Preparedness: Now What? – Part 1, by O.C.

Upfront, I should say I am a few months away from 70 years old. I was raised in New Jersey. Even though I spent 26 years in the US Air Force and the Montana Air National Guard, I was not prepared for anything out of the ordinary.

My journey to prepping really began on September 11, 2001. At that time, I was working as a defense contractor in Crystal City, Virginia, just down the road from the Pentagon. Meanwhile, my wife was a civil servant working inside the Pentagon building. In my cube-ville we were no radios or televisions allowed. It was an “all work and no play” area. When the planes hit the New York City towers and the Pentagon, I — like so many — were unaware. The security people for the building came in and ushered everyone out. We weren’t told why or allowed to get our things. Outside, rumors ran rampant, and many people were in hysterics. I spotted black smoke rising in the sky in the direction I thought the Pentagon might be. I found out about the attacks by watching television in a store window nearby where I was waiting.

I had never been to my office building by car. It was at least 18 or so miles from my house and I always took the Metro (subway/train). I was not aware, except in broad strokes from the Metro map, exactly how to navigate to anything. Eventually, we were allowed back into the office but only to get our jackets and briefcases. The Metro system around the Pentagon, and my office, was shut down. Cell phones didn’t work (no smartphones for the work poor then), I didn’t have a map of anything except the Metro system, no portable radio to get real news, nothing! I decided that I would walk towards the smoke and try and find my wife or at least help in some way.

When I got to the parking area of the Pentagon City Shopping Mall (an indoor four-story shopping mall), about half a mile from the Pentagon, I was met by Metro bus officials and a few police officers. We were told no one was allowed on the Pentagon grounds because of the dangers. They also said to walk home or take a bus. They pointed to a bus that would eventually drop me off at an operational Metro station. Using Metro from wherever they dropped me, I could get back to where I parked my car and drive home.

Two odd things occurred next. I received a call on my cell from the wife of a co-worker of my wife. She said her husband and my wife were okay and were getting a ride home from a fellow co-worker who had parked away from the Pentagon that day. Oddly, I still could not call out, nobody could. Next, my brother in Phoenix called and asked if I was okay and if my wife was okay. I had good news to report to him. But I was still not able to call out. It would be that way for the next several hours.

Prepping at Work

This has been a long introduction to my “prepping” journey but necessary for understanding. That night my wife and me sat watching the constant rehashing news about the attacks on television. Besides wanting revenge (who didn’t on that day), I decided I had to prepare for the next emergency. I read somewhere that you always prepare for the last war, or last emergency. That’s what I started doing. I looked around the house and found a state map of Virginia (we’re AAA members and had several maps from moving and trips). Next, I made copies of the required street maps from a street map book we purchased when we moved here when I retired from US Air Force. I decided I would buy a small portable radio so I could have the news handy, except in the underground Metro stations and tunnels which only carried Verizon cell signals. I had a Cingular contract because Verizon was expensive and was not pro-life. I included $25 in ones, fives, and quarters. All of it went into my briefcase. I was set, sort of.

There are two parts of my prepping life to discuss. I’ll talk about my work-life journey into prepping first. I used the Metro system exclusively to get to and from work. Regardless of what job I had. In fact I only took jobs that were accessible via Metro. But the Metro system had some unfortunate accidents and fatalities during my 20 years of using it. Smoke inhalation killed an elderly woman when the train car she was riding in got stuck in a tunnel during an electrical fire (common at the time). I immediately purchased some high quality N95 masks and added them to my backpack. I knew they wouldn’t protect me from bad air, but they would protect me from particulates being sucked into my lungs. I didn’t buy a gas mask because of prohibitions by my employer for having one on their premises (they supplied “fire hoods” at work but nothing for commuting).

Along the way, the Pentagon Police had a shootout with an unbalanced man at the outside Metro entrances to the Pentagon one evening just after I got off. It was rumored the police fired over forty rounds and hit the suspect twice if I remember correctly. Lots of stray rounds in a limited area. You could still see damage on the inside of several of the giant wooden doors to the building while the outside was cosmetically fixed. So the next thing on the list for me was a Kevlar bullet-resistant insert for my backpack that could stop the rounds carried by the Pentagon Police. I had changed to a backpack by then as it was easier to carry items into and out of the Pentagon where I finally ended up.

Later, the police would be armed with fully automatic M4s with thirty-round magazines and new HK submachine guns. But my ability to carry anything to help me stop rounds from those never materialized. The Pentagon Police initiated bag and coat searches as a counter-terrorism action after that. Pocket knives were only allowed with small blades. No pepper spray was allowed (many Metro areas were not 100% safe so carrying something legal at least in Virginia where I lived was prudent, those living in D.C. were screwed). My bullet-resistant insert was a constant issue with them. But they couldn’t find anything in the Federal law that specifically prohibited it. My boss, the General I worked for, specifically prohibited any further escalation of safety equipment in that regard. There had been too many complaints from the Pentagon Police, I suppose.

Just about anything you would want to carry “just in case” was prohibited. One thing the Pentagon did do to help everyone, although many ignored it, was require everyone who worked in the Pentagon to have an emergency bag with a change of clothes, shoes for walking, seasonal wear and the like. The premise was that if a chemical attack or nuclear fallout occurred, once a decontamination area was set up, we’d be processed through it. Stripped of the potentially contaminated clothes and buck naked after the decontamination showers, the Pentagon said they wouldn’t have enough jumpsuits for everyone. You had a choice, bring your own or go naked till something happened. As a remedy, I placed fresh clothes in a sealed bag, then inserted it in another sealed bag both marked with my name and office symbol. I went a little further and placed a duplicate of my backpack kit in the bag also.

The next work issue to tackle was longer term shelter-in-place at the Pentagon from an attack. All of us in the office paid for bottled water (the large size for our water machine and we generally had at least three or more full ones in the office. I wasn’t concerned about the water supply, but I kept an emergency stash in my locker anyways. I figured the food situation would be a different animal. I put a two-week supply of “emergency” rations in my locker too. Anything I’d eat without heating it up as there was no guarantee of electricity. Canned goods, tuna packets, protein bars, that kind of stuff. I barely had room in that locker for anything else. So what?

These workplace preps didn’t happen overnight but over 10 or so years since 9/11. I read, looked at videos, took stock of what the US Air Force had taught me, and enhanced my overall personal knowledge and armory during this time too.

What I learned from the US Air Force. I spent 10 years of my career as a Law Enforcement Specialist/K-9 handler before being moved into financial analysis because of the excess of people in my rank. Several things from my law enforcement days stand out… Marksmanship, love of the S&W Model 15 revolver, Use of Force training, de-escalation techniques, and Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) training. These were all good things to have as a background as I moved forward in my preps.

I scrounged a copy of Air Force Manual (AFMAN)10-100, dated 1 June 2004. It’s known as the Airman’s Manual. It is not available online anymore unless you’re in the military but you can sometimes find a used copy on that unnamed website. While some of the material is strictly military in nature, much can be gleaned from the remaining stuff. I still re-look at the sections on first aid, and lately especially in Section 5, “Survive”. This section covers NBC information. Some good background information for sure, given the Ukraine situation and Vladimir Putin.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)