It doesn't matter what happens; you could get robbed, a tornado could hit your town, the power goes out; when that happens, we all want to do the same thing; we want to get home and make sure our family is okay.
Actually, there's a lot of wisdom in following that immediate reaction. We don't know how they are, so finding out how the people who are the most important to us are is of prime importance. Besides, no matter what has happened or is happening, we're going to be best off facing it together. That means getting home to where our family is.
Of course, doing so may be a lot harder than it seems. Many disasters bring significant unexpected effects, including roads being jammed with traffic, bridges being out and electrical service disruptions. No matter how much time it took to get to work that morning, it will take much more time to actually make it back home again.
Can you imagine trying to get home after the 1994 Los Angeles Earthquake? Bridges and overpasses had collapsed, often rendering the roads below them unusable. Buildings fell as well, with some of the larger ones blocking secondary roads. If your route home involved taking any highway, you could just forget it. Chances were that the highway was blocked at some point.
Yet those people still needed to make their way home somehow. They had to find their families and get back together, so that they could begin the process of putting their life back together. For some, the journey home was worse than the disaster. For others it was a major ordeal.
How well and how quickly you can make it back home is going to make a huge difference on your survival plans in a SHTF scenario. The problem is, few of us have thought about this, more than to give it a passing glance. Basically, our survival plans always start from a basis of everyone being at home. But with as active as the modern family is, that's not all that likely.
Start with Route Planning
To start with, it's a good idea to figure out all the places you commonly go. There are always exceptions, but a good grasp on the places you frequent will probably cover something that is at least close to wherever you end up. So, you'll have a good starting point to modify your plans.
Map out all those places, for each member of the family, along with the routes that you use to get back and forth to those places. You're looking for bottlenecks and road blocks, so you want to work with a map that provides you with some pretty clear information about everything you pass over, around or through along the way.
The next time you're making that trip, do so with an eye towards seeing anything that could cause problems. Is there an overpass that could collapse in an earthquake? How about a large building that a tornado could destroy, blocking the road? Are there any bridges or other natural obstacles that your route takes you over or past? You want to find each of those, so that you can plan for any problem with them.
You see, for each possible road block, you need to be able to plan an alternate route, one that doesn't require dealing with whatever obstacle that road block involves. That could end up being pretty major, if you have to cross a river at some point.
How would you deal with that? Basically, you've only got two choices. You either have to go way out of your way to find someplace where you can cross the river; perhaps upstream out of the damaged area or you've got to have a means to float across the river.
If the disaster was widespread enough, going upstream to another crossing point could involve a rather lengthy journey. However, the other option, that of floating across the river means that you need to have some means of doing so. Not many of us carry around a boat in the trunk of our car, so that could be a difficult option to accomplish.
Going back to the Los Angeles earthquake, what if the highways are down, because of overpasses collapsing? Do you have an alternate route, which will allow you to get home, without having to take any of those highways? How well do you know the secondary roads and highways? How much traffic are they going to have on them?
There may be cases where you'd be better off abandoning your vehicle and making your way home on foot. This would be especially true in cases like the Los Angeles earthquake, where so many roads were blocked by fallen overpasses. On foot, you could make your way around those blockages, going places that you couldn't even think of going in a car or truck. While the going might be slower, you might still get home quicker.
Besides, with the major highways down, there might be so much traffic on the side-roads, that they become impassible. Ending up sitting in your car in a three-day long traffic jam isn't going to do you any good. For that matter neither would sitting there until your car ran out of gas.
The same issues that exist for you, exist for every member of your family. You actually need to develop a contingency plan for each family member, for each and every place they regularly frequent. That could lead to a lot of time spent in just planning how to get home.
Arrange for Pickups?
You may need to arrange for someone else to pick up some family member, if things work out in such a way that there is no way you or your spouse could make it home quickly. Let's say that your job requires that you cross a river to get to the office. If the bridge goes down, who's going to pick up the kids, while you are making your way back home?
Obviously, your first choice is your spouse. But what if they can't either? Do you have someone you can trust, who you could count on to do that for you? Would they take the time out of taking care of their own family, in order to take care of yours?
For that matter, if you have to abandon your vehicle, is there somewhere that somebody can pick you up. Let's say that your contingency plan is to make it across the river in a small inflatable boat or even an inner tube. Okay, so once you get across the river, how far is it to home? Would you be better off going on foot or is there some way that you could arrange a pickup? Are there other obstacles that would make that difficult or impossible to accomplish?
Set Up Your Communications
The next thing to consider is getting in touch with each other, so that everyone in the family knows that everyone else is all right and what they are doing to get back home. If you choose to use a particular contingency plan, your family should know it. Likewise for each member of the family. As long as you are separated, you need to keep each other up to date on your locations, progress and plans.
One family member should act as the communications nexus for the family. This would be the person who everyone passes their information on to. They, in turn, would pass that information on to everyone else. Since this person would have to keep track of what's happening with everyone else, they should be the one who has the least likelihood of having problems making it back home.
This person would also be the one to spread the alarm, should a situation be developing and the family need to make their way back home, before it is too late. A coded message from this person to all the family would mean, "Drop everything and come home; emergency."
Cell phones are the logical choice for communications during this time. However, you must keep in mind that cell phones are not always reliable. The landline phone system has extensive backup power for emergency use; cell phone towers don't necessarily have this. So, while cell phones are more convenient, landline communications are more reliable.
The other thing to keep in mind is that text messages will often get through when calls won't; especially when someone has a weak signal. So, voice and text should both be used. But if text is used, it should never be assumed that the message went through, unless a confirmation is received.
Finally, watch out for battery power. Cell phones can use a lot of power, even when you aren't talking on them. If you have no signal, the phone will be trying to contact the tower and establish a link. That means transmitting, just as if you were talking. It doesn't take long to run down a battery like that.
A backup battery is always a good idea. Carrying one with you really isn't much of a problem and will help ensure that you don't run out of power at the wrong moment, whether during an emergency or any other time. Just make sure to keep the backup charged, as well as your phone, or it's not going to do a bit of good.
One other plan to use, if it looks like you won't be able to recharge, is to only use the phone intermittently. This could mean turning the phone on only once an hour, to check in and check for messages. Once that was done, you could turn off again, conserving power for the ensuing hour before your next check-in.
Equipping Yourself to Get Home
Let me ask you a question. In light of what we've been talking about, are you properly equipped to get home, when you leave to go somewhere? I mean, do you actually have everything you need to have, in order to make it back to your home, even if the worst were to happen?
If you're like most people, you probably don't. Most preppers don't even have that. While most of us have a bug out bag, ready and waiting, we don't have a get home bag in the trunk of our car. What's a get home bag? That's a bag that contains everything you need, to ensure that you are able to make it home, in the case of an emergency.
A get home bag needs to be separate from a bug out bag, so don't just throw your bug out bag into your trunk and think you've got it made. While a bug out will probably have everything you need in it, so that you could get home in an emergency, it shouldn't be used for that. If you use your get home bag to get home and then find out that you have to bug out right away, you won't be ready. You'll probably have used up some of the supplies in your bug out bag, that you'll need for the bug out.
I'll get to what you need in your get home bag in a minute, but before I go there, let's talk clothing. Maybe you're a construction worker or a factory worker, and you go to work in attire that will be fine for walking home 20 miles in, in the dead of winter. But maybe you're not. A lot of us leave home in the morning in clothing that is totally inappropriate for long walks, especially women.
Office clothes are not appropriate for a long walk, that's all there is to it. Can you imagine trying to walk all the way home in high heels? Or, how about trying to walk home in the cold, with a skirt that doesn't even go down to your knees? Obviously, that won't work.
So, you need to have some good sturdy clothing in your car, something that is appropriate for walking home 20 miles, or however far you have to walk. Don't put in new clothes and especially not new shoes. Make sure that it's well broken in, but still in good condition. What should this include? At an absolute minimum, you need to have:
- A good pair of jeans or cargo pants that fit well, are comfortable and allow you to move. Ladies, that means nothing that's skin tight.
- A rugged casual shirt that's appropriate for the season. Avoid short sleeves, even in the summertime, as you might get sunburn.
- Good tennis shoes, walking shoes or hiking boots that are already broken in are an essential. Ideally, you want something that will give you some ankle support, as it is easy to twist your ankle on a long walk, especially if you have to cover some uneven ground. Ladies, you don't get style points; go for comfort, not looks.
- A seasonally appropriate jacket. Figure the worst weather you're going to encounter in that season and have a jacket appropriate for that season. You're better off with too warm a one, than one that isn't warm enough. You can always leave it open if you're too warm.
- A seasonally appropriate hat. Even if you don't need a hat for the cold, have one for the sun. One-fourth of your body's blood supply goes to your head, so you can lose a lot of heat by not wearing a hat. If it's hot and sunny, a hat with a wide brim will help to protect you from the sun.
- Leather work gloves. You may have some rough going and work gloves will protect your hands. Even if you don't wear them all the time, have them with you on the way home, just in case you need them.
As you can see, I've mentioned "seasonally appropriate" several times there. That means you're going to need to change out the clothing you're carrying with you several times a year. While that may seem like a hassle, I'll bet you'll find that you have times when those clothes are useful for more than just survival. If you use them, make sure you get an outfit back into the car before leaving home again.
Your Get Home Bag
The get home bag is essentially an expanded survival kit, specially built for urban survival. It needs to provide you with everything you'll need to have to survive for as long as it takes you to get home. That could mean two or three days, depending on how far you are and what sorts of obstacles you encounter.
As a general rule of thumb, figure out how long it would take you to walk home from your farthest common destination and double it. If getting home requires crossing a river, than triple it. No matter what, it's going to take longer that you expect, so you should make sure that you are ready for that. More than anything, that means having enough food to keep you going for that amount of time, even if it isn't enough to satisfy you.
The bag itself should be something inconspicuous, but that you can carry cross-body, like a shoulder bag or messenger bag. I use a military-style bag, with a MOLLE system, but you're really better off with something that's not so obvious. People can easily equate military-style equipment with being prepared for a disaster. A book bag or messenger bag doesn't send that sort of message.
While you need some survival equipment in that bag, you don't need everything you'd need for surviving in the woods. Remember, we're talking urban survival here, not wilderness survival.
You may not end up needing shelter on your trek home, but the idea is to be prepared, just in case. So, a few basic things to make an emergency shelter along the way would be useful.
- Space blankets
- A 55 gallon plastic lawn and leaf bag (can be used for a sleeping bag)
- Duct tape
- Rain poncho (not only protects you from the rain, but can be used to make a tent)
If it gets cold or you need to cook some food, you might need to be able to start a fire. So, you should make sure you have a couple of ways to start a fire with you, as well as an accelerant to use in cases where you have wood that won't light easily. Of course, this is going to require finding some fuel.
- Disposable lighter
- Alternate fire starter (metal match or ferro rod)
- Cotton balls, soaked in petroleum jelly (great accelerant)
You might also want to consider carrying an Esbit stove and fuel for it. These stoves are compact and run off of hexamine fuel tablets. They are ideal for heating up canned food.
This will probably be your greatest need, as you make your way home. While carrying a lot of water is heavy and will slow you down, carrying a water purifier isn't. In an urban area, you will probably be able to find water.
- Lifestraw or other straw-type water filter
- One liter of water in a refillable bottle (preferably nalgene)
- Quart size zipper bags (make great spare canteens)
You can live without food for the time it will take you to get home. That doesn't mean that you should totally ignore food though. Some high-energy food might help keep you going. Having the means to cook food on that fire you're going to start is even better.
- Some high-energy food bars
- Beef jerky, nuts, etc.
- Military P-38 can opener
- Heavy-duty aluminum foil (makes great cooking dishes)
While personal hygiene may not seem like your highest priority at a time like this, it's quite important. Besides helping you to feel better, it will also help protect you from infection, which could be dangerous in such a situation.
- Pocket Kleenex packets (make great emergency toilet paper)
- Antibacterial hand cleaner
- One-use toothbrushes
- Compressed towels
- First aid kit (needs to be large enough to take care of somewhat serious wounds, plus having common over-the-counter medicines)
- Any prescription medicines you take regularly
Then there are the things you should have with you, just to make it easier to travel. This category kind of includes everything that's not included in the categories above. You could call it a "miscellaneous" category, but these might end up being your most important items.
- Tactical flashlight, with spare batteries
- Small crowbar
- Map of the area you need to travel (laminated)
- Phone recharger
- Pen & pencil, with waterproof paper
- Copy of your driver's license or other identification
- Emergency contact phone numbers (laminated list)
- Money (to pay for a bus, cab or bribe)
You might also want to consider carrying a weapon with you. Most states make it fairly easy to obtain a concealed carry license, as long as you don't have a criminal record. Some states even allow you to carry a firearm in your car, without that license. If you can't carry a firearm, then at least carry a taser or some pepper spray.
The problem is that people will probably go a bit nuts due to the disaster. Depending on how well prepared they are and what the supply situation is like, those people may start attacking others. If that happens, you need a way to protect yourself.
Most experts agree that it will be a few days before people start going nuts and turning against each other. However, there are as many who say that in high population areas, like big cities, that could be as little as one day. Those who are used to violence, such as criminals and gang members are more likely to turn to violence quicker than the average citizen, so some of them could start almost immediately.
As a person traveling alone, you will look like an easy target. Carrying a weapon gives you the ability to protect yourself, regardless of who is coming at you. Maybe they will still overcome you, but at least with a firearm or some other weapon, you stand a chance. Unarmed, you have almost no chance.
Make Your Way Home
Keep your cool and make your way home slowly. As the tortoise said, slow and steady wins the race. You aren't in a race, and if you try to act like you are, you'll wear yourself out, making you more vulnerable and more likely to make mistakes. Yes, you want to arrive as soon as possible, but more than that, you want to make sure you arrive.
Keep your situational awareness on full blast. This will be a dangerous time, whether from the disaster itself or from the people around you. Keeping your awareness up is your best defense, allowing you to see many problems, before they can manifest. That gives you the opportunity to prepare for them or avoid them all together.
Don't forget to check in often, letting your family know where you are and that you are doing well. Keep them apprised of your progress and your plans. Tell them how you are doing and be honest about it. If you're having problems or are injured, let them know. It may be that they can provide transportation or that someone you know can. If they know where to look for you, that will make it possible for them to bring you help. If they don't know, they can't do anything.
Take time to rest, making sure that you are in a safe place when you do so. Rest is important to keep your body functioning at maximum. If you get too tired, your reactions will slow down and your chances of becoming injured will increase. A short nap, in a safe place, can make all the difference in the world.Finally, keep a positive mental attitude. That will do more to help you survive, than any tool or piece of equipment you can possibly take along with you. You have to be convinced you can do it, or you'll end up giving up along the way.