In most preparedness magazines and on most prepper websites, bug-out bags are an ever-popular topic for discussion. The idea of “bugging-out” in a SHTF scenario makes us dream of an idyllic cabin in the mountains where we grow or hunt our own food and live happily ever after, or it’s where we take on an enemy in a Red Dawn (United Artists, 1984) scenario, hopefully minus the attrition rate of the Wolverines. However, practical preparedness should be about looking at possible real-life scenarios, rather than things that rarely happen. In a real-life emergency, would it be better to “bug-out” or “bug-in”? It depends largely upon the type of emergency situation. What are the dangers of each?
In most situations, “bugging-in”, “holing-up”, or sheltering-in-place would probably be the best course of action. During a winter storm, you have protection from the elements and a secure place in your own home. Likewise, in a tornado situation, a home is much more secure than being out in the open. Special precautions should be taken in tornado country to prepare for such an eventuality. Droughts, heatwaves, power outages, earthquakes, and local unrest (riots) are all best waited out inside the shelter of one’s own home, if one is properly prepared. Even tropical storms may be waited out with proper preparedness, as long as one is ready to leave in a moment’s notice if the situation turns ugly.
Proper preparedness is the key if one is to wait out an emergency situation in one’s own home. Having foodstuff stored to live on, until supplies are available, is obvious. Water is also necessary but sometimes overlooked. One should plan for at least 72 hours of food and water in most suburban and urban areas. More rural areas could take longer, depending on the severity of the emergency.
A major mistake often made is energy for cooking and heating. Each year, there are numerous fatalities from carbon monoxide poisoning during winter power outages. Using a campstove or barbeque indoors for cooking or heating, without proper ventilation, can easily result in death. Homes with gas stoves and heaters have a readily available energy source, but caution should be taken after emergencies, such as earthquakes, to be sure there are no leaks that cause fire danger or risk of asphyxiation. To prevent such problems, in the event of an earthquake, turn off the outside gas valves as soon as possible. Fireplaces, candles, oil lamps, and other heat and light sources made for indoors should be used with caution to prevent injury and accidents.
Another benefit to sheltering-in-place is that weight and space are less of an issue. Materials and tools may be stored to secure the home from the weather, such as plywood, hammers, and nails. This also helps secure the home from the damage done by vandals. Tarps or plastic sheeting with duct tape can also be used to replace broken glass during storms or to seal windows and vents in the event of chemical spills or terrorist attacks using chemicals or biological weapons. Saws and other equipment will be readily available for recovery efforts after an event.
There are many comprehensive lists available on the internet for emergencies, and they vary significantly based on the background of those creating them. As a rule of thumb, one should have the following items:
- Food and water to last at least 72 hours.
- Cook stove that can be used indoors. (Many gas ranges can be operated even when the power is out.)
- Fuel to last 72 hours.
- Medications and supplies for special needs, such as infants and the elderly.
- Small tool kit, with wrenches to turn off gas, hammers and nails, screwdrivers, and other basics.
- Battery-operated (or hand-crank) radio.
- First aid kit.
- Can opener.
- Battery backup for cell phones.
(For more comprehensive lists, see http://lds.about.com/od/preparednessfoodstorage/a/72hour_kit.html or https://www.ready.gov/kit.)
One of the hardest parts of sheltering in place is that it can get boring or very stressful. Books and games can help alleviate this problem, especially with small children. Cards are an excellent way to have many games for numerous people or a solitary individual. The Bible provides activity for the mind and comfort for the soul.
Security is often a concern for preppers. While firearms are an appealing solution, it is best to check local laws before purchasing or using one in self defense. Often a baseball bat or an axe handle is a more discreet but still viable choice. However, even the sound of a cartridge be cycled into a shotgun will make the boldest men hesitate. But in most cases, short of riots and civil unrest, a simple presence in one’s home is enough to deter all but the most determined invaders. During storms, it is also helpful to board up windows and unused doors, not only to prevent break-ins but storm damage as well.
One additional benefit to holing up in one’s own home is being around familiar people. Get to know the neighbors before the emergency. During an emergency, you can pool resources, guard each other from unknown threats, and help in recovery efforts. Knowing who to trust and what skills each person has is an important part of preparedness.
“A man’s home is his castle,” as the saying goes, and this is even more apparent during emergency situations. It is a fortress against the elements and protection from the outside world. Travel can be perilous in emergency situations. (Most deaths during Winter Storm Jonas were vehicle related, according to “At A Glance”, 2016.) The smartest thing may be to simply stay put.
Some situations are extreme enough that staying in place is not an option. These may include tropical storms, wildfires, flooding, and even volcanoes. These usually include a government-mandated evacuation notice. In some instances, after an earthquake or tornado, or when civil unrest begins to build, it may also become necessary to “bug-out” on short notice. In such a situation, it is important to have a prepared plan and an emergency kit that can readily be loaded into a vehicle.
Evacuation plans should include not only a destination but routes (and alternate routes), ways of communicating with family members, and rendezvous points, in case emergencies occur when members are separated. All family members (including those living far away) should be familiar with the plan.
Bug-out bags have become a popular term for emergency kits in recent years. Unfortunately, with the rise of apocalyptic thrillers and zombie shows, these are often created with a more tactical nature. For practical preparation, it is important to remember the types of things you will need if forced to move to a FEMA shelter, friend’s or family member’s home, or a motel along the way. The idea of relocating to the mountains is a romantic notion, but in the event of an evacuation one would have to travel several hundred miles to an unfamiliar area to get away from the emergency, and you may still be affected. Tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico produce monsoons in Arizona. It’s better to find a more fixed solution than a tent in the hills.
Emergency kits for evacuation are different than what might be used for sheltering-in-place. They must be kept in containers that can easily be loaded into a vehicle at a moment’s notice. Aside from the items included in a shelter-in-place kit, an evacuation kit should also include the following:
- Spare clothes, especially undergarments
- Emergency car kit
- Legal documents
- Insurance paperwork
- Medical records (immunization records, at the very least)
- Other irreplaceable items, such as family Bibles or records (Remember, however, many “irreplaceable” items may be covered by insurance).
- Emergency contact information & emergency plans, including maps (for more comprehensive lists, see http://lds.about.com/od/preparednessfoodstorage/a/72hour_kit.html or https://www.ready.gov/kit)
If an evacuation kit is needed during a shelter-in-place event, the evacuation kit may be used, but be prepared to pack them up quickly if the situation changes.
A lot of time and energy has gone in to firearms for “bugging-out” or evacuations. These are important, but as much planning should go into learning laws and there should be a strong debate as to whether they are taken in an emergency situation. I could find no specific guidance as to whether or not they are specifically banned from emergency shelters, but laws vary from state to state. During Hurricane Katrina, many people were evacuated from Louisiana to Texas and other states (A Failure of Initiative). In 1997, flooding in Marysville, CA forced residents into shelters at Beale AFB. As a military installation, civilians were not allowed to carry firearms. Additionally, you may be forced to stay with friends or family who do not share your views on the Second Amendment. Careful judgment should be taken before including a firearm in an emergency kit.
Preppers are forever discussing how to prepare for The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI), whether it comes in the form of an EMP, nuclear attack, economic collapse, or zombie apocalypse. These scenarios are much less likely than the emergencies previously listed. Under such extreme circumstances, the ideal location to be is probably a farm in a small town. Few are fortunate enough to live in such ideal locations and fewer can afford an emergency retreat to evacuate to. Even those who have such a retreat run the risk of someone else arriving first and taking up residence. For the rest, each must assess their own situation.
An established home has the benefit of storing all of one’s supplies, having solid shelter and known neighbors who can share the burdens of survival. One has the “home court” advantage of knowing where to find resources and the weaknesses in defense. One can begin preparing their home with fruit trees, water collection and storage, and other long-term needs. And there is the added comfort of “home”.
However, a home may not be the ideal location. Bad neighborhoods can quickly get worse, when food and supplies become scarce. Modern homes are completely dependent on outside utilities to dispose of waste and supply water and energy for cooking and heating. In crowded urban areas, close quarters can become a breeding ground for diseases not seen in over a century. A “bug-out” bag may be the only answer in some situations.
In September 2001, the U.S. suffered the worst attack on the homeland in our history. We were not prepared. Two years later, the northeastern part of the U.S. suffered a major blackout (“Major power outage hits New York, other large cities”, 2003), one of the largest blackouts in history. Many were not prepared. But in both situations, people in this nation pulled together and helped each other. Later, Hurricane Katrina would not be as unifying. Each family should take time to prepare for emergencies to the best of their ability. Each situation must be evaluated separately, and good judgment should be used in deciding a course of action. There are a number of resources available online or in print. Take the time to study your needs, possible scenarios for your area, and make an individual plan that fits. Be prepared.
Red Dawn, United Artists, Movie, 1984
“At a glance — 49 deaths on East Coast in Winter Storm Jonas“. Silive.com, 27 Jan 2016,
“A Failure of Initiative: The Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina”, US House of Representatives, PDF, 16 March 2006, h
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“Major power outage hits New York, other large cities”, CNN, Web, 14 Aug, 2003,