Packing an Emergency Bag

Don’t let an evacuation order catch you by surprise

evacuation bag

An emergency has hit and you have to evacuate your home. Do you know what to take? And can you get it all ready in time?

You might think this will never happen to you. But evacuations are more common than many people realize. Fires and floods are the most frequent cause, along with hurricanes in coastal regions. In addition, transportation and industrial accidents can also create serious hazards that lead to evacuation orders.

The amount of time you have to leave will depend on the hazard. If the event is a weather condition, such as a hurricane, you might have a day or two to get ready. However, many disasters allow no time for people to gather even the most basic necessities. Once you leave, it could be days or weeks before you return. And that’s if you’re lucky. Every year, thousands of people lose their homes completely to fires or other natural disasters.


Ready, Set, Go

So, back to the initial question: Do you know what to take? Here’s how to get prepared, before disaster strikes.

Create a virtual copy of your home and life
Sound daunting? This will take you some time, but we promise, should you ever need it, it will save you immensely in time and grief.

  1. Get a few flash drives, at least two, more if possible (alternately, information can be encrypted and stored in the “cloud”, if you have a service you trust).
  2. Walk around your home. Make a video or take pictures of everything you own, including valuable items that may be tucked away. Include written notes and warranty information if necessary. This is called a home inventory, and everybody should have one. (An added bonus: once your home inventory is done, check in with your homeowners insurance agent to make sure you have proper coverage for all your stuff!) For more info on making a home inventory, read this post by Trusted Choice.
  3. Gather your family’s essential documents and scan them. This includes (but is not limited to):
    • Driver licenses, social security cards, passports, birth certificates
    • Deed to your home and titles to any vehicles you own
    • Insurance information (health, life, home and auto, etc.)
    • Medical records, prescription information, immunization records
    • Pet records
    • List of personal contacts with addresses, phone numbers and emails
    • Any other essential records or paperwork that would be difficult to replace
  4. Upload your home inventory and all the scanned document files onto the flash drives.
  5. Put a flash drive in one or more of your Go Bags (see below). Keep at least one of the flash drives in a safe place away from your home, perhaps at your office, at a relative’s house, or in a safety deposit box. (Remember, this is highly sensitive information!)


Pack your “Go Bag”
Pack a bag for each member of the family (and pets, too!) Use anything that works for you. Backpacks, duffel bags, or even plastic boxes can work. Most experts recommend that each family member and pet have 3-days’ worth of supplies. Here’s a sampling of what should be inside:

  • The flash drive you prepared (put one in each adult Go Bag)
  • Change of clothing appropriate for the season and sturdy shoes. For children, make sure to update this as they grow.
  • Special supplies as needed for each family member (i.e. hygiene products, diapers, eyeglasses, or hearing aid batteries)
  • Essential medications, plus copies of prescriptions if necessary
  • Water (one gallon per person per day)
  • Nonperishable food items
  • Basic tools such as a can opener, scissors, screwdriver, and wrench
  • First aid supplies and sunscreen
  • A blanket
  • Charger for your cell phone
  • Emergency items like flashlights, dust masks, simple tools, plastic sheeting, and tape
  • Extra batteries
  • Cash, including some smaller bills

This list is by no means exhaustive. Visit or search Go Bag, Emergency Kit or similar, to find additional recommended supplies and advice. Once packed, keep your Go Bags in an easily accessible place, in case you need to grab them in a hurry.


Make an evacuation checklist
This list should include things you need to take with you, like your Go Bag, your pets, special photos or other valuables that you can’t replace. Also include things you should do, if time allows, such as locking doors and windows, and shutting off water and utilities. Of course, if you need to leave your home immediately due to a life-threatening situation, you may not be able to go through this list.


Perform regular maintenance on all of the above
Unfortunately, emergency preparedness is not a one-and-done thing. Mark your calendar to update your Go Bag and checklists every 6-months. Rotate food, medications and batteries so these items stay fresh, and replace other items (such as outgrown clothing) as necessary. Home Inventories should be edited once a year, or whenever you make a significant purchase or a change to your home, such as moving or remodeling.


But wait, there’s more

Once your Go Bag is ready and you’ve managed the other tasks, above, you might consider a few other things that could help you manage an emergency evacuation.

  • Create a family evacuation plan, in case you are separated when leaving your home
  • Keep fire extinguishers fully charged and know how to use them
  • Learn CPR and basic first-aid
  • Buy a locking, fireproof file box to store copies of important documents
  • Have your pets microchipped
  • When vacationing, become familiar with the risks for the area in which you are staying


For more information on emergency preparedness, check the following links:

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