Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #8: Vehicle Escape Tool

ResQMeWhat is it: This is an interesting entry, as for me it is really for a single product – the ResQMe manufactured by NOV8 – a smaller version of their LifeHammer.  And it really has no purpose or utility on a daily basis, outside of the peace of mind it will bring you.

This little device will get you out of a car by doing two things: (1) slicing through your seat belt and (2) breaking a side window so you can get out of the vehicle.  Chances are, you will never ever need to use a ResQMe, but if you do, you’d better have one with you – that works – and that is easily accessible.

From their website: “ResQMeTM attaches to your keychain with a detachable clip. Pull the clip away from the product to reveal the cutter (blade). Hook over seatbelt and pull. To activate the window breaker, simply push the black head against a side window until the concealed spring-loaded spike releases and shatters window.”

It’s pretty easy to use.  I recommend testing the window breaker against a piece of scrap wood (if you don’t have access on a junkyard so you can try it out on real automotive glass) so you understand how it works and the force required to activate the spike.  You should note a pretty noticeable hole in the wood.  Be careful, as it will also put a pretty sizeable dent in your skin if you activate it against yourself or someone else.

Victorinox makes a “Rescue Tool” – that includes a glass breaker and a seat belt cutter, as well as a locking blade and some other nifty features, but it doesn’t include everything I want out of my Swiss Army Knife/multi-tool (see previous entry).  However, I’d love to be able to combine these two items (then you’d only have 9 items to bring with you) – but I have read that the Victorinox Rescue Tool is a sizeable item – not considered a “pocket knife” so may be better suited for a glove box or go bag.  It may be an option for you based on your own requirements for a multi-tool.  I’ll let you know after mine is delivered in a few days.

There are also a couple of models manufactured by Swiss Tech, for more money than the ResQMe, but the consumer reviews I have read about it on Amazon.com makes me want to steer clear of this ResQMe imitator.

And even if the Rescue Tool works out, there is no reason not to get a ResQMe for your keychain as well.  Redundancy is good.  And remembering that for items that you should never leave home without, they should be easily carried.  The ResQMe is keychain sized, and for me that makes it easy to carry and impossible to leave home without.

Utility on a Daily Basis: Not really.  Carried on a keychain, it can serve as the keychain itself.  But other than that, it doesn’t serve much purpose unless you find yourself needing to cut a lot of straps.  For the purpose it may serve you after an accident, however, I believe it is worth carrying with you at all times.

My Keys

My Keys with ResQMe (upper left)

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? Yes.  I carry a ResQMe as a part of my keychain.  You will note it in blue in my posting about keys.  It is always with me.

Criticality after a disaster: Most of the people who are fanatical about this product – including the manufacturers – are worried about being in a car that falls off a bridge or otherwise into the ocean or a river, or is caught in a flash flood.  And sure, it works for that and there are some cool videos on the ResQMe website with rescue workers using this tool to break windows on a submerged schoolbus.  That certainly pulls all the right heartstrings.  But for me, I think it just as likely to be needed in the event of a more conventional vehicular accident, where damage to the vehicle prevents you from unfastening your seatbelt and with the risk of fire – FIRE – making you want to make a quick exit from the vehicle.

As you will note from the video – after breaking the window, you will likely need to remove the broken glass, which if you don’t have anything to protect your hands, might lead to some cuts, but if you need to get out of the car quickly, that’s a small price to pay.

The LifeHammer serves the same purpose as the ResQMe – it has a seatbelt cutter and a hammer designed to break automotive side window glass.  (Windshields are coated with a coating that prevents them from shattering – thus never try to get out of a car that way – use the side or rear windows.  This is where the Victorinox Rescue Tool – with its glass saw – may have a place).  But a LifeHammer is too large to carry around with you everywhere.  Keep one in the glove box or other easily accessible storage compartment reachable from the driver’s seat.

Again, redundancy is a very good thing, especially in an emergency.  You may be travelling in someone else’s car, a taxi, or may be unable to open the glove box.  So having a ResQMe on your keychain improves the chances that you’ll have this lifesaving device when you need it.  The ResQMe comes in two- and three-packs and costs under $10 each.  Pick up a bunch and give them to everyone in your family and others that you care about.  They make great gifts.


The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Vehicle Escape Tool

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


So, carry a ResQMe Vehicle Escape Tool with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared.


Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #7: Swiss Army Knife

What is it: A Swiss Army Knife is a pocket-sized knife with multiple tools that are stored inside its handle.  This entry should probably rather be for a “multi-tool” which is a more generic description, as “Swiss Army Knife” is almost a name-brand; the official “Swiss Army” brands are produced by either Wenger or Victorinox.  Multi-tools such as those manufactured by Leatherman, Gerber, Spyderco, and others are totally acceptable alternatives for the purposes of this discussion.

A Swiss Army knife or multi-tool gives you the basic ability to fix and open a wide variety of things, without having to carry a tool box or tool belt around with you.  I’ve found hundreds of daily uses for mine and I don’t think they are only for techno-geeks who run around fixing things all the time.

Victorinox Swiss Army Champ

Victorinox Swiss Army Champ

I am now carrying a Victorinox Swiss Champ after years of having a Leatherman on my belt.  Having the almost full-sized pliers that the Leatherman-style multi-tools provide was attractive when they first came out and I got my first Leatherman.  But I must admit that I love the Swiss Champ; I use it every day and couldn’t live without it anymore.  I will go into all the tools it has and how I’ve found them useful on a daily basis below.

The Swiss Champ has about 20 stainless steel “blades” (plus a few plastic ones) and more than that number of uses.  As I count them, the tools include a (1) small knife blade; (2) a large knife blade; (3) metal saw with (4) metal file, (5) nail cleaner and (6) nail file; (7) wood saw; (8) fish scaler with (9) fish hook disgorger and (10) ruler (metric and English); (11) scissors; (12) pliers with (13) wire cutter and (14) wire crimping tool; (15) magnifying glass; (16) Phillips head screwdriver; (17) bottle opener with (18) large flat-head screwdriver and (19) wire stripper; (20) can opener with (21) small flat-head screwdriver; (22) reamer with (23) sewing eye; (24) hook; (25) fine flat-head screwdriver; (26) wood chisel; (27) corkscrew; (28) mini screwdriver; (29) tweezers; (30) plastic toothpick; (31) ballpoint pen; (32) key ring (lanyard ring) and finally a (33) pin – which I just found after looking for it for hours (it is stored within red plastic casing underneath the corkscrew).

Most of these tools are really useful as designed.  The pliers on the Swiss Champ are good only for holding in place small things – you can’t really put any torque into them to open a stuck bolt (as you can with a Leatherman). I wouldn’t want to try to start a fire with the sun and the tiny magnifying glass on the Swiss Champ, but maybe I’ll try this Spring and see if it is even possible! And if anyone can tell me how you can sew anything with the sewing eye, I would appreciate that!

Zermatt Belt Pouch

Zermatt Belt Pouch

I also got a belt-pouch for my Swiss Champ, which came with a honing steel, which seems a convenience if you nick up your blade when using it somewhere.  I have a more professional knife and blade sharpener in my emergency kit.

With my smartphone on one side and my Swiss Army knife on the other, I’ve got some extra bulk to carry on the belt.  But I find that these are both small enough to not show underneath a sport coat or suit jacket.  Coatless, the look may not work for you as well, but for me, it is a part of Living Prepared™, and being a practitioner, I can get away with it.  For others, your attaché, backpack, or computer bag may be a good place to carry your Swiss Army knife/multi-tool.

Utility on a Daily Basis: I use my Swiss Army knife on a daily basis; as I’ve said, so much so that I can’t imagine living without it anymore.  Just this morning, I used the scissors to cut the tag off a stuffed animal for my daughter – she hates tags on anything and I am constantly removing them from clothes and toys for her.  Yesterday, I recall using the small knife blade to cut open two boxes that had been delivered to the house.  I use the scissors, knife blades, and screwdrivers constantly, but have found uses for most of the other tools as well.  In December, I used the wood saw to remove some lower limbs from the Christmas tree we had bought such that it would better fit into the tree stand.  I’ve used the hook to pull an elastic waistband tie on a pair of pajamas that had retracted into the waist.  I also used the hook once to reconnect something else that I thought would never go back together.  (I honestly never thought I would use the hook but now find it has a ton of uses).  I have used the ballpoint pen to open a locked bathroom door; I have used the ruler to measure things; I used the magnifying glass last week to get the serial numbers off of a watch that needed repair under warrantee; I have used the tweezers to pull a splinter out of my foot; I have even used the toothpick to get some food out of my teeth.  And of course, the corkscrew has been used to open a bottle of wine or two when I couldn’t put my hands on one in the kitchen.

Certainly, most of these tools are often within easy reach in most people’s kitchen drawer or somewhere else in the house, but to have them all conveniently located in one tool, in one place (on my belt), is invaluable to me.  I think once you get used to carrying one around with you, you’ll agree with me.

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? Yes.  I do try.  I must admit to leaving my Swiss Army Knife home just last week as I was off to see the Sam Roberts Band play at the Bowery Ballroom and didn’t know whether they screened for anything that could be construed as a weapon like the airlines do.  They didn’t, but I left it home anyway that night.  When traveling by air, you can carry these multi-tools in your checked luggage but not on your person or carry-on bags, so for those traveling and bringing only carry-on luggage, we’ll need to find you a DHS-approved alternative.

Criticality after a disaster: The all-around utility of a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool is pretty obvious in the aftermath of a disaster.

But let me tell you about functions that were critical for me to have included in my tool, which led me to the Swiss Champ.

Most of all, I wanted a decent wood saw/serrated blade.  I wanted to be able to cut through the limb of a tree (a small one, anyway), or a plywood wall, if I had to.  Picture being trapped somewhere due to a building collapse, tree falling on the house, or other accident – and without carrying around the jaws of life with me, I wanted to have the ability – even if on a limited basis – to cut through something.  Similarly, the metal saw is pretty valuable to be able to do some limited cutting of metal conduit or pipes.

For getting at nutrition, a can opener, especially, is an essential piece of emergency gear and you’ll always have one with you if you carry a Swiss Army knife.  I recommend practicing opening actual cans with it from time to time, as it can be a bit trickier than standard kitchen tools to work your way around the lid successfully.  A bottle opener falls into the same category here (as does the corkscrew for me).

Of course, a sharp blade is useful for cutting through many things, though this is not a serious knife.  A locking blade is essential if you are to do any serious cutting with a knife, to avoid really messy accidents involving the loss of fingers or parts of fingers or sizeable chunks of fingers (accompanied by a lot of bleeding).  A Swiss Army knife blade is really good at cutting open boxes fastened with tape, string, or plastic bindings and that’s its primary purpose for me.  One thing I have learned that after disasters, whether you are responding to them or just surviving them, you are going to be opening a lot of boxes.  It’s an emergency, which by definition means that you are going to be reacting in ways and doing things and needing things which are not in daily use, in quantities that are not normal.  So those things that you need are going to be packaged in some fashion – whether it is emergency rations you store in your own basement, or relief supplies donated by the Red Cross to the shelter where you find yourself staying and/or volunteering.  You are going to need to open those packages and a Swiss Army knife excels at this task.

I’ve also sterilized the blades and used them to dig out deeply embedded splinters, but I wouldn’t want to gut a fish with it.   I also suppose that someone trained to do so could use a Swiss Army knife to perform a tracheotomy or other minor surgery in an emergency as we see on TV – but I am not trained to do so, so do not plan to use mine in this way; I also don’t plan to use the wood saw to cut my own leg off at the ankle if chained to a water pipe by some maniacal killer or otherwise perform amputations – but who knows?  Larger and longer serrated knives are an essential piece of emergency equipment more appropriate to all of these and many other tasks but these are better stored in your go bag or household emergency kit.  You don’t need to carry such a knife on a daily basis and never leave home without it.  (For me, this falls into the category of: if you need to carry a 7-inch serrated knife with you whenever you leave home, maybe you should consider moving somewhere else; same is true for weapons of any sort).

Finally, I wouldn’t want to be without a Phillips head and a flat head screwdriver… ever.  Things break, and access hatches to places where things break are often, if not usually, fastened with screws of some sort – whether it is something as simple as a light switch or as complex as a generator; the battery compartment of a kids’ toy or a radio.  I use the screwdrivers on my Swiss Champ more than any other tool on a daily basis; I can’t imagine it would be any different following a disaster.

There are a lot of great Swiss Army knife and multi-tool models out there – even ones geared towards the techno-geeks with lots of micro-tools for working on electronic devices.  My advice is to get one that is going to be useful to you to use but has the essentials that you are going to need after a disaster.

The bottom line is that you’re going to be able to get at things better with the proper tools and if you carry a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool, chances are you will have the right tool with you.


The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Swiss Army Knife

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


So, carry a Swiss Army Knife with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared™.

Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #6: Stainless Steel Drink Container

Stainless Steel Sealed Drink Containers

Stainless Steel Sealed Drink Containers

What is it: By a stainless steel drink container, I mean one of two things – either a truly non-spill hot drink container (a true thermos that closes with an airtight seal such that it doesn’t leak if turned upside down) or a water bottle – with a similarly watertight seal (flat cap or sport cap).

True stainless steel for several reasons: 1) it’s green (non-toxic, BPA free, reusable container); 2) thus, it keeps your liquids fresher, longer and safer; 3) it’s easy to clean and won’t retain taste/odors of previous contents; and 4) it’s unbreakable and durable.  And get true stainless steel – not aluminum containers, which contain internal liners that can break down over time.

I highly recommend Klean Kanteen for your stainless steel drink containers.  Their faq provides an excellent justification for the use of true stainless steel.  We’ve also found that the 27 oz. version is the perfect size for a full (750 ml) bottle of wine (or you can order their wine carafe (the only difference between their wine carafe and their 27 oz. bottle is the wine carafe is more expensive but it comes with a stainless steel flat cap that otherwise you have to buy for about $6 as an accessory).  We use the standard 27 oz. bottle to take such refreshment to outdoor concerts in Prospect Park during the summer where glass is not allowed.

Stainless double-walled, vacuum insulated Thermos hot drink container

Stainless double-walled, vacuum insulated Thermos hot drink container

For hot drink containers, I carry a Thermos vacuum insulated model with a pretty watertight top.

The purpose is two-fold – a) hydration – in the case when you carry water; or b) stimulation – for those who carried a higher-octane beverage (coffee or tea).  But the reason to have this container with you is hydration – you can always wash out a hot drink container and fill it with water – assuming it has a watertight/airtight seal – it becomes easy to carry with you.  Again, the primary purpose of having a stainless steel drink container with you is for water, which can save your life in an emergency.

Utility on a Daily Basis: It’s fairly common today for people to carry around a drink container with them – whether a hot liquid cup for coffee or tea – or a water bottle of sorts for water.  It has become acceptable to walk into stores, schools, classes, and business meetings with them.  And I think these “green” stainless steel water bottles have an additional cache that makes it okay to have one attached to your arm at all time.  As it has become socially acceptable to do so, I encourage you to do so.

You are, of course, free to carry your drink container in a backpack, attache, computer bag, or other tote that you bring with you (just not your empty bag!); they also slide into coat pockets pretty easily in a pinch.  But I think it is fine to equip one of your two hands with it if necessary.

You can’t be at your best if you are thirsty (or tired for that matter, if an insulated hot drink container is your preference).

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared™? Yes.  My liquid of choice is hot – black English Breakfast tea.  I never go anywhere without my Thermos hot drink mug filled with tea.  In warmer months or when I carry a bag/backpack with me, I usually bring a Klean Kanteen water bottle with me as well.  I don’t always have water with me, but I usually have a container I can rinse out and fill with water if needed.  It’s honestly not totally habitual yet to always carry water with me in warm weather, but I shall attempt to do so this summer and see if I can identify tips for making it easier.

Criticality after a disaster: Similar to an empty bag, water has 100s if not 1000s of uses.  It can be used to clean and sanitize, but what we are mostly concerned about is hydration in an emergency.  Having a container that can be filled with water, put in a bag for accessibility when you need it, and carried with you without fear of spillage, can extend the time you can go from point A to point B without having to stop.

Rwandan refugees waiting to cross Kagera river into Tanzania

Rwandan refugees waiting to cross Kagera river into Tanzania

Once upon a time, I set out on a sunny morning in Tanzania to take a pleasant stroll to the border with Rwanda to see where refugees were crossing the Kagera river border by canoe.  I carried with me only two liters of water that day (mostly due to weight) which was fairly hot, and pretty humid.

Local canoe carrying Rwandan refugees into Tanzania

Local canoe carrying Rwandan refugees into Tanzania

The 10-mile hike took me over a few sizeable hills, through mostly grassland, with little shade, and once within a mile or two of the river, became mucky swampland.  It was hard going.  Needless to say, it wasn’t enough water, and I finished my last drop at the river-bank at around 2 PM after rationing it all day.

Rwandan refugees arrive in Tanzania

Rwandan refugees arrive in Tanzania

I was able to make it to the nearest village by late afternoon and collapsed in a building the village used as a public meeting place.  I was pretty dehydrated by that time and could only ask the villagers if there was any water “here”, I said, pointing down at the ground.  “No water here,” they replied, and I sighed audibly, resigned to the fact that I was going to die.  “Fanta?” one man continued, offering me an orange soda.  I swapped a dollar for a Fanta and then was told that the village water point was outside about 200 meters away.  Somewhat refreshed, I was able to fill up my empty water bottles at the tap and make it back to my tent before dark.  True story.

The point is, well, first, that I never should have put myself in the situation of not having enough water with me for the trek that I was undertaking.  I was younger and that was an important learning experience.  What I learned is that you need to carry enough water with you to get you where you are going.  Having a container with you that can haul some water can help you to get where you are going after a disaster strikes.  That’s good enough for me.

Another true story:  In 1998 following a major earthquake, I found myself in Istanbul, Turkey, working around the clock – quite literally – to assist the Turkish Ministry of Health to sort out the flood of international donations of drugs, medical supplies and equipment donated from dozens of countries that was overwhelming their capacity to handle.

Setting up Commodity Tracking system in Istanbul warehouse

Setting up Commodity Tracking system in Istanbul warehouse

Their warehouses were overflowing and they could not sort through the donations in order to find the drugs and medical supplies needed by the earthquake victims.  The team I was leading was setting up a commodity tracking system for the Ministry of Health, organizing their warehouses, and setting up distribution system to get needed supplies to the hospitals operating in the disaster-affected area.

For the first three days I was in Turkey, I slept not at all, working all day conducting needs assessments and helping Ministry of Health staff in organizing warehouse spaces, and working all night with a group of techies in the US who were designing the commodity tracking system.  For the next week, I got no more than three or four hours of sleep as we deployed the system.

Now, I absolutely do not recommend this sleep schedule; getting adequate rest is essential for emergency responders to be at their best and I have on subsequent missions always set up shift schedules with my teams to ensure that everyone gets at least 8 hours off every day to recoup.

Anyway, this inhuman effort was possible, in my recollection, only by the endless supply of Turkish coffee – providing both stimulation (in terms of caffeine) and energy (in terms of sugar).  And that Turkish coffee was poured into my own insulated 20 oz. coffee mug, which I had brought with me as an essential piece of my emergency kit at the time.

So whether it is water or something more stimulating that you need to get by after a disaster strikes, a stainless steel sealed drink container will serve you well.


The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Stainless Steel Drink Container

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


So, carry a stainless steel drink container with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared.

Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #5: Smartphone

My Smartphone - Blackberry Curve

My Smartphone - Blackberry Curve

What is it: According to Wikipedia – a smartphone is “a mobile phone offering advanced capabilities beyond a typical mobile phone, often with PC-like functionality. There is no industry standard definition of a smartphone. For some, a smartphone is a phone that runs complete operating system software providing a standardized interface and platform for application developers. For others, a smartphone is simply a phone with advanced features like e-mail and Internet capabilities, and/or a full keyboard. In other words, it is a miniature computer that has phone capability.”

For the purposes of  Living Prepared, a smartphone must have at least four if not five features: 1) it must function as any mobile/cellular phone would, providing local, long-distance and international voice communications between its user and another phone number; 2) it should have the ability to send and receive (a) SMS text messages and (b) internet e-mail; 3) it should have the ability to access and browse websites on the internet; 4) it should have a built-in digital camera; and 5) it should ideally have GPS capabilities.  I’ll go through the criticality of each of these features below.

Smartphone in Belt-Clip Case

Smartphone in Belt-Clip Case

Keep your smartphone in a good case.  I use a Blackberry leather belt pouch, which works well for me.  You want to protect your phone from damage to its screen, being dropped, etc., so even if you keep it in your coat pocket, or purse, use at least a thin sheath to protect it.

Utility on a Daily Basis: Most of us who have them are already addicted to our smartphones.  Apple’s iPhone is the latest to send us in a new direction with touch screen functionality, which is now being copied by Blackberry and others.  As such an addict, I can’t imagine being without my e-mail when I go out.  As a consultant who works mostly from home, it allows me to be anywhere and everywhere all at the same time.

Being able to call, text and e-mail from just about anywhere is being common, and though there is admittedly a cost involved with such service, it is becoming more affordable for the masses.  Many people are foregoing their home land-lines in favor of their mobile phones as their primary means of communications.

A landline is a convenience, certainly, and always a good means of fixed communications because they often will work through an extended power outage where the wireless networks will fail as our batteries (and the UPS systems on their repeaters) run out of juice.

But in 2009, people expect you to be reachable.  And that means carrying a smartphone.

About a month ago, I was watching the movie “Run Lola Run”, a great 1998 German film about a woman who has to come up with 100,000 DM in 20 minutes to save her boyfriend Manni’s life.  She keeps failing, and she or he keeps dying, and time loops around again and she gets another chance to try again, until, on her third try, she succeeds in saving his life (and keeping the cash).

At one repeated point in this film, Manni is desperate to make a phone call, and borrows a phone card from a blind woman.  At other repeated points in the film, Lola is desperate to contact Manni but has no means of doing so other than to get to the place where he is within the 20 minutes (necessitating a lot of running).  All I could think of while watching this was “where are their cellphones?”

You could not make this film set today.  No 20-something couple in 2009 is ever out of voice and texting range of each other for more than 5 minutes.  But I digress… a little.

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? I think so.  I carry a Blackberry Curve with service provided by T-Mobile.  It does not have GPS capabilities (I’ll discuss more on this below), but I am considering upgrading.  I do have a GPS for my vehicle which can serve as a hand-held GPS if I should need one.  The GPS I have for my car – the Garmin NUVI 780 – is small enough to be carried and used as a hand-held device, if I need to use it that way.  It can also be programmed for off-road/walking/pedestrian routing.  It is a part of my vehicular emergency preparedness kit, so I always have access to it should I need it.  But I don’t carry it with me when I leave home.  It would be better to have a GPS capable smartphone.

I first started using Blackberries almost as soon as they were introduced publicly in 2001.  As part of the first Strong Angel exercise which I was involved with in 2000, the earliest RIM 2-way pagers were evaluated for their utility to send and receive text messages in an austere environment.  They performed well at Strong Angel.

The RIM Blackberry’s pin-to-pin communication capability, which does not rely on the local voice carrier network being up and running, proved invaluable to first responders at Ground Zero in New York City following 9/11, when it was the only communication network reliably running in lower Manhattan in the days immediately following the attack on the World Trade Center.

Criticality after a disaster:

So let’s go through the five requirements for your smartphone and see where they come in after a disaster:

1)  Voice communications:  Ideally, the voice networks are still working, or will eventually be restored, so being able to send and receive voice calls is going to be critical to organizing yourself and your family and keeping everyone safe and informed as to what is going on.

2a)  Text:  Voice networks will often be jammed following a disaster (despite what the carriers say and promise).  Experience shows that while voice circuits can be overloaded in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, text messages may often be able to still be sent.  SMS messages are carried on a different frequency and consume much less bandwidth than voice or internet communications.  These often get through when other means of communication fail.

I have experienced this myself many times.  When I was in Banda Aceh, Indonesia in the immediate aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami, I was regularly able to send text messages to the phones of other members of the Crisis Response Team or the UN agency staff we were working with, though placing a successful voice call was rare for several weeks.  We were able to communicate and coordinate our activities in this way.  We also used texting in Gujarat, India following the earthquake there in 2001.  So the next time all the lights go out and you want to call someone to see if they are okay – try texting instead.

2b)  e-mail:  Having e-mail available to you at all times can be very important.  People can send you directions or photos and you can send messages much longer and more detailed than you can in a text message.  You can also reach and be reached by anyone with an e-mail address.

3)  Internet:  Access to the internet is increasing useful in post-disaster environments, for access to publicly posted news reports, maps, weather forecasts, even blogs!  Having an internet enabled smartphone is going to give you access to this information, where available, and is going to be very valuable.

4)  Digital camera:  Having a digital camera as a part of your smartphone gives you one less thing to never leave home without – because otherwise, I’d want you to take a digital camera with you wherever you go, and that is not so practical.  With a digital camera, you can take and send pictures of yourself and where you are.  You can be of service by taking pictures of disaster damage that might be of use to emergency responders or news organizations.  (The photo of me in the snow wearing clear lensed glasses was self-taken with my Blackberry).

5)  GPS Capability:  GPS-enabled smartphones allow you to navigate (i.e. receive step-by-step driving or walking directions) to any place you need to go.  After a disaster, this may be someplace that you are unfamiliar with.  People carrying GPS capable smartphones can also be mutually tracked and located on a map (think of your kids) – which can be invaluable in an emergency to find lost or missing persons.

GPS capabilities are invaluable to emergency managers to better collect information about things (people, damaged infrastructure, shelters, etc.) in a way that they can use (i.e. on a map) to make good decisions.  Being able to geo-locate where a photograph was taken automatically adds a lot of value to those pictures.

I don’t have GPS capabilities on my Blackberry but in writing this entry, I am beginning to think that I should and probably will the next time I have to upgrade.  However, for the general public, I’m not sure that I am prepared to call this a requirement yet to turn in your current smartphone and get a GPS capable smartphone, but it will make you better prepared.  But do get a GPS capable smartphone the next time you need a new one.

I do believe that having a GPS for your vehicle is essential, and should you, as an individual, elect to carry a GPS-enabled smartphone and use it in your car to serve this purpose, all the better, but I like the bigger screens of the vehicular-GPS units.

I have a feeling I’m going to be writing a lot more on GPS in later posts.


The  Living Prepared Scorecard:  Smartphone

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


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

Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #4: Keys

What is it: Keys are used to open and secure locks – usually but not always on doors – to houses, apartments, offices – but also car ignitions, bike locks, desk drawers, lockers, etc.  Keys can also be electronic key cards or remote radio frequency push buttons (of the type to open car doors).

I don’t get as excited about keys as some of the other items on this list, admittedly, and my family and friends have never heard me rant and rave over the utility of keys – flashlights and empty bags maybe – but never keys.

Keys, especially when you have a lot of them, can be bulky, as the picture of my key ring(s) will attest and the challenge here is to have the ones you need with you at all times.  Especially when you have a few extra items attached to your key ring (such as a flashlight and that other blue device we’ll get to shortly).

Keep all your keys attached to one another – as it makes it less likely that you will leave behind the keys that you need with you that way.  So don’t keep your car keys detached from your office keys detached from your house keys.  Clip them all together.  You are much less likely to lose them this way.

The list of keys you should carry with you at all times includes all of the obvious ones – home, office, car, drawer locks, bike locks, anything that is locked that you might need to get into or get to in an emergency/after a disaster.

I would not include safety deposit box keys on this list – which should be stored somewhere more secure that you can get to as needed in a (personal) emergency – but usually not a disaster – as the type of items stored in a safety deposit box should not be anything you might need after a disaster and you might not be able to get to or into your bank after a disaster.

I also recommend carrying keys to anyplace that you might need to get into following an event that prevents you from returning home (and fetching those keys) – such as your family meeting point outside of your neighborhood or city of residence.  This might be a relative’s or family member’s home or a vacation home or other spot nearby that you have access to.

Utility on a Daily Basis: Keys are about as utilitarian as it gets.  And it is usually hard to go out without them, because if you don’t have them with you, you often find it hard to lock your door, start your car, etc., so you go back for them quickly.  We all use our keys on a daily basis, so I am not going to belabor this point.

My KeysPersonal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared™? Mostly.  For the past few months, our family has been living in a rental apartment while we do some renovations to our home.  I kept the keys for this apartment on a separated ring for a while (see photo under “flashlight”) as it seemed more convenient as sometimes when running out to the corner deli, I just needed these keys to get back in.  But then, wouldn’t you know it, while out, I decided I wanted to fetch something from the back of the car, and I didn’t have my car keys with me.  And I wasn’t Living Prepared.  So I’ve now put them all together (as shown).  But I also had to assess just what keys I was carrying.

Here’s a run-down of the keys I found on my key ring today:

  • House (2 keys for separate upstairs/downstairs locks)
  • Car (wireless/door alarm & ignition)
  • 2 Kryptonite bike locks (2 locks for 2 different bikes)
  • Family Vacation Home in Connecticut (Rally point #1)
  • Mother’s House in Massachusetts (Rally point #2)
  • Bike lock on roof rack of car
  • Rental Apartment (2 keys for inner/outer door) where we are staying here while our house is being renovated.
  • The Club steering wheel lock
  • 3 Unknown small lock keys
  • Duplicate house key for upstairs lock

This was a good exercise – I removed the last five keys from my key ring – as I no longer use the Club – in fact, I don’t even have it anymore; the small lock keys are pretty useless without the matching locks being in use; and a duplicate key serves no purpose on the same key ring.

What is missing from my key ring?  (1) the lock to my fireproof safe; while I normally keep this unlocked, the key for it should be on my key ring – I keep important documents in the safe – including my passport – so I should be able to lock and unlock it without having to look for the key; (2) keys to my mother-in-law’s apartment in New York which are not always left with her doorman.  She spends the winters in Florida and this is a logical in-city relocation place for our family.

Criticality after a disaster: The keys that are important to emphasize here are the keys to places that we don’t use every day, and that we might need after a disaster – such as keys to a relative’s house in the same or a nearby city – or located a safe distance away.

Our family emergency plan includes a strategy to relocate and meet at a shared family vacation home in Connecticut – about 100 miles from New York City – that we all know how to get to and get into – should something happen where it is not safe to stay in the City and we get separated.  Every family’s emergency plan should include a similar rally-point outside of your city of residence.  Both my wife and I carry a key to this place at all times so we can get in when we need to.

There are lots of foreseeable disasters which might force us to temporarily or permanently move out of our homes and seek shelter in another place.  Hurricanes regularly force temporary evacuations from the Carolinas, Florida, Louisiana and Texas; wildfires force residents of San Diego and Los Angeles to temporarily evacuate their homes; and after 9/11, residents of lower Manhattan had to temporarily evacuate their residences.

Not everyone is going to have access to a vacation or second home, but most of us do have immediate family members (parents, siblings or children) or close friends who live elsewhere.  Having a plan and mutual agreement to use each others homes as a rally point and evacuation location is smart.  It’s a lot better off than ending up in a shelter.

Having a key to this place with you when you need it is part of Living Prepared.

See, I was wrong, I can certainly preach about keys if given the opportunity and enough time to think about it.


The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Keys

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


So, carry your keys with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared.

Help Refugees in Kenya to Live Prepared

And now, for a public service announcement: I received the below appeal today from the Nothing But Nets charity, which supplies mosquito nets to Africa through the United Nations Foundation as part of the global fight against malaria. As we all do, I ignore most appeals that hit my inbox or my mailbox, and there is nothing wrong with that.  I normally make planned rather than spontaneous contributions to charities.

But having worked for UNHCR and UNICEF in Kenya, and having visited the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, this appeal spoke to me more personally. Nothing But Nets is one of the few international charities that I regularly contribute to, as I’m afraid that my time working for such esteemed organizations has left me a little cynical. But this is a great charity and a really cost-effective contribution – mosquito nets do indeed save lives.

I’ve spent a lot of time in malarial-endemic countries, gulped many a dose of doxycycline and methloquine, doused myself in gallons of DEET, worn long-sleeves, long-pants, and socks through 140 degree days and nights, and drank many a gin-and-tonic.  And I would never ever think of falling asleep unless it was under a mosquito net.  It’s actually baffling to me that anyone would do so, but many have no choice.  That’s just a fact.  And I knew that I was always a decent hospital and dose of fansidar away from getting rid of malaria if I did contract it.  The refugees from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, and other countries at the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps do not have these options.  But for $10, you can give a refugee child a mosquito net, and might just save his or her life.

The great writer Stephen King recently wrote in his New Year’s essay for Entertainment Weekly that he planned to give this year – dollar for dollar – to charity – what he spends on movies and music.  Here’s an outtake (You can read the whole article on EW’s website):

Last, I wish that every appreciator of the American pop cult — and I count myself very much in that number — will remember that books, music, movies, and videogames are important…but not all-important. There are millions of people in the world who are more concerned with getting their hands on enough to eat than they are with whether or not they’ll be able to score a new-generation Kindle or Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for their Nintendo. I know that all the fight-hunger, work-for-peace Bono blah-blah can get a little old, but none of the bad stuff is going away soon. So in 2009, I’m going to contribute a buck to some useful charity like Save the Children or Physicians for Social Responsibility for every one I spend on movies, DVDs, or iTunes downloads.

I thought that this was a great pledge for anyone to make and I’m sure the King of Pop would agree that not dying of malaria is a worthy cause as well, so I am conscious-clear quoting him on this.  (And for the record, I agree that Save the Children and Physicians for Social Responsibility are perfectly deserving charities).

The following is the appeal from Nothing But Nets:

Dear Friend,

nbn_kenya_email_imageAs you know, we’ve been working with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) over the last few months to send bed nets to African refugees to protect this vulnerable population from malaria. You may have even sent a net and saved a life yourself.

In just two days I’ll be in Dadaab, a Kenyan refugee camp with one of the highest rates of malaria deaths. With the rainy season is fast approaching and we are still a few nets short of ensuring all 273,000 refugees in Kenya are covered.

Will you help us cover every refugee in Kenya by making a donation today?

Be sure to visit NothingButNets.net/Kenya for more information on our efforts in Kenya and how your donations can save the lives of refugees.

I will be sure to send photos and stories from my trip – thank you!

Adrianna Logalbo
Deputy Director, Nothing But Nets

Anyway, while this admittedly has nothing to do with your own personal disaster preparedness, if you take a very long-term return on investment perspective, you could think of this more of as a “Pay It Forward” or “What Goes Around, Comes Around” moment on Living Prepared.  By contributing to this effort, for the average cost of a iTunes album download, you can help someone in Africa to live prepared.

Thanks for your consideration.

Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #3: Glasses (as in Sunglasses)

My Favorite Tortoiseshell Sunglasses

My Favorite Tortoiseshell Sunglasses

What is it: Protection from the sun (especially) and elements (generally) for your eyes.  My eyes are particularly light sensitive and I wear sunglasses even on overcast days.   To be practical, the frames and lenses should be large enough to cover and protect your eyes from direct sunlight, wind and debris.  Most if not all sunglasses these days provide for total UV protection.

I recommend plastic or other non-metal frames.  Metal frames may be stylish, but they are not practical.  Metal conducts and retains heat (and therefore cold as well), so in hot weather and in direct sun they can heat up such that it is uncomfortable to wear them, and in cold weather, they can similarly become so frigid as to make them unbearable and can make your head ache.

Metal frames also have the tendency to bend out of shape and once bent, thereafter look awkward on ones face.  If you sit on your metal framed sunglasses, you will spend (or should I say waste) hours trying to bend them back into shape, but they will never look right again.  If you sit on your plastic framed sunglasses, they will either break – forcing you to move on to your next pair without delay – or they will survive and still look great on you.

LL Bean Tortoiseshell Sunglasses

2008 LL Bean Tortoiseshell Sunglasses

Personally, I prefer a nice large tortoise-shell frame.   At the beginning of each spring, I’ll buy at least three or four pair – a couple of nice ones and a couple of cheaper ones from a drug store – to last the year.  I’ll keep one in my car (as a backup); one in my bag.  My favorites come from LL Bean.  They are not available right now online so I can’t provide a posting but they should be easy enough to find once spring rolls around and they carry more stock of summer items.  [What am I, nuts – I was wrong – here is the link]

Another kind to consider carrying is glasses with clear lenses.  I carry a pair in my backpack, which is often, though not always with me, admittedly.  They serve the same purpose as sunglasses – they provide 100% UV protection and they shield my eyes from wind and debris, but are more practical to wear on overcast days than sunglasses – in particular during the snow.

Snow is a great example of typical non-toxic airborne debris that is desirable to keep out of your eyes.  Wind-driven snow will drift around, upwards and into your face and eyes – during a significant snowfall, it can be quite difficult to see of the wind is blowing at all from all the snow flying in your eyes.  But a decent pair of glasses with clear lenses will help resolve this problem.  In fact, I am going out right now, in the snow, and will be wearing them.  Very practical.

Lowe's Clear Polarized Lenses

Lowe's Clear Polarized Lenses

I got mine from Lowe’s.  These are professional safety glasses with impact-resistant frames and polycarbonate lenses intended for use in construction site environments to protect the eye from sawdust, wood chips and other pieces of airborne or flying debris.

Cycling and other sport sunglasses often come with interchangeable lenses – including a yellow one for high-contrast and a clear one for low-light use.  These are often also impact resistant and are a great solution if you find ones that you would wear as an everyday pair of sunglasses as they offer full UV-protection and are unusually well-vented to prevent them from fogging up.  (This is admittedly a problem with my favorite LL Bean glasses – though they get the design a little better each year).  Most, however, look like you need to be on a bike or otherwise running to be wearing them.

For those who already wear corrective lenses, photochromatic lenses would be a great choice – the new ones go totally clear in low light conditions – and for those who wear contacts, having a pair of corrective glasses with you is always essential as a backup.

There are some great articles about eyeglasses and sunglasses on the All About Vision web site.

LL Bean and Fossil Glass Cases

LL Bean and Fossil Glass Cases

Having a good glass case to carry with you (or to keep in your briefcase, attaché or backpack) will help protect your glasses when you are not wearing them.  LL Bean sells great cases for only $9.50.   But each pair you buy from them also comes with a case.  These are sturdy and mostly uncrushable, and can also serve a variety of purposes.  I’ve also picked up a few cases from Fossil.  Their outlet stores are a great source for inexpensive but stylish and practical sunglasses, as well as these cases.  The Fossil sport case is $10, not quite as big as the LL Bean case, and does not come with a cleaning cloth, so I think the LL Bean case is the first and best choice here.

Utility on a Daily Basis: Sunglasses serve an important purpose in protecting your eyes from harmful UVB radiation.  And as with your skin, UVB radiation is not absorbed by cloud cover, so you should be protecting your eyes even on a cloudy day.  On sunny days, having sunglasses helps us to see better, cuts down on glare and blinding reflections, especially around water, snow or reflective glass on buildings in urban environments.  When driving, they are almost essential.  For those living in higher altitudes, where UV radiation is stronger, wearing sunglasses on a daily basis should already be habitual.

And keep in mind that conditions change.  Even if it is dark and cloudy and raining when you leave the house in the morning, by the afternoon, it may be sunny and bright, so bring along your sunglasses even on rainy days.

Wearing Clear Lenses during Snow - Park Slope Brooklyn 02-03-09

Wearing Clear Lenses during Snow - Park Slope Brooklyn 02-03-09

In snowy conditions, I have found that glasses with clear lenses have great utility in helping you to see.  Personally, I am not willing to go so far as to advocate that everyone carry both a pair of sunglasses and a pair of glasses with clear lenses them whenever they leave the house, as this list is supposed to be both practical and achievable, but if it works for you to do so, you will be better prepared.  And on snowy days like today, glasses with clear lenses can keep the snow out of your eyes while providing them with 100% UVB protection.

Most of us carry a (non-empty) bag of some sort with us in any event – whether a backpack, attache, purse or briefcase, which is a good spot for your glass case and perhaps extra pair of glasses with clear lenses.  But you’ve always got one spot for your glasses with you at all times – and that’s on your face.

For those who wear corrective glasses, you are already protected, but consider always carrying a backup with you as if your only pair of glasses is lost or damaged, you may find yourself disadvantaged and unable to see.

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? Absolutely!  Even before committing to Living Prepared™, I rarely if ever went out without a pair of sunglasses.  And now, it has become so habitual that I usually forget I’ve got my glasses perched on the top of the brim of my even-present baseball hat.  This has become almost a fashion statement of mine (not high fashion, mind you, but just a look).

Glasses perched on hat

Glasses on Hat

I’ll often go out without both sunglasses and clear-lensed glasses, but I usually have my sunglasses with me – even at night! – sometimes in a case or solo where the lenses can be scratched easily – in my coat pocket (or on top of my hat!).

You may think this is why I go through 3-4 pairs per year!  But actually, I usually lose a pair or two by leaving them somewhere – or someone sits on them, drops something on them, or otherwise breaks them.  I got into the habit of only buying really cheap ($10 or less) sunglasses from discount stores because I thought that the more I paid for a pair of sunglasses, the sooner I would lose them.  But you do somewhat get what you pay for, and paying $40-50 for a decently put-together pair of sunglasses will serve you well as long as you take care of them as they take care of you.

Peeling tortoiseshell after 10 months of daily wear

Peeling tortoiseshell after 10 months of daily wear

Upon reflection, I now believe that the less I pay for my sunglasses, the more I abuse them, because they are not as valuable and I (at least subconsciously) consider them disposable, and these are the pairs that do not last the year (or even usually the summer).  As it is not always practical to carry a glass case with you, I’d rather have to replace my sunglasses after 3 months due to scratched lenses than to not have them with me when I need them.  So if I know that the glasses are likely to get abused, then I’ll take a cheaper pair with me.

I can attest that my regular pair of LL Bean tortoise shells – the ones where the tortoise shell is now peeling off of them – have been worn almost daily for about 10 months now – and are now (because I’ve had them so long) regularly abused by being put into coat pockets without a case, thrown on the mantle at night, and even put into a backpack or bag on occasion without a case (oh my!) – and the lenses are still in good shape.    I’m probably going to soon retire them from daily use for purely aesthetic reasons though I’ll hang onto them for a backup pair.

Admittedly  during the warm weather months, if I go out at night, I usually do not bring my sunglasses with me – as I rarely if ever (make that never) plan to be out all night anymore – what with two young kids at home – those days are behind me.  I’ll have to report in a couple of months – once it gets warmer here – what practical solutions I find for this.

Criticality after a disaster: After a disaster, you are most likely going to find yourself spending a lot of time outside.  This may be because your house/home is unsafe to enter or unavailable to you altogether due to earthquake, storm or other damage.  You may have to relocate or evacuate.  You may have to drive or ride to safety to another city or locale.  You may go out at night – and something happens – and you can’t get back home, so what you have with you is critical to your preparedness.  I want you to have sunglasses with you to protect your eyes.

Lots of natural and man-made disasters generate large amounts of particulates in the air that is best kept out of your eyes.  Building collapses; earthquakes; industrial accidents; explosions; fires; wildfires; volcanic eruptions; hazardous materials spills; radiological events; tornados; or other air contaminating event – all have the foreseeable potential to release airborne debris into the air.

Izmit Turkey 1999 - Sunglasses Perched on Head

Izmit Turkey 1999 - Sunglasses Perched on Head

Standard sunglasses or clear-lensed sports glasses are no substitute for professional eye protection – safety glasses and goggles – that may be required or recommended in the presence of smoke, ash, noxious fumes or these other hazards.  These have a higher standard of impact resistance than regular eyeglasses and sunglasses and will keep out completely many hazards.  But over-the-counter sunglasses are better than having nothing.

For my personal emergency kit that I use in my work responding to disasters, I carry such equipment, and I think it is also good to have in the home as part of your emergency stores – along with items such as half-face respirators and protective gloves.  I’ll discuss this in future postings on household emergency stores and supplies.  You don’t need to carry this equipment with you whenever you leave home.  I think that if the threat is that real, it would be time to move somewhere less prone to disasters.

In addition, like an empty bag, an empty glass case can be put to a variety of practical purposes in terms of storing, separating and carrying small items following a disaster.   I’m always glad to have a few of these with me when I pack my emergency kit.


The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Glasses (as in sunglasses)

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


So, wear sunglasses. If you do, you will be Living Prepared™.