to also have a CO2 extinguisher(s) to cut down on the mess of cleanup. In the car, if an ABC agent is used it is relatively easy to clean using low pressure water and steam, especially under the hood

Check the statistics yourself; fires tend to start where fuels are stored or used. Kitchens, garages, and basements are often where fires start – the places where appliances are used to heat or burn fuels like ovens, stoves, water heaters, furnaces.. The second group on the list where fires start are where consumer electrical or electronic equipment are used. That would be the bedrooms, living room, or den. It used to be that places where smokers would sleep – bedrooms or living room loungers – would also be high on the list. But households without smokers have greatly decreased incidents of fires starting in other than kitchens, garages, or basements. If you have enough budget, it makes sense to place extinguishers near each of those potential hot spots.

Sometimes in urban environments, there will be a bedroom or back room that doesn’t have a second escape route. These could be located high in a condo building, buried in a townhouse basement basement, or even in stand-alone houses’ utility rooms converted into “in-law” apartments. Consideration should be given to putting fire bottles in these rooms in addition to those positioned next to the potential hot spots.

How big (or how small) a bottle is appropriate? Fire extinguishers used in homes are sized by the weight of the extinguishing agent inside the bottle. For planning purposes, the filled extinguisher can have a total weight of up to twice the weight of the extinguishing agent. I believe the bottle should be as large as the normal occupants can lift and carry one handed. For homes with children old enough to be allowed to stay home unsupervised (even for one hour) that is a ten pound extinguisher. They weigh more than ten pounds, but I’ve had eight year olds lift and use ten pounders on fire. As long as you can lift, carry, and use it, more is better.

In a car, the space is even more limited. The extinguisher should be mounted within reach of the driver. That translates to a five or even a 2.5 pound, ABC bottle. The smaller size is offset by the ease of fast egress compared to climbing stairs or even an escape ladder in a multi-storied dwelling.

There are two ways to mount a fire bottle, hanger or bracket. Hangers come in two types, pin or fingers, and the hanger must be of the type the bottle will accept. Hangers are used to mount a bottle on a stationary wall and where the bottle won’t be hit by people, pets, or other moving items – bottles can be easily knocked off hangers. Brackets start with fingers like a hanger, and then add one or two latching straps around the middle of the bottle to prevent the bottle from accidentally being knocked off the bracket. Brackets are required in any moving environment like a boat or car. I highly recommend using only brackets to mount fire bottles anywhere.

Always buy extinguishers with a metal – not plastic – neck and valve. Even if a plastic neck/valve extinguisher says it is refillable, most refilling places will not refill it because they break so easily. Most “cheap” extinguishers have plastic necks/valves. This is what most big box stores sell.

My experience has been to find the local, sole-owner shop who is certified to refill all the different types of bottles you are considering, and work with him on price. Sometimes, I have been able to have my order tacked onto a larger, commercial order for the best deal. You may get a slight price break from a mail order or big box place, but you will only get service from a place that can refill them. Plus, saving that last dollar is not worth as much as having a professional who specializes in fire equipment helping you. Especially when it comes to life and limb gear.

I highly recommend you expend a CO2 bottle in the back yard while having all (young and old) try it. Once they experience the PASS method they are likely to actually use it during the adrenalin rush of a real situation. Besides, CO2’s are really cheap to refill, and leave no mess to clean up.

As part of a multi-bottle order, you might get the shop owner to throw in a free, training refill.

Do treat all pressurized bottles with care. If the valve gets knocked off, it becomes a powerful missile. Always store bottles either in their bracket (hanger), or lying on their side so they can’t roll. Most modern fire bottles have a ring or flat plate welded to the bottom to facilitate standing upright. I just don’t trust them. They are still too easy to knock over. I’ve seen what happens when the nozzle comes off.

D. Period – All rights reserved – 2009 – Use permitted by all only with attribution.

BOB/GOOD/GO Bag for the Ultra-Urban Environment – Part 8 – Cash on Hand; Coins or Banknotes

What ever the amount of cash on hand, it is probably a good thing to have smaller denominations instead of large ones. I’d rather have a wallet with 100 five dollar bills than five 100 dollar bills. During a time of crises when banks may be temporarily shuttered, those stores that are still open may not be able to make change. I’d rather pay $5 for a bottle of water instead of $100 because no one has change.

This can be taken to extremes. I would not like to carry all the cash in pennies, from both a bulk and weight perspective. One dime weighs so much less than ten pennies. Less bulk, too. But do two and a half dines take up less weight or space than a quarter? What are the weight and volume trade-offs between two quarters and a half dollar coin?

Below are three tables showing the dimensions of US, Canadian, and Euro coins. I put in leading zeros for uniform number widths. (If you have trouble lining up the columns, copy the table into your favorite text document and change the font to a mono-spaced one like Courier.)

The weight and volume for U.S. Coins (present day minting as of 2009) are:
Coin W(g) D(cm) H(cm) V(cm^3) W/$ V/$ $/Roll W/Roll V/Roll
USD$0.01 02.500 1.905 0.155 0.442 250.000 44.179 00.50 125.0 22.1
USD$0.05 05.000 2.121 0.195 0.689 100.000 13.780 02.00 200.0 27.6
USD$0.10 02.268 1.791 0.135 0.340 022.680 03.401 05.00 113.4 17.0
USD$0.25 05.670 2.426 0.175 0.809 022.680 03.236 10.00 226.8 32.4
USD$0.50 11.340 3.061 0.215 1.582 022.680 03.164 10.00 226.8 31.6
USD$1.00 08.100 2.650 0.200 1.103 008.100 01.103 25.00 202.5 27.6
Dimension Source: http://www.usmint.gov/about_the_mint/?action=coin_specifications

And if north of the border (present day minting as of 2009):
Coin W(g) D(cm) H(cm) V(cm^3) W/$ V/$ $/Roll W/Roll V/Roll
CAD$0.01 2.350 1.905 0.145 0.413 235.000 41.328 00.50 117.5 20.7
CAD$0.05 3.950 2.120 0.176 0.621 079.000 12.425 02.00 158.0 24.9
CAD$0.10 1.750 1.803 0.122 0.312 017.500 03.115 05.00 087.5 15.6
CAD$0.25 4.400 2.388 0.158 0.708 017.600 02.831 10.00 176.0 28.3
CAD$0.50 6.900 2.713 0.195 1.127 013.800 02.255 (See Note)
CAD$1.00 7.000 2.650 0.195 1.076 007.000 01.076 25.00 175.0 26.9
CAD$2.00 7.300 2.800 0.180 1.108 003.650 00.554 50.00 182.5 27.7
Dimension Source: http://www.mint.ca/store/mint/learn/circulation-currency-1100028
Note: The CAD$0.50 is not widely circulated and is not readily recognized by many merchants as valid. I can’t even find anyone who sells the Canadian half-dollar coin wrapper!

In Euro’s:
Coin W(g) D(cm) H(cm) V(cm^3) W/€ V/€ €/Roll W/Roll V/Roll
EUR€0.01 2.300 1.625 0.167 0.346 230.000 34.635 00.50 115.0 17.3
EUR€0.02 3.060 1.875 0.167 0.461 153.000 23.056 01.00 153.0 23.1
EUR€0.05 3.920 2.125 0.167 0.592 078.400 11.846 02.50 196.0 29.6
EUR€0.10 4.100 1.975 0.193 0.591 041.000 05.913 04.00 164.0 23.7
EUR€0.20 5.740 2.225 0.214 0.832 028.700 04.160 08.00 229.6 33.3
EUR€0.50 7.800 2.425 0.238 1.099 015.600 02.199 20.00 312.0 44.0
EUR€1.00 7.500 2.325 0.233 0.989 007.500 00.989 25.00 187.5 24.7
EUR€2.00 8.500 2.575 0.220 1.146 004.250 00.573 50.00 212.5 28.6
Dimension Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euro_coin

The weight and volume of the various coins per Euro or dollar (US or CA) is of primary import here. And now the answers are apparent to the questions I had asked:
– “Do two and a half dines take up less weight or space than a quarter?” They weight the same but dimes take up just a smidgen more space.
– “What are the weight and volume trade-offs between two quarters and a half dollar coin?” Same weight but the quarters also take up an even smaller, extra “smidge” of space than the half-dollar.

The smallest bank notes are USD$1.00, CAD$5.00, and EUR€5.00. With banknotes weighing a little more than one gram each, they are the hands down choice for carrying around (by weight alone). But if you have decided to take coins, which type of coin would you take?

In US coins, if I could only have one type of coin, I would choose dimes. Susan B. Anthony dollar coins would be the best of the coins by weight and volume, but dollar bills are even better. Dimes, quarters, and half-dollars are almost identical in weight and volume (per dollar), and are better than nickels or pennies. So I choose dimes. Having dimes allows me to make better change, and every vending machine I’m likely to use accepts dimes..

My second choice of coin would be quarters over half-dollars. The quarter can make better change than half-dollars (and when combined with dimes, I can make change down to five cent increments after the first quarter). Also, half-dollars are not as widely used, and some vending machines do not accept them.

In Canadian coins, my choice would be dimes and “loonies” (dollar coins). The rational is basically the same for US coins, but because the smallest Canadian banknote is five dollars, the dollar coin becomes the best choice.

As for Europe, it depends on the country(ies) you anticipate traveling through. Local preferences vary. For instance, Finland doesn’t even mint the one or two cent coins. But forced to choose, I’d probably mirror the Canadian choice.

So, for the purposes of the hypothetical that started this series of articles, I’d ideally go with one hundred in $5, one hundred in $1, and $140 in dimes and/or quarters – $640 of emergency cash.. But if that is in each of the four BOB/GOOD/GO Bags . . . I don’t know that this is realistic.

As I’ve said before, this is a work in progress . . .

D. Period – All rights reserved – 2009 – Use permitted by all only with attribution.

Originally posted on July 8, 2008 @ 7:03 pm

BOB/GOOD/GO Bag for the Ultra-Urban Environment – Part 7 – Cash on Hand; How Much is Enough

When the lights go out, so do the ATM/ABM, credit card point-of-sale, and debit systems. Cash becomes not just king, but the only ticket. How much cash do you keep on you day to day? Enough to get you out of trouble, but also to survive for the days (weeks, months?) that it will take for the infrastructure to return to normal?

How much is enough? For the purposes of this series of articles I am going to assert that if she can get to her home, grandparents, or lover’s home she will be able to draw upon preppers stores and survive even a multi-month quarantine. Those stores include additional cash that can be used for an extended stay or to evacuate the city. That leaves the immediacy of the moment with the aim of getting to one of these safe places.

Now is the time for guesses. I have given this some thought, but I haven’t come up with good references or studies of how much is enough during urban emergencies that disrupt the ATM/CC infrastructure. Talking to various government (FEMA and Military) and non-government (Red Cross) people-in-the-field I have gotten widely different suggestions ranging from $100 to $1,000. Here are my guesses:

Transportation –
A taxi across the city during rush hour from some far-flung entertainment centers back home (within walking distance of the kids) can cost up to $60, as a worst case. Assume during an emergency the cost would double to $120. If the public transit system is running that can help. It does not seem cost effective to have prepaid tokens for individual trips. Paying cash is good enough and the small difference of any savings that might be had by bulk buying tokens doesn’t overcome the burden of carrying additional, special coins. Especially since money can be used to buy water, food, shelter, or whatever is needed while the public transit tokens would probably not (at least during the leading edge of the emergency).

Having small denominations is important so you don’t throw in a $20 bill to pay for one bus fare.

Shelter –
Some emergencies (like a massive storm) might cause one to shelter in place, even when you are not in a place of shelter. In the ultra-urban environment, hotels are ubiquitous. And most have a special “stranded” discount during times of emergencies. A room that normally sells for over $400 a night might be had for $100.

And if a hotel is not convenient, bunking with a co-worker, friend, or family member is still a possibility. Personally, I don’t like to impose myself, even during an emergency, so I would prefer being able to provide cash (if not labor and/or staples) to compensate.

Water –
Here is were I expect the greed to first appear. Small bottles of water that normally sell for fifty cents or a dollar that will quickly become $5 and then $10. Assuming a gallon of water times three days while the worst storm blows over could be hyper-inflated to $200 (or more, if bought in small bottles).

Food –
Getting 2,000 or so calories a day when the power is out can be a problem. After the first half to one day, with no immediate restoration of power planned, some restaurants will want to sell what ever food they have before the refrigerators and freezers heat up and spoil the food. Those will be the best deals. I’m guessing anywhere from $30 to $90 a day ($10 to $30 a meal). Bigger, higher end restaurants that have a catering component (including hotel restaurants) will have the capability to cook on portable propane, butane, or even Sterno. Those restaurant prices will normally be higher. Call it at $100 to $200 a day.

But thought has to be given to the possibility of eating out of vending machines. Assuming a hotel’s generator is working, surviving on dozens of candy bars a day is possible. Here having rolls of coins will be of benefit.

All of this is just wild guessing. But it does give a starting point. For my friend’s use, I’d recommend at least $240 for the first 24 hours (for at least two inflated taxi trips). For 72 hours plus, I’m recommending an additional $500 (for shelter, food, and/or water). I’d have at least $500 in bills, and the rest in coins. This seems to give the greatest flexibility in a cash-only crises.

D. Period – All rights reserved – 2009 – Use permitted by all only with attribution.

Originally posted on July 7, 2009 @ 7:02 pm

BOB/GOOD/GO Bag for the Ultra-Urban Environment – Part 6 – EDC Lanyard

In the modern, urban world, humans are actually in an unnatural environment. At any moment a person could be plunged into total darkness in a windowless room, or locked into a similar room without convenient means of escape. A human voice can fade into the background of the city noise and quickly loose strength and volume if trying to cry for help.

I think it very important to extend the capabilities of the human animal to make up for the lack of night vision, a loud and piercing scream, or strong talons. So the first items I would use as the EDC lanyard are:

Lanyard –
The lanyard itself should be of a “break away” style, so that it does not become a hazard during an emergency To keep from using these emergency tools for everyday, routine tasks, the lanyard items are gathered into a large, ranger band sized to completely contain the EDC lanyard items and just snug enough to keep them from slipping out while still being easily removed during an emergency. I have found an extensive and cheap selection at kid’s toy stores – especially the party stores that have all sorts of birthday loot bags and loose, cheap toys.

Or do the 550 cord trick – remove the center fibers, heat seal the ends, and don’t tie the ends together but overlap them and wrap them with electrical tape. You may have to experiment to get the right mix of length, tension, and tape to provide enough holding power for running with the weight of the EDC and still able to break away if you get snagged. After all that work, it probably better from a cost/time perspective to just buy the $1 breakaway lanyards.

I use fishing tackle – split rings, swivels, and clips – to attach the rest of the EDC Lanyard items to the lanyard ring. The additional small rings allow for adjusting the height each device hangs so they are all approximately at the same level for easy of storing in the extra long ranger band. The clips allow for individual device removal for greater flexibility during an emergency.

A florescent colored lanyard with a florescent colored whistle could be used as a visual signal by swinging them around in a circle. Realistically, it is better to let the intended target choose the color(s) she likes. We want her to want to have it with her always, and not even sub-consciously desire to leave it behind because it is an ugly color or clashes with her style.

Flashlight –
Normally I would recommend that a flashlight (or headlight) use easily acquired, standard batteries (AA or AAA). This is one exception where the smallest possible light necessitates coin batteries. The bulb should be a LED as they can handle the shocks of constantly being carried around that would break a filament bulb. The light should have an always on feature (without having to hold it in the on position), as well as a way to flash the light.

Because this light uses coin batteries, this flashlight should be kept from the temptation of everyday, routine use. A second flashlight just for routine use can be in the purse or pocket, if desired. The everyday, routine use flashlight can use rechargeable AAA or AA batteries for reducing the operating costs.

Whistle –
A small, rather flat, yet very loud, pea-less, plastic whistle can enable a person to keep up an emergency signal far louder and longer than simply yelling. Plastic won’t cause a problem in the cold like a metal whistle can. There are fairly generic marine rescue whistles that fit the bill (the ones that are normally tied to a PFD or life jacket).

Multi-Tool Knife –
A knife is just an essential tool. While I much prefer (multiple) large, strong blades, as a practical matter in the modern, scared sheeple society, a “real” knife can cause more problems than it solves. So a small (but very sharp and sturdy) blade is the compromise. As part of a multi-tool, it seems to be more “acceptable” in polite society. And the additional tools can be handy. Pliers and screwdrivers always work. For the target audience (see part one) as an EDC on a lanyard, it needs to be very small and not have hard edges on the handle. There will be another knife (knives) in the BOB/GOOD/GO bag.

I’ve tried several of the best sellers and personally like the Leatherman Squirt P4 model. Better yet, she thinks it is “cute”. Translation; she has no objections to it.

Electronic Information Fob –
The fourth item is a modern society necessity – an electronic record of one’s self. In an emergency you may become separated from your regular wallet full of identification and transaction cards. There might even be the need for immediate flight to a distant place without time to retrieve passports, medical (shot) records, or other items not normally carried in the wallet.

I recommend using a “Micro SD” card carried in the smallest USB Card Reader you can find.. On it would be unencrypted information for first responders and medical personnel to use when they find your unconscious body, and encrypted information fully documenting yourself and your standing in society that you can use.

The reason for the dual media format is flexibility; the Micro SD card can be removed from the USB Card Reader and inserted in most smart phones for instant viewing of the unencrypted information. When used with the USB Card Reader, the Micro SD card can be read by any computer (laptop or desktop) that has a USB port, no matter the OS. The Micro SD card should be 2 Gig or smaller for maximum device compatibility.

Another article will detail the files on this fob.

D. Period – All rights reserved – 2009 – Use permitted by all only with attribution.

Originally posted on July 5, 2009 @ 7:01 pm

BOB-GOOD-GO Bag for the Ultra-Urban Environment – Part 5 – PPE Footwear, Gloves, Goggles, and Headgear

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) gear is never a single item. The Flame Retardant (FR) coveralls and Smoke/Fire Escape Hood are a great foundation. But additional PPE is required for success. I am thinking that the minimum, additional PPE would include:

Footwear –
Unless you are ready to pull a John McClane and walk barefoot over broken glass without stopping (yipee-ki-yea), footwear can easily make or break survival. Especially since most modern, professional women wear heels or sandals that are far from utilitarian. The modern, professional women have recognized this fact and you can watch the parade of athletic shoes for actually getting them to and from work.

Great quality, safety boots that are waterproof, have thermal insulation, and are designed for workers to wear all day every day are expensive. Several hundred dollars expensive. The cheaper alternative that I’m considering are slip-on, rubber “wellies” with a thermal, felt, inner boot and safety toe. They seem to have been originally designed as a compromise boot for the family farm setting. Big box and large shoe discounters have them seasonally for around $50.

Thick, wool, hiking socks would be a nice addition. But the wellies could be pulled on over bare feet to speed egress from an unsafe condition. Slip off the high heels and stockings, slip on the boots (without socks) for the quick getaway. Later, when safe, take the moment to don the socks so there will be no blisters if a long hike is needed.

Gloves –
Burned or cutup hands can severely limit one’s ability to get out of harm. From climbing over the sill of a broken window, to pulling/pushing debris out of the way — leather palmed work gloves are a necessity for getting through rough passages. And once outside, winter cold or drenching rain can limit one’s survival. Additional layer(s) of gloves for weather conditions are also necessary to ensure survival. A thin, under glove of wool would add warmth. Maybe dishwashing gloves (Playtex style) as a water barrier. Even a pair of oversized, leather (tow rope capable), ski mittens for those who live in the really cold weather regions.

Goggles –
The smoke/fire hood is a limited time use item. Just dust in the air (as in the extreme of 9/11 NYC) can cause eye irritations that limit an individual’s ability to accurately assess and survive what is going on. So some sort of flying debris protection for the eyes is appropriate. Additionally, it should accommodate existing eye-wear and be shatter resistance. I’m leaning towards cheap, lab style, splash goggles that are designed for over the eyeglass wear and shatter resistance rated.

Headgear –
Even the civilian CERT training mandates some sort of safety (impact) hat. It seems that the cheapest “bump” hard hat will satisfy that FEMA requirement. But emergency escape through rough passages calls for a little different style of protection. More like a rescue or caving helmet. I would prefer a solid, plastic shell (without all the vent cutouts) so that it can help in inclement weather once outside.

As an additional thermal protection (both from heat/fire, and the weather elements) would be a FR balaclava. Time permitting, it could be donned before the fire/smoke hood for added protection or just rolled up as a knit cap during cold weather (either with or without the hard hat/helmet). I especially like the “cam-shell” style of balaclava over the simple circle opening. The cam shell allows the fabric to be pulled up over the chin and nose when not wearing a mask, or pulled down under the chin when wearing the mask.

D. Period – All rights reserved – 2009 – Use permitted by all only with attribution.

Originally posted on July 4, 2009 @ 7:00 pm

BOB-GOOD-GO Bag for the Ultra-Urban Environment – Part 4 – Smoke/Fire Escape Hood

If you accept the assertion that the primary or secondary danger most likely to affect the ultra-urbanite is fire, then smoke/fire escape hoods can be worth the investment. With all the modern plastics and other man-made materials and finishes, the primary killer in a structure fire is not the flame itself, but the toxic smoke. Many autopsies show the victims were dead from the smoke (or lack of oxygen) long before the body burned.

Smoke/fire hoods can be expensive. At least the ones that have a fighting chance of working. (I saw a device for sale that was little more than a standard, clear plastic bag with pieces of an “activated charcoal” filter paper taped over holes for the nose. Doesn’t that fly-by-nighter know what shrink wrapping a head by fire would do?) There are several on the market in the $100 plus range that seem to have a chance of providing some protection. I haven’t personally tested them, so I am having to go by the specification sheets and other’s reviews.

For the civilians not trained in the use of the various masks and other Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), I like the idea of keeping it simple. A hood over the whole head helps keep the hair from igniting, and smoke from blinding the eyes, while accommodating any eye-wear without the need for prescription goggles. An integral gas mask that fits around the nose and mouse provides a better fit for keeping the killing toxics out of the lungs.

I am leaning towards the AES60 in a soft pouch (is there something “better” for the cost/benefit balance?). A little less than $100, and in use for years by several commercial and government offices. Not designed to produce oxygen, it truly is a consumable, one-time use item for prolonging an individuals time to escape the smoke, heat, and flame environment while self extracting from the modern skyscraper or other place.

Which ever hood is chosen, add some elastic bands to the pouch to permit the surviver to quickly gather up long hair into a hair bun. My test unit hasn’t been delivered yet, but I think I will be adding a short, flat packed, strip of tape in anticipation of making an emergency repair to the hood.

The fire/smoke hood can go over the head at the first whiff of smoke — even before the coveralls or other gear.

D. Period – All rights reserved – 2009 – Use permitted by all only with attribution.

Originally posted on July 3, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

BOB-GOOD-GO Bag for the Ultra-Urban Environment – Part 3 – Flame Retardant Coveralls

As far as I can tell, the number one threat facing the modern megalopolis, skyscraper dweller (either primarily or as a secondary concern) is fire. Train derailment sparking a conflagration. Civil unrest (or professional football/baseball/hockey game fan rejoicing) is often highlighted with fires. An underground power station transformer blows setting the cooling oil on fire. A jack-knifed, suicide jockey pulling a tandem for the downtown gas station gets punctured and goes up in flames. A meteorite hit transforms kinetic energy into fire. (Feel free to come up with your own “worst case scenario”.) How many think of a flame retardant (FR) coverall for their bags?

Additionally, the female, professional, office worker rarely wears clothing appropriate for slogging through an emergency escape scenario. Females wear so much plastic against the skin (stockings, underwear, blouse, hair things, ….) that I’m really concerned with potential of extensive burns from the plastic simply melting into the skin from heat that the human could otherwise survive.

So having replacement, utilitarian clothing would be of benefit, both to protect from heat and flame, as well as just from the elements once outside. It will also protect from potential cuts from traversing rough passages.

Finding relatively inexpensive, but good quality FR coveralls is daunting. Snooping through the various Army/Navy surplus stores for real, FR, mil-surplus coveralls (aviator or mechanized) has been fruitless. Used, FR impregnated cotton coveralls are not “good enough”. The retardant washes out and with used gear, it is an unknown if the cotton coveralls are actually FR any more. Also, the “cotton kills” mantra would apply; as the coveralls should also protect once outside in whatever weather.

Nomex IIIA would be my best choice. At a couple hundred dollars per for one coverall (with the desired features), it is a heavy investment. Especially for those who make multiple BOB/GOOD/GO bags for stashing in various locations.

Other items are needed to complete the outfit. Boots, gloves, and even safety goggles are more easily sourced. I am not trying to duplicate a fireman’s bunker gear on the cheap. I am trying to balance cost versus saving a life, skin, or limb during an emergency.

What I’ve determined as a minimum desired set of features in FR coveralls are:
– Nomex IIIA, including thread and zipper backing.
– Mandarin style collar able to stand up for neck protection, preferably with a FR Velcro tab.
– Wrist cinching closure, preferably FR Velcro tab.
– No sleeve forearm openings (as found in men’s, long sleeved shirts) – fully fabric covered.
– Inside and outside covered zipper.
– Any snaps are covered so no metal is exposed.
– Navy blue, or similar, nondescript color. (Sometimes you don’t want to be so easily spotted.)

Other options that would be good to have in FR coveralls include:
– Fully gusseted leg openings, preferably with zipper closures, for donning without having to remove the footwear.
– Heavier weight (4.5 oz minimum, 6 or even 9 oz might be better).
– Pass-through, front pockets (so pants pockets or waist pouches are reachable under the coveralls).
– A breakaway, safety zipper.
– “Action back” darts for more freedom of movement.
– Integral, elastic waistband for keeping the extra fabric close to the body so it doesn’t snag.
– Multiple pockets with securely closing flaps.

Anything is better than nothing. If real FR coveralls are beyond the budget, at least acquire utilitarian, non-FR coveralls for the interim. Simply covering the skin can go a long way in protecting the individual during a fire.

Do not use plastic or paper based coveralls (painter’s suits or the like). These are flammable. It defeats the purpose. These types of coveralls can be useful in a non-fire environment where the skin is being protected from other things (chemicals, bird/swine/other flu, rain, …).

When wearing coveralls for maximum protection, do not pull the boots up over the coverall legs. With the legs of the coveralls going over the outside of the boots, no falling debris can get caught in the boot.

The sleeves should be rolled down and the wrists closed tightly with the gauntlets of the work gloves. It may seem counter to the legs on the outside, but when doing work, the hands tend to be raised and items will fall out rather than in. It also allows for quick glove removal if the gloves gets pinched somewhere or if you want to use the back of the hand to feel for heat through doors or walls.

The coveralls should be fully zipped up, with the collar raised and secured as best able to cover as much skin as possible.

D. Period – All rights reserved – 2009 – Use permitted by all only with attribution.

Originally posted on July 2, 2009 @ 6:56 pm

BOB-GOOD-GO Bag for the Ultra-Urban Environment Part 2 – Modular Design

The potential emergencies for the skyscraper dweller includes what most other preppers have listed – hail storms, fire, radioactive release, blackouts, civil unrest, etcetera – just with some twists. Specifically, the impact of the density of human beings, the height of the structures people work, sleep, and play in, and the lack of space to store all the “stuff”. This is what makes survival in the downtown core a little different than in the rural to wild environments.

First and foremost, this means that even though there are many magnitudes more emergency first responders within hailing distance that you could ever have in the rural areas, it is not enough to rely upon. When a major catastrophe occurs, they will be overloaded and you will have to rescue yourself. So there will be a constant battle between having too much, not enough, the correct mix, and the cost of it all (in dollars, time, weight, and storage space).

I think a modular approach to the “stuff” needed (or wanted) for survival situations would be the best approach. Specifically, partitioning the “stuff” into EDC on a lanyard (around the neck or in a pocket), EDC in wallet/pouch as a purse insert (or could hang off a belt or in a fanny pack on the non-business attire days), a “bat belt” with stuff to keep one alive and going for 24 hours that is donned when an emergency dictates, a rolling backpack as the official BOB/GOOD/GO bag, and some sort of storage locker(s), bin(s), or some type of furniture for securing the “bat belt”, backpack, and other items.

For most urban professionals, there are four, main locations where the individual could be found on any given day (or night);
– Home – where most of an average day is spent, especially sleeping.
– Primary Workplace – second biggest chunk of time.
– Car (van, SUV, work issued POS, ….).
– And a fourth location – a second car, second job, vacation home, school, lover’s home, …).

There are always other places; bars, clubs, library, … But it seems that most urbanites spend most of there time routinely in up to four distinct locations. Your list might vary from the above, but will probably end up being four distinct locations that account for the major of the 168 hours in a week.

I leaning towards one set of EDC items, and four BOB/GOOOD/GO bags, one stored at home, work, grandparents, and lover’s home.

D. Period – All rights reserved – 2009 – Use permitted by all only with attribution.

BOB-GOOD-GO Bag for the Ultra-Urban Environment – Part 1 – Introduction

Many can’t/won’t live in a small village or isolated retreat. The overwhelming majority of modern, first world nations, live in cities with buildings taller than any fire truck ladder. How about a BOB/GOOD/GO bag for the modern office worker and downtown megalopolis, skyscrape dweller?

Just as there are different considerations when living out on the edge of the wild, there are unique concerns in the big city. It is a trade off. I don’t think I need to worry about a grizzly roaming around the 44th floor water cooler. But I do need to think about my other options when the fire department’s aerial ladder can’t reach me in an emergency. Out in the wilds, fish hooks, snare wire, and knowledge about the local wildlife can be a lifesaver. In the ultra-urban, a door blocking wedge, alternative power for a cell phone, and knowledge about the two-legged wildlife can also be a lifesaver.

While those who can boast proven survival skills – like rubbing two scouts together to make fire, hitting the silhouettes faster than Gunny, or making an EMT/PA look slow and clumsy when the blood is flying – will probably do better than just survive in the concrete jungle. What about those we might care about who don’t have such skills or knowledge? In my case, I have some friends I care about who are just above clueless of how bad, bad can be. Slowly I’m getting them there; they are becoming more self-sufficient and capable. But in the mean time, how should I put together BOB/GOOD/GO bags for them?

I don’t have the full answer, but I have a working proposition. I’d like to share my current thinking and hopefully people can help me find the holes and better solutions. As I work through this, I’ll probably change many things, but I have to start somewhere.

Let’s start with some basic assumptions about a hypothetical, composite target person for this ultra-urban BOB/GOOD/GO bag:
– Adult female with above average intelligence and a desire to survive.
– Professional office worker who spends five days a week in heels and business suites with skirts.
– Works in one skyscraper and lives across the city in another skyscraper, both over twenty stories high.
– Single mother with two kids, ages ten and eight, and no financial support from the sperm donor.
– Kids spend five days a week at school/day care that is walking distance from home.
– Occasionally spends the night with maternal grandparents who are also walking distance from home.
– Grandpa is a retired gourmet chef who enjoys throwing a spread for his extended family every other weekend where mom, the kids, and the extended family have made it a new tradition to gather.
– Mom is a part time university student finishing her MBA two nights a week and one weekend a month.
– On those university nights and weekends, mom crashes at her lover’s townhouse near the campus while either the grandparents or a babysitter is minding the young ones.
– Let’s add a minor limitation of color blindness; just enough to prevent her from getting a driver’s license.
– And just for fun; add a nuclear power plant 25 miles away upwind and a coastal wharf at the downtown edge.

That’s the starting point. Over the next series of articles I will explore what I think would work for her.

D. Period – All rights reserved – 2009 – Use permitted by all only with attribution.

Originally posted on June 30, 2009 @ 4:55 pm