Civil Unrest: Are You Prepared?
What You Need To Get Home In A Time Of Emergency
By Matt Jacques
What would you do if you were caught in the midst of a large-scale breakdown of civil order? How would you get out of the trouble zone to safety? And how would you get home?
Here's a scenario: You are in a meeting in an office building located in the downtown of a major city. You start hearing a lot of sirens and then loud noises coming from the street below. One of your co-workers turns on a TV to see if there's any news of the situation outside.
It is a full blown riot. Several streets in the area are blocked with emergency equipment, one intersection has three cars blocking it and one is on fire...and hundreds, if not thousands, of people hell bent on destruction and looting are on the move. You then discover the gatehouse of the parking garage where your car is parked has been destroyed, and there is a city bus partially blocking the exit. Its windows are smashed out, and it is clearly inoperable.
What would you do? This "what if" scenario is not hypothetical. It happened to a friend of mine earlier this year on Inauguration Day in Washington D.C. If you want to get an idea of how fast society can fall into an "every man for himself" scenario, read some of the accounts of what happened in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In just a few days there was widespread looting, robberies, and countless other crimes.
The Inauguration Day disruption was quickly quelled, but it prompted my friend to ask me, "What do I need to have with me so I can get out of danger and make my way home?" The key is to prepare a "get home" plan and assemble critical supplies ahead of time. Have them stowed in your office or vehicle, ready to go.
Although I'm calling this a "get home" plan, it may also be a "hole up in place" plan. If you're in a location of relative safety, your best bet may be to lie low and wait for the authorities to mobilize and quell the disturbance. Either way, you're going to need to keep your supplies in something - your "go bag" or "bug out bag."
The first thing you need is a GOOD backpack. When I say a GOOD pack, I mean one that will enable you to hike several miles and is big enough that you can live out of it for up to three days. It has to hold everything you need without crippling you in the first half-mile. It should have a vented back panel, waist strap, and padded, adjustable shoulder straps, so you can position it on your back where it is comfortable for a long walk. A breast plate snap to keep the shoulder straps from slipping is a helpful bonus.
Get a pack that looks like a simple backpack, not a military-style tactical pack, so its outward appearance doesn't broadcast what it is. No Velcro® strips, MOLLE attachment points, patches, or carabiners hanging off it. It needs to be as plain as possible not only to deter a thief from thinking there is high-dollar gear in it, but also to keep you looking like a "non-player" for either side as you hike out of the affected area.
My go bag is a Vertx Gamut Plus. Vertx bags come in several sizes and colors, are well built, and unobtrusive enough to blend in on any college campus. They have built-in compartments, inside and out, including quick-access exterior pockets where you can keep a handgun. Vertx also offers organizational components called "Tactigami" that attach to the Velcro® lining inside the bag and hold small items in place.
The Gamut Plus is large enough to stow an assembled 5.56 AR-15 pistol or SBR with a LAW Tactical folder. If you decide to carry 5.56 defensive capabilities, put a Blue Force Gear Ten-Speed triple mag pouch in the Gamut's large compartment for an additional 90 rounds of 5.56. I am a huge proponent of EDC - the "Every Day Carbine". I can solve certain problems a lot more effectively with a carbine than a handgun. More about firearms later....
FOOD & WATER
If your walk is longer than a couple of hours, you'll need water and, for longer treks, food. Go for high-protein food that will keep a long time, like beef jerky, power bars, and things like that. If you keep your bag in your vehicle, make sure you choose food items that won't spoil in heat.
Military-type MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) handle storage in adverse conditions and are great for the calories, but are somewhat bulky. You can remove the items you don't need and only take the high-calorie snack and the main meal portion. A few of those will keep you going three days - you just need enough calories to keep your energy up.
Bottled water can be kept for relatively long periods of time, but water weighs about 7 lbs. per gallon, and a gallon of water takes up quite a bit of space. You don't have a huge amount of room in your pack, but the body needs water. The average adult needs about 1 gallon of drinking water per day, more in hot weather or if engaging in strenuous activity. At most, a person can go about three days without water. We cannot function if we get dehydrated. How do we make sure we have enough to drink? One solution is to pack small bottles of water. The empty bottles can be retained and refilled to replenish your supply if you find fresh water.
Almost all surface water, especially in urban areas, is contaminated to one degree or another, so even "fresh" water is not safe to drink. You'll need purification tablets and/ or a portable filter such as the LifeStraw or the Katadyn pocket filter. CamelBak, Earth- Easy, and others make water bottles with built-in filters.
Another way to kill off bacteria in water to make it drinkable is to boil it. (However, it will not remove chemical pollutants, as some filters will.). This brings us to fire and fire making. You can absolutely throw a couple of Bic® lighters and matches in a small waterproof container in your go bag. If you choose this route, check them periodically to make sure they still work.
You can also go to the next step and get a flint striker like a UST Strikeforce. It is a very effective way to start a fire, once you learn how to build a good bundle of tinder. There is a learning curve with flint strikers, but it is a valuable skillset you can attain with a little practice. I taught all my kids how to start a fire without flame a few summers ago. Now, my 15-year-old daughter wants to start every fire that way to keep up her skills.
You need a well-stocked medical kit, not a cheap one from a big box store. Adventure Medical, Echo-Sigma, Tac Med Kits, and other companies offer great solutions for small, packable, yet very complete medical kits. The contents vary from kit to kit, but at a minimum, you must have adhesive strips, sterile gauze in different sizes, differentsized dressings, good tape, butterfly bandages, and some Ibuprofen tablets (like Motrin or Aleve). A couple of tourniquets are a must in any kit. Some kits also include a hemostatic - an anti-hemorrhagic agent to stop bleeding - and that's good to have, too.
The med kit is not a "buy it and forget it" item. It requires training to use it properly. If you have never had a class on stopping an arterial bleed with hemostatic gauze, you should take one. Tourniquet application is fairly easy to learn, but training is necessary to make sure you understand how to do it correctly to save a life.
I have been through three TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care) courses and a self-aid/buddy-aid class from Eleven 10 in Ohio. The latter class taught me that the gear I was carrying wasn't enough. They used realistic mannequins that moved and bled, and when I walked in with one tourniquet and an IFAK (individual first aid kit) and found three victims, I realized I was not prepared for something like a multi-vehicle auto accident with serious injuries.
How many of us leave the house without a cell phone? Not many. You'll want to have a small solar-powered charger for your phone, but don't rely too heavily on that phone. In a real mass casualty incident, like September 11, 2001, folks who tried to make calls got an "all circuits busy" message - and it was back to landline comms. In 2001, that was a wake up call, but we're even more dependent on our mobile devices now. Don't plan on a working cell phone when making an escape and evasion plan from the city. But do have a solar charger, ideally one you can lash to your pack as walk so you can keep your phone and other batteries charged as you're on the move.
Also important: a map, state-size or larger, and a compass. You can still buy maps at book stores and gas station convenience stores. If you live by GPS to get around now, what do you do if the grid fails? Can you get from Point A to Point B without Siri telling you to turn left? You can break out a map, get oriented, and get to Point B, but map skills are a dying at a steady rate. Most kids under 18 years old have no idea how to read a map and use a compass to navigate even a simple route. Like starting a fire with flint, these are "analog" skills worth developing and maintaining.
Sustainment isn't all about electronics. A poncho liner and a rain fly are good to have, along with spare clothes and inclement weather apparel. These items depend on your climate and should be rotated with the seasons. At a minimum, I carry spare socks, underwear, a pair of technical pants, a long-sleeve shirt, a light jacket, and a rain garment.
Most of my outdoor clothing is from Vertx. It's well-built and has zippered pockets to secure items. Their rain jacket is cut slightly longer than most and has a detachable hood that can also be used to catch rain water for hydration. The pants and shirt are lightweight, and I use the pockets on the thighs for on-the-move access to small items I may need fast. I choose darker colors, so if I need to hole up somewhere, I'll be unobtrusive. If your work requires you to wear dress shoes, you'll also want to stow some good hiking shoes in your vehicle.
TOOLS & POWER
A sturdy multi-tool with a blade and tools for cutting, prying, removing/ tightening screws, and handling other small tasks is a must. I carry a MultiTasker and a fixed blade knife in my pack, in addition to the small EDC multi-tool I always have in my pocket. The fixed blade is a better option for splitting small pieces of wood for a fire, building a shelter, and other "hard use" chores.
You'll also need a good flashlight and extra batteries. I carry a headlamp and an extra flashlight in the pack, in addition to the small Surefire Backup I always have on me. I am a firm believer in redundancy in light! The headlamp is a Streamlight, with multiple brightness settings, that I can use for navigation while keeping my hands free.
Aim for having lights that all use the same battery type to simplify your logistics. Keep a fresh, fully charged set of spares your bag. Rechargeables and a solar charger give you renewable power, too.
Some items are small things you wouldn't think you need - until you do.
50-100 feet of 550 paracord. A very utilitarian item. You can tie nearly anything with 550 cord and you can even unravel the inside strands to give you a smaller-diameter cord for simple jobs. It's also reusable.
Duct tape. Yes, Red Green's favorite cure-all. I have about 20 feet of it rolled onto a section of wood dowel, which can be a tool itself, maybe as a wedge to open a car door.
After introducing my "EDC" - every dayFIREARMS After introducing my "EDC" - every day carbine - concept earlier, I would be remiss if I didn't touch on firearms for personal safety in a civil unrest scenario. How a firearm fits into your kit - or if it even can - depends on your local laws, of course. I carry a handgun and spare mag on my person daily. I also have at least one carbine secured in my vehicle no matter where I am.
In the scenario at the beginning of this article, you couldn't just sling up a carbine and start walking out of the city, but you could stow it in your bag in a discreet way. In fact, discreet and secure are the two key points of storing a carbine in a vehicle. Disguise it to make it look like something not worth stealing to pawn for a fix. The Vertx Garment Bag is a great solution; you can't pawn a suit, so a tweeker will keep looking until he finds the car with an iPad on the seat that will get him $40 at the pawn shop.
Find a way to secure your in-vehicle storage to a hard point in the vehicle. The Vertx Garment Bag has a coated steel cable you can run a lock through and lash it to the seat bracket. Transfer your carbine to your pack, or, in a true collapse of social order, sling up, and secure your grid squares.
I have given you a shopping list of things I know will work for me in the two or three days it would take for me to get from a trouble spot to a place I can get to transportation, get back home, or just hole up until the situation outside is resolved and I can drive away.
You should select for your "go bag" what you'll need for your region and circumstances. You may to carry fewer items than I do, or more, depending on your level of concern, capabilities, and physical strength. Your bag will no doubt be different from mine, and you will tweak the contents as seasons change and you modify your needs list.