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Learn these tips for safely sheltering in your vehicle

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600 400 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

Spending the night in your vehicle doesn’t have to be a life-threatening experience. Here are some tips from a survival expert to help you make it through the night.

by Peter Kummerfeldt

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Bad weather, breakdowns, running out of fuel, getting stuck are some of the more common reasons why a driver might have to bed down for the night (or perhaps for several nights) until the situation is resolved.

Drivers who accept the possibility that the unforeseen may happen are drivers who prepare  for the experience. On the other hand, drivers who deny the possibility may find themselves fighting for their lives!

Deep snow and bad weather can cause a deadly combination.

Here are some things you can do:

Assembling a survival kit is the first step. As with any survival kit, the contents should be selected based on personal needs, the season and the geographic location. (See the following list of recommended equipment.)

If you become stranded you’ll be glad to have an emergency kit.  Also, evaluate the effectiveness of your clothing to keep you warm in a cold vehicle. Most people dress to arrive at a destination, and not to survive a night out. The reverse would be more appropriate: “Dress to survive not just to arrive!”

When traveling with others,  don’t forget to provide sufficient supplies for everyone. Preparation also involves ensuring that your vehicle is ready for winter travel. Never set out in stormy conditions without a full tank of gas, a good battery, proper tires, a heater and exhaust system in good working condition, good anti-freeze and “common sense.”

If you do get trapped by a blizzard or severe snow storm – “Don’t panic!” Stay with your car and use your
survival kit. Your vehicle makes a good shelter and an effective signal – don’t leave it.

In your car you are warm, dry and protected from the weather. Trying to dig yourself out or attempting to walk to help can be fatal. Sit tight – let the rescuers come to you! Move all of equipment and other emergency gear into the passenger compartment.

While sitting out a storm, you must use your resources sparingly – you don’t know how long you’ll be there. While the car will cut the wind and keep you dry, the interior needs to be kept warm. The heat your body produces can’t  heat the interior. Sitting in a car, you will get cold quickly, especially your feet.

Put on your warmest clothes (socks, hat, gloves, long underwear and additional insulation layers), wrap yourself in blankets or get into a sleeping bag. Sit sideways, so you place your feet on the seat where the foam insulation will offer insulation from the cold. The foot wells will be the coldest part of the vehicle. Alternatively, place foam padding under your feet to insulate them. Place something behind your head so that it does not come in contact with the cold window.

Using a space blanket and duct tape, section off the back of the vehicle from the front so you only have to warm the part of the vehicle you are occupying. Ways to warm the interior of your vehicle include running the engine for short periods of time, long-burning candles, small stoves and Isopropyl/toilet paper improvised heaters.

Run the engine about ten minutes each hour or for shorter periods each half hour but only after ensuring that the exhaust is not damaged and the tail pipe is clear of snow and other debris. Run the engine on the hour or half-hour – times that coincide with news and weather broadcasts. Ventilate the vehicle by opening a downwind window approximately ½-inch.

Carbon monoxide is a very real threat to your safety. Do not go to sleep with the engine running. Carbon monoxide poisoning can sneak up on you without warning. (Almost 60% of the unintentional deaths caused by carbon monoxide result from motor vehicle exhaust!)  It is less risky to use your clothing and other sources of heat to keep yourself warm.

If you have to get out of the vehicle, put on additional windproof clothing, and snow goggles if you have them, then tie a lifeline to yourself and the door handle before moving away from the vehicle. In a blizzard, visibility can be as low as 12 inches!

Eat right, don’t drink alcohol and don’t smoke! Without enough energy stored, you will not be able to generate heat to keep your body warm. Your emergency kit should include quantities of high-calorie, non-perishable food (carbohydrate food bars).

Stay hydrated. Dehydrated people have great difficulty maintaining their body temperature. Don’t eat snow! It takes body heat to convert snow to liquid. Use your heat sources to melt snow for your drinking water. Don’t smoke – the nicotine in cigarettes reduces blood flow to the skin and extremities and increases the possibilities of frostbite. Don’t drink alcohol – alcohol affects judgment. Bad judgment decreases the chances of survival.

The ability to communicate your distress is critical for calling for rescue. A cell phone may be your best method of making contact with rescuers: Dial 911 or the number selected by your state to contact law enforcement officials. Emergency beacons like SPOT and the 406MHz beacons could prove very useful. CB and VHF radios may be available.

Lacking electronic communication equipment you will have to improvise – tie a flag to your vehicle’s antennae, have a road flare prepared in the event that an aircraft over flies your area, if weather conditions permit, stamp out SOS in the snow, after the snow stops raise the hood. Remove the snow from the upper surfaces of your vehicle. The rearview mirror can be used to reflect a beam of sunlight to rescuers – either on the ground on in the air. Do whatever you can to draw attention to yourself.

Emergency Equipment List:

Cellular phone with charger
SPOT beacon
Four quart bottles of water
Three dehydrated meals
Other carbohydrate-based foods
Toilet paper
Tools: to include jack and spare tire
Road flares
Tow strap
Booster cables
Folding or breakdown shovel
Blankets or sleeping bags
Hand heater packets
Light sticks
Waterproof, windproof matches
Metal cup
Basic first aid kit
Additional clothing
Winter footwear (boot blankets)
Two empty cans (one for melting snow & one for sanitary purposes)
Sack of cat litter (use to improve traction)
Windshield scraper and brush
Spare personal medications
Flashlight and spare batteries
Portable radio with spare batteries
Emergency candles and/or small stove
Multi-purpose tool (Leatherman)
Ski goggles
Duct tape
Space blankets
Book to read
25 – 50 feet  of nylon cord
Chemical hand warmers

Peter Kummerfeldt has walked the talk in the wilderness survival field for decades. Peter grew up in

Peter Kummerfeldt

Kenya, East Africa and came to America in 1965 and joined the U.S. Air Force. He is a graduate of the Air Force Survival Instructor Training School and has served as an instructor at the Basic Survival School, Spokane, Washington; the Arctic Survival School, Fairbanks, Alaska, and the Jungle Survival School, Republic of the Philippines.

For twelve years, Peter was the Survival Training Director at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. He retired from the Air Force in 1995 after 30 years of service.

In 1992, concerned with the number of accidents that were occurring in the outdoors annually and the number of tourists traveling overseas who were involved in unpleasant and sometimes life-threatening incidents Peter created OutdoorSafe.com

He is the author of Surviving a Wilderness Emergency and has addressed over 20,000 people as the featured speaker at numerous seminars, conferences and national conventions.


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