Hurricane Harvey slammed the Houston area less than two weeks ago. It is heartwarming and re-affirming to see people rescuing one another despite the circumstances.
These situations remind me of the importance of having an emergency plan and emergency bag to deal with unforeseen circumstances like Hurricane Harvey.
Emergency funds help you to deal with needing a new water heater or weathering a layoff: emergency bags help you survive chaos.
Be proactive in your preparation so you can be proactive in an emergency and help others. An emergency bag (“go-bag”, “bugout bag”) is designed to keep you alive for no less than three days. You will either get to an area of safety in that time, or help will likely arrive to you by that point. The bag buys you time.
The Emergency Bag
The name of the game in making an emergency bag is to pack what you need to survive while at the same time keeping the pack lightweight. These two directives seemingly contradict each other. Putting together such a bag properly will also likely be costly. DO NOT buy a pre-made bag. Nine times out of ten, they use inferior equipment and overcharge you for it. Make the bag for yourself, better, and for less.
In 99% of situations, frugality wins and I look to save money. However, with supplies that could mean the difference between life and death, I don’t skimp. Typically cheaper versions of the same equipment break more easily and are heavier. Of course, you should still look to acquire this equipment at the lowest prices you can, but your focus should be on dependability.
The contents of your emergency bag break down into these subcategories below.
6) Electronics & Communications
8) Miscellaneous (including at least $1000 cash)
9) Cargo (the actual bag to carry everything)
I put together my own emergency bag based on my standard Army packing list. I made a few modifications for practicality and have continuously refined my layout. While I could make a complete list of what I have, I won’t reinvent the wheel. The best emergency bag setup I’ve seen online is here: http://graywolfsurvival.com/66545/how-to-build-ultimate-25-pound-bug-bag/ .
The author of that blog checks out. Not only does his packing list make a lot of sense based on my own practical experience, his qualifications as an operative have given him a lot of wisdom. I learned a few things myself from him that are not taught to standard grunts.
If you were to put this bag together, or your best version of it, you would be ready to deal with a lot of what life throws your way. It will likely cost you a pretty penny, but when life and limb are potentially at stake, this seems minor. The choice is yours to make.
Building an emergency bag is somewhat of a luxury; if you don’t already have an emergency fund, take care of that first. Once you have comfortably built up your cash reserves and are spending less than you earn, then work on putting together your bag. It doesn’t need to be all at once either. Mine took several months to build as I researched different equipment and spaced out the timing of all the purchases.
Worried that having this bag will make you look like one of those crazy doomsday preppers on TV? Worry not, you can say it’s for camping. It won’t be a lie either, because you need to go camping and test out the equipment as well as rudimentary skills like starting a fire, navigating with a map and compass, building shelter, and finding/creating clean drinking water.
Putting together an emergency bag comes with several caveats: it must be personalized to your situation. If you’re single with no kids, you don’t need to include diapers and formula in your bag. You should also tailor it to whichever type of natural or man-made disaster is most likely in your area, but with flexibility in case of another emergency.
I live in Los Angeles. The greatest threat here is an earthquake and the weakest infrastructure here is the decrepit water pipes. Since we live in a desert and water is likely to be in short supply, I also included packs of water along with my water filter and water purification tablets. While this adds to the overall weight, I am still conditioned to rucking 60-80 pound packs.
This brings to mind another important point: know your limitations! Do not pack an 80 pound bag if you can barely get it on your shoulders. In an emergency, your heart rate will be pounding and if you’re not well-conditioned, it’ll be like carrying a bag of bricks. You’ll have to put it down and lose all that equipment you spent precious time and money putting together. For the average person, 30 pounds should be the limit. Do not let your bag exceed this weight unless 1) it has to and 2) you are fit enough to handle it. Don’t be a creampuff: train like your life depends on it because it might.
The Emergency Plan
An emergency bag is useless without an emergency plan to back it up. I keep my emergency bag in my car’s trunk, at all times. At work, I have a much smaller version of my bag with just the basics in case disaster strikes while I’m at work and the emergency bag is inaccessible. Commonly referred to as a “get home bag”, it is designed to do exactly that. If an earthquake hits while I’m at work, I will be out of the door with my small bag as soon as it is safe to leave.
My wife and I have a designated spot to evac to and rendezvous. Depending on the nature of the emergency, we have different areas to go to. These are all on physical maps since GPS and cell phones are unlikely to work during a severe emergency. If you need to use your cell phone, try switching to 3G. It is much less likely to be busy and you should be able to get a call through if communications are not completely out. If phones don’t work, I can contact my wife with a small HAM radio.
If the emergency is relatively minor, we will likely shelter in place at our home. If, however, the home is damaged or the emergency is more severe, we will all leave together after rendezvousing at a safe location. Your plan cannot be one-dimensional: take into account different permutations and have a plan B and plan C as well. You must be familiar with the areas involved in your egress plan and know of several ways in and out.
Yes, I get it…spending more than a fleeting moment thinking about disaster seems paranoid. It’s not cool, you look like (or think you look like) one of the nutters on TV preparing for a meteor strike or the Ascension. But as an adult (ESPECIALLY if you have a family), it is incumbent upon you to be prepared and be an asset, not a liability.
I lived through a massive earthquake in Mexico City when I was an infant and I was in Manhattan when Hurricane Sandy struck. I’ve seen tornadoes forming and they’ve touched down within a couple hundred yards of me. Disasters happen. While you shouldn’t spend your life worrying about them, you also shouldn’t be oblivious and depend on the kindness of strangers. Instead of opting to be panicked and a victim, choose to be prepared.
Who knows, all your preparation might not matter. Maybe that meteor lands on your head or Kim Jong Un’s missile explodes over your house. However, your odds of surviving increase dramatically if you’ve got your head screwed on right and a plan to deal with disaster.
Do you already have an emergency bag put together? What’s in it? Comment below!