As you may have read in my bio I work in the areas of resilience and preparedness. Just to be clear, I’m not a stock up on baked beans and wait for the apocalypse kind of bloke. I would not identify with that subculture at all. What I do, is look at ways individuals and organizations can be more ready for bumps in the road. I thought I would share with you one of the ways I make myself more resilient. This article is pretty London centric, but there are lessons for anyone working in a large city.
Let me tell you a story…
I started carrying a Get You Home Bag (GYHB) after 7/7. I was working in London and while I wasn’t directly affected I still had to get home from where I worked in South London to where I lived in the Northern suburbs, 11 miles away.
Firstly, I didn’t know my way home. On the train it could be done easily and took about 40 minutes. On foot was an entirely different matter. I didn’t know the area where I was working very well either. I was limited to the walk from the station to the office and then the place I would go for my lunch. I didn’t know what was around me that could have helped. Even more basic, I didn’t even have the starting point of knowing what way was north! I have now made a point of planning my way home from wherever I am working. I also make sure that I spend time getting to know the immediate area around where I am working. The sad fact is that I will spend more time there than at home anyway!
I wandered around for a while until I found a newsagent that was still open (most shops had closed up due to staff needing to get home) and was able to buy an A to Z. Once the shopkeeper told me where I was, I was able to start finding my way home.
Clearly things in terms of online mapping have advanced sine 7/7. You can now ask Google to show you how to get home on your smartphone. However, it is worth noting that on 7/7 the mobile phone networks all went down. This was a combination of the Emergency Services being given priority and everyone all trying to let people know they were ok all at once. From memory the network did not recover until very late into the evening. I would also doubt that my mobile phone battery would have lasted the 5 hours it took me to get home. The message is you cannot rely on the phone network to support you in any way. I always carry paper mapping that will let me get home from wherever I am. Even if this is a road atlas, it will let you get to the broad area of where you live and you will find your way easily once you are on home territory. Working in London I always make sure I have an up to date A to Z map. Anywhere else in the country I get a local A to Z and I carry a compact road atlas.
I carried on my way for a while and got myself turned around with direction. This was because I had no ground reference. The first thing I teach people when they use a map is always orient it to the ground. In other words, turn the map so that map north lines up with magnetic north. I didn’t know which way was north. Since then I now carry a lightweight compass so I can navigate in a more meaningful fashion. I also carry a GPS which has a location programmed in which is in my home area (never your home location!) so I can use that to aid my navigation.
After a while I my feet started to get sore. Now I’m not the kind of bloke to scrimp on my footwear. Sadly, a pair of flash black brogues were not the shoes to be wearing for an 11-mile hike. The biggest issue was rubbing. I had some nasty sores developing on my heels which would need dressing. I now have a change of shoes in my bag. They are in fact lightweight walking boots. They are good for a one off or a day hike in good weather but nothing more strenuous. They are good enough to get me home though. Socks being as important as your foot wear I also have a change of socks in my bag. Lastly I now carry a small first aid kit, with plasters, compeed, paracetamol and other bits and bobs for dealing with boo boos.
It got to about 7pm and I realised that, having missed lunch, I was pretty hungry and thirsty. Guess what, no shops open. I did find a drinks vending machine (it was over a fence in a school playground but needs must) but when I got my wallet out I only had a £5 note. I now carry a bottle of water with me everywhere along with some energy bars and a bag of nuts. These are all long life items and can happily live in the bottom of my bag until they are needed. I also now carry a bag of change. I have £50 in change in my bag. Yes, it adds some weight but it is useful for being able to use vending machines and for another reason I will describe shortly.
I had by this time crossed the Thames and I was in pretty unfamiliar territory. In fact, I had been for quite some time. The area was pretty depressed and was in fact a large housing estate. At this time, I was wearing a rather good looking pinstripe suit along with my already mentioned flash black brogues. To say that I stood out a bit is an understatement. Guess what? Yep, I got mugged. A group of youths spotted be and made a beeline straight over. I was now missing the fiver I did have, along with the rest of my wallet, cards and my mobile phone. Not going great! I now have a change of clothes in my bag which are really non-descript so that I do not attract attention as a possible target. I also carry a spare wallet with a £20 note and a couple of expired cards in it along with an old mobile phone. This way if I am mugged anyway I can give them something they can take away. I keep my real wallet and phone hidden in a waist bag I hide under my clothes. I also, as previously mentioned have a bag of change. This allows me to keep a little at a time on hand so that when I do pay for small things like a bottle of water it doesn’t scream out that I have a good bit of cash on me.
I eventually got home after about 5 hours, foot sore and very tired. As I sat down in my living room I vowed to myself never again! The very next day I started putting together my GYHB. After the event I read widely about other people’s experiences and added some other items to my bag.
A friend of mine was working in Russel Square and was there when the Suicide Bomber on the bus detonated his vest. He suffered with PTSD as a result. His most vivid memory was that although he was himself uninjured but was surrounded by people who were, that he could not help. The same was described by survivors of the bombings on the trains.
I now carry a Blowout Kit in my GYHB, a couple of tourniquets and a couple of Israeli dressings. The Emergency Services in any city will be on scene very rapidly but, as on the battlefield it is the treatment given immediately after wounding which will decide whether an individual lives or dies. In the military soldiers are trained and equipped to give this immediate aid to themselves and each other which has resulted in a survival rate of 92%. On 7/7 there were many individuals who suffered from limb amputations, their lives were saved by people making makeshift tourniquets out of scarves, ties and shirt sleeves. Having a couple of CAT tourniquets in your bag could save your or another person’s life.
Survivors of the train attack spoke about being plunged into darkness. The only light available was from people’s mobile phone screens. When they tried to get clear of the immediate site of the incident they were severely hampered by not being able to see where they were going. Given that an explosion had just taken place in a tunnel there was a very real risk of a cave-in. So the sensible place to be was elsewhere! I carry a head-torch, a flashlight, a small glow-stick lamp and spare batteries for all of them.
The other take away from those who survived the train bombing was the amount of dust suspended in the air. I keep a couple of paper dust masks in my bag to protect from this. Others reported that there was a great deal of glass and sheared off metal, some of which had been burned lying around. So I carry Kevlar gloves and a set of eye protection too so I don’t injure myself getting out of the immediate area.
Yes, it is probably overkill. No, I might not ever need it. But what if I did? I will admit that my paranoia is somewhat fuelled by what happened to me on 7/7 and by working in the more “fun” parts of the world. This is a basic set up that I keep wherever I am working. Be that at home or abroad. I just scale it to my environment. Overseas I’ll probably chuck in a satphone and an upgraded medkit for example. But wherever I am I am confident that I have what I need to get to a place of safety.
This Kit Pest Review article was written by Ben OToole. Hopefully you enjoyed it and if you have any thoughts or comments related to this article then leave a comment!