Home Front: Storm’s a’Comin’
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by Josh Orth, Breach-Bang-Clear Senior Staff Contributor
Recent meteorological events and the subsequent humanitarian concerns that attend destructive flooding may (read, should) have you thinking. As of this writing, Hurricane Irma is headed for Puerto Rico — it looks to be the worst storm they suffered in a century. Just a week or so ago, Florida and the Caribbean took a pounding (*snicker*, pounding) from Hurricane IrmaGERD! and not so long before that Hurricane Harvey played merry hell across my old stomping grounds in Houston and nearby lowlands.
The idea that you should Always Be Ready is not one centered solely on matters tactical (although those are important) nor on concerns medical (though those are also important, and occur with greater frequency in the everyman’s world). Much of it common sense, an “everyday ready” mindset to go with all that EDC, and just a little planning.
Plus the ability to make a quick decision under pressure — well piloted, Captain DL302!
I’ve had the good fortune to have never been forced to evacuate an area, though my family’s rapid departure from Dubai in December, 1990 just before one of the grandest fireworks shows in human history occurred, was close; the need to be ready to go was also significant during my stay in the forested Dandenong range in 20o9, on the occasion of the “Black Saturday Fires.” Those fires, and the attendant firestorm killed nearly 200 people, injured over 400, destroyed 3,500 structures, and burned well over 1 million acres.
These incidents, and frequent moves and travel growing up, have equipped me with a certain mindset. Pack light, take only what you can carry, and carefully choose what valuables you really need.
I’d hope that if I lived in a disaster-prone area, I’d be ready whenever hurricane, cyclone, tornado or volcano season rolled around, and that not only would I have a bugout destination but also a route and plan. Unfortunately, nature gives not one drop in a bucket of warm piss for me or my plans, nor (I suspect) for yours.
It’s up to us to rescue ourselves.
The Houston floods are only the most recent natural disaster to demonstrate how quickly freak events can “turn a modern metropolitan city off,” and essentially reduce it to Third World status. Without going into the politics of civil engineering, infrastructure shortfalls, or like issues, it is fair to say that while some of what was happened in Houston (or New Orleans) could have been mitigated, nature will find a way. Consider other possibilities, too — what if it’s a crime/terrorism evacuation? Is a contentious legal ruling about to come down, with the subsequent threat of urban unrest, arson, or restricted travel?
What can we do about any of this? The answer to is threefold:
- Realistic threat assessment
- Pragmatic risk mitigation and planning
- Practice and rehearsals
1. Threat assessment.
Where I live, several state and federal agencies exist to deal with this kind of thing. Likely it’s the same near you. The SES (State Emergency Service) and CFA (Country Fire Authority) have great resources available to determine what areas are at risk from fire or flooding, and they are equipped to deal with those threats.
Victoria has occasional very mild earthquakes, nothing to brag about compared to those suffered elsewhere, but they do occur. We also experience the occasional heavy storm pushing up from the Antarctic, but again, pretty mild compared to the North Sea gales or Atlantic hurricanes. We’re well too far south for any tropical action, unlike our Queensland bretheren. We do get some big winds and heavy rains occasionally though, so up in the Hills (to call the Dandinong ranges mountains is generous) power is often cut due to tree-falls. A caved-in roof during a winter storm is never a good thing, nor are washed out roads. In the lowlands that water has to go somewhere, and we are pretty lucky in that current and former governments have maintained infrastructure to deal with it.
However — nature, like the enemy, always gets a vote. Knowing is the first step to mitigating (or ideally preventing) destruction of property and loss of life.
2. Pragmatic Risk Mitigation and Planning.
What are the big threats to my (your) house, home, and family? Are there multiple locations to consider?
My ex-wife and our 9-year old daughter live in the Dandenongs, in the midst of very tall trees in the temperate rainforest. There is a summertime fire risk, mitigated by maintenance of the grounds to remove deadfall and reduce fuel sources, and they have an evacuation plan. They also use the CFA fire-risk scale system as a guide and routinely “get off the mountain” preemptively in times of high risk.
In winter monthsthey face storms and damage from runoff. Frequent power outages are a hassle, especially as the water to the house is via an electric pump from a rainwater tank. Landslides are a potential risk, but a more substantial concern is the possibility of a tree falling on the house. Aggressive tree felling is not much of a solution given local ordinances.
When I collect and return our daughter for visits, I’m mindful of the risk of roads being cut by treefall, associated downed power lines, or washed out roads, but day to day it’s not much of an issue. In the case of my own home, having checked the floodplain maps of the Melbourne Water Board, I can see we’re just outside a predicted 100-year flood area. However, one end of our street is not…so I’m going to err on the side of “Yep, we’d flood.”
Where I live is fairly suburban, so I don’t have to worry about bushfires come summer, but we’re not far from the beach, and just above sea level, so a hefty storm surge could potentially reach us. I don’t worry about a tidal wave, as the Port Phillip Bay is shallow and protects us from the Bass Straight, so anything big enough to cause a tsunami would bring its own special dooms.
Knowing that, if a big flood event was coming (or even imminent), our best bet would be to pack up and bug out. The house, being old and rickety, couldn’t be trusted to withstand even a knee-deep flood, let alone the hip, head or street sign deep waters as we’ve recently seen in Houston.
The question then becomes, “What to pack?” and then quickly, “How do we pack it?”
Assuming the house would be a write off and most of our possessions would be lost or damaged past used, it might be tempting to try to take everything, but that’s just impractical. A moving van would be needed and would take a day or two to load up anyway. Alternately, in a “do it now!” situation, the decisions become easier. Only the most valuable and irreplaceable things would go, as well as things needed to get us through the disaster.
Photo albums, back-up HDDs and some heirloom antiques are a good start. These would probably be accompanied by firearms, important legal documents: deeds, birth certificates, divorce papers and the like, most of which will need to be waterproofed. Are Clothes and day to day essentials like toiletries and medications are no different from any vacation packing, and need to be weather appropriate; is body armour a necessity?
We’d almost certainly be bugging out in my Toyota RAV4, another consideration; it’s not much of a bug-out vehicle, but it is comfortable even crammed full of family and gear. Because we use it on our camping holidays, we have a very good idea how to pack it efficiently.
This brings me to one of my bug-out or camping packing tricks (and it’s by no means a unique one).
“Tactical Milk Crates.” These seemingly ubiquitous, stackable, skletonised plastic boxes, designed to carry sixteen 2L jugs of milk, are often repurposed as student household furniture and storage. Their modularity makes them good for packing pretty much anything small enough to fit. They’ll hold 42 regular 420g-sized cans. That makes for 17kg of beans and diced tomato, in one big water-insoluble brick. That’s a lot of meals. Two people could carry it fairly easily between them.
I also pack my camping gear in them: hammocks, lanterns, propane store and fuel canisters, pots and even pans. I have one for sleeping bags, one for power generation technology and one for household camp-accessories. Coupling this with our big-assed tent and camp bed, I’d say I could bug out in relative style with my whole family using just six milk crates of gear. The boot of my car can fit up to twelve crates with relative ease, which leaves us with, say, three to six crates worth of refugee loot (less if we pack extra food and water, not at all a bad idea).
Given those numbers, each member of our four-person family gets about one crate of space as their allowance, which be expanded somewhat by having each carry “first-line” gear in a belt or light pack. Extra space in the crates can be stuffed full of blankets and jackets, filling all those gaps and pockets with padding and the like. One thing to note is that milk crates, being skeletonised, are not even remotely waterproof. Lining them or wrapping them with heavy duty trashbags should do the trick, and it then includes trashbags in your gear by default.
Depending on what each family member values, particularly, all of this could even be packed and staged with duplicate items well ahead of time.
As an addition to our bugout plan for floods, we have my two-person kayak. The existence of a non-wading option is key here (perhaps less so in the Imperial or Coachella Valleys of the U.S.). We have maritime-rated flotation vests for everyone in the family, especially the kids, plus helmets, be they bump or bike helmets (remember: expanded foam floats). Rope and climbing harnesses might not go astray either. I figure I have enough rigging gear to set up a rope bridge over any river narrow enough to sling one across, though individual proclivities and skill sets will dictate what sort of option that is. Take a page from our SES floodwater guidelines: “Never drive, ride, or walk through floodwater – if it’s flooded, forget it.”
Have a go-to destination in mind, maybe more than one, and plan out different routes. Contingency planning is a must. One never knows when one might encounter traffic snarls, cut roads or bridges, or other obstacles to your egress. Keep your vehicle fueled and fit for travel. Stock up on packable food. A couple of bricks of cans at your local big-box produce store per trip will put you in good stead.
3. Practice and rehearsals.
Evacuations are not easy things; they’re panicked, rushed and anxious times. Much like other high stress events, from a vehicle accident to combat, fine motor skills will be affected. Rational thought will be interfered with. Kids will cry. Things will be left behind. Sort your evac kit ahead of time and have it ready to go. The more you can do, and the sooner you can do it, better off you’ll be under the pressure of go-time.
Remember, it’s going to be harder if it’s night, or storming and wet, more so again if the water is already at your ankles or the embers are falling.
There is no harm doing dry runs either (quite the opposite), especially if you can get the whole household in on it. Packing for a camping trip is a great opportunity to do so, with the payoff of the trip itself and “let’s get on the way quickly” as an incentive. This needn’t be a “duck and cover” air-raid drill with stopwatch and sirens, but instead a trial run from dead stop to, “half the gear is already packed!” You will have to realistically gauge how long it will take you to be on your way, from the grab the barest of essentials point to, this position is no longer tenable, it’s time to move!
Also, make a tasty meal from your stashed bug-out dining ingredients ahead of time, more than once. This will let you get a handle on needs you might have missed, menu preferences, etc. Warm food is remarkably important to keeping up morale whilst on the go.
Lastly, have plan for your pets. Have measures in place to take them with you, set them free to fend for themselves, or put them down as practicality, the nature of the emergency, and your conscience allows.
Be safe, be prepared, and always be ready.
About the Author: Josh “Apocalypse Josh” Orth is a second generation expat currently dwelling in the arguably civilized outskirts of Melbourne, Australia. He has lived in assorted rain forests, deserts, and urban sprawls across the globe since just a wee lad, and spent as much time as possible adventuring in various inhospitable regions as an adult. He has seen first hand just how quickly the trappings of “civilization” can disappear; his passion is now looking for, trialing, and writing about the gear, skills, and other necessities of self reliance in an arbitrary, occasionally volatile, world. Read more of his work on Breach-Bang-Clear.