Emergencies can happen anytime and anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Northeast Yankee or a Southern Belle. Your survival may depend on how much (or little) time you spend preparing for emergencies that can happen at any time. With the destruction caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Sandy and Katrina, the evacuations in the wake of the Oroville Dam, even the risks caused by the Snowmageddon that hit the Atlantic region in 2010, the time to prepare is now, and it’s a lot easier than you think.
Why Should You Prepare for Emergencies?
This is a question that I constantly ask myself. There are a bunch of really ridiculous TV shows about being prepared. Doomsday Preppers, I’m looking at you. Shows like this exist to scare you. They’re very well done and keep you watching the whole time. Then you see about 30 advertisements and the TV network makes a bunch of money.
“Preppers” have gotten a bad name because people realized there is a lot of money to be made in the market. There are a bunch of $200+ “bug out” bags pre-made for you to buy. Lots of blog posts advocating that you spend $500 on emergency equipment (with Amazon affiliate links of course) “just in case.” But all of these are advertisements, designed to scare you and make you buy something.
The good news is that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on stuff to prepare. A little knowledge, a plan, and maybe a couple hundred dollars worth of supplies will go a long way to decreasing the impact that natural disasters will have on you.
Prepare for Emergencies Specific to where you Live
This one is pretty much a no brainer, but look at what has happened in your area. Are you prone to flooding or hurricanes? What about tornadoes, heat waves, power outages or blizzards? Forest fires? These are just a few examples of realistic emergencies that you should prepare for. Again, it will entirely depend on what can happen in your area.
I currently live in Maryland, and I’m moving to New York this week. What types of emergencies have I been preparing for? Well, New York was hit really badly by Hurricane Sandy. I also lived through the blackout of 2003 and Snowmageddon. These are the types of emergencies that require me to either hunker down, or evacuate. So I need to be prepared for both.
Bugging in for Emergencies? What’s that?
If you’ve ever looked into the “prepper” community (I hope you haven’t spent much time there, because it’s a huge rabbit hole of people buying thousands of rounds of ammunition, finding the best concealed carry holster, and learning 10+ forms of martial arts so you can be a walking killing machine when the Zombies come hunting for you), you’ve seen the term “bug out” and “bug in.” These two terms are analogous to “hunkering down” and evacuating.
If you are really preparing for emergencies, realistic emergencies, you are probably bugging in, or hunkering down. This is typically the safest thing to do. You stay in your house and ride out the storm. But what storm? In my example, this means staying put during a hurricane, snow storm, or power outage. What do each of these scenarios require?
Well, during a Hurricane, blizzard, or power outage, I’ll need a supply of food and water for a few days. But if we look at what happened during Hurricanes Harvey and Katrina, a few days might not cut it. I would recommend at least a week of food for each member of your family. Canned soups, beans and meats work well. You can also build up a collection of pasta and other snacks. Make sure you are prepared to cook your food without power as well. Budget at least 2,000 calories of food per person per day.
In addition, you’ll want water. Again, a few days for each person should be fine, but I would recommend a week’s supply for each family member. Most survival guides recommend 1 gallon of water per person per day. Most people don’t drink a gallon of water per day, but remember people need to bathe, and you can always use extra water to operate your toilet. You can get really cheap bottles of water, or even those massive bottles for the water cooler in your office.
You also need to be prepared for any temperature extremes if you are bugging in. What happens if you lose power in the middle of a blizzard? The temperature will drop very quickly at night, and you may find yourself in a situation where your entire family has to huddle for warmth. Seriously, do not under estimate the impact that the cold will have on you. Even if your house drops to 50 or 60 degrees, it can have serious consequences. At a minimum, make sure you have a good set of blankets for each member of your family. If your home has a fireplace, make sure you have some dry wood and know how to start a fire.
Everyone loves gear (because buying stuff off Amazon is fun, right?). Having a little bit of gear will help you out, but when you’re bugging in that isn’t super necessary. You already have 90% of what you need in your house already. But, I would recommend having some of the following (or equivalents of course).
Most things need power to run. Our computers and phones, space heaters, etc. I recommend the following gear to help you out, just in case.
- Battery Pack: will charge 4 smart phones twice
- Batteries: power flashlights and other electronics
- Dual Fuel Generator: runs off gas or propane, if you need more power
- Portable Solar Panels: If you are really concerned about not having enough power, not really necessary
Heating / Cooking
This one is really important. You need to be able to stay warm and cook food, regardless of if you have power or not. Some people go crazy with figuring out how to stay warm. You really just need a blanket (or a bunch) to stay warm in most instances. For food, you can always buy food that doesn’t need to be cooked. Canned soup and beans works fine. But if you want something more, I would recommend:
- Butane Stove: small, easy to store, will cook your food. Be careful when using it inside
- Wood Burning Stove: this is a little guy, but it’ll boil water easily
- Fancy Food — Biscuts and Gravy: if you want good freeze dried food, use them. I’ve eaten a few, and they’re quite tasty
Keeping yourself active and entertained during an emergency is really important. Cabin fever is legit. Even if you’re only hanging out in your house for 2 or 3 days with no power, you’ll get bored. This is why I highly recommend getting a battery pack, you can keep recharging your smart phones. But, there are a few other options.
- Audible: audio books are awesome, will keep you occupied for hours
- Books: same, reading is fun, will keep you occupied
- Legos: Keep a set or two handy, they’re fun to put together, plus it’ll keep your kids occupied
- Coloring books: not just for children
- Jigsaw Puzzles: again, not just for children
- Board Games: again, not just for children
Now that you’ve got enough food, water, and other supplies, you should do your best to stay incognito. What does that mean? Blend in, don’t show that you’ve got a bunch of supplies. Looting does happen, and if there is an emergency, you probably don’t want to run your generator. It’s an advertisement yelling “HEY, I’M PREPARED WITH LOTS OF STUFF!” Seriously though, do your best to stay incognito. Obviously you can go check on your neighbors, but you’re hunkering down, just stay inside, ride out the storm, and don’t give anybody a reason to come investigate.
Bugging out for Emergencies
Sometimes you cannot stay in your house. You might need to evacuate because of a storm or something else. When the Oroville Dam evacuation order was issued, the people who prepared for emergencies grabbed a backpack, hopped in their car and left. The people who had to wait an hour to collect their stuff faced massive traffic delays, gas stations with no fuel and food. Plus, they would have been screwed if the dam overflowed (which it thankfully didn’t).
No, this isn’t a guide to help you build a super cool bug out bag that will let you survive in the wilderness for 10 years. That’s ridiculous. But, you need to be prepared to get up and leave with 5 or 10 minutes. Seriously, if you can do that, you’ll be ahead of most people and have much better odds of success. This is going to be much more gear focused.
In addition, you most likely aren’t evacuating on foot. Get in your car and get out of there. Make sure your car can carry your family’s emergency supplies (backpacks). But remember, you will do some walking, so don’t give your 8 year old child a 30 pound backpack, that just won’t work.
What Emergency Evacuation Gear do you Need?
Okay, so you were watching TV and an evacuation notice flashed on the screen. You’ve gotta get out of your town, now, like right now. What do you need? First, you don’t want to look for the gear. It should already be organized in an easily accessible place, and you need to be able to pick it up and run.
What supplies do you need? Similar to weathering out the storm in your house, you’ll need food, water, and warmth. Everything else is a luxury. Some of these luxuries are worth more than others. For example, a first aid kit will be infinitely more important than a book. There’s a lot of gear that you could bring, you need to figure out what you personally need, and it needs to work with your family.
You also need to make what I call a “no BS assessment” of your family’s abilities. For example, don’t ask your 110 pound child to carry around a 20 pound emergency bug out kit. Just don’t do it, that isn’t realistic, and they’ll slow you down. If you’re in Arizona, you probably don’t need a set of warm clothes either.
Finally, don’t forget cash. I would recommend having a couple hundred dollars in one of our backpacks, preferably distributed between the adult’s backpacks. The minimum would be $100, but you should feel more comfortable with $300 – $400. Things will get expensive.
Pick a good backpack. It should fit you, and you should be able to carry it for at least 3 or 4 miles just in case.
- 5.11 Rush 72: I’m 200 pounds, and can trek with this backpack loaded up with 40 pounds of stuff for about 5 miles. This thing is big
- 5.11 Rush 24: Better suited for somebody in the 110 – 150 pound range, loaded up with no more than 15-20 pounds of stuff
- 5.11 MOAB 6: Perfect for your lightweight children, pretty small but holds necessities
I recommend 5.11 gear because it is built to last. It’s very water resistant, has the Molle system for attachments, and you can trust that these backpacks will not disappoint you in emergency situations. I use the Rush 72 backpack as my bug in bag to store most of my gear in a centralized place. However, if I needed to evacuate, It’s got enough supplies to last me a few days, plus some extras.
If you don’t want to go for a backpack, that’s fine. You can use a duffel bag or something else. But make sure you try it out, make sure it’s comfortable, and read reviews evaluating the durability. Durability is very important.
Food and Water
When you are evacuating, you may not have easy access to food and water. Unfortunately, food is very heavy because of how much water it contains. Plus, water is very heavy, at 8 pounds per gallon. And each person should have about a gallon of water per day in ideal situations. If you are evacuating, budget 32 – 62 ounces of water per day. You’ll be pretty damn thirsty, but you won’t get dehydrated and you’ll survive for a few days.
Make sure you divvy up these supplies to every person in your family, and don’t make them carry too much. Again, I’m a 200 pound male so I can carry a lot of stuff. My backpack fully loaded has 2 gallons of water. My fiancee? Not so much, she just can’t carry it, which is perfectly fine.
With respect to food, don’t bring anything that needs to be cooked. You aren’t on vacation, so nothing fancy. You will deal with eating boring food for a little while. The following items are just ideas. You can go with them, or brainstorm your own. Remember to pick out the right gear for your family and your own situation.
- Collapsable Water Bottle: perfect for storing water, and fold it when you’re all done
- Hydration Bladder: directly integrates with your backpack, doesn’t take up much space
- Protein Bars: plenty of calories, plus protein which you’ll need. If you’re in a hot climate, avoid chocolate / peanut butter
- Emergency Rations: these are nasty, disgusting, and will save your life if you need food. They barely take up room
- Water Filter: if you are going “into the wild,” this will filter 100,000 gallons (super light and small)
Cold is dangerous. If you looked at the news coverage of Hurricane Harvey, you saw drenched, shivering people trying to stay warm. Your emergency backpack / bug out bag should have at least 1 full change of clothes. You also probably want a raincoat, emergency blanket, “regular” blanket, and a few others. Here are some ideas.
- Mylar Emergency Blanket: really only good for a single use, but it’ll keep you warm
- Hand Warmers: perfect if you’re cold, and will keep you warm
- Waterproof rain coat: seriously, staying dry is important
- Waterproof bag: put your change of clothes in here
- Tarp: your family can sit on this if the ground is wet, or put it over your heads, can also collect rainwater
Having reliable light is important. It isn’t extremely necessary, but having the ability to see in the dark will help you out, especially if you need to evacuate at night. These are your bug out bags, don’t go crazy, but you can have a few small things to prepare for a quick evacuation.
- Large USB Flashlight: very powerful flashlight, rechargeable via USB
- Small AA Flashlight: give one to everybody, just in case
- Inflatable Solar Powered Lamp: this thing is small, cheap, and works great. 25% charge in 1-2 hours of sunlight
- Glow sticks: put them on your kids, make sure you don’t get lost in the dark
Toiletries / Med Kit
Most people will forget about this, but you’re going to want toiletries and you need a med kit. Think about all of the bumps and bruises that you’ve suffered over the past 6 months, and have the necessary supplies to treat them. Make sure to pack meds for your area. Also, bring tampons and pads. These are extremely important, you do not want to get caught in am emergency situation without them, especially if you can’t change your clothes everyday.
- Baby Wipes: assume 2-4 wipes per person per day, minimum (they’re light)
- Paper towels: not the whole roll, take a few sheets and put it in a baggie
- Hand Sanitizer
- Toothbrushes + tooth paste
- Advil / Aspirin / Tylennol / Benadryl pills / extra prescription meds
- Bug Spray / Sunscreen / Anti-Itch Cream
- Basic First Aid (bandaids, Neosporin, tape, gauze pads)
There are plenty of other things that you could carry in your bug out bags. These are highly location dependent, so I’ll give you a few examples. This list is nowhere near comprehensive, and you obviously shouldn’t buy everything on this list.
- Lightweight Battery Pack: keep your phone charged to call relatives
- Area map
- Small Folding Knife: help rescue people, cut through debris, break car windows, etc
- Bic Lighter
- Vaseline (chapped lips suck)
- Bandana (keep neck warm, useful for filtering water)
- Paracord: the hardcore preppers love this stuff
- Compass: if you are going “into the wild”
Remember, the more gear you take, the heavier your packs will be, and the less food and water you can bring. Food, water, and warm, dry clothes are the most important thing to have.
Phew! That was a lot to cover. But it’s really important that you figure out a plan for what to pack for your family’s evacuation survival bags. Now I’ll talk a little bit about how to actually organize your gear so that it works for you. If you are evacuating, the government will have supplies like food and water ready. I can also almost guarantee that they won’t have enough to make everybody comfortable.
The most important things to consider are food and water. I would recommend that each person have 3 days worth of water. In an emergency evacuation situation, adults will need about half a gallon a day and kids will need a quart each. This means a 4-person family (2 adults, 2 children) need 3 + 1.5 gallons = 4.5 total gallons of water, which weighs 36 pounds. In addition, each person will probably go through half a pound of food per day for a total of 6 pounds.
We can also assume that you’ll have about 20 pound of additional supplies for your family. Those toiletries, lighting and extra clothes weigh more than you think. This brings your total emergency kit to 62 total pounds. Distribute the amount and weight of the supplies to people based on what they can carry. Your children can probably carry 5 – 8 pounds depending on their ages. As parents, you need to carry the rest. In this scenario, I would carry about 20 pounds of water, half the food, and as much other stuff as I can fit in my backpack. It’s much easier for me to carry a 40 pound pack than it is my 130 pound fiancée.
In addition, every backpack should have a little bit of everything. This means every backpack should have some food, water, medical supplies, etc. This way, if you lose a bag or get separated, everyone in your party has enough to get through through the day, at least for a little bit.
Wear your Clothes, Prepare Sneakers
One of the great things about preparing is that you’re prepared. So now you have your emergency evacuation backpacks ready to go. They’re in the closet by the front door. Now, you should make sure that your rain jackets and other supplies are right near the backpacks. This way you can run to the closet, put on your sneakers, put on your jackets and you’re out.
Anything that you can carry on your person instead of your backpack will help make things feel lighter. Even if its warm, I’d recommend wearing your raincoat because it saves precious space and weight. If you want to go crazy, you can get Molle attachments for your backpack and put some of your supplies onto them, such as a flashlight holder.
Always be Prepared (And Start Right Now)
Please, make sure that you are prepared for emergencies. It isn’t terribly difficult to do. If you have a family of 4, you can be reasonably well prepared to weather an emergency in place and evacuate with supplies for about $500 – $800 depending on what gear you decide to purchase. Is $500 – $800 a lot of money? Yes, well, sort of. How many of you have an emergency fund? How much money is in there? If you’ve spent time and effort to build up an emergency fund, at least think about putting together an emergency kit, it might just save your life.
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