Survival basics for your car will keep you going and improve response.
stranded on the New York State Thruway this week when a tractor-trailer jackknifed blocking the road during a snowstorm. The storm eventually dumped over 2 feet of snow in the region south of Buffalo, New York. Hundreds of occupants of personal vehicles and commercial vehicles were stranded without any means of escape during the storm. Many were stranded for over 24 hours. Eventually, local fire department and police crews were able to make their way down the miles long lanes of stranded motorists to deliver extra fuel, food, and to assess the situation.
Criticism of the New York State Thruway authority has been building since the event on December 1, 2010. One of the criticisms was that the authority allowed traffic to enter the block area of roadway during the storm even though they were aware of the traffic jam. Another shortcoming has been described as the lack of a plan to deal with such emergencies and allowing the area to go on monitored and not being able to remove the truck blocking the lanes of travel.
Once again we have a local example of Optimism Bias in action. That is, it won't happen to me… if it happens to me, someone will be there to rescue me. We have to take measures to protect ourselves and be able to be self-sufficient (even rudimentary effort would help) in cases where rescue or assistance may be delayed.
Here are my tips for survival when stranded:
First, be sure to keep your car's fuel tank greater than half-full. Keeping your vehicles fuel tank above half full or better will help make sure you can navigate detours if you're route is blocked. Keeping that much fuel in your vehicle will also allow you to run the engine for much longer in order to stay warm. It's important to keep in mind also that you should run the vehicle's motor only intermittently when stranded… just enough to warm up the interior every 30 to 45 minutes. On this point we should also mention the need for good ventilation in your vehicle… keeping a window cracked open to allow for fresh air and periodically checking the exhaust pipe to ensure it has not become blocked with snow or debris. Failing to do either of those could result in exposure to automobile exhaust and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Second keep a survival kit in your car. It does not have to be elaborate put should contain a few simple items. A hat, gloves, extra socks, and a pair of boots would be helpful as well as a warm blanket. It's best also to have some shelf stable snacks available. Candy bars, energy bars, and those little crackers and cheese combination will work just fine. Along with something to eat you should try to keep something to drink in your vehicle as well.
And finally, don't forget the shovel and salt. Keeping a small shovel in your vehicle may mean the difference between being stranded and effecting a self rescue. Also keeping a small bag of sand, gravel, or rock salt may be able to provide the needed traction to get yourself unstuck.
Planning and preparedness.
For those of us responsible for responding to such events there are several keys to successful operations. The first, of course, is pre-incident planning. If you have stretches of highway in your area you can find yourself dealing with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stranded motorists in any season… from any cause. There is no excuse for not pre-planning your response with various size highway incidents involving multiple patients. Your threat assessment is a major part of the pre-planning process and should include natural as well as man-made events.
As a traditional responder you'll need to consider additional points:
First, what personnel and resources will I be able to bring to this situation and how long will deployment take. In these large-scale events deployment of resources is often best done only after sufficient personnel, supplies, and equipment have been staged to support the effort. Although rapid triage crews may be effective, the main thrust of the response should only take place when all the pieces are together.
Third, you'll have to make some difficult decisions as to shelter in place versus attempt evacuation. As noted above there are several conditions that have to be taken into account before people are moved from an area of relative safety into a hazard area.
This post will also appear in ProResponder