RVers can mitigate the negative effects of emergencies with some careful planning.
By Phillip Meeks
Let’s be honest. Worst-case scenarios are no fun to imagine, especially while in a travel mind-set. Perhaps that’s why many of us don’t dedicate a lot of time to planning for disasters. But the fact remains that emergencies do happen, and being prepared for those events starts with the question, “What could possibly go wrong?”
Extreme weather, theft, wildfires, medical conditions, and mechanical failure all hold the potential to destroy a family’s travel plans. In many cases, the motorhome itself will cover the emergency, providing shelter, warmth, and storage of food and water. But what if the motorhome isn’t functioning, or your family is evacuated to a safer location after a natural disaster?
RVers aren’t immune to emergencies, so it pays to be prepared to deal with unforeseen events.
In Your Pockets
The concept of Everyday Carry (EDC) has a cult following within various online communities. While many who monitor these threads are as interested in the art and style of pocketknives, flashlights, and wallets as their utility, others are committed to selecting tools for their pockets that can meet the day’s demands.
A multi-tool or Swiss army knife can be a handy way to keep a few basic tools within reach, including a blade, screwdrivers, pliers, a can opener, or scissors.
A quality pocket flashlight will be invaluable in many situations, from walking back to the motorhome after an evening campsite program to changing a tire along a remote highway at night. Lights that operate on a single AA, AAA, or CR123 battery will fit nicely in a front pocket. It’s wise for each family member to have some sort of light on their person at all times.
Other pocketable items that could prove useful in certain situations include a handkerchief, a “spy capsule” with medications, spare cash, a lighter, spare keys tucked into a wallet, and a pen and notepad. The pad can contain emergency numbers, insurance policy information, a list of model numbers for mechanical parts, etc. (You may wish to store basic info on your smartphone as well.)
An item that rides well on a key ring is a USB flash drive, which can contain vital records. Consider scanning important documents that you might need in an emergency and storing those scans on your flash drive. These include insurance policies, phone numbers, and a list of prescriptions. Also include digital photos of the exterior and interior of your motorhome and all the contents, plus photographs of your pet, in case it becomes lost. Many product owners manuals are now available online in a PDF format; it could prove helpful to have a library of these manuals on your USB flash drive as well.
In The Bag
Websites and other resources dedicated to emergency preparedness encourage individuals to put together a 72-hour kit, also known as a “bug-out bag” (BOB). It’s been said that “the first 72 is on you.” In other words, following a disaster, it may take up to three days before emergency services providers can get to non-life-threatening needs. Therefore, each traveler should keep a backpack in the motorhome that could meet his or her needs for 72 hours in the event of an evacuation to a gymnasium, a church basement, or other such emergency shelter.
A change of clothes, walking shoes, a small fleece blanket, substantial snacks, bottled water, and a NOAA weather radio are good items for your bag. Prescription and over-the-counter medications are also good to restock before your next trip and, depending on how and where you travel, a copy of your passport might be wise to have as well. A flashlight, extra batteries (for all the flashlights and radio), matches and a lighter, extra cash, a charger cord and a portable charger for cell phones, and a small tarp or piece of plastic sheeting would be useful additions. Also consider some type of water filtration or portable water purification system, which are available from outdoor retailers.
A first-aid kit is always a good idea, too. And don’t overlook things such as sunblock and insect repellent.
Duct tape and zip ties have many practical uses as well. And although you may not need a full set of tools away from the motorhome, a basic selection (such as what you’d expect on a multi-tool) that doesn’t add much to the bag’s weight would be a good idea. If you don’t have a can opener on your pocketknife or multi-tool, toss one of those in the bag as well.
Personal hygiene items such as toilet paper, wet wipes, and a toothbrush and toothpaste should be included in each person’s bag.
Waiting out a storm can be less than exciting. If space and weight allow after life-saving gear is included, toss in a deck of cards, a book of crossword puzzles, or a paperback. Let children be involved in loading their own small packs, including their choice of a small toy or puzzle.
For pets, include food and water bowls (collapsible if possible), an extra leash, vet contact information, and sealed containers of food. Also, remember to pack enough extra water for them.
Items can be grouped and protected in plastic bags or waterproof stuff sacks. To expedite the search for specific items, consider color coordination of smaller bags within each BOB — hygiene items in a blue sack and repair items in yellow, for example.
A BOB for each family member can be useful even when the situation is more inconvenient than life-threatening — for example, when you have to wait for several hours in a repair shop unexpectedly. In such cases, a blanket and a few snacks could keep everyone comfortable.
Weight can become an issue with a 72-hour bag, because what’s an acceptable weight for a bag in the closet becomes less so if one carries it for any distance on his or her back. Those who are backpackers are more familiar with keeping several days’ supplies in a pack. Those who are not are encouraged to visit the myriad websites, books, and blogs dedicated to ultralight backpacking for examples of gear lists.
Once the weight of each person’s bag is brought under control, you can begin to enhance the contents in particular ways, such as adding an ultralight backcountry cook set and freeze-dried meals to your selection of emergency snacks.
What You Carry Within
In addition to all the physical items one might stash in a BOB or other vessel, don’t neglect the knowledge and skills you might acquire to take the edge off of a disaster.
Take a community first-aid class. If you’re already first-aid and CPR certified, consider taking it a step further and become a wilderness first responder, for instance.
A degree of mechanical prowess is worth having on the road, so in between adventures, make it a point to spend some time with your contacts at the local RV dealership or with a mechanic friend to enhance your knowledge of your motorhome’s operational systems. If one spouse is already a mechanical guru, let him or her teach the rest of the family to deal with the most common roadside problems. Valuable knowledge is also available at FMCA Family Reunions, as well as FMCA area rallies, where numerous seminars are presented by RV experts outlining the operation and maintenance of motorhome systems, components, and other mechanical/technical topics.
Studying up on the languages, cultures, and climates of those regions you’ll visit will be time well spent. This knowledge could be helpful if you are stranded for several days.
For communications, look into the possibility of becoming certified in amateur radio. There are hundreds of amateur radio clubs across North America, and most welcome newcomers. They’ll help you gain the knowledge required to earn a license and choose equipment. If you’re already a licensed ham operator, you may want to check out FMCA’s Amateur Radio chapter (www.fmcaarc.com).
Emergency preparedness isn’t a new concept, but it’s worth a fresh look from time to time. Planning for disasters could be the ounce of prevention that saves a life down the road.