Monthly Archives: January 2018

Escaping railway stations

This post comes from having too much time on my hands at railway stations over the last year. And from my regular travelling companion, who isn’t a prepper, suggesting that when we meet up at a London railway terminus, we should do it outside the main station, to avoid bomb blast and falling glass. That didn’t come from me, this time: safety from terrorism in particular is definitely becoming more mainstream.

A regional station

Last summer, for instance, I was changing trains at a station named Three Bridges, which I pass through every month or so. That day, my train was cancelled so I had an unplanned half hour to spend there. I didn’t feel like settling down with my book, and instead I had a walk round, thinking about preparedness. I use this station regularly, to visit a local shopping centre, I have friends and relatives who live nearby, and I pass through it other times too, including going to and from London, so it was actually a good use of the time.

What really got me thinking was, what if I was trapped on the station platforms by a big accident or a terrorist incident of some sort, maybe in the forecourt? Trains would be stopped in such a situation, I think, because the rail line runs right by the forecourt. The forecourt is busy in itself, an ‘A’ road runs right past, there are industrial areas nearby, and the rail line itself is very, very active, one of the busiest in the country. So, as I had a whole half hour to spend, I walked up and down the platforms at the edges of the site, and had a look how I’d get out.

Any kind of expedient exit from the platforms themselves would have to be on the opposite side of the station from the forecourt, i.e. to the east, as the deadly-in-this-scenario forecourt is on the western side of the rails – and there at least two chances of escape to the east.

At one place, there’s a gap underneath the platform, and if the trains were stopped you could quickly scramble through and get out to a small road. And they surely would be stopped if, say, there was a fire on the forecourt right next to the bridge carrying the railway lines. The wriggle gap is only two or three feet high, but it’s enough. I went to the next platform over so I could take a photo of the gap (I was really into the exercise by this time!).

The gap underneath the eastern platform at Three Bridges Railway Station

Further down the platform, even further away from that dangerous forecourt of my scenario, there’s a long metal fence thats maybe six feet high. But right by it are a series of seats, and poles supporting railway signage. Some of them even have a handy roof on the other side of the fence as a nice little handhold. Once over the fence, you’d be in a local car park, about thirty feet from a secondary main road, and since you’re far away from the business end of the station, you have successfully removed yourself from the most dangerous part of the event.

Platform furniture as an escape route

You’d be on foot, then, of course, but at least you have options again.

On the western side of the station, it’s much more difficult to investigate, which is paradoxical because that’s the site of the much bigger public car park; but possibly because of that, and because of building works, there are serious amounts of fencing and locked gates blocking the way. I didn’t have time to investigate from the westernmost platform either. That’s a job for another time.

St Pancras International

I used St Pancras very recently when going to see the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Museum. Preparedness is not my whole life, I’m happy to say. But the wait for the train was almost as long as it had been at Three Bridges last summer, so I did the same sort of thing. Where would I go, in a terrorist attack, or a fire?

You could hide behind one of those big pillars, and hope that terrorists wouldn’t come further down the platform (unlikely).

A railway platform at St Pancras International, with doors and potential hiding places

You could run down the tracks (you’re very visible, and there’d probably still be trains running at that stage of the emergency).  But maybe better to do that than get shot, or suffer smoke inhalation.

Or you could run through the emergency exit door. I was pretty circumspect about taking this photo, I didn’t want to start off an alarm myself, but it’s clear that there’s a way out in an emergency, as long as it’s not blocked or something. Another exit sign is just visible through the glass of the door, but I can’t tell anything else about it.

Emergency exit doors at St Pancras platform

This sort of exercise should hopefully be carried out in relation to any place you pass through or travel to, especially if you travel there regularly. Although of course it can be argued it’s all the more important to do this when you’re not familiar with the place, and you haven’t been there before. Remember this: things happen when you least expect them, in places which you thought would probably be fairly safe and predictable. Using a spare half hour for a thought experiment in preparedness is a useful thing to do, in itself, and because it keeps you alert to your opportunities. And they’re not just your opportunities either. In a real life emergency, maybe your demonstration of a way out from the blocked platforms could have defused tension, given anxious people something to do, or even saved lives – you can’t really know, but it’s a real possibility. When you prep in this way, you benefit yourself and other people too.

Maintenance: body and mind

Notice something that needs doing, then do it before it starts to create other problems.”

The sentence above is a paraphrase from a recent post of mine, where it applied to our homes and our possessions, and it absolutely applies as well to our own selves, our bodies and minds. Prevention is another word for it!

Without it, we’re stuffed, frankly. Without your health, whether physical, mental or emotional, nothing else can make much of a difference to your life or the lives of those around you: look at any child carer of a disabled adult, or someone who carries around an oxygen tank to enable them to breathe, or a traumatised survivor of a terrorist attack, or a soldier who lives with flashbacks.

Self-care is something we’re continually exhorted to do by the NHS and by every other cash-strapped and resources-strapped organistion tasked with helping us. And as those organisations falter and become more and more overwhelmed, it becomes more and more important to actually take the steps they recommend to us. If we need help, it might be a very long time coming, and might not be in the format we’d choose for ourselves. Much better to carry out a bit of self maintenance, whether it’s prevention or healing, and that will also mean that whatever “dip” you go through probably won’t be as deep or as incapacitating.

So, what kind of things am I talking about? The kind of thing that’s all over the web, TV and radio over the New Year, and each of us needs different levels.

Sleep.

Sleep must be first and foremost – it’s crucial. Without it, you’ll die, eventually. And even if you don’t die, your lifespan, your health, and your quality of life, will all be less than they could have been.

Extra needs: pregnant women, convalescents, teenagers.

Nutrition.

Humans can subsist on very little, but there are two cliches to remember, if you want to prosper: you are what you eat. And to live your best life you need to eat and drink well.

Extra needs: intensely active people, convalescents, pregnant women.

Hydration.

Yes, the 2 litres a day is not well researched, and I wouldn’t recommend that. But we certainly need to stay hydrated – to use our bodies, to flush toxins, to keep our brain functioning (ever had a dehydration headache? I have, especially before I was due to have a general anaesthetic. Not a good feeling).

Extra needs: intensely active people. People on toxic treatments.

Exercise.

Everybody knows we need exercise. A lot of the things a prepper does will help you to exercise: nobody needs to be a gym bunny, but we all need to stretch ourselves physically. Remember that flexibility, strength and stamina are different things and it really isn’t one size fits all.

Extra needs: newbies building up their strength and fitness; convalescents; older people; anyone who has a problem area: does anyone reading this have a bad back, for instance?

Weak Spots

You absolutely have to look after your own weak spots, building that into your own routine. Maybe it’s that bad back. Maybe it’s your eyes, or you sunbathed a lot as a kid and now your doctor has told you to look out for cancerous changes in your moles. You know your own weak spots, I’m sure you do: but what do you do about them? I was thinking how essential our vision is, in everyday situations and when we need our preps. How do you look after your vision, if at all? Here are some ideas:

  • wear sunglasses!

  • have a couple of eye-baths ready, and know what kind of liquid you can use in them: tap water, distilled, what?

  • eye exercises: both the muscles around the eye, and the focussing mechanisms within the eye.

  • learning to rest those same muscles. Experiment with closing your eyes when you don’t actually need to see what’s around you: like when you’re sitting on the toilet, for example!

  • there are good self-help websites out there for all sorts of maintenance issues: Seeing  and WebMD are two that are to do with eyesight, that can be really helpful.

After these basic four needs, I think that the other categories, although just as important, are based even more upon our needs as individuals, there’s such a wide variety in the amount each of us needs in terms of human contact, adventure, recovery time and so on.

Human Contact.

We all need people in our lives too, some more than others. I’m a pretty solitary person, currently living alone as well, but even I need to see people regularly. Without connection, we slowly sink down and lose ourselves.

Safety and Adventure.

We need both of these! Long term, we need safety – to relax, to have fun, to raise children, whatever. But we also need the buzz that adventure gives us, and if we can’t get it in real terms through battling sabre toothed tigers or climbing mountains, then we’ll get it from horror films and online gaming. Get your adventure in as positive a way as you can find, something that feeds you long term as well as giving you an adrenalin buzz. Though going on rollercoasters also has something to recommend it…

Purpose and Contentment.

These two are also connected, I feel. A deep long term purpose in your life is bound to help you feel contented, even if you don’t fully accomplish your goal. Contentment is very different from happiness, by the way. You can work at doing things that help you feel contented, but you can’t work at being happy. Even the American Constitution acknowledges this: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Not just happiness, but its pursuit. Without some sort of purpose, sooner or later a human will drift into a negative spiral of some description.

Recovery time, and Healing

Yep, these get their own category! They can be just as crucial as sleep, in some ways, as far as prepping is concerned.

Physical: you rest your muscles somewhat, after strenuous labour. You also need to clean your teeth regularly. And protect your eyes from injury and eyestrain. You’ll have your own focus for this – respect your own body and your own needs.

Emotional: when you survive an armed robbery, a mugging, a flood, a house fire, and a thousand other stressful situations, you need to deal with the after-effects and the consequences, to bring you back up to speed. One particularly important thing about emotional maintenance is that some types are helpful to some or even most people, but are actively destructive to others. It’s especially important to respect individual wishes here, though that may have to be overridden in extreme situations when it conflicts with the safety of the rest of the group. For instance, when someone traumatised by seeing something terrible refuses to accept help, and instead acts out with drunkenness and violence.

 

I hope this helps: and if anyone has any self-care, or maintenance steps that they take, I’d love to hear about it.