Americans are woefully underprepared for emergencies. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 60 percent of Americans are not ready to flee disaster, natural or otherwise.
That’s not for lack of trying. The federal government has been doing its best to prepare Americans for the inevitable for years. The effort kicked into high gear after highly publicized disasters: 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
Online resources like Ready.gov dutifully extol the virtues of emergency preparedness breaking an overwhelming and emotionally fraught concept into bite-size chunks. So too do survivalist businesses like ExxoGear, an arms distributor, and hub for post-disaster “preppers.”
“Far too few Americans are truly prepared for a natural or man-made disaster in their communities,” says William Michael Keever, whose Castle Venture Group owns a majority stake in ExxoGear. “In disaster situations, time is of the essence. Every minute counts. Those who aren’t prepared to leave the affected area in a hurry do themselves and their families a disservice.”
More Likely Than We Think?
Keever and ExxoGear are evangelical about the importance of disaster preparedness and sober about the disruptive impact of large-scale disasters. They’re on the leading edge of a survivalist movement that’s lately edged in from the fringes—a movement that believes it’s only a matter of time before a truly catastrophic event precipitates a breakdown of public services and a collapse of civic order. When that happens, survivalists don’t want to be anywhere near the blast zone.
Even if you’re not of the opinion that societal collapse is around the corner, common sense—and perhaps Murphy’s Law—dictates that you take sensible steps to get ready for whatever fate may bring.
As you prepare, keep these six often overlooked facts about natural disasters and emergency evacuations in mind.
It’ll Happen Faster Than You Think
If there’s one cardinal rule of an emergency evacuation, it’s this: Disasters happen a lot faster than you think. Forces of nature move fast. A rapidly advancing wildfire or storm surge isn’t going to pause to let you gather your things. It’s going to overtake your neighborhood whether you like it or not. And it’s entirely possible that it’ll change direction at the last minute, turning a near-miss into a full-on disaster. In other words, you need to be ready before the forecast turns ugly.
Your “Ready Bag” Should Incorporate Worst-Case Scenarios
Evacuation experts advise keeping a “ready bag” with everything you’ll need for 72 to 96 hours away from home: prescription medication, food, and water, communications equipment, cash or other items with intrinsic value, important documents, toilet paper and the like.
Think expansively about what to include in your bag. The nature of the evacuation-triggering event will no doubt determine how long you’re away and what you’ll encounter on the road, but you want to bring items that incorporate a range of possible scenarios—including the worst case.
You May Not Be Able to Bring Your Animals With You
If you have to leave in a hurry and have limited space in your vehicle, you may not be able to bring your pets or hobby animals with you. Make sure they’re secured at your home and have plenty of food and water. Use an automatic feeder and water dispenser to stretch your resources further.
You’re Going to Need Personal Protection
Maybe you don’t fancy yourself a “gun person.” That’s fine. But, even in a weather-related evacuation, you’ll want to have personal protection on you, if only to keep looters at bay.
The best course of action is a handgun in a secure, mobile lockbox. If you’re not comfortable handling a loaded firearm, consider an alternative projectile system—a hunting crossbow. If all else fails, a switchblade or all-purpose knife can be used for self-defense at close range.
You’ll Want Reminders of Home
Mementos aren’t essential. But they do help ease the sting of a long stint away from home. Bring a binder of family photos and a waterproof bag of small keepsakes. If you’re confident you’ll have computer access while away, a thumb drive with photos is a space-efficient backup.
You’ll Need Important Papers on Your Person (And May Need to Prove Your Identity)
Don’t forget your passport, financial statements, utility bills and other information that you can use to confirm your identity and prove that you live where you say you live. (In a worst-case scenario, you can’t rely on public records to carry your water.) Keep these in a secure, fireproof container—possibly with your handgun.
Are you prepared for a natural disaster?