Emergency preparedness for your car, Seattle Squeeze edition

vanpool-192The Seattle Squeeze is coming, and locals are gearing up for what could be the one traffic jam to rule them all. In case you’ve been in a news and social media blackout (and these days, who could blame you), this will be the period starting January 11 through early February when SR 99 is closed while the viaduct comes down. The best option during this period is to avoid driving whenever possible, for your own sanity and more importantly, so that those who absolutely need to drive (like fire fighters and other first responders) can get through.

But there are times when you may need to drive. As you get ready for this latest car-maggeddon, there’s no better time to put together an emergency kit for your vehicle. There are many practical reasons for an emergency car kit, especially in winter, but there may be some new creative uses for the items in the kit during the Seattle Squeeze.

NOTE: the suggested uses of your kit items during the Squeeze should be performed by passengers–not the driver! Because we’ll all be carpooling during this time, RIGHT? And we certainly don’t want any distracted driving–traffic will be horrific enough without the addition of more collisions.

So with that disclaimer, here are some items for your emergency car kit and some of my own tips for how to use them while you’re waiting for SR 99 to re-open.

Items for your emergency kit for the car:6.5 x 20 English Infographic_Page_1

  • Cell phone charger: your phone could get a workout in mapping alternate routes. And you may need a constant supply of audio entertainment from your phone to get you through, whether that’s a Kendrick Lamar playlist, the Good Place podcast, or old, old reruns of Prairie Home Companion (no judgment!). Remember: set the map guidance and playlist before you start driving. And absolutely no texting while driving, even if traffic is crawling.
  • Blanket: this is a standard emergency kit item in case you are stranded and need to stay warm. Don’t have a blanket in your car? Have your passengers knit one while you’re waiting in traffic.
  • Flashlight: always good for many unexpected circumstances. Seattle Squeeze edition: passengers can use the flashlight to create impromptu back seat shadow puppet shows, when combined with the blanket in your kit. Strictly for backseat viewing, but it keeps your passengers content for a little while.
  • Nonperishable food such as jerky or energy bars. Watch your fellow carpoolers for the shakes or glazed expression that signal the onset of a “hangry” mode. Refill your supply as needed.
  • Garbage bag and twist tie to collect the detritus left by weary carpoolers who have ceased to care about keeping tidy after it took 45 minutes to go past one exit.
  •  Cat litter or sand*: this unusual item is useful to help you get traction when it’s icy or snowy. In a TOTAL traffic crisis, it can help deal with the repercussions of not following my first tip below (but may it never, ever come to that). (*note: we’ve had input from someone who has tried to use cat litter for traction and found that it was a gluey mess. So sand may be a better way to go.)

Additional tips to get through the Squeeze:

  1. Use the bathroom before you get in the car (or on transit). This is my number one tip and I can’t stress it enough.
  2. Carpool. Don’t be tempted to jump in the car and commute alone, even if drive times don’t look bad. It won’t take that many additional cars to quickly bog it down.
  3. Keep your gas tank near full. This is always good advice in winter as it keeps your fuel line from freezing. During the Seattle Squeeze, it’s especially important so you don’t run out of gas while you’re idling in traffic.
  4. Do not drive through flooded waters. This is standard safety advice since six inches of water can cause a vehicle to lose control or stall, but what does this have to do with the Seattle Squeeze? Well, when the collective tears of all the frustrated drivers and their passengers sitting in traffic reach a certain threshold, it’s not going to be pretty. Not pretty at all.

Maybe it won’t be as bad as predicted, if we all do our part and take transit, carpool, or stay home as much as possible. King County Metro has information so you can explore your travel options.

Feeling inspired to do more to be ready for disasters? Check out Seattle Emergency Management’s helpful infographics.

Originally posted on January 7, 2019.

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I am a risk communications specialist at Public Health - Seattle & King County.

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