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Survival Gear

Published: 06/09/2011 - Filed under: Home » Archive » September 2011 » Special Reports »

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Packing for a business trip used to be a fairly simple process. Business travelers would categorize their agenda into specific events (i.e. high-level meetings, sales calls, formal dinners, golf dates, or joint training sessions) and work up an ensemble for each. Then, using a clever process of mixing and matching, it would be possible to create a traveling wardrobe that was attractive, effective, and relatively compact. The timeless “one bag plus a briefcase” concept is not only essential for ease of movement throughout cabs, train stations, and the airport, but becomes an issue for companies looking to reduce travel costs by eliminating baggage charges. 

Yet the events of recent history (and even more recent months) have shown that the even the most fashion-conscious business travelers are likely to come up short when accessorizing for unthinkable events that rarely arise, but do so with significant impact. These include earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and unanticipated changes in long-standing governments where voters take to the streets with torches and pitchforks. The average traveler is under the impression that help or assistance is only a cell phone call away, or a text message to someone standing by (with inexhaustible resources), in the event that they should be stranded, detained, or even injured... And it usually is. 

Nationwide disasters, global catastrophes, and political conflict have a way of impacting the kind of municipal services that all of us take for granted. Tall buildings (built by earthquake experts) may sway and not come down, but the same cannot be said for electrical grids, transportation systems, water systems, and communications systems that have proven themselves all too fragile in the face of nature’s fury. Your call for help may be important to you, to your company, and to those whose job it is to respond to those in distress. But what happens when it becomes one in a hundred thousand, or even several million? What happens when the most basic means of locating you — and then getting to you — are fractured beyond easy repair?

The answer is: You may have to fend for yourself for awhile – maybe for hours or maybe for days. You might as well give yourself every advantage. 


Light ... 

Nothing is more discouraging than to have the power fail and the lights go out. There are few things in life that breed despair or add to a sense of helplessness like sitting in darkness. Every business traveler should carry a small, reliable flashlight. The Mini MAGLite LED weighs less than 5 ounces (with the batteries) and only 6.5 inches long. The LED bulb is not subject to vibration and is not likely to malfunction if the light is dropped. The light has four programmed modes: high, low, pulse, and automatic “SOS.” On “high,” the beam will last for 18 hours, and burn for 31 hours on “low.” An internal circuit manages power and keeps the beam from dimming as the batteries are expended. It is made of machined-aluminum and, with normal use, should last a lifetime. Depending upon the outlet, the Mini MAGLite 2201H retails for $25 - $30, less with some careful shopping.

While some cell phones offer a flashlight mode, constant use will deplete battery life needed for communication. For maximum battery life, you’ll want to make sure your Mini MAGLite is the LED variety – incandescent bulb aren’t as durable, and suck up batteries a lot faster. And make sure you buy quality; LED flashlights are available at every hardware and convenience store in the United States for a couple of bucks. But you get what you pay for. “Cheap, reliable,” and “well-made” are four words that seldom occur in the same sentence. What is the purpose of saving a couple of bucks on a device that may be responsible for leading you out of a smoke-filled building? 



Water ...

The average human can survive three weeks without food, but only three days without water. Natural disasters shatter water mains, and disrupt or pollute existing municipal water supplies. Travelers accustomed to drinking bottled water in various parts of the world may suddenly find themselves compelled to drink whatever they can find from any running source. Nothing would be more disconcerting than to find yourself stranded, waiting for assistance, and dealing with diarrhea from drinking questionable water. 

The SteriPEN Traveler Mini is a battery-operated, hand-held device that kills 99.9 percent of all bacteria, protozoans, and viruses found in water. It weighs 3.6 ounces and will treat 50 liters of water on two CR123 batteries. It is a little over 6 inches long and will purify a half-liter of water in 48 seconds. The device uses shortwave germicidal UV light to disinfect water. This range of UV light disrupts the DNA of microbes in seconds. Without intact DNA, microbes cannot reproduce to make you sick. The SteriPEN does not remove particles in solution and discolored water should be run through a coffee filter or a shirt before treating. The cost of this unit is $69.99 online.



Information ... 

Stranded and deprived of the means to move about safely, business travelers will want the latest and best information on the extent of the crisis, what is being done in terms of crisis resolution, what the average person should do, and how long the crisis is likely to continue. With electricity out, roads blocked, and essential services suspended, this data may not be immediately forthcoming from local sources. Or local sources may have an interest in telling people what they want to hear, as opposed to an accurate assessment. In extreme cases, where the government is changing hands under duress, television stations, radio stations, newspapers, and cell phone towers are occasionally targeted by members of the opposition. 

A Grundig Mini GM400 is a shortwave radio that measures 3 inches by 4 inches (approximately) and less than a half-inch thick. It is a mediocre performer on the AM and FM bands, but will pull in the BBC and other shortwave stations from halfway around the world, powered only by 2 AAA batteries. For $26 to $30 online, this 3-ounce radio fits in a shirt pocket and makes an excellent emergency resource. Now there are those who might scoff at this, claiming their cell phones will be more than adequate for an emergency. Please read on. 



Communication ...

The first thing a business traveler is instructed to do when injured, stranded, or otherwise compromised by circumstances is to call the office and let someone know the details, especially the location. This is going to require a cell phone capable of global service. Choosing a cell phone and a carrier with global access that is best for you is slightly less complicated than finding a bone marrow donor, and about as expensive if you are in the United States. 

The smartphone addiction is worldwide as everyone uses their phones as GPS units, restaurant guides, hand-held reservations units, and e-tickets. But in countries where government control of most things is a bit tighter than folks realize, it is easier for the political party in power to switch off things like cell service and the internet. Therefore, the traveler’s preferred method of staying in touch could be the first thing to go. This is why everyone needs a “Plan B.” And sometimes, “Plan B” calls for toughing things out for a few days; which is why a flashlight, drinking water, and another source of news isn’t a bad idea. 

Of course, the products mentioned here aren’t the only ones in each category, and you owe it to yourself to do a bit of shopping around, both for features and price. The point is, these are items that don’t weigh much and don’t cost much, but could be worth much more than gold (even at today’s prices) if you found yourself in the worst-case scenario.

Not including the cell phone, the total weight of the proposed traveler’s survival kit comes to 11.5 ounces. This is the weight of two average magazines. The total cost is $128, or the price of three room service hamburgers in one of the bigger chain hotels. All three components will fit in the standard men’s shaving kit. (This means they can be carried in a briefcase too, so they won’t be back in the hotel room if the traveler is caught up in events while on the street.) They will almost certainly invite inspection on a luggage scan. None of these devices plugs into a charger, so all will require fresh batteries after a time; consider making it an annual ritual.

Now it can be argued, and rather successfully, that the odds of business travelers being caught in a tsunami, or a government coup, or an earthquake are so remote as to make this information somewhat superfluous or even alarmist.  But what are the odds of a driver, who owns a well-maintained car with good tires getting a flat? Yet every car comes with a spare tire and tools to mount it. 

To the thirsty person sitting in darkness, waiting for information, every minute can be an eternity. 



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