Better to have and not need than to need and not have
yesterday i got home from work a little quicker than usual, thanks to a mad dash across a street in arlington to catch the bus right before it pulled out. so, i was able to sit back, cradling Son & Heir in one arm and a tankard of growler-fresh ODB pilsener in the other—i will consider it a major developmental milestone when the little fellow has enough strength and dexterity to hold daddy’s beer—and bounce back and forth between the local news and fox news. i cued into fox right as john gibson was beginning his “my word” commentary, which i usually find pretty good.
during that segment he mentioned that he regularly carries a gas mask in his briefcase when he rides the new york subway system. i’m not sure that’s a very good idea, but not because i think he’s wasting time preparing for an unlikely event. rather, i applaud his sense of preparedness. i would only suggest that the best way to deal with a WMD attack is to avoid it. the weak link in an individual citizen’s plan is the lack of any kind of early warning about an impending attack. (plus there are concerns about learning how to use the mask, and storing and maintaining it right.) it is a far better thing to be above ground and moving away from the site of the attack than to be below ground, stuck on a subway car, and in the position to have to use the mask. however, in that case, you will need the mask and if you’ve got it, you’re doing better than if you don’t. all that being said, i have to salute mr gibson for thinking ahead. good on him.
i for one am not going to carry a gas mask. but that segment made me ask, what am i carrying (or not carrying) that i would need in the event of some sort of incident on the metro in DC? the answer right now is, not too damn much.
so, let’s discuss what we might want to toss into our briefcases or backpacks in the event that something bad (except for a WMD strike) happens at the worst possible place and time during the commute. for this list i draw on some postings on john farnam’s quips, as well as some other sources. imagine having to take care of, or at the very least assist in taking care of, several injured people in dark, panicky, confusing circumstances. here is the short list of things you might need, and things you might need to do:
- some sort of flashlight, or even better a headlamp, with fresh and extra batteries.
- a leatherman.
- a first aid kit with several bandages, dressings, tape, EMT shears and latex gloves for starters. the best choice would be several “israeli battle dressings” which combine the bandage and the dressing in one item that can used with one hand. (i’d say stick in some tourniquets too, though one must be very careful about their use.) the idea is to have the capability to cover multiple injuries or be able to provide equipment to trained personnel who don’t have their own equipment, such as an off-duty nurse or EMT who’s riding the train with you.
- the training to use your first aid kit effectively and recognize what injuries are the most serious. training comes first, gear comes second.
- something durable (like rite-in the-rain pads) to write on and with, to record facts for the authorities.
- good stout walking shoes, if you’re not already wearing them. you will probably have to walk out of the tunnels, and might have to assist (or even carry) someone else out.
- baby wipes and a small plastic bag to dispose of soiled or bloody items.
- a plan to get to out of the area and get home. a small stash of cash and any transit tickets you need will be a help. you should know how far you will have to walk out until you can get someplace where the transit system is running—think of what happened in London—and where you have some family or friends to hole up in case you can’t get home right away.
- a good recollection of the events, which you then must write down for the authorities. what happened, when and where. did you notice anything or anyone out of the ordinary on that day or any day before it?
- finally, a clear head and good sense of humor. at an incident scene before the authorities get there, what people want is for someone to take charge and get a solution going.
i can’t see that a cell phone will be much help. it doesn’t work down in the tunnel and if something big and bad has happened your frantic attempts to get through will only swamp the lines and impede others’ ability to communicate.
please feel free to add on and tell me what i’ve missed or where i’ve gone wrong. none of these things should take up too much room or weigh too much.
the intent here is to be prepared to take care of yourself first, to take care of others next, and to help the authorities when they arrive. you can’t cover every contingency, but if you have the right things with you and more importantly the right training and outlook, you can take charge and keep a bad situation from getting worse.