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After The Big One - Street Smarts (permalink)

When considering crisis situations, I nominate being stranded hundreds or thousands of miles from home when The Big One hits as a serious contender for top spot.

Regardless if The Big One is a major natural disaster, serious terrorist act, nationwide technological failure, or rampage by a 50-foot Nancy Pelosi, being separated from home and family during a calamity certainly provides a set of challenges unlike anything else we might have imagined. Given the uncertainties of our current national and international situations, now is a good time to think about the problems associated with finding your way home if things go to hell in a big way.

This topic arose when long-time S.W.A.T. contributor Ken Campbell and Your Obedient Servant were staring down the long asphalt ribbon of an interstate highway while returning from a backpacking trip. In an effort to forestall road psychosis, we’d begun brainstorming various sticky situations and possible resolutions, when it suddenly dawned on us that we were right in the middle of a good one.

Here’s the hypothetical emergency: two dashing but somewhat pungent backpackers are headed home after a three-day trip when something happens that shakes our country to its very foundations. It could be that long-feared WMD attack upon a major city or a significant earthquake that spawns widespread destruction. Regardless of the problem, the travelers are suddenly faced with trying to cross 500 miles of the United States that’s in the throes of civil unrest, fuel shortages, unavailable basic services, and the possibility that many areas are impassable due to damage, unrest or government decree.

And above all else, our heroes really needed a shower before the crisis struck.

The first order of business in any disaster is simple survival, but for this discussion we’ll assume the boys are safe and sound. Once things have stabilized in their immediate proximity, our travelers have taken stock of the situation and realized it is time to “beat feet” for home with all haste.

Transportation is obviously the major concern. Keep in mind we’re not assuming a post-apocalyptic nightmare in which the countryside is a smoking ruin. If that’s the case, you likely have bigger problems than just your flight was cancelled. If things are that bad, your flight probably won’t leave because a pack of starving survivors ate the pilots.

Rather, think back to 9/11, when air traffic was halted and tens of thousands of people were suddenly scrambling for rental cars, trains, buses and every other possible mode of transportation.

The first order for all travel is to have a Plan B and possibly Plan C, D and E. No matter the reason, anything from snowstorm to nuclear war, there is always a significant chance that the return leg of your trip will involve a major itinerary change.

There are too many variables to give any made-to-order plans for these situations. You simply must use good old-fashioned ingenuity in coming up with alternatives. Mostly, keep an open mind and maintain drastically lowered standards: If the only available means of getting home is an overloaded poultry truck, it’s time to throw your bags in the back and say hello to the hens.

This is one reason a traveler’s clothing choice is important. Regardless if you find yourself evacuating an aircraft due to a hard landing, hoofing it out of Manhattan after a terrorist event, or hitching a ride on the aforementioned chicken hauler, wardrobe choices significantly affect your safety. Above all else, always wear or have shoes available that are suitable for walking long distances. Many people have walked completely across our country, but they certainly didn’t do it in high-heels or flip-flops.

We won’t presume to dictate fashion, but when traveling, stay away from clothing that is constrictive, too loose, too revealing, too flashy or simply impractical for long-term wear. My own standard uniform is hiking boots and zip-leg pants topped with a long-sleeved cotton shirt. With a light jacket, spare socks and a few survival supplies in my carry-on bag, I’m reasonably prepared to walk home if necessary.

But before you start hoofing it, consider another easily obtained, fast, yet often overlooked mode of emergency transport: the bicycle.

If you are traveling by privately owned vehicle, the biggest problem will be finding fuel. Here again, ingenuity is key. If electrical power has failed, a possible source of fuel is the common gravity tank used by farmers. A polite approach and a handful of cash might convince Farmer Brown to part with 20 gallons of petrol.

On that subject, money is a problem. As our society has become cashless, obtaining currency is highly dependent upon electrical power and computer networks. If either fails, you’ll have a hard time putting greenbacks into your pocket. This is why I recommend carrying enough cash in small bills to purchase fuel, food and make the occasional bribe along the way.

What about guns? Obviously, having a crew-served weapon in your luggage would be handy, but it is likely a traveler will find themselves disarmed at the most inconvenient time.

Perhaps the easiest and most legally palatable solution is to visit a retailer and purchase a low-end shotgun and box of shells with some of your emergency cash. In fact, if there is a serious crisis while on the road, hitting the local Mega-Mart for supplies could be considered an immediate-action drill.

If the authorities have already vetoed the idea of purchasing firearms, there is always the old barter method. There are other possibilities such as marine flare guns, blackpowder weapons, big kitchen knives or other such stopgap measures. While I wouldn’t want to intentionally enter a fight carrying a flare gun, I’ve witnessed one used to alter the plans of a large, unfriendly group.

That incident just reinforced the old adage that you will get more cooperation with a kind word and a flare gun than with a kind word alone.

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