American Survival Guide - - GEAR GUIDE - BY DANA BENNER

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.



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.



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.


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.

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...

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

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.

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.

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!

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