This is the first submission for the new writing contest. This kind of a situation is why I always try and keep a get home bag around. I don’t want to have to depend on what I can scavenge.
It’s 10am, and you’re just starting to settle in at the office and start in on the day’s work. You are focused; your keyboard and your mouse are like an extension of you and you are ready to really hammer out some quality handiwork.
Then someone in the hall shouts, “Hey, you guys better get in here!” You blink, refocus your eyes away from the screen, and get up from your chair, crinking your stiff neck as you go see what the commotion is all about, and why it’s taking you away from your work when you just got focused.
The TV is on, and the pale, scared newscaster is telling you that you need to stay in your homes and offices; it’s not safe to be outdoors; they’re still waiting to hear from the officials on what to do, but you really shouldn’t go out there. It might be 1-3 days before it is safe.
Holy crap. It’s about now that you either feel really pleased with yourself for finally building that Get Home Bag (GHB or BOB) and stuffing it the bottom drawer of your file cabinet or the trunk of your car, or you really want to kick yourself in the butt for not finding the time before. If you have one already, wonderful. But what about your co-workers? Or what if you can’t get to it; what if it’s in some parking lot too far away from your building to get to? What if you don’t have one at all? What do you do?
Do you have kids in school that you need to go to? A spouse at home? Relatives that need you, especially in this emergency? How are you going to get to them? What if you can’t drive there? Maybe the roads are blocked or impassable, or maybe they’ve simply shut down all traffic. Can you wait awhile, or do you need to leave now?
You have a few decisions to make. If you can stay where you are for a while longer, or if you have to, you need to take stock of your resources. And for the sake of your coworkers, you need to help them gather resources as well. Think of the Japanese tsunami – leaving via the ground floor wasn’t really an option. Neither was accessing your vehicle. And sometimes, you can’t even access the rest of the building. Here’s a brief and poignant video to that effect: https://youtu.be/ua3nnx3Nja
Look around. There are some things every office building has in common, and some of those are listed below. Think outside the box – there’s more than this list – what do you see around you? What you can improvise or cannibalize?
- Water – Have an office cooler? A vending machine? A fridge on the premises? Ice? Take a look around. If you have access to a master key, look in each individual office or cubicle too – a lot of folks have a personal stash close to their desk. Sometimes folks keep a case of water in the bottom drawer of a file cabinet, or snacks in their desk drawers. If the water is still working, it may not be a bad idea to start filling containers (like trash cans and vases) if you may need it. If you or others are planning to leave the premises, save the pre-bottled water for their use.
- Food – Much the same as water, are there vending machines, an office fridge or even a kitchen on site? Take stock of what’s available, and if it’s going to be long-term, get organized and put someone in charge of food collection, storage and disbursement. If it’s a short-term thing where you just need to get through a night at the office, the word rationing might not ever come up. But if it’s bigger, or might get bigger, think ahead.
- Heat – You usually can’t go around starting fires in office buildings. But how do you keep warm if the heat goes off? Look around – are there rugs on the floor that could be rolled into sleeping bags? Are there quilts on the walls? Scarves? Jackets and hats behind peoples’ doors? A lost and found box you can raid for mittens? Most offices have some sort of fabric around. And an awful lot of paper products if indeed you could start a fire. Think even further outside the box – you can use trash bags as ponchos to keep warm if needed, especially if you need to leave the building. If it’s truly cold, try to gather folks into one room away from windows, and pack ‘em to a small space like sardines. The less space you have to heat, the better. Draping trash bags down from a desk can make a miniature tent inside for 1-2 very cozy people.
- Shelter – Right along with heat, shelter implies warmth and security. Are you inside or outside? Look around and make a tent out of an area rug if you need to.
- Weapons – Most offices frown upon weaponry. But it never hurts to ask – does anyone have a concealed carry permit? A pocketknife? Are there steak knives in the office kitchen? Letter openers? An axe for fire (there’s a rare find these days!), or a fire extinguisher? In a pinch, aerosol cans for personal care, computer cleaning or bathroom scents can be used as offensive weapons. Or if you need to get really inventive, think toner powder as an offensive (and most unpleasant) weapon. If you have a tool box on site (try the breakroom), you can disassemble things like stair rails to make fighting sticks, walking staffs and tent poles.
- Tools – Aside from a toolbox, which you may or may not be fortunate enough to have, most department secretaries have been asked often enough for tools that they keep a spare set in their office, along with duct tape, packing tape and other useful objects. Need cord? Look at how many wires and extension cords are around.
If you need to leave, find a bag to put some gear in. With any luck, someone has a backpack or laptop case on site. And a bicycle. But if you need to make your own, consider stripping the covers off a chair, or improvising one out of clothing. Think of MacGyver – he had a knack for looking around and seeing objects for more than their intended purpose. You can too.
Use this as another kick-in-the-butt to put that get-home bag together and take it to the office. But if you don’t have one, you can make one out of the things around you. Look around your workplace with new eyes, and maybe you’ll start seeing things with new eyes. Is there someone in your office that always has candy out for you to nibble? It might be smart to know where they store it. Is there a master key? Do you know where it is? Can you find out? Volunteer for opening or closing if that puts you in a position to locate more resources. If you or your coworkers get stuck for the night, or for a week, what are you going to do? You might be the most prepared person on-site, and that’s brings responsibility to yourself and to others. Improvising might save their lives, and yours. And get you home.