September 19, 2014

The Go-Bag: "What does one wear to a truly stunning natural disaster?"


Yesterday's spate of look-backs on the Mt. St. Helens eruption recalled an essay from some years back on disasters and being prepared for them.

It all started in Laguna Beach when something went BUMP!

And then
something went BUMP!
How that bump made us jump!

We looked!
-- The Cat in the Hat

ABOUT QUARTER TO NINE this serene Sunday morning, as I was sitting down and wondering what to write about, the house bumped me. One BUMP with the sound of "Thump!" as if a giant's fist had given the floor a little love tap. And then... nothing. No rattle of plates and shuddering of books in the shelves. No rising hiss of gas lines pulled open. None of the sounds of panicked birds. Just one BUMP with a thump and then everything goes back to "Condition California Normal."

Everything except me.

When you've recently had a number of homes 400 yards from you just wake up one morning and decided to take a slide down their hill, you tend to become just a wee bit oversensitive to your environment. That solid BUMP had me out of my chair and moving toward the front door with dedication. Once second, I'm sitting. Next second, I'm standing in the middle of the intersection looking up and down the streets. I'm
paying special attention as to whether or not I can see any tall trees swaying on this windless morning. Nope. Nothing. But the birds agreed with me since they had, for once, shut up.

I also found myself standing in the intersection in my pajamas with bare feet. A neighbor dressed in a robe and boxer shorts came out on his third-floor balcony, wallet and keys in his hand.

"You feel that?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah. I see you did too."

"Maybe," I said, "we should get dressed."

A new Lexus came up the steep hill behind me heading for the road down from the summit. It stopped for a moment. An old couple was inside. He was driving. She looked resigned and was holding a irritated looking cat.

"You feel that?" he asked.

"Am I standing in the middle of the street in my Pajamas?"

"We're going downtown and then out to the valley for the day. Can't be too careful."

"Well, that's true enough. Just don't linger on the canyon road. You got rock slide zones on both sides."

"We're not going through the canyon. We're going up to Newport along the coast."

"Well, get through those parts that run along the cliffs quickly."

"You got that right. Anyway, I've got water, food, and shovels in the trunk. You can't be too careful. These days you can't be too careful."

His wife was beginning to roll her eyes and their cat continued to squirm.

"Or too prepared," I said with a slight edge of sarcasm in my voice.

"No, you can't," he said, and gunned the shiny tan Lexus up the hill and out of sight. They were pretty old and frail. I hoped that, if anything happened, they'd be able to get out of their car and to the shovels and water in the trunk.

I looked up at my neighbor on his balcony high above the street and thought about the ten or fifteen seconds it would take to fall on top of me if we had another more serious BUMP, which was due in Southern California.... oh, just about any day now.

My neighbor shrugged. "What you gonna do?" he said in the manner of those who, faced with their continuing powerlessness, have nothing at all to say.

"I don't know about you," I answered, "but I'm getting dressed."

"There's a thought."

I went back inside and got dressed thinking, "Now what does one wear to a truly stunning natural disaster?" This thought revealed to me that I had not a smidgen of an idea about what to wear or what to do at all. Not a single brain cell in my over-furnished brain had been tasked with determining how to survive the most likely disaster in my little world.

Like millions of others on this shaky slab of the planet, I just woke up every day, took a breath, had some coffee and ran my "I'm okay and I'm okay" tape in the background and got on with "havin' a good one." Like millions of others in this state which is, like all states, just a state of mind, I "had the experience but missed the meaning." Like millions of others, I had -- in my heart -- scoffed at the old man in the Lexus who had, probably for the hundredth time, pushed to wife and the cat into the car and driven to the valley with his various survival supplies rattling in the trunk. Unlike millions of others, I stood in my bedroom and, not for the first time, realized that I was an unreconstructed fool. Worse still, I was a fool that laughed at the wise. Worse yet, I had no plan for a disaster that was not an if, but a when; a bad day that only lacked a date certain.

I had no plan even though I'd seen, at first hand, the man-made disaster of 9/11 kill thousands in seconds and render a great city helpless and floundering for weeks and months after. But then I thought, as my neighbor said, "What you gonna do?"

Which was when I remembered Mandel's car.

Tom Mandel was the first good friend that I made during the stone age of online communications in the 1980s. He was my first 'cyberbuddy' in the days before we had such a wet word for it. I met him through the Well conferences (about which the less said the better these days), and he grew to be a real friend in the real world. We even co-authored a book together. He was a good, complex, secretive, and brilliant man. And he died young of a bad disease.

Tom had lived in Palo Alto and been alive during the Loma Prieta earthquake that hit the Bay Area on October 17, 1989. Nothing much happened to him or his home on that day, but people driving in the wrong section of Cypress structure on the Nimitz freeway were not so lucky. Large portions of this concrete overpass pancaked down and reduced a number of cars and 42 of their occupants to flattened slabs of metal. bone and flesh. Others, somewhat luckier, were trapped in their crushed cars until rescue.

After Tom died, his widow -- a woman he loved and married in his final weeks -- was going through various things and came to his car. He hadn't used it for some months. When she began to clean it out she noticed first that the front seats had been rigged so that they could flatten backwards. Then she noticed that the back seat had been rigged so it would pop out easily enabling you to crawl into the trunk. Opening the trunk she found blankets, a number of military issue MREs, containers of water, a folding shovel, a long crow bar, two hundred feet of rope with knots tied in it every two feet, and three small but powerful hydraulic jacks. It would seem that, although he was not a man given to planning the future, Tom was at least prepared for being trapped in a collapsed structure after an earthquake. He could have gotten out of that one. It was the cancer that he couldn't escape, but in the end there's always something for each of us that we can't escape.

Then there are those that we can. If we plan.

Experienced sailors, having seen the lethal caprice of the sea and survived it, have a habit of packing a "Go-Bag." People who advise about emergencies also advise you to have one. These bags are supposed to contain all sorts of items handy in a survival situation: radios, batteries, flashlights, first-aid kits, ropes, knives, and so on. All the items deemed necessary to get by and keep going if the world around you is, suddenly, transformed to one state or another of, well, rubble.

I can understand, finally, the wisdom of that and, after this morning's BUMP, I've finally gotten the message clearly enough to begin to assemble my own Go-Bag along with a few other items in the trunk of my car. I don't know if I'm going to go as far as the hydraulic jacks, but the folding shovel and the blanket seem to be a good bet.

In order to do my Go-Bag right, I've made a list of all the practical things I'll need to assemble or buy, with an eye towards practicality and portability. But as I look at it now, I can see there are some essential things that I'll need for survival that I've left out. If you've ever made such a survival list, I'll bet you've left out some of the same things. None of the sites or agencies that talk about Go-Bags include them either. I'm going back in to add them even if it means I have to throw some 'sensible' things out. The new additions include:

That's the list and I've now got them all in a small, sealed canvas bag next to my front door. I'll buy the "important" survival supplies this afternoon at the mall, but for right now I think I can say that the BUMP made me jump enough to survive. My real Go-Bag is full and I think, at last, that I'm finally good to go.

Posted by Vanderleun at September 19, 2014 2:21 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I am not good to go. My sins and my shortcomings are too grievous a burden to carry.

Posted by: Fat Man at May 19, 2010 6:29 PM

Good job.

Posted by: Carl H at May 19, 2010 8:50 PM

Where did you find the picture of the go bag? I think I'd like to buy one.

Posted by: pdwalker at May 20, 2010 3:36 AM

Is that a Strider knife if go bag dudes pocket? Nice choice!

Posted by: Dave J at May 20, 2010 9:14 AM

"What does one wear to a truly stunning natural disaster?"

A Rifle.

Posted by: monkeyfan at May 20, 2010 11:51 AM

...And shoes.

Keep your shoes on if you have any inkling of what's coming, and reach for them first if disaster catches you by surprise.

Posted by: monkeyfan at May 20, 2010 11:54 AM

One thing that often gets missed is cigarettes.

Even if you don't smoke, they would come in handy as currency when the SHTF.

If you're not going to be smoking them yourself, buy the cheapest stuff you can find.

Posted by: Rich at May 21, 2010 9:13 AM

That bag is an S.O.Tech Go Bag.

GVL likely googled "go bag".

But that pic is from a website called Mil spec monkey.

Posted by: Chris at September 19, 2014 3:39 PM

Any bug-out gear I take will have food, water, shelter in quantities easy to pack and carry, might have to walk some miles. First aid, ammunition and a couple weapons. Long gun if possible and for sure a pistol concealed. It all depends on how much time I'm allowed to get ready and how I'm traveling. A number of survival sites have lists and recommendations but I see it as levels of emergency. Out the back door in the middle of the night with only what I can grab, say fire or earthquake or assault is one thing. Given time due to warning I can take more and have transportation.

Google up "Katrina survival" to hear from people that have been there, done that.

Posted by: chasmatic at September 19, 2014 9:45 PM

The Knights Templar Mexican drug cartel took down the whole electrical grid in the Mexican state of Michoacan down in the last year, IIRC.

You need food, water, batteries, and guns & ammo. Get some. Just spend $5 more at the grocery store each week for supplies until you have 3 days worth for each person in the house, and then keep going until you have 30 days. Guns and ammo are almost back to pre-hysteria prices and availability, except for 22LR ammo. Don't tell anyone outside of your house you have any of this stuff.

Don't forget in a natural disaster, if the cell phone system is working at all TEXT messages will get through. Phone calls can and will overload the cell towers, but TEXT messages cannot overwhelm the system. High-capacity USB batteries are cheap and your car battery can recharge your phone several times. You can even get a hand-crank USB charger, but don't rely on just one. I have USB batteries, several hand-crank radios and chargers and a Rayovac 7 Hour Recharge than can use alkaline batteries to recharge phones.

Posted by: Scott M at September 19, 2014 11:02 PM

The Art of Manliness recently published an article demonstrating how an Amazon Kindle, or other e-book reader, can be used very well in your Go-Bag. I heartily concur. They have fabulous battery life, my Kindle 2 will go weeks without a re-charge. If you create an account with you can create a "book" with as many web article as you desire.

************ VERY IMPORTANT ************
Store a couple of recent utility bills and copy of your Driver's License. These are often required to let people back into a neighborhood.

Posted by: Scott M at September 19, 2014 11:10 PM


Posted by: Scott M at September 19, 2014 11:12 PM

The whole west coast is both spectacular and problematic because of its geological instability. Whatever. Enjoy it while you can. Your choice.

Instead of a go-bag, move out into the boonies. Your whole house is your go-bag. Be sure to make friends with your neighbors.

You really don't need that career in finance or high tech.

Posted by: bob sykes at September 20, 2014 3:41 AM

@Scott — good advice. This subject is not a laughing matter. What looked like "preppers" and others foretelling of a collapse of the system and the romantic notions that we could all get out of town and live in the woods, well, it has real serious consequences.
Whether due to infrastructure failure, or storms and fires, or hostile groups, perhaps military or para-military, we need to be able, get out of the danger zone.

Friends, there are a lot of survival web sites that can show you a list of what to have on hand.
The basics will be the same: food & water, first aid, shelter and fire, knife/machete, firearm(s).

I am prepared at several levels so I can respond to conditions requiring bug-out: immediate and first 24 hrs; two or three days; long-term, like you ain't going back.

Here are some links; I don't have any vested interest or preference and you can find other sites with any search engine:

Posted by: chasmatic at September 20, 2014 6:21 AM

This is a very useful blog about lessons learned from Katrina:
He mentions missing out on work, after relocating, because he didn't have all the documentation that he needed. I do not currently have a go bag. I am working on stocking up on food first (21 cent increase in milk prices in 10 days!). Go bag is next. It is the way that folks used to live and it is a good idea to do these things now. I know people that had to get ready to evacuate from fires this month. It would have been less stressful to plan for the possibility first.

Posted by: Teri Pittman at September 20, 2014 12:15 PM

And just to match the contents of your Go Bag, mine will have a slim book. I asked my husband to fill the book for my birthday one year. He wrote of his memories of our long marriage. He died a few years later. I have scanned some of the pages to Dropbox, but it's one of the things I don't want to lose. I really should scan all of it and my pictures to a thumb drive for safekeeping.

Posted by: Teri Pittman at September 20, 2014 12:20 PM

@Teri — yes, thank you for reminding me. We need some emotional supplies as well. Your idea of pictures and poems on a thumb drive is a good one.
On a more pragmatic level, having the last couple month's utilities bills, perhaps proof of a pension or Social Security benefits, birth certificate, vehicle registration, so forth scanned and put on a memory stick. There are ways to encode it so without a password the info stays hidden.

Posted by: chasmatic at September 20, 2014 9:30 PM

I reckon if I had to "leave in my socks" as they say, you know, in a real hurry, I could get along with a knife and a cigarette lighter and a 22 pistol in my back pocket, maybe a hunnert rounds ammo. I could pick up whatever else I needed along the way.

Posted by: chasmatic at September 21, 2014 11:09 PM