In the after action review, I realized there were a lot of things I learned and will do differently in the future:
- The small almost empty bug out bag approach worked great, but there were a few items I had room for that would have been game changers in the event something happened. In the event I have to survive with just the bag and its contents, I have since added a few items. The first thing I added was a small water filter (like a Sawyer mini). Water is key, and this was a big thing to have missing. Sure, I may have been able to get some bottled water (there were two large bottles in my hotel room), but water is the cornerstone and should not have been overlooked. Second thing added was a small but complete first aid kit (including trauma supplies), which had been another no-brainer item I previously overlooked. Third was a steel cup or water bottle. There was snow everywhere, but absent a vessel to melt it in it was not immediately useful in the event of a walk out. The next item was a solar charging device that is small and holds almost three full charges of my smartphone. As useful as a smart phone is, information for planning and navigation would be critical to bugging out, but what if the cell towers were all down? So now, hard copy maps and travel information are also carried. A small GPS may be a good back up item. Sure, I could walk down I-95, but that would likely not be advisable in a bug out situation. Lastly, at least $100 in small bills, in case debit/credit card infrastructure is down.
- The city that never sleeps… never sleeps. I have always regarded the night as the preferred time to travel and avoid the masses in any situation. In NYC, this is not a valid paradigm; in fact it means that you could have chaos at night as readily as daytime, which would impact travel plans. The city streets were almost as busy when we left our project at midnight as they were at noon. My partner and I debated at length if this was the one place where you did not want to be bugging out at 1 AM, especially since we had no practical intelligence what areas, streets or neighborhoods to avoid. Now when I travel to a new city, I do a little extra prep work, trying to have a better developed situational awareness about that area.
- The biggest surprise was the bags. The building in which we worked (which was part of a complex for a major financial company you would know) had tight security to the extent that you had to be registered in advance and show ID to gain entry and receive a visitor pass but there was no searching of bags or metal detectors, and everyone had a bag, usually a big bag! Between the fact that folks took the subway and the distance away they had parked if they drove, everyone looked like they were going on backpacking trip when they showed up for work. In hind sight, if they had to search all those bags with or without metal detecting, it would take all day for tens of thousands of workers, vendors, and staff to filter in and out of these huge office buildings. So they rely on employee badges and visitor accreditation/passes. While we were working onsite, I would see all these bags and backpacks stashed beneath desks and would talk to the employees about it. Many of them would open a file drawer and pull out another bag– a get home bag they had stashed in the office! All these people had been changed by their experiences on 9/11, and they were happy to discuss it. Anyone without a bag was the exception not the rule. Another big surprise was how many of these bags were tactical (i.e. they were in a Camo pattern, covered in MOLLE and compartments or obviously not “book bags”. I have always pursued the “grey man” approach, in that I try to avoid looking tactical or like a “prepper” so as not to stand out in a crowd. However that would have seemed very much the “norm” in NYC that winter. I think any major urban center would share this trait, and that means you can feel more secure and blend in wearing your back pack.
- The crowds are the norm. If you are from the hinterlands, farm country, or almost any small town in fly over country and have never been to NYC or another major urban area, you may not be prepared for the sheer ocean of humanity you will have to swim in. NYC is packed with more people then you can imagine. Personal space is very compressed. At times people will routinely be making eye contact and others will be sliding by you making incidental contact. You are seldom alone. You will need your situational awareness set to high and to watch your back. Residents of these places operate with different interpersonal frameworks than you do; be ready for it. My experience in other major cities, such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and San Francisco have been the same. Traveling as a team helped mitigate this. One of us was always the “wingman” for the other, even subconsciously at times. It would not be unusual to see some “sketchy” situations, and you need to avoid getting involved in those potential entanglements since you are in an unfamiliar legal environment and operating under the limitations and conditions of employment set by your employer.
- My current carry on computer bag is a soft brief case model with moderate capacity. If flying became an increasingly significant part of my travel, I would switch to the largest backpack model I could find (with a non-tactical appearance) to increase my carrying capacity as much as possible. Also, my EDC first aid kit has continued to grow in size. As I finish the edits on this article, the ISIS attack in Turkey is on the news. Over the last year, I have significantly increased the size and capability of my first aid kit that I always have with me. It all fits (barely) in a 10X6 Molle attachable pouch that I can attach easily to whatever bag I am carrying. I strongly feel that everyone traveling regularly, particularly by plane or other mass transit means or frequenting large soft target type settings, should always have with them the ability to self-rescue/treat if they are unfortunate enough to be injured in a mass casualty event. There are plenty of excellent pre-packaged trauma kits available on the market. If you add a couple of extra Israeli bandages and learn to use your kit, you have dramatically improved your odds of surviving. As a husband and father, I also have a duty to adequately train and prepare my spouse and children when they travel, but that is also a topic for another article.
Neither of us is anxious to return to NYC. We both learned a great deal during this trip and modified our approaches to traveling in similar situations. Both of us continue to rehearse and test new kit and gear when we travel for both work and pleasure. I have continued to build up my preps and modify my “list of lists”, based on my day to day experiences. We concluded that if we really had to bug out from NYC in the midst of a brutal winter on foot with a goal of reaching his base of operations 250 miles south, it would be quite an ordeal, and the odds of making it on foot were stacked against us (as in the book The Last Layover, by Steven C. Bird).