Commuter Preparedness
April 25, 1998


Picture the following scenario: Driving home in the twilight from work, you're tired after the day's pressures. Instead of concentrating on the road, you are lost in thought about tonight's plans. Suddenly there is a problem with the suspension in your car. It feels odd and worsens rapidly. You get hit between the eyes with a sudden, horrible realization that it's not the car; it's an earthquake!

Everyone pulls over in alarm. The situation is further complicated as you discover that the bridge ahead has collapsed. Seen in your rear view mirror, the overpass is a pile of rubble across the freeway. Your goal is still the same, getting home.

I commute 29 miles each way and am somewhat prepared for the above event. I never want to be required to follow through with my plans and I hope it never happens to you. An emergency while traveling could be many things; fill in the disaster "blank" for what you are most likely to face in your area. Whether it be extreme winter in Montana, lava flows in Hawaii or New Zealand, earthquake in most places, tsunamis on the coasts or even a flat tire can give you reason to be thankful you planned ahead.


Assume whatever "it" is, has just happened. Are you safe? Do you need to move?

First, do CAPS (as in put on your thinking CAPS):

Calm down
Assess the situation
Set your course of action.

Mentally, go on Yellow Alert*, Red Alert** if you must, depending on the situation. Forget unassociated problems; concentrate on the difficulty at hand. Relax and remember, it could be worse. Think positively. You will get home safe and sound, this event will fade and life will move on. Don't allow yourself to be distracted from your goal of getting home safely.

Yellow and Red Alerts are from Frank Cuccioni's Tactical Response System.

*Yellow Alert is anticipating problems, observing your environment, looking people in the eye as you pass them. Avoid all trouble.

**Red Alert is handling trouble you can not avoid.

You'll have several decisions to make:

1. Should you move your car to a more, or less, visible location? (If possible). To hide or remain visible... This depends on your unique situation; follow your intuition. Being in sight helps someone who may look for you know more about your situation. Being out of sight may protect you and your property.

2. Should you leave a note with the car? (Will someone be looking for you)?

3. If you have to walk home, what is your course? Sketch a plan. Divide the plan by setting goals like landmarks. Go for one goal at a time .

In preparing to leave your car, gather your gear. Check clothing and SHOES . Don't be in a hurry to hit the road. You'll waste time and energy if you need to return to your car for a forgotten item.

It may be wise to eat and drink before leaving or as you set out . You have your supplies; snack and drink frequently . This gives you extra time to think if needed. Don't start out with a hunger or thirst disadvantage. Your supplies may contain a meal that is heavy or bulky. This is a good time to consume that meal; there will be less weight to carry.

Before you have a problem, mentally explore multiple ways to get home. Note bridges, overpasses, rivers, bad neighborhoods etc., and take the course of least resistance. "Never step on what you can step over, never go over what you can go around, never climb up what you can walk around". (Daniel Boone?)

Set a comfortable walking pace, slow down to baby steps if necessary to climb or descend steep grades. If your feet hurt, or you get a warm sensation somewhere on the feet, STOP! Fix this problem before you get a blister .

Remind yourself it could be worse, count your blessings, stay calm. You must help yourself first before you are fully capable helping family, friends and others. For example, in an aircraft if the oxygen masks drop, calmly put it on and start it. Then help others put theirs on.

Stay on Yellow Alert; don't allow yourself to be surprised by anything or anyone. Act confident and look confident. This helps ward off predators. Statistics show that would-be muggers avoid people that walk purposefully and are aware of surroundings.

By the time you reach the first goal, a phone for instance, hopefully the situation has improved. Other possible first goals might be:

If your first goal is not met, go to the second goal and keep walking .

Ten miles is a good hike, fifteen is a power hike. If you're home is further than that, shelter becomes an issue. This is a widely variable problem and not easily addressed here. Bare minimum shelter is a Space Bag or Space Blanket which keeps in your body heat and weather out. Improvise if you can't make it home in one day's walk.

Having emergency gear in your vehicle, having planned ahead and by setting goals, you will greatly ease your journey to get home.


TIP 1: Make friends along the way that you commute. Is there someone you work with? Go to school with? Go to church with? Make a note of their address and phone number; they will be more willing to help than a stranger.

TIP 2: If Goal Number One is a pay phone, call someone and tell him or her your situation and plan. In disasters, phone lines are often jammed with incoming calls to stricken areas. This can prevent local calls, but you can frequently call long distance. Have an out-of-the-area emergency contact, a friend or relative a hundred or more miles away, who can relay vital information. Tell your family who your emergency contact is before disaster strikes. Consider a prepaid phone card.

TIP 3: The next time you are about to wear those old reliable walking shoes or boots, stow them in your car before they are worn out; make them your emergency pair. They are already broken in, you know them and they know your feet. If walking is required, you can choose between what you're wearing and "old reliable".

TIP 4: Snack or drink when you feel the need. Don't let yourself become run down from the effort. Snacking provides a distraction from your chore, it prepares your body ahead of an unforeseen exertion. Stay on Yellow Alert.

TIP 5: If you don't walk or hike much, make time to practice a portion of your route to get the feel for it. Check out books on hiking; look for some that explain walking techniques.

TIP 6: Do not allow your feet to blister! I can't stress this enough. Buy sock liners, thin silk or synthetic socks that go on under your regular socks. You may also want to try a high performance sock for walking, such as Ultra's. Check specialty stores like REI. If you suspect a blister developing. Stop, remove your shoes and socks. Inspect your foot, inspect you shoes. Have moleskin in your kit and apply it to the red-warm-inflamed areas. When treated, and your foot is cool again, put on both pairs of socks and then the shoes. Pay attention to your feet!

TIP 7: Normally your last resort is walking home. If another solution is workable or safer, opt for it. Pray to make good decisions.


The above items are minimums. You may also want to consider the items on the list below. Customize to suit your needs.


TIP 8: Always keep the fuel tank at least half full. In areas of ice and snow, a full tank will provide extra traction.

TIP 9: Be aware of temperature extremes in automobiles. If an item has a shelf life, wide temperature variations will hasten its deterioration.

TIP 10: Water is heavy and bulky. It will constitute the largest amount of weight allocated to supplies. Check into filtration. Filter straws are available that can generate 10 gallons of drinkable water from a mud puddle.

TIP 11: For convenience, you can store parts of your kit in different areas of your automobile. Food can be protected in the trunk in an ammo can or Tupperware container.

TIP 12: I highly recommend the Browning Arms Featherweight line of Knife. They are light and not as expensive as you may think.

TIP 13: Layer clothing for added warmth.

TIP 14: If you must walk, watch weight and bulk of your gear. I travel very light. I love my torso or fanny pack. All the weight is on your hips and your back won't sweat. This is the area where the more money spent on quality pays off in the end. Be picky about your Pack!

TIP 15: If you have chosen to stay in you car, be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you must run the engine to keep from freezing, remember to crack a window.

Best wishes and good luck.
Jerry Christensen