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How to Pack an Emergency Bag

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How to Pack an Emergency Bag

Even if your home is far from the wildfires on the West Coast or the hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, there may be other disasters that require you to leave with just a moment’s notice.

Preparation is key, and the first step toward having a solid evacuation plan is packing a “go-bag” — a carryall filled with all the gear you need to get through a few days at an emergency shelter or another location.

“Having a plan and having a kit that’s ready to go can really help calm people down,” said Eric Alberts, the emergency preparedness manager at Orlando Health, a Florida health care system.

But how you pack — just as how you plan — is very different this year. Here’s a list of what experts say you should have in your go-bag, and other important things to consider, especially during a pandemic.

What goes into your family’s bag or bags — more on that in a bit — will depend on your evacuation plan. Determine whether you’ll go to a shelter, a hotel or to stay with family members. Also, figure out your emergency contacts, as well as a place where you can rendezvous if phone lines are down. Consider writing up these plans and sticking them in everyone’s bags.

“The more you plan and the more you prepare for an emergency, the more mental space you have to deal with the things you need to improvise when the emergency hits,” said Tricia Wachtendorf, director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware.

If you get separated, you’ll want to know that your kid’s medicine is with your kid, not jammed in the bottom of your bag. Set aside a bag for each member of your family, but keep them all in one place.

Elizabeth Kellar, the director of public policy for the International City/County Management Association, helps cities and regions prepare for emergencies. Her experience in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria made it very apparent that one should plan for days — even a week — away from home, not just a few hours.

Clothing should include at least one change of clothes, enough underwear for a week, and something warm and something waterproof — even if it’s just a trash bag you can turn into a poncho.

Important paperwork should be tucked into a sealable plastic file folder. The experts were split on whether it’s better to bring copies or originals: You have to make that choice based on whether you think they’ll be safer with you or at home. These documents should include government-issued IDs, like your passport; medical records that show what medications you take or special accommodations you might need; and copies of all your insurance policies. It’s wise to bring a copy of your will and any end-of-life directives. You should also have a contact list for family members in case you can’t access your phone, a list of addresses for local shelters and the rendezvous location if your family is separated. Finally, don’t forget cash — more is better, but try to squirrel away at least enough for a tank of gas and a meal.

When considering health essentials, prescription medications are the priority. Ideally you should pack extra in your bag, but getting more than a monthly refill is often barred by insurance. Instead, consider making a list of your medications and putting it on the very top of your bag, to remind you to grab your medicines before you go. Don’t forget over-the-counter medicines, diapers and wipes for kids (remember, into their bag, not yours), and a basic first aid kit. Finally, have a collection of masks, cleansing wipes, gloves and hand sanitizer. In his ideal scenario, Mr. Alberts would have three to five masks in each bag.

For food and water, Ms. Kellar packs an unopened jar of peanut butter, because it’s shelf-stable, high-calorie and comforting. Dr. Wachtendorf suggests cereal bars. Experts recommend having a reusable water bottle and either a filtering straw (like a LifeStraw) or water purification tablets. And don’t forget food for your pets.

Other supplies vital to a go-bag are a whistle, a pocketknife, headlamp, radio, extra phone chargers (almost vital, Dr. Wachtendorf stressed), matches in a waterproof container and extra batteries. A handful of trash bags and a roll of duct tape also come in surprisingly handy, Ms. Kellar said.

Extras could be a favorite book, a deck of cards or games or toys your children relish. Finally, tuck in a shelf-stable snack that will bring you comfort. A bar of chocolate is never a waste of space.

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