Emergency Prep 101: Go-Bags

It is spring, which means it’s a good time to update emergency supplies before summer rolls in.

I consider myself a small-scale prepper. By this, I mean that I am not interested in preparing for ‘the end of the world as we know it’ (TEOTWAWKI) or stocking up on weapons for the ‘inevitable civil war.’

But I absolutely am interested in having enough emergency supplies laid in for ‘predictable emergencies’ (plus a bit).

What Are ‘Predictable Emergencies?’ (and how do I plan for them)

Predictable emergencies are things that can and often do happen. What counts as a predictable emergency depends on your circumstances and where you live. Wildfires are not a predictable emergency for me. ER visits are. So are snow storms that shut down local roads. So were (thankfully no longer) emergency ‘grab what you can carry and go’ moves when we were homeless.

I add ‘plus a bit’ because my predictable emergencies all tend to be short — a few days at most for a ‘regular’ bad storm. And I’d lived through enough /unpredictable/ emergencies to want to be prepared for them too.

So I have two baselines:
For emergencies we can sit out at home my baseline is the 2003 Northeast Blackout. Some areas were without electricity for up to two weeks.

For ‘get in the car and drive!’ emergencies, my baseline is a two-day cross-country trip on a Greyhound bus. Because I’ve done that w/ kids in tow, and it sucks.

I want two weeks’ supplies on-hand in the house (blackout).

I want go-bags with the necessities for everyone so that in the case of emergency hospital trips, building fires, or (god forbid) another ‘we have less than 24 hours to load up whatever we can in the bus and find a new place to live’ I know we’ll be okay for at least a few days.

I know ‘prepper’ has a bad name, and there’s reason for that. But often, the most marginalized of us can most benefit from a bit of prep

Related to this:
Here’s my thread from early COVID on ways to get a hold of extra medicine. You may remember that common advice was to have ‘2 extra weeks medicine on hand in case of emergency.’ That’s been disaster prep advice for a while — but then insurance makes it nearly impossible to get:

There’s a lot I could say about prep and prepping (which, yes, IS related to PrEP). But for now, I’m going to focus on go-bags.

Caveat — It should go without saying no advice applies everywhere to everyone. What I say here applies generally to most folks in the US and some folks internationally.

What Goes in the Go-Bags

Today (as in two weeks ago when I first drafted this essay :p ), I went through the go-bags to see what we have, what needs to be replaced, and what’s been used. Here’s a rough outline of what I try to have (emphasis on TRY, I’m never actually managed all this):

Personal go-bags (one for each family member):

  1. 1 change of clothes
  2. 1 extra pair of underwear and socks
  3. 2-4 weeks daily meds
  4. emergency blanket
  5. $25
  6. emergency letter w/ contact info and ‘I am autistic/PTSD/etc, here’s what it looks like when I have a panic attack, and here’s how to help’
  7. book/toy/drawing supplies
  8. fave high-energy snacks (usually granola bars and candy)
  9. fave stuffed animal/comfort object
  10. couple bottles of water

Family go-bag (large duffel, first parent to the door is responsible for grabbing it):

  1. 2 changes of clothes each
  2. emergency radio
  3. 3 days of food
  4. water filters/sodium tablets
  5. emergency tools
  6. digital copies of important documents (driver’s licenses, insurance cards, etc)
  7. paper copies of important documents
  8. family emergency contact info
  9. toys/games (Nintendo DS currently), books, etc
  10. $100
  11. hygiene stuff
  12. extra glasses
  13. flashlights
  14. duct tape
  15. 2 tarps w/ rope for emergency shelter

There’s other stuff I’d LIKE to have in there — for instance, I’d LIKE to put a pre-paid phone in each individual go-bag. I’d LIKE extra pairs of shoes, and rain gear, and…

But basics first, ‘extras’ later (if/when there is money for them)

Seems Like a Lot, Doesn’t It?

If you aren’t used to thinking in terms of emergency prep, all this can seem excessive. But once you have it together, you will find it tends to get used.

We tend to hit our emergency supplies about a half dozen times a year. They get used for everything from ‘someone is going to the hospital’ to ‘food stamps ran out’ to ‘fuck, I wasn’t healthy enough to do laundry for three weeks.’

They’re also useful for kids having sleepovers or trips to visit family (you’re already packed for a weekend).

Which brings up an important point — there’s a reason they are called /go-bags/ and not ’emergency bags’. Calling them emergency bags gets you in the mindset of ‘is this /really/ an emergency?’

We are not gamers hoarding the epic-powerful magic item for the big boss at the end of the game. We are trying to make things easier on ourselves. If using the go-bags makes life easier, we use them.

Don’t be afraid to figure it out as you go.

A common thing you hear from folks is ‘I’d like to have a go-bag, but I’m not sure what to put in it!’

That’s okay!

But it’s also why you should plan on using those go-bags, not just saving them for ‘real’ emergencies.

See, if you try to figure out everything you’d need for a big emergency all at once — you will get overwhelmed and not know where to start.

But if you try to figure out what to pack in an overnight bag… that’s a lot more doable, right?

So you pack your go-bag as an overnight bag with whatever you can think of, and then a thing happens — maybe you have an ER visit. Or your roof leaks and you need to stay at a friend’s. Or insurance screws up and your meds don’t refill.

And you grab your go-bag (or other on-hand supplies, but today we’re talking about go-bags).

Your bag may not have everything you need in it, but it got you started.

(When I went to the crisis residence last week, I took my go-bag but had to tweak things a bit. My personal go-bag didn’t have enough clothing for several days, and I couldn’t bring food with me. Took a fraction of the time it would have taken to pack from scratch.)

And you’ll find that as you use the bag, you’ll figure out what things you want to add. (Found a rip in my skirt while at crisis, so I’m wrangling up a mini sewing kit for my bag for the future.) Or things you want to take out. (The kids went a bit overboard packing books — too much for them to carry. Had to cull a good bit.)

I’ve seen many folks get caught up on the esoteric aspects of emergency prep — water purification, and what kind of multi-tool, and papermaps with compass and… 99% of the time, you aren’t preparing for a cross-country trek. You are preparing for (at worst) a night camped out in a parking lot or the sports stadium serving as the local evac shelter.

Start with the basics that you’ll need for a variety of situations. Get the special/fancy stuff later.

Go-Bags need some TLC

You don’t need to constantly fuss with your go-bag if you don’t want to. That defeats the purpose. But once in a while you do need to go in and give your bag some TLC. I try to go through our bags in the Spring and Fall. This way, I can make any seasonally-necessary changes while doing other standard maintenance.

  • Make sure any clothing still fits and isn’t going musty
  • Make sure all the food is still good
  • Make sure none of the liquids have sprung leaks (very important!!!)
  • Change out/update medication, reading material, other

For five bags (four personal and one family) I usually take it in three steps.

Step 1, remove everything that needs to come out of the bag and make a note of anything that the bag needs. (Half an hour.)

Step 2, gather everything (may include shopping trips, laundry runs, other) (up to a week)

Step 3, put everything I gathered in the bags (15 min)

Now, because I do this twice a year, I don’t stress about re-packing the bags after they get used. If I have the time/energy after the hospital trip/overnight visit/food stamps refill/whatever, I’ll get right on it.

But if I don’t? If I forget?

It’s okay because I’ll get around to it in a few months. Already on my calendar.

Planned forgetfulness

For me, one of the keys to successful go-bag use is a kind of planned forgetfulness. I never forget that we have the go-bags (they are hanging in the front closet next to the coats, so I see them several times a week anyway.)

But I do cultivate a… fuzziness on what exactly is in them. I don’t want to be thinking ‘man, pizza sounds good right now’ and have my impulse issues lead me to pull money from the go-bags on a whim.

What I do want is /when/ I think ‘fuck, we’re both sick as shit and can’t cook tonight, what can we do for dinner,’ to remember, ‘hey, I should check the go-bags. There might be something in there that can help.’ (Which may mean pulling the cash to order pizza or may mean peanut butter crack sandwich packs for dinner, with jerky and candy for dessert.)

Everybody’s brain works differently and what works for me might not work for you. But the point is that for the bags to be effective you need to have them in a mental slot where you aren’t pulling stuff out of them because ‘hey, I haven’t worn that shirt in a while, it’ll go great with these pants!’ but /remember/ to pull them out when ‘I’m behind on laundry and don’t have anything to wear. fuck!’

Which. for us neurodivergent folks with impulse control problems /can/ be a challenge.

Not everyone can put together supplies like this.

Hell, I can’t do this, and it’s my plan! We have never had full paper copies of emergency documents, or $100, or a tarp w/ ropes in the family go-bag.

I THINK I’ll finally be able to manage some of that this year. Hopefully.

But most folks can manage something.

Most folks can stick a change of clothes in an old bookbag or purse.

Most folks can find a handful of bandaids to squirrel away or a bottle of aspirin.

Most folks can stick a bit of candy or nuts in a hideaway for a high-calorie emergency snack. (Pro-tip, avoid chocolate or anything that can melt.)

As is often the case, doing something, even if it’s ‘not enough,’ is better than waiting until the ‘right’ time to do everything you want.

(Note to self — add a roll of toilet paper to go bags. Cheap, easy to get and replace (usually), and has a wide variety of uses from tissues to first aid to… well, you know.)

Tips from other folks:

Ether @queer_of_swords
something that I want to do and isn’t doing, on top of that, is keeping a digital copy of all important records, both on an HDD in the emergency bag AND a cloud solution. Things like old payslips, blood test results, etc.

MxFraud @mxfraud@tabletop.social
some small card games and a few dice

(I also carry a few pen a spare A4 sheets of paper with me usually, but for people that do not, having a few different pen type including a sharpie is something I would say is pretty useful)

Elena “of Valhalla” @valhalla@social.gl-como.it
since for weekend trips and the like I already have to bring a pair of house shoes, I’m looking in the general direction of having something that can also work as emergency outdoors shoes (and can be washed afterwards to go back to being indoors only).

I’m thinking espadrille-shaped, but with rubber soles, but something like hiking sandals would also work.

Of course that’s based on the assumption that one already needs house shoes for travel.

Jennifer Johnson @SimplyJennifer@zirk.us
I might add that once you’ve got two weeks’ worth of short-term preparedness, consider 2-6 months worth of your basic staples. My stash is running low right now, but it’s saved my bacon, and my parents’, during times of job loss or extended illness.

I work that right into the cupboards – what’s a couple more canisters of rice? It’s easier to rotate that way.

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