THE GRAB BAG By Douglas Ramsay

What is a grab bag and why is it needed? On September 12th 2019, Police Scotland issued guidance on packing a handy bag with essential items in case you have to evacuate your home in a hurry. This should include medications, copies of essential documents and various other items which are discussed in detail later. A spokesman from Police Scotland said the warning was issued because September is ‘Preparedness Month’, which had originally been a U.S. campaign run by the Department of Homeland Security. The advice was offered on its control room Twitter account along with an image of a fully stocked grab and go bag.

    But many people wondered why all this was issued so widely and suddenly in September out of the blue. The more sceptical thought it had more to do with Brexit than emergencies which would require one to leave home in a hurry. The only emergencies in the offing at that time were a few local thunderstorms and much alarm was caused, especially amongst older people, who wondered if the public services knew something that they did not know. The Scottish Tory Justice Spokesman said, “It is difficult to understand why September requires people to prepare an emergency grab bag. Given the current atmosphere in the U.K., Police Scotland should have considered the impact this would have before posting.

    However, let us admit it, the advice is good for the majority of the population. First, let us consider the emergencies which might occur in descending order of importance and likelihood. Fire, flood, gas leaks and power cuts are the most important causes cited though most citizens would prefer to stay put in their own homes with a good collection of candles if electricity blackouts occurred. Many have alternative sources of heating and gas fires of the older type which do not rely on electricity. A post on Twitter asked what other emergencies might occur, scaring people with no explanation, Brexit, war, civil disturbance, Nuclear accident or martial law? This brings to mind a vision of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, war, pestilence, famine and death trampling through your garden and arriving at your front door. Finally, the most cynically minded might argue that the list should include invasion of Britain by fire breathing lobsters or flesh eating zombies, perhaps even, attack by aliens.

    I will return, however to more serious matters. The grab bag, shown diagrammatically on the internet and various newspapers, contains the following items, pen and notepad: personal toiletries: phone charger and battery bank (but no phone): seasonal clothing: flash light: batteries: food and water: radio: whistle: first aid kit and emergency plan. A further item which looks like the rook from a chest board is shown but not labelled. What is this?

    These items are in the main sensible pieces of equipment for emergency use though the toiletries only include a toothbrush and toothpaste. A toilet roll would be sorely missed if you had to spend a night in the woods with only prickly leaves to wipe your bottom. The phone charger and battery pack to charge up the charger are shown but the mobile phone is not. Probably it is assumed that people carry their mobiles glued to their persons at all times. Certainly a mobile phone, close at hand, would be handy for taking a selfie with your house in case it was no longer there when you returned. Seasonal clothing is another puzzle: some wag has suggested that in September, it would be difficult to know whether a hallowe’en costume or a Santa Claus outfit would be more appropriate. Finally, I come to the emergency plan. How can you make out this plan if you do not know what the emergency will be or where you will dash off to after grabbing your grab bag.   

     Now I will come to those things which I think are important and which have not been included in the bag. A small photograph album would provide a continuity of your life if everything else was lost. Also, the inclusion of copies of house deeds, insurance policies and investments could be very valuable at a future date. There is no mention of money: I would include 500-5000 pounds, according to earnings, to find accommodation and also to bribe the   relevant authorities to allow you to return to your house if they had declared it unsafe. Spare house keys are a must. Imagine coming back to your beautiful and untouched home but finding yourself unable to get in. The local locksmith would be extremely busy and have a long waiting list, another reason for having plenty of cash. What about a local ordinance survey map? Fleeing your home for a desired destination would be greatly helped by a map and also a compass if you knew how to use it.

    What other things have been left out? Some wags on Twitter have suggested filling their grab bags with bottles of good quality wine or single malts. I would call these glad bags instead of grab bags and I doubt the seriousness of these twits though a small bottle of Glenfiddich would be very welcome in times of stress if taken discreetly. It could always be stored in an Iron Brew bottle. Other contents for the grab bag have been suggested on Twitter, an automatic rifle and money, a smash and grab bag, one loaded with sweets and cookies, a flab bag and even a bag containing all ones writings, a gab bag.

    To come back to more serious matters, however, what would induce you to leave your home, how would you get to your desired destination and what would you do having arrived there. Women have great difficulty finding things in their handbags and the same would apply to anyone trying to find a needed item in a hurry.

    Eureka, the solution to this would be a smart grab bag, one which shouted at you if it detected smoke, gas or carbon monoxide in the vicinity. A smart bag could also activate or even take on many of the functions of the contents at the touch of a button or by voice activation. Alexa, get me out of here! Another function might be to dictate an emergency plan following messages that it picked up from a central control room though this could be vulnerable by hackers.

    In the very distant future, it might even be possible to imprint your house and contents on an ultra smart grab bag and the information used to reconstitute house and belongings if you returned to a home which was no longer there. Advances in technology will always grab us.