by Niall Doherty

Over the past few weeks I’ve taken a first aid and CPR course, and read Cody Lundin’s survival book, 98.6 degrees. One point that’s been driven home to me from those resources: Preparation saves lives.

Unfortunately, we have some Law of Attraction types out there who believe that thinking about and preparing for disaster is to invite one into your life. I even had someone tell me recently that training in Krav Maga would make it more likely that I’ll end up in a fight.

I call bullshit on that kind of thinking. As noted in You Are Not So Smart

According to Johnson and Leach1, the sort of people who survive are the sort of people who prepare for the worst and practice ahead of time. They’ve done the research, or built the shelter, or run the drills. They look for the exits and imagine what they will do. They were in a fire as a child or survived a typhoon. These people don’t deliberate during calamity because they’ve already done the deliberation the other people are just now going through.

People who aren’t prepared often freeze up when disaster strikes, their brains not being able to cope with what’s happening around them because they’d never imagined themselves in such a situation. These people suffer from normalcy bias, becoming strangely calm and subdued in a crisis, doing nothing to save themselves while others take action.

Forget the Law of Attraction: Failing to acknowledge and appreciate potential dangers does not help you avoid them!

To give yourself the best chance of survival, you need to do your thinking and preparation ahead of time.

4 Life-Saving To-Do’s

With all this fresh in my mind, this week I moved into a new apartment in Hong Kong and did a few things that may well save my life should disaster strike. I suggest you do similar.

1. Have an evacuation plan

I’m living on the fourth floor of a building with no fire escape. I scouted it out and found that I can open and fit through the bedroom and kitchen windows and climb down some pipes to safety if there’s a fire blocking the only stairway.

I was living in a similar apartment in Ireland years ago but with no pipes to help me escape. My dad realized this when he first visited and gifted me a 40-foot roll of tubular webbing (the same stuff slacklines are made from) that I could use to climb down from my window.

If the windows in your place are bolted shut, make sure you have something nearby that you can use to break the glass. If there are bars on the windows, well, not a great idea to be staying there.

2. Know how to reach emergency services

I’d been living in Bangkok for almost seven months when I took that first aid course, and promptly discovered that calling 112 or 999 in Thailand is useless in an emergency. Instead you have to dial 191 or 1669 to contact emergency services there, the latter number more likely to connect you with an English speaker.

Here in Hong Kong I can dial 999 for any emergency. In other countries they have different numbers for police, fire and medical.

If you don’t know what number you should be dialing in an emergency, check this list and take note. Also confirm the relevant numbers on that list from some other source.

Along the same lines here, memorize your address as soon as you move in some place new. In the past I never bothered memorizing my address if I knew I was only going to be staying a few weeks, but then I realized that it would be pretty useless calling up the emergency services while I lie bleeding in my kitchen and not being able to tell them where my apartment is.

3. Find the nearest ER and pharmacy

Figure out where the nearest, respectable 24-hour Emergency Room is to you. Granted, any hospital will do in a pinch, but you want to avoid ending up in some dirty, non-English-speaking hospital if at all possible.

For me here in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, I’m about midway between two good 24-hour ER’s: Queen Mary’s and Ruttonjee.

Also a good idea to scout out your new neighborhood and find a decent pharmacy that you can run to if you find yourself suffering from any minor ailments.

If you want to take extra precautions, keep a mini first aid kit at home. You can buy one or put together your own. Just make sure you know how to use whatever’s in there.

4. Get a good 3G package for your phone

This is assuming you already have a maps application on your phone. The maps app on my iPhone is the main reason I buy a local sim with 3G whenever I move some place new. While it’s nice to get lost in a new city sometimes and wander around exploring, you want to know how to quickly get your ass out of a bad neighborhood you might stumble into unwittingly, especially at night.

Paper maps are good, but digital maps are better, since they can tell you what direction you’re facing and provide directions.

Other to-do’s when you move some place new

The above is the essential stuff to help avoid disaster. I also have a few other things on my to-do list when I move to a new city to help me hit the ground running, as described below. I’ve also included a few suggestions from the Travel Bloggers Facebook group.

  • Find a good local supermarket and street market nearby.
  • Find 2-3 good, inexpensive restaurants/coffee shops nearby (ideally with wifi).
  • Figure out the public transportation system. Where are the nearest stops/stations? Can you get a fare card to save money?
  • Nearest park or playground suitable for exercise.
  • Nearest 24-hour ATM.
  • Local locksmith shop. Also good to have the number of a 24-hour locksmith in case you get locked out of your place at night.

What would you add to the above list? Any other life-saving precautions you can think of?

Let me know via the comments.

P.S. Please go ahead and share this article with the people you care about. The four main to-do’s I listed above are very simple but so many of us neglect to do them. We all need frequent reminders of how important these types of precautions are.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Psychologist Daniel Johnson has done lots of research into why some people survive and others don’t, interviewing survivors of plane crashes and other disasters. John Leach, a psychologist at the University of Lancaster, also studies freezing under stress. He has found that approximately 75 percent of people become effectively brain-dead and helpless when catastrophe strikes.
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