Reader Andrew Teague writes:
As an amateur outdoor enthusiast, I enjoy a little obsessive gear prep. Then Hurricane Harvey dumped over a year’s worth of rain on my parents’ house in less than 48 hours, flooding their home to roughly two feet above floor level. That provided me a unique opportunity to test out my packing list beyond the requirements of a weekend camping trip.
In the storm’s aftermath, a firearm has been on my person at all times while navigating the freshly-minted swamp that is west Houston. I live a ways away and drove down twice. The first time was to evacuate my folks. I’m here now to help clean up the neighborhood.
The first day of cleanup involved a half mile walk/kayak trip from the closest accessible parking lot, navigating through a graveyard of submerged 4WD trucks in the streets. Yesterday we were finally able to reach the house in my truck. Our objectives have been general cleanup, mold mitigation via demo of the lowest 4 to 5 feet of the house, and moving personal property to a dry location.
In preparation, I packed a small arsenal of firearms to fend off a worst-case scenario. Through it all, I learned a few lessons that I hope will benefit you if you find yourself in a similar situation (I’m looking at you, Floridians).
Portability, size and weight
If you can’t carry your firearm for a good distance, hands-free, and still have room on your body for the other items you need to transport, it’s useless. This is literally the “a .22 in the hand is better than a .45 in the safe” concept.
Even if all you’re doing is evacuating, the weight and bulk you can carry is very limited. More so than you think. Evacuating into a kayak or canoe, then in the backs of trucks with a dozen other people, means everyone has only about enough room for a large backpack.
Then, on top of all the required survival items you’d like to have, you may receive orders from your significant other that you’re not going anywhere unless the very old silverware set she’s never used is in your backpack. My folks are more practical than that, but oh, the stories I’ve heard.
The good news is that the situation has to get really desperate before people turn to widespread violence: imminent death, prolonged food/water shortages, or reactionary political/social outrage may drive that scenario. Fortunately, I have yet to see any instance of aggression post-Harvey worse than routine selfishness. Exactly 96.9% of the folks I’ve interacted with have been absolutely friendly, kind, and motivated to rebuild their lives.
Threat level and firepower
Consider the temperament and values of those within a 100-200 mile radius of you. I’ll brag on Texas a bit, but much of America is the same, populated by honest, independent, helpful, and selfless people. Of my modest arsenal I brought, I ended up carrying a mix of the two or three “weakest” guns due to comfort and ease of carry, corrosion resistance, and the minimal overall threat level. But additional firepower was generally within reach.
Ease of maintenance
An event that causes you to worry about a dirty gun probably means that more than just the gun is filthy. Fall in dirty water, walk through mud, endure a rainstorm, etc. and your entire body is going to be ripe–at this point, you’re more concerned about the threat of illness or injury to yourself and any loved ones than the cosmetic appearance of your carry gun.
Every second not spent tending to your firearm (even two seconds to wipe it off with a paper towel) is time you can spend being productive or drying off your face to keep the sewer/river water mix out of your orifices.
Does the slide cycle with authority such that you have confidence it will consistently slide into battery with your carry ammo? How about while it’s wet or gritty? Do fired primers show deep indentations with your carry load to allow for some slippage should the firing pin hole get clogged? MAC or some other YouTuber has probably torture tested your gun in just this manner. You need to have confidence in what you’re carrying.
I used to chuckle at folks who took a factory polymer grip that already had stippling or serrations and added more. Now I get it. A G20 Gen4, XDs, and LCR with an extended Hogue grip have proven capable. I doubt a smooth OEM-gripped Ruger Vaquero would fare as well. The NAA Black Widow in my pocket is borderline. The threat of grungy water, blood, and mud coating your firearm in a situation like the aftermath of a hurricane is very real. Disasters are disastrous; your hands, the handgun or both are going to be filthy if or when you need to clear kydex. Speaking of which…
In an after-disaster situation, Kydex is king. I do enjoy some fine oiled leather cuddling a custom 1911 on my hip, poised to slay steel on a leisurely Saturday afternoon at the range. However, even well-maintained leather is going to absorb moisture and mud, then rub that gunk into the sides and crevices of your firearm.
It’s like having wet socks inside your belt; long after the rest of your clothes have started to dry out (they never really dry out, they just go from dripping wet to damp), your leather holster will be a sponge on your hip. Comfort aside, Kydex is easy to maintain. You can literally hose it off if necessary and dry it in seconds. The less gunk retained by your holster, the less that gets transmitted to your firearm.
OWB (nominally concealed under a loose t-shirt when walking into a Kroger, or proudly displayed when on my parents’ property), is far more comfortable than IWB. It also allows the handgun to drain and dry faster.
Law enforcement support
As you’d expect, law enforcement and government support pour into localized disaster areas, providing a solid layer of threat deterrence. In Houston, they’ve been extremely helpful, courteous, and vigilant. However, in the case of entire neighborhoods that are only accessible by boat or careful wading, LE just isn’t capable of responding to my individual crisis in time to save my life.
The LE mentality here in Houston towards general display and carry of firearms in this area has been outstanding.
But in the event of a national disaster, I echo the words of preppers across the interwebs: LE is going to be overwhelmed with larger scale tasks and won’t have time for individual threat situations. You may not be able to communicate your emergency, or they may not be able to reach you.
If LE officers just down the street manning road closure checkpoints had heard a gunshot yesterday, it would have taken them a good 15 to 20 minutes to ewalk/wade my way or commandeer a boat to reach me. That assumes they’re able to pinpoint the location of the noise, or receive an instant 911 call to correlate data. It would then take another 20-30 minutes to get my sorry ass out of there and to drivable roads. A person can lose a lot of blood in that amount time.
Moral of the story: Learn basic first aid and how to keep yourself or a loved one alive long enough for help to arrive. And know that may be a significant amount of time.
(Side note: Jon Wayne Taylor’s and Nick Leghorn’s previous TTAG articles on tourniquets and first aid gear influenced what I keep in my first aid kit. My dry bag has enough to plug and disinfect a couple serious wounds. I’ll ditch the extra socks before I ditch the medical kit.)
Manual of arms/controls
Ensure that you can manipulate your firearm without your muddy fingers slipping around trying to disengage a safety. Extended or textured controls help, though I prefer as few controls as possible. If I end up emptying a mag, I’m most certainly going to slingshot the slide, using those deep serrations and a firm grip, rather than fumble for a 1/8-inch wide slide release. Double action revolvers and pistols without a manual safety rule.
Have a spare carry gun or two
Many a prepper article suggests having extra firearms to lend to family. My skepticism of that suggestion vanished when my dad was worried he would ruin his primary carry gun, a compact 1911, while wading to a rescue boat. He left it inside the house on a top closet shelf.
My mom made it out with two polymer framed pistols on her person, and we have brutally teased my dad for the past week. I armed him up as soon as we met up, then asked if he intended to leave it at my house when we returned to clean up. He’s never going to live that down.
Along the same lines, depending on the situation, you may find yourself carrying a firearm that you’ve never handled before, much less shot. Maybe, for some reason, you think that all Ziploc bags and firearm cleaning products in state of Texas have mysteriously vanished and you decide to your pistol on the top shelf of your closet. Your son then hands you an unfamiliar handgun. It can happen.
Take a page from Clint Smith and learn that gun’s manual of arms as soon as possible. Even better, familiarize yourself with enough guns to be able to pick up a variety of firearms and know how to load them and make them go bang. A 30 second YouTube video of someone loading, shooting, and reloading a firearm will teach you most of what you need to know. I got dad to the range with the pistol I gave him before we returned to Houston and he says he’s keeping it.
Other indispensable gear
As is my standard practice (just ask my wife), I grossly overpacked for this safari into a disaster zone. Firearms aside, here’s what I found essential.
On my person: Streamlight headlamp (lightweight, bright enough), O-Light S10 Mini, Streamlight ProTac 2L, Spyderco Endura (VG-10 is valiantly corrosion resistant), earplugs, thin work gloves, length of 550 cord, and my wallet/phone in a ziploc bag.
In a dry bag always within reach: Spare shirt/shorts/underwear/2x socks, towel, water, snack food, LED lantern, signal mirror, small bottle gun oil, 1 set spare batteries of each type, phone charger/cable/auxiliary battery, multi tool, first aid kit with common OTC meds, medical gloves, face wipes, alcohol wipes, and hand sanitizer.
Clothing: Water shoes with occasional breaks to clean my feet with alcohol wipes was easier to maneuver and lighter than muck boots or waders. This being Houston in August, the water is warm and comfortable, though surely infested with all manner of critters and disease. 5.11 synthetic shorts dried out quickly and provided pockets for all my EDC gear. I brought a wool long sleeve shirt for warmth if I got stuck in the wild overnight and never had to use it (due to the immense hospitality of the owners of dry homes who let us crash there).
Remember, stuff is cheap. Your life is not. If your only handgun in the world is a Nighthawk Custom paired with an engraved leather holster, don’t hesitate. Use and abuse the hell out of it. That’s better than being unarmed. That said, an ounce of prevention now — another relatively inexpensive but supremely reliable firearm that you don’t mind ruining — is worth a pound of cure (detail cleaning and replacing ruined parts on that Nighthawk).
A final note: A hearty thank you to everyone who donated or transported supplies to the Houston area. I arrived with a truckload myself and was turned away at multiple shelters and neighborhoods. They had received so much water, food, clothing, and other essentials that they literally didn’t have room to store any more.
As I drive around, I see stacks of bottled water sitting outside schools and churches acting as shelters. I have never witnessed such overwhelming generosity. As I’ve heard from multiple sources recently, aid organizations could now use plain old cash to help stretch their resources into the future.