Long-distance Business Travel and Crisis Preparedness

Guest Post- J. Vanne

I don’t know what the future holds. Nor, in reality, do the elite in Washington, Brussels or Beijing.  Despite the hubris of the planners, the law of unintended consequences, as well as just “plain ol”  human error and ineptitude, will never allow man to create utopia, any more than a man can pull on his own bootstraps and lift himself up to Heaven.  We may be fortunate enough to see a renaissance in the West, much like what Reagan and Thatcher brought to light.  However, there are other indicators that do not bode well: For example, you may wish to review Reinhart and Rogarth’s book This Time is Different:  Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, on the utterly crushing nature of what out-of control debt can do to an economy and society that allowed it.  Or perhaps google work by Dr. Lawrence Kotlikoff of Boston University, who has noted that if all unfunded liabilities in the U.S. were totalled, we are looking at not $16 trillion-ish reddish ink (now up to $17 trillion since I first began drafting this!), but actually $222 trillion. Do you really think this can be paid back? Or perhaps you may wish to consider the latest figure for derivatives – the estimated numbers are too large for comprehension –  what Warren Buffett famously called “weapons of financial mass destruction.”  In another realm, most of us are aware of the encroachment of a state that has gone feral in many ways, such as the disgusting Agenda 21, or the establishment of an Orwellian “war is peace” approach to world politics by the current administration. The threat of EMP – man-made or natural – exists, whether we wish it weren’t so or not. In sum, the powers that be have far too many spinning plates in the air, and at one point it seems more than likely that at least some of them will come crashing down. Indeed, with 48 million people now on food stamps under Obama, and 100 million not working, I would contend many of those plates – and lives – already lie smashed on the ground.

Like me, many of you may not be able to move for a wide variety of reasons.  You are stuck where you are, and with the destruction of the economy by Obama, you are also just glad to have the job you do, in fact, have.  And your job requires travel.  I needn’t bore you with further potential threats – you already know them, or you wouldn’t be reading this;  and to that end, most of you have already engaged in some level of preparedness.  I have done preparedness as well – but one thing I have seen very little commentary on is what to do when one is away from home more than a couple hundred miles for business.  For example, I live in the Chicago area, and twice in the past month I had to travel 2,000 miles away to  the People’s Socialist Republik of California (not that corrupt Illinois is much different).  And in fact, as I compose this article, I am a thousand miles from my own home and family – this time in the other direction, on the East Coast.    What would I do if, e.g., a Carrington level event were to occur, or another 9/11 attack?  What if Yellowstone had a volcanic burp of geologic indigestion?  You can fill in the blank as to the event – my concern is:  what preparations and/or actions could one engage into get home or at least ameliorate the plight of loved ones remaining at home.

Here are a few considerations:

–    A Communication Plan: There has been ample information written in many preparedness sites about family communication plans. Most I have seen are well done, but focus on someone who works, say, downtown, and needs to make it home to the suburbs.  As this topic – getting home when one is relatively local – has been adequately dealt with, I will not deal with this issue here. Most of the information is I have seen is well done, and by all means extrapolate as much of this as you can to your far away from home plans. However, for example, having a rallying point for the kids won’t help you, personally, much when you are across the country and cannot shepherd this.  Of course, having pre-set plans and communication protocols with your wife or other family will be an advantage if you are near or very far away.  However, this topic – as noted above – has been dealt with very ably at other preparedness sites, and needn’t be repeated here.

For the purposes of this article on business travel, I will assume one is within North America, ex-Hawaii or Alaska. I do this not to short-shrift people who travel to Europe or Asia, but simply restricting the scope of this article will comprise the vast majority of the business travelers.  There will, of course,  be much more profound logistical realities to attend to should one be overseas during a major crisis, which are also beyond the scope of this paper.  So, with this in mind, here are some practical considerations.

–    Time is critical:  After an event, it may be several days before the magnitude of the crisis sinks in psychologically; this is time that shouldn’t be wasted. E.g., after 9/11, when all airlines were shut-down, there still were cars to be rented for a very short window of time.  The goal is to be responsive.  Studies show that many people go into a slight catatonia during a crisis (think of those that refused to evacuate the Word Trade Center during 9/11; another example the story of the MV Estonia that sank in the 1990s, going between Estonia and Sweden, costing 852 lives. One of the few who lived recalled running past one passenger who had simply lit up a cigarette, and refused to budge when urged to do so.  You must act in a situation that demands it, even if it seems forced and mechanical; at the same time, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time may make the situation worse.  So, what is the answer to the twin horns of this dilemma? Having pre-thought out plans, insofar as you are able to analyze potential dangers.

–    Play “What if” Games”:  One problem with preparedness is that it can become an all-consuming obsession.  You may have the time, money and/or mental CPU cycles to ruminate on issues and solutions.  You may be a natural McGuyver.  On the other hand, like many of you, I am not McGuyver, and I have precious few mental CPU cycles to spare. I also have a day job, which generally bleeds over into all kinds of weekend and evening hours, as do many of you. All I am advocating is a high level reflection on possible actions at your disposal as you have downtime in your travel or leisure time (what little you have!). For example, during my trip to LA., what might I have been able to do in, e.g., an EMP situation?  If a worse case EMP scenario occurred, there may be no vehicular mobility at all. But what if an EMP left some vehicles running? Or in a 9/11 situation, what if private, small airplanes were left free to take off? As a matter of fact, back in my hitch-hiking days, more than one person I knew would go out to small airports, and simply hang around and ask for rides from pilots of single engine Piper Cubs or Cessnas.  The same might apply to marinas – say going from Miami to Boston. A long shot? Of course.  But the key here is not this specific solution, but rather the “outside the box” approach to solving the dilemma.

–    Determine places to avoid: If I were in Toronto, and needed to get to Chicago, I would not want to go through Detroit. Have a mental map in your mind of alternative routes you might take. If you are geographically challenged, this might involve nothing more than taking a 15 second glance at Rand-McNally atlas. Can you risk going from LA to Denver through the Mojave if your travel arrangements are unreliable? Similarly, where possible, you may wish to familiarize yourself with parts of the city you are in that are questionable. Taxi drivers, concierges, co-workers – all can be sources of information here.

–    When you simply cannot make it home:  The worst case scenario has taken place. You are in San Francisco, and an EMP has taken out ALL conveyances – trains, planes, automobiles – and everything else. To prepare for an eventuality like this, do you have neighbors  or family you can confidentially discuss your concerns with? Have you left your family with enough barterable items to see them through in your absence?   You may not have enough money for all the preparations you would like, but have you done as much as you are able? For example, do you own “junk” silver (pre-1965) silver coins?  As a matter of fact,  recall in the early 1970s that gas was in the low 30 cent range – and in fact it still  is today – if you pay in silver coins. Similarly, have you put simple cash away? Perhaps the crisis is just a Lehman-style meltdown, leading to a bank holiday, while you are away. Of course, readers of this article will be well aware that they should have a minimum of food and water on hand. Certainly, even if you are challenged, a few gallons of spring water, a number of cans of tuna and some bags of lentil are not expensive, and everyone should be able to afford a minimum expenditure for these.

–    Neighbors. Do you have neighbors you can trust to discuss the matter with? If this family a;sp has a business traveler, can you work out some quid pro quo – if he is gone, you would pick up the slack in his absence, and vice-versa. There is risk here in that the counterparty might not be reliable, but this is a judgment only you can make. Alternatively, many will have family local, which may be even better.

–    Concentric circles. For some time, I worked approximately 50 miles from home  – a very long day’s hike. In this case, I planned to purchase a collapsible bicycle on Amazon. I would not have felt comfortable bringing it into the workplace, given the “government will take care of me” attitudes most exhibited there. For defense while in transit, pepper spray, or another spray of your choice – is in order, and certainly making sure that water and some food is available in transit is important. I would suggest panniers (small bags that attach to your bicyle), or at minimum a cheap backpack, to allow carrying of enough supplied to make it home.

I have also spent some time working in Lansing, MI., Pittsburg, PA. and Columbus OH – between 300 and 400 miles from home. What would I do in a grid down (or similar) situation? In this situation, I was gone Mon-Fri, renting a place during weekdays.  Yes, driving, finding a ride if my car was inoperable, using a train, etc., are all obvious first choices. But what if those choices are gone? What if the major interstates are blocked? Again, my first choice would be having access to a bicycle, with ability to carry the rudiments for several days of trekking cross-country. What kind of shape are you in? A reasonably fit person should be able to do about 100 miles/day. In the case above, this would put me three to four days out from home, assuming no mishaps, delays, or the like. Should I attempt it? In a 9/11 situation, the risk of travelling would have been low (e.g., no civil disturbances en route), but the need to get home was also low – there was no serious risk to my family if I were absent.  Whether you go or stay is a judgment call – but which criteria you need to make in the clear light of day ahead of a crisis – not during the  emergency, when the “fog of war”  clouds judgment. In the situations above, if it were winter, I would not be able to go – I have bicycled on snow more than once, and one does not make much headway! Hypothermia would also quickly kill in winter – even if one was warm while riding, as soon as one stopped, the sweat would quickly chill, and be a serious threat to life.  Of course, if one were adequately prepared, with polypropylene, breathable garments, there was no snow on the road, a good set of panniers on one’s bike, no sigh of civil unrest on your selected route, etc., then it could possibly be advisable to set out.  Again, some of this will necessarily be a judgment call, and the extent of preparations you make to take advantage of situations that may be low probability, but have high risk associated. This truly is not much different than the calculations you make to purchase life, fire or auto insurance – how much should you insure for? What do I stand to lose if I don’t insure against an admittedly low probability occurrence? Clearly, unless you are a wealthy Hollywood Learjet leftist, you don’t have the money to insure against everything; on the other hand, you do have some money to insure against certain risks.

The key issue here is not to lay out all possible scenarios here – you don’t want to read a hundred page paper on this, nor do I wish to write it! Rather, the goal is to lay out some possible problems, and get you, dear reader, to start reflecting your own personalized solutions that will be somewhat unique to your own, individual situation.  This includes such disparate things as whether there are children at home – and how old; how safe a neighborhood one has;  what type of neighbors one has relative to their own preparedness, and if you have had time to have a heart to heart with them about your – and their – travel schedules; the degree of involvement one’s wife has in preparedness, as well as how adaptable she is to emergency situations… and more.

–    Friends, Family, Acquaintances  in Target Area:  Who do you know in, or around, the area, you will be? Have you kept in touch – or do you need to re-connect?  Do you have addresses and phone numbers? Do you have them written down, in case there were an event knocking out electronics?  Of course, as with everything else noted here, you need to conduct your own analysis. If your analysis is that you think losing electronic information is virtually impossible, then (in this example) written addresses would not be part of your plan.

If you are working in a given location long term, or regularly travel to a given city, could you make arrangements ahead of time with someone, perhaps for some kind of initial retainer? Of course, the critical issue would be judging if the person you trusted were worthy of that trust  – but recall that this type of decision is one you have to make every day in business, as well! For me, the first place I would look to make an arrangement like that would be the church. Alternatively, some of the “prepper” sites allow exchange of information, and you might be able to negotiate some kind of quid pro quo with someone who understands the threats.

–    Gold and silver coins:  I routinely bring one or two half ounce gold coins on my trips. I have never once had a problem leaving them in my computer case or briefcase. As you can imagine, they are never out of my sight. If you are concerned about the TSA spotting gold coins, leave a bit of loose change in with your case to throw them off the scent. Worst case, you can tell them you always bring it as your lucky charm.  In the event that I am thousands of miles from home -say, LA, and need to get to Chicago – and there is limited transportation – a gold coin may just be the literal ticket home. Having two half ounce, or several quarter ounce coins, will provide greater flexibility, of course.  Valcambi has recently come out with a gold wafer that will break into 1 gram sections, which is another option. And if there were no traffic on the road at all, the coins would still buy me food and perhaps some small roof over my head. Cash, you say? Mais oui! The problem with cash is that there always seems to come up situations that require “dipping in” to those reserves. If you can absolutely manage to not do this (I cannot!), that is a great solution.  Otherwise, precious metals are a better option.  As a side note, silver would not be valuable enough to be worth its weight when travelling, and platinum would not be as immediately recognizable to the common person. Stick with gold in half or quarter ounce size, and in a recognizable form (eagles, maple leafs, kruggerands or possibly several others).

–    Long term absence: Almost too horrible to contemplate, but what if I was in LA, and my home was in NY – and needed to get cross-country, in a total grid and transportation down situation. Assuming I have made preparation for my family, as noted above, striking out cross-country on a kamikaze mission would serve no one any good. Rather, for the time being, the goal would be to stay alive and bide one’s time, looking for an opportunity to return home. The key here is not only barterable items – and gold has been the very choice for this reason for thousands of years – but also to have barterable skills. Do you have one? Even a strong back might earn one’s keep in a serious societal crisis. Have you reviewed what you could do in a situation like this?

In conclusion, the goal of preparedness is not to obsess over potential catastrophes. Rather, if one has done one’s due diligence, then you should have greater peace of mind as you set out for your business trip.  For those of use of the Christian faith, preparedness is also not to deny that a sovereign God will look after us. However, we have been given a brain and common sense for a reason, and we need to use it.  We have been told to pay attention to the times and seasons – here, this passage  is specifically in regards to the return of the Lord, but I believe we can extrapolate this call to all areas of life.  The ultimate goal of preparedness is to be able to live a life not in fear, as one has done all one was able to do in good conscience, and leave the rest in God’s capable hands.

What do you think? If this paper does nothing else, hopefully it will engender some responses as to other things that can be done relative to business travel. Please comment!

Picture Credit- travelnewsyoucanuse.com

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