Do You Have an Escape Route?

I live in a small community where the city struggles with collecting enough tax revenue to maintain the infrastructure, especially the roads.  Just recently, a bond was passed to address the terrible state of disrepair many of our roads have fallen into.  There were so many pot holes, cracks and uneven surfaces that many times one feels as if it would be a smoother ride if it was a dirt road.

Well, just a few weeks ago, the road repair began.  Orange cones appeared everywhere with road construction signs on almost every street.  Then the heavy equipment showed up and the process of tearing up the old roads in preparation of laying a new road base and a fresh layer of asphalt.  Then things began to get tricky.

You see, so many of the roads were being worked on at the same time that it created a real challenge to drive just about anywhere.  Then when they chocked down certain roads to one lane with flagmen stopping traffic every few minutes, things got really frustrating.  In an attempt to bypass much of this construction, I took the time to map out alternate routes that were longer in distance but much quicker in time.

Now everyone in the community agrees, these roads desperately needed to be fixed.  It’s just the inconvenience of not being able to use the roads for a period of time (since we’re all such impatient people), really gets under our skin at times.  I made the mistake the other day of not remembering my prior though out route change to avoid much of the construction and turned onto one of the most highly congested one lane roads under construction.  When I realized my mistake, I quickly looked around to see if I could make a U-turn to get out of there but no such luck – I was locked in.

I spent almost 20 minutes on a stretch of road that normally would take less than 3 minutes and I was ticked.  I was in a hurry with what I felt were important errands but the construction workers just didn’t seem to care.  They made me wait just as long as everyone else.

I think we’ve all been on roads where there was either construction or an accident or just far too many cars (I hate rush hour).  It can be really infuriating dealing with stop and go traffic and average speed limits of under 20 mph.  There’s no question, this can anger a lot of people and road rage can take an uptick in these situations.

I remember going to a huge 4th of July fireworks celebration at a university stadium some 20 miles away.  There were 60,000 attendees inside the stadium and another 30,000 outside the stadium.  We knew traffic and parking would be a nightmare so my wife and I decided to take my motorcycle.  My wife’s not a huge fan of riding on my bike, especially in traffic so I always try and drive a little more conservatively when she’s on board.

From previous years’ experience (when we drove a car to the event), I knew the worst time would be right after the event when everyone would be trying to get out of there.  We had been stuck in traffic for hours in previous years.  My plan this year was to avoid most of that by being able to drive on the shoulder passing all the cars stuck in grid lock.

What I didn’t expect is how some drivers would react to my plan.  Now keep in mind, I wasn’t driving very fast on the shoulder so drivers could see me coming.  There were those who were so upset about my passing everyone by, they actually would steer their cars over to the right blocking the shoulder.  I’m not sure why they felt they were personally be hurt by my passing them by, but nevertheless, there were several who tried to keep up from passing.

This of course was so very comforting to my wife – the thought of people trying to run us off the road.  Needless to say, it was the last time we rode my motorcycle to this event.  These experiences have caused me to reflect on the utter chaos that will exist should a mass evacuation be required or necessary.

The 1998 movie, “Deep Impact” comes to mind as I think about such potentially massive traffic gridlock.  A comet is on a collision course with the earth slated to strike in the Atlantic Ocean generating a 3,500 ft. high mega-tsunami.  Everyone is on the road trying to get to higher ground.  Problem is, there are so many on the road, traffic is at a complete standstill.  Tempers are flaring and desperate actions taken.  Unfortunately, I believe this scene could repeat itself in real life for many of us.

One of the most dramatic examples I personally experienced was related to hurricane Katrina.  A little more than a day before Katrina hit, I was in New Orleans and watched as they changed the traffic flow on all the freeways in the area.  It’s called contra-flow and the direction of the flow on all freeways was headed out of the New Orleans area.  Even though the vast majority of the residents of the New Orleans area did not evacuate, still the freeways were a mess!  I can’t imagine what it would have been like had EVERYONE tried to evacuate using the freeways.

So you may be asking yourself, “What’s the solution?”  There isn’t a blanket solution for every circumstance but there are some common sense precautions one can take to greatly reduce the risk of having to deal with such difficult and potentially life-threating situations.

First – Take the time now to map out several different routes out of your area using less traveled roads.  You should have at least three escape routes planned out.  Using Google Maps and Google Earth, it should be fairly simple to map these routes.  You then must drive them.  Make notes of any potential bottle necks or concerns that may have you choosing another escape route.

Second – Make sure you always have enough fuel in your car.  My wife has the bad habit of running her car down to the empty mark before she lets me know she needs gas.  I try and help her avoid this issue by always filling her car whenever I drive it.  Ultimately, we should drive off the top 1/4 of a tank, always filling up when you get to 3/4 of a tank.  This is not always possible but I seldom let my tanks drop below 1/2 (unless my wife’s driving).

I also feel it’s important to keep at least 5 gallons of gas in a red plastic gas can in the garage that could easily be thrown in the trunk in a bug-out scenario.  Better safe than sorry.  Back in August, a friend and I decided to drive up to Idaho for the solar eclipse.  Knowing there would be tens of thousands of others also driving up there and not knowing what the traffic conditions would be, especially right after the eclipse, I decided to take two 5-gallon gas cans with us.  We ended up not needing to use them but it really gave us that extra sense of security that if things got dicey, we’d be able to make it out.

Remember, the last thing you want is to be stuck in traffic with an impending disaster looming.  Please take the time now to ensure you have your escape routes and fuel secured and I promise you will sleep better.

More than 35 years experience in the Preparedness Industry