The office prepper’s EDC (Every Day Carry kit)

July 2013 — The recent floods in Calgary and Toronto made me think about what it would mean for people at work, or commuting to work, if a disaster were to occur here in Ottawa. And I realised that I often meet with clients in unfamiliar buildings.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, and while the chances that anything like this will happen here are probably very low, they aren’t zero. Most businesses tend to think of business continuity in terms of employees watching the weather report and then working from home, not situations where lives are endangered — like commuters being caught in a flash flood and having to abandon their cars, or office workers escaping a burning high-rise tower in the midst of a power outage. There were even reports during Hurricane Sandy that New Yorkers were ditching their laptops and briefcases after they realized these items were just making it more difficult to get back home.

So, maybe a small “every-day-carry” (EDC) survival kit for office workers isn’t such a crazy idea. It might make the difference between struggling or being able to cope with an emergency. You can keep a few things in a desk drawer or, if you are often out and about, in your bag. That means your kit has to be small and light.

The purpose of my EDC kit is help get me i) out of a building and ii) back home. That could mean returning to my car and driving home, or taking a taxi, or taking public transportation, or even walking home if the roads can’t be used. It’s a sensible idea to keep an emergency kit in your car, and you can retrieve this additional gear even if you can’t drive home. Plan B is to stay somewhere safe until help arrives (experts call this “sheltering in place”).

Of course, everybody carries their phone with them. I keep a charger and cable, power bank, Swiss Army knife, and protein bar in my briefcase. And everybody should keep a pair of “sensible shoes” at work — meaning something comfortable you can walk in. A pair of old runners are perfect.

After reviewing lots of web sites and YouTube videos, here’s what I use to supplement these items. Packed up, the whole kit weighs about one pound. Instead of a military-style pouch, I prefer a large Ziploc freezer bag — they could also be used to carry water. Many experts recommend some spare clothing and a backpack so you can keeping your hands free while carrying your EDC kit.

Top-5 Items

  • A small, bright, durable LED flashlight with a spare set of batteries. Check the batteries at least monthly. Flashlights with a simple mechanical on/off switch will not drain the batteries like the ones with multiple modes (high/medium/low/flash/etc).
  • An emergency blanket to keep you warm and dry, block the sun, or use the reflective surface to signal.
  • A pair of work gloves in case you need to clear a path by moving something hot or sharp.
  • A whistle to attract first responders. Whistles are louder than your voice and you can blow a whistle long after you would be hoarse.
  • A disposable surgical mask; these filter out 95% of bacteria, ash and perhaps larger smoke particles. You can use drywall dust masks but they don’t pack flat.

Additional Items

  • A chemical glowstick. These typically last for 12 hours, and can be used for marking a location or signaling for help. Their shelf life is a couple of years.
  • About $25 in toonies, loonies and quarters. That’s enough for a bottle of water and a snack from a vending machine, calls from a pay phone, or bus fare for you and a friend (wanna bet your Presto card won’t work in an emergency?).
  • A city map to plot a course home. The free OC Transpo map covers the entire city, shows bus routes and — unlike a GPS or smart phone — doesn’t need batteries. Don’t forget to get a local map when traveling to another city.
  • A small bottle of hand sanitizer or package of sanitizer wipes.
  • A package of pocket Kleenex; in a pinch, it can double as toilet paper.
  • A camper’s towel; these are compressed into a little puck about 4 cm in diameter and you add water to expand them. Also useful for first aid or as tinder.
  • A travel tube of aspirin, with a few Benadryl tossed in for allergic reactions. Don’t forget any essential medication that you take.
  • Some gauze bandages to stop bleeding from cuts, and a small spool of surgical tape.
  • A laminated (water-resistant) business card for ID.
  • Strike-anywhere matches in a water-proof container. Fire can be used for light, heat, and to boil water (you’ll need a metal container to boil water). NEVER START A FIRE INDOORS.
  • A small ice scrapper in case the car is iced up. I found a small flat one at Eddie Bauer. Some people say credit cards work fine, but maybe experiment first with an expired one!

Finally, you need something to put this stuff in. Some use a small pouch while others stuff their EDC essentials into a large water bottle — very inconspicuous compared to a backpack. Personally, I find it’s handy to have your kit in a small package you can transfer from bag to bag; some days I carry a briefcase while other days I use a large computer case on wheels.

You might not need all of these items, or want to add others (first aid? more food? hard copy of emergency contact numbers?).

A final tip: some web sites recommend planning with your colleagues and buying things together to keep costs down. That way you can buy packages of supplies and split them up.

About Market Metrics

Market Metrics Inc. helps knowledge-based businesses with strategy, planning and innovation. We offer our clients a unique combination of top-shelf professional skills, competitive pricing, and real-world industry experience in business planning, marketing, and technology.

The consultancy was founded in 2003 by Greg Graham, a seasoned strategic marketing professional. Greg is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC), a Fellow of the Ontario Institute of Management Consultants (FCMC), and an Accredited Small Business Consultant (ASMEC) in the United States. He holds MBA/BEE degrees plus a Certificate in Strategic Management.

Prior to founding Market Metrics, Greg's 21 years of corporate experience encompassed tech start-ups through Fortune 500 companies. He is an expert in subscription-based business models (including SaaS). Greg frequently performs consulting engagements on behalf of the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP).