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In This Article
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The dreaded, high-pitched buzz of the Emergency Broadcast System simultaneously came across my phone and television. I was finishing my coffee and bracing myself for Friday morning rush-hour traffic, but realized there was something unusual about this broadcast. I was so used to hearing the word “test” after these alerts began that I initially ignored what was being said. As the message continued past its usual duration I realized things were about to get hairy real quick.
A massive chemical spill had occurred at a railway junction less than two miles from my home. The broadcast was unclear about the contaminants being released into the air, but what I knew for sure was that staying here was dangerous. It was time to beat feet. Since the freeways were gridlocked due to time of day and others surely looking to bail after hearing the broadcast, I determined that the best thing to do was to drive my UTV (Utility Task Vehicle) away from the direction of the accident using an escape route I’d plotted a while back. I grabbed my backpack, strapped down some other ancillaries as fast as I could, started up the UTV, and split like a bat out of hell toward my bug-out location.
Although the aforementioned prompt is fictitious, it’s meant to get you thinking about your means of transportation and evacuation plans if you were faced with a similar situation. The train crash mentioned was based on the Graniteville, South Carolina, rail disaster in 2005 where tanker cars hauling chlorine ruptured after a collision, releasing poison gas into the atmosphere. It was considered by many to be the worst chemical accident in U.S. history. Nine people were killed, several hundred were injured, and thousands were forced to flee their homes. Had winds been stronger, the death toll would’ve undoubtedly risen.
According to a Department of Transportation report, Train Wreck and Chlorine Spill in Graniteville, South Carolina by A.E. Dunning and Jennifer Oswalt, “The emergency response community has recognized a need to reduce the chaos of the type experienced in Graniteville. Poor communication between agencies and lack of clear decision-making authority exacerbated the disaster. Responders disagreed over how to evacuate the town, and this disagreement resulted in inaction. While the Reverse 911 system worked, the timing and decision making of the evacuation actions rendered the system only marginally effective. Responders couldn’t quickly and positively identify the hazardous material or the proper procedure.”
What does this tell you? As we’ve said in RECOIL OFFGRID before, sometimes you only have yourself to rely on. Unfortunately, in instances like this, hazardous materials are often transported through rural areas that are ill-equipped to deal with such a large-scale incident. When you combine that with bureaucratic bungling, sometimes it’s better to preplan rather than risk your life waiting for rescue personnel who could be hours away to handle the situation. That being said, how do you plan to evacuate if fleeing on foot may not be realistic?
Here we’re exploring the use of a UTV (also called a side-by-side) during bug-out for several reasons, including the number of advantages it offers over a conventional vehicle. We won’t get into criteria for selecting a temporary or permanent bug-out location, as that’s a whole other list of priorities to cogitate on. This article is more focused on what transportation you’ll use to get there and related considerations to make when traveling off-road.
There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to the method you use to evacuate, but there’s no perfect solution either. While every vehicle has strengths and weaknesses, consider that various catastrophes may render surface streets and highways impassable. Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re in the market for a UTV. Your initial intentions to buy an off-roader may be strictly recreational, but let’s examine how it could also double as a very practical escape vehicle.
Mobility and Access: Remember that gridlock mentioned earlier? The UTV can get places a standard car or truck can’t. When the usual roads and highways are inaccessible or jammed with commuters, you may find yourself wishing you had an alternative to your daily driver. If you’re forced to cut through firebreaks, access roads, horse trails, or other off-road thoroughfares, a vehicle designed specifically to negotiate that kind of terrain could prove invaluable.
Maintenance: The more features you have on a vehicle, the more things can break. You won’t care about the convenience of cruise control or parking sensors during an emergency. A UTV’s simplicity makes it desirable since it’s devoid of the abundance of electronics most standard vehicles are becoming dependent on. UTVs are built for durability and easy maintenance or repair in the field.
Size/Signature: Not only does its smaller size and design enable a UTV to traverse unforgiving topography and obstacles, but it also increases your ability to remain hidden if necessary. It’s much harder to conceal a larger vehicle when parked, as well as the footprint it leaves behind. Having a smaller vehicle will draw less attention to your escape route. While you may be concerned about the noise UTVs make versus a car, there are plenty of mufflers and exhaust systems you can use to minimize sound output.
Modifications: The aftermarket support for UTVs is huge. Tons of companies offer modifications for your UTV’s drivetrain, suspension, lighting system, cargo storage, fuel capacity, and other features. One can easily upgrade a stock UTV to support a heavier payload or haul a trailer. It all depends on what your intentions are and how much weight in people or supplies you intend to carry. But rest assured that consumers have plenty of choices to improve upon the vehicle’s existing capabilities. Many require only basic tools and knowhow to install.
Although many bemoan the range and carrying capacity of UTVs as being limited compared to standard vehicles, that may not necessarily be a deal breaker if you’ve preplanned your escape routes and destinations. The first determination you should make is whether the range of a UTV you’re considering is conducive to your destination. For instance, if your bug-out location is 100 miles away, can you get there on a full tank of gas with plenty of margin for emergency detours? How will that range be impacted by the amount of people and supplies you’re loading? Research the range, fuel capacity, and payload capacity of the vehicles you’re considering.
Determining possible routes out of the area shouldn’t be something you put off to the last minute. Unless you already have a bug-out location in mind, find some suitable spots that are reachable in a UTV. Plan alternate routes and revisit them every few months to confirm they’ve remained unfettered. Better yet, test them out with your UTV, preferably loaded up with supplies to ensure they’re as accessible as you think they are when you’re fully laden. Continued urban and suburban development has a way of throwing up obstacles and changing topography from when you initially scouted out access to a locale that works for your purposes. You might return to an escape route you’d planned out six months ago only to find much of the property has been built up, which forces you to rethink the whole strategy.
Your load-out, and the weight thereof, will be just one of the factors that affect fuel consumption. The range ratings for vehicles are measured on flat surfaces, so rough terrain, other passengers, and how heavy your right foot is are variables that make it difficult to determine the total range you’ll get out of an off-road vehicle. If you have friends with UTVs, borrowing theirs would be another way to help get an accurate idea of the range before you make that initial purchase. Do some test runs loaded up with the supplies you plan to bring so you have an accurate baseline of the fuel consumption. That will help determine how much extra fuel you should carry.
Fuel Storage: Aside from possibly adding a secondary tank, RotopaX or Cam Cans are great ways to store additional fuel or water on the vehicle and take up a bare minimum of space. Due to the additives and compounds found in modern pump gasoline in the U.S., assume fuel will begin degrading within a year or so to the point where it loses much of its volatility and gums up with resins. This may clog fuel lines and pumps. Even with stabilizers added, gasoline supplies should be rotated at least every six months if you plan to cache any fuel.
Maps: Remember those? Local automotive stores and online retailers are great resources for maps. These will show off-road trails that your smartphone’s map app or GPS might not clearly identify (assuming you’ll even have reception). You can also visit MyTopo.com for USGS Topo, satellite, and even lake maps. Replace your maps every year or so to ensure you have the most up-to-date versions available.
Tools: Bolt cutters or a small breaching saw will come in handy if you have to cut through locks, chain-link fences, or barbed wire to save your skin. A toolkit consisting of wrenches, a ratchet and sockets, screwdrivers, locking pliers, zip ties, duct tape, epoxy, and a multi-tool should be enough for the repairs you may encounter during a breakdown. Many UTVs come with toolkits designed specifically for that vehicle. Aftermarket accessories such as a winch, Hi-Lift jack, and MaxTrax ramps can help you bail yourself out if you get stuck on a remote trail.
The rest of your supplies are only limited by your imagination. Carrying a tent, stove, cooler, flashlights, first-aid kit, binoculars, clothing, radio, fire-making supplies, power supply, and firearms/ammo is really up to the user. Assemble your desired contents and start Tetris-ing them onto the vehicle to figure out the best configuration to economize space and to get an idea of how much weight they’ll add.
A golf cart is not a UTV, so don’t think it’s a suitable vehicle for driving on anything other than nicely manicured lawns. If you own a large piece of property and use construction or ranching-style vehicles to get around and perform menial tasks, don’t assume these will work for bug-out purposes either. Visit trusted manufacturers, test-drive as many as you can that are within your budget, ask about their warranty programs, and spend some time getting off-road training from certified instructors. Driving a car on surface streets is vastly different than driving an open-cockpit vehicle like a UTV through rough terrain during an emergency, especially if you have no prior experience.
Also, ask yourself if you can save weight by taking off anything that you feel is unnecessary for your intentions (and consider if removing those items will void your warranty). Spare tires or features meant to protect your suspension like glide plates should not be sacrificed to save weight. Spend some time changing parts yourself and outline some practice situations that would simulate problems you might encounter in an emergency. Extraction in water crossings, deep sand, mud, and low-light conditions are all great ways to become familiar with how the vehicle handles and what to do to mitigate potential obstacles. The more time you spend getting the feel for a UTV’s capabilities, the better off you’ll be if you have to make a quick departure. For a full review on the Yamaha Wolverine X4 SE seen here, check out Issue 37 of our sister publication, RECOIL.
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