Monday, December 21, 2009

Be Prepared Always

The past few days have delivered evidence of why it is a good idea to be prepared always for the situation to run amok.

First to England, where hundreds of travelers were trapped on the underground train when the weather caused a mechanical breakdown of the system. There they sat, no food, no water, no heat or air conditioning, and no idea how long they would be stranded like that.

Next we go to the airports along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. where thousands of travelers were trapped by winter weather and cancellation of flights. Not only that, but ground transportation was halted by blizzard conditions that strangled all routes of travel. There people sat, waiting for Mother Nature to give them a break.

And let's not forget about airline passengers being held like prisoners on airplanes for several hours while their planes sit on the ground unable to fly. In December 2006, lightning storms and a tornado warning closed down the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, stranding passengers on some planes for as long as 9 hours. In February 2007, a winter storm led JetBlue Airways to leave airplanes full of passengers sitting on the tarmac at Kennedy International Airport for nearly 11 hours. From January to June of this year, more than 600 incidents like this kept passengers stranded on airplanes for more than 3 hours without the ability to disembark.  

Out of all this there will be thousands of individual stories about having to endure miserable conditions, living like so many cattle that had been herded into tight quarters and left to stand or sit or lie down on a cold, hard floor and await some future that they had no control over.

Keep in mind that being stranded applies to subways, bus travel, trains, and even your own personal vehicle. The weather can (and does) almost instantly shut down all forms of transportation. When that happens, wherever you happen to be, that's where you'll going to have to live for a while. Might be at your office, at the mall, stuck in traffic, or the places already mentioned. 

As always, there are lessons to be learned from the suffering of others. There are only so many rational things you can do — among which I offer the following:
  • Never leave home wearing clothing that cannot serve as adequate shelter and insulation in the worst possible weather conditions for the season and location. A pocketable rain poncho is worth its weight in gold (even at present inflated gold prices) when you're exposed to wet weather.  In addition, wear clothes that will keep you warm if you end up sleeping on the floor at an airport. 
  • Always wear shoes that are comfortable enough for you to walk 5 miles, and sturdy enough to protect against damage to your feet from cold, wet, rocky or muddy conditions. 
  • Always carry some kind of emergency food such as granola bars.
  • Always carry a water bottle, and keep it refilled when you encounter drinking fountains. NOTE: See prior posts about contamination problems with municipal water, and act accordingly. 
  • Keep your cell phone charged so you can call for help, or to notify friends and loved ones about your predicament. During the emergency, limit use of the phone to only the most essential calls, to preserve battery power. 
  • Carry along with you some form of low-tech entertainment — playing cards, a cribbage board, a book to read — to keep you from going nuts during the delay. By engaging other stranded folks in a game, or lending them a spare book, you will be doing a kindness for others. 
  • Check your attitude at the door. Becoming impatient and cranky will not speed the resolution to the problem. Sharing a calm demeanor with everyone around you will undoubtedly help. This is when a good sense of humor, an abundance of tolerance, and a willingness to help others will be like gold. 

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