(Continued from Part 3.)
Once you arrive at your destination the next phase of Return To Base (RTB) preparations begins. Note that I’m assuming you’re at a hotel or rental property – if you’re staying with friends or family you should adjust accordingly. The first thing I do when I arrive is fill up a 5L water bottle. That way I have immediate access to clean water if something takes the infrastructure down. If an event occurs I can quickly fill my hydration bladder and other water bottles from that before heading out. The morning I leave, I empty the 5L bottle out and put it in my luggage with the top off to let it dry out. I could fill all of my individual containers, but then I’d have to empty them and worry about drying several containers out instead of just one.
Next I unpack my suitcase and transfer anything I might need for RTB travel (and couldn’t have on my person while en route) into my backpack or on my person. This means I have to spend a few minutes re-packing everything on the day I’m leaving, but doing this allows me to just grab one bag, fill my water containers and be on my way if an event occurs. If I have a rental car I toss my backpack into the trunk when I’m out and about so if I’m far away from my hotel when an event occurs I still have a good kit without having to go back. You could also toss a second filled 5L water bag in the trunk for the duration of your trip.
Once I’m done shuffling stuff around I take a walk around the building I’m staying in. I look out the windows in my room and see if I can use that for egress in an emergency (I always ask for a lower floor room). Then I leave the room and walk around to locate all of the emergency stairwells and exits, counting the steps to the closest ones in case I have to do it in dark or smoke. I walk around inside the building to locate other possible exits on the ground floor, then around the outside to figure out where everything comes out.
Once I have my bearings for the building I start to walk my planned route away from my lodging. Walk as far as you comfortably can, and consider driving more of the route later on to get familiar with it. Finding out about washed-out bridges or other obstacles allows you to adjust your route planning before you actually need to use it. You should always have a detailed map of your destination area with you so you can figure out possible alternatives in case your primary route is blocked. I usually buy one of the Streetwise laminated maps for my destination, but most hotels will happily provide you with a free tourist map at the front desk.
If you couldn’t bring all of your required equipment or supplies with you, you should use your route familiarization explorations to locate local stores or facilities where you could obtain them in an emergency and plan options on how to get to each of them. I typically focus on camping/outdoor stores, bicycles shops and gun shops, since I can’t always travel fully stocked for a long return journey. You should also try to locate smaller local shops instead of big chain stores, since the smaller shops are a lot more likely to continue conducting business if the power and Internet are down.
While you’re at your destination you should continue pay attention to local, regional, national and international events to keep up speed on things that could impact you. If you can afford it I recommend carrying a handheld trunked scanner radio like the Uniden BCD325P2, Uniden BCD436HP or Whistler TRX-1 so you can listen in on local emergency services that use trunked radios, but even a less expensive non-trunked scanner like the Uniden BC125AT (currently under $100) can help you tune into a lot of local radio traffic to gather intel.
If you don’t have a scanner, an app like Scanner Radio Pro on your cell phone can alert you to events happening in your local area that can affect you. Even a one-hour head start when a major event occurs can make the difference between a clean extraction and getting stuck in a riot. Listening in while you’re moving can tell you where roadblocks, riots, fires and other events are occurring so you can avoid them while exfiltrating from your destination location or en-route back home.
One final activity is to make sure you’re ready to get out in a hurry before you go to bed at night. Have a flashlight on the nightstand next to your bed, lay out a complete set of clothing and make sure everything you need is in your backpack. If an event occurs in the middle of the night and power is out you don’t want to be wasting time stumbling around your room trying to get dressed and find your gear. If you’re really worried about an EMP knocking out your fancy LED flashlight you could also keep an un-activated cyalume glow stick on your nightstand.
So you’re at your destination happily working away, seeing the sights or visiting with friends and the unthinkable happens – an event occurs. How you react depends on a number of factors, including the type of event, its scope, current weather conditions and where you’re at.
If the event is a sudden one with no warning like an EMP, nuclear attack, terrorist attack, declaration of martial law or a large-scale failure of critical infrastructure you should probably take a moment and try to assess the impact scope. Check the television, radio or Internet to gather data, or use your scanner radio (which you hopefully store in a Faraday Bag in case of an EMP) to gather information. If you determine that it’s relatively localized you’ll probably be better off either hunkering down or displacing to somewhere safer close by and waiting for the situation to clear up before heading home. If you determine that it’s a major SHTF event with long-term national or international impacts then you should implement your RTB plan as quickly as possible.
Other types of events may provide some advanced warning; these can include a meltdown of the financial system, a rapidly spreading pandemic, a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), an asteroid impact and others. Of course, advanced warning requires that the government and media provide the public with accurate and timely information instead of holding back ‘to prevent panic’, but you should be regularly monitoring a wide range of information sources to try to maintain as complete of a picture as possible of things that might impact you. The difficulty in this type of situation is deciding when it’s time to RTB, and how you’re going to do it. If you wait too long the situation may deteriorate quickly, increasing your risk; if you leave too early the situation mat resolve itself and you’ve placed yourself in more danger when it wasn’t necessary. If you decide that things are going to keep getting worse but transportation services are still available you may be better off flying, driving or taking a bus or train as far as you can in the direction of home.
Your location when you decide to RTB will also impact how you implement your plan. If you’re in or near your lodging you should be able to quickly access everything you need to immediately hit the road. If you’re in a rental car 10 miles away from your hotel in the direction of your RTB route you’d probably be better off going with what you have in your trunk (hopefully your packed bug-out bag and 5L of water) instead of adding a 20-mile round trip to go to your room and come back.
The weather can also play a role in the timing of your departure. If an event occurs while you’re stuck in your hotel room during a major blizzard or hurricane you’d probably be better off waiting for it to clear up before heading out. You should always know what the next few day’s weather will be like so you can make an informed decision.
Day or Night Travel
One aspect of RTB travel you’ll need to consider is whether you should travel during the day or night. During the day you’ll obviously be able to see a lot farther, and the weather may be warmer in cold climates. You’ll also be able to better see and avoid obstacles, especially if you’re on a bike or watercraft. However, you’re a lot more likely to encounter a lot more people, many of whom may want what you have (food, water, warm clothing, weapons, etc.).
Traveling at night will reduce the number of interactions with other people, and may make the most sense in hotter environments, but you’ll have to move slower to avoid accidents and you’re a lot more likely to walk up to an obstacle you couldn’t see from a distance and have to backtrack. If you do want to consider moving at night I recommend checking on the phases of the moon and the projected weather for the areas you’ll be moving through, since clear skies with a reasonable amount of moonlight or even starlight can make travel at night a lot more practical, especially through open areas. If you’ve never been out in the woods on a pitch black cloudy moonless night you can’t really understand what true darkness is like, and trying to travel through conditions like that without a light source would be courting disaster.
If you do choose to travel at night you should plan on situations where there’s little or no available natural light. You’ll want to use a flashlight, but keep in mind that will tend to make you visible to other folks that may be out and about. A headlamp with firefly/red modes like the Nitecore NU25 can provide plenty of light for walking once your eyes are adjusted, or you can clip a right-angle light like the Streamlight Sidewinder to the front of your belt. I believe having the light lower on your body will reduce the likelihood of you being spotted from further away, but I only have anecdotal evidence from my hiking trips to back that up.
The obvious step up from a flashlight for night travel is a night-vision device, but they tend to be bulky and expensive, and they go through batteries pretty quickly. I bought one of the Bushnell Equinox Z 3×30 Gen 1 devices a while back, and while it’s good for night viewing when standing still it’s not very good if you’re trying to move. Night vision is definitely one area where you get what you pay for, and a Gen 3 night vision device will cost several thousand dollars. However, even a less expensive Gen 1 device will allow you to occasionally stop and scope out the route ahead at a distance while using your low-power flashlight for obstacle avoidance.
(To be continued tomorrow, as part of a five-part series.)