Author Archives: HollieHawley

Tornadoes Can Be Deadly. Prepare Now.

TornadoSeveral tornadoes touched down in Illinois this evening.  One struck Fairfield, Illinois, killing one person and leaving an enormous amount of physical damage.  Let’s use the occasion to think about how to prepare for a tornado.

First, pay attention to the difference between a watch and a warning.

A tornado watch means that weather conditions are such that tornadoes are possible in the area.  If you hear that there is a tornado watch, act fast to prepare.  Bring in or tie down outdoor furniture, trash cans or other heavy objects. Watch the sky for threatening clouds, and continue to listen to the radio for weather updates.

Many communities have a tornado siren to alert you when a tornado has been sighted.  Find out in advance whether your community has a siren or any other tornado alert system and listen for it.

Find your whistle.  If the tornado does hit your location and you are buried under rubble, your whistle can save your life.  The sound of a whistle can carry farther than your voice can and you will be able to blow a whistle longer than you will be able to call out.

A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted.  If you hear the tornado siren or hear on the radio that there is a tornado warning, there is no more time to prepare.   Go immediately to your safe room or other secure structure.  If you don’t have a safe room, choose a basement or other underground space, or an interior closet, bathroom or hallway located on a low floor.  This room shouldn’t have windows.

Do not stay in a mobile home.  A tornado can pick up a mobile home and carry it away, taking you with it.  Leave it and go find a secure structure.

If you are walking or driving when a tornado touches down, go quickly to a secure structure.  If you cannot reach a secure structure before you are overtaken by a tornado, try to find a ditch or other area lower than the road and lie face down in it.  This, of course, is a last resort.  A secure structure is a far safer alternative.

When the danger is over, be cautious as you inspect your property.  Look for damage to your home, examining your foundation, porches and your indoor and outdoor stairs.  Take pictures before you start to clean up or repair anything; you’ll need them for your insurance claims.  If you need to clean up debris or rubble, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy, closed shoes and gloves.

Downed power lines and broken gas lines are big dangers that can result from a tornado.  If you smell gas or hear a hissing noise, open all the windows, leave the house and call the fire department.  If you need light, use a flashlight, not candles.

Lastly, if your home is damaged and you need to repair or rebuild it, consult a professional for advice about reinforcements or other improvements that should be made.  Masonry walls and tall or wide chimneys may need to be strengthened.  Take the precautions that the professionals advise to be sure your home stays safe in the event of another tornado.

Have you ever lived through a tornado?  Or do you have more advice about preparing for one? Let us know your story in the comments below.

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Be Prepared for the Most Common Natural Disaster — Floods

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States.  Are you prepared?

Flooding is the overflowing of water over land that is otherwise dry.  Although they are likely to happen near a body of water, such as a lake or river, floods can happen just about anywhere.  They can even happen in a desert when a rainstorm abruptly arises on dry land.

In some parts of the country, they can be most likely to happen during the spring, when snow melts and swells rivers and streams.  As the river continues its flow downstream, more and more melted snow flows into it, creating rising water and potentially even a flood.

Never underestimate the seriousness of a flood.  They can put both your life and your property at risk.  The flood water itself can carry people and things away.  The water can get contaminated and cause disease when you come in contact with it or when you drink tap water or bottled water or eat food that has been contaminated with it.  The moving flood water can damage the foundation of your home, leaving it structurally unsafe.  It can contain animals, especially snakes, that can harm you.  It can cause gas lines to break, allowing gas to escape.  And it can cause power lines to fall or break, with the result that live power lines can be hidden under water, a substance that conducts electricity.  Coming in contact with an electric line can cause death by electrocution.

The appropriate preparation for a potential flood is to evacuate to higher land as soon as a flood warning is issued for your area.  This is when it’s crucial to have an emergency weather radio, so that you can always monitor the situation.

When you need to evacuate, you will be glad to have completed the first two steps of your preparedness plan — have a bug-out bag ready to grab and go, and have an evacuation in place that gives you alternate routes to alternate destinations away from your town.  To read more about creating your evacuation plan, see What’s Your Evacuation Plan?  And to read more about bug-out bags, please see my series:

Anyway, back to floods . . .

As you evacuate, you should be aware that you can lose control of your car in about two feet of water.  Be especially careful after dark, when it can be harder to see water cover until you are actually in it.  If you come upon high water, turn the car around and find another route.

Be equally cautious when you return to your home after the flood has receded.  First of all, don’t return until the authorities have announced that it’s safe to do so.  When you get back to the house, inspect it before you enter it, looking for structural damage, downed wires and broken gas pipes.

When you enter your home, be alert to wild animals that may have been displaced and found refuge in your house.  Watch out for snakes that may be poisonous.

Pay attention to your sense of smell.  If you smell gas or hear a hissing sound, leave immediately and call the fire department.

Don’t trust that the packaging of any product that has been through a flood.  Cleaning products, paint, pesticides and other hazardous products may have escaped their packaging and contaminated the water.   Consult with the fire department for assistance in cleaning and disposing of contaminated objects.

On the other hand, flood waters may have contaminated even unopened containers of food.  If so, don’t eat the food.  Simply throw it away.  Watch out, too, for dishes, pots and pans, baby bottles and nipples.  Metal or china objects can be washed thoroughly, preferably in a dishwasher.  Plastic objects should be discarded.

And you certainly don’t want to drink flood water.  Check with your local authorities to learn whether your drinking water supply has been contaminated.  Follow their directions when it comes to any need to boil water or otherwise treat it before you use it.

Finally, you should know that regular home owner’s or renter’s insurance doesn’t cover damage caused by flood.  So you should educate yourself about your insurance coverage and your insurance risk and choose rationally what coverage you need.  That decision should be done well in advance of any threatened high water situation.

If you have any more advice for surviving a flood, please share it in the comments.  And if you found this post informative, please share it on social media.



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Does Everyone In Your Family Have A Whistle?

paracord-braceletThere is a child’s toy that can save your life.  Does everyone in your family have one?

Does everyone have a whistle?

Whistles are cheap, easy to carry and easy to find. You can carry one on your keychain, around your neck, or on a paracord bracelet. You should have one in your bug-out bag, your car and the prep area of your home.  But that’s not really enough.  Really, you should carry one on you all the time.

The sound of a whistle can carry further than your voice and with much less wind power and effort.  Especially if you are ever injured, the energy required to blow a whistle for a long period of time is much less than the effort required to scream.  Your wind will last longer than your voice.

A humble, little whistle can save your life . . .

  • if you are buried in rubble after a tornado or earthquake
  • if you are being followed at night by a bad guy or
  • if lost in an isolated place.

Whistles don’t need batteries, so they will work when your cell phone won’t.  Whistles don’t take a lot of skill to operate, so even a small child can use one.  They are so lightweight and easy to carry that you will never be tempted to leave it behind.

And they don’t just alert good guys that you are in trouble and need their help.  They also alert bad guys to the fact that you are ready to fight back and call for help.  Someone is about to grab you or your purse?  Blow a whistle and they’ll flee.

If you don’t have a whistle, you should get one now.  And there’s an easy way to get one in a three-in-one preparedness tool.  This gizmo has a whistle, a fire starter and 80′ of paracord.  It’s called a FireKable and you can get one free — you just pay for postage.  But it’s only available free for a short time, so if you want one, you should get it now.

Click on FireKable to get yours free.

Does everyone in your family have a whistle?  What other safety tools do you carry every day?  Let us know below in the comments. (Or just let us know what else you are thinking.)


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Tons of Uses for Paracord

paracord-braceletWhen you are camping or hiking, or certainly if you are ever in an emergency situation in which you are fighting for your survival, you will need to make do with what you’ve got.  So you always need to be sure that you have versatile, adaptable tools with you.  One of the most versatile — and therefore most helpful — tools you can have on hand is paracord.

Paracord, or parachute cord, is a nylon rope that was developed during World War II for use as suspension lines for parachutes.  It’s lightweight, but strong.  In fact, 550 cord can hold 550 pounds.  It can be used in dozens, even hundreds of ways.  Whenever you need to tie something up, tie something down, or tie something together, paracord may be your answer.

Paracord comes in different colors, which can be helpful for color coding things or people.  And the color of the paracord will of course be crucial if you are using it for crafts instead of survival.

The real genius of paracord is that you can improvise with it to solve the problem you’ve got.  But just to stimulate your imagination, here are some uses for paracord:

Carrying, Toting, Dragging, Hanging

  • Make a lanyard to carry your keys, whistle, knife, binoculars, or other items around your neck.
  • Tie those same things to your belt.
  • Tie bulky items to your backpack.
  • Tie your food or other items to a tree to keep it off the ground and out of reach of animals
  • Tether your dog or use the paracord as a lead.  You might want to braid it to make it more comfortable to hold in your hand.  It’s not inconceivable to use the same technique on small children, but please be prudent.
  • Hang a cooking pot over a fire.
  • Tie a length around firewood or other items that you need to carry.
  • Tie your equipment or backpack to a length of paracord and lower them down the side of a cliff.
  • Tie your stuff down when a storm is threatening.
  • Hack a backpack by weaving a net and stringing a drawstring around it.
  • Use it as a tow cord.
  • Use it to tie your boat to the dock.
  • Just in general, use paracord to fix anything broken that can be repaired by stitching it up using the inner threads or by lashing it back together again using the inner threads or the entire cord.

Makeshift Shelter and Furniture

  • String paracord between two trees and drape a tarp, emergency blanket or poncho over it.
  • Lash poles together and cover it with a tarp, emergency blanket or poncho as a small makeshift tent.
  • Secure a tent.
  • Weave the paracord into a net and tie it between two trees.  Voila — a hammock!
  • Tie a log between two trees and you’ve got a bench.
  • Make a rope ladder or bridge.
  • String up a clothes line.
  • Replace broken cords on things that use cords — lights with pull strings, pull cords for lawn mowers, chain saws or other types of motors.

Clothing Fixes and Personal Care Uses

  • Use a length of paracord as a makeshift belt or suspenders, or a chin strap for your hat.
  • Use inner threads to sew up tears.  (Don’t forget to bring a needle in your first aid kit.)
  • Replace broken shoe or boot laces.
  • Replace drawstrings in hoodies, sweat pants, and backpacks.
  • Replace a broken zipper pull.
  • Use inner threads as dental floss.
  • Replace a broken watch strap.
  • Use it to tie back your hair.  Paracord comes in many colors so you can match your outfit!

First Aid Uses

  • Use it as a tourniquet.
  • Secure splints to keep a broken limb straight.
  • Use the inner threads as makeshift sutures.
  • Lash two poles together to make a stretcher.
  • Make a sling for a wounded arm or shoulder.

Self-Defense and Personal Safety

  • Create a tripwire around the perimeter of your campsite.  Tie cans or other objects to it to make noise to alert you to someone crossing it.
  • Tie someone to a chair with it.
  • While you’re at it, tie his wrists together if you don’t have handcuffs.
  • If that doesn’t work, create a whip, tying knots at the end of several cords and tying the cords together at the other end.

Hunting and Fishing

  • Use the inner threads for fishing line.
  • Make a snare or trap.
  • Make a fishing net.


  • Create a jump rope.  Tie some sort of small weight to the center so that the rope will swing around.
  • Make a tire swing or tie a flat board to a tree branch to create a swing.
  • Crafty folks can make key fobs, belts, dog collars, necklaces, bracelets and all sorts of things.  If you are bored, just think something up, design a plan for it and create something.

So there are tons of uses for paracord.  And, really, the best approach is just to be creative when you have a problem or difficulty.

Now, when you are carrying a tool with you, it’s always a good idea to use a multi-purpose tool if one exists.  And I’d like to recommend a tool that is a paracord bracelet combined with an emergency whistle and a fire-starter.  As I right this, it’s also free.  You just pay for postage.  It’s called FireKable. Go ahead — have a look!



What are your favorite uses of paracord?  Let us know in the comments.

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Preparedness Essentials: Fire Starters

As part of your emergency preparedness plan, you will need to include fire starters.  To state the obvious, fires produce heat, light and a means to cook food.  All of those things are important in your emergency preparedness plan.

The first thing you should have on hand is a box of waterproof matches.  It’s possible to make your own by covering matches in paraffin and storing them in a watertight container.  I don’t bother to make my own, though.  I purchase them.  There is nothing special to know about using waterproof matches.  Simply strike them on the strike strip as you do for other matches.

You should also have a magnesium fire starter as a back-up.  This tool is made of a block of magnesium with a flint strip and a metal rod.  Use the metal rod to scrape magnesium shavings off onto your kindling.  Then strike the flint strip to make sparks, which will ignite the magnesium.

I recommend having both of these on hand in case you have an issue implementing one of them.  You will also be able to use the matches if you run out of flint in the magnesium fire starter, or use the magnesium fire starter if you run out of matches.

It’s also helpful to have fire starter nuggets on hand.  Nuggets are used instead of kindling as the first, small material that is set on fire when you are building a fire.  They can be used in fireplaces and stoves.  Although not essential for starting a fire, they sure make it easier.

As always, you should be sure that you know how to use your equipment before any emergency takes place.  Try the water proof matches a time or two, just to get familiar.  Using the magnesium fire starter actually takes some skill, so you should definitely practice using it until you can start a fire quickly and easily.

Keep these items in your bug-out bag so that you’ll have them with you when you grab your bag and go.

I can recommend the following products:

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Emergency Preparedness: Becoming Food Self-Sufficient

Vegetable gardenStoring food is a crucial part of your preparedness plan.  You need to think of two time horizons:  the first 72 hours and the long term.  Your bug-out bag should include enough food for three days.  Think of cans or pouches of tuna fish, peanut butter, nuts and dried fruits and other nutrient-dense, non-perishable food.  Most if not all of it should be ready to eat without need of cooking or heating.

Your long-term plan can include one or all of a few different approaches.

One option is MREs or meals ready to eat.  These are the same meals that the military provides to service men and women.  They are pre-packaged meals that are usually packaged with a built-in heating device that allows you to heat the meal without any fire or other equipment.  You can buy them by the box.  The advantage to them is that they provide full meals with a certain amount of variety.  It’s more expensive to buy them this way, but it’s also faster to provide for a few week’s worth of meals.  And the meals themselves require no preparation other than the self-heating mechanism.  They have a long shelf life, usually of five years or so. I can recommend Sure-Pak MRE Meal Case Packs With Flameless Ration Heater-Pack Of 12

Another option is to set a plan to collect food that you can store for an emergency.  Dried food can last indefinitely.  They also make good soups.  I stock up on dried beans, lentils and split peas.  I keep rice and pasta on hand.  I also make sure to have plenty of beef, chicken and vegetable stock, cans of diced tomatoes and cans of vegetables.  Don’t forget salt, pepper and some basic herbs and spices.  With those ingredients, you can make delicious, home-made soup exactly the way you want it.  I keep the fixings for home-made soup rather than buying cans of soup or stew because I like the variety and because I think you get less adulterated food that way.  Dried beans don’t contain chemicals, stabilizers, preservatives or large amounts of salt.

Of course, men and women don’t live by soup alone, so you’ll need to construct a plan to ensure that you have supplies to provide a full menu.

In my opinion, though, the best way to be self-sufficient in your food supply is to garden and preserve your harvest.  Start now.  Growing a garden takes time, so you don’t want to wait until the emergency is on your doorstep before you start growing your carrots.  A garden will give you organic, healthful, GMO-free fruits and vegetables for very little money.  The choice of fruits and vegetables is entirely up to you, so you can get the produce you love.  Gardening will also give you hours of peace and quiet as you work in it.

I will admit that preserving the harvest is a set of skills that I have not yet mastered.  Certainly it takes time, and some equipment.  But it is the road to self-sufficiency so I will be learning what I need to know and doing what I need to do.

Plan to become food self-sufficient.  It will see you through all manner of disasters, especially financial ones.

Are you food self-sufficient?  Share your experiences in the comments.

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Start With Water

WaterOf all the things you need to do to be prepared, start with water.

Water is crucial to your survival.  The first and most obvious reason is that you need it to drink.  Lack of water can kill you in three days.  If you have water, but not as much as your body needs, you may survive but are likely to experience symptoms of dehydration, which can include dizziness, confusion, weakness, heart palpitations and fainting.  You may be unable to sweat, which can cause you to become overheated, and you may have decreased urine output.  So water, and enough water, is necessary to keep you alive and well.

But you need water for more than drinking.  Think of everything you do with water over the course of a day.  You bathe with it.  You brush your teeth with it.  You flush the toilet with it and wash your hands with it afterward.  You need it to prepare food.  You need it to wash your dishes and your clothes.

I’ve read articles that suggest that you prep a gallon of water per day per person.  Considering everything you need water for, that doesn’t sound like much.  Of course, in an emergency situation, you would be careful about using water and you wouldn’t waste it.  Still, you could easily go through a gallon a day just using it for drinking, cooking and minimum personal hygiene.  But let’s start with one gallon per person per day and increase your stock when and if you can.

Water is heavy and hard to carry, so if you are facing an emergency that has you on the move, you may need to rely on uncertain water sources and use water purifiers or filters to make it safe. Out in nature, untreated water may contain pathogens that can cause intestinal distress or worse.  There are various ways of removing pathogens and all of them have drawbacks.

A rolling boil will kill most but not all pathogens in water.  Obviously, boiling water requires the equipment necessary to heat water to boiling.

Water purification tablets provide another means of making water safer.  These are tablets that dissolve in water.  They kill bacteria and viruses but don’t filter out particulate matter.  They usually leave the water with an unpleasant taste.

Handheld filters eliminate bacteria but not viruses.  They take out particulate matter and usually leave the water tasting pleasant.

Since water is crucial to your survival, it should be one of the items you take great care in planning.  Whether you are sheltering in place or bugging out, you should have a well thought-out plan for your water needs.

How have you provided for your need for water in your emergency preparedness plan?  Please leave a comment to let us know.

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“My Town Disappeared”

large explosionThere is an ongoing crisis with train derailments that result in fiery explosions.  These explosions happen when tanker cars that are ill-equipped to withstand collisions are used to transport crude oil.  The oil usually originates in North Dakota, whose oil industry has grown so fast over the last few years that it is now second only to Texas as an oil-producing state.   North Dakota doesn’t have any oil pipelines, so in order to get the oil to the refineries, the oil companies transport it by train.  And they transport the oil in tanker cars called DOT111’s, which were not designed or built to transport hazardous material.

One such explosive derailment took place in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada on July 6, 2013.  Forty-seven people were killed in that small town and a large portion of the town was destroyed.  As one townsperson described it, “My town disappeared.”  You owe it to yourself to take ten minutes and educate yourself on this issue.  Watch this video prepared jointly by The Weather Channel and InsideClimate News:

Now, don’t console yourself by thinking that this is one incident that took place in Canada.  It is, in fact, one of several incidents.  Similar incidents have taken place in Virginia, Alabama and North Dakota as well as in Alberta and New Brunswick in Canada.

In addition to the deaths that have occurred, the explosions result in environmental degradation.  Toxic fumes, destruction of property, disruption of utilities and emergency services in the town, contamination of the water supply and other hazardous consequences have occurred or could occur from accidents like these.

In light of this, you need to ask yourself what you would do if something like this happened and your town disappeared.  Do you have several alternate routes out of town, so that you always have a way to go away from the hazard?  Are you prepared with alternate destinations?  Is your bug-out bag ready, one for every member of the family?  Does your bug-out bag contain enough cash to pay for an inexpensive hotel for a couple of nights?  Is your gas tank at least half full?

These disasters are horrendous.  Although, in the big scheme of things, you can predict that these derailments will continue to happen, any particular incident comes completely out of the blue.  You can’t prevent or predict them and you probably can’t avoid them.  But you can prepare yourself in advance to be able to weather the catastrophe.

What do you think are some of the most important steps in prepping to survive a similar disaster?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

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What’s Your Evacuation Plan?

Firefighters fighting fireBefore an emergency happens, develop an evacuation plan.  Or rather, develop a series of evacuation plans.

Short-Range Evacuation

The first type of plan that you need is for a short-range evacuation.  Plan this for an emergency that happens to your home, such as a fire or gas leak.  Use this plan when the emergency doesn’t extend beyond your home to your neighborhood or town.  Your plan should include a spot where all family members will gather to be able to check in with each other, assess the emergency and take further action.  A neighbor’s house can be a good option, or a local place of business that is open nights and week-ends.

Medium-Range Evacuation

The second type of emergency evacuation plan is more medium-range but with the understanding that you can reach your destination on foot.  This is your plan for a fire or other emergency that extends beyond your home to other homes on the block or possibly more of the neighborhood.  It may also be necessary in times of civil unrest.  Agree to meet your family members at a location outside of your immediate neighborhood.  Plan a couple of different routes in case streets are blocked.

Long-Range Evacuation

Then, finally, make long-range evacuation plans that will get you out of town.  Rehearse with your family every step along the way.  First, you meet at the short range or medium range meeting location.  Then, once your family is together, proceed with your long-range plan.

Consider all your options.  Even if you can and would prefer to drive, research public transportation routes.  Choose two or three possible destinations.  You want to have a couple of places pre-planned in case one of them is facing the same emergency that your town is facing.  Pick homes of out-of-town family members and friends.  When you discuss your plan with those family members and friends, encourage them to make their own emergency evacuation plans and offer to reciprocate as their safety destination.

Decide on at least two alternate routes for each of your destinations.  Again, you don’t want to be trapped when a road is closed.  And don’t forget that if your town is experiencing an emergency, roads will be crowded with other fleeing families.  You should learn the routes well enough to be able to navigate them without assistance but you should still take paper maps with you in case roads are closed or you have to improvise at the last minute.  GPS systems may not work and your cell phone may go out, so be sure to have paper maps as a back-up.

Evacuation Tips

When an emergency arises, you may need to evacuate your home and move to a close-range location, evacuate your neighborhood and move to a medium-range location or evacuate your town and hit the road.  Don’t wait until the emergency arises before you decide where to go or how to get there.  Come up with alternative destinations and routes now.

Conduct drills with your family.  Drills not only teach your family what the plan is, they also help you identify deficiencies in your plan and improve it.

Get in the habit now, before there is an emergency, of keeping your gas tank at least half full.  You don’t want to have to stop and wait in line for gas and run the risk of shortages or increased prices at the moment that you need to activate your plan.

And in each case, whether short-range, medium-range or long-range, be sure to grab your bug-out bag on the way out the door.

Make a plan and work to practice and improve it.  Knowing that you can keep your family safe in an emergency brings peace of mind.

What are your experiences with your plans?  Have you made your plans, practiced them or implemented them?  Let us learn from your experiences — share them in the comments.

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Know When You Need To Bug Out

Prepared ConceptYou’ve either bought a bug-out bag kit for each member of the family or you have built one from scratch.  You have made your evacuation plans and practiced them with your spouse, children, pets and anyone else that you consider family.  You’ve got your paper maps, compass and alternative routes ready.  You always keep your gas tank at least half full, but you know that if you need to bug out, you may have to do it on foot.

So when do you need to bug out?

It’s time to bug out when the place you are in is at risk of becoming unsafe.  Don’t wait until you are actually in danger.  Leave before the danger comes.

The danger can be due to any number of things — a severe weather event, civil unrest, a contaminate hazard, a terrorist attack, or anything else that puts you and your loved ones in harm’s way.

If you live near a chemical plant, you should be aware that both corporate and government officials can and will cover up the potential harm in the event of a discharge.  Don’t wait for their advice.  Pick up and go.  And keep alert to news events.  A tanker car on a train or truck can be damaged in transit and discharge toxic materials.  Evacuate — in the opposite direction of the accident.

Leave if there is a city-wide blackout.  Criminals love to hide under cover of darkness.  Likewise, if the 911 system goes down, you should bug out.  When there is no way to communicate with law enforcement, the entire city is at risk.  Don’t wait  it out, hoping for the best.  And don’t risk your life trying to protect your property.  Take matters into your own hands and leave.

In the case of a serious weather event, bug out before government officials tell you to.  Don’t delay until the roads are congested with people who wait until the last minute to leave.  You may end up stranded on a crowded road as the blizzard or hurricane bears down on you.

Much of what I advise you to do on this blog is to plan and prepare.  You must do that.  But you also must act resolutely and unapologetically if a bug-out-worthy event is imminent.

Have you ever bugged out?  Or didn’t and wished you had?  Leave a note in the comments and let us know your story.  Or share your thoughts about your planning and preparation.

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