by Angela Drake

Many of you have already read Part 1 on how to shelter in place. The truth is that most of us facing natural disasters or civil unrest will be perfectly safe by staying at home. But sometimes it is necessary to evacuate. This can happen in the US for all kinds of disasters, like flooding, tsunamis, and wildfires and also overseas for all those reasons and for possible civil unrest. Over the years, we have seen evacuations of US Embassy families in places like Yemen and Bahrain. Military families were forced to leave the Philippines with little warning after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo back in 1991. And most recently, families at Incirlik AFB in southern Turkey are being offered voluntary evacuation because of potential lone wolf attacks. In this case, the government will pay for spouses and children to return home without the active duty member.


The worst case scenarios are evacuations with no warnings. For example, at our current location in Quito, Ecuador, a volcano named Cotopaxi is under yellow alert meaning that it could erupt at any moment or a couple of years from now. Many people live in low lying areas where potential mud flows from an eruption could wipe out entire towns. There will be little warning if families need to leave quickly so the better prepared these families are, the more likely they will evacuate in a manner that saves lives. This can be said for families leaving flood zones along rivers and oceans or areas threatened by wildfires. Evacuation can happen when foreign governments topple or when a freak windstorm hits your neighborhood and knocks down trees like they are bowling pins.

That means having a go-bag on hand is essential. Basically, a go-bag is a backpack or duffle that holds emergency supplies and can be grabbed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. What should you include in your go-bag?

◾Key documents for travel, like passports. This is especially important for evacuation overseas.

◾Key documents like certificates of birth or marriage. Remember, it is possible to order extra copies these items or to have photocopies of some documents notarized. You don’t have to keep the originals in the go-bag. In fact, we recommend keeping originals in a fire safe box.

◾Extra set of keys for your cars and your home.

◾Cash for emergencies (ATMs may not be working or readily available)

◾Basic toiletry bag

◾Basic first aid kit

◾Prescription medications and a copy of the prescriptions

◾Extra eyeglasses and/or contact lenses and copies of the prescriptions


◾Bottled Water

◾High Energy Food Items like protein bars

◾Change of clothes – even just a change of underwear can be helpful

◾Rain coat or winter gear, depending on your location

Do you have kids? Each of them should have their own go-bag. My son prefers the name BOB, an acronym for bug out bag. For younger kids, giving their bag a name like BOB, can make the process of packing it less stressful. Depending on the age and maturity of your children, they can help pack BOB by including an item or two that will help them during the evacuation process. Maybe it’s a stuffed animal that brings a smile to their face or a beloved book they would love to re-read. Or maybe you add something that they have never seen before so that they have a surprise waiting for them on the road or the evacuation center.

Do you have a pet? Guess what… they need a go-bag as well. Anything your pet might need, including medications and pet food. The US Department of State has a great list, especially for those of you living overseas who may need to get your dog back home to the US.

Not everything you want to have with you will fit in a go-bag. It is a good idea to keep a printed checklist by the door for the things you may want to grab last minute. However, the more time you spend gathering these items, the less time you have for an orderly evacuation. If your evacuation is time sensitive, get out the door. None of these items are worth your life.

◾computer hard drive or back-up hard drive

◾fire safe box with important documents

◾irreplaceable family mementos

◾blanket, stuffed animal, etc. that helps your young child in stressful situations

This is all great preparation, especially if the emergency happens while you are all at home. But it may happen while you and your spouse are at work and your kids are at school. Please have an emergency plan for finding each other. You will need to know what kind of evacuation plans exist for your childrens’ schools. It may not make most sense to go pick up your child if the school already has an evacuation in process. In fact, your arrival, and that of tons of other parents, could seriously slow down an evacuation. Ask about these things BEFORE the emergency ever occurs.

If you are a single parent, please have a back-up emergency plan that includes another adult to help you. This adult may be your childcare provider or a good neighbor. Either way, they should know where your child’s go bag is located or even have one available at their location. And they should have a power of attorney at hand, just in case they have problems meeting up with you. Remember, active duty military are often expected to stay at work during emergencies, even evacuations.

If you spend little time at home and more time at work, it might make sense to have a go-bag in both locations or to keep your go-bag in your car. These are area specific decisions but talk about this with your partner and/or your emergency back-up. It’s better to be over-prepared than to be blind-sided during an evacuation.

For those of you living overseas, we would like to add a precaution. Back in 1991 when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines, military families were immediately sent out of country. They left everything behind and their household goods were packed up and returned to families months later. Keep a copy of your latest household inventory in your emergency documents to help remind you of all of your belongings. This could come in handy if the military asks what you want returned and what you don’t. It could also help if you need to file a claim with your insurance company. In fact, emergencies like these are one of the reasons many families chose to store important belongings in the United States rather than bring them on an overseas assignment.

So many of you reading this series will probably have experienced emergency situations of your own. Please tell us your story in the comments below. Learning first hand what worked and what didn’t could help those of us facing imminent threats figure out best practices. And with enough good advice, we will consider a follow up article based on your suggestions.

In the meantime, stay safe everyone!

Angie DrakeAngie is the founder of Not Your Average American where she currently writes about living and traveling in South America. As the daughter of an Air Force NCO and the wife of an Air Force Officer, she has broad experience with military life. She is outspoken about issues that affect the military community and posts opinion pieces at DailyKos and helps run the KeepYourPromise Facebook page with more than 100,000 followers fighting to keep military pay and benefits intact. – See more at: