Explosions. Fires. Thousands of vehicles fleeing a burning city. Are you ready to evacuate your home quickly and effectively if – or when – the need arises?
When I first began writing and talking about preparedness, it was considered a joke by most people. Eyes glazed over when I mentioned long term survival situations, the possibility of economic collapse, resource scarcity and emergency evacuation of homes. After all, everyone argued, these things do not happen to regular people.
It is a sign of the times that most people now understand that not only do these things happen to regular people, but they have been happening.
There is a term among the preparedness community – “bugging out”. It means getting out of a dangerous situation quickly and finding safety until the situation is resolved.
Frequently, when this is brought up, a large number of people will insist that they will always “shelter in place”.
The problem with that thinking, though, becomes apparent in situations like the horrific wildfire in Fort McMurray, Canada (May 2016). It also becomes clear when we look at devastated, uninhabitable cities like the ones in Syria. More recently, we can look at the nightmare that Houston, USA, became after the Hurricane Harvey flood.
Sheltering in place is not always an option when the entire city is on fire or under overwhelming attack.
Wildfire, tsunamai, terrorist attacks, flooding and more can make your home a death trap very quickly, no matter how safe it seemed moments before.
Even if you plan to “shelter in place” for storms, food shortages or other events like that – and certainly, that’s what we do – you still need an evacuation plan.
Imagine for a moment that you have five minutes to grab everything you need before leaving your home – with the knowledge that you may not be able to return to your own, perhaps not your city, and maybe not even your country.
There are so many reasons why this could happen, and there is no excuse for people to remain ostrich-like, head-in-the-sand, and insist that these things only happen to other people.
What Are The Risks?
This is going to be different for everyone. Here in Nova Scotia, we really don’t have to worry about earthquakes or tornadoes. They just don’t happen here. Floods, forest fires, severe storms and even tsunamis on the coast, though, are all very real threats.
Are you ready to find out the danger signs that indicate you need to bug out, and what you need to increase your chances of getting to a safe place?
When To Leave
The worst time to leave is when the police or other emergency personel show up at your door and inform you that the city is being evacuated.
Okay, it is even worse to lock your door, refuse to leave, and attempt to evacuate later, but I am going to assume that you won’t do that.
Please don’t do that.
A mandatory evacuation is a terrifying and dangerous situation. By the time the authorities decide that they can not keep people safe where they are, leaving becomes a nightmare.
When we discussed forest fires with our children, we assured them that we keep informed of fires in the area and that we would take steps to leave well before a dangerous fire reached our property. Because we live deep in the woods, a forest fire is high on our list of “when to evacuate”.
So when do you make the decision to leave?
It’s time to bug out when the place you’re at is no longer safe – or is in danger of being compromised – and survival may become an issue.
This means you need to be prepared to bug out in the event of a weather emergency, a terrorist attack, a flash mob or a riot, depending on your location.
You also need to leave fast if there’s a contaminate set loose in your area – such as a train derailment and the train was carrying some nasty hazardous materials that escaped into the air. City-wide black outs are a criminal’s favorite time to come out and wreak havoc. Your possessions aren’t worth losing your life over – so leave.
If there’s been a city-wide breakdown of communication resources, like if the 911 system crashes, get out. These systems are all computer run – and when the computer crashes, you’re on your own. When a city goes down, law and order goes out the window and chaos ensues.
If some nasty weather is headed your direction and it’s not looking good, get out before the government officials tell you to get out. Why? Because there will always be thousands who wait until the last possible minute to leave – and you may end up trapped in your vehicle sitting still on an interstate while a harrowing storm bears down on you.
You need to know what you and your family will do in an emergency, where you will meet, where you will go and how you will contact each other if separated.
Different situations will require different destinations. In our case, a forest fire would necessitate that we head for family in my home town, about 110 km/63 miles away. (My favourite definition of home is “The place that, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”) In some cases, that may not be far enough while other situations would require us to find a place of safety in the nearby village.
In your plans, figure out the best ways to get where you need to be, because an emergency is not the time to start arguing about the best route. Choose a route that will avoid, if possible, heavy traffic, even if that means taking back roads with lower speed limits. A 70 kph back highway with little traffic is much faster than a 110 kph main highway clogged with bumper-to-bumper vehicles.
Less traffic is also safer, especially when drivers and passengers (including children and pets) are scared.
Bug Out Bags
Whether you call it a bug out bag, an evacuation bag, a Get Out Of Dodge (GOOD) bag, or even an evac kit, it is very important that you can, in five minutes or less, put your hands on everything you need to get to safety. As a note, many people make a distinction between an evac kit/GOOD bag, intended to get you to a place of safety, and a bug out bag, intended to keep you alive in the woods for an extended period.
By all means, if you are able to pack a bag that would keep you and yours alive in a full-out survival situation, and you have the necessary skills required to do so, include this type of gear in your emergency plans. Most people, however, need the ability to quickly get out of the danger and to a place of safety.
Your medical kit should be with your evacuation bags. Like food storage and all other preparedness items, this is not a “set and forget”. Store what you use, and use what you store. This is your central spot for all medications, first aid care, etc.
While some might not agree with this, imagine the scenario in which you have five minutes warning for that evacuation. You grab the children, your evacuation bags, your travel medical kit and …. a mile down the road, you realize that your vital heart medication, blood pressure pills or insulin shots are about to be washed away in a flood. And later you realize that the children’s Advil, used last night and left on the counter, is unavailable for your hurt and terrified preschooler.
Keep all medical supplies together.
No matter the disaster, banks are not going to be operating and banking machines will be unreliable.
Cash is king.
Include a waterproof money holder that fits under your clothes. In any emergency situation, if you have available cash, in small bills, you will always have an advantage over the person paying – or attempting to pay – with a credit or debit card.
Winter or summer, your car should be ready at all times. Over the past year, we have developed the habit of filling up any time the gauge goes below 3/4, as well as keeping jerry cans full of gas on hand. As a note, gasoline does not keep long term. Just like food storage, rotate your gasoline supply every few months.
The vehicle that your family requires to get to safety needs to include towing gear and a winch.
Urban residents might want to consider bicycles as a way to get through heavy traffic, but this certainly has drawbacks.
When all else fails, get off the main highway and walk. A compass, map and good footprint are vital for this.
Having multiple transportation methods means that, no matter the situation, you and your family can get to safety. And that is the entire purpose behind “bugging out”.