It’s obvious that the main reason for having a Bug out Bag is to grab it and go when something very bad happens – usually a natural or human-made disaster of some kind. What’s not so obvious is the relationship between the type of disaster, your location, and the kind of BOB you have and its contents. This needs some explaining….
As you can quickly reckon, there are many kinds of disaster, for starters: Flood, earthquake, wildfire, hurricane, tornado, volcanic eruption, landslide, avalanche, tsunami, extreme drought, lethal infestation, pandemic, dirty bomb, nuclear attack, EMP attack, biological warfare, economic crash, conventional bombs, and political upheaval. Obviously, they don’t all call for the same response, nor does “one size fits all” apply to bug out bags.
Fortunately, these can’t all happen in any one place (with the exception of a few coastal cities, like Tokyo or Los Angeles). It’s likely only some of these disasters have happened or are even possible in your area.
When developing your bug out profile, start with an assessment of disasters that could happen in your area, ordering them as best you can from most to least likely. Then consider each possible disaster and think of what you would need to survive it. Here’s a thumbnail analysis of some disasters to give you an idea of what to consider:
Flood: Natural Disaster – These days most floods come with warnings and are limited in coverage, mostly in flood plains. If you’re in a location likely to flood, as a rule you’ll have time to grab your BOB and drive, or even walk, to an area of safety – high ground. Flash floods are an exception; they can strike quickly with very little warning. Most floods are not persistent and last at most a few days. That means if you live in a potential flood area, a small to medium size BOB with near-urban gear will be enough if you have a bug out plan of where to go for safety.
Earthquake: Natural Disaster – The worst part of earthquakes are their unpredictability. That and they have such a wide range of impact, from a mild tremor, which disturbs nothing, to a massive quake (say 7.0 or higher on the Richter scale) that devastates whole regions. A small bug out bag fits this is the kind of disaster; it allows quick reaction, moving on foot or with vehicle (if possible) with enough gear to be independent for a short time. Usually earthquakes are life threatening where they occur, but life goes on normally elsewhere. Survival is mostly a matter of getting out of the earthquake zone.
Wildfire: Natural Disaster – Most modern cities don’t burn down (they used to), so wildfire disasters are most likely in wooded or forested areas. Weather conditions may provide a general warning, but specific fires and their path can be difficult to predict. If you’re in a wildfire prone area, then the bug out bag should be equipped with fire related gear such as a thermal barrier and a spade. Survival inside a burn can be very difficult, but safety and relative normality are just outside the burn. Depending on where you’re located, BOBs may need to include wilderness gear for survival.
Hurricane: Natural Disaster – Like most natural disasters, hurricane conditions can be very bad in the affected areas, but everything is more or less normal just outside. Surviving might be a matter of grabbing the BOB and heading out of the path of the hurricane. These days most hurricanes or major tropical storms have ample warning, sometimes days ahead. Unlike some natural disasters, such as wildfire, it is quite possible to survive inside an active hurricane zone and is nothing more complicated than finding a public hurricane shelter. In that case, a BOB is not much more than a personal overnight suitcase.
Extreme drought: Natural Disaster – At what point does a drought become a disaster? Like some human caused disasters, an extreme drought can cause widespread breakdown of economic and social conditions; but it often happens very slowly. So slowly that it’s difficult to pin down when it’s time to grab a bug out bag, or just find a job elsewhere and move.
Pandemic – When a lethal disease begins to affect many people in a wide area, it’s a pandemic. There usually is some warning, but confusion will be the norm. The hard part of bugging out in a pandemic is to know where to go. There are two main options: go where nobody is sick (yet), or go where there is nobody. Either way a bug out bag could mean survival, but if you’re heading away from people then the bag needs to contain survival gear to last a relatively long time – probably days or weeks. If the pandemic is severe enough, it could lead to economic and social breakdown on a regional basis. (Doomsday pandemics not included.)
Dirty bomb – One of the most plausible of terrorist disasters is the use of a dirty bomb, not a nuclear explosion, but a conventional explosion that releases radioactive material. In most cases, there will be no warning. There are two parts to this kind of attack: the original explosion, which often is not particularly big or damaging; and the cloud of toxic radioactive particles that will drift with the winds, sickening people at some distance from the center. Surviving a dirty bomb means getting away from the blast area and from the radioactive cloud. This may not be easy, since wind conditions change. It’s most likely that a dirty bomb will be used in an urban area, so an urban BOB and gear are most appropriate.
Nuclear attack – Whereas the original explosion in a dirty bomb is relatively minor, as we all know, a nuclear blast is one of the most destructive on earth. There may or may not be a short warning. Within a certain radius of ground zero, there is no escaping the initial blast or the immediate area of irradiation. While we suppose nuclear targets will be city centers and high-value military or commercial areas, there’s no guarantee that whatever delivers the bomb will be accurate. That makes a bug out bag an “after the event” piece of equipment. At that point, survival is mostly a matter of moving away from the kill zone and avoiding the social disruption. Head for areas where there are no or few people. A nuclear attack is likely to cause at least temporary economic and social breakdown, so it may be necessary to bug out for a considerable amount of time and to go to a defendable position.
EMP attack – Crippling electronics and electrical systems with a massive shot of an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) may seem technically exotic, but it is a possible weapon of terror. If the attack is widespread, for example, knocking out power and electronics in an entire region, then there will be major economic and social consequences. A BOB built for an EMP attack should be large enough to carry gear away from civilization and provide relative independence for at least several days. Near the center of attack, there will probably be no mechanized transportation – their electrical and electronic components will be destroyed. Again, a BOB provides for mobility, on foot if necessary.
Social or political upheaval – Kind of like a drought, it might be difficult to tell if a political situation is merely dangerous or a disaster. When rioting occurs, it may be a question of fight or flight. Much will depend on your location. Urban settings are obviously the most unpredictable and dangerous, so a bug out bag and transportation can get you away from hostilities, if you know where it’s safe to go. The degree of social and economic disruption is also unpredictable, making it difficult to know if the BOB needs to be large and prepared for long-term independence, or the equivalent of a short-term escape bag.
This sampling of disasters illustrates that each creates different survival conditions, and that bug out bags need to be adaptable to those conditions. Considering probably disasters is a big part of your bug out profile, because it may help you choose specialized gear to include in your bug out bag.
Whatever the type of disaster, you’ll quickly recognize that most of the time a BOB is not the final means for survival. Its function is mostly to contain gear for survival while you wait for the emergency to abate, or to get somewhere where safety is likely, for example, off-grid in a hideout. That makes the size and content of the BOB at least somewhat dependent on the type of disaster you’re most likely to encounter, but it also depends where you intend to go during the disaster, and how long it takes to get there. That’s the subject of the next article in this series.