You might not think urban navigation is a very important skill, but you’ll change your mind quickly if a disaster happens while you’re away from home.
Picture it: You and your best friends are packed into a shiny new car you just bought with your summer bonus, headed to the beach for your dream vacation because, let’s face it, the condo you rented is pretty fantastic. It’s nestled right on the sand, only a stone’s throw from the ocean, and you can’t wait to catch some of those rays and waves.
Sure, it’s been a long drive, but you know the destination will be worth it. Plus, it’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, and you’re rocking your shades–not to mention blasting your favorite tunes on your fancy, souped-up stereo.
You’re almost there. Traffic is a bit congested, but it’s nothing you don’t deal with on a daily basis during your commute to work. All you have to do is cross the bridge ahead of you and you’ll be on the boardwalk in no time.
Oh, How Quickly Your Luck Can Change
Suddenly, you hear an earth-shattering explosion strong enough to shake your entire car. The lights on the bridge fizzle out. Traffic comes to a dead halt. Horns start honking. Soon you hear sirens in the distance, and people start getting out of their cars to see what happened.
Don’t panic, you tell your friends as you turn on your blinkers and step outside. But as you take a few steps forward, you see the entire bridge has been crushed. And so too have your dreams of getting to the beach anytime soon.
Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to back up and turn around. Cars are everywhere–total gridlock. You turn off the music and tune to the local news station, hoping to find an update. The radio doesn’t work. You check your phone, but bad news here, too. No internet. You can’t even send a text message or make a call.
Is this a terrible Netflix horror movie? Or is this really happening? And what do you do now?
It looks like you and your friends are going to have to abandon the vehicle and search for signs of working civilization on foot. Especially since you all really have to go to the bathroom. But without your GPS, you feel stranded. Here are five tools–and skills–you will need to navigate through this situation.
1. A Compass and a Map
Sure, it sounds old-school, especially when you usually have Siri or Google to tell you where to turn and when. But now that she’s offline, old-school is the best you can do.
Just in case of emergencies, you should always have a compass and a paper map on board as a backup to your technology. And if you’re going out of town, you should order a map of the city or state you’re going to. Of course, these tools won’t help you much if you don’t know how to use them. But with a little bit of studying, you too can become an expert at reading a compass and a map so you can go find that rest stop.
The last thing you need when you’re stranded in unknown territory–sweating and having no idea when you’ll find air conditioning–is sun poisoning or a severe sunburn that can cause not just redness and blistering, but fever, dizziness and nausea. In this scenario you were heading to the beach so you should already have sunscreen on hand. Make sure you buy broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, which protects against long-wave and short-wave ultraviolet rays.
3. Keep a 72-Hour Kit in the Trunk
It’s important to be prepared for any scenario. While many people keep bug out bags at home, it’s also wise to keep something in the trunk. A 72-hour kit would provide enough resources to get you back to safety. Fill it with enough supplies to allow you to hike from point A to point B, or home. In the case above, make sure you have enough packed for the number of people you are traveling with. You can purchase 72-hour kits with supplies for two people or four people, or you can make your own.
Having one of these ready is important for your survival because they come with both food and water. The average person can go about 100 hours without water, but that’s in mild temperatures with low activity levels. If you’re hiking through the summer sun, you’re going to need to find fluids fast. When trekking through a hot environment, you should drink at least 16 ounces of water each hour.
Keep in mind, it’s important that you test your kit before disaster strikes. How else will you know what you are missing? Make sure to check the expiration dates on your MREs since their shelf life is dependent upon the temperature you store them in.
4. Orienteering Skills
What if you find yourself stuck in the woods and you don’t know how to make it out to safety? This is where refined orienteering skills could come in handy. Orienteering involves much more than just the ability to read a map or compass. Practice, practice, practice just in case disaster strikes. It can be fun! Here are a few tips:
- Select a Catching Feature — That’s a distinct feature in the forest you know you can’t miss and will let you know when you’ve gone too far, according to the map.
- Follow a “Handrail” — This could be a trail, fence, stream or other linear feature that can help keep you oriented.
- Make Use of Collecting Features — These are large, distinguishable features of the terrain that make it easier for you to keep track of where you are at all times.
Another trick you can use to find your way is with sticks and rocks. Simply put a stick in the ground, mark the end of its shadow with a rock, wait for the shadow to move several inches, then mark the end of the shadow with another rock. Lay the stick down next to the two rocks and it will point east and west.
5. Time-Telling Strategies
Who wears a watch anymore? You can easily tell the time by glancing at your smartphone. But what happens when you’re in the middle of nowhere and your battery dies?
Luckily, there are a few ways to estimate the time without relying on fancy technology. During the daytime, the position of the sun can give you particular insight. If the sun is in the center of the sky, it’s approximately noon. If it’s in the eastern half of the sky, it’s morning. If it’s in the western part of the sky, it’s afternoon.
And at night? You can use similar strategies based on the position of the moon, not to mention constellations like the Big Dipper. Sure, you may have to brush up on your astronomy, but it can go a long way in disaster preparedness.
The Bottom Line
Of course, your post-apocalyptic experience before the bridge was probably just a bad dream. Don’t worry, chances are you and your friends will still get to enjoy your summer vacation. But who knows what kinds of local or global disasters could happen in the future?
Even if it’s as simple a catastrophe as losing–or breaking–your cell phone while on the road, familiarizing yourself with old school navigation methods could come in handy someday. And who knows? You may even get your 15 minutes of fame as a hero.
About The Author: Megan Ray Nichols is the editor of Schooled By Science. She enjoys learning about the environment and world around her. She believes that luck is when opportunity meets preparation. When she isn’t writing, Megan enjoys hiking, fishing and stargazing.