Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Red Cross Survival Guide to the Commuter ‘Summer of Hell’

by Gabrielle Deonath, American Red Cross

Wanting to find a fulfilling way to spend my summer before the chaos of my senior year of college, I applied as an intern at the Greater NY Red Cross. Since I have lived and attended school in Long Island for a majority of my life, my commute for this internship has been my first consistent experience with the New York City subway system and the Long Island Rail Road. However, my internship commute happened to overlap with two-month long Amtrak repairs at Penn Station that were anticipated to be so disruptive that Governor Andrew Cuomo deemed it the ‘Summer of Hell.'

Since taking another mode of transportation was not an option, I had to come up with ways to cope with the schedule changes, reduced service and their repercussions like overcrowding and extended commute times. All of this had to be dealt with on top of the more regular inconveniences like subway changes, outages and the occasional derailment. As I thought about how to prepare, I realized I intern at an organization heavily focused on preparedness and safety. So I talked to Red Cross safety, preparedness and mental health experts and compiled a list of tips to help all traveling into and around NYC stay safe and sane throughout the rest of the summer.

1. Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Red Cross spokeswoman and first aid expert Lipica Shah says that one of the biggest concerns on crowded platforms or train cars is heat exhaustion and heat stroke, especially in the summer.

Even if you yourself are not experiencing any such symptoms, it’s important to know the signs of these conditions in case a fellow passenger is in need of help. The signs for heat exhaustion include perfuse sweating, a flushed face, swaying (a sign someone may faint), extreme tiredness, and feeling light headed.

Heat stroke is different from heat exhaustion because it can be life-threatening. Identifiable characteristics of heat stroke are a person who stops producing sweat but looks unwell and overheated, developing inconsistent breathing patterns, and experiencing vision problems and panic.

To learn how to help yourself and others when experiencing these signs and those of other illnesses, download the Red Cross Emergency app or attend a Red Cross first aid or CPR class.

2. Have water and snacks at your disposal.

Especially with the high summer temperatures sometimes reaching above 90 degrees, staying hydrated is a vital way to keep yourself safe and healthy on the train. In addition to keeping your body cool, water also increases brain function and can allay anxiety, according to Red Cross Greater NY Regional Advisor for Mental Health, Dottie Brier. For these reasons, be sure to grab or fill up a 16-oz. water bottle before getting on the train.

Due to the uncertainty around commute times and train schedules this summer, keep some light snacks with you like nuts or an energy bar containing protein and another bar that will provide you with sugar energy. These will keep you full and give a boost to your energy levels until you reach your destination.

3. No one ever regretted having a little extra phone juice.

Whether you want to entertain yourself on a long commute by catching up on the latest “Game of Thrones” episode, responding to work emails, or keeping your friends on Snapchat updated on your train misery, make sure you have a fully-charged portable battery on hand. Your charger can’t revive your phone if it doesn’t have any power itself.

And while “We the People” are created equal, battery packs are not, in terms of quality. Faster-charging battery packs are more suitable for commuting, especially during this time when you may need to check changed or delayed train schedules more than usual.

For faster charging, iPhones need a battery that outputs at least 2.4A amps, and those who own Androids should use a battery with quick-charge technology (if your phone supports it).

4. The key to managing anxiety is reassurance.

Stuck on a train, running late for work or an appointment, too crowded for comfort, anxiety can be one of the first feelings to take over. Reminding yourself that all will be fine can bring your mind back to a state of peace. A physical approach that may work towards helping you overcome your momentary anxiety is taking a series of deep breaths.

According to Red Cross Regional Advisor for Mental Health Dottie Brier, once you have your own anxiety under control, you should provide reassurance to those around you if needed. If you see someone panicking on the train, listen to them, don’t minimize their panic, give them the information that you know and suggest deep breathing. A kind, calm personality is helpful to others, but do not engage with or approach passengers who are exhibiting aggressive behavior. 

5. Keep your cool with a fan, a cooling towel or your imagination!

The summer heat and heavy summer air in subways can cause an increase in body temperature. In addition to water, you want to have some alternative ways to keep yourself cool and avoid heat exhaustion.

Portable fans can help generate refreshing air in hot temperatures. Rather than cheap plastic fans with batteries that often need to be replaced, mini USB fans are adjustable and can be plugged into your handy portable charger for power.

Perhaps a cooler alternative, in both the literal and figurative sense, are cooling towels, usually made from fabrics and technology that maintain their relieving cool feel for hours.

Also, Red Cross Regional Advisor of Mental Health Dottie Brier said that visualizing cool drinks and places with cool climates can actually help your body feel cooler.

6. Your summer ‘must-have’: backpacks

According to Red Cross preparedness expert Alexander Poku, this summer’s essential accessory for train riders is a backpack. Backpacks, rather than just a briefcase or a purse, are important to bring with you on the train during this time because they will be able to hold all your necessary belongings, as well as additional supplies to be prepared for unpredictable delays and schedule changes.

However please be considerate and take your backpack off while in the train. This gesture will reduce crowding and create more room for others. Backpack slings can be more convenient than traditional backpacks, as they are more compact and easier to move to the front of your body and out of the personal space of others around you.

If you’re looking for other ways to be considerate on the subway or train, please refer to viral puppet sensation Johnny T’s helpful video

Bonus tip

Now an ‘expert’ commuter, I leave you with one of my own tips that I may or may not have learned the hard way: Use the restroom before boarding a train. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a crowded car during an unusually long commute with a full bladder.


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