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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thoughts on "Urban" Pocket Survival Kits

So I've been thinking through an "urban" version of the popular altoid/pocket survival kits (PSKs) out there. The current pocket kits are all well and good for deep exploration in the woods, but not so useful for getting you out of the jams and problems you may encounter in every day life. So, I decided to take a look and see what I could do to make the pocket survival kit concept relevant to me and the average prepared dude out there. So, let's take a look at the pocket survival kit concept in general, and then we'll take a look at whether this concept is relevant to EDC/daily survival, or, if not, see if we can pull out some useful concepts.

Pocket Survival Kits - An Overview
Altoid and various other pocket survival kits are a pretty old concept. I'm not sure of the origins, but it's a decades old idea; part thought-exercise, part Tetris-like fitting challenge and part preparation - what essentials can you fit into a pocket-sized altoids tin or similar container? 

These kits follow along with the old boy scout adage of being prepared. Slip the kit into your pocket and you immediately have have some very basic wilderness survival essentials with you at all times. No one would knowingly walk into a wilderness survival situation with only this gear, but if you DO get separated from your stuff for some reason, at least you've got some way to address some of the survival essentials.

Conventional pocket survival kits usually contain a small fire starting implement, some pre-made tinder, a blade of some kind, a few basic meds, a way to store/carry water, a few water treatment tablets, maybe a small fishing kit of some kind, a keychain-style LED light, a button style compass, a small signal mirror, some safety pins, a couple bandaids, and maybe a few other bits and pieces jammed in. Not a ton of stuff, but a definite boon if you need to keep warm, hydrated, fed and on course in the wilderness. 

There are numerous good examples out there that turn up via a web search, and even a few commercially available tins if you are lazy and don't want to assemble one yourself. The Doug Ritter-designed AMK Pocket Survival Pak is, I think, the best of the bunch and well worth the price of $26.02 that Amazon is currently charging.

Relevant to Urban Survivors?
Let's examine this from the perspective of a prepared person. You've got a decent EDC together - knife and flashlight at least. Those are in your pockets, right? Yep. The same place you'd put a PSK, right? Yep.

And that's one of the big issues that I see with an urban-geared PSK. If you've got a decent EDC, you've already got a lot of the relevant gear. Why worry about a minuscule folding knife and Photon when you've already got a real knife and flashlight? And if you want little backups, you've probably already got them on a keychain, where they will be more immediately useful.

Urban environments also offer a huge opportunity to improvise - lots of man made materials. Fire starting? Yep. Need to signal someone? Sure; mirrors, metal, compact discs, and so on abound. Need a container for water? Check the recycling bin. And so on.

I went through several different revisions of kits, but finally came to the conclusion that a full-blown pocket survival kit just isn't particularly relevant to the urban environment. You probably already got a bunch of the gear as your EDC and you can improvise, scavenge or buy lots other stuff without too much difficulty if needed. Throwing extra gear into a dedicated survival kit just takes up more space in your probably already too-full pockets.

The Kit You Already Carry
So, a full, dedicated urban survival kit will probably be of little utility/relevance to most of us.
But as I was working on putting together a dedicated kit, I realized that, hey, I already have a "kit" of sorts that I carry with me every day. My wallet.
"BWAAA!?" you say?
Think about it. Your wallet is pretty much a must-have for getting through your day in the real world. ID, cards of various sorts, cash and so on. Must-haves, right? Kind of already a kit, too. So why not figure out how to have it hold some added utility and tools, aside from the usual stuff stuff?

What kind of things, you ask? I'll tell you tomorrow in a follow-up post, Wallet Urban Survival Tricks!

Getting Myself Home to Bug Out, by H. Billy

Congestion caused by a road accident, Algarve,...Image via Wikipedia
If the Schumer hits the fan (SHTF) and you’re at work miles away from your home and/or Bug Out Location (BOL) what will you do?  Have you planned your route to get home?  What if it’s not possible to use your route?  Do you have alternate routes?  Getting home to or to your BOL should a SHTF scenario arise will be trying, slow going and stressful enough unless you plan for it properly.  I’m not talking only about physically planning but mentally planning as well.  Giving yourself more options should you need them will hopefully lessen the stress and get you through a little easier. 
If you’ve ever lived in a big city, you know firsthand what the traffic is like during rush hour.  A daily commute of 40 miles, one way, can sometimes take three hours are more.  As the economy has worsened and my seriousness for prepping grew, I often sat, while stuck in traffic, and wondered a few things.   “How can I beat this traffic if a SHTF scenario arose?”  Or how could I get around all of this traffic?  I also thought about how vulnerable I would be if I were stuck on the freeway in gridlock.  Given the urban gangs and how ruthless a lot of people are these days, it would not take the gangs and thugs long to figure out that those individuals sitting on the freeways are actually people who have jobs…and money….and would be easy pickings since after all, you’re not going anywhere anytime soon.  So I began to think of alternate routes (off-road) and what to do if my vehicle was approached by thugs or looters.  I also need to note that I have my youngest daughter with me that I drop off and pick up from daycare daily and my ultimate priority is keeping her safe and getting us both home.
Let me begin with my route.  I live in the outskirts of Los Angeles, California.  The freeway I use for my daily commute is the only freeway in my immediate area that goes in to the Beach cities where I work.  Basically, there is only one way in and out of my area either going to or coming from Los Angeles. There are other freeways north of my location but they are just as congested if not worse and would take me out of my way not to mention much more time.  The freeway I use has no service roads running parallel with the freeway.  There is a few miles of the freeway where it is a bottleneck.  No side roads or surface streets to use.  Once you get past the bottle neck, there are some residential streets but these are even further congested with traffic lights, schools and other commuters thinking that they are getting to work faster by taking the residential streets not to mention that a lot of these streets are not through streets.  So, there is basically only one way in and out along my route.  The freeway is also under construction for lane widening and bridge retrofits which make the commute even that much worse. 
So, I began looking at the terrain around the areas of the freeway during my commute and also began looking at overhead aerial maps of my route on line.  I was surprised at what I had found.  I actually found several alternative routes should the freeway become too dangerous or congested to traverse.  I need to mention that my truck is 4X4 so traversing these routes would be easy for me.  If you do not have a truck for your daily driver, I would suggest that you make sure to check and drive any alternative routes before you actually use one in a SHTF scenario.
  1.  Railroad tracks- There are sets of dual tracks with a service road on each side of the tracks for the maintenance crews that run parallel along side of the tracks.  The only thing that I would need to carry is a set of bolt cutters should any of the access gates be locked.  I did a few test drives and found that the access gates to the tracks were almost never locked.  I haven’t actually driven the entire route along the tracks but from viewing the overhead maps, it’s a wide road on both sides of the tracks.  It would be smooth sailing and get me past all of the congestion on the freeway.  This would be my first choice.
  2. Bike Path- There is also a paved two-lane (the pavement alone is at least 12’ wide) bike path that runs parallel to the freeway for several miles.  It has an easy access from a residential street and ends at a service road that also runs next to the freeway, past the bottle neck.  Being that there is never a lot of bicycle or foot traffic on the paths, this is also a route that I would consider should the freeway be impassable. 
  3. Flood Control- Here in California, the natural streams and rivers have been turned into giant, wide concrete ditches (like those in movies such as the Terminator).  These flood control areas run for miles in all directions through the cities and are almost all connected to each other.  The ones close to my work are easily accessible and would take me to far enough away from the more dangerous areas of the city.  As I get closer to my home, they seem to be less maintained and nature has reclaimed them to an extent.  Upon further viewing, I found these to be overgrown with brush and littered with large rocks.  I haven’t investigated them any further other than the aerial maps but I am almost positive that there is a service road that runs along the flood control.   I would only use this route as a last resort.
  4. Off-road Vehicle Trails- I’ve noticed a few fire roads and off-road vehicle trails that go off in all different directions.  I purchased a BLM map and found that these trails would get me home.  Though they are primitive roads, they would eventually get me home. This would also be a last result as it would take hours to get to my home using these roads and time is not on my side in a SHTF scenario.
In Your Vehicle
Well, there’s not a whole lot one can do to secure their vehicle other than spending thousands to armor plate it and add bulletproof glass and maybe a gun turret but we’ll stick to reality.  The best thing you can do is to make sure you properly maintain your vehicle, check your spare tire, have a few tools in case you need them and always have plenty of fuel in the tank.  
For my truck, it’s a diesel, has huge tires and I also added aftermarket heavy duty bumpers in case I need to push vehicles out of my way.  If someone is gunning for me, I need to do everything possible to get my daughter out of the line of fire and to a safer place….like home.  I also tinted the back window and the back door windows with a dark tint so that no one could see how many people might be inside.  The less the thugs know, the more likely they will leave you alone.  Keep ‘em guessing.
In a G.O.O.D. scenario, remember to keep your bug out bag (BOB) as close to you as possible.  If you are legally carrying, make sure to have it at ready. 
But the most valuable item you can get or have is information.  The best tool for this is the radio in your vehicle.  I’m sure most of us saw what happened during the Los Angeles riots of 1992.  You saw on the television reports as people were driving blindly right into the areas where the rioting was going on.  They were totally unaware of everything around them (probably listening to some music--a bad idea.) and you all saw the brutality that ensued from the thugs and rioters on the streets.  My tip for all of you is to keep your radio tuned to local radio news stations so that you can get up to date news of what’s going on in your area.  You might want to take the time to search on line for the local radio networks in your area and save them on your radio presets.  While listening, don’t stick to just one station, tune to different ones because the news reporters will be in different areas of the city and you can get more information by surfing the stations you have stored in your radio by listening to more than just one station.  Use their reporting to your advantage.  There are a lot of AM radio news stations.  Again, don’t stick to FM or just one AM station. Since their studios are usually located “downtown”, they may not be on the air for long.
The bottom line, study your areas and have more than one route to get home or to your BOL.  Properly maintain your vehicle at all times and keep the tank full of fuel.  Listen to the AM news stations in your area to receive the latest traffic reports or other invaluable news reports of things going on around you and get going as soon as you can.  These three simple steps can make a big difference: the difference of getting home safely or sitting in hours of traffic, vulnerable to the two legged vultures..even life or death. I hope and pray this may help others out.

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