This week’s action step, as part of the disaster preparation series, is to put together a 72-hour grab and go bag for each member of the family.
I was living in North Ryde (Sydney), right on the edge of Lane Cove National Park, during the Black Christmas bushfires in 2002.
We had spent the day in the city, blissfully unaware that the bushfires were anywhere near where we were living.
Getting on the bus to return home, the driver said, “Sorry, I’m not going that far. That area has been cut off by the bushfires.”
We walked the rest of the way home, relieved that our house was still standing despite the chaos around us. Only the motorway and the volunteer firefighters stood between the bushfire and us.
We were told: “pack up your things quickly and be ready to evacuate on command.”
That night we stood vigil, hoping our building and the trees around wouldn’t catch alight as the embers blew across the motorway and rained down over us. We stood there with neighbours we hadn’t met, offering food and drink and rest to the firefighters who were battling tirelessly to protect our homes. Some had lost their own homes only a few blocks away.
We were lucky that night. The bushfires were contained and our home was safe.
Now I live in coastal Queensland. Bushfires aren’t really a threat to us where we are, but cyclones, storms and floods are. Fast forward to 2022, and Australians have seen a lot of disasters over the past few years.
It doesn’t matter where you live, even if you live in the middle of a big city, there’s always the possibility you may have to face a natural disaster or other emergencies.
Are you prepared?
Prepare for Emergencies with 72-Hour Grab and Go Bag
It’s an emergency situation. You have to get out NOW. You’re stressed, maybe panicked. There’s the possibility your home and everything you own is about to be destroyed.
What do you grab in this situation?
Not the things you really need, I can say this from experience.
A grab and go bag (otherwise known as a 72-hour kit, a bug out bag, evacuation kit or Personal Emergency Relocation Kit (PERK)) is a bag you have already packed with things you need for 72 hours if you ever have to evacuate your house suddenly.
72 hours, if you’re wondering, is approximately how long it can take to get help after a widespread disaster and for evacuation centres to get up and running. That means, for up to 72 hours after a disaster, you may be on your own with no organised assistance. Your emergency kit is there to help you get by during this time.
Grab and Go Bag: The Basics
Your grab and go bag should be a backpack that is easy to carry.
Each person in the household (who is old enough) should have their own grab bag. Some items will be more appropriately carried in a parent’s bag than in a child’s.
Your bags should be big enough to hold a few days’ worth of supplies, but small enough so it’s not cumbersome and heavy. Here’s an example of a family’s grab and go bags.
Your bags should be somewhat waterproof. Keep things in your bag organised and waterproof by storing them separately in large zip-lock bags like this.
Store your grab and go bags somewhere where they are easily accessible and close to the front door or main exit.
Consider storing a 72-hour kit in your car, or transfer your kit to your car if you know there’s a storm or bushfire on the way. Remember, you may be at work when an emergency occurs.
What to Put in Your 72 Hour Grab and Go Bag
Below is a list of possible items that you can put in your grab and go bag, in order of importance. Not everything is going to be relevant, so don’t worry that it’s a long list. Focus on the essential items first. Many of these things you will already have at home.
To make this easier on the hip pocket, start slowly, building up items week by week for your emergency kits.
Water – 1 to 3 days of worth of water (3 litres per person per day). That adds up to a lot of water (especially if you’re carrying for your kids too), so consider instead a portable water filter or water purification tablets as well as a litre or two of bottled water each.
Food – 1 to 3 days of non-perishable food. Think things like protein bars, instant oatmeal, tuna sachets, packet or tinned soup, crackers, noodles, comfort food, dried or canned fruit etc. It’s a good idea to package your food up in waterproof zip-lock bags in 3 day lots. So each zip-lock bag would include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Include the food you would actually eat.
Don’t forget to pack a spoon and a bowl or plate (recycle a plastic plate and cutlery) as well as a can opener if you’re packing tinned foods.
A change of clothes – pack 1 full set of clean clothes in a waterproof zip-lock bag. Think layers: a cheap t-shirt and tracksuit, old jeans, underwear and socks. In cold climates, pack extra items for warmth. In hot climates, you can always cut a tracksuit into shorts.
If you’re a regular camper and you have synthetic hiking or camping clothes, store these in your 72-hour kit. They are lightweight and repel water.
To save money, pack old (but still wearable) clothes you have on hand or buy second-hand clothes. Check every six months or so that the clothes still fit, especially for children.
You may also want to include a plastic rain poncho and/or light windcheater jacket.
Phone Chargers – check regularly that these haven’t lost power and recharge as necessary.
First Aid kit
Sanitation items – Hand sanitiser, wet wipes, dust mask and garbage bags.
Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio – Keep this in a waterproof bag with extra batteries (don’t store the batteries in the radio).
Flashlight and extra batteries
A whistle – to signal for help. You might also like to include a light stick in case rescuers need to find you in the dark.
An ID card – Include your name (or child’s name), parent’s name (in the case of children), address, mobile phone number, emergency contact numbers, family meeting location and important medical information.
A current family photograph – to use for identification in case of separation.
Emergency Plan and Emergency Contact List
Cash – in small denominations rather than large notes.
Essential Medications – If you or your family members have chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes etc..
Other useful items
Sleeping bags and/or blankets – you may want to store these with your grab bags rather than in them depending on their size and whether you use them.
USB stick – that contains copies of important documents like insurance papers, birth certificates, household inventory, wills, life insurances, mortgage documents, house deeds, photographs etc.
Toiletries – A toothbrush and some toothpaste, soap and a face washer, feminine hygiene products, Insect repellent, sunscreen, chapstick, deodorant, comb etc.
Household chlorine bleach and a medical dropper – to use as a disinfectant or to treat water.
Heavy Gloves – In case you need to clear away debris etc.
Pen and Paper
Entertainment – If you’re spending a few days in an emergency shelter, a book or a pack of cards will come in handy.
Spare glasses or contact lenses
Lighter or matches
For babies and young children, don’t forget to include:
- Formula and a bottle if using
- Comfort item
- Toys / entertainment
If you have pets, include:
- Pet food
- Other pet items
There are items that won’t fit in your bag or that you may not want to store in your emergency kit.
Instead, put your absolute essentials in your grab bag and keep with it a list of items that you would also want to grab in the case of an evacuation, assuming you have time. Store important items, like sleeping bags, near your grab bags for quick and easy access.
Write on your list exactly where in your home you can find these items, so you aren’t hunting for them in an emergency.
Items you may want to put on your grab list include:
- Purse, keys and phone
- Baby bag
- Sleeping bags and blankets
- External hard drive / backup
- Home emergency kit
- Extra food and water
- Extra Clothes
- Child’s comfort item
- Air Mattress and pump
Maintaining Your Grab and Go Bag
You will need to check your grab bag every six months to a year to rotate the food stored (so that it gets eaten and replaced before it expires), to make sure the clothing still fits (particularly necessary for children), to check medications, rotate batteries, update ID, photo and USB stick of important information and to make sure everything is still in working order.
I put everything I need to remember into my Google Calendar and set it to repeat every few months with notifications to remind me to do it. That way things get done without you forgetting or having to worry about it.
Today’s task is to start preparing a grab and go bag for each family member.
Hopefully, you will never need to use it. But if you find yourself in circumstances where you do, you will be glad you prepared ahead of time.