FIND THE WAY OUT
PLANNING AND AWARENESS CAN HELP YOU AVOID DEADLY DANGERS.
We hear the term, “no way out,” way too many times, and it always makes us think the worst. In most cases, there is a way out if we really take stock of the situation and think it through. Avoiding a situation that might potentially become a “no way out” scenario is always the best approach.
Unfortunately, there are times when, through no fault or choice of our own, we find ourselves in a very tough spot.
In this article, I will draw on some of my own experiences to provide some insight about how to handle things if you do get into one of these situations.
IN MOST CASES, THERE IS A WAY OUT IF WE REALLY TAKE STOCK OF THE SITUATION AND THINK IT THROUGH.
KNOW YOUR SURROUNDINGS
It doesn’t matter if you are traveling or are in your own backyard; you must have an understanding of your surroundings.
I travel a great deal, both for pleasure and for work. Sometimes, I bring my wife. but the rest of the time, I’m on my own. Regardless of the circumstances, one constant of all my trips is that they can lead to some tricky situations under the wrong conditions. I’ve learned that it’s better to
avoid taking unnecessary chances and risking your safety—or even your life or the lives of others. Knowing what’s happening around you goes a long way to reducing risk.
Visiting tropical islands is always fun, but there is also an element of risk involved. Because they are islands, the ways to and from them are limited, which can lead to major problems if something bad were to happen.
When I visit any of the Hawai’ian Islands, the very first thing I do is locate the tsunami escape route. A tsunami, or tidal wave, can hit along any coast, but they are more common in the Pacific and Indian oceans.
Generated by earthquakes in the ocean, these walls of water will destroy everything in their paths. The only “safe” place is higher ground. Tsunami escape routes (see the sidebar on this page) will show you the way to the safest spot—usually high ground away from the coast.
The Florida Keys are islands that extend south and west from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. Unlike the Hawai’ian Islands, where your only way in or out is by boat or plane, in the Keys, you also have the added option of a two-lane road (U.S. Route 1). Unfortunately, it will be jammed in an emergency, especially during the tourist season.
Thankfully, tsunamis are not common here (and there is no high ground to run to). What this area does have are hurricanes and fierce tropical storms. A major storm could easily close down the road to and from the Keys and the Florida mainland.
It is not just coastal and island floods you need to be aware of. Throughout the rest of the country, you have to be aware of a variety of threats: earthquakes, floods, severe cold, snow and ice storms, high heat, tornadoes and hurricanes (to name just a few).
I’d like to say that natural hazards will be the only scenarios you might face … but I would be lying. Sometimes, cities can be scary places. Whenever you visit an unfamiliar area, including developed areas, always look for a way out. Find all the exits in a restaurant, movie theatre or tourist attraction. Know where emergency equipment is kept and how to get help fast.
The point I am trying to make is that it doesn’t matter where you are; every area has its concerns that you need to be aware of and be able to handle if the need arises. The more aware you are, the better you will be able to cope.
As much as I would like to say that my “survival” bag goes with me on every trip, I can’t. If I am driving to some location, then, yes, it is with me. If I am traveling by plane, my bag stays home. Many items in that bag would never get through the TSA screening process. But that does not mean I go unprepared.
I always pack food, a means of communication, a first aid kit and a few other items—“just in case.” I pack some freeze-dried meals, my laptop and cell phone (both fully charged) in my carry-on bag. I also carry a notebook and a handful of pens (which can be used for self-defense if needed). In my checked baggage are my Swiss Army knife, Solo Stove portable bio-mass stove, Bushnell Rubicon headlamp, Bushnell Powersync or Sunjack portable solar panels to keep everything charged, as well as my first aid kit.
Once on the ground, my first stop is the local grocery store, where I pick up a case of water and some nonperishable food (such as cereal). I will feed off this stash while away—thereby not only saving money, but having piece of mind knowing I have the things I need to survive if needed.
Being prepared has saved the day more than once. While in Florida, my wife and I had just arrived in Orlando after leaving Naples earlier that morning. We had been in Naples to gather information for several articles I was working on.
As I watched the news (safely in our hotel room), a hurricane/tropical storm warning flashed across the screen. Naples, which is on Florida’s western Gulf Coast, was getting slammed, and the storm was heading inland toward the Orlando area. We had just missed it.
The next morning, the storm hit Orlando hard. The minute the lights started flickering, panic set in for the other hotel guests. Some wanted to flee (it was too late for that), some wanted to head to the bar (not a good idea in that situation), and others did not have a clue about what to do. My wife and I just stayed put in our room. We had food, water and communication with the outside world if needed. We were prepared to ride out the storm.
While on a trip to the Hawai’ian Islands, we experienced a more serious challenge. We were staying in Hilo, on the Big Island, where we ran into a triple threat: An earthquake happened off the coast of South America, so we were under a tsunami warning. The tsunami escape route was up to higher ground—but the volcanos were also active, making this option tricky. And just for good measure, a tropical storm was also hitting the island. All flights off island were cancelled, and all ships were staying put, so there was no choice but to hunker down in place.
IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU ARE TRAVELING OR ARE IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD; YOU MUST HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS.
HEED THE WARNINGS
Too often in situations such as these, people are their own worst enemies. Stories abound about people sitting in bars while a hurricane hits, wasting time that could have been spent on preparation or escape—and impeding good judgment with every sip. Sometimes, it is someone who fails to prepare and then ventures out in the middle of a blizzard to get some food or fill their gas tank.
These actions are self-destructive, and there is no need to be this way. With our modern technology, meteorologists have the ability to track and forecast storms many days out; some with pretty good accuracy. This advantage often gives people plenty of time to prepare and evacuate if needed, especially if they already have a plan in place.
Sadly, no matter what we do, there are still people who fail to heed the warnings. They decide to ride it out and hope for the best. To do so not only puts their lives in danger, they are also endangering the lives of the men and women dedicated to saving those who aren’t responsible enough to save themselves.
Hurricane Sandy is an excellent example of this: People in the danger zone were given plenty of warning. Yet there was still significant loss of life. In addition, a large number of people still needed to be rescued—simply because they didn’t respond to the warnings and prepare for what could happen.
While I was in Southern California, an earthquake hit somewhere in the Pacific,
causing a tsunami to head in our direction. Because of the predictions, and knowing that the San Diego airport sits on low ground, I decided to get an earlier flight out. I’m glad I did, because I got the last flight out before the water hit and the airport was closed. As it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as predicted, but it did delay flights. In this case, it was better to be safe than sorry.
REDUCE YOUR RISK
There will be times when you can’t get away. You will have to deal with, and ride out, whatever situation presents itself. Obviously, it is best to avoid the situation if you can. If that is not an option, here are the three steps you should take to reduce your risk:
• Know your surroundings. Determine where the threats could come from, and find the escape routes in case something does happen.
• Heed the warnings. If the experts and first responders are telling you to evacuate or seek shelter, do so. Always err on the side of safety.
• Prepare. Don’t let your guard down just because you are on vacation with your family. Take basic precautions, such as getting water and nonperishable food. It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
This beach in Hawai’i is beautiful now— but it can turn ugly fast when a tsunami rolls in. Know the signs, and be prepared to move quickly.
U.S. Route 1 heading out of Key West on a normal day. Imagine what it could be like during an emergency!
Some of the food author Benner always has on hand when he travels. Make sure to have enough for a few days, and be prepared to supplement it with what you can get locally.
This lava field in Hawai’i is beautiful, but it poses a serious potential danger.
The safest way out of a bad situation might not be the most direct route. Know your surroundings, and have a plan devised before you need to implement it.
One of the hazards of hurricanes is the uprooting and toppling of large trees, such as this victim of Hurricane Sandy.
A recent view of Alaska’s Seward Harbor—long after it was destroyed by an earthquake and a tsunami
A tornado touches down in Oklahoma.
Opposite, top: One of the bridges on the road to Key West from the mainland. It’s just two lanes, and there are no other options for driving away from a threat in the Keys. Getting caught here in a storm could be life threatening.
Opposite, bottom: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a porch that was torn off a home lays on the side of the street.