It’s the middle of the night.
The authorities just notified you that you have 20 minutes to evacuate your home before a raging wildfire cuts off the exit from your neighborhood, leaving you trapped.
The fire is advancing at the rate of a football field every second, so the actions you take in the next few moments will determine whether you and your family live or die.
While this may sound like a scene from a blockbuster disaster movie, it’s actually the very scenario Judy Shannon faced in December 2017. And it’s something we can expect to see more and more as the impact of climate change sets in.
Judy was at home with her two young children, her elderly mother, and a puppy, when an out-of-control wildfire threatened to engulf her Ventura County home in Southern California.
Fortunately, she and her family escaped without injury. But her home, her neighborhood, and hundreds of other buildings in the area were burned to the ground. Shopping for supplies in the aftermath, Judy reflected on whether or not she could have done more to ensure her family’s safety in those last moments before evacuating.
“As I look back, I wonder, ‘Did I do enough?’” Judy recalled. “I can honestly say I didn’t have much choice in those 20 minutes. I responded without much thought and felt a sense of being carried, or moved about, with each step.”
Judy highlights a critical aspect of facing such life-threatening emergencies: You won’t have time to think; you must be prepared to act and act fast. Your life and the lives of those in your family absolutely depend on it.
Be ready to go
With natural disasters like wildfires, floods, and hurricanes becoming more frequent and destructive with every passing year, the need for you to be ready to act is more pressing than ever. And as Judy’s story highlights, when you have mere minutes to evacuate, you won’t have time to think about what you should bring with you to survive the days—or weeks—to come.
To be optimally prepared, take a cue from the U.S. military and police agencies. These organizations require their members to always have a “go-bag” on-hand packed with the essential items needed to survive for at least three days following a disaster.
While numerous online retailers sell fully equipped go-bags for such emergencies, and both FEMA and the American Red Cross provide checklists to help you pack your own, here we offer a basic summary of the most-recommended supplies.
This list should give you some idea of what items you should have ready to go in case you need to get out of your home within minutes.
1) ID and other essential documents: Bring copies of your passport, driver’s license, and/or state ID card and store them in a sealed ziplock bag. Other documents to consider packing include the deed to your home, vehicle titles/registration, printed maps, and a recent family photo with faces clearly visible for easy identification.
2) Cash: Carry at least $250 in relatively small bills, and keep it with your ID in a waterproof bag.
3) Shelter: A lightweight tent, along with mylar emergency blankets can help keep you warm and dry.
4) Water and a water filter: You’ll need at least one gallon of water per person per day. Bring as much bottled water as possible, but also include a water purification straw and/or purification tablets, along with a steel container to boil water in.
5) A multi-tool: These modern-day Swiss Army knives come with a wide array of essential tools, from a knife and screwdriver to tweezers and a can opener.
6) First-aid kit and prescription medications: Whether you buy one ready-made or pack your own, the likelihood of injury skyrockets in the wake disasters, so not having a first-aid kit can be deadly. And don’t forget to include prescription medications and other life-sustaining medical supplies if needed.
7) Light: Flashlights with extra batteries are great, but headlamps are even better because they’re ultra compact and leave your hands free.
8) An emergency whistle: Emergency whistles can alert rescue crews and help locate others in low-visibility conditions.
9) Solar-powered emergency radio and cellphone charger: Without power, you’ll need a way to stay in touch with the outside world. Today you can find devices that include a combination radio, cell-phone charger, and flashlight all in one, with the extra option of hand-cranked power to keep things charged even in the dark.
10) Sanitary items: Pack toilet paper, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, soap, as well as tampons and/or pads if needed.
11) Clothes: You only need enough clothes to keep you warm and comfortable for a few days, so don’t try to bring your entire wardrobe. Stick to essentials like underwear, socks, extra shoes, a jacket, a poncho, a hat, and gloves. You’ll need to tailor your clothing to the particular climate and region you live in, so colder locations may require extra outerwear.
12) Food: Focus on high-protein, high-caloric foods that will give you the energy you need to live and get from point A to point B. The most recommended options include, energy bars, MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat), freeze-dried survival food, and meal-replacement shakes.
Stay totally safe and secure
While go-bags are a critical part of helping your family survive the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster or other emergency, they’re just a start. For instance, this list doesn’t address any of your precious sentimental items, such as photos, old love letters, and treasured cards from the past. Nor does it mention estate planning documents or insurance policies.
Copies of your insurance policies and estate planning documents items should be uploaded to the cloud and stored online. You should also store sentimentals, like family histories and photos online, so you don’t have to worry about packing any of that in the event of a natural disaster. Indeed, safely storing your sentimentals online is so important, we offer this as a service to our clients, so be sure to ask us about that.
Of course, to keep your family totally safe and secure, you’ll need to make sure you actually have the right insurance coverage and necessary legal documents in place to cover every possible emergency contingency. Contact a Personal Family Lawyer® to learn exactly what you need and how they can support you.