UPDATE: The Office Preppers EDC

Canned stew with pull-tab
My blog post back in July 2013 (The office preppers EDC) described a small everyday-carry kit that could help office workers cope with emergencies. Since then, we’ve seen plenty of nasty winter storms and other events that would indicate this isn’t a bad idea.

These days I’m driving to visit out-of-the-city clients more often. Many manufacturing companies tend to like less-expensive locations such as Kemptville, Perth, and Smiths Falls. So, I’ve had to change my EDC accordingly.

LEFT: Campbell’s Chunky Chili is a meal ready-to-eat straight out of the can, no opener required. Amy’s vegan stews also have a tab top.

Of course, a Roadside Assistance Plan is a great idea, and most new cars come with one. Call CAA if you don’t have one.

The basics are still in my briefcase, and there’s the usual stuff in the car — jumper cables, blanket, tarp, small shovel, duct tape, a liter of engine oil, 12-volt tire pump, and a few hand tools.

Apparently they say in the military that “two is one, and one is none”, meaning it’s good to have redundancy. That’s why there’s also a 12-volt phone charger, another first aid kit, a second flashlight with spare batteries, and — since I have an amazing talent for getting lost — a well-stocked map case to back up the GPS. In the winter I keep winter boots, an old parka, a toque, and mittens in the trunk.

Some people like to have a small battery-operated radio, in case their car battery dies or they have to leave their car. Some mobile phones — like my trusty Blackberry — have a built-in FM radio, and these should work even if there is no cellular service. Note that radios in phones usually require your headphones to be plugged in for use as an antenna. If you want to stretch your phone battery, turn off the cellular, Wi-Fi and BlueTooth radios individually. “Airplane Mode” turns off the FM radio as well.

What about food & water?

The main difference is that these places aren’t really within walking distance of home. If the worst occurs, walking 80-100 km would take two days, and more in the winter. That means food and water are important. You can survive for three days without water, and three weeks without food, but there is great comfort in having water to drink in the summer and hot food in the winter.

Keeping food and water in your car over the long-term isn’t without its challenges. Bottled water is a problem in the winter since a full bottle can explode if it freezes. Packaged food can have a short shelf life, and repeated freezing/thawing results in food that isn’t very appetising and may not be healthy.

So, my solution is simple — a tote bag that I take with me and toss in the back seat. It holds my EDC kit, plus a reusable one-litre bottle of water, a spork, paper napkins, power bars, and a couple of cans of ready-to-eat stew. I take the tote bag back inside when I get home, and replace anything that has been consumed.

I choose to carry water, but some people like to have water purification tablets or a filter with them. BTW, if you fill your water bottle only three-quarters full, it will have room to expand and won’t explode if it freezes (in theory anyway).

Why stew?

Personally, I like ready-to-eat stews and soups, and they can be eaten cold right out of the can. Stew is more-or-less a complete meal and has lots of fluid for hydration.

Others might prefer military-style Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), but these are hard to find in stores. You can order them online by the box. The freeze-dried meals popular with hikers and campers are easy to find and lightweight, but need to be mixed with boiling water. Another alternative for a day trip is a bottle or two of Boost or Ensure.

Canned food might not be the healthiest choice, but we are only talking about occasional emergency use here. Cans have a long shelf live, often well over a year. Items with a pull-tab don’t even need a can opener. Ever tried opening a can with a Swiss Army knife? Sure, you can do it, but it isn’t what anyone would call convenient. “Road chefs” might be able to heat a can, at least somewhat, by setting it on your hot radiator (not while you’re driving!). Get lots of contact area between the can and the radiator.

BTW, you can use a metal can to boil water if you don’t have a pot or metal cup handy. Boiling water for 1 to 5 minutes will purify it by killing off the majority of bacteria and other micro-organisms in the water. It can also remove some chemicals by vaporizing them. Be careful not to burn yourself when handling a hot can!

However, boiling water will not remove solids, metals, or minerals. If you have a coffee filter with you, you can use it to strain water before boiling. Fold a couple of paper coffee filters flat, and tuck them away in a pocket of your gear bag — they can also be used as tinder and emergency face masks.

The other additions to the tote bag are a package of Starbucks VIA instant coffee, a mug, an immersion heater, a clean shirt, and a toothbrush. If stuck overnight, caffeine hounds will be more comfortable with a cup of coffee the next morning.

What do you keep in your car for emergencies? Comment below to let us know.

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    Market Metrics Inc. helps knowledge-based businesses with strategy, planning and innovation, and was founded in 2003 by Greg Graham, a seasoned marketing professional.

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