In the UK from 2010 to 2011 there were 45,000 dwelling fires. Those fires directly resulted in 8,900 non-fatal casualties and 306 deaths. The majority of those fires – 38,000 – were accidental, mainly from the misuse of kitchen or electrical appliances. The rest, well, what’s the opposite of ‘accidental’? (Communities.gov)
A house fire, particularly in the middle of the night, is the very definition of a Worst Case Scenario. You’re woken by a your terrified child or the wailing of a smoke alarm. It’s dark. You’ve gone from a sleep state into fight or flight mode in a matter of seconds. You’re disorientated and know that you have to get your family and yourself out of danger as soon as possible.
You’ve always been told to just get out, not worry about your things. Right from school age we are told: “Leave your bags. Leave in an orderly manner by the predetermined route. Do not return to the building for any reason.” The theory is exactly the same in domestic fire situations (although I doubt people line up their families on the playground and make them shout out their names) but there is so much more at stake. Schools can take a hit and the kids can still be taught. If your house goes up in flames with everything inside and you don’t have a plan, life could get seriously difficult very quickly.
This is the un-sung benefit of the personal/family Bug Out Bag. It’s there, it’s ready and it has everything you need to keep yourself and your family as safe, warm and happy as is possible in an emergency. People have the impression that a BOB is just there for when aliens attack (unlikely) or when the economy crashes (very likely) and they have to abandon their homes and live in the woods like Bear Grylls until it all blows over. But we shouldn’t get complacent and think that the only things we must prepare for are at the apocalyptic end of the scale. A fire can start in your home while you are preparing breakfast or dinner, while you’re sat writing at your desk or while you’re asleep. Regardless, the situation needs to be dealt with. You can prepare your home for the end of the world, but what if it went up in flames?
I should be clear. This post deals with a Bug Out Bag that will serve you should you find yourself with a housefire to deal with. A large scale Bugging Out kit will be must more comprehensive and contain equipment to keep you safe, warm and fed for at least 72 hours. These kit contents will only make sure that you are not sat on the street in your nightshirt wondering what to do next. Your house burning up is a traumatic time and collecting these few things together will take a considerable amount of stress off of your shoulders, leaving you free to care for those around you.
I.D. and Important Documents. Your house is your biggest asset and apart from your car I’m willing to bet it contains the majority of your most expensive possessions. It also serves as a huge treasure chest for your treasured memories, identification and important documents. In the event of a fire you need to prove that the house is yours, you are who you say you are and that the stuff inside was what you say it was. All of the necessary documents; Identification, Insurance, Deeds, Birth Certificates, health records, bank account details…. everything can be Scanned and kept on a single modern USB stick. They take up no space at all, and will save you months of messing with Insurance companies and Banks while you try to re-start your life. (Note, most USB sticks have security/password options so set one in case a burglar takes your kit! Also, your family passports? Are they to hand or do you want to keep them in your bag as well?) Consider keeping with your USB and Passports an amount of cash that can keep you out of trouble in the short term. £100 will get you travel, food and even a bed & breakfast room in a tight spot and with your I.D. saved on your USB you’ll be able to approach a bank for more in the morning. Want to be extra safe? Take out a credit card just to keep with your BOB, in the event of a fire you might not be able to get your own wallet/purse.
Food and Water. Unless your house burning down is only part of a more widespread disaster such as an Earthquake or Tsunami, in which case your problems are a lot bigger, you will be able to access food and water pretty quickly. However it will calm your nerves and the nerves of your children if there is something on hand to eat and drink straight away or while the emergency services do their thing. A couple of litres of water and energy/chocolate bars should do the trick.
Warm Clothing. You don’t want to be scrabbling around for useful clothes when your house is coming down around you and children will be too panicked to think effectively. That makes it your responsibility to prepare something beforehand so that you can all get out first, and worry about what you’re wearing second. For a house fire situation just a pair of trousers, warm fleece, hat/gloves and a pair of shoes will be fine. You’ll be able to reach somewhere warm and sheltered before suffering too much. Staying warm includes staying dry. Add an emergency poncho and foil blanket for every family member. They weigh next to nothing and are available in every outdoor shop and all over the web, even Amazon. Don’t rely on others bringing them for you, that’s not what Prepping is about.
First Aid Kit. The Emergency Services will be there soon bringing all the First Aid you could need, but a small, comprehensive, FAK is essential for every survival kit. There should be one in your kitchen, there should be one in your car and there should be one in your office desk. Some people like to have a more extensive array of medical supplies but don’t carry anything you are not comfortable with using or that is unnecessary. Seriously, do you need that sphygmomanometer? Can you use a stethoscope?
Communication. These days, nobody even goes to the bathroom without their Smart Phone in hand but an immediate emergency can throw everything into disarray. We commit far too much to our handsets and rely on them far too much. If you were stuck without yours, would you be able to phone work from memory to let them know what’s happened? Could you contact a close friend or relative without simply tapping ‘John’ or ‘Aunty May’ on your touch-screen? I couldn’t, and I’ve attempted to learn those numbers by heart. Keeping just a small notebook/diary in your pack with emergency numbers in it will save you a lot of stress, just when everything is already pretty stressful.
A Plan. Lastly, having the kit is not enough. It’ll keep you warm and supply you with what you need to get out of immediate trouble, but it will soon become worthless if not used in conjunction with a properly thought out plan of action to accompany it. There are two stages to the plan; Getting out of the house and Getting away from the house. Every family member needs to know in advance what to do if they wake up to a fire in the house including escape routes, escape methods and a place to meet. It can be as easy as: “Go downstairs, leave by the French windows and we’ll meet on the neighbours lawn.” My Dad let me push my mattress out of my bedroom window to practice in case I needed to jump. It was a game, and there is no way I would have forgotten in a crisis. Getting away from the house involves having a place to go with your family straight away (assuming that nobody needs medical attention). Either a bed & breakfast nearby or a relative within reasonable distance. The numbers will be in your notebook and the hotels could be marked on a local map, kept in your Bug Out Bag and light as a feather.
There. That should do it. A lot of writing in this post thanks for sticking with it. Remember that these items, although they should all be in a proper Bug Out Bag, will only really keep your spirits up in the event of a house fire. A similar bag could go under your office desk in case of an office fire – but offices, like schools, are usually much better protected from fire and you would have your phone and wallet on you. Have both, or just have the proper BOB. If you have neither, the fire kit is a good place to start with in any case. As ever, hope for the best but plan for the worst.
Thanks for reading. You’re pretty Ace.
No really, this is actually happening. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has revealed their new method of gauging the severity of localised natural disasters. And boy howdy is it a good ‘un.
In what was possibly a ‘three-in-the-morning decision’ (if you know what I mean), FEMA has stated that in the event of an emergency their first action is to contact a Waffle House in the affected area and ask what’s available on the menu. If the full range of waffles and accoutrements is available, then the emergency index is graded as Green. If only some of the menu is up for grabs, the index is Yellow. If the restaurant is shut, God help us all.
But, ridiculous as it might sound, the plan does have its merits. Local law enforcement is always over-burdened after a natural disaster of any size so could do without FEMA clogging up their phone lines as well. Also, America being the size it is there are a large number of local emergencies in any given week. FEMA (although I’m sure they would like to be) is not big enough to have a presence in every small town and settlement. Waffle Houses however, are nearly everywhere – they have roughly 1,600 open at any one time – and if they aren’t then something similar is.
Restaurants are open for one purpose. They want people through the door and buying their food. Something has to go very wrong for a restaurant, particularly a fast food restaurant, to reduce their menu or stay closed. With the amount of competition around for people’s cash, it would take a truly large scale, red index, disaster to keep them from doing business.
So, the plan is a bit ‘off the wall’ but actually makes sense. FEMA has been routinely lambasted for their lack of ability and general attitude (bad). Maybe this will serve to bolster their reputation a little.
I only wish I was in the meeting when the idea was pitched.
In the same way that all survival ‘kits’ have the same basic components, which we add to when expecting to face specific dangers, all survival plans should have the same basic priorities that are elaborated on to face individual needs or scenarios.
These needs/scenarios take into account things like:
- Location. Whether you are based in a city or rural environment and where you expect to be if the SHTF (work or home)
- Personal abilities. Survival experience and personal survival development as well as injuries/illnesses that might hamper your survival plan.
- The nature of the emergency or disaster you face. Obviously, a local riot presents significantly different dangers than a flood or fire.
There are others, but you get the idea. Any survival guide worth its salt (and I like to think we’re getting there) will recommend the same seven basics that need to be assessed before an emergency and followed during the emergency, obviously changing the order of necessity according to the nature of the moment. So, without further ado…
Tools. Invest in a good knife and keep it handy. This is pretty much Rule Number One of survival and if you haven’t done so already then it should be at the top of your To Do list. Of course, we’re talking here about preparing for and coping during immediate and unexpected emergencies and disasters, so an exhaustive tool list/kit is unnecessary. If you keep a tool kit in the car, that’s wise. If you have an extensive tool kit at home, great. What you need in the heat of the moment is a surprisingly small number of items.
Your knife. A first aid kit – well stocked but not full of things you are unsure how to use. A length of rope will help you out in countless scenarios. Sanitation and personal hygiene items, even just a toothbrush and some toilet paper (shell out on the luxury stuff, you’ll be thankful of it) and a small towel or wet wipes to keep yourself clean. Lastly, a multitool is almost without exception a wise investment, the exception being when you buy a sub-standard multitool. With multitools, you generally get what you pay for, so shell out as well after doing your research. Remember, you might well be gambling your safety and the safety of your family on the effectiveness of these tools.
Travel. Travel only really comes into play in a Bug Out scenario, and in the middle of a large scale problem such as a terrorist attack, virus pandemic or just civil unrest it is probably wise to not travel unless absolutely necessary in any case.
If the necessity does arise to travel however, it is essential to plan your route meticulously beforehand. If you are deserting a city, you will not be the only one and major roads will become congested within minutes if they are not nose-to-tail already (I’m looking at you London!). Pay attention to news reports closely as accidents will be on the rise and there will be less emergency services available to attend them. Also, the local traffic Police may have opened specific routes for people leaving the city and closed others. It might be worth researching your local Council’s Emergency Evacuation Plan when you have a quiet moment. Most Councils have drafted one but they are commonly quite vague as emergencies are all different.
If you are travelling through unfamiliar terrain and break down or come off the road. Stay with your car and treat it as a normal accident. Panic is your enemy, especially if you are ‘escaping’ something. Your vehicle is your best shelter, protection and HQ. You are more likely to be found by the emergency services if you are with your car, and as long as the engine is still operational, you have a radio for updates on the current emergency status.
Look into the idling time of your vehicle while stationary and with a full tank. That way, you can estimate quite accurately how long you can keep the radio/heater/light on if you are waiting by the side of the road for rescue. Keep a mobile phone charger, preferably battery operated, in the boot alongside your Travel Emergency Kit (that is totally there right?) to ensure you can contact help if you need to.
Communication. This aspect of survival has various parts, especially in the initial stages of dealing with an emergency or disaster. First of all, if you are separate from your family when disaster strikes (at work, at the shops. An EMP strike could happen any moment) what method will you use to contact them? With the power down, mobile (cell) phone towers will not operate meaning your fully charged iPhone 4s is as much use to contact your family as a bowl of wet sand. Standing, network telephones might work as the networks to some extent power themselves, but how long will they work for, and do you know the numbers you need to call? It could be a good idea to start writing these contacts down in a ‘little black book’ instead of just relying on your smart phone. Also, look into ways of charging your phone from batteries in case the mobile network does happen to survive, but the power does not.
You will also want to stay informed of what has happened, is happening and is likely to happen soon. For this it is wise to invest in a small, battery powered AM/FM radio and spare batteries, or for the more hardcore amongst you, a ham radio kit – also battery powered. There are £Pound£ Shops dotted all over the country that sell battery packs at ten for £1 so load up. In the more rural areas you could even invest in a map and compass, but in most of the UK you are never too far away from a town as to get hopelessly lost.
Shelter. In the aftermath of a full scale natural disaster like the Haiti quake or the Fukashima disaster, it is exposure to the elements that becomes the next major danger. This is also true of hurricanes and flooding, where people’s homes are literally blown or washed away before their eyes. People living in areas that have those elements to face however usually have a plan for finding local shelter, or plans are in place to shelter the victims in sports stadiums or schools.
In the UK, we only rarely have to deal with extremes of weather but they do happen. More common for us are unexpected snow storms and persistent heavy rain leading to localised flooding. The question of shelter comes into play when you are preparing your Bug In – Bug Out plan. It is rare that you will need a bug out plan in the UK unless facing the actual destruction of your house from fire, but it is still an essential part of Prepping and as soon as you leave your home, shelter becomes an issue. Can you go to friends or relatives? Do you need to camp and if so where can you go?
Also, consider what ‘shelter’ means. It means you’ll need clothing and equipment and you might need them in the blink of an eye, without a chance to dash ’round the house gathering them from wash baskets and attic spaces. If camping is a viable option in your bug out plan then where is your tent, can you assemble it correctly and are all the pieces in the bag? What will you wear? If you could be out for one or several nights you will need warm clothing, blankets, sturdy gloves, maybe even a ground sheet. Can you carry them all between your family or will sacrifices have to be made (of equipment, not family members!)
Heat. The majority of houses these days are not built with working fireplaces and rely entirely on electricity for heating. Before you say “Mwa ha ha ha haaa you fool! This place is heated by gas!”, what sparks the little pilot light? In some climates, heat can be as little as wearing a jumper to bed. In the UK and Scotland however temperatures can plummet overnight, and are rarely tropical during the day so a plan to heat your home is relevant. If you are planning to, or have to Bug Out, you should supply yourself with a fire-kit and know how to use it properly.
At home, learn how to start a fire and keep everything handy that you’ll need in case you have to do so. Teach your kids fire safety and keep in mind where your designated fire area will be. It is unwise to have a fire inside but if that is inescapable, keep it small and everything you need to extinguish it close to hand and keep it ventilated. Never use charcoal to heat indoors unless you have a purpose built charcoal burner, and even then do not try to cook on it. Inside, camping gas lamps (normally fuelled with paraffin) and camping gas stoves (pressurised gas or Methylated Spirits) can heat a room if all the doors and windows are closed – but again, remember ventilation and do not leave an open flame unsupervised.
Important: Methane gas is a by-product of the incomplete combustion of fuel. A build up of this, even from a small paraffin lamp can be fatal in a small, sealed environment. Even if you have to compensate a little heat, keep a flow of air through your shelter.
Keep a supply of warm clothing, hats and gloves around, and there are products around that can keep your hands warm if things are getting a little tough.
Food. In the UK it is unlikely, very unlikely, that you will die of starvation in the event of a natural disaster, but if the power goes out you will not be able to feed yourself in the normal ways nor will their be any refrigeration until the power comes back. A good supply of canned foods, high energy/dense nutrition bars and ready to eat (add hot water) are available at every supermarket and easy to use cooking components can be bought from every camping store. If you want to be ready for long term self sufficiency then there are other options such as portable cooking stoves, or you could just eat barbecue every day. Yeah, that sounds like Heaven, but how will you keep the meat fresh?
The main question about food preparation, as I see it, is how reliant you wish to be on the State and Local Government to provide for you. The basis of Prepping is self reliance after all, so the goal should be for there to be no reason for you to need to go with your begging bowl to the bread line, undermining all your preparation. As a bare minimum plan to have enough meals available to fulfil your families calorific intake comfortably for at least two weeks, more if you live in a rural area with little chance of immediate help, and more depending on how long you want to stay self sufficient.
Water. In a large scale emergency such as an EMP Strike or city-wide blackout, not only the lights will go out. In all cities and towns the water is pumped to residents by electric pumps that will automatically give out – without back up – when the power goes down. In fact, to try and stall or prevent a blackout the water might be switched off prematurely.
Therefore, the reserves of water for both drinking and sanitation that you have available at ‘go time’ will be all you have until the power is restored. Fine, this might be the very next day. But it could be a week, or even two if the country is hit by an EMP. A person at rest loses between two and two and a half litres of water (or two to two and a half ‘quarts’ for our Americousins) a day. Some of this is in urination, some in sweat and some via Insensible Perspiration – keeping skin supple and eyes bright. This needs to be replaced to prevent dehydration, which leads to tiredness and sickness and prevents you being an effective team member.
Most, if not all, the people I know or ask do not drink that amount of water every day. It’s seen as something only gym-goers do. But we are always conscious that we have water available if we need it, you just turn on the tap (putting aside for the moment any concerns about Sodium Fluoride). In a survival situation, when we can’t be sure when the taps will work again, we need to do everything we can to promote and sustain our good health for the duration. If you are staying put, or ‘bugging in’, you need to be sure you have at least 2 Litres of fresh water per person per day available just for drinking. If you are expecting hot weather or strenuous activity, double it. If you are leaving your location, ‘bugging out’, then plan to carry a gallon per person, and have a plan to get more as an immediate goal.
The Almighty CONCLUSION.
These basics are the first things that need to be considered when establishing a Preparedness Plan but other things need to be taken into consideration, regarding where you live and your particular circumstances. For instance, local Emergency Planning might affect your personal plan, or what changes if your lights go out in the middle of winter instead of Spring?
For now though; go buy a knife, stock up on food and start some fires! What could be simpler?