My family recently survived hurricane Irma, then Maria on St. Thomas, USVI. Last week, I was sitting on my couch when we experienced a small earthquake in my home of Los Angeles.
I'm not the only one with disaster prep on my mind.
This piece will focus on what to have in a go bag -- a pack prepped for when you need to get out of the house (or car) within seconds. It's meant get you through the first 96 hours (4 days), but the same items apply for a hurricane/tornado prep situation.
Before getting to the list, know that if you don't want to put it together, you can buy ready-made bags. These are FEMA-approved, and sold by the 1-person, 2-people, and larger family packs. Amazon also sells a pretty fully equipped Bug Out Bag.
Remember that ANY steps you take towards preparation are good ones. You don't need to do it perfectly; you just need to do it.
Here's what you'll need:
Probably not the first thing you thought about, but there are important reasons to have it with you:
Travel. One of the major impediments to the airport opening on St. Thomas (it's still not open) is TSA not being able to screen people. Once they get backup equipment, you can bet that travelers with ID will have an easier time evacuating than those without.
Assets. Depending on the kind of emergency, you'll need your ID to access bank accounts and claim other assets you hold.
Registering for help. During evacuations, authorities need to keep records of people who are moved or rescued, and it's easier to register for help with FEMA, etc. when you can demonstrate who you are.
Make a copy of your passport, and/or an actual ID, and keep it in a waterproof pouch (or ziplock bag).
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After a disaster, no one will be able to take your credit card, but you'll need money for food, fuel, transport, and more. I can vouch for this -- my family says certain supplies are available after Irma and Maria, but only for cash.
Have at least $250 in your go bag, and make sure it's in relatively small bills. Keep it with your ID in your waterproof pouch (or ziplock).
3. Water and a good water filter
The U.S. government states that in an emergency, you should assume you'll need at least 1 gallon of water per day per person for drinking and sanitation. Keep one full water bottle in your bag, but know it'll only last you half a day to a day. Then you'll need a smart, portable way of purifying water.
Get a compact purification tube. They can filter up to 1,000 litres of water and remove 99.99% of bacteria. LifeStraw makes a good one under $20, or with a water bottle. With this, you'll be able to drink "dirty" water from streams and other sources without fear.
4. Emergency whistle
One of the main issues in the aftermath of the earthquake in Mexico City was people trapped in buildings. If trapped, you'll need to signal rescue workers without losing your voice or expending precious energy. This emergency whistle is just under $8 and comes with a compass and waterproof fire starter.
5. First Aid Kit
One of the primary risks in any emergency -- hurricane, tornado, earthquake -- is getting injured (particularly hit on the head).
Your kit should include pain killers (both pills and sprays), bandages, gauze, scissors, tape, hydrogen peroxide, and any medications you need. Take contact solution and extra contacts if that's relevant--you'll want to be able to see clearly. Remember you can always purchase a ready-made first aid kit. Don't skimp on this part of your prep; if you need it, you'll really need it.
6. Hand sanitizer and other sanitary supplies
Hygiene is critical during a crisis. Fail to maintain it and you could become infected or contaminated. Keep the following in your bag: 1 roll of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soap and mouthwash. Women should be sure to pack tampons and/or pads.
7. A solar-powered radio + cell phone charger
Ironically, one of the most helpful things I could do for my family during the hurricanes was to text them weather updates. Because they had no internet, they were blind to what was coming next--I was their connection to critical info about the next hurricane.
Having a charged device is a boon in a crisis these days. You should assume you'll be without power for days or even weeks, and get this kind of device--a combination radio, cell phone charger, and flashlight. It's solar- OR hand-crank powered, so you can keep it charged even in the dark.
Take the lightweight items: clean underwear, a light jacket, a poncho, a hat.
Then remember that go bags should be made according to climate and region. If you're in a cold climate, add lightweight emergency blankets; if you're in a warm, mosquito-ridden climate, take bug spray (especially if the bugs in your area carry diseases).
You'll likely work hard during an evacuation--you may need to walk for miles and overcome obstacles. Your body will need fuel, especially if it's cold out (you burn more calories in the cold).
Get food supplies to last 4-5 days, and remember utensils. Keep weight low by bringing high-calorie foods like trail mix, chocolate, and dried foods. MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) and pop-top cans of tuna fish are also good. Remember these expire, so check the date before consuming anything and replace them regularly (especially pop-top cans).
- If you can, make your actual go bag a bright color like orange or yellow--this helps emergency workers spot you. If you need to, you can smear mud on it to avoid being spotted (i.e. by looters).
- If you're in an earthquake-prone area, be sure to have emergency supplies in your vehicle as well as at home--you may not be able to get back to your house. Prioritize water and a first aid kit.
- Depending on how long you're without power and water, it's great to have body wipes on hand. You won't be able to shower, and it's an easy way to stay hygienic.
While it may sound strange, the holidays are coming up and some of these make good, practical gifts. If you have loved ones you feel are even less likely to prepare than you, consider stuffing some MREs down their stocking.