September is National Preparedness Month, so I'll be posting a six-part series on things you can do to plan ahead and reduce the impact of disasters, natural or otherwise. Today's post is on the importance of assembling a go-bag so you're not frantically scrambling for stuff while chaos unravels around you.
(P.S. Part one was on ten quick and easy emergency prep activities. Part two was on the ten types of paperwork you need to have under control.)
So! Let's talk go-bags. First up, a definition: A go-bag is basically a diaper bag for grown-ups; you're going to put things in there that you will definitely want with you in the event that you have to leave town in a hurry.
Why might you want to/have to do that? Out here in California, one big reason for being asked to leave your home in a hurry is if there's a wildfire roaring toward your house. (That has happened to two of my friends.) Or a local plant has just had an oopsie. You might also be trying to get out ahead of a hurricane or blizzard. Or perhaps random gas mains are blowing up in your neighborhood and you want to take a few days away until the utilities people have it under control.
The point is, you want a bag you can grab and throw in the car without worrying that you've forgotten something vital. So here's what you need to put together:
The bag itself: I prefer backpacks -- easier to distribute weight if you're carrying your own plus your pet's or kid's -- and I highly recommend trawling the REI cleareance section. I managed to grab five daypacks for $19 apiece there when I started my go-bag project.
And the ten items you'll want in it:
1. Water. Keep one of those 32 oz bottles of water in there, just in case you end up stuck in traffic or at a shelter where nobody's brought anything.
Bonus: Throw in a packet of flavoring, like Crystal Lite, so you're not drinking flat, lukewarm water, but rather flat, lukewarm lemonade.
2. Sun protection. Whether this is a hat, sunblock or both, you'll want some way to avoid sunburn.
Bonus: I live in an area where the temperature rarely dips below the mid-40s at the lowest, but if you do, you'll also want some rudimentary cold protection, like a hat and gloves.
3. Light-weight, shelf-stable food. Remember, the whole point to a go-bag is to act as a stopgap measure until you get someplace more secure. So you don't need to pack a weeks' worth of menus or freeze-dried food for days, but you will want to toss in a few Clif bars, some trail mix, some almond butter snack packs, whatever.
4. Cash. Let me repeat that: Cash. The physical infrastructure undergirding modern life is incredibly frail, so do not count on credit cards to work 100% of the time. Set aside whatever small sums you can here and there until you've got at least $150 per person.
5. Basic toiletries and shower wipes. Feeling vaguely hygienic can go a long way toward maintaining a cheery outlook. Or at least one where you're not going to be embarrassed later by how quickly you descended into savagery.
6. A dust mask or respirator. They are stupidly cheap at your local hardware store, and they will keep you from sucking in who-knows-what if you're vacating during a fire or in the wake of some huge destruction.
7. A flashlight and whistle. For adults, I prefer the hands-free headlamps like you see the contestants on The Amazing Race wearing at night, and for the under-five set, I recommend a flashlight that can be worn on a lanyard. And the whistle is for getting people's attention without screaming yourself hoarse.
Bonus: If you are a big nerd, as I am, you may want to teach your family some whistle sequences they can use for basic communication. I adopted the American Red Cross lifeguard whistles: two short blasts means "I need someone to come to me ASAP," while three short blasts means "Emergency!"
8. Extra prescription medications and/or extra pairs of eyeglasses. Ask your doctor about extras when she's writing a 'scrip, and be sure to ask how long the medication is good for -- you don't want expired meds in your go bag.
9. Something to keep you amused or entertained. The last time I was in Kaua'i, we were evacuated as part of the island's response to a tsunami and spent the better part of a day in an emergency shelter. Being able to block out every whiny, sunburning, hungry touron around me and read my book was a sanity saver. That goes double for people with kids: Stick something entertaining in your kids' go-bags.
Bonus: Does your kid have a lovey? Mine does. Fortunately, it's one that is not terribly unique, so we keep the emergency back-up Bunny in her go-bag. If we can't get to Bunny before we go, we can madly improvise all, "Look! Bunny stowed away! What a sneak!" And if we can, we'll just claim that Bunny needed a friend. Managing my kid's emotions is one of the things I expect a go-bag to do.
10. Copies of any emergency action plans (more on these later) and emergency contact numbers. It never hurts to have this information in more than one place. You should also have copies of any health insurance cards.
But what of pets? You ask. We do have a go-bag for our cat. It contains: a bag of dry kibble, a 32 ounce bottle of water, a collapsable dish for drinking, a shallow, legal-pad-sized lidded Rubbermaid container filled with kitty litter, a spare baby blanket and a copy of Zito's shot record. We also had him microchipped.
Final bonus: Go-bags are supposed to be labeled by user, so that you don't mix up scrips, etc. I reasoned that nametags are fine if everyone can read, but we currently have a member of the family who can't. So I bought these self-sealing "laminated pouches with loops," printed out photos of me, my husband, my daughter and my cat, then called it a day. This way, it's easy to figure out whose bag is whose.
Now go forth and get your go-bag together. Store it close to an exit -- a coat closet, or an ottoman by the door -- and rest easy knowing that if you have to evacuate in a hurry, you won't be caught flat footed.