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Sunday, 19 December 2010

Safety and Emergency Equipment on our Oka

Important Note:
If you have an HF Radio, first read this document regarding current (2011) changes to the RFDS emergency call procedure using an HF radio on the VKS-737 network.
If you have a Satphone read this document for accessing the RFDS.
If you don't have either an HF Radio or Satphone in your vehicle (or travel group) you are putting yourselves at unnecessary risk when away from major towns or highways.
Refer also to these outback safety documents:

Safety and Emergency Equipment in our Oka:
Apart from the usual recovery gear (jacks, towropes, hub adaptor, spade, sand mats etc, see our separate post on our Recovery and Maintenance Gear) we also carry the following range of safety gear and emergency equipment in our Oka.
Electronic/Electrical Equipment:
1) 406MHz EPIRB (this should preferably be one that includes a GPS (GME MT403G) for faster and more accurate positional location, (minutes, not hours, and to 100 m accuracy).
  • The EPIRB should be tested regularly, but activated only in cases of grave and imminent danger. Also ensure that emergency contact (next of kin) details are registered with ASAR and up to date as they will be contacted before any SAR activities are mounted, to avoid false alarms. You can also upload your planned trip route to assist with verifying an emergency call. Both can be done via the Beacons page following registration.
2) Strobe/Flare Flashlight (orange) for attracting attention at night.
Strobe/Flare flashlight and EPIRB on quick-release mountings
The strobe/flare emits a powerful orange flash which can be seen for many km after dark. Test it regularly. [Eflare EF350 Safety Beacon, available from Exploroz].
3) HF Radio plus a range of antennas:
  • Tapped whip for all VKS-737 and RFDS frequencies,
  • Super Rod 9m whip for 8022 kHz, (see here) plus a 4.5 m extension cable to tune it to 5455 kHz (and most RFDS channels which are around 5 mHz),
  • Long wire emergency antennas for 8022 and 5455 kHz, (for 8022kHz, length 8.88 metres/29.17 feet, for 5455kHz, length 13.06 metres/42.90 feet, thick insulated wire such as used for garden lighting).
[Important: Regarding the Red Emergency Button on your radio, from December 2010 (ie from NOW on), use of the Emergency Call Button facility has been phased out by the RFDS and will no longer be monitored, (see the press release here ).
So if you have a Selcall facility use that, but you'll need to know the numbers. Otherwise call a VKS base during sked times, or make a broadcast call, someone will likely be listening and can forward a message to the authorities. If you have a Satphone call the RDFS direct on these numbers. If that fails, in a real emergency, activate your EPIRB.]

Note: Call in (don't just listen) regularly at sked times for a radio check. This will provide confidence that your radio will transmit effectively when needed. It's also very important that all party members, especially your spouse and kids, know how to use the radio, including erecting and connecting the emergency antenna.

9m SuperRod antenna erected
(beware of overhead power lines when erecting any antenna, sandflag pole etc)
4) Moving map computer based navigation system (Oziexplorer pc software with 250,000:1 scale maps of the whole country (Etopo series from Exploroz here). These plus a GPS will give you local positional and terrain information to a few metres resolution, depending on the age of the maps. (If you are a Mac person, Oziexplorer runs well on a MacBook under VirtualBox/XP),
  • If you know the route you are taking, it's possible, but a bit awkward, to pre-record your track on Google Earth for later replay. It might be useful to actually see what is just beyond the next hill or sand dune, or if the track you are on actually leads anywhere useful, but bear in mind Google Earth images may be out of date (eg summer vs winter) or poor resolution.
5) GPS x 2, a USB module (Globalsat BU-353 Mouse GPS) for connecting to our moving map computer system and a hand-held one (Garmin Extex Venture) for use when walking (can also be connected to the computer). These days many mobile phones/tablets can also be used offline for this purpose but probably won't be able to access a network for communication in more remote areas.
[Note, SPOT Personal Tracking device or similar might provide additional peace of mind, so your position can be tracked remotely].

6) Telstra NextG phone. T100, effective and cheap ($49 from Dick Smith or Telstra shops), so you can afford 2 of them, with modem facilities (T100 works well as a modem using Telstra's JoinMe application, but is fairly slow), plus 2 external antennas (a whip and a Yagi).
[Note, our phone modem now being replaced by a Telstra Elite Mobile WiFi module for internet access, no need for the 4G model in remote locations, but an external antenna is a must].
  • The Telstra NextG network provides the widest coverage of all networks, but not all the country is covered.
  • A NextG phone with the Telstra Blue Tick and provision for an external antenna connection is necessary for best coverage.
  • Note: not classed as emergency equipment but surprisingly useful in many remote areas and with a longer range than a hand-held CB. (But see note below),
7) Hand-held CB radios (GME 610 x 2). Note: not classed as emergency equipment but useful for convoys or when walking in groups. Always take one with you if you wander off alone but ensure both are turned ON, obviously. I've modified ours to enable a full size, roof/bull bar mounted CB antenna to be connected, for longer range.
  • Useless for long range emergency communications. (See note below).
Note: CB Radios and Mobile phones cannot be relied upon in all situations, especially away from major towns and highways. Always carry an HF radio or Satphone as well as CB/phone.
8) Emergency Engine Stop Button. If you (or quite possibly your passenger after an incident) need to stop the engine quickly, or if you break off the ignition key or can't access it, an Emergency Stop Button can be useful.
  • We have a switch in the centre of the dashboard which simply cuts off the 12v supply to the fuel cut off solenoid on the injector pump. I sometime use it if the turbo time won't switch off. It can double as an immobiliser as well, as the engine can't start unless the solenoid is energised. It's also useful for spinning the engine without it starting, such as building up oil pressure after an oil change before applying a load to the bearings.

Mechanical/Non Electrical Items:
1) Fire Extinguisher x 2, a larger 2 kg plus a 1 kg powder extinguisher. Two is safer than one in case one doesn't work when needed.
  • They should be shaken up at least annually to avoid the powder packing down hard though vehicle vibration. We keep them just inside the door so they can be easily accessed from outside as well as inside. Ideally, one should really be nearer the cooker.
2) Fire Blanket. We have one located near the cooker.
  • We had to use it once when a plastic mat got stuck unnoticed to the bottom of a saucepan which was then put back on the stove. Flames took hold and black acrid smoke filled the Oka surprisingly quickly. The blanket effectively stifled the flames but we had to evacuate while the vent fans removed the smoke. We had acesss to the fire extinguisher but luckily it wasn't needed, they can make an awful mess. The smoke alarm also went off adding to the drama.
3) Smoke Alarm. Ours has a light inside as well since it can be very dark at night when camped in remote locations.
  • However, in the confines of a motorhome, false alarms while cooking can be a real but unavoidable nuisance, even with an extractor fan. I have fitted our alarm with an electronic inhibit function which times out after around 40 minutes, long enough to cook a meal, or it can be manually reset earlier. (See this electronics article, and scroll down to "Temporarily silencing a smoke alarm". As far as I know this is not available commercially, I built by own).
  • The non-recomended alternatives are to cover it up (shower cap) or take the batteries out of the alarm, but both options are a serious safety risk until they are returned to normal operation. Chubb/Quell sell smoke alarms with a 10-15 minute "hush" function but that is not long enough and anyway they still activate if the smoke density subsequently increases.
4) Drinking Water Filter

Clean purified drinking water can prevent many of the annoying stomach upsets caused by drinking water from dubious sources. Even clear running water can harbour dangerous microbes.
  • A 0.5 micron water filter will filter out most of the nasty chemicals and bacteria which can cause digestive tract infections.
  • When bush walking we also carry water bottles fitted with small outlet filters. This allows us to refill them from any source if we really had to. But don't use cordial or similar in these bottles, it will clog up the filters immediately.
  • We also carry water purification tablets available from camping and outback stores.
In an emergency, water can be purified using SODIS, a cheap Solar Water Disinfection method, pioneered by the Swiss. See this site for simple instructions. I was put on to this method from Suzi and Reudi's website but their link is dead.
  • Fill one or several clear PET plastic  or clear glass bottles with contaminated water (filtered to remove as much cloudiness/turbidity as possible),
  • Leave (lying down is best) in full sun for at least 6 hours, protected from wind and kept as hot as possible to aid the process.
  • This will kill the bacteria in the water, see these FAQ's.
  • Drink direct from the bottle to avoid re-contamination.
  • Algae can grow during and afer this process but are apparently NOT harmful.
  • Purified water can be kept for long periods in sealed bottles without re-contamination.
5) Snake Bite treatment. In remote locations, a serious snake bite can prove fatal.
6) Lifebuoy. If you regularly swim, or camp with children near water, a Lifebuoy or similar would be essential.
  • We don't have one but we would have floating items (eg foam cushions) we could throw in. A simple "throw bag" device with a rope attached would seem a good investment and are available here or here.
7) Comprehensive First Aid kit and manuals, (see here for outback First Aid Kit suggestions),
     7.1) These are the first aid/medical items in our kit, roughly in the order we most use them:
  • Prescription medications
  • Vitamin B1 to reduce the effect of mosquito bites
  • Insect repellant
  • Antiseptic Cream
  • Lots of Band Aids (larger cloth types stick on better and last longer than the small thin plastic bandaids which don't stick to sweaty skin)
  • Insect bite/sting cream/spray
  • Antihistamine (Zyrtec) tablets to reduce the itchiness of sand fly bites
  • Sunblock/sunburn cream
  • Headache tablets
  • Cold/Flu tablets
  • Anti-fungal cream
  • Indigestion tablets
  • Deep Heat for muscular pain
     7.2) These are items we also carry but seldom use:
  • Antibiotics (only for emergency infections like toothache and inflammation of small wounds, seek medical advice for more serious infections)
  • Immodium for stomach upsets/diarrhoea (our water filter prevents most of these)
  • Ural tablets for urinary tract infections
  • Bonjela for sore gums
  • Throat lozenges
  • Eye wash
  • Ear drops
  • Bandages
  • Wound closures
  • Ankle/Wrist/Knee straps
  • Water purification tablets
      7.3) We also now carry a defibrillator  (Philips/Laderal Heartstart HS1) in case of heart emergencies (most other people's but hopefully it would be used on ourselves if necessary).
8) Orange "V"-sheet for daytime visibility and also weather protection (available from marine suppliers, eg Whitworths, Bias Boating),
9) 4.5 M Fibreglass Sand Flag Pole. The base is permanently mounted on the front bullbar and the pole installed to provide a visual warning to oncoming vehicles when climbing steep sanddunes crests, or when it's essential for us to be seen such, as a breakdown at a dangerous location. Can also be used for hoisting radio aerials and emergency flags.
10) Emergency Rucksack, pre-packed, or which can be quickly packed with emergency supplies in case of fire, or major accident where we had to abandon or escape from the Oka quickly. We keep seldom used items in the rucksack all the time for a quicker getaway.
  • EPIRB, strobe/flare flashlight, hand-held GPS, hand-held CB radios, phone, spare (charged) batteries,
  • Headlight/torch, reading glasses, compass, maps, whistle, mirror, "V"-sheet,
  • First aid stuff, insect repellant, sterilisation tablets, emergency blanket/shade cover,
  • Matches/lighter, collapsible plastic bucket, rope, Swiss Army knife,
  • Water bottles (2 x 2 litres min., with filter elements), dry food (sweets/biscuits/dried fruit),
  • Hats, jackets, ponchos, sneakers,
  • Keys, money and cards (wallet/purse), paper and pen, survival checklist, sundry items.
Note: In any eventuality, stay close to the vehicle where you can more easily be found.
10) Lethal Flying Objects. Although not actual safety equipment, we do ensure that everything is securely fixed down and can't easily break loose in an accident to become lethal flying objects. This makes sense for travel over rough tracks anyway.
  • There are bulkheads behind both seats to protect our heads and large items (eg fridge, cooker, water tanks (including the toilet), gas bottles, fire extinguishers, HF radio) are kept low down and have steel frames bolted to the vehicle sub-chassis and/or side frames, and they have never moved. Steel frames may be heavy but weight=strength=safety. [Note: Small bolts (anything under M6) and pop rivets can be points of failure, and also stainless steel should be avoided as it's much weaker than normal high tensile steel].
  • Smaller items (bottles, cans, utensils, and tools-which can be very heavy) are kept in compartments that only open sideways, so they can't fly forwards. Our rear tailgate section contains heavy tools but has a fixed bulkhead fitted in front of it. In other types of vehicles a cargo barrier and/or tie down straps would be a must.

Things we don't carry in our Oka:
Satphone (expensive, inflexible (can't broadcast widely), would duplicate the HF radio for some applications), but would be useful to call the RFDS,
Winch (heavy to carry around and would seldom be useful, except to pull other people out).

Nice to Haves:
Programmable HF radio (our existing radio is old and reliable but only has 6 channels and no Selcall facilities). Yes, it does now. We have recently fitted a Jenal SC2 Selcall microphone to our radio, so we can now directly contact any RDFS base via selcalls through any VKS base.
I have also modified the radio so we can receive ABC and BBC shortwave broadcasts (amongst others).

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