Triple-decker mint brownies are one of my favorite treats. The base is a thick, chewy brownie. Next, a layer of green mint filling is spread on the brownie which is then topped off with a thin layer of creamy, chocolate glaze. When I think of these delicious brownies I think of prepping. The thick, chewy brownie on the bottom represents the base of my preps. This is long term, shelf stable food, water, security, sanitation, first aid, communications, and all the other things which are the foundation of being prepared. This is by far the largest layer. The mint layer represents bug out bags, bug out vehicles, and mobile preps. It’s a smaller layer, yet very important to the overall composition of the entire “brownie”. The thin layer on top is everyday preps or a get home bag. All three layers work together to create a yummy dessert or a complete preparedness plan that all work together now and will meet the needs of my family down the road. The brownies wouldn’t be complete without the chocolate glaze on top. Prepping for everyday (small) emergencies is important and can help me get ready for larger, more complex emergencies.
The foundation preps are a constant work in progress. I’m regularly thinking about, making lists of, shopping for, and organizing my basic preps. Long term preps are strictly stored and earmarked for family (or group) use only. My bug out bag is packed and ready to go in the closet near the front door. Bug out bags are for the family, but may also be shared with others, if the situation calls for it. I can’t store my bug out bag in the car because of the heat. Many items would be ruined in a very short time. This leaves me without anything to grab and go with at work. I primarily work at a school, which doesn’t have an appropriate place to store a bug out bag. Another layer of preparedness is necessary to complete my overall plan. My solution is a small get home bag located inside my purse. A get home bag is, of course, for my use, but seems to be more about assisting people whenever I can. Looking for opportunities to help others daily, and having the supplies to do so, helps me prepare mentally for all sorts of more intense challenges that may come my way.
My large, oversized purse (can also be a messenger bag, small backpack, or a computer bag for guys) holds numerous supplies and is with me all the time. The bag has a long shoulder strap which can be worn across the body and the bag carried in front or back. There are pockets on the outside to hold my phone, my keys (three different sets), and pens. It’s hard to find these items in the bottom of the bag because my purse is so large and so full. I may need to get to these items quickly. I always shop carefully to find the right purse. I also carry a book bag filled with classroom supplies, so I get plenty of exercise lifting all my gear. Here are some of the important items that are with me all the time:
*Water bottle filled with water - In a hot climate it can burn your mouth if left outside for too long, so be careful! In Arizona water is always your first priority, no matter where you’re going.
* Cell phone – for obvious reasons.
* Keys – can be laced between the fingers and used to strike an assailant, if necessary. It’s good to carry keys this way, especially if walking at night.
* Camera – if you have a good one on your cell phone, then you don’t really need a separate camera, but I like mine – it’s small – and I have photos of family members on it in case I need them for identification purposes. This is good to have in case of an accident – take photos to help remember details.
* Money – “In an emergency, cash is king.” Sometimes students need lunch money – not necessarily an emergency.
* Snacks – no melty stuff - just *nuts, granola bars, crackers, fruit snacks, jerky, gum, mints, etc.
*Nuts can be tricky – some classrooms have posted nut-free zone signs for students with allergies (most of these students carry Epi-pens with them). I go easy on nuts during school.
* Scissors – I use scissors every day – in my kitchen, in the garden, at school and for sewing - to name just a few. They are one of the best inventions ever made! Students ask to borrow my scissors all the time because they know I always have a pair. This small (3” blade), but sharp pair, is the closest thing to a weapon that I can carry at school, since it’s a weapon-free zone. (My bug out bag contains a Swiss army knife and a Leatherman tool which I could quickly retrieve and put in my purse on the way out the door, if conditions require it.)
* Small pliers – another great tool. I’ve rescued kids who were trapped inside jackets with broken zippers with these babies!
* Small sewing kit – made from an Altoids box with at least two needles threaded – one black and one white for quick fixes. I also like Hi-Mark thread and dental floss for heavy duty repairs. Include lots of safety pins.
* Small screwdriver – Try to find one small enough to fit in the sewing kit (mine is from an old sewing machine). These are great for fixing broken desk legs, computer carts, hinges, etc. It beats calling the maintenance man and waiting. If the screwdriver is small enough, it can be used on tiny eyeglass screws.
* Small first aid kit – this needs to be larger than an Altoids tin so it can hold large Band-Aids, dressings, antiseptic, gloves, and tape. I have an even larger first aid kit that I keep in the school supply cupboard (inside a lunch box), which I can grab on my way out the door. You can never have too many first aid supplies!
* Hat with a brim in front to keep the sun off of my face (a folded baseball cap works well). In the winter I replace the hat with my “driving gloves”. Warm hands and feet are a must when walking.
* Small case that contains sun block, Chap Stick (SPF 30 or higher or the medicated kind for burned lips), toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss (great for sewing up ripped backpacks), mirror (for signaling or starting a fire), nail clippers, Motrin, Tums, Pepto-Bismol, cough drops, etc.
* Kleenex – T.P. substitute/Hand sanitizer
* Small flashlights - several types, including bite lights (hands-free, small lights that are held in the mouth and the light follows wherever you look. These are great for a small area, when you don’t want a bright light to call attention to where you are). I also carry a small LED flashlight which will let everyone and their neighbors know where you are!
* Bandana – If someone is hurt, a bandana can be placed on the ground to prevent burning while the person is lying down (hopefully in the shade). Also used for applying pressure to heavily bleeding lacerations or used as a wash rag. Our family has color coded bandanas, which could be tied to a street sign to signal that a message has been left. (See Post-its)
* Book or Kindle – books can be burned, but only for survival purposes (I would rather read them than burn them).
* Large Super Sticky Post-its – if I need to write a message, I can stick it on a smooth surface and hopefully it won’t blow away. I also carry a large assortment of writing instruments.
* Map – a laminated, blown up map of the neighborhood with various routes home highlighted. This is a half sheet of card stock, so it’s not too large. More complete maps live in my BOB, again, this is just to get me home.
* Spare eyeglasses – when I get new glasses, the old ones get spread around to my purse, my BOB, a box of spare glasses on the emergency shelf, and so on. (Theodore Roosevelt packed 12 pair of glasses when traveling to Panama while the canal was being built. He was prepared!)
* Large Ziploc bags – at least gallon size. Can be used for wet or throw-up items. At school, you always need to be prepared for throw-up!
* Paper clips – can be used to pick locks, fish things out of small spaces, and fix cars! One day my car wouldn’t start and I used a paper clip (and my screwdriver) to tighten the clip around the solenoid of the battery. It worked perfectly!
* Sweater or jacket – I usually have one with me or leave one at school, especially during the hot weather because the AC gets too cold in some rooms where I can’t adjust the thermostat. This can also be used as a ground cover.
This list doesn’t include some personal items, plus I add a few more goodies to my bag when the school year begins. It’s great to be prepared for everyday emergencies like nose bleeds, cuts, lost pencils, “starving” students, students that throw up, ripped backpacks, ripped clothing, and so on. I’m often asked to help individuals with problems at school or I’ll take home a project that needs attention. I try to do one “Good Samaritan” deed each day. I might stay with a student with an injured leg (after they’ve fallen while running across campus) while another student goes to the office to get the nurse and a wheel chair. I might walk a crying student to class and offer her/him Kleenex and kind words. I might clean up after a student has a bloody nose (wearing my gloves) or clean up a throw up mess (yes, I’ve done that too – the student didn’t make it to the trash can or outside – also wearing my gloves).
I rarely get sick because I do a good job with hand washing/sanitizing while at school. I don’t get flu shots because I don’t like introducing an illness into my body unnecessarily. Flu shots are a hit and miss proposition anyway. Only three or four different types of flu virus are given in the vaccination. The experts try to pick the ones that will be most common that year, however, if they pick the wrong ones and other strains start spreading, many people will still get sick, even if they’ve had a vaccination. Some years many students miss up to two weeks of school because of flu. I’ve never had the flu at school, only colds, even when students all around me are “dropping like flies”. This may have something to do with working around so many germs all the time – I’ve built up some immunity. I have to stay healthy in order to help others. This is especially important during emergency situations – take care of your own health first, and then be prepared to help others in any way possible.
My home is about a mile from work, so I frequently get dropped off in the morning and walk home in the afternoon. It normally takes me 20 minutes to walk home (15 minutes if I pick up my pace, and ten if I run). This gives me a chance to observe things around the neighborhood and learn all I can about my area. Usually, if someone stops to give me a ride, I say, “No, thank you, I need the exercise,” even on 110 degree days! When I was a child, we had “Helping Hands” in our neighborhood. Parents who were home during the day, and were willing to help a child in need, placed a poster (provided by the school so they were all the same and “official”) showing an open hand in the front window of their home. This let children know they could go to them if they ever needed help. For children who walked (the majority of the students at my elementary school), this gave them a sense of security. The children mostly walked in groups anyway, rather than alone, which was a safety measure, as well. Obviously, this wouldn’t work today because the wrong people would put a hand in the window to lure children to their homes. As I walk home, since I usually walk alone, (there are also students walking at the same time), I mentally picture “helping hands” in the windows of people I know that would assist me if I was ever in need. I think about their schedules and who’s home during the day in each house. This is a small mental preparation that I make as I walk. I hope my friends and neighbors feel the same way about my home – if something dangerous happened on the street, they could turn to me for assistance/refuge.
As I walk home I also try to notice who drives what car, who’s having work done in their yards, people around the neighborhood, areas that could be used for concealment, and so forth. The HOA in my community maintains green belts with walking/riding paths and water features. These green belts are part of several different routes home, including cut offs between houses and behind backyard fences. The water in the green belt “lakes” is pumped in from the local water treatment plant. I could filter or boil this effluent water if I ever needed to drink it. (I need to add a small filter and an enamelware cup to my bag for boiling water.) Knowing where cacti are located is also important. Pushing someone (who’s an unsuspecting threat) into a cactus is a quick way to cause pain and help them lose their focus. Then I would run!
You would think that I don’t need much in a get home bag, living so close to work. If something happened in the neighborhood, however, and I had to take a different route home or got stranded, this would be a great help to me and others. Even during a fire drill (which we have every month) I take my bag with me. I just never know when I’m going to need it. There are many times when having extra “stuff” is a blessing. Here are a few examples:
Lockdown drills and actual lockdowns happen every year at school. This can mean two hours of tense students worrying about something bad coming through the doors. I tried to stay calm and reassure the students as much as possible and kept trying to call the front office for further instructions. I also spent those two hours walking back and forth between the two doors thinking about what my response would be to gunmen or other threats. I hovered around the students, making sure they were doing alright. I was responsible for those children. What would I do? Many scenarios went through my mind. It was a wake up call! This was a chance for me to test my mettle. Was I willing to sacrifice my life for that of a student? I also wished for more items in my bag to pass out to distract the students (I didn’t carry as much “stuff” back then). (I won’t share the decisions I came to and things I pondered that day, because they are personal and each individual must find their own moral road.) You can’t positively know how you’ll react in a dangerous situation until you’re actually in it, but thinking through various scenarios can help mental preparation. The class was never in danger, but we didn’t know it at the time. Later on, I found out that the SRO (School Resource Officer), wearing his bulletproof vest, fully armed, was on duty in the courtyard, right outside the classroom, the entire time the lockdown was going on, but the office didn’t let us know. Just a little communication would have saved us a lot of worry and stress.
Contrast that to a more recent lockdown which lasted about 45 minutes near the end of the school day. Changes have been made to lockdown procedures and supplies since the previously mentioned lockdown. A “Go Bucket” and a case of water bottles are now stored in each classroom (although the water bottles seem to disappear, the “Go Buckets” never do). The buckets have an inventory list and instructions on the front – to be used only if necessary – and placed outside the classroom door after the lockdown or lockdown drill is completed (call the office, request a new bucket, and they will pick up the used one). On this day the students quietly drew pictures, read, did homework or slept on the floor until the lockdown was over. After the lockdown was announced, the office communicated with the classroom via e-mail and kept everyone up to speed. I was more prepped and ready as well, with lots of items in my bag to pass out, if necessary, and a calm attitude about the situation. Shortly after the lockdown was over, the students were dismissed for the day.
I had a problem, however, because I was walking and a news helicopter was hovering right over my path home. A shooting had taken place, but other than that I had no information about the situation. Was it safe? I wasn’t sure (although the students were released), so I called for a ride home. Had I not been able to get a ride, I would have walked right by the crime scene tape and dozens of police officers and news reporters! I really wouldn’t have done that because I’m a prepper – right – and I would’ve taken one of my alternate routes home, away from the crime scene or stopped by a “helping hand” home of a friend. The street where the crime took place was taped off for several days. The situation was a domestic disturbance in which multiple people, including a child, lost their lives. I thought about the neighbors who lived next door and down the street that couldn’t get back into their homes for at least two days. I thought about living someplace else when society comes crashing down (I really hope I’m elsewhere by then). I thought about my bag and not going home for several days. I would be fine, with the exception of clean clothes and deodorant. As long as I could touch base with all family members and account for everyone, then I would be okay with temporarily finding another place to stay, even without a BOB. In addition to the shooting, dangerous chemicals were found stored in the backyard when the house was searched. Another day of yellow tape was needed while the Hazmat team removed the materials. The chemicals were stored next to a cinder block wall which was next to the green belt where many people and their pets walk and run (including me). I had no idea it was so close to a public area. This lockdown and crisis in a neighborhood adjacent to mine helped me to be more alert, more vigilant as I traveled through my community. It was another (different kind of) wake up call.
Getting home from my secondary job is more complex. Its located 25 minutes from my home by car on a college campus. My first prepping priority is to make sure my car’s in good shape every time I travel to this job – full gas tank, tires fully inflated, oil changed & maintenance up to date, Justin Case (holds jumper cables, air compressor, and other emergency gear) in the trunk, etc. If I could drive even part way home from this location during an emergency, it would be wonderful. If I had to walk all the way home, it would take me two days. I don’t carry a purse to this job because security isn’t great. I do carry a tote bag with water, snacks, a magazine or sewing project, my pouch with my toothbrush in it, and spare bite lights/flashlights in the bottom. If this gets stolen it’s not a big deal. I can buy more water and snacks from the vending machine and I could “borrow” items from the first aid kit on the premises, if needed. All personal items are carried on me (ID, money, keys, etc.). I also wear a work apron that contains a sewing kit, Altoids, Chap Stick, phone, camera (sometimes), Kleenex, scissors, pliers, screw driver, Band aids, Sharpie, pen, Post-its, hand sanitizer, and bite lights. I can’t carry as many preps because of the size of the apron. It’s very full as it is. Another difficulty is the time. I usually get finished with work around 10:30 p.m., so if something happened, I may have a hard time contacting people for help – they may be asleep. I wear all black when I work this job, so I would blend in with my surroundings while walking at night, but there are some unfriendly, unfamiliar neighborhoods adjacent to the university. I wear good shoes to this job since the cement floors are hard to stand on for long without supportive footwear. My feet would be protected and I always carry a black hoodie, as well, so I would have another layer of “shelter” (clothing is considered shelter). I only have one “Helping Hand” location on this long walk home. I have keys to my sister’s place, which is on one of my possible routes home. Other than that, this could be a long two days of travel and danger. I only work this job ten to 15 weeks per year. This (thankfully) limits my time in this location. The extra money is nice, however, it lets me get items on my prepping list, pay outstanding debts, and invest in silver. At this point, I’m not inclined to give up this job, but I need to work on some additional strategies for being safe in an emergency situation while I’m there. Even if my car was inoperable, if I put some extra supplies in my trunk (just for a week at a time, so they wouldn’t be ruined), I could possibly get to them to help me get home. I don’t think being on a college campus during an upheaval is a great idea. I would try to leave as soon as possible, or at a minimum, walk to the police station (on campus) down the street. Even during normal activities, like football games or graduation, there are so many people in one small area that chances of something happening are high.
Preparedness really is a layered process, just like great brownies. Adding something to one of the prepping layers (long term/bug out/daily) makes a difference. Sometimes, I get bogged down thinking I’ve done too little or I’m not prepared enough. I stop myself from thinking this way by doing at least one preparedness task each day. It could be as simple as thinking about prepping or adding an item to one of my lists (ear plugs were added recently) or looking through my preparedness binder for ideas or cleaning out a soda bottle and filling it with water or exercising (running) or practicing building a fire with one of the 17 different methods on my fire list. (A recent favorite is a soda can with melted chocolate spread around the bottom edge and angled an inch from the kindling to start a blaze. What better materials can be used to start a fire in Arizona in the summer than melted chocolate and an old soda can? I can easily locate these materials.) Action helps me think clearly and plan my next step. All the little things I’ve done don’t seem like much, but when put together, they add up. One of my favorite sayings is, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Prepping is absolutely greater than the sum of all the things you put together because you also gain experience and knowledge as you assemble your gear and test it out.
A drop of water doesn’t seem like much, but keep collecting drops and eventually you’ll have a bucket full of water, and that is something! Every time I prep I’m adding a drop of water to my survival bucket. Daily preps and get home bags may seem insignificant, but they are really important because they help me practice for what’s coming on a regular basis. I need this reinforcement – both mentally and physically. Get home bags are the important first step in a layered prepping strategy, or if I’m thinking of those brownies again, each layer of the brownie treat is okay by itself, but not unforgettable. After all, would you like to eat a boring brownie or enjoy an outstanding, triple-decker dessert? I want fabulous, outstanding, multi-layered preps, so I’ll keep working on each layer, starting with my purse.