Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #2: A Flashlight

What is it: A flashlight (or torch) is a small, portable electric lamp powered by one or more batteries. For this particular list, I advocate carrying a small LED key chain flashlight. A slightly larger flashlight is appropriate for your go-bag, household emergency kit, and car, but on a daily basis, even a marginally larger “pocket”-sized flashlight may be too big to be convenient and harder to make habitual.

Photon II Micro-LightPersonally, I am partial to LRI’s (Laughing Rabbing Inc.) Photon II Micro-Light.  They cost about $10 and are each about the size of a quarter and weigh only 6.3 grams (less than ¼ of an ounce). They come in 10 different light beam colors for different purposes; the standard white beam is most useful for its general usefulness and luminosity. I also recommend a green or red beam for use at night if you have occasion to find it is desirable to preserve your night vision. They come with a long-lasting, replaceable lithium battery that provides at least 12 hours of light (and much more for some useful beam colors such as red).

The new Photon Freedom Micro-Light comes in a variety of fashionable casing covers colors, and has instant on-off, brightness control, and has three levels of strobe (slow beacon, medium beacon, fast flash) and an automatic S-O-S mode; and as with the Photon II, you can manually use the light with a signaling Morse code mode. I have ordered a few of these and expect to like them even more than the Photon II.

LRI Photon Micro-Lights are used by NASA astronauts, the US Secret Service, the US Military, law enforcement and search and rescue teams. Read some great testimonials on the emergency and everyday utility of the Photon Micro-Light and for other articles, reviews and other information about their whole product line, visit the Laughing Rabbit Inc. website.

I was first introduced to Photon Micro-Lights prior to the first Strong Angel exercise on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2000, where we evaluated them as part of a suite of new technologies being tested for their utility in sustainable settlements for humanitarian disasters – such as refugee camps (and for refugee camp workers). At the time, they were new and unproven technology – no one had ever heard of LED lights before. But their durability and longevity of battery life and luminosity was tested and proven at the exercise and they have been a part of my emergency kit ever since.

<Photon II Micro-Light on Key chainGet a bunch of them. Give one to each member of your family. Attach one to everyone’s main key chain so they will always have it with them. You can put another one into your wallet or purse, or briefcase or backpack that you usually carry. Most newer bags have rings or hooks intended to attach a set of keys to – this is the perfect spot to attach one of these LED flashlights. Even attach one to your regular coat as a zipper pull. Personally, I love flashlights and believe that you can never have enough.

Utility on a Daily Basis: I do use a flashlight on a regular if not daily basis. The house we are currently staying in does not have an external light and I often use the flashlight to find the keyhole to lock and unlock the door. Key chain lights were originally marketed so one could find where to put a car’s ignition key into. Looking for a lost remote under or behind a couch? Drop something under the table at a dimly lit restaurant? Under your desk at work? Today, I used my key chain flashlight to inspect the condition of a beam in our house that we are renovating. Like several other items on this list, I guarantee that once carrying a flashlight becomes habitual, you will find good opportunities to use it regularly and you will be glad that you have it with you. And these lights are so small and light that it will never be an inconvenience to have one with you.

Yes that is a whistlePersonal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? Yes, I can report that personally, I carry two of these lights with me on a daily basis – one with a white beam on a chain around my neck (more on that in a later posting) – and one with a green beam attached to my key chain with my house keys. As I don’t go out without my keys, a flashlight is always with me. It is practice and it can easily be yours as well.

Criticality after a disaster: There is nothing more useful in the aftermath of a disaster than a flashlight. Power and lights will go out following a major disaster – whether a natural disaster such as an earthquake, hurricane, flood, ice storm, or tornado – or a man made disaster, such as a fire, terrorist attack, civil conflict, war, or yes, a power failure. I guarantee it. In fact, the lights going out may be your first indication that something is wrong.

In more personal or local disasters, such as a car or other vehicular accident, you may find yourself in the dark, in a ditch, looking for a safe way out. You may run out of gas or your car may break down and you find that you have to walk along a dark road or highway. You could be in the subway underground which breaks down and you have to walk to the next station. You may have to walk down 50 or more flights of stairs to exit a skyscraper with the lights out. You are going to be glad to have a light with you for visibility and safety.

These small key chain LED flashlights are bright and can be seen from over a mile away. They are useful as signal lights to let someone know where you are and that you need help. In the open , they should be visible to search and rescue aircraft; or by urban search and rescue teams looking for survivors in collapsed buildings.

You never know how dark it is without lights until they all go out. I make it a practice to always have a flashlight easily accessible in the house so if the lights go out, I can find it easily in the dark. A few years ago, New York City and most of the northeast suffered a major power failure that lasted for a couple of days in some places. At the time, our family was living in an 8th floor apartment with an unobstructed southern view of New York harbor. This apartment got tons of ambient artificial light from streetlights, other buildings, and especially the docks on the Brooklyn, Staten Island and even New Jersey waterfront. There was so much artificial light pouring in through the windows that you could sit up and read in bed at night without the use of any lamps at all. But during the blackout, it got dark; so dark you could not see. And it took a while for us to find a flashlight and some candles. We weren’t prepared for how dark it would be without any lights on, and never having to learn our way around the apartment in the dark, or in very low light conditions, it was a struggle for us.

While this is more an object lesson for why you should have a flashlight easily accessible in the home (which you should!), what I wanted to emphasize here is that we are all used to there being a lot of ambient artificial light – especially in urban environments. We go out all the time at night, in the dark, without needing a flashlight to see. There are streetlights, houselights, store lights, security lights, lit signs, etc. But when the power goes out, all these lights go out as well.

And again, your go-bag will not be with you. When disaster strikes and you are not at home and you can’t get home, you are caught out without your go-bag. So you want to have a flashlight with you wherever you are. It may also help you get into your darkened house to retrieve your go-bag from your darkened closet.

============================================

The Living Prepared Scorecard:  LED Key Chain Flashlight

    Easily Carried: YESNot too heavy: YES

    Practical Purpose on a Daily basis: YES

    Critical Purpose when Disaster Strikes: YES

============================================

So, carry a flashlight with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared™.

Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #1: A Bag

[First note that I have organized the list alphabetically to avoid discussion of prioritization or ranks within the item list.]

What is it: By a “bag”, I mean an empty or spare bag that you have with you. (You know… a bag… to put things in). It has 100’s nay 1000’s of uses. And it should be empty when you leave home as the value and utility of an empty bag is directly proportional to just how empty it is. An empty bag, folded up and stowed, has maximum utility value, whereas one that is half-full when you leave home has much less value as a “spare”.

The best empty or spare bag to take with you is an “eco-tote” as I call them. These inexpensive, and lightweight bag are themselves usually made of a recyclable material, such as polypropylene or recycled cotton fibers, are increasingly sold almost everywhere as a green alternative to plastic bags.

Well-loved Staples eco-easy bag

My favorite is the “eco-easy” tote from Staples. It is HUGE and decently strong. Most of the ones sold in grocery stores for about a dollar are very small (and much smaller than the average plastic bag they are intended to replace). The Staples “eco-easy” tote only cost about $1 (on sale) or $1.50 (if not).

bn-bagAnother favorite of mine is the slightly smaller eco-tote from Barnes & Noble; it’s got that stylish New York black color and is also only about $1.50. Bags on the Run also sells decently sized eco-friendly bags in batches as low as 10. See http://www.bagsontherun.com/.

There are hundreds of alternatives out there. Pick one (or several) that matches your lifestyle and needs.

When empty, these eco-totes fold down to a very manageable size for fitting into a coat pocket or another bag (say if you carry a backpack, purse or briefcase with you anyway – throw an empty eco-tote in each and every one so you’ll always have one with you; leave them by the door so you can grab one on the way out). In warm shorts & t-shirt weather and climates, this becomes admittedly more troublesome…

landsend_packable_backpackAnother favorite type of bag is a packable backpack from Lands End. These are now available only in the Overstocks section, so these may not be available from this source for much longer, so I would grab one (or three) now in red at $19.99 while they last.  They also come in a packable tote and a packable duffel as well. I love the duffel and I grabbed one of those a while back – great to take olandsend_packable_backpack_packedn trips/vacations where you think you might come home with more stuff than you leave home with – they are now only available in pink, which may work for everyone. The totes are available in a bunch of colors, but I don’t think these totes have anything to offer over eco-totes and are a lot more expensive. Anyway, the best things about the packable backpack is they are truly lightweight, decently sized when open, small when folded up (only 6″Wx1″Dx6 1/2″H), easier to carry when open than a tote or a duffle, and strong enough not to rip when filled up with groceries, drinks or kids toys. Packable bags are also available from many camping and hiking suppliers.

Kiva Keychain BackpackKiva Keychain Backpack - FoldedI’m going to be evaluating the Kiva Keychain Backpack as an alternative to the Lands End one.  It is only about half the cost of the Lands End bag, but doesn’t look as durable to me.  I’ll report on these in a future post.

Utility on a Daily Basis: Bringing your own bags has become a great way of “Living Green” and helps make the practice of taking an empty bag with you when you leave home habitual. In urban living this works great as us City folk often set off on foot in the morning from home, go to work by public transportation, stop for groceries or sundries at a drug store, and run numerous other errands before returning to our homes at night. Having a bag with you is essential to this lifestyle and having an (additional) empty bag with you becomes so valuable you can’t imagine life before the empty bag.

Living in Brooklyn, I am in one of the select places in the country (if not the world) where people don’t take their cars with them wherever they go. But being originally from Massachusetts, I do have the experience of having to drive everywhere – even for a simple bagel, which never seems further than the closest corner here in Brooklyn – but I digress. It should be even easier for those who drive from home to point A to point B to point C to point D to… home again to find great utility in having an empty bag with them during the day.

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? I can report that personally, this practice has become very habitual for our whole family once the commitment was made. We bring a bag of eco-totes with us to the grocery store for our scheduled weekly household shopping – most of them eco-easy bags from Staples because of their HUGE size. Because they are so HUGE and decently strong, you can do a HUGE shopping and fit everything into about 8 bags.

Living in Brooklyn, we also run a lot of errands on foot on a daily basis – part of City living – so once the commitment was made to use an eco-tote as part of Living Green – it did become habitual to never leave the house without one.

On those rare days when I run out of the house without an empty bag with me, I usually regret it. Those days are becoming rarer and rarer, but one did occur only yesterday. I ran out in the morning to drop my daughter off at school, then needed to stop at both a drug store and grocery store on the way home to pick up some essentials that we had run out of. Alas, no bag. I ended up with four double-bagged bags (total eight!) plastic ones to carry the admittedly heavy items I purchased. I would have needed two eco-easy bags and having only one with me would have spared the use of four plastic bags. We still find utility in having a few plastic bags around the house, especially around the time it is to clean out the cat’s litterbox.

On the other hand, I have had less success in trying to take an empty packable backpack with me. One of my packable backpacks is used on a daily basis by our babysitter to carry along extra clothing for the kids, as well as drinks and snacks for the kids. Another was taken over by my wife, who loved it because it was so light. I have a third hidden away and take it with me only on longer trips away from home; mostly I do carry an eco-tote with me somewhere.

Criticality after a disaster: I think that the utility of carrying an empty bag with you when you leave home on a daily basis is unquestionable; and it should be considered no less critical following a disaster. As I said before, an empty bag has 100s if not 1000s of uses, and has maximum utility when empty. When a disaster strikes, whether in close proximity to you or not, and you have to respond in some way to it (whether it is to get yourself and your family to safety, to evacuate the place where you are, to not being able to return home), chances are you are going to find yourself wanting or needing or asked to take some of the stuff around you with you.

And your go-bag will not be with you. We will discuss go-bags and the contents of same in other posts. Basically, a go-bag is prepacked with all the stuff you want to take with you when a disaster strikes. It will include things like a flashlight, an emergency radio, a small first aid kit, (and an empty bag ;-> ). But we don’t carry our go-bags with us whenever we go out. It stays at home, easily accessible in a coat closet by the front door, for example. But if disaster strikes when you are not at home and you can’t get home, you are caught out without your go-bag. So what do you do? You scrounge. You might be able to find some of your go-bag items at your workplace, in your car, or even at a nearby store. If only you had something to put them in!!! Oh, that’s right – you do – you have an empty bag with you! Good thinking!

============================================

The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Bag

  • Easily Carried: YES
  • Not too heavy: YES
  • Practical Purpose on a Daily basis: YES
  • Critical Purpose when Disaster Strikes: YES

============================================

So, carry an empty bag with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared™.

Introduction to the Practical List of 10 Things You Should Never Leave Home Without

Top 10 lists are an expected and wholly unoriginal way to organize a lot of practical information. But they serve a purpose. I am not committed to maintaining a list of exactly ten – but I think there is great value to setting limits and it is as good a place to start as any. Certainly I allow that through the deliberative process that this list may be whittled down or, alternative, be expanded through demonstrated utility of an 11th or 12th item.

Setting limits on such exercises also helps ensure that ones go-bag does not become 100 lbs, keeps a focus on the truly essential, and generates some hard comparative thinking and debate, which tends to result in the best final product. For example, if the last decision to make is whether I take with me a bottle opener or a corkscrew, it may depend on whether I am a beer or wine drinker to see how it comes out. (Personally, I think a corkscrew is the first thing that should make this list – and one does make its way onto my personal list, as you’ll see. How can one call oneself prepared if unable to open a nice bottle of wine? In Central Africa in the early 90s, a French UNHCR field officer once showed me how to open a bottle of wine after removing the foil cap by gently tapping the bottom repeatedly against a tree; if you get the right rhythm going, the sloshing of the wine back and forth against the cork (assuming it is not dried out) eventually pushes the cork out just enough to pull it out with your fingers (just 1/8 of an inch will do if you have some decent fingernails). Although demonstrated to me successfully at the time, I have been unable to replicate the process ever since on the few occasions I have been totally caught out, perhaps due to my habitual nail biting or fear of breaking the bottle against the tree. Hacking off the top of the bottle with a decent kitchen or hunting knife and straining the wine through a cloth to filter out any glass shards serves the same purpose and has been replicated).

So with that introduction, let us examine the key assumptions of this exercise. The purpose of this list is to provide you with a list of items you should never leave home without, (excluding clothing, which is obvious and will be dealt with in a separate discussion). The items or things must be easily carried on your person, and not weigh you down. They have to serve a practical purpose to you on a daily basis, as well as an invaluable one during an emergency or disaster. This ensures that you will carry them with you every day and it will become habit to have them with you. If they are too heavy, or if you have to bring along a backpack with you wherever you go to carry them, you will not carry them with you every day. And if you don’t have them with you when disaster strikes, unscheduled and unpredictable, as always, you won’t be Living Prepared™.

Personally, I suffer from chronic lower back pain and can’t carry a lot of weight around with me on a daily basis, beyond my own, so that has helped me to refine this list somewhat over the past few months.

Over the next two weeks, I will introduce each item with a description of its utility and practicality on a daily basis, and essentiality to making you prepared for an emergency. I will also report on my own experiences in making this item a part of my daily wardrobe.

About half of this list probably falls in the obvious category and are things that you already carry with you already, but these all form the basis of Living Prepared™.

Welcome to Living Prepared

Welcome to Living Prepared, the blog of Globaliist Inc.’s President Mark Prutsalis.  In the coming months, I will be posting excerpts and advice to help everyone live prepared for disasters, and also keep you up to date on how I am doing myself at practicing what I preach.

The idea for this blog came from a project I am undertaking to write a personal emergency preparedness manual based on my experience and those of other experts.  When starting to compile lists such as “the 10 things you should never leave home without”, “essential go-bag checklists” and “emergency items to stock in the home” and other such nonsense, it struck me that a lot of the advice was not practical nor was  it something that I followed.

For example, how much bottled water and non-perishable food do I really have stored in the basement?  (None).  Do I really carry a flashlight with me every time I leave the house?  (Yes).  Why do the essential contents of my family of four’s (plus one cat) go-bag weigh over 100 pounds and won’t even fit in my SUV?  (I don’t know).  Is this kit packed today and ready to go?  (No).

Thus, the challenge… to revise, rewrite, and rethink personal emergency preparedness advice to make it practical and, at the same time, to live it and document that experience to validate that it is practical and that I do indeed practice what I preach.  I hope that the result of this project will be a better tome of emergency and disaster preparedness than otherwise would have been possible.

Comments, criticisms and discussion are welcome, and I will try to address any questions as well.

Mark Prutsalis