Must-have items & field applications for disaster response
By Jeff Chudwin
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After my deployment to Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it’s clear to me that how we address emergencies in terms of individual officer sustainment proves critical to our survival and success. Many Louisiana officers who fought the New Orleans battle from the beginning told me that all they had was what they arrived with. Re-supply would come days later, but depending on others for vital needs is not acceptable when lives depend on those supplies.
For any disaster-area response, preplanning and preparation remain mandatory for both individual officers and agencies. If we fail to make certain our first responders are self-contained and capable of prolonged fieldwork, the mission may be doomed.
Here’s a list of items you should consider carrying with you and applications for field use during an extended deployment in a disaster area. It’s based on our needs in New Orleans, a very hot and wet operations area. Where conditions of cold weather exist, change the list to reflect the upgraded clothing needs.
- A power strip. This allows you to plug in a number of power cords to one outlet, which is important when electricity is sparse and others will need to power up cell phones, etc.
- A 100-watt (or larger) power inverter. This device plugs into your car cigarette lighter and allows you to use regular 110-volt accessories for charging cell phones, radio batteries, cameras, etc.
- Family Radio Service (FRS) radios with sub channels for short-range communication and at least two-dozen extra AA batteries. These worked for us inside and around buildings and during convoy transport.
- Gold Bond medicated powder. Body and foot powder to prevent and treat heat rash.
- Hydrocortisone cream. Relieves itching from heat rash and chafing.
- Zipper-lock type bags. Available in a variety of sizes, clear, zipper-type baggies are great for protecting items from water damage, including important papers you can view through the bag.
- At least six 3-volt lithium batteries for lights and cameras. (It helps to choose devices that work off the same type of battery if possible. CR123s are very common in both.)
- A small digital camera with a large memory card (a digital video recorder is even better). Keep the case in a zip-lock bag.
- Sanitary wipes (individually wrapped and foil-packed)/Wet Ones.
- Cloth or duct-tape band-aids, which do not slip or fall off like plastic-style bandages.
- Bug repellent in foil packs for easy spill-free carry, and a small spray bottle for clothes coverage.
- A blow-up mattress with a battery powered blower to fill it. This will save your back.
- A regular belt holster/tactical leg holster. Choose as needed.
- A long gun, such as an AR-type .223/5.56mm carbine with a RediMag or extra mag attached (depending on your ammo needs, you may need extra).
- Two extra handgun mags and a belt or leg pouch. (You may need additional.)
- A good, fixed-blade knife and a folding knife with secure sheaths or pocket clips.
- An external soft body armor vest cover with POLICE lettering across back (allows fast access to open and vent) and an undershirt vest carrier, but remember, these tend to trap heat.
- A ball cap with POLICE lettering across the front.
- A small container of bleach. Mix it with water (5 percent bleach-to-water) to decon shoes, etc.
- Large plastic bags. You can use these to transport contaminated materials back to Laundromats or decon areas. Fold them up and fit them inside smaller bags.
- Several N-95 face masks. Store them in zip-lock bags.
- Mentholated petroleum jelly. This helps block bad smells and keep the inside of your nose moisturized.
- 4" or 6" Israeli battle dressings (IBD) and latex gloves. Keep them in a side pocket.
- Nomex flight gloves and a small carabineer. Make small holes in your gloves so you can attach them to your vest cover or tactical vest with the carabineer.
- Large, heavy strength rubber bands.
- Duct tape. Wrap some around a flashlight shank.
- A large, permanent marker to mark irregular surfaces, make signs etc.
- A waterproof military notebook and pen.
- A watch with an alarm-clock function.
- An electric fan. It can keep you cool and provide white noise for communal sleeping.
- Ear plugs.
- Disposable, thin-rubber over-boots you wear over your shoes. After you are done for the day, simply cut them off and throw them away.
- Shower shoes or clogs.
- Tinactin foot spray.
- Sun block (cream and roll on).
- A roll of toilet paper. Store it in a zip-lock bag.
- Diarrhea/constipation medication, such as Imodium and Milk of Magnesia.
- A Camelbak-type hydration unit.
- PowerBars. We stored them in the Camelbak so they wouldn’t melt.
- Lifesavers. We had mint-flavored Lifesavers for dry mouth.
- Sports drinks—lots of them.
- Carmex medicated lip balm in a lipstick-type container.
- Good sunglasses with a retaining strap.
- Small packets of lens cleaner.
- Sports-brand t-shirts. Get non-cotton, loose shirts.
- A sweat-absorbing headband.
- BDU pants.
- A bunch of rubber gloves.
- A small towel or washcloth. Store in a zip-lock bag.
- A police reflective traffic vest.
- Rain gear.
- Apply Gold Bond medicated powder to your feet, and change your socks once a day.
- Make sure your cellular carrier works where you’ll be working. This may prove difficult if you’re first-in, but try to call or e-mail ahead to anyone on the ground to get info. In our situation, Nextel did not consistently work from south of St. Louis to south of New Orleans, while Verizon did.
- Attach everything securely to your person. Anything unattached is gone.
- Trim your head and facial hair short so bugs will have a harder time nesting.
- Apply sun block, then bug spray before dressing. Reapply after sweating. Bullfrog or similar sun block resists water and sweat.
- Treat the bottom of your pants and top of your shoes with bug spray to keep the bad boys out of your lower areas.
- Shake out your boots before you put them on and your bed before you climb in. Do not reach inside to check—you want to evict trespassers without injury.
- If using cots in the bush, put the legs in a cup or can of water with some oil mixed in to prevent millipedes and other biting nasties from climbing up the legs.
- Do not reach into any unknown spaces. They may harbor displaced snakes, brown-recluse spiders and other bad biting things. Use flashlight to see into the space, or poke a stick in there.
- Keep your hands clean and your fingers out of your eyes and nose. Cut your nails short. Cover any abrasions or small cuts with Liquid Skin.
- The twin curses of the traveler, diarrhea and constipation, are no joke. Eat no food of an unknown origin and time of arrival. You won’t remember the food you don’t eat; you may never forget the food you do. When in doubt, don’t eat it.
- Don’t drink any ice or water of an unknown origin or where cross-contamination can take place. Example: Dirty hands reach into coolers to grab water. You take ice from the cooler and add it to your drink. You are likely to suffer a bad case of runs not long thereafter.
- Wash your hands with soap and water, or clean them with hand sanitizing gel at each opportunity. Doctors say the primary means of transmission of chloroform bacteria—i.e., E. coli—is fecal matter to the hands.
- Fill a cooler with ice and bottled water/Gatorade first thing each morning.
- Hydrate early each day to keep your urine clear. Yellow indicates dehydration.
- Make sure you wear shower clogs to avoid the foot funk.
Jeff Chudwin is president of the Illinois Tactical Officers Association and chief of police and range master for the Village of Olympia Fields, Ill. Chudwin has been a competitive shooter and firearms/use-of-force trainer for more than 25 years. He developed Illinois’ certified 40-hour Rifle/Carbine Instructor Course for N.E.M.R.T/IL Mobile Training Unit #3 and assists with instruction of the rapid deployment/active shooter training course.