Shopping in the Dark, by A.D.G.

[Editor’s Introductory Note: I didn’t write the following article. It was written by reader A.D.G. Normally I wouldn’t run an article that discusses loathsome behavior. Stealing from your employer or from your fellow employees isn’t conscionable. But I decided to post it because it underscores the importance of keeping a well-stocked Get Home Bag (GHB) ready whenever you are away from home. Do not put yourself in a position where you must loot to survive. – J.W.R.]

I found myself at the office during a power failure and I started thinking about what to do in an emergency situation if I was at work and for some reason without my GHB.  Of course the best option would be to already have the bag constructed, but in the event that this was not possible, I began scouting around for items to gather should the need arise for me to construct a GHB on the fly and then get out of there. 

As a side note, I work in a corporate office building for a medium sized employer on the edge of a big, but not Chicago or Atlanta sized city.  While the power was out and I had some time to think thanks to my computer being out, I compiled a list of items to get and how to gauge their effectiveness.  As an employee it may be helpful to find out what your company’s emergency plan is and what resources the company has available to respond to emergencies.  Even if you don’t have to start collecting these resources to get out quickly, knowing where the AED and other first aid supplies are located may save one of your co-workers lives.  Also, if you are familiar with your office plan, you will know how people will be instructed to react in an emergency and be able to plan your collections accordingly.

I would start by securing some provisions for the trip home in our cafeteria.  We have a great salad bar that contains walnuts, craisins, sunflower seeds, cracker packets, raisins, croutons, those little crunchy things and the usual lettuce, cheese, bacon bits and dressing.  The kitchen has several storage containers, and our supply closet contains some ziploc bags, which is where I would begin my storage.  In a real disaster I expect the kitchen to be abandoned as individuals are either in the designated storm area or trying to get out.  I would create a trail mix out of the dry items in one bag and then create a bag of the more perishable items, which I would try to eat first.  I would also try to grab a chef knife, small pot, and plenty of sugar, salt, pepper and other compact calories.  I would grab as many of the breakfast bars as possible and hopefully have enough to get me home.  If the aluminum foil were accessible, I would pack some along to help cook and even keep me warm in an emergency.  For water, we have several sources throughout the building.  One of the least considered sources is our icemakers throughout our kitchens located on each floor.  While the pipes may be broken and the bottles may disappear, the ice maker will stay frozen for a few hours and if everything melts it should still hold some residual water.  Fortunately, the cafeteria has bottled water, and most of our conference rooms have fridges stocked with bottles of water.  I would grab as many of these as I thought I could carry and proceed back to my office.  To carry all of these items, typically have a good sized briefcase with a shoulder strap, alternatively I would go to the workout room and look for a gym bag of some sort.

After securing food I would try to find better-suited clothes to get home in.  We have a workout room with open lockers.  I would prioritize finding spare socks and grab a towel while I was down there.  If I found suitable shoes and workout type clothes, I would try to change into these for my trip home and leave my suit behind.  I would then grab the first aid kit off the wall and go on to scout out more provisions.  Many of our offices have candy dishes on the desks.  I would try to get the candy for trade or extra calories and move on to the break room.  We have several coffee pots and if I was not able to get a pot out of the kitchen, one of these would work though the plastic handle might melt off.  For cordage, Ethernet cables not only contain a thin string but also have 8 individual small wires, which can nicely bind things together.  I would grab some paperclips to fashion fishhooks (it is tricky but still possible to catch a fish on one) and some binder clips to function as clamps.  Around my office I would also try to gather my thermos, my wire coat hanger that stays on my door, my letter opener (which is very sharp) and the tea bags I keep in my desk.  Unfortunately we don’t have cans of coffee grinds (ours come in a plastic pouch) but if we did I would take the can to cook and store things in.  Hopefully a few packs of our plastic coffee would give me the extra energy to make it home, even if I ended up eating it.

If your office doesn’t have a cafeteria, consider raiding departmental fridges and freezers for provisions (just be careful because I have found some nasty things when cleaning out one of our fridges).  Additionally, try to notice who always seems to have snacks and make a note of where their desk is.  When they leave they might just leave their snacks behind.  If this doesn’t work, you may have to raid the vending machine.  If the power is out, you will likely have to smash and grab what you need, but be careful not to cut your arms on the glass in the front.  If the machines have cages, it may not be worth the time and energy to try and break through them to get to the food before leaving.

On to our janitor’s closet, a mop handle makes a suitable walking stick / spear to help you keep your footing and fend off any dogs you may encounter on the way home.  Some of our cleaner is just chlorine bleach.  I would try to get a small container of this (perhaps in a clearly labeled water bottle) to purify water as I traveled.  Further, some of our cleaner is denatured alcohol diluted down.  This would make a great antiseptic and fire starter should the need arise.  I may also be able to get a utility knife and some extra garbage bags for creating a shelter, a poncho and for keeping my stuff dry.  As I made my way down the hall, I may be able to grab one of our few emergency flashlights, but these would likely be gone in the event of a power outage.  Hopefully I cold grab the hose off of the fire extinguisher, but if not, I would try to stop by our maintenance shop before leaving.  This area is usually secured, but if it were accessible, I could add a crowbar, flashlight, batteries, tape, pliers (the tool you can’t make in the wild), and perhaps even a radio. 

I try to notice who has access to certain rooms and who has keys to access our building.  Many of our office keys are sitting in a filing cabinet that is unlocked or on a shelf near the door.  This may be convenient but it is not very secure.  If you need to get into a room, look around for a public bookcase, small side table or filing cabinet and then look around to see if there is a key.  The maintenance, IT, and janitorial closets can often be a good source of keys, as can manager and secretary desks.  Look around and you may be able to avoid having to break in to a room.

The bathroom is the final destination on my supply expedition, where I would try to get at least one roll of white gold, toilet paper that is.  Other items I would find useful are: the hand sanitizer they keep in there, hand lotion and possibly even the smaller trash bags they store the trash can.  While these are not top priorities, white gold can in fact be traded for much more expensive items, as I found out in the Rockies when an extra roll got me a small maglite.  If your restroom has any sort of powder, this can be invaluable to control sweat and the chafing that comes along with it.
When you make the decision to go on your supply run within your office, you should be certain that you need to do so.  If there is just a little severe weather and you’ll be back at work in the morning, it is probably best not to get fired.  The above plans are for a major incident where I don’t plan on coming back to work for a while, if at all.  If there is a collapse, however, make your run quickly and get out.  Even if you already have a GHB, consider looking around your office for additional provisions you my need and prioritize getting them before leaving.  A few minutes spent preparing before your journey could provide the tools you need to survive.