STRANDED: Sheltering at Your Workplace When Going Home Is NOT An Option

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Co-Author of SHTF Survival Bootcamp

Editor’s Note:  On January 6th, 2021, a lot of people who work in Washington DC found themselves unable to leave their offices to go home for a variety of reasons. Some were unable to leave work before the curfew while others simply could not leave safely due to unruly crowds and protests that in some parts of the city turned into riots.

These people found themselves stranded in their offices for the night with only the supplies they had on hand. If you were in that situation, would you be prepared to spend a comfortable evening, or would you be raiding the vending machine for food and rolling up your blazer for a pillow while you slept on the cold floor? A few simple preparations can help you to get ready should such an event happen to you. And remember – it isn’t just your workplace you could find yourself stuck. These days it seems like violence is breaking out very quickly. You could be at school, church, or someplace else entirely and be forced to wait out a potentially dangerous situation.

Toby has generously shared an article from the Patreon account that he runs with Selco. You can sign up to support their work for as little as $1 per month right here. ~ Daisy

It is entirely foreseeable that the levels of protests will begin and rise along with the reaction to various political issues in various countries. One of the most immediate reactions in the event of a large-scale disorder situation is people, both residents and employees, being told to “Shelter In Place” and remain in the location they are until order has been restored.

If this means staying home, for most, that is not a problem, but an unplanned overnight stay in a place of work can be considered more challenging. This article provides some basic guidance and easily actioned items that can make a significant difference in the event you are caught up in a stay-in-place order.

Due to the nature and need of this article Selco and I have decided to make it ‘Public’ available instead of Patreons only, so you can share with family, friends, colleagues, and loved ones as you see necessary.

What if you are stranded at work or away from home?

With a large variety of foreseeable events occurring regularly, more people are realizing that it is possible you could end up stranded overnight in your workplace or somewhere other than home. If severe weather rolls in, transportation shuts down, or some other incident occurs that affects your routine, leaving your workplace could be ill-advised. Rather than roll the dice and take your chances on hazardous journeys, you may be better off just hunkering down at your desk.

By planning ahead and assembling an ‘Unplanned Overnight Bag’ you can turn such an event into nothing more than an inconvenience.

For a minimal cost, securing a few key items in your car or left in your workplace brings great peace of mind and a large degree of resilience in your lifestyle.

Here are some things to keep on hand for an unexpected night away.

I would recommend assembling these items and keeping them in a sturdy bag (as opposed to say a box) for ease of movement and transport. The kit you keep at your place of work may be different than your bug-out bag.

Start with a bit of food, such as granola bars, crackers, or perhaps some packs of nuts. Many of us routinely have some snacks stashed away in our desk but it is never a bad idea to have some extra goodies in your bag. Check out the list of ‘no-cook’ foods at the end of this article for some suggestions.

Along with your food items have at least 2 x 2-liter bottles of water in your bag.

Cash is king, and if there is a widespread power outage, stores may not be able to process credit cards. Even if the power remains, having some notes and coins to use in vending machines is a good plan. Have a small amount of cash (in low denomination bills) and coins tucked securely in your bag. 20-30 $ or € should get you started.

A good flashlight (or perhaps a ‘hand crank’ flashlight, where turning a crank provides the power) will make you a hero at work, should the power go out. Many office buildings have the bulk of the work space with no exterior windows. If all the lights go out, it will become very dark in there! If your flashlight uses batteries, store an extra set or two in your bag as well.

A few hygiene items can help greatly with morale. These include a toothbrush, toothpaste, a small bar of soap, and a hand towel. Another thing to keep in your bag is your preferred feminine hygiene supplies. I realize most women carry a stash in their purse already but redundancy is always a good idea.

If your job requires you to wear business attire or, you end up dirty and sweaty from working in a factory, a change of clothes would be nice to have on hand. Comfortable trousers and tops, as well as warm socks and comfortable footwear, should be packed. The idea is to have clothes you won’t mind staying in for hours on end, rather than spending the night in a skirt or suit. A hooded sweatshirt might be a good option.

All workplaces should have first aid kits, however, often, these are poorly equipped and rarely maintained. Either buy a small first aid kit or assemble one with supplies you have at home. Adhesive bandages, pain relievers, and meds for stomach ailments should all be included. If you regularly take any sort of prescription medication, keep it in your kit enough to last a day or two at least.

Given that you may end up spending a full night at the office, a blanket and inflatable pillow should be the minimum packed. Depending on your office furniture and layout you may wish to even have an inflatable mattress (and pump!) stored in your bag. Many easily affordable mattress options are available now, and these make a world of difference to the quality of sleep you are likely to get!

Finally, something to help pass the time will be of great benefit. A book to read, maybe crossword puzzles, or word search puzzles, if that’s your thing. A deck of cards can be fun and is a good way to while away the hours.

Assembling your bag need not take long at all, and once assembled can be tucked away in a discreet corner of your workplace until it becomes necessary to use it. Empower yourself today by assembling these items and taking them with you to your office the next time you are there!

Some recommended ‘no-cook’ foods

Having a small dish and eating utensils alongside your food in your bag is a good idea. Here are some ideas for foods you might wish to stock.

  • Military-style rations known as MRE’s (heat sensitive)
  • Energy bars (high calorie)
  • Almonds and other nuts
  • V‐8 juice
  • Canned pasta
  • Canned meals (Such as chili con carne or hearty soups)
  • Energy Drink mix
  • Cocoa mix
  • Coffee/Tea Sachets
  • Peanut butter
  • Jerky
  • Dried fruit
  • Canned fruit
  • Fruit leathers
  • Rice cakes
  • Biscuits/Cookies
  • Hard candies
  • Tuna packs
  • Crackers
  • Cheese spread in jars
  • Pudding cups
  • Packets of dry milk
  • Breakfast bars
  • Sunflower seeds

Get your co-workers on the same page

Depending on your work situation and location, you may wish to encourage others in your workplace to get prepared for the possibility of sheltering in place at the office.

It is a good idea to discuss with your employer and co-workers what plans are in place to deal with these types of situations and make sure everyone is equally informed and prepared.

Are you prepared to shelter in place at work?

Do you have supplies put aside in the event you need to stay at work one night? Are there any items you would recommend adding to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About Toby

Toby Cowern has an extensive background in the military, emergency services, risk management, and business continuity, combined with applied wilderness and urban survival skills. He discusses personal safety, security, and the crossover of military skills to the average civilian.

Toby Cowern

Toby Cowern

Toby Cowern has an extensive background in the military, emergency services, risk management, and business continuity, combined with applied wilderness and urban survival skills. He discusses personal safety, security, and the crossover of military skills to the average civilian.

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  • Yep.
    Seen that.
    I was in Fairfax VA in 2010.
    A rare snow storm was coming. I sent everyone home at 3:30pm. It was already coming down in big heavy flakes. The VA DOT is not equipped for this kind of snow.
    Traffic in the DC region is bad enough on the best of days. This was worse.
    Snow induced auto wrecks abound. Highways and even regular roads became parking lots. People ran out of gas! Tow trucks could not get through due to both the snow and the traffic.
    More than a few people actually went back to their work places and stayed the night there.

    Me, it took an hour and a half to get home (usually a 30 minute drive) and I almost got into a wreck myself.
    Once home, I filled up several containers with water and the bath tub too.

  • all good stuff. the best part is involving the boss. like most, he will turn it around and make it his idea and take the credit. No matter. If it gets everyone involved (perhaps even involuntarily), and take some personal responsibility and get them to think, provides safety and security, it is a win- win for all.

  • A more versatile strategy could be to keep a light weight take-down camp cot handy, such as this one as displayed on Amazon:

    ALPS Mountaineering Lightweight Cot — approx. $50 or so

    There are competing varieties on Amazon (and probably eBay) but this is a good example. Check the Amazon reviews for some pros and cons discussion of competing models. Mine is similar to a lightweight take-down model used by the Chinese army in field operations.

    I see no reason to limit its use to an office setting especially since you might get stuck a long way off, or encounter office “political” reasons for that solution being problematic. I have used a similar take-down cot in the back of a pickup with a low-slung camper top (along with blackout curtains) in several places such as the parking lots of hospitals, Walmarts, and hotels (for multi-day conferences). You learn to park close in with as many other vehicles as possible to avoid attracting the security types. Ear plugs help a lot as well. If you equip your vehicle for boondocking you’ll have the widest variety of location choices for “camping.”

    Of course if your office setting is politically acceptable for overnighting, this style cot could make that much more comfortable as well.


  • My field is a strange one (flying small airplanes) and it is not unusual for us to get stranded in the middle of nowhere for several hours to a few days. I have been stranded a few miles outside of Zuni New Mexico for 6 hours during a summer monsoon and various places for at least one night. It has become standard practice for us to try to have enough supplies that we can get by for at least a night if needed. I typically will have granola bars and hard candy and try to take extra food when I intend to leave the local area. Additionally, I carry a poncho, emergency blanket, a couple of knives, fire starters, two books (a bible and another), three portable batteries capable of charging my phone and or iPad at least 4 times, a deck of cards, small Frisbee, and some other odds and ends.
    At my office, there are several couches and a fire place, a decent store of water, food, a few good first aid kits, and at least 20 more books.

  • NO TRUE PATRIOT RIOTED!!! The rioters were Antifa and BLM thugs!!! Paid actors all… please research before accusing law abiding Patriots of acting like monsters! This was all planned and orchestrated with DCPD to make Trump supporters look bad!!!!! It’s been well documented.

    • Way to stay on point – it was one example of a reason I wouldn’t want, for example, my 20-year-old daughter walking through WDC on the 6th to get to the train station.

      Note that I didn’t call anyone specific out for the riots – that’s all you. But to deny there were riots would be idiotic.

  • This is the one and only kit I have. What is described above is pretty much what I carry in my car, in a fishing bag ( easy access). I work a good few miles from home, and in an area prone to snow and serious flooding.

  • Very good article. Five years ago I convinced my agency to purchase Shelter in Place Station Kits for every assigned SIP Station in the building. While these are minimal subsistence for 3-days, it provides a foundation. We push semi-annually to get staff to build and keep a SIP bag. Sadly, most don’t. I keep a large Action Packer Rubbermaid container in my office. It is packed with stuff to keep me comfortable, feed, watered and warm, if I’m ever stuck in the office. I also keep a Get Home Bag in my vehicle with more gear. Once a year I offer a class to my agency on Preparedness. Not the 72-hour thing, but REAL PREPAREDNESS for weeks and months. I bring out some gear from the office and PREP items from home. It’s a great way to get the discussion started, educate people about the Preparedness Lifestyle, answer questions and let people “handle” and even taste test some of the food items. The more prepared we are as a society, and workforce, the more confident we are to withstand whatever is thrown at us!

  • No. There is no way I shelter at work. I will risk the 65 mile plus home rather than shelter in place. I work in a prison,and it’s not the inmates I’m worried about,either. There are plenty of empty cells that could be utilized in a pinch,but they are filthy on the best days. Noisy,did I say filthy? Food is horrible. The officers I work with,well,its enough to say we would be at each others throat. I have civillian clothes to change into, and food and water in my truck and car
    I’ll take my chances on the road.

  • I travel a lot for work, and along the same vein is getting stranded in an airport overnight. You wouldn’t think it, but airports do shut down, TSA goes home so you aren’t going outside and getting back in, shops and restaurants close and the airlines are not all that accommodating for passing out blankets and pillows to stranded passengers, let alone hotels and cab rides in my experience, especially if it is due to an act of God, ie weather related.

    I’ll second all the ideas listed in the above article, and add that a jacket in your carry on is critical. Spent the night in Charlotte-Douglas and watched people like to freeze in the AC wearing nothing but shorts and t-shirts. Even if you don’t need it for warmth, it’s a pillow or ground cover. Yes, I have slept on an airport floor and I see it all the time. While wandering around CLT that night, I did see something absolutely brilliant. There are large concrete columns in the airport, and a fellow strung up his hammock between them and was probably more comfortable than anyone else in the place that night.

    I don’t have the exact name of the hammock I bought after seeing that, is something like “Fox Outdoors” but it’s a little bit bigger than a softball, about $25 and I’ll never complain about the bulk or price if it ever keeps me off the floor again.

    Final items, a 110v USB cube and power cord for charging electronics. I didn’t always take my cable to the office, and it seems the USB ports in the airports are always occupied, 110v outlets are easier to access sometimes, have both and you’ll likely be covered. Next little number are ear plugs. Yea, you lose some potential situational awareness, but if you can drown out the rude slice of humanity that sometimes populate an airport, you just may be willing to trade a bit of security for sanity.

  • As a retired cardiac surgeon I have had several times that I was stranded at the hospital. Not a bad place to be stranded. Have also been stranded at an airport in Russia. Agree with most of the discussion above.
    1. Have personal hygiene kit, with soap, razor, deodorant, meds, etc. You feel and look so much better if you can wash your face and shave. Shampoo. Comb etc toothbrush
    2. Spare set of underwear is great for psyche, at least to me. Don’t know why.
    3. The air mattress is great idea, cheap and easily stored.
    4. Blankets!!!!! Most offices are overly air conditioned and you wont sleep if shivering.
    5. Pillow of some type, or extra folded blanket is key. Maybe cheapy sleeping bag and mattress, and microwave and marshmallows it might be fun. If not life and death a hidden bottle of wine or whiskey
    might may a very positive experience especially if shared with coworkers.
    6. Means of charging phone
    7. Most offices have a food stash, but if you see the crises coming make a food run, anything.
    Pizza tastes pretty good for breakfast if nothing else. Coffee of some type.Ibuprofen will relieve a coffee withdrawal headache if nothing else. Essential med for kit also said to be good for menstrual cramps.
    (If you can find article look up surviving in New Orleans by lady physician after Katrina. (NEJM i think)
    Protein shakes keep well in closet, and good hot or cold
    8. Let love ones know where you are and are safe. They may be going through more emotional trauma than you are especially if terrorist attack or something like that.

    Several years ago here in Raleigh, N.C we had an ice event where numerous schools had stranded classes.
    One teacher kept her whole class in her classroom for the night. A local parent brought blankets, pillows, snacks etc. She tried to take her child home and I think was allowed to stay to share the great experience with her classmates. Ah the joys of youth!!!!!

  • Two or three layers of flattened boxes make a good sleeping pad.
    Depending on space under your desk, it can be curtained off with something to make a smaller bunk space to warm.

  • I was on the 40th Floor in NYC when the blackout hit in 1964. No one had anything to eat or drink except water and a few stashed crackers in their desks. I had to walk down 40 flights of stairs in the dark with some fellow office mates around midnight. Not fun. You could see the airplanes flying around the island and everything dark in Manhattan and surrounding areas from the 40th floor. A night I fondly remember…..

  • WORK?! Watch those four letter words. LOL
    I’m gainfully unemployed (aka retired).
    A good article for other places than a workplace. Thanks for posting.

  • My tiny home isn’t sized to put up visitors but with fickle winter storms I have a folded bed footrest and a couple of air matresses. Food and stored water I always have. I also have a camp heater and propane tanks in the shed across the driveway. Not a lot of extra blankets but 2 sleeping bags and few blankets and new moving pads. Have sipplies in the car trunk also. TP, snacks, water bottles, and mylar blankets and an old bedspread.

  • Great article, I used to work in the CBD in the 21st floor when pregnant with my second child. A storm knocked out the power and I had a high risk pregnancy and couldn’t walk down the flights if stairs. I ended up staying the night along with a few others as when we didn’t get out straight away the security gates failed and locked down . I had my get home bag and my yoga bag . I was set but my being prepared made me a target from other workers who weren’t and labelled a weirdo for thinking ahead. That night was so stressful, I had items stolen from me . It also exposed me as a prepper. Any suggestions how I could have done better? I had already spoken to management about preparing and was dismissed as a hormonal women.

  • Was stuck at work overnight about 21 years ago. I personslly was well prepared altho missing one thing…some kind of soft mattress between my body & the concrete floor. Im glad i had kept my preps out of sight of co workers as they were jealous & expected me to share.

    I noticed after that event that everyone kept supplies at work just in case.

  • Hi Daisy, yes I have lived through scenarios where I had to “shelter in place” at work. Due to these two events I ALWAYS have/had a mini kit with simple basics, like floss, hard candies, bandaids, sanitizer, handkerchiefs, a lighter and matches and the smallest pocket knife ever along with charcoal tablets, Advil, salt and Vitamin C plus a mostly empty water bottle (small) w/powdered hydrator and a small amount of water. I know this sounds weird but trust me, if you’ve ever been stranded and it’s 100 degrees out and you don’t have a means to replace the lost salt/electrolytes you can find yourself pretty quickly in trouble. Charcoal is a natural remedy for stomach/diarrhea and food poisoning issues. Hard candies are great if you don’t have water and need something to keep saliva going. And I also took/take a protein bar with me everywhere I go. I condense all of this with me in a small prescription bottle. And yeah, I have used this kit more than once at work and on buses when someone was in trouble.

    This means I take this kit with me on the bus, in town, at my house, at work. Yes I’m American but I lived through and survived 3 events where riots, manmade disasters and power grid failure occurred. The last one was the event where I found myself in a really BAD situation trying to get home and ill from eating spoiled food/heat exhaustion. Never again. Thought I would add this in here. It isn’t much, but you really don’t know when SHTF and it can happen literally within seconds. All 3 times I was at work, so staying and getting safely home wasn’t really an option.

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