Town-wide Evacuation Survival Gear Preparation

May 1st 2016, wildfires started raging through Fort McMurray, Alberta area forcing residents to flee the town to get away from the situation. Some were at work and weren’t even permitted to return home, even to gather a few items to help them with survival.  Since then similar situations have been seen recently in BC with the 2017 wildfires.

This made me wonder; just how prepared am I? I have a lot of survival supplies, but are they ready to go? How much time would I need to assemble something together? Do I, at this exact moment (sitting at work) have enough to survive if I wasn’t allowed to go home?

I have a slight distinct advantage with that last question since my workplace sells survival supplies so I *could* technically load up before I go, but I’d rather envision what I regularly carry on me because I may not necessarily be at work at the time of evacuation.

Preparedness should also be particularly important to people with pets. If you are unprepared, you will have to make incredibly difficult choices between allocating your precious minutes toward items you will need and rescuing your pets. If your survival items are already prepped and ready to go, this makes that difficult choice much easier because more time can be spent rescuing your pets rather than gathering supplies.

The emergencies I am focusing on in this article are not the end-of-the-world doomsday scenarios like nuclear war, economic collapse, or meteor strikes because, while they are possible, they are very remote. I’m focusing on emergencies that will have you prepared for city-wide events like flooding, hurricanes, and wild fires. My reason for this is that if you are prepared for this scenario type, you will inherently be prepared for smaller scenarios such as a power outage or a personal house fire. I will use also winter as my worst-case-scenario as it will be the harshest of the seasons to prepare for.

Ultimately, in a town-wide disaster, the goal would be to get safely to another town. As easy as it is to think that you will just hop in a car and drive, this doesn’t always go as planned. Traffic jams from other evacuees, person-to-person conflicts, and factors such as gas in your vehicle can limit options and potentially create new obstacles to overcome. Even if it isn’t your vehicle that is out of gas, you could be lodged in a traffic line because of vehicles ahead of you that have run out of fuel. If this takes place in the winter, this could be extra challenging.

There are three levels of survival gear preparations to consider.
1) Personal/Travel survival kit
2) Car survival kit
3) Bug-out Bag

A personal survival kit (also known as an EDC or an Every Day Carry) is something you would carry at all times. It will more than likely be the smallest of the three preparations because it’s a bit unrealistic to carry three days of food and water with you at every moment of the day. If you plan to carry a small bag (or if you carry a backpack anyway and want to reserve a little bit of space for an emergency section) there are some supplies that are basic but can give you options you wouldn’t otherwise have.

A car survival kit can sometimes be better than a bug-out bag because a vehicle can hold more, but how much space do you really want to give up for survival preparation? Yes, you could fill your vehicle with an incredible assortment of amazing things from foldable picnic benches, gazebos, tents, chairs, food, and more but unless you want to look like you are constantly going camping and sacrificing the space you would use for regular life activities, chances are you only want to give up a small portion of your car space for preparation. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take a lot of space to be prepared (even in winter) and something strong and durable like a metal ammo box crate is perfect to hold most of your supplies in.

A bug-out bag is, quite literally, intended for emergencies so it is packed with survival supplies. Imagine if you had 30 seconds to leave your home. A bug-out bag, already assembled, sitting near the front door ensures your survival options. It is recommended to have one completed bug-out bag for each adult in a home (in case of separation). Children can have a simpler version of a bug-out bag, containing food and water and clothing for warmth, but they may lack the skill-set to assemble shelter and start fires. A pet-out bag is also a good idea to have the essentials needed if you have pets to evacuate as well.

What you need to prepare in ANY situation:
Situations will vary in obstacles and conditions. Summer faces less warmth challenges than winter. Local emergencies (such as a house on fire) require less travel and less communication effort for safety than town-wide emergencies so the best course of action is to be prepared in all areas regardless of the conditions of the situation. Being over-prepared is always better than being under-prepared. With this in mind, the areas we want to be prepared for are: communication, energy, fire, warmth, food, health, light, safety, shelter, water, entertainment, and accessories.

Communication: Your best line of defense is a cell phone. Most people have and use one and it’s far easier to get a hold of a larger variety of people for help. One flaw to cell phones is the limited battery power offered. A USB battery bank can assist in this. GRMS Radios (aka walkie-talkies) are an excellent backup because emergency channels are often monitored. Consider getting one with the most range because they will be a good indicator of signal strength. A CB radio is also useful, though the audience is limited, it can still be a good resource. A megaphone is a little unorthodox, but can prove to be useful and has an added feature of being able to address an entire crowd, making group efforts easier to co-ordinate. Outside of these electronic solutions, devices like whistles and signaling mirrors should be part of your tools.

Energy: This isn’t the *most essential* aspect to our survival scenarios, but it can expand your options and even increase convenience. Generators, while useful, are probably unlikely to be in your personal or bug-out bag. Even to store in your car isn’t very feasible, but other forms of energy including rechargeable battery banks, solar powered devices, or a vehicle battery jump starter are good portable power options.

Fire: In most cases, a simple regular lighter will be sufficient. A standard lighter lasts an average cigarette smoker for months so nothing more is needed. Having said that, there are alternate options available. Fuel-based fire-starters as well as fuel-free fire-starters are available. It’s also a good idea to have tinder or tinder alternatives just in case conditions are not well for using natural resources. While fire is a source of heat, it’s a separate category from warmth since it can be used for other things (like cooking or light) and warmth can be achieved through means other than fire.

Warmth: This, along with food and water, is considered an essential. Your situation might have advantages such as summer weather but it is best to be prepared to handle winter weather. Items that are unneeded are far better than items that are needed, but missing. Extra clothes can be important if your current attire is wet, but clothes can only work with the body heat you emit. Sometimes, especially in the cold, that’s not enough. Along with fire, other sources of heat can come from things like rechargeable hand warmers.

Food: Food and water are the two most essential items. Three days (per person) worth of food can cover most town-wide emergencies. It’s nice to think that there are highway stores to stop at but when you have thousands of unprepared people fleeing, these stores become less likely of an option in a short span of time. Humans can survive up to 3 weeks without food but the process leading up to the 3 weeks can leave you disoriented, unable to perform simple tasks, and less co-operative with others. All of this can be avoided with just a little bit of food on hand. Food with long lasting expiration dates mean you don’t have to constantly update your reserve, but even if you update it annually, most foods will last that long. Consider space though, you can get the same energy from an energy bar as a can of food but an energy bar takes less space and is lighter, meaning your 3-day supply can be covered with just a small supply of energy bars. Mountain House dehydrated food packs also take up very little room and you can get a good amount of food from it. A single mountain house tin will have you and others set.

Health: You more than likely won’t need a hospital’s worth of aid but it’s always good to have a decent health kit. In town-wide evacuations, you are more than likely going to encounter others who are more in need of aid than yourself. Having an ample kit can ensure you have what you need to take care of yourself, and others. Standard bandages, wraps, and antiseptic wipes are part of the basics.  You should also consider splints and small aiding instruments to expand the kinds of treatment you can offer. It’s also a huge benefit to gain and practice first aid knowledge because the tools alone can only go so far. Your skill in first aid will ultimately determine what kinds of options are available.

Light: This isn’t an emergency essential, but it is really convenient. Survival isn’t about who can survive on the least amount of items (though that kind of a challenge certainly builds primitive skills). Survival will more likely come in the form of being stuck on a highway or having to leave your town to a town a few hours away. The kits themselves are not about having what is needed to make a journey like that. They are about what you have available when a journey like that goes wrong. Light can help make performing tasks easier (when the sun goes down). Depending on the source, it can help with heat. It can also help with communication and getting noticed.

Safety: Protection against the elements is one thing. Protection against others is a different issue. While most emergencies can be handled without incident, this isn’t always the case. Keeping you and your loved ones safe is important and while it is less likely that you will be in danger from other people, if that ‘less likely’ scenario does happen, you will want to be prepared.

Shelter: The importance of shelter will vary upon circumstance. If you have a car, that alone can cover most shelter needs against the elements, but winter can pose a problem. Keeping the car heated uses gas which could be a problem if getting more gas is not an option. Having a tent/sleeping bag designed for handling winter weather means you can reserve your gas for other needs.  Town-wide emergencies have a different set of societal rules, which will vary pending on culture. In Canada, people tend to band together more in challenging situations. The Quebec ice storm, Fort McMurray fires and floods, and the Eastern three-day blackouts have all seen people interact more with each other, help each other out, and survive together. Preparing for yourself is a must, but if you have the room to prepare for more than yourself, you could be a personal hero to someone in need. Something to consider when choosing shelter options.

Water: More essential than food. The average person can only live three days without water, but the effects of dehydration will affect all other aspects of survival including the ability to perform simple tasks. Though a town-wide evacuation might only consist of a traffic jam for a few hours, you don’t want to rely on that being the case. Even a two-liter bottle can make a difference between surviving comfortably and surviving at all. Sometimes, the unexpected can happen and we don’t have water readily available. Alternatives such as the LifeStraw and water purification tablets can make a simple puddle drinkable.

Entertainment: While among the lesser of the essential categories. Entertainment can help keep the mind occupied. A simple deck of cards can provide a variety of games. Music and video devices can also make coping more culpable, though power conservation may be an issue pending on circumstance.

Accessories: These are items that don’t really fit for a particular category. An axe, for example, isn’t directly related to food, fire, water, shelter, etc, but having one can increase your capabilities and the right tool can assist in several of the important categories (like using an axe to chop wood, chop materials for a shelter, weapon in hunting). Unlike a firestarter, whose direct usage is to produce fire, accessory items are meant to make tasks easier and expand your options.

While it would be ideal to cover all these areas in each kit (personal, car, bug-out bag), it is less likely that you will want to carry too many items in your personal kit as you would your car or your bug-out bag. Your car kit and bug-out bag should carry something to cover all areas though most important would be food, water, fire, and warmth and followed by shelter, safety, health, and communication with the lesser categories being energy (power), light, and entertainment.

Some may feel that shelter, communication, and health should be promoted to the top level of essentials but the situation I am envisioning is not a ‘lost in the woods’ or apocalyptic scenario. I’m basing this article and the essential priorities on a town-evacuation scenario where you will more likely be with others so communication becomes downgraded a bit. You aren’t any more likely to be injured than a normal day so health is demoted a bit but should still be considered important because you are more at risk than the average day.

I’ve put together samples of the kinds of things you would want in a personal survival kit, bug-out bag, and car survival kits.

Please click on the survival kit you would like to know more about

Personal Survival Kit
Bug-out Bag
Car Survival Kit