Another fire started in Boulder County (not a wildfire, but a house fire that spread), now 100% contained. Additionally we’ve had a major storm and glacial conditions and I know power is out for several folks. This might not cause you to evacuate but if you get a burst pipe it’s tough to live in your home with the water turned off or the heat not working. To soothe my anxiety I messed about with my go-bag and list.
I’ve made a list on my phone of items I’d want to take from the house in an emergency and thought it might be helpful to anyone who is thinking about disaster preparedness. This list is personal so of course make adjustments as needed. For instance, my laptop is pretty far down on my list. I consider it pretty replaceable. My husband has his laptop high on his list because he runs his business off it. Even though info is in the cloud, it would make his life MUCH easier to have it in an evacuation. A lot of people keep actual go bags too, and I’ll talk about what’s in mine at the end.
I keep my list organized based on time allowed to evacuate but for these purposes I’m going to start with pre-evac. I’d suggest still starting at the top, most essential of your list and work your way down the list if you are under this notice.
Pre-evac means you should be ready to leave. You might have any amount of notice from a day to a half-hour. IF there is a developing disaster near you I suggest putting yourself on pre-evac notice. Very few people got any kind of notice of the Marshall Fire and it had no pre-evac notice that I know of; it moved too fast.
Get dressed with shoes on. I happened to be dressed already when we first heard about the fire but I didn’t have shoes on and ended up putting them on in the car.
Make sure everyone else in the house is dressed with shoes.
Open your garage door and get your keys into the car. We kept the garage door down because of high winds. Looking back this was stupid. Losing power is common in disasters. Ready to leave means the garage door is up and the keys are in the car. Open the car doors and hatch for easy loading.
If you have pets, confine them so you can get them out quickly. Always keep small cages ready and organized for larger caged animals (our snake fled in a plastic shoebox; not ideal). “Ready” means keeping those small cages near the animal’s big cage at all times, not on a shelf in the garage. If they take anxiety meds, give them to them right away. Ditto, humans (as long as they don’t impair the person, obviously.)
Then start gathering things in the below order. Assume your time to flee will abruptly be NOW at any given moment.
If you have children or elderly or someone who struggles to get around in your house pack up some necessities (see below lists) and go ahead and drive away even if you don’t have the evac notice yet. Look, it might just be an hour or two inconvenience and hopefully you go home. But dealing with small kids, elderly, and searching for pets in an emergency evac is how people get hurt and killed.
In the above you’ll notice we prepare living people and pets first before things. The following list is assumes your living things are dressed, leashed, or caged, and ready to flee. Start at the top, most important stuff, and work your way through.
If a firefighter or police knock on your door and tell you to go, actually leave do leave right away.
If disaster is visible you may well have to flee on foot. Try to grab
You can put them on later, like I did. Yes, people in the Marshall Fire, including kids, fled barefoot in December. We have flash floods in Colorado, in which case fleeing is more likely on foot (climbing to high ground). Shoes are essential.
If you’re already dressed with shoes, grab your
That’s your link to the world and very helpful.
But a word on phones: People will immediately start texting and calling you as soon as the crisis hits the news. Be judicious about answering calls and texts and/or put it on airplane mode when you get a chance. Preserve your sanity and your phone juice.
If you have time to drive out immediately
Driving out will take you longer to get out of the disaster zone than on foot in most cases. Give yourself at least five-ten minutes to get into the car, loaded, and backing out even if you aren’t bringing much. Put anyone not helping load (kids, pets, elderly) into the car. As noted above, open your garage door and car doors first. Even in summer I’d grab a jacket. Disasters are often caused by and followed by inclemant weather.
- pet go-bags
Ten-Twenty Minutes to prep:
You get notice of immediate evac but danger is not immediately visible. Keep in mind our town was engulfed in flames a half-mile away by the time we drove out. We barely smelled smoke it was so windy. Assume you have less time than you think. Time is going to feel slower than it is. Five minutes is a blink but you may collect a few things that will help later. I suggest keeping some kind of bag with a zipper closure handy on your main floor in a closet. Give it its own space so you can just grab it without moving stuff. Having a designated bag (perhaps with a few items you’ll need in it but still plenty of room for more) saves time and brainpower, which is in short supply during a crisis.
These items will likely take 10 minutes to collect because they aren’t usually stored together.
- boots, mittens, hat
- wedding rings
- phone charger
- bottle of water
More than Twenty Minutes or Pre-evac
pack things as if you’re going on a trip for 7 days
- actual suitcase
- tops for weather
- bottoms for weather
- 7 underwear
- 7 socks
- extra shoes
- blow dryer
These items are more replaceable but keep in mind in a disaster there are likely thousands of families fleeing and the stores around the disaster area run out of basics. A suitcase might seem like overkill but the point is to bring roughly a week’s worth of personal items. We didn’t return to our home for five days, and didn’t live in it for weeks because of no heat/poor water, dangerous local areas, road closures, etc. And don’t discount the value of having your familiar things in the midst of an emergency/trauma.
Pre-evac warning final items
- fine jewelry
- family pictures
- hard drive/bigger computer
- homeowners insurance policy
My list is in a different order than this. I keep it in order of where items are stored so I don’t waste time running from room to room or even dresser to dresser. By the way, I keep only my list. Encourage each person in your household to make a list and share them around. That way if you have time you can grab stuff for someone else too if they aren’t there.
With the cloud, a lot of people have duplicate images, documents, etc there. It’s a good idea to keep images of your drivers license on your phone at least, but papers like driver’s licenses, birth and marriage certificates, insurance, bank documents, and credit cards are remarkably easy to replace. The disaster center will have folks available right there to make you new copies of state and fed documents, and lots of info on how to replace the rest efficiently.
Some things sound funny to have on a list, like makeup. YMMV obviously. One toiletry I grabbed was shampoo. I can pretty much easily get other stuff but that small thing helped me feel better in the hotel when I didn’t know if I had a house or not.
What I keep in my actual go-bag
our go bag
- charged portable charger
- list of phone numbers
- a copy of my go-list in proper order of importance
- 2-3 days prescriptions
- contact lenses
- water bottle
Remember your pet will be traumatized so familiar food will help them feel more secure. Yeah, you got to change food out every few months but it’s not that big a deal. We also always keep an extra leash and collapsible water bowl in our car because that’s just handy.
doggie go bag
- 2 days of food
- two stackable bowls
- extendable leash
Communications and Miscellaneous
Outsiders: if you know someone in a current disaster outside your immediate family, DO NOT text or call. Phone and data will be super congested and people need access to flee. Trust me, there is an army of professional helpers converging who can do far more than you can. I was trying desperately to talk and text with my husband who was guiding us out of the disaster area from afar, and was constantly interrupted and delayed by texts and calls from friends and even acquaintances. (I’m talking like fifty people trying to contact me in the first hour, not exaggerating, and upwards of five tries to send a text to let my immediate family know we were safe.) Contacting a person in a disaster makes them LESS SAFE. Let them call you.
Victims: It’s good practice to have one contact who will let the rest of your family know. Make sure that contact knows that all communication goes through them until you reach out. My brother was excellent at this and it was an easy way for me to let everyone know our status (especially since it took several hours to flee and settle in a hotel and data/phone was super sketch.)
Don’t stop to shut doors or windows. Don’t shut garage doors if the power is out. If you have time you can leave a clear note that the house is empty so no one wastes time on rescue. It’s better for emergency responders if your house is unlocked and accessible and also will let pets flee on their own. Again, the power may be out so your garage opener won’t work. I know several folks who wasted valuable escape time trying to shut the garage door on houses that were on fire. You will not be thinking clearly so preparing ahead like this will help.
I may add/edit this in the coming days but at least it’s a start to thinking about how to manage a disaster and evacuation. Good luck and stay safe. I hope you never need this.