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Preparing for disaster

By Daria Blackwell

Twin TowersImmediately after 9/11 happened in the US, we formulated an emergency escape plan. What if, we thought, there was a follow-up attack or some other disaster that required us to get out fast?  How would we manage it? We lived in the NY Metro area at the time; I was working in NYC, Alex in NJ. We lived in NJ and kept our boat on Long Island Sound.  That meant we had bridges and bodies of water to cross in all directions.  We formulated a plan for how and where we would meet up should the worst take place.

We immediately provisioned our boat for a transatlantic voyage. Our plan was to head to Ireland, Alex’s ancestral home and the most neutral country we could think of. It’s also (according to James Lovelock, Nandor Balazs, and Nostradamus) one of the safest places on earth in case of cataclysm caused by nuclear world war or climate change.  It sounded good to me. It’s a beautiful and temperate place.

We prepared two back packs full of gear for walking out to the boat, just in case we had to.  We took no chances. We included all the standard necessities plus some. Good walking shoes, a change of clothing, including layers for warmth and heat, water, dry reconstitutable food,  hand held water maker, propane stove, tools, knife, hatchet, saw, utensils, toiletries, sleeping bags and air mattresses,  medicines, copies of ID documents, handheld HAM radio, flashlights, matches, and cash were among the survival gear we selected.  We are both ex-scouts and have done a good deal of camping, so we already had the gear.  It was just a matter of putting it together in a way that covered as many contingencies as we could think of.

We stored our gear at home in a dry place. The plan was that in an emergency Alex would get home, pick up the gear, and drive to the George Washington Bridge.  He worked within walking distance of home. I would get from my office in NYC to the GW Bridge in one of two ways. If the roads and bridges were open, I would walk there. If the bridges were closed, I would work my way downtown and ‘borrow’ a small sailboat from the fleet that sailed in lower Manhattan. I would sail up the Hudson on the flood to the GW and across to NJ where we agreed to meet. 

If the bridges and roads were open, we would simply drive to where our boat was, get on board, and sail away.  If they were closed, we would drive north if we could in search of a way around.  If we couldn’t drive, we would sail across the river, and then walk out to Rye and board our boat to sail off. 

Years went by without a disaster. Then the time came to go sailing full time; so we took our backpacks as they were and loaded them on board for a transatlantic journey. If we wanted to do a bit of exploring when we got there, we were ready.

Well, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I finally decided to unpack the gear we never did use.  Here is some stuff I found that I didn’t even realize I had packed:

·         $1000 cash I’d forgotten about (woohoo!) and could really use about now

·         Old credit cards for accounts long closed

·         10-year-old Power Bars, all gooey

·         Disintegrating dry food packages

·         10-year-old medicines, melted

·         Expired exploded batteries

·         Seriously out of date and cracked flares

·         The hand cranked radio I’d been looking for

·         A seized water maker

·         Long past due date insect repellent and sunscreen – lots of it

·         US Armed Services Survival Manual

·         A bible – good reading material.

It was all useful stuff at some time, but some potentially seriously dangerous now. I had a good laugh about some of it, most of which I had not missed in 10 years.  Mainly, it brought back rather tense memories and sadness for those lost in the Towers. 

We live between coasts and on our boat now so we move around a fair bit. Climate change does indeed seem to be speeding up.  The security procedures at airports and check in for vessels have intensified to the point of invading personal freedoms. It’s a different world than it was just ten years ago.

Yet, on board, when we sail across oceans, none of that comes into play. On the oceans life is real and lived in each minute.  All responsibility for our safety and security is right there, not in someone else’s hands. There are life and death situations to deal with.  And we do. 

Somehow, that event in history played a role in my acceptance of the hazards of living. It woke me up to what I really wanted out of life.  Now I choose to live on my own terms.  Those emergency backpacks are stored away empty, but our boat is parked outside our house and ready to take us away at a moment’s notice.  Fully stocked. Global charts. No disasters awaited.   No plans required. 

Further Reading


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