Your Get Home Plan, by J.A.F.

If you work outside the home, or go to school, or have responsibilities that take you away from home on a daily basis, you need to be prepared for crisis situations while you are not at your home base.  Before you can Bug-In you have to get home.  Even if you plan to Bug-Out, you may have to get home first because you need to coordinate with others in your family, or because you need to pick up supplies that you can’t take to work each day or because there are pets at home that must be cared for or brought with you.  So whether you plan to Bug-In or Bug-Out, if you work outside the home, you need a get home plan.

I know my situation is not unique, and I am sure there are many aspects of it that are common to others with concerns about the uncertainties of the future.  So I will tell you about my daily commute and then step through the planning I have done to help me get home in a crisis.  I Hope you can adapt some part of this to your own situation and I also hope that I receive comments and suggestions that will help me as well.

I work within a few blocks of the White House in the District of Columbia (DC), but I live in northern Maryland.  During rush hour, it would take about two and a half hours to drive from my home to work and involve going around Baltimore before getting into the DC traffic.  According to Google Maps, it is a driving distance of about 61 miles.  If I were to do that daily, I would have gone insane years ago.  Instead, I drive to a train station north of Baltimore and take a commuter train through the heart of Baltimore and down to Union station in DC.  From Union station I take the subway to a stop near the White House and walk to the office building I work in.  The total commute is about two hours each way. 

The challenge is that I am dependent on three different modes of transportation, car, train, and subway, any one of which could be compromised in an emergency (or in an EMP event perhaps all three would be affected).  In addition, I am in the middle of a potentially targeted urban area and have a second urban area between me and my home. 

In get home order, first is the subway.  The subway is periodically halted by accidents and maintenance issues.  Subways have been the object of terrorist attacks numerous times.  There have been fires here that have shut down the subway system.  But the subway is easy as I can avoid it entirely and walk to the train station in about thirty minutes.  Last summer (August 23, 2011), DC was hit with a highly unusual earthquake of 5.8 magnitude centered in Mineral, Virginia.  All the high buildings swayed, the city panicked and many people left early to get home.  The streets were crowded with people who had fled their offices and were trying to use their cell phones.  There was very little information available to help people.  Transportation web sites for the train system and the subway were not updated with their status for some time.  It was impossible to make calls using cell phones because the system was overloaded.  Text messaging did work sporadically and allowed messages home.  Since I did not know the status of the subway, I walked to the train station to avoid the possibility of it being out of order or overcrowded with panicked commuters. As it turned out, trains were delayed for several hours while they checked the tracks but I was eventually able to get home by train.

This means the first item for my Get Home Bag is a pair of walking shoes and socks, as walking a half hour in dress shoes is not a good idea if you can avoid it.

The second mode of transportation I am normally dependant on is the train.  It is the most critical in getting home, because it covers the majority of the distance and gets me out of one city and through another.  The train is periodically subject to major delays because of track problems, switch problems, accidents (pedestrians being hit), and equipment problems.  Even longer lasting problems could be caused by flooding such as followed hurricanes Irene and Isabel.  Trains may also be subject to social upheaval as the MARC/Amtrak lines run through the urban environments of DC and Baltimore.  EMP events may affect both the electric and diesel locomotives, shutting the system down for an extended period.  Financial upheaval could lead to strikes by train crews.  Problems with the electrical grid could shut down the whole system with dead trains blocking the main lines.

In the event that the trains cease to run while I am at work, there are several alternatives to help bridge the distance.  If the subway is running, I could take it to the edge of DC instead of getting off at Union Station.  This would save hours of walking and bypass the most potentially dangerous urban environment, starting me walking in a much friendlier suburban area.  There are a couple of different station stops I could choose but I am not very familiar with any of those areas.  I will need maps and preferably also a compass to make sure I can walk the best route north from any of them.

Alternatively, if the subway isn’t running there is an option of catching a ride north for some of the distance with someone leaving my building and heading the same direction.  I know of a couple of people who park in the underground garage below the building and whose cars may be functional even in the event of an EMP.  Once again though, I live much farther and would need maps and a compass to get from the northern most point they could take me the rest of the way home.

Lastly, I could walk from here.  This is the worst case and assumes subways, trains, and cars are incapacitated.  Probably only a severe EMP could lead to this.

In the best of the situations that would lead me to walk home, I would be walking about forty miles, in the worst case, sixty.  On foot, we are probably talking two to three days depending on route.  I already mentioned walking shoes.  In addition a change of clothes, jeans and a comfortable shirt instead of a suit and dress shirt would be more comfortable. We also need to provide nourishment for the trek.  At a minimum, we should have energy bars for two days, water, and a container one can fill with additional water.  I keep energy bars and bottled water in my office so I don’t have to carry them back and forth each day.  I can add them to my backpack when I leave should the situation require it.  I plan to carry at least ten dollars in singles as well as additional money.  The singles can be used in machines to buy water or snacks to see one through those two days on the road.  Since this may require me to camp out somewhere overnight, a thermal emergency  blanket can be used to stay warm.  A lightweight tarp (you can get an 8’ by 10’ with grommets for about $6) and paracord can be used to rig a shelter in some out-of-the-way spot.  You’ll need a pocket knife, or better yet, a multi-tool to

To make the trek home easier, I have preplanned routes from several locations: my office, subway stops, and also areas to which I might be able to get a ride.  On a few of those routes I have located stores that stock inexpensive bicycles costing about $250 or less.  This is one of the possible uses for the additional money I will carry.  I won’t know if the stores are open until I get to them but including them on the route increases my options.  Also, some of my alternative routes include rental car agencies.  It may be possible to rent a car, but if the grid is down, it is more likely you will be able to buy a bicycle than rent a car.

As the old saying goes, knowledge is power.  In a crisis, confusion and contradiction reign.  The more information you have the better.  It will allow you to maximize your chances.  When the earthquake hit last summer, no one knew the status of the subway or the trains.  Cell phones did not work.  Web sites weren’t updated.  No one had a radio.  I headed to the train station and that worked out.  But if the tracks had been damaged and the trains not running, I would have walked a half hour in a wrong direction for nothing.  To increase the chances of getting information, I will have a hand crank radio/flashlight/cell phone charger.  These are inexpensive and compact.  They will also allow me to keep my cell phone charged in case I am able to use it after leaving the city.  The flashlight will also come in handy walking after dark.  Check out the radio stations in advance to find the best local news channel.

In the kind of crisis we are talking about, with transportation down and potentially the electrical grid compromised, the streets will be full of people.  Many will be leaving the business and industrial areas trying to reach home.  Others will be gathering to watch the excitement and the anarchy of events.   Some of those will be ready to prey on anyone who looks weak and out of their element.  While on foot, stay with groups whenever possible, even if it means going out of your way.  Unfortunately, DC does not allow concealed carry, nor does Maryland at the current time.  Pepper Spray is the best legal means of self defense if it becomes necessary.  It allows some distance between you and the attacker.  The change of clothes you included should allow you to look less like a target.  Someone in old jeans and an old shirt will be less tempting to rob than someone in a suit and tie in a neighborhood where no one dresses like that. 

I have selected routes that avoid areas where crime is high.  I avoid short cuts that might save time but take me through more questionable areas.  The routes make use of the largest roads, not side streets.  But in practice, be ready to move off those roads to avoid mobs and violent situations.  My routes will get me out of urban areas as quickly as possible and keep me out of them even though it means a longer walk around to reach home.

This plan has to be adjusted with the seasons.  In January, it may make more sense to stay in the office and wait out the crisis than try to walk sixty miles in subfreezing weather.  Also you might want to substitute boots and warmer clothes in the Get Home Bag (or store them where you work).

In a plan of this kind, you must constantly re-evaluate.  You provide yourself the tools you think you will need, you get as much information as you can, and then you take action.  But you never commit to only one plan.  Re-evaluate and change the plan/route to fit the circumstances. 

The Get Home Bag
1.       Walking Shoes and socks
2.       Maps and a Compass
3.       A change of clothes
4.       Energy Bars
5.       Water
6.       Extra Water Container
7.       Ten dollars in singles and additional money ($250)
8.       Thermal Emergency Blanket
9.       Tarp
10.   Paracord
11.   Hand crank radio/flashlight/cell phone charger
12.   Pepper Spray
13.   Multi-tool