UPDATE: Never Leave Home Without…

I always intended to write a summary and concluding piece to the list of 10 things you should never leave home without.  Coming a couple of months after the last post was written lends perspective to the exercise.  The intent of this blog was always to validate that the advice given is practical.  If I can’t practice what I preach, then I need to rethink again what it is I am recommending here.  In addition, the perspective of the current “concern” over Influenza A – H1N1 (Swine Flu) and a change in season to Spring adds another valuable reality check.

So, here’s my item-by-item review of the list and how I’ve done with it and how I feel the utility of these items holds up:

Bag (Empty)

There is no question in my mind that an empty bag belongs on the list and at the top of it – alphabetical or not.  I have struggled at times to remember to bring one with me.  Honestly, the larger eco-totes that I recommended – like the Staples eco-easy tote, do not fold down to a size that fits in a pocket.  You really need to have another bag to put an empty one in.

Kiva Keychain Backpack

Kiva Keychain Backpack 1/2 size of Wallet

The bag I mentioned in the original post but had not tried out yet – the Kiva Keychain Backpack – is really an excellent solution.  It packs down to an incredibly small size (about half the size of my wallet) that fits in a (front) pants pocket easily.  I try to carry one of these bags with me all the time in that way.  When expanded, it forms a smallish backpack – certainly large enough to carry several items in an emergency, and the material (like parachute nylon) seems pretty strong and durable.  The only issue I’ve had with it is that if you put some heavier items in it, the adjustable shoulder straps tend to slip, but there is no risk of it opening and the bag dropping as it is a closed loop strap.

Flashlight

Maybe it’s just me, but I still find a reason to need a flashlight on a daily basis and I carry two Photon LED flashlights with me all the time – one on my keys and another on a chain around my neck.  I’ve been using the newer Photon Freedom-style lights, and I like the push button on-off much better than the old style (either hold it down or flick a tiny toggle switch to keep it lighted).

LRI Photon X-Light

LRI Photon X-Light

Honestly, the cheapest X-Light micro (at under $10) is sufficient.  So I repeat my advice to get a bunch of these – and pass them around – attach one to your briefcase, regular backpack, go-bag, etc., give one or two to each family member.  It will help you and them to be Living Prepared.

Glasses/Sunglasses

Never leave home without them.  And if I do, I always end up regretting it.  The other day, I was getting out of my car; it was raining.  I had a hat on, as I always do, with my sunglasses perched on the top, as they usually are when I’m not wearing them.  A man walking his dog was passing by, and he paused as he looked at me to comment, “With the hat and the sunglasses, you are ready for anything.”  Amen.

LifeSecure Safety Glasses

LifeSecure Eye Shields

Mindful of the fear of Influenza A – H1N1 (Swine Flu) many people have, protecting your eyes with glasses (sun or clear) or a eye shield can help prevent you from being infected by particulates spewed into the air by people close by who cough or sneeze in your general direction.  I recently ordered some Eye Shields from LifeSecure Emergency Solutions to keep with my household emergency supplies.

Keys

Keys.  Enough said.  Just try going out without them.

I did figure out that two of the small lock keys actually fit the padlock on the cellar hatch outside the front of my house – so one of those has been returned to my keychain.

Smartphone

Still attached to my hip.  Still without a GPS.  I think the GPS functionality that is available is useful, but expensive (both for a GPS-enabled Blackberry and for the service that gives it functionality), and I can’t justify it at the current time.

Stainless Steel Drink Container

Usually still attached to my hand – with tea in the morning, and increasingly a Klean Kanteen for water in the afternoon as the weather is getting warmer.  (We had a mini-heat wave of several days in the high 80s/low 90s in April in NYC).  It’s honestly hard to bring along sometimes without having a bag (not an empty one) to carry it in.

I’m beginning to think of recommending carrying a “mostly” empty bag with you – which provides a means to carry along those items that otherwise do not fit on your face or in your pockets – such as a drink container.  That solves a lot of problems of bulging pockets – especially in the summertime…

My regular backpack I keep stocked with a number of useful items – such as a couple of pens, a folding knife with serrated blade, some Zyrtec (for allergies), and epi-pen (if the allergies get really bad), a larger LED flashlight.  I put a glass case in it to carry whatever pair of glasses (sun or clear) I am not wearing.  If I go out without this backpack, I still have my 10 items with me.

My biggest problem with my double-walled, vacuum insulated Thermos hot drink container is that it does too good a job at keeping my tea hot.  I like my hot drinks warm, not scalding, and it takes hours for my tea to cool enough such that I can enjoy it.  When I have the opportunity, I leave the top off to let it cool down so I can drink it more quickly.  On the plus side, this has cut down dramatically on my caffeine intake, which is probably a good thing.

Swiss Army Knife / Multi-Tool

I still use this multiple times every day and would be totally lost without it.  Just yesterday I used the scissors to cut a reply form off to return to my daughter’s school, the Phillips head screwdriver to replace a battery in my son’s toy train, the small knife to open a package received in the main from Lands End, and the magnifying glass to read the small print on a label.  Oh yeah, and I used the reamer to make an additional hole in a belt I have (I lost 15 pounds due to the chicken pox and some of my clothes are hanging off of me now!)

One reader recommended a different model – that’s a bit less expensive but still has all of the important survival tools.  For me, I use all of the tools on the Swiss Army Champ – including the tweezers – which I’ve used twice in the last week to remove a splinter from my finger and my daughter’s foot.  I even used the pin within the last week to help open up a bottle of Gorilla Glue that had crusted over.

Vehicle Escape Tool

As noted in the original post, this is something you don’t use on a daily basis, and I’ve never used mine.

I did have the opportunity to demonstrate the functions of the ResQMe that I carry on my keychain to two very nice gentlemen from the TSA at JFK Airport, just before I handed it over to them before getting on a flight to Florida a few weeks ago.  I kind of had to tell them that they should be taking it away from me – both because of the seat-belt cutter blade, which although shielded, could be removed from the casing by breaking it open – thus weaponizing it – as well as for the glass breaker, which, although I am not sure it would break an airplane window pane, I would not want to try.  So I was without a ResQMe while deathly ill from the Chicken Pox in Florida.

I got another one out of my stock and have returned it to my keychain.

Wallet

Again, it goes without saying that you need to carry your wallet with you when you go out.

What I need to report on is how I’ve done with keeping the $100 cash in it and not pilfer it when I run out.  I must report positively that I’ve had great success.  I positively have forgotten that I folded up 5 twenty dollar bills and slid it into a side slot behind the credit cards in my wallet – unless I’m thinking about this post.  The credit cards, ID and proof of insurance are easy to maintain.

Whistle

Again, something I don’t use on a daily basis but am glad to have with me.  Mostly, I wear it on a lanyard underneath a shirt – but if visible, it’s a good conversation starter.  As pictures in the original post, I also use the neck lanyard to carry a Photon LED flashlight and a USB drive – which another reader also suggested carrying.  My SanDisk Cruzer holds a ridiculous 16 GB of data.

Honestly, the neck lanyard can be bulky either on top of or underneath a single layer T-shirt when the weather is hot.  So I have honestly gone out from time to time without it.  It’s an item that can be put in your briefcase, backpack or other bag that you carry things in (or the proposed “almost” empty bag alternative), and it also fits into a pants pocket.  So while I try to wear it habitually – I must admit to forgetting it occasionally.

What’s Missing?

USB Drive:

For the digitally inclined and data dependent, a USB drive – the larger the better, is a good thing to carry with you.  I carry one and will load it up with important files from time to time.  More often, it’s used for exchanging data (photos, files) with someone.  In an emergency situation, if you work with computers at all, having a USB drive with you could be extremely valuable.

My Fox40 Classic Whistle (in cool camo-color), Photon Freedom LED flashlight, and SanDisk Cruzer on neck lanyard

My Fox40 Classic Whistle (in cool camo-color), Photon Freedom LED flashlight, and SanDisk Cruzer on neck lanyard

So if it fits your personal and professional profile, a USB drive is definitely something to consider adding to your list of things to never leave home without.  I do like the SanDisk Cruzer because it contains software to allow you to install and run applications directly off of the drive rather than having to install it on the hard drive of a computer.  So, for example, you can use your Skype account from any computer you can use and plug your drive into, if you have Skype installed on the USB drive.

Hand Sanitizer:

This probably should have been on the original list.  Very useful for cleaning your hands while you are out – especially after riding on public transportation or before eating anything on the go. Also essential to have if you are out with kids.  I usually have a bottle with a pump around the house, but decided to stock up a but because of H1N1.  The 2-oz. bottle size is really convenient for taking with you and I got one for everyone in the family.  The small bottles cost about a dollar at any drugstore and I plan to refill them from the larger (and more economical) bottles I have in the house – especially one big one by the front door so everyone can use it upon entering the house.  When buying Hand Sanitizer, remember to always check the “drug facts” on the bottle to ensure that it contains at least 60% ethyl alcohol.  Any less and it will not be effective as an antiseptic.

Pocket Hand Sanitizer and Tissues

Pocket Hand Sanitizer and Tissues

Pocket Pack of Tissues:

Another item inspired by H1N1, I think this item also belongs on the original list.  Tissues are incredibly useful things, even if you or your kids do not have a cold.  They can be used to wipe up things, or wipe off things that you don’t want to touch with your bare hands as they may be dirty or infected.  (Use hand sanitizer afterward anyways).  You can use tissues to dry or clean off your glasses if they get wet (though a glass cleaning cloth is better and won’t leave link on the lenses).  Like water, or bags, tissues have hundreds of potential uses during times of emergency and normalcy.

Summary and Conclusion:

I feel pretty strongly about the original 10 items on this list… and now I’m up to 13 with the USB drive, hand sanitizer and pocket pack of tissues.  I started out this project by stating that I didn’t like top 10 lists and I wasn’t going to be bound by a number; that it was a starting point and an important attempt to place some limit on a list that if it becomes exhaustive becomes less practical and less achievable.  And making this practical and achievable is a key part of what I am trying to accomplish with this blog.

I am still tracking a few challenges with the list.

Mostly, it’s a lot of stuff to stuff into your pockets (keys, wallet, extra bag, hand sanitizer, tissues, flashlight) – especially in the warm weather – or wear around your neck (USB drive, flashlight, whistle), hang on your belt (smart phone, Swiss army knife), or hold in your hand (stainless steel drink container).

A lot of this can be carried alternatively in a backpack, briefcase or other (not empty) bag that you carry with you.  Many of us do carry such bags when we go out – but not every time.  My concern is having these items on your person is that they are always with you – and never left at home.

Changing the empty bag to a “mostly” empty bag – or empty of everything but these 12 or 13 items – may be a solution – as long as you always take this mostly empty bag with you.  I will report in a couple of months on how I am addressing this challenge, and will reconsider again the list of items never to leave home without.

In conclusion, I hope that these posts have proven useful to your own thinking about how you should be Living Prepared™.  I am not so arrogant as to think that everyone has to follow my advice to the letter.  I hope that you learn from my advice and my experience and make it your own.

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.

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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

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