Big City Obstacles to Getting Home in a Disaster

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This post is by Bernie Carr,

Soon after the Boston Marathon bombing, the city went on lockdown.  A relative who lives a mile or so away from the blast site was visiting a friend at the time.  He texted the family that he could not leave his friend’s house for hours because entire neighborhoods were on lockdown.  This got me thinking about what could potentially keep you from getting home in the event of a disaster.  You can have all your “ducks in a row” such as a well stocked get home bag, emergency texting tree, contingency plans, but these things could provide obstacles to your getting home plans:

News Delays

On typical work days we get our news reports during the morning or afternoon drive while listening to the radio.  But what if something happens in the middle of the day?  It may be a good idea to check the news at certain times during the day via your phone or your computer just to be aware of what’s going on.  I am not recommending surfing the internet as you work, but perhaps checking during your break or lunch would not be a bad idea.  If you don’t know that there’s an emergency going on until later, you may waste precious time.

Malfunctioning Elevators

The first thing you need to do is get out of your building if it is safe to go out.  I have gotten locked in a packed elevator with 10 other people and it was not a good experience.  It only lasted for a few minutes but that was enough that I do not get into an elevator that is overly packed.  I’d rather take the stairs.  In an emergency, elevators may not even work.

  • Get to know your building layout.
  • Find out about stairwells and alternate routes out of your floor.

Blocked Exits

Parking structures may get congested or worse, destroyed and you may be unable to get your car out.

  • Have a plan in case you have to walk out of downtown.
  • Have some emergency cash in case you have to take a cab or bus home.
  • Know where you can get public transportation just in case.
  • Have a “get home” bag.
  • You should always  have comfortable shoes with you.

Traffic Congestion and Accidents

Think about the flow of traffic in your area.  Houston traffic is horrendous at certain hours, but some cities are even worse.  The freeways get really packed during rush hours.  Add a fender bender or two and you can be sitting there for hours.

  • Know the traffic conditions in your area:
  • Keep track of traffic reports and have several alternate routes home.
  • Don’t rely on your GPS – know the routes by heart or have a paper map.
  • Consider taking a defensive driving course – you can improve your driving skills and possibly qualify for a discount off your car insurance.

Flooded, Blocked or Damaged Streets

We live in an area that floods quickly during heavy rains.  Again, know your alternate routes, and stay clear of areas that you know will become choke points.  In an earthquake, riot or weather-related disaster, many streets may be blocked or damaged.   You should have a backup street map in case cell phones are not working and you are unable to access Mapquest or Google Maps.

Lock Downs

Employers and school officials have emergency lockdown procedures.  Get to know the lock down procedures in your office and kids’ schools if you are a parent.  If your building goes on lock down you may be prevented from leaving.

  • Know where to pick up your kids.
  • Schools sometimes close down certain driveways and exits, and you will waste valuable time if you have to take time to search for the open one.
  • Designate who picks up whom in advance to avoid duplication and wasted time.


Related to road rage described above, desperate people will resort to desperate acts.   Someone who is unable to get a vehicle may try and take yours.  You may be trying to walk out and someone may steal your get home bag – anything can happen.  Have a way to defend yourself if necessary.   I am not suggesting everyone needs to carry a weapon, but just be aware this can happen so you can take precautions.

  • Don’t call attention to yourself if you are walking.
  • Stay away from open doorways and steer clear of blind corners.
  • If you are driving, keep your doors and windows closed.

This post is not meant to scare you but rather get you to think about possible impediments to getting home in an emergency so you can plan ahead.  Take the extra steps of informing your family and test your emergency plan.

© Apartment Prepper 2013

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  1. I keep a hard hat, boots, tool belt with tools and a reflective vest in my truck in addition to my GHB. If I still have my vehicle, I have a plausible story ready about an emergency call involving life safety requiring my attention. I have the technical knowledge to back it up as well. If I have to abandon my vehicle, I can quickly blend in with a crowd and appear to be a lowly construction worker trying to get home. From experience, no one notices or even sees us. An over sized shirt along with some wide suspenders underneath can hide all manner of things.

    1. Hey Ishimo, Tool belt with tools along with your construction worker gear would definitely good to have in an emergency. Thanks for the comment!

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