With severe winter weather dominating the headlines in recent weeks, and with no letup in sight despite recent groundhog prognostications, it’s best to know how to protect yourself should things get I.C.E.D. over.
Intel – Awareness is key in any emergency. Know what might happen, when and where and what to do.
Communication – Be able to get the word out if you need help.
Emergency Personnel – They might not be able to get you. The best thing you can do is not need them.
Driving – It’s bet not to drive in severe winter weather, but if you do, make sure you’re ready.
w Pay attention to the weather. Know when and where it might snow or ice. Ask your employer to do the same and let people leave early or stay home altogether.
w Don’t rely on electronics. Sure, “there’s an app for that,” but since we can’t rely on cell towers being functional or you to conveniently experience trouble only when you have good cell reception, then it’s best you have some hardcopy backups of a few things like a map of where you travel in case you get stranded and have to set out on foot.
w Speaking of setting out on foot, know how to read a map and use a compass.
w If you get stuck, you need to be able to summon help, and catch their attention when they come by. You might be snowed in, either in your vehicle or residence (where address #s might not be visible) and you need to let help know where you are. These items can and should be duplicated between vehicle and residence.
w Cell phone – Always keep a phone charger in your car that plugs into the accessory (cigarette lighter) port. Nothing worse than a dead cell phone in an emergency, and if you’re at home and the power goes out, you can go out to your car to charge your phone. Same rule applies for laptop computers; get a vehicle charger for them.
w Light – flashlights and spotlights (vehicle mainly), “chemlite” glow sticks; all of these can be used to see when there’s no power and to signal for help. Notice we don’t list any flame-based light sources. Those are better left off of immediate emergency kit lists since you have no way of knowing in an immediate situation if there are gas leaks, etc., or conditions in which flame is dangerous. Also, using flame inside an enclosed car is not only dangerous from a fire standpoint, it also uses up breathable air.
w Other visual signals – fluorescent pink spray paint can be used to make a sign on a snow bank either at your vehicle or in front of your house. So can brightly colored towels. It’s better to be able to tell the 911 operator “I’ll be the guy out waving a large orange towel!” than it is to tell them “I’m one of 20 stranded vehicles near the mile marker so just keep looking!”
w Pen and paper – if you leave your vehicle, leave a note listing day, date, time, intended destination, and your cell phone number for road crews and emergency responders. You don’t want them wasting time searching for the driver of a car found in a ditch after sliding off the road, and if you do go missing, you’ll want rescuers to have a clue about when you left and where you were going. Even if they’re only there to tow your car when the ice melts, it’s easier for them to contact you if you left a note than by them putting your info down and trying to find you by your tag number later. You can also leave a note in grease pencil inside your front and rear windshields.
w In periods of heavy snow and ice, it’s important to guard your health for many reasons, but one in particular: the rescue crews can’t come get you. You’ll want them to and they’ll want to, but road conditions may make it impossible. The best thing to do in any emergency is to not need the services of emergency / rescue personnel.
w Eat! For two reasons: One, cold weather uses up a lot of your body’s energy because your body is trying to maintain your body temperature. Two, being full causes you to be restful, which is a good thing for the kids who might be snowed-in and cooped up in the house.
w Entertain the kids. Since rescue personnel can’t necessarily come get you, it’s best that the kids not get restless and injure themselves.
w Rest. If you don’t absolutely have to, don’t bother shoveling the driveway or walkway. Some areas require that you do, but if you really don’t have to then don’t. This activity is a major trigger for heart attacks every year.
w Don’t travel if you don’t have to!
w Leave work early as you can. – Employers should keep an eye on the weather, mindful of their employees’ safety.
w If you’re on a road trip, pay attention to the weather, and yes, there’s an app for that! Also watch truckers. If you hear of snow up ahead and see all the 18-wheelers pulling off at truck stops, maybe they know something you don’t. Better to look for lodging than emergency assistance.
w Too many news headlines during winter weather occur because of wrecks on the roadways, or people getting stranded in ice or snow and attempting to walk out of the area. Also, if you’re involved in a wreck on an icy road, stay in your car as long as possible. Other cars might come along and add to the pileup or you might slip and fall on the same icy road that caused the wreck.
w In addition to the normal road safety gear that should live in your vehicle year-round, your winter weather driving survival kit should contain:
w Clothing – carry an extra jacket, over-pants, boots, socks, gloves (preferably mittens since they’re warmer), winter hat or head covering (all clothing should be brightly colored), sunglasses, chapstick, moisturizing lotion, wick-based pocket warmers, and a blanket. Repeat this for each person that regularly rides in your vehicle.
w Food – protein bars, peanut butter and crackers, water (2/3 full containers in case of freezing), instant coffee, plug-in immersion heater, maybe some MREs with the heater pack or the “5 Minute Chef” kits with heater pack. Note: If you’re stranded and need water, you can melt snow in a cup sitting on top of your car’s engine. You can also heat food this way.
w Cold weather car gear: chains for the tires, a bag or two of coarse sand for traction (NO kitty litter!), spotlight for signaling, “Jumpstart” if you can afford it, hand-cranked winch, rope, medium shovel.
w Note- If you’re stranded in your vehicle, you’ll need heat. Provided you followed all our other advice, your gas tank is nearly full so that’s no problem. For heat while stranded, make sure there’s no snow blocking your exhaust pipe and run your engine 10 or 15 minutes out of every hour, but no more, and be sure to open a door or window a few minutes each hour for fresh air. You don’t want carbon monoxide building in or around your vehicle, and you don’t want to cause engine damage by idling for too long.
w Maps – Since one of your options if you do get stranded is to walk out of the area (again, only do this if you absolutely have to) you’ll need to know where you are and where you’re going. Sure, there’s an app for that, but in emergencies, redundancy is our friend and since we can’t guarantee cell towers are going to be working, or that you’ll conveniently get stranded in an area with good cell reception, you need to have a paper map of the areas you travel kept in your kit. And, you’ll need a compass, especially if you’re in an area you’re not familiar with.
w And by the way, all the personal items in your winter weather driving survival kit (not the items used on your vehicle) should be stored in a backpack so you can take them with you if you absolutely have to try to walk away on your own.