The Art of Getting Home, by Shattered

So you have successfully prepped for every possible SHTF or TEOTWAWKI situation, your house is completely off grid, you’ve stockpiled enough chow to feed you and everyone you know for three full years and you have amassed a huge arsenal of assault weapons and ammunition that is sufficient to put even your toddler in tactical gear, body armor and small arms for the next ten years of sustained combat operations. Everything should be good to go right?

So you’re sitting at work in your suit and tie and TEOTWAWKI just pops off, maybe it’s a rain of ICBMs hitting major American population centers, an EMP strike or any number of other situations. This is not the time to suddenly realize that you are eighty miles away from your homestead and are going to have to make it back to your house and family in a suit and tie with no supplies and no game plan.

The economy in recent years has forced many of us to drive an increasingly further and further distance from our homes in search of employment and nowadays many of us, regardless of what state we live in are forced to drive long commutes or even live outside of our home cities during the work week. The reality is that when and if a world changing event or even just a significant natural disaster hits, many of us will have to make a long and difficult trip home, utilizing a tiny amount of resources that we can pack into a car or carry on our backs. Simply shoving a seven day food and water supply along with a couple road flares into your trunk is not going to cut it and I’d like to suggest a more systematic approach to this situation.

First let’s take a look at your car, many of us drive all the way to our jobsite and even more of us at least drive it half way making it a valuable resource in the event we have to flee our workplace. Many of you probably drive rugged vehicles but for those of you (like me) who drive an economy car let me very quickly state that this vehicle is still an invaluable part of your escape and this advice has already been thought up with you in mind.

Your Car (or lack thereof)

No matter what you drive, it probably has a trunk and even if it doesn’t, it has a rear storage area, this piece of your car is what makes it highly useful, even if you have to ditch the thing after you get back to it. Think of this area of your car as the storage box on the Batmobile, it is a great spot to stow any number of tactical prepping equipment.

You might be saying “Hey, that is nonsense–anything I lock in my car can just get raided or looted whenever I have to park the thing during the day. First off, while it is true, anything you stow in the vehicle is subject to theft, let me go over some mitigating factors with you.

  • Alarm the vehicle, with the noisiest alarm that you can get, the louder the better but make sure to adjust the sensitivity so it doesn’t just go off the moment a bird lands at it.
  • Keep the exterior dirty or dusty, this decreases the likelihood it will appeal to the casual observer, remember thieves instinctively look for the shiniest piece of loot.
  • Park the car a few spaces (but not directly next to) a nice car, the nicer the better but it has to be significantly nicer than yours (the dirt and some dings help this).
  • Put on a club or other anti-theft device, no this will not keep your car from being stolen but it presents another “pain in the ass” for the would be criminal, thieves are lazy, they are going to pass up your car for the easy target.
  • Park in a highly visible location, the more remote, the better environment it will be to spend time breaking into it, if it’s across from the entrance to a store or other reputable venue it will be less likely to get violated.
  • Shave the lock on your trunk. Most auto-body places can do this for you and even if that EMP hits your key fob you can still get in via the manual trunk release in your car. The whole point is to make it just a little bit more annoying to get into; increasing your chances the thug in question will just move on.
  • Install a strong box in your trunk, these are readily available and come in all sorts of dimensions, if you don’t find one you like they can be fabricated by most people with a little welding experience quite easily. Just make sure you bolt it into your trunk or back seat in such a way as the bolts can be removed when the box is open (in case you need to temporarily remove the box).
  • Install secondary carrying belts inside this trunk or cargo area to hold pouches and other things, old canvas police web belts work great and cost between ten and twenty dollars, bolt them or clip them into place to increase the ergonomics of your storage space.
  • Remove all items from the front of your vehicle and clean it, you guessed it, what does the empty interior of a clean car look like? Boring, that’s what it looks like, you want nothing to draw attention to the vehicle or its contents and nothing to suggest there is anything of value worth committing a crime to access.
  •   Invest in some run flats if you can afford them, no one wants to change a tire when the world is ending because some teenager used the ensuing chaos to cause a little property damage.

Some things to store in your trunk include, but are not limited to:

  • GPS receiver and a compass (redundancy is key with navigation).
  • Maps of the state and cities you have to travel through on your commute (with highlighted routes and alternate routes to get home).
  • 1 Small, lightweight bug out bag with some first aid supplies, utility knife, enough food and water to last you for the amount of time it will take you to get home should you have to ditch the vehicle. Other goodies for this are a magnesium bar and a Bic lighter, a set of silverware and a tin or titanium Sierra cup along with some 550 or Para cord.
  • 1 change of clothes with appropriate warming layers, these should be nondescript and devoid of any logos or bright colors, you want to blend in.
  • 1 pair of good running shoes or hiking boots depending on what type of terrain you will be traveling on.
  • 1 small, concealable firearm with some spare magazines if you feel it is appropriate. Personally I wouldn’t want to be carrying a weapon at this stage of the game.
  • Several one ounce silver coins and a few twenty dollar bills (if one of these is worthless, the other will still likely be accepted).
  • A small GMRS radio and a hand held police scanner, both are for monitoring local events.
  • Baby wipes and a small airplane bottle of Listerine mouthwash, there are a million reasons to have these; you can shower with them, clean out cuts, etc.

The point of having these things readily available is to smoothly transition from work attire to traveling / hiking kit as soon as you regain access to your vehicle. This however may be impossible or take longer than anticipated so on your person you should have some of the following items, get in the habit of keeping them in a gym bag or backpack, most of us carry some form of bag with us anyway, make some room.

Your Body
Depending on where you work some of this may or may not be practical, regardless of what you can or can’t carry with you here’s some basics to maintain the ability to quickly change into something you can travel in.

Keep a gym bag with a fresh change of socks and a set of running clothes along with a pair of lightweight sneakers if you regularly go to work in an office environment. This will doubly add an excuse to use the gym that is no doubt located somewhere in or near your office, benefiting you for obvious reasons. Additionally, you need laminated set of maps to get you from your office to your car with alternate routes all marked or highlighted.

An Altoids tin survival kit, you can easily design your own or download instructions on the internet; you’d be amazed at what will fit into an Altoids tin. Here’s what’s in mine:

  • Bic mini lighter
  • 1 alcohol prep wipe
  • 1 dose (2 pills) of cold and flu medicine
  • 1 porcelain spark plug shield broken into three pieces wrapped in sandwich wrap
  • 1 4×4 inch sheet of aluminum foil folded twice
  • 1 razor blade
  • 1 handcuff key
  • 1 piece of steel wool the size of a cotton ball
  • 1 mini rake lock pick and tension bar
  • 1 LED Flashlight
  • 1 2×2 inch sheet of moleskin
  • 1 sewing needle wrapped in non flavored dental floss or thin sewing thread

If it won’t close just secure it by wrapping 550 or Para cord along the outside to keep it shut, 550 cord always comes in handy. The contents are very versatile, you always need fire and a lighter cuts the messing around. Steel wool is the best kindling on earth and if you can’t start a fire with a Bic lighter and a cotton ball sized chunk of steel wool you need more help than I can provide you with.

The prep wipe can disinfect a wound, the razor blade can be used as a scalpel (sanitize with lighter), the sewing needle and thread or floss will let you do some crude stitches. If your feet end up being what fails you, the moleskin can be used to seal up blisters and cut to size with the razor blade after you have lanced them with the needle and drained them.

The cuff key, lock picks and porcelain may be against the law to carry where you live (check local laws first) but you never know when you might need to take off some cuffs, pick a door lock (very easy on many doors with some practice) or break through a window (the porcelain, when thrown into a car or store window will instantly shatter many types of window, this is a favorite trick of burglars and car thieves). [JWR Adds: These work best when projected by a slingshot such as a “Wrist Rocket.” A folding slingshotis also a good stopper for small game and even marginal for self defense, with just a bit of practice. They are legal to possess even in most gun-deprived jurisdictions. When space and weight are at a premium, I recommend that a slingshot be second only to a versatile pocketknife, when prioritizing gear for your Get Home kit.]

DISCLAIMER: I am not telling you to break the law, but even if you are a cop during TEOTWAWKI or SHTF or even on a normal day at work you may find yourself in a situation where you might end up being locked up with your personal cuffs or someone else’s pair.

The lock picks and porcelain are the same story here, I am not telling you to commit a crime but if it comes down to being burned up in a fire because you can’t get to an exit fast enough, by all means, break a window and get out. The property owner will understand. The lock pick and tension bar are the same story, don’t use them to break the law but if you can use them to get into a door to hide from an angry rioting mob, by all means, the property owner will understand. This kit is designed specifically to survive, evade, resist and escape any number of nightmare scenarios, be a responsible adult and do the right thing.

Your Escape

Your escape is going to be much more complicated in reality than anything you can plan for but there are major mistakes you can avoid that will save you precious time and maybe even your life. On your map you need to highlight roads and alternate roads to get you from work to vehicle and vehicle to home but you must also realize your surroundings. Maybe you drive half way to your destination and then take some form of mass transit the rest of the way, driving out of the city you work in will not be an option, if the mass transit is also shut down, you are on foot.
  Even if you drive your car all the way to work, you still have to realize that driving may not be an option and that during any type of emergency, you will not be able to use main roads or even most side roads so alternate routes need to be planned and scouted in advance. Periodically along your route you should locate safe areas to go to ground and hide, just in case you need sleep, rest, etc you are going to want to know where you have the option of doing this on your journey, looking for a safe place to stitch up your wounds really sucks when your pouring blood, but if you have pre-designated way points along your route it will make life easier and give you landmarks to guide you on your way.

It may be feasible to cache (hide) small amounts of supplies along the way in various locations. Maybe there is a bus stop with a dirt lot behind it or an old parking lot you can conceal a small cache in, even if it’s just some bandages, a bottle of water and a granola bar inside a small PVC pipe with end caps, you may end up needing them and it never hurts to have options.

Alternate means of travel are critical, for example, in the city I work in, the roads are jammed up even on a good day, driving out in a disaster will not be feasible and I don’t even drive the whole way to work anyway, but there are ferry boats nearby that can easily get you out of the city in a hurry and would most likely still work even in the event of a major emergency.

While everyone else is hoofing it or driving out I will be riding a ferry boat if absolutely necessary to get outside the main city center. You must explore these alternate methods of escape, roads will get nasty quickly and the heat you will be subject to on a sunny day will make walking on them unbearable.

Get to your vehicle and stop to take a minute to sort everything out, that’s right, I am telling you to stop moving and assess your situation, take a break, drink some water, eat a granola bar and chill the heck out. Most likely you will have been running on pure adrenaline and terror for an extended period of time, you may have suffered injury or mental trauma and you are going to be in shock. Take a few minutes to get that animal part of your brain under control, accurately assess your options and make a good decision as to what needs to happen next.

Do not bother trying to contact your family at this point, if you are in a scenario that has caused you to flee your workplace, possibly on foot, you are probably in a situation where cell phone service will be overwhelmed, your best bet is to send a brief text message, something like: “safe, omw home” and try repeating it to alternate addresses a few times while you drink some water. You need to get your mind out of the stress zone so you can make good decisions, thinking about anything other than your immediate need to escape and protect yourself will make you distracted and lead to your death or injury.

Ideally you should speak to your entire family before hand and explain to them that if an emergency happens, they are to stay at home and not try to come get you that if you are alive you will be on your way home immediately and may not be able to call them. This will keep you from getting home only to find out your wife or husband has decided to drive into the mouth of whatever disaster after you.

After you have collected your thoughts, even if it takes awhile (less than an hour) and you are in full control of your emotions and judgment you need to snap yourself out of the daze you will be in and start moving, if you start to feel tired or yawn, this is your cue to move, it will mean that your body has relaxed and ceased pumping adrenaline into your body, stand up, stretch and get moving.

Use the car for as long as possible, drive on the shoulder, in ditches, over curbs etc, and get out of traffic, even if you are in a sedan you would be surprised how much off-roading can be done with casual disregard for your vehicle’s paint job and quick decision making. Get the vehicle as far as you can and if you have to ditch it, get it off the road and into a position to where you can safely begin your hike. Grab your essential gear only; every pound will count if you end up doing twenty plus miles on foot, possibly in the sun.

If you have more water than you can carry, drink your surplus immediately, if you have too much surplus water to drink, drink as much as you can, urinate, drink some more and then go, water does you no good unless it’s in your body. Something simple you can carry for this is a single sugar and salt packet (like the one you get from fast food meals) mixed in a bottle of water the sugar/salt combo will give you a quick boost of electrolytes, kind of like drinking a Gatorade, drink this first and then drink some more water to dilute it in your system.

If you were astute enough to pack a Gatorade or other sports drink, drink it slowly, once you get half finished, fill it back up with water, shake it and drink it halfway again, fill it back up, shake and repeat as many times as needed to quench your thirst, diluting the mixture will help your body absorb the electrolytes and other goodies inside the sports drink, if you simply drink it all at once you will urinate out most of the ingredients before it can be absorbed by your body.

Be wary of people but do not be inhumane, you never know if a simple act of kindness will be what saves your life or your soul. What we do during a catastrophe is what determines if we retain our ability to be called human or civilized. I am not telling you to endanger yourself needlessly but if you have the ability to help another human being get back to their family who probably loves them and misses them the way yours does then you should do what you would want others to do for you. Circumstances could change quickly and the person you denied a drink of water to earlier in the day could be the doctor that splints your twisted ankle only hours later. Help your fellow man because of his need and not because of yours, help within your means and someone else may even help you.