Last week’s heavy snowfall, and the havoc it created for drivers on I-95 in Virginia, proved, once again, that Mother Nature is in charge. It also proved that the many weather advisories, from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and local emergency agencies about how to prepare for snow emergencies, were serious, and timely. Unfortunately, too many drivers were not prepared for the day-and-night-long traffic jam that stranded thousands of vehicles for nearly 50 miles in freezing temperatures and ice-filled highways.
During normal times, the drive from Northern Virginia to Richmond can be accomplished in slightly less than two hours, depending on traffic volume. Regular users of the roadway know exactly where the service stations, welcome centers, and convenience stores are located and, in normal times, it’s an easy on-and-off-the-roadway stop to refuel body and vehicle in an otherwise uneventful trip. I’ve made that trek many times non-stop, with a full tank of gas and a tall diet soda on ice in the cupholder; gladly, not last week.
When a two or three-hour trip morphs into a five or six-hour trip, or 27 hours as Virginia Senator Tim Kaine experienced, that pre-planned emergency kit in the back seat or trunk looks mighty good. One of the first preparatory steps recommended by the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is an emergency kit for home, office, and vehicle. OEM’s Community Emergency Response Guide (copies available at your local Supervisor’s office or online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/emergencymanagement/cerg) reminds residents that, depending on the size and complexity of the event, first responders may not be available immediately, so you should have supplies on hand for a minimum of three days (72 hours). At home or in the office, the kit should include non-perishable food, water (one gallon per person per day), first-aid supplies, a change of clothes, personal care supplies, walking shoes, flashlights, local maps, a wrench or pliers for turning off utilities, and a whistle. Essential car kit components include non-perishable food (and something to open it with – a can opener, for instance), water, needed medical supplies, especially prescriptions, a flashlight (with fresh batteries), and a blanket. Don’t forget to plan for your pet’s needs, too.
Many of the stranded drivers who were interviewed mentioned the lack of water, food, and blankets in their vehicles. Any old blanket rolled up and stashed in the car will do; it doesn’t have to be pretty, just provide warmth. This also is one time that bottled water will be fine; just remember to recycle the empties correctly. Tissues, a roll of toilet paper, or paper towels, along with an empty, lidded container might not come to mind immediately, but might make a big difference for your comfort if you are stuck on the highway, with no rest area, for an unexpectedly long time.
Lastly, have an inexpensive device charger stashed in your glove box; a full tank of gas, and fully charge your devices before starting out. Don’t forget to fill the windshield wiper fluid container, too. There may not be another storm of such consequence this winter, but a little time spent preparing an emergency kit may make your life, and your trip, a bit less frustrating as we ease into 2022.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.