September 10, 2011

Building a Grab and Go Pack
Or, What’s in YOUR Evac Pack?

The condo/apartment is shaking like crazy and the floor is cracking. You need to get out NOW. The water is already rising in the living room, rising faster than you could have imagined. At this rate, in another five minutes it will be up past your waist. You must leave NOW, while you still can.

If you think you will still be able to rationally gather some things before evacuating, you are dead wrong. Your brain, with or without your consent, will have moved you into Flight (Fight, Flight, Freeze, Faint: the brain will run you through those phases, in that order. It's standard wiring on the human model). The most you might be able to do is grab one thing, if you are lucky. So it better be ready before hand. It has to be easy to grab on your way out the main door, and needs to have some important things in it.


The Pack: Start with a duffle bag that can be worn like a backpack, or a hiker’s daypack or small backpack. Costco currently has a rolling 21” rolling duffle bag for $37 and a 30” rolling duffle for $47. These are cool because you can roll them like a suitcase, but if on rough ground you can wear them like a backpack.

Clothes: First of all, you need to take care of your physical self: sturdy thick-soled shoes in case you are walking over broken glass, nails, chunks of concrete; jeans, shirt, jacket, rain jacket or poncho (they make plastic and inexpensive nylon rain jacket/pants that you can pick up from a lot of sources), hat and gloves (year round. You live somewhere hot? It can still get cold at night), two pair of socks (one to wear while the other pair dries), a pair of underwear, leather palmed work gloves (you may be pulling glass or rubble off of people or clearing a passage for yourself).

Important Docs: Next get a gallon Ziploc freezer baggie. This baggie will contain important papers. Make a clear color copy of your driver’s license and if you have one, your passport or birth certificate. Put some cash in the baggie as well. Mainly smaller bills. No one is going to want to break a $100. Maybe a few blank checks (useless without the copy of the driver’s license). If you have extra credit cards, add one of those. Add a phone card – again, Costco has them for $20 and it’s 2.9cents a minute or less. If cell phones go out you can use any phone with your phone card, no change needed.

Include a copy of your drivers license, passport, social security card, insurance policy info, your bank account info, either snapshots of the rooms in your place or digital pictures on a thumb drive for insurance purposes, a copy of a recent utility bill. Imagine sitting with someone at your bank, having no ID or proof you are you, saying "But really, it IS me, just ask my wife. I need money out of my account and I need now because we have no food and no place to stay." And the nice lady behind the desk looks at you over her glasses with an assessing look and says "Um-hmmm sure it's you, Mr. Smith – is that what you said your name was? don't you have ANYthing that shows who you are? I'm sorry Mr. "Smith" we just won't be able to help you without some form of ID." Not what you want to hear.

Make a list of all medications taken by family members. Have a list of contacts, especially out of area ones as it is often easier to reach out of the area people than local numbers, with their phone numbers, cell numbers and text messaging info. Many times you will not be able to get a call through but a text message will go through. You may say, “Oh that’s all programmed in my cell phone, I don’t NEED a list.”

If your phone is lost, the battery fails or gets too wet to work what then? Someone else may let you use their phone, but all those numbers won’t be in THEIR phone. Make the list. Add contact info for your insurance company and the account numbers. I would also add a road map of the area – if one route is unusable you can find another one (if you are going to put a compass in your Evac Pack put it here with the map). Add a few sheets or thin pad of paper and a pencil (can be sharpened with your knife, and you should roll duct tape around it so you have several feet of tape which can come in very handy), in case you need to leave a note like “Have left for the Red Cross Center. Family all together and safe”.So you make up a baggie with all that info in it. Once you have gotten to safe ground, you WEAR that baggie of information. You buy (now) one of those pouches that travelers wear to keep their money, credit cards and passport safely tucked inside their shirt. YOU DO THAT, because if someone rifles through your stuff at a shelter and steals that? You now have another VERY big problem.

Toiletries: Pick up a travel size tooth brush, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, hand sanitizer, hand cream, a short comb, chap stick and a washcloth that you buy at a Dollar Store (why from a Dollar Store? Because they are VERY thin and will pack up very small) and put it all into a quart ziploc baggie. Use a Ziploc Freezer baggie because they are sturdier than the regular ones. Make one for each family member. Write their names on each baggie with a permanent marker (you won’t have one to do it later). It is a proven psychological boost in a disaster if you can wash your face and brush your teeth. It is a little piece of sanity in a world gone insane.

Meds/First Aid: Do you need blood pressure meds? Other meds? Tell your doctor you want to get a two-week supply for an emergency evacuation pack. Get the meds. Put them in a baggie so they are protected from water. Put them in your Evac Pack. This is SO important. Do not delay, do it now.

Add a first aid kit – you’ll want a really robust one for at home, and a smaller lighter weight one for your Evac Pack, but always get the best that you can financially justify. To the kit, add face masks and at least one CPR mask in case you have to give CPR (they don’t cost that much and are more critical these days).


Water: You must have water, but you may not be able to carry all the water that you will need. For this reason, you’ll want to include at least a quart of water per person in your family. Then add at least one empty quart bottle per person (or per two people if it’s a bigger family) and a way to make safe drinkable water. There are many ways to make water safe to drink, at a price range from under $10 (Katadyn MicroPur or Potable Aqua tablets) to over $300 (Katadyn Pocket Filter which is used by the US Special Forces). The SteriPen Journey Purifier uses UV light to kill all bacteria, even viruses, is good for 2,000 gallons of water and weighs only a few ounces (and for $99 is a great deal).

Food: For food you need to consider a couple of things: shelf life and “will the kids eat it”. There are the three-day/3,600 calorie food bars like those made by Mainstay (taste a bit like lemon shortbread cookies), protein bars can be found everywhere, beef jerky is good as it keeps a long time and gives you much needed protein, trail mix with nuts and fruits. If you have kids, consider adding a few things that may be a treat that would take their mind off the stress going on around them. They make mini bags of M&Ms, candies and raisins, there are fruit rolls, etc which might make the different between a happy child or a very distressed child (how long does a Tootsie Pop last? Might make the difference between a happy mom or a very distressed mom). Get a four-pack of Sporks so everyone has their own spoon/fork tool (comes in four colors so everyone can have their own).

Light: a minimum of one headlamp for each adult, with two sets of batteries (not installed) for each (again in a baggie so they are all together). If you have to mobilize at night you will need both hands so you need hands-free light. Why do we sell only Petzl headlamps? Because they Work Great. I use mine every day because I live out in the country where it is super dark at night. And if all the power is off all over the city or suburbs, it will be seriously dark where you are as well. You will need one hand for a child the other to pull the rolling duffle. Or both hands to clear rubble or to scramble over debris. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a really good headlamp (and in headlamps you DO get what you pay for). Buy one for the Grab and Go Pack but use it before hand. You will be a convert. I don’t leave home without mine. I’d also suggest a regular flashlight; the new LED flashlights can be very powerful as well as light weight.

And if the power goes out because of a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) battery operated lights may not work but 12-hour Light Sticks will. Get some 12-hour light sticks for the kids too – they each come with a lanyard so they can be worn like a person night light. They are perfect for kids. Put them in (yes, again) a baggie and maybe a couple of rolls of Lifesavers (the flavor, along with the light, will calm kids down a lot – they can't think about Cherry flavor and scary at the same time, aye?). It will give them confidence and allow them to see what is around them. It is also their own personal traveling nightlight that will stay lit all night long. Another great flashlight for kids is the Shake Flashlight: lightweight, inexpensive and FUN – just shake it back and forth and you have light. If it starts to go out, just shake and poofa! You have light again.

And get a lantern: you want lightweight and really efficient. Optimum carries a 3 LED 10 day lantern which will run 250 hours on four AA batteries, and weighs only four ounces. Or there is a nine LED lantern that is powered by a hand crank dynamo or car adapter that will even charge your cell phone, and weighs in at only 12.7 ounces.

Warmth: You want efficient, small and lightweight. Get an emergency bivvy bag for each member (they come in good, better and best) because you can crawl completely into it, helping retain body heat. Also get an emergency blanket for each person which can be worn while walking (the sturdier ones being better than the cheaper ones, get a 1-person version for kids and the 2-person version for each adult). If possible get ones that are better than the $1.50 ones. While these items might not be as comfy as a big thick sleeping bag, they can save your life.

Get a fire starter like the Blast Match fire starter– it works better than any other magnesium fire starter you will ever come across. Yeah it costs more, but there is no comparison. Put the Blast Match and some sisal twine (like brown twine they use to tie packages with or sell in a garden shop – you pull it apart and make a fluffy wad, use your Blast Match and you have fire right now – Poofa!) in a baggie, along with a Bic-type lighter and some strike anywhere matches or survival matches.


A really good idea is a radio that will pick up AM/FM and the NOAA weather channels. A great radio is the Eton FR360 Solar/Dynamo Emergency Radio that gets AM/FM and NOAA weather radio stations (with emergency alert) and is powered by solar, hand cranking, AA batteries or electricity. Plus it is a flashlight. Or get the smaller one that is ideal for packs: the Eton FR160 Microlink Solar/Dynamo Emergency Radio.

For protection, pepper spray is very effective. Every family member (especially kids) should have a really loud whistle that they wear on a lanyard. The child should know that if they ever get separated from their parents that they should STOP WALKING, STAND STILL AND BLOW THEIR WHISTLE. Then the parent can quickly locate their child. If both parent and child keep walking, looking for the other, they can circle all night.

Toilet paper. Probably don’t need to go into how handy having this is. Way handy. But you don’t want a big ol’ roll of it. What works great is the kind they make for backpackers with no cardboard tube in the middle. It’s cheap and it’s small, so fill all the nooks and crannies in your pack with TP. You won’t be sorry!

A collapsible bucket – takes up virtually no room but is perfect to haul water over from the water dispensing place so everyone can wash up or refill their water bottles.

Feminine hygiene supplies.

Decent Ponchos - better than the $1.50 plastic ones (a garbage bag is as good as one of these)

50 foot hank of heavy nylon cord - set up shelters, lash stuff together. When you need it you need it.

Pocket knife - extra good if it does multiple things. I once used my Swiss Army Knife saw to cut two long poles, then lashed them together with my cord (see above) to make a travois so I could haul my stuff out of the wilderness. Real handy to have a good knife and some good cord (coming soon to the OP website or go to REI or Cabela's etc).

And throw in a few heavy weight black garbage bags. They have nearly as many uses as duct tape (that you wrapped around that pencil up in the Informational Docs baggie). They make great rain gear, a dry place to sit, lots of uses.

If you have kids (even if they’re teenagers), pack a small stuffed animal for younger kids or girls, a deck of cards, maybe a travel set (small and light) of checkers or tic tac toe or other board game.


As you may have noticed, the checker board is the last thing on the list. The collapsible bucket is waaaay below the meds and copy of your driver’s license. Why? Because you need to prioritize what all you stuffed into your evac pack.

If you CAN’T carry it, you WON’T take it. Build a Grab and Go pack. Then put it by your main exit door. Practice so that you are sure you can actually carry it. Have somebody check their watch and yell GO NOW!!!!

Pick up your evac pack, and haul butt at a fast pace to where your car is parked. Open the car and throw it in. Check watch. How long did it take you? Could you lift it? If not, did it have wheels so you could roll it to the car? Could you pick it up and throw it into the trunk or back seat? Or did you struggle with the pack? If so, lighten that load. If you have a partner, the pack must be able to be carried by the less strong of the two of you in case the stronger of the two is not at home at the time of the emergency. If you have to abandon your car for whatever reason, you will have to carry or drag anything you want to end up with. If you have 2 kids and have to evacuate at night you BETTER have a headlamp because you will have to wear the evac pack pack and have a child on each of your hands. Holding a flashlight in your mouth - not so good.

The big message here is to do something now (even a pitiful grab and go bag is 100% better than NO grab and go bag). Then improve on it. Then improve it again until you have something that is fairly comprehensive.

For more good info on becoming better prepared, go to www.OptimumPreparedness.com and click on the What Do I Need? link and the Checklists link.

And last but not least, what is THE number 1 important thing to have in any disaster or emergency? A level head.

Until next week,

The Queen of Common Sense

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