Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Preparedness I: Vehicle Travel in Winter Weather

 I’d like to start each of the preparedness articles with a small note. We are preppers; not the insane end-of-the-world kind, but the kind that never leave home with a go pack. These articles are more about preparing to take care of yourself in small emergencies but I will always write with the assumption that there is no help on the way. It’s easier when you’re prepared to handle as much as possible yourself, and I’ll have some anecdotes as to why. Also, I will not be walking you through tire changing, but just reminding you that it’s a important skill to learn
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Jump to the Bottom for instructional information!
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 It’s no secret that many of us dread winter conventions simply because of spontaneous magical blizzards and ice possibly stranding us on the road, at a hotel, or just somewhere not home. There are a lot of things to consider, and a lot of things to prepare.

Emergency Car Kit
A vehicle kit is easy to build, and will solve 99% of problems. Also learn to use the tools rather than just buying them and tossing them in the car. Things like first aid kits will be covered in another article.

  • Car charger for phone
  • Car jack
  • Tire Iron
  • Food & Water – healthier snacks are better than junk food. If the temps are below freezing, you’ll want to take the water into your hotel/home so it won’t freeze and burst.
  • Jumper Cables – add an instruction card if you don’t know how to use them.
  • Hot Hands hot packs
  • Blanket
  • Flashlight
  • Book – help may take a while if you have to wait.
  • Knife or hand shovel – dig out mud, snow, ice.
  • Portable battery – can be found at Walmart for $45. Charge it up at home, use it to jump your vehicle (or charge your electronics).
  • Map of the state/area you’re traveling through.
  • Tow straps* if you have a truck! Help pull other people out.

Note: prepare like your phone will be useless. Know how to jump a car, change a tire, without having to Google it. You might be out of battery or have no signal.

Vehicle Maintenance & Assistance
Whoever is driving should be able to answer the questions:
  • Has the vehicle had an oil change recently?
  • Is there a spare tire in the car?
  • Does the vehicle have 4 wheel drive?
  • Do you know how to use the car kit?
  • Do you have roadside assistance?
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Also, know whether or not you’re prepared to help someone else. If you’re not ready or comfortable, there’s no obligation. But be firm about whether or not you can or will. If someone asks you for a jump, it’s probably a no brainer if you’ve got a running car and someone’s got the cables. But what if you witness an accident? Will you pull over to check on them? Will you call 911 while you drive past? Will you do nothing? There’s nothing wrong with doing nothing, just don’t regret whatever decision you make.
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Highway Patrol was roomed at my college dorm for two weeks to help with the winter relief (2007)
Relying on 911 or roadside assistance.
If your engine stalls or you get a flat, it’s easiest to call a tow truck or roadside assistance (which is totally worth it). You might wait a little while but it’s definitely the least complicated method of fixing a problem. I recommend you use it if you can. If there’s a more severe emergency (car slides off the road, accident on the ice) 911 should definitely be your go to even if you’re not hurt, the other person might be.

But did you know that there have been times when these services, including police and fire, just can’t make it to you?

Last winter (2013-2014) I was part of a fire department in Mid Missouri. Every time it iced, which was often, the number of accidents sky rocketed, not to mention other emergencies like homes not having heat and fires from people trying to warm themselves. One weekend where I was away at a convention, I pretty much lost contact with my husband and the entire fire department for two days because they were so busy. All available personnel and volunteers were running ragged, trying to help everyone that had been in a vehicle collision or didn’t have heat in the -40F weather.

If you called 911 and you weren’t seriously hurt or dying, you didn’t even make the pending list for emergency responders. Dispatch would tell you to call someone for a ride and that was it. And this went on for days. I remember driving home almost four days later and seeing dozens of cars in ditches that the tow trucks hadn’t even gotten around to yet. Don’t get trapped because you expected to get rescued.

Stranded on the road.
You are in your car and stuck. Maybe there’s a huge accident ahead of you, maybe it’s snowing too hard. Either way, you’re bunking for a while. If your car is running, you’re already in good shape. As long as that baby runs, you have heat.

Ask yourself:
  • How much gas do you have? How long will it heat you?
  • Is there snow outside? Is your tail pipe clear? GO CLEAR IT!
  • Do you have a car kit with a blanket, coat, snacks, water?
  • How long will it be until you can get back on that road?
  • Is anyone around you hurt or need medications? Do you have medication?
Your vehicle is safe until it stops running and it’s freezing outside. If that happens, you have to ask yourself if it’s safer to stay in your car, waiting for help, or if you need to get out and move. If you’re stuck in a city, there’s probably a restaurant, hotel, store or other shelter within walking distance that will offer you better protection from the elements than your car.

If you’re stuck on a highway or far from other shelters, it’s a pretty tough sell to leave your car. Are you ready to tough it out for hours, maybe even a day? Are you dressed appropriately, with things to keep you warm?
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 Stay safe, stay warm and be ready to dig yourself out of snow, push cars, and bunker somewhere warm for a while. Check back for additional information and new articles on preparedness.

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