Being prepared for an emergency is serious business. You probably realize, for instance, the wisdom of carrying an emergency kit in your vehicle. But do you have one in there right now?
During the winter of 2006, a couple and their children were returning home from vacation. They missed their turnoff, drove perhaps an hour beyond it, and decided to try an alternate route across the mountains.
It wasn’t a good idea. They ended up stuck in snow, low on gas, and lost. They carried no emergency gear. After a week of going hungry, the husband decided to hike out for help. Two days later, rescuers arrived to find the mother and two little girls cold and hungry, but alive. The husband was later found dead in a canyon.
The first thing to know about getting stranded is that you are almost always better off staying put. In order to make that possible, these five things can be a lifesaver:
Water: You can go weeks without food, but you’ll be lucky to make it a week without water. You can either carry water or something to carry water in. Use your head here. If you are going to be traveling across the desert, carry water. If you are going to be near water sources, it will be good enough to have empty containers and a purification kit.
Shelter: Every summer, tourists take off down the trail for a day hike in the mountains, get lost, and end up freezing to death when the temperature drops and a storm sets in. “Shelter” means anything between you and the elements: Sleeping bags or wool blankets and heavy plastic for makeshift structures. Include heavy sweatshirts, dry socks, and stocking caps for each passenger.
Food: MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) pack up well and can last for years. On the low-budget end, Raman noodles can taste pretty good when you’re hungry. Include a cooking pot, and some mugs. A small grill rack can come in handy, as well. With a good knife, you can slice off kindling material and cut food. Keep a Sunday paper rolled up tight for extra help getting your fire started.
Communications: Cell phones don’t work everywhere, and they can run out of battery power. But even when you are out of cell range, they can guide a rescue team to you. Dial 911 when you are in trouble. Even if you have no voice service, your phone may leave a digital footprint to follow. Carry a solar charger for your phone. You may be able to reach a cellular tower by climbing to the top of a hill or ridge. Other communications devices include mirrors, flares, laser pointers, glow sticks, flashlights, and surveyor’s fluorescent tape. Be sure to stow one daytime signaling device and one nighttime signaling device.
E-Pack: The E-Pack (Emergency Pack) is a backpack containing miscellaneous items: A survival knife, butane lighters and/or waterproof matches, a first-aid kit, a survival manual, 20 feet or so of good, stout cord, and extra water purification tablets. Those who take medication should carry extra. Toothbrushes help keep you feeling human and toilet paper is nice.
Coffee drinkers will want to keep a jar of instant handy. Consider the things you would normally take camping and fill your E-Pack accordingly. It is also good to carry a flag. It can go on the car antenna to indicate help is needed, or placed on a pole or hung on a ridge to get the attention of searchers.
Tending to car maintenance issues can prevent trouble. A pre-trip inspection can uncover issues easily fixed in town, but dangerous on the road. Checking the oil and water, battery condition, water hose condition, and making sure your tires are properly inflated and in good shape (including the spare) are essentials. Tires are easy to replace.
People get lost. Cars break down. Just be ready.