3 ways to be prepared if your commute goes wrong

On Monday, New York City subway riders experienced a commuter’s worst nightmare.

Riders got stuck on a subway train with no air conditioning and no lights for about 45 minutes due to a “severe maintenance malfunction,” the train’s conductor said, according to one of the trapped riders.

Packed and sweaty, stuck in a hot tunnel without air or the possibility of communication, one bright spot was that passengers banded together.

“Some people started getting faint, and we started to identify any elderly people or pregnant women on the car who were standing or needed water so they could sit and drink,” Michael Sciaraffo, one of the trapped riders, wrote on Facebook.

It got so humid on the underground train that one passenger wrote “I will survive” on the window through the condensation.

According to Sciaraffo, passengers used whatever they had, including books and umbrellas, to prop open windows to get more ventilation. After the conductor announced what had happened, Sciaraffo said riders “began to discuss making decisions about how we were going to evacuate, who would go first and who would need help.”

Journalist Hilary Saunders, another trapped rider, said that people in her car also helped each other: “There was active teamwork in opening windows and checking the end doors for openings. People in this car were remarkably supportive of one another.”

Eventually, the train made it to the next station — after a train behind it slowly pushed it, like a car that had run out of gas. But there were still about ten minutes until the door could be opened. In that time, one woman captured the desperation of fingers and hands pulling and prying at the door to get it open.

Thankfully, no one was injured. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it is investigating the incident and it has pulled the train out of service. But the incident is a reminder that small and big disasters can strike anyone at any time— even during the most inconvenient times of commuting to and from work at rush hour. Here’s what you should have on you at all times in these moments.

1. What to have to keep your body healthy

Carry a full bottle of water with you at all times. We can survive three weeks without food, but only about a week without water—and that’s in normal conditions, not in broiling underground temperatures. 60% of our bodies are made of H2O and it’s what lubricates our joints, regulates our body temperatures and keeps us alive. Portable non-perishable snacks are also good to pack with you on your commute, particularly if you deal with low blood sugar.

With those modest supplies, next time you find yourself stranded, you can relax knowing that you don’t need to find food and water. And if you end up having more than you need, you can give it to someone else who may be struggling.

2. What to have to keep your mind sane

Being trapped in a car or stuck in miles-long traffic can bring out the worst in us. When you’re using public transportation, all it takes one person’s bad behavior to set everyone else off and create chaos. The riders on that doomed F train are a model example of people keeping their cool in a difficult situation. They worked together to keep people from overheating and acted with compassion. When one woman needed to disrobe to save herself from overheating, passengers helped cover her from view, according to Sciaraffo.

How you can stay calm: take deep breaths and keep your phone charged for your commute. Soothing music or playing games can distract us from the chaos we cannot control in front of us. You can also read (or listen to) books on long commutes. If you’re a gamer, SelectAll has provided a list of the best smartphone games that you don’t need internet connection to play and are distracting enough to demand some, but not all of your attention.

An excellent option: carry an emergency charger for your technological devices, like a Mophie or small USB device that’s light and fits easily into a bag. It helps if you’re not panicking about running out of the last few bars on your phone.

Also optional: a small flashlight or keylight. It’s bad enough to be stranded, but being in the dark as well can be dangerous and increase your sense of panic. A small, light LED on a keychain can be a comfort.

3. Don’t rely on technology

In case of emergencies, be prepared to lose all power to your devices. I only know about three family members’ phone numbers by heart, and if disaster should strike to my car, I need to call AAA, not my father. Write down your emergency contacts on a piece of paper you can keep in your wallet or purse; it will also be helpful if you faint or get sick, so that other people need to know who to call for you.

You can pack a portable mobile charger for your phone when you know you’ll be traveling with no outlet in sight. If you’re in a car, it’s good to keep a jack, spare tire, and jumper cables. As these Reddit stories show us, a jumper cable can make all the difference between being stranded and going on your merry way.

Above all, be prepared to think practically. In his book The Checklist Manifesto, author Atul Gawande notes that airplane pilots usually have a series of steps that they follow carefully on every flight. At the top of the checklist for emergency situations: “Keep flying the plane.” When disaster strikes, we can forget what we’re doing. It’s important to stay clear-headed and focused.