I have been evacuated twice, in the 2003 and 2007 wildfires, the latter when I was gone from my house for two weeks, and five years ago when my house burned down but I was gone when it happened. You could say that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to being evacuated.
There is nothing that concentrates the mind quite as much as having a young man in wildfire turnout gear show up at your door at two in the morning and say, “You need to get out now.” It beats caffeine!
I know people who have had fifteen minutes or less warning before they had to drive away and even then, barely beat the flames licking at their eaves as they fled in their car out the driveway.
All the authorities recommend having a “go bag” also known as a “bug out bag” that is packed and, more important, ready. Ready for what? Wildfire, earthquake, the twitchy finger of a North Korean madman. Even for something as prosaic as the San Diego county and Arizona regional power outage of September 2011 it would have been helpful to have a bag of important items just in case you got stuck away from home because you couldn’t put gasoline in your car.
Napoleon and George Patton are said to have advocated “de l’audace, encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace” or “audacity, always audacity,” but the modern prepared person might be better served by “preparedness, always preparedness!” That’s the motto of the Boy Scouts (er, I mean, the Scouts) too! Be prepared! Or as Benjamin Franklin put it, “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”
According to the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services (hereafter, “OES”): “Everyone should have emergency supplies on hand if a disaster strikes. Your emergency supplies should be sufficient to sustain you, your family and pets for a minimum of 72 hours. A two (2) week supply of prescription and necessary over-the-counter medications is recommended.”
So, when I saw that there was a bag on the market that purported to provide that kind of peace of mind, I decided to send off for a reviewer’s copy to see what it was packing. I also invited a couple of experts to help me go through the bag: Mike Shore, Valley Center fire marshal, and Jim Courter, former president of VC CERT, current president of the VC Fire Safe Council and a devotee of being prepared.
The name of the bag is the VLES Go-bag, and it was, says the manufacturer, “developed out of our conviction that people need to be prepared to help themselves in an emergency evacuation and prepared to shelter in place. We couldn’t find a go-bag that satisfied all the requirements necessary for a proper go-bag, including a plan…so we did it ourselves, hence, the VLES GO-bag.”
The people who make the bag, Karina and Stuart Warshaw, have a background in emergency services. She is a former emergency responder and was a New York State certified EMT and volunteer firefighter for over ten years. She was also a certified CPR instructor and member of New York City’s CERT. She went through mass disasters such as 9/11 Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene. He is a former volunteer firefighter, business owner with a background in product development, manufacture ring and business operations.
Stuart and Karina now live in Vermont.
When the bag was delivered, Stuart gave me a “tour” of it over the phone. He noted that the material the bag is made from is “water resistant.” He couldn’t say “waterproof,” because the zippers on the bag would still let some moisture in, but it’s very possible the bag could be used as a floatation device in some situations. Having said that, however, that’s not something they have tested. What that means is that the bag can get pretty wet and still not spoil the contents.
The bag is wheeled, which is very important because in an emergency you need your hands as unencumbered as possible. The bag is also carry-on compliant on airplane. I mentioned to Stuart that it would make a very nice piece of luggage by itself and he replied: “Yes, we use it for that ourselves.”
The bag has straps that transform it into a backpack. Reflective piping makes it more visible when it’s dark, but they also included some duct tape that you can cover over the piping if it’s important not to be seen! Remember also, reflective piping or tape only works if you have a flashlight to shine on it or sufficient ambient light.
Stuart helped me “unpack” the bag. The first thing to look at is the plastic envelope that includes a waterproof, floatable phone case for your phone, and identification tag and few other indispensable items. A larger plastic envelope includes the “Readiness Playbook,” which includes a readiness plan that you and your family can fill out. Knowing ahead of time what you are going to do and where you are going to go is critical ahead of the game thinking. Stuart said this is a key element that families often neglect. Just the very act of filling out the playbook will put you in the proper frame of mind for thinking about things we would often rather not think about.
The bag is divided into three modules. Module A is a Messenger bag for carrying your most important items. Module B is for personal items. Module C is for emergency items, which are supplied with the bag. If you already have a bag, you can buy these supplies separately.
They include such things as emergency drinking water in pouches, elements of a first aid kit such as sterile gauze pads, triangular bandages, bandaging tape, surgical tape, cold packs, sterile wipes, etc. Also Included in the first aid is an emergency blanket and emergency sleeping bag (very compact, and adequate for Southern California.)
It also includes water purification tablets for when you have water that you are unsure of. Both tablet and water pouches have a shelf life of five years.
The emergency supplies include a flashlight, multi-tool, tweezers, magnifying glass, duct tape, waterproof matches, rain poncho, permanent market, work gloves, safety vest and safety glasses.
Of course, you could buy all of these things separately, which would be a significant investment of your time. You’d probably also pay more money.
Module C includes a hand crank radio (for monitoring emergency radio stations) which also doubles as a flashlight, a strong rope, as opposed to the paracord that many survivalists favor, and which does have its uses, but which the average person may shy away from. A good strong rope that has the capacity to tow a car in an emergency is a VERY useful item to have.
There are also your basic toiletry items such as soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, anti-bacterial wipes, mirror, wallet tissues and hand warmers. As a resident for many years on Palomar Mountain I can say that the latter can be very comforting when there is a wind chill factor.
The Go-bag has a tether that can be used for your dog, your child, or for hanging clothing. It also has a sleeve for a laptop and another sleeve in which a foam mat is packed. This is waterproof and has multiple uses, as a barrier against the cold or the wet if you need to sit on it (ever noticed how homeless people are always sitting on newspapers?) or as a baby changing pad.
One item that impressed Shore and Courter was the sterile burn sheet that can be used to cover a burn victim.
Shore and Courter examined the bag pretty thoroughly and both pronounced it a well thought out item, with most of the things you would need in an emergency.
“We have emergency supplies with us in our cars,” says Shore, “But this is good and it’s a lot more portable. I have canned food and water in my house. I have my first aid kit.” But, of course, as a firefighter he DOES come prepared.
However, for the people at home it’s a little different. “I’d certainly consider purchasing this for my family,” he said.
He did have a couple of suggestions, however. “The pouches of water are barely enough to last you a day.” You really should have at least a gallon a day of water, he said. “I’d get rid of the water pouches, and carry a few gallons of water in jugs, and use the freed up space for more triangular badges, which are very useful. I’d also throw in some butterfly bandages [for deep cuts where you don’t have the opportunity to go to the emergency room for stitches.]”
Another thing Shore felt the bag could have used—but which you can easily supply yourself— are a few MREs (meals ready to eat) which usually come with self-heating elements so you can eat hot foot. “Even a Milky Way or Snickers bar would be good,” he said.
Overall, he found the Go-bag to be a very good product. “An item like this is great preparation for the myriad of emergencies. It’s a great kit to have in the initial time after an emergency. Until you can get your feet on the ground.”
People in Valley Center are pretty resourceful, he observed. “I think people out here are a lot more self-sufficient than city folk. City folks are not MacGyvers. People out here are able to do things for themselves a little more.”
“I would have made the bag fluorescent red or orange,” said Shore. “But you could add reflective tape yourself.”
Courter has sort of a “go-bag” but as he says, “It’s the back of my truck.” He also has a lot of his emergency necessities packed away in a portable, wheeled large tool-box of the kind that you can buy for about $50 at Home Depot.
He agreed with Shore that a larger supply of water is a must and recommended for the 72-hours that most authorities agree is a minimum amount of preparedness getting a five-gallon bottle with a hand pump that you can buy at some water supply stores (or online.)
Overall, though, he considered the Go-bag to be a good purchase. He went through it item by item and occasionally held one up, like the multi-tool scissors and remarked, “This is smart.”
For further study
Our County’s OES has on its website (www.sandiegocounty.gov/oes/) a list of basic items every emergency supply kit should include. “However, it is important that individuals review this list and consider where they live and the unique needs of themselves and their family in order to create an emergency supply kit that will meet these needs. Individuals should also consider having at least three emergency supply kits, one full kit at home and smaller portable kits in their workplace, vehicle or other places they spend time.”
Water* – minimum of 1 gallon per person per day
First Aid Kit and Manual
Can opener – non-electric
Watch or clock – non-electric
Plug-in analog telephone.
Note: Mike Shore considers the “plug in analog phone” to be dated information. “Where are you going to plug it in?” he asks and points out that since the more recent SDG&E power shutdowns that cell towers are being supplied with independent power sources to keep the network active.
Activity items for adults (cards) and kids (coloring books)
Blankets or sleeping bags for each member of the family
Radio – portable, with spare batteries
Prescription and over-the-counter medications*
Additional equipment – glasses, dentures, hearing aids
Flashlight – spare batteries and light bulb
Fire extinguisher – multipurpose labeled “ABC”
Additional Items to Consider Adding to an Emergency Supply Kit:
Prescription medications and glasses
• Infant formula and diapers
• Pet food and extra water for your pet
• Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container
• Cash or traveler’s checks and change
• Emergency reference material such as a first aid book or information
• Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate.
• Complete change of clothing including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate.
• Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – When diluted nine parts water to one-part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.
• Fire Extinguisher
• Matches in a waterproof container
• Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
• Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
• Paper and pencil
• Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children.
Visit vlesdesigns.com/pages/all_products to purchase the Go-Bag.
It retails for $350 for the fully stocked bag. “Just the Shell,” retails for $225 and “Just the Guts” retails for $150.