While we typically discuss disasters as they relate to office buildings and other structures, our lessons about emergency preparedness also apply to survival outside.
Today we tackle some basic winter survival skills to help you prepare for unexpected winter weather whether you are trapped in your car or if you get lost while you’re hiking. Recent severe snowstorms on the East Coast tested both emergency responders and numerous individuals who were affected by the stormy conditions.
Motorists in New Jersey were stranded for some 30 hours—stuck in their cars, surviving on snack food like beef jerky and crackers. That really doesn’t sound so bad to me. But that’s beside the point. Some of the storm victims used common sense, which is vital when trapped in the elements (not to mention in other circumstances, as well). These wise folks conserved fuel resources when running the car’s heater and, above all, they didn’t panic. I reserve panic for real emergencies, like when “Lassie” reruns were taken off of the air.
Here are safety tips to remember if you are stuck in your vehicle in the elements:
- Before any emergency, take steps so you are prepared. Make sure your car is packed with reflective blankets, extra hats and gloves, a small shovel, food and water and flares or other signaling device.
- Keep your gas tank full. You will need gas to run the heater (or the air conditioner, if you’re stuck in the desert). Experts recommend running the heat for 10 minutes every hour. That is a similar timeframe to my eating schedule. Every hour, I like to munch for at least 10 minutes. It keeps my metabolism going!
- Stay in your car! Unless you can clearly see rescuers or a better alternative for shelter, staying in the security of your car is the best option. This is particularly important if you are stranded on a busy roadway or have limited visibility. While your first impulse might be to abandon your vehicle and search for shelter, you risk being hit by other cars on a highway or freezing to death in winter or getting heat stroke in summer if you walk, unprotected, in the elements. So stay with your vehicle.
- Don’t drink alcohol to warm up. Although that big St. Bernard with a barrel flask is a lovable pooch, you are better off asking him to bring Gatorade instead of liquor. Ignore those who recommend taking a sip of brandy to knock off the chill. Blood rises to the surface of the skin when you drink, which causes rapid heat loss. Also especially important in an emergency situation—you don’t want to risk impairing your judgment.
- Watch out for carbon monoxide poisoning. In big snow drifts, it’s likely your car’s tailpipe may be covered with snow. Crack the window when running the heat and use a shovel or other tool to clear some space for exhaust to escape.
If you are out in the elements when a storm breaks, you might get stuck in the snow. If so, take these basic steps to ensure your survival:
- If you are going for a hike or cross country skiing, tell people where you are going and when you will be back. Search teams won’t come looking if they don’t know you are lost.
- Make sure you know how to start a fire. Simply carrying a box of matches on your hike won’t help if you get stuck in the rain. Even waterproof matches can fail. Although dogs are very handy to have around, we aren’t much help starting fires. So bring alternative fire-making sources such as magnesium fire starters to create sparks.
- Staying dry and warm are essentials, regardless of weather. Wear more layers than you think is necessary. This way, you will be able to remove unnecessary layers. Use the three-layer system to stay warm and toasty. Even though I have fur, I still get chilly when wet. So you might consider buying one of those nifty doggie raincoats, as well.
- Shelter in place. Build a debris hut. When you are certain you are far from traffic, find a pole or log about one and a half times your own height. Prop it about three to four feet up with a boulder or stump. Then, take smaller branches and lay them diagonally on the main beam. Place leaves, grass or any other debris in between the branches and put at least one foot of similar material inside the hut. It might not win any design awards. But it will keep you relatively warm and dry. Man’s best friend can definitely help gathering sticks for the hut!
Unlike disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes, getting caught out in winter weather is largely avoidable. If there is a blizzard outside, you probably don’t have any urgent need to be in the car. Paying an extra $1 to return that Red Box movie isn’t going to hurt you! And you can probably skip our afternoon walk. We would rather stay inside by the fireplace. If you are skiing or backcountry-hiking, use a portable radio to stay informed. Consider joining an outdoor survival school to learn the latest techniques for safety. As always, staying safe comes down to advanced preparation and cool-headed thinking during an emergency.
When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.