In some emergency situations, you will need to bug out — that is, you will need to evacuate your home and even your city. In other situations, you should stay home and shelter in place. When do you bug out and when do you stay put?
In general, you should stay put if your home is unlikely to become uninhabitable and if the safety and general welfare of all members of your household are not at risk. That decision is known as “sheltering in place.” You may face some hardships, such as lack of electricity or inability to leave the house, but if you are safe at home, you should stay there. On the other hand, if you have lost heat during a period of seriously cold winter, your home is flooded or damaged by an earthquake or tornado, or civil unrest or another event threatens your well-being, you should evacuate.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t bug out if you can’t get to your destination safely. That can happen due to a number of circumstances. For example, all roads out of your town may be impassible, a chemical discharge may have poisoned the air making it dangerous to be outdoors, or you just don’t have an evacuation plan that will deliver your family safely to a previously arranged destination.
Now, that last problem is within your control. You can start today to set out an evacuation plan that you can rely on if your family would ever be put at risk by staying in your home.
Here are the key components of a good bug-out plan.
Family Meeting Place. The first thing to do is decide on a family meeting place. That can be any reasonable place, from your across-the-street neighbor’s lawn, to a neighborhood diner, to the school yard. Every member of your family should know to meet there if your home is inaccessible. Run drills a few times a year to get everyone familiar with the location and how to get there.
Identify Multiple Destinations. Identify a few different destinations located in different directions from your home. You need to be able to travel in the opposite direction of the emergency event when you get out of town. Your destinations should ideally be the homes of friends and family members. If that’s not possible, identify several motels that are located in different directions from your home. I always advise that, as you build your bug-out bag and gather your long-term supplies, you should also be building a cash stash. One reason for the cash stash is to be able to pay for a couple of nights in a motel if necessary.
Whether your destinations are motels or private homes, you should be sure in advance that they can accommodate any special circumstances that you face. If you have a baby, a disabled person, or a pet, for example, your pre-arranged destinations should be suitable for them. You may also need to ensure that your emergency destinations are available by public transportation if you don’t have a car or your vehicle becomes disabled.
If your bug-out destination is a private home, be sure to coordinate your plans with the host family. Offer to reciprocate for them when they are making their own evacuation plans.
Identify Multiple Routes to Reach Each Destination. Once you have decided on your destinations, map out a few different routes to get to each one. If one route uses an interstate highway, be sure that another relies only on city streets. If the traffic gets bad, or the emergency event compromises one or more of your routes, you will have other options to reach your destination.
I’m a big believer in practicing your plan. So be sure to drive each route a couple of times each year to be sure you know the tricky turns, the landmarks and the one-way streets. Practice makes perfect.
Car Preparedness. Because you may need to leave in a hurry if you ever need to evacuate, you should always keep your car prepared for a trip. Never let your gas gauge fall to less than half full. Always keep an evacuation bag in your trunk, with food and water for the family, emergency thermal blankets, paper maps and compasses, entertainment items such as board games and playing cards, and other items that you deem necessary.
Conclusion. You may need to stay. You may need to go. Just make a rational decision based on your best information, whatever you decide. And in each case, be sure to have a clear, rehearsed plan that will get you from your home to the place you want to go.
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