The recent floods in Calgary and Toronto made me think about what it would mean for people at work, or commuting to work, if a disaster were to occur here in Ottawa. And I realised that I’m often meeting with clients in unfamiliar buildings.
I don’t want to be an alarmist, and while the chances that anything like this will happen here are probably small, they aren’t zero. Most businesses tend to think of business continuity in terms of employees watching the weather report and deciding to work from home, rather than situations where lives are endangered — commuters being caught in a flash flood and having to abandon their cars, or office workers escaping a burning high-rise tower in the midst of a power outage. There were reports during Hurricane Sandy that New Yorkers were ditching their laptops and briefcases after they realized these items were making it even more difficult to get back home.
So, maybe a small “every-day-carry” (EDC) survival kit for office workers isn’t such a crazy idea. It might make the difference between struggling or being able to cope with an emergency. You can keep a few things in a desk drawer or, if you are often out and about, in your briefcase. That means your kit has to be small and light.
The purpose of my kit is help get me out of a building and back home. That might involve going back to the car and driving, taking a taxi, taking public transportation, or even walking home if the roads can’t be used. Plan B is to stay somewhere safe until help arrives (experts call this “sheltering in place”). It’s a sensible idea to keep an emergency kit in your car, and you can get some additional supplies from your car even if you can’t drive home.
Of course, I always have my phone with me. The charger, a powerbank, a Swiss Army knife, and a protein bar are in my briefcase. Everybody should keep a pair of “sensible shoes” at work — meaning something you can walk in. A pair of old sneakers are perfect.
After reviewing lots of web sites and YouTube videos, here’s what I came up with for my EDC to supplement these items. Packed up, the whole kit fits in a 9×12 envelope, is about one inch thick, and weighs about one pound. Instead of an envelope I prefer the heavy-duty plastic bags that banks use for coins; they have handles and could be used to carry water. Many experts recommend a backpack so you can carry your EDC kit, along with some spare clothing, while keeping your hands free.
- A small, bright, durable LED flashlight with a spare set of batteries. Check the batteries at least monthly.
- A pair of light-weight leather work gloves in case you need to clear a path by moving something sharp or hot.
- A space blanket to keep warm and dry, block the sun, or use the reflective surface to signal.
- A whistle to attract first responders. Whistles are louder than your voice and won’t get hoarse.
- A disposable surgical mask; these filter out 95% of bacteria, ash and perhaps larger smoke particles. You can also use drywall dust masks but they don’t pack flat.
- A chemical lightstick. These typically last for 12 hours, and can be used for marking a location or signalling for help. Their shelf life is a couple of years.
- About $15 in toonies, loonies and quarters; enough for a bottle of water and a snack from a vending machine, calls from a pay phone, or bus fare for you and a friend (wanna bet your Presto card won’t work in an emergency?).
- A city map to plot a course home. The free OC Transpo map covers the entire city, shows bus routes and — unlike a GPS or smart phone — doesn’t need batteries. Don’t forget to get a local map when travelling to another city.
- A few hand sanitizer wipes; thinner to pack than a bottle.
- A package of pocket Kleenex; in a pinch, it can double as toilet paper.
- A camper’s towel; I like the the tiny compressed ones that are formed into a little puck about 4 cm wide and 1 cm high. These can also be used for first aid and tinder.
- A travel tube of aspirin, with a few Benadryl tossed in for allergic reactions.
- Some 4×4-inch gauze bandages to stop bleeding from cuts.
- A laminated (water-resistant) business card for ID.
- Strike-anywhere matches in a water-proof container. I strongly recommend that you NEVER START A FIRE INDOORS but fire can be used for light, heat, and to boil water (you’ll need a metal container to boil water).
- A small ice scrapper in case the car is iced up. I found a small flat one at Eddie Bauer, but some people say credit cards work fine. Maybe experiment with an expired one!
Consider your specific needs. You might not need all of these items, or want to add others (water bottle? hard copy of emergency contact numbers? medication? first aid?). Some web sites recommend planning with your colleagues and buying things together to keep costs down; you can split a package of something among a few people.
Let me know what you put in your office EDC kit!