What goes into a go-bag?
How to prepare an easy-to-grab emergency kit
Heather Kretzer, a health consultant for the Florida Department of Health in Panama City, lives near the water. But the most recent call for an evacuation in her area wasn’t because of a hurricane but because of an active shooter.
The incident, which did not result in any bystanders being injured but did lead to the temporary evacuation of an apartment complex, drove home to Kretzer the need for all families to have a survival bag they can grab in an emergency.
“You can be asked to evacuate your home for a number of emergencies — often with little warning and limited time to gather your possessions,” she said.
No area in the country is immune from disaster and unexpected evacuation, said Jim Judge, emergency management director for Volusia County, Florida, and a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. Threats range from weather concerns and wildfires to hazardous material spills and police matters.
With hurricane and wildfire seasons underway, summer is a good time to consider packing a go-bag of emergency supplies.
Having a pre-packed bag or bin ready will help reduce the stress of a stressful situation, said Stuart Warshaw, whose company, VLESdesigns, sells stocked emergency bags. He and other safety experts also recommend having a plan about how to evacuate and where to go.
“You need a cool head when there’s little time and potentially critical decisions to make,” he said.
His bag includes wheels so it can be rolled through urban areas or airports, and it also has straps and a waist belt so it can be worn as a backpack.
Some families prefer an old suitcase or plastic tub stored under a bed or in a closet, Judge said. A duffle bag also works well, Kretzer said.
The contents of your kit should help you survive up to three days, she said. Be sure to think about every member of the family, including pets.
“It’s like going camping — all the things you need to take with you,” Judge said.
Kretzer, Judge and Warshaw offered the following suggestions on what to include in an emergency bag:
Food and water
Remember that supplies should last the entire family three days. That includes 1 gallon of water per person per day. Include non-perishable food that requires no water or cooking. Don’t forget plates, silverware and a manual can opener. Protein bars make a good emergency food, Kretzer said.
Tip: Warshaw recommends water purification tablets in case the water supply becomes tainted.
This includes eyeglasses, contact solution, hygiene supplies, and prescription and over-the-counter medicines that are taken regularly. If you have a young child, include diapers, baby food and formula.
Tip: If you are unable to pack prescription medications, tape a note to the bag reminding you to grab them, or prepare a checklist of last-minute additions that’s kept with the bag.
Three days’ worth for every member of your family.
Tip: Include sturdy shoes and hats.
A go-bag should include a first aid kit, flashlight, extra batteries, matches in a waterproof container and a whistle. It also may be helpful to have strong tape, plastic sheeting and a few tools.
Tip: Remove the batteries from the flashlight and other items to avoid corrosion.
The power may be out, so a battery-operated or hand-crank radio is essential, Judge said. Two-way radios also will be useful. Pack phone cords and chargers to use once power is restored.
Tip: Consider identifying an out-of-town relative as a contact point for everyone in the family, to relay important messages and updates.
Either include copies of birth certificates, IDs, insurance policies and prescriptions in the kit or save encrypted copies/photos of them on a secure online storage spot. A map with evacuation routes highlighted also will be helpful. Make sure you have cash — preferably smaller bills — in the kit, in case the power is out and you can’t use credit cards and ATMs.
Tip: Print out a list of important phone numbers in case you can’t access the contact list in your phone.
Consider taking blankets and pillows to make your stay at a shelter or other evacuation location more comfortable. Add a deck of cards, books, some games or other things that could amuse children in a shelter or hotel room.
If you will be evacuating with a pet, identify in advance what shelters allow them, advises Pet Sitters International. Pack a copy of veterinary and vaccination records, pet food, water bowl and leash.
Tip: Be sure you have the right size carrier to transport your pet to a shelter.
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