During one of my Pasadena City College survival classes, a student asked me to list the items that should be carried in an evacuation bag, also known as the “bugout bag.” In other words, if she had to immediately leave her home for some reason, what should her survival bag contain. Of course, this led to a big portion of that evening’s discussion.
“First,” I responded, “what scenario are we talking about?” The student was thinking of a serious emergency where even a car wouldn’t be useful, where you’d have to evacuate on foot.
So my first order was to convey the fact that one would rarely choose to leave one’s home – where everything is familiar and where you know everyone in the neighborhood – unless you absolutely had no other choice.
“You would rarely want to choose to leave your home and randomly wander the streets after an emergency,” I replied, “because you are now entering into the chaos and randomness of street mobs and possible violence.” I tried to impress upon the class how dangerous it often is to wander on foot in the aftermath of a major disaster – whether it be an earthquake, or the results of war, or flooding.
And though the effects of nature can be devastating, the fear and chaos that will possess other people could be your greatest threat.
OK, we established that wandering around may not be your best choice but if you have no choice, then what should you carry?
Before I tried to answer that question, I asked all the students, “If there was an emergency tonight after you get home and you had to evacuate, where would you go? And why would you go there?” Most had no idea where to do, and in all probability, would follow crowds to some likely safe place, or would simply follow the orders of whomever happened to be giving orders.
I urged each student to obtain topographical maps of their local area and to begin to learn about their local environment. Find out where there are sources of water, reservoirs, pools, train lines, etc. In a disaster, your knowledge is far more important than your stuff. Next, I urged each student to get involved in their local Neighborhood Watch, and to do the CERT trainings, and Red Cross emergency first aid. In other words, we need to realize the fact that other people in our community, and our relationships with them, is a far greater “survival tool” than merely having a pack with some knick-knacks in it.
Most people would be surprised to learn the level of preparedness that already occurs in most cities, and within various agencies such as the Red Cross, Police and Sheriff departments, and City Hall. It is to each of our advantage to get to know what has already been planned in our own towns.
Everyone was getting the picture. Get to know your town, your geography, and get to know who’s who in your town, and learn about systems that have already been established in the event of emergencies. Of course you must still do your own home preparedness, but just don’t do it in a vacuum.
But the student persisted. She still wanted to know what to carry. So I polled the students who’d already been in my class for several weeks. What should one carry in a survival pack? Someone said a knife. Yes, I wrote that on the board. You should carry some sort of useful knife that you’re comfortable with, like a Swiss Army knife, a Leatherman, and so on. Someone suggested that a bow and drill be carried for fire making. No, I said. We learn how to make fire with those primitive methods so we can do it when there is nothing else. You must have fire, but keep it simple. Carry a Bic or a magnesium fire starter. Water. Yes, you need it, and should carry at least a quart container and a water purifier. And you need to know where to find water. And we continued this way – first aid kit, small flash light, etc. It was more important to get people to consider their individual needs than it was for me to list things that someone else thinks are important.
Survival can be deadly serious, but it can be a very enjoyable pursuit along the way. Learn what you can little by little, but apply your knowledge as you go. That way, your skills are useful and your confidence level is increased. It is never sufficient to say “I saw that on YouTube” and think that you know what it’s all about.
For some idea of what you might carry, look at Francisco Loaiza’s blog spot, where he describes 30 essential items that he recommends to his Boy Scouts.
For more ideas of what to consider in a kit, you should check out John McCann’s “Build the Perfect Survival Kit,” as well as my own “How to Survive Anywhere.”