It is the middle of the night.
The authorities had already issued mandatory evacuations, but you and your family boarded up and decided to stay home. You have just been notified that the hurricane unexpectedly turned and is going to be worse than expected. You now have 20 minutes to evacuate your home before the conditions worsen to the point where evacuation is impossible, and you are trapped with no power and no emergency responders readily available.
The storm is advancing every second, so the actions you take in the next few moments will determine whether you and your family live or die.
While this may sound like a scene from a disaster movie, it is actually the very scenario a new Florida Keys’ resident faced in November 2018, and it is something we can expect to see more and more as the impact of climate change sets in.
The new resident had recently moved to town, and was at home with her two young children, her elderly mother, and their dog, when Hurricane Irma threatened her home in the Florida Keys.
Fortunately, the resident and her family escaped without injury. But her home, her neighborhood, and many buildings in the area were destroyed. Shopping for supplies in the aftermath, she reflected on whether or not she could have done more to ensure her family’s safety in those last moments before evacuating.
“As I look back, I wonder, ‘Did I do enough?’” the resident recalled. “I can honestly say I didn’t have much choice in those 20 minutes. I responded without much thought and felt a sense of being carried, or moved about, with each step.”
This resident highlights a critical aspect of facing such life-threatening emergencies: You won’t have time to think; you must be prepared to act and act fast. Your life and the lives of those in your family absolutely depend on it. Having a plan and a well-packed bug out bag can help.
Be ready to go
With natural disasters like hurricanes, floods and wildfires becoming more frequent and destructive with every passing year, the need for you to be ready to act is more pressing than ever. And as Mary’s story highlights, when you have mere minutes to evacuate, you won’t have time to think about what you should bring with you to survive the days—or weeks—to come.
To be optimally prepared, take a cue from the U.S. military and police agencies. These organizations require their members to always have a Bug Out Bag (aka “Go Bag”) on-hand packed with the essential items needed to survive for at least three days following a disaster.
While numerous online retailers sell fully equipped go-bags for such emergencies, and both FEMA and the American Red Cross provide checklists to help you pack your own, here we offer a basic summary of the most-recommended supplies.
This list should give you some idea of what items you should have ready to go in case you need to get out of your home within minutes.
The Bug Out Bag:
Ideally, each member of your family should have his/her own bug out bag; however, if that is not possible, then having one bag for the family will be more than sufficient. Start with either a large backpack with extra pockets or, at minimum, a laundry bag with a closeable drawstring.
If your budget allows, here are a few examples of large go-bags for the entire family.
1) ID and other essential documents: Bring copies of your passport, driver’s license, and/or state ID card and store them in a sealed ziplock bag or a fire-resistant document bag. Other documents to consider packing include: the deed to your home, vehicle titles/registration, printed maps, and a recent family photo with faces clearly visible for easy identification.
2) Cash: Carry at least $250 in relatively small bills, and keep it with your ID in a waterproof bag.
3) Shelter: A lightweight tent, along with mylar emergency blankets can help keep you warm and dry. Compact sleeping bags are also useful, if space allows. Be sure to check the filler of the sleeping bag, as some are made for either hot or cold environments.
4) Water and a water filter: You will need at least one gallon of water per person per day. Bring as much bottled water as possible, but also include a water purification straw and/or purification tablets, along with a steel container to boil water in. Personally, we recommend the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter.
5) A multi-tool: Most modern-day Swiss Army knives come with a wide array of essential tools, from a knife and screwdriver to tweezers and a can opener. Other companies, such as Leatherman, SOG and Zoro, also make great multitools as well.
6) First-aid kit and prescription medications: Whether you buy one ready-made or pack your own, the likelihood of injury skyrockets in the wake disasters, so not having a first-aid kit can be deadly. Do not forget to include prescription medications and other life-sustaining medical supplies, if needed.
7) Light: Flashlights with extra or rechargeable batteries are great, but headlamps are even better because they are ultra-compact and leave your hands free. In the alternative, stormproof matches for temporary lighting or starting a controlled campfire are also a good thing to include in your bag.
8) An emergency whistle: Emergency whistles can alert rescue crews and help locate others in low-visibility conditions.
9) Solar-powered emergency radio and cellphone charger: Without power, you will need a way to stay in touch with the outside world. Today you can find solar-powered devices that include a combination radio, cell-phone charger, and flashlight all in one, with the extra option of hand-cranked power to keep things charged even in the dark.
10) Sanitary items: Pack toilet paper, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, soap, as well as tampons and/or pads if needed.
11) Clothes: You only need enough clothes to keep you warm and comfortable for a few days, so do not try to bring your entire wardrobe. Stick to essentials like underwear, socks, extra shoes, a jacket, a poncho, a hat, and gloves. You will need to tailor your clothing to the particular climate and region you live in, so colder locations may require extra outerwear.
12) Food: Focus on high-protein, high-caloric foods that will give you the energy you need to live and get from point A to point B. The most recommended options include, energy bars, MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat), freeze-dried survival food, and meal-replacement shakes.
*If you clicked any of the links above, you will see that most of our recommended items are available online through Amazon.com, which makes ordering them at the same time quick and easy. Retail stores, such as Home Depot, Bass Pro Shops, or a local Army/Navy store may also carry most of these items.
*Please note that while we have linked our top recommended items for each category above, we are not sponsored by, nor do we accept any payment from, any of those companies. Also, while some of the items recommended above may cost more than you intended to spend, there are go-bag, emergency kit items for all budgets!
Stay totally safe and secure
While bug out bags are a critical part of helping your family survive the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster or other emergency, they are just a start. For instance, this list does not address any of your precious sentimental items, such as photos, old love letters, and treasured cards from the past. Nor does it mention estate planning documents or insurance policies.
Copies of your insurance policies and estate planning documents items should be uploaded to a flash drive, backed up on a cloud-based storage, and/or stored online. You should also digitally store sentimental items in your bug out bag, like family histories and photos, so you do not have to worry about packing any of that in the event of a natural disaster.
I provide each of our estate planning clients with an 8GB portable USB flash drive that has more than enough memory to store not only their family estate planning documents, but also other documents containing their most important information. This flash drive can easily be packed in your bug out bag along with other necessary items. I also assist our clients in setting up online storage systems in the event they do not have time to grab their flash drive or other items, so be sure to ask about these services when you contact me.
Of course, to keep your family totally safe and secure, you will need to make sure you actually have the right insurance coverage and necessary legal documents in place to cover every possible emergency contingency. Schedule a no-cost initial consultation today to learn exactly what you need and how I can support you.