Walk it off: When things go bad, it’s time to go home.

Living in DC means that it’s not a matter of if things someday go screwy, it’s a question of when.  It also means that your biggest problem isn’t the actual disaster, but the city itself. (While this blog is normally about shaving, as I mentioned in the “About” section I will from time to time cover other topics that I think are fitting to the concept of living a better, or less boring life.)

We’ve been attacked by terrorists before, and there are plenty out there who’d love to do it again.  Before my wife and I met she got snowed in to her apartment during Snowmageddon and was stuck there for three days till the road could get plowed.  Since I’ve been here we’ve had an earthquake, two hurricanes, the derecho storm of 2012 that left parts of the DC metro area without electricity or clear roads for over a week, major shootings, and a gun lock down on my campus.  Just to name a few.

I’ve been blessed or lucky, depending on how you see the world, thus far.  I’ve either been able to avoid the worst of it, I’ve been at home where there are supplies, usually both.  But that’s not something you can count on in life: eventually either the bad stuff happens to you or you happen to be right in the middle of it.  That’s why people have first aid kits, fire extinguishers, spare tires, etc.  Preparation might not save you from a headache, but it might be the Tylenol you need when you get one.

Funny story: Right after I moved here I was working a temp job that allowed me a lot of time to surf the internet.  While g-chatting with my buddy I realized I had no “zombie plan.”  The concept is simple: if you have a plan for zombies, you have a plan for anything.  Here I was in a city I was entirely unfamiliar with, commuting by partial subway, and no clue how to get home if things went sour.  So I spent an hour or so that morning researching ways to get home, figuring out what to do in case I needed to leave RIGHT NOW.  I finished, and got back to work.

Two hours later, the Washington DC earthquake hit.  The building shook, panicked people came running down the stairs and out the front door, the metro system was immediately shut down, and the wireless network imploded from everyone trying to call out.

In the midst of hundreds of people standing around outside, most having left everything in their office, I had all my things, water, and map of how to walk home from that very spot.  As it turned out the metro system came back on line shortly afterward, so I didn’t have to trek it.  But when the earthquake hit all I needed to do was pick up my backpack and walk out the door and I could have gotten home (albeit probably very uncomfortably, since aside from water and a map I was woefully unprepared).

So, we’ve been making “back home” kits, emergency supplies that are small and light enough to be carried just about anywhere you go, but which will be invaluable if something goes bad while you’re away from your home (where you presumably have much more substantial resources).  We finally got ours organized last night, which I’m both happy and proud of.

For me, this requires making it to suit some specific requirements:

  • Weight and bulk: I commute to school and work by metro rail and bus, and I don’t have a locker on campus.  Any preparations have to be something that I can carry with me, and which will fit with all the books and things I have to carry.
  • Versatility: Weather in DC can change rapidly, and I sometimes am in class until well after dark.  I can’t pick the conditions if something happens.
  • Security:  This goes both ways:  first, I need to try and provide for my own safety when walking through an urban and suburban environment, in a city not known for its lack of crime.  Second, I work in a high security area, travel through DC (which seems institutionally is opposed to self defense), and attend school.  So, whatever it is needs to be legal, administratively acceptable, and capable of going through security checks (x-rays, etc).

The result:


My kit fits largely inside a steel document box called a “posse box,” which I fortunately had around from a previous job.  This provides crush proof storage without adding much weight, and also happens to be a good chunk of metal to have around.  Inside are some basic supplies in case I need to walk back home from the city (up to twelve miles or so, depending on where I am).  I additionally have a few other items stashed in the backpack, some of which I use more often.

Supplies include: food (granola bars and Clif energy bars), poncho, emergency blanket, chapstick, sunscreen, bandanna (cover for neck, respiration, etc), hand warmers, wet wipes, knit beanie (warmth and head cover), and a flashlight.  Within the short future I’ll be adding paracord, and some wool socks, plus other items as thought of or recommended.  Right now, total bulk is less space and weight than any of my books, less than two pounds total.

In addition, my laptop has a eight to ten hour battery life, so if I keep it charged while traveling that means I can trickle charge my cell phone for hours without adding any additional weight than what I already have to carry.  Good comms make for good travels.

It’s not enough to win Survivor or establish Blaketonia on a deserted island, but it should do the trick.  I have neither desire nor intention to sit around waiting for someone to save me if something were to happen, my job is to get home and that’s what I plan to do.


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