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What Do You Need to Get Home When Disaster Strikes? Go Bags And Survival Kits!

What do you need to get home when disaster strikes…

Where will you find yourself when disaster strikes? Where do you need to go to be safe? Where are your friends and family going to be?

I don’t know why, but it seems that most disasters happen during the day. Obviously, earthquakes, asteroids, solar flares and volcanos are round the clock threats. But, most man-made events, such as riots, tend to occur during business hours.

In any case, if you prefer to be at home with your family (and your supplies), the worst case scenario is to be at work or school when disaster strikes. After reaching out to family and friends, you will be wanting to get home as soon as possible.

I’ve been through several disasters myself including the ’89 Loma Prieta Earthquake, Rodney King Riots in ’92, WTO Riot ’99, Mardi Gras Riot ’01 and numerous blizzards and floods. The ’89 earthquake was the worst for me, in that I was cutoff from my apartment for TWO WEEKS!

I commuted daily from one end of the Bay to the other and when the bridge and several arterials were damaged, I could not navigate back home after work that day. Luckily, at the time, I had no pets and there was an available couch at a friend’s house.

Most people commute to work or school an average distance of thirty (30) miles round trip each day. I currently commute forty-one (41) miles round trip, crossing several bridges, bodies of water and past the homes of MILLIONS of people. Spend some time considering that. When disaster strikes, the millions of people that you share your organized metropolitan world with will not be so tidy and civic-minded as during more peaceful times.

If you’ve ever been stuck in traffic after a major sporting event or a blizzard for hours at a time, consider what a major infrastructure outage affecting the power grid or disabling a bridge would be like.

You may not be able to drive home that night, maybe forced to sleep in your car if it is safe, or strike out on foot for shelter and progress towards home. Several times in the past year, people have had to sleep in their cars during blizzards and occasionally they wind up dying before being rescued.

What could have kept them alive? What would have allowed them to safely leave their car for a more secure shelter?

Most people are familiar with an emergency kit for their car. It often has the reflector triangle, maybe a flare, some sort of first aid kit and even gloves if you are lucky. This is not suitable for any emergency other than a flat tire or dead battery, for use while waiting for the auto club to show up.

If you need to shelter in place for the night (such as your car), you will need a blanket, flashlight, food, and water at a minimum. If you plan to strike out on foot, you need a lot more gear than that.

The gear needed for driving or walking to your home or bug out location (BOL) is typically referred to as:


  • Bug Out Bag (BOB)
  • Get Home Bag (GHB)
  • Get Out Of Dodge Bag (GOOD)


What this gear is not intended for is some wilderness survival, special forces, mountain man or “live off the land” type of equipment. In my opinion, most people are not able to live off the land and subsist based on what they can carry, so that is not a viable approach for anyone but Rambo and Grizzly Adams. If that rubs you wrong, I’m sorry, but that’s my opinion.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll refer to this gear as the GHB (Get Home Bag).

The likely scenario if disaster strikes during the weekday is:

  1. You are going to try to drive home
  2. Eventually you will get stuck and stay put for some period of time
  3. Finally, you will strike out on foot for home
  4. You may have to find shelter and sleep at least once before reaching home


You should stock and store a GHB in your car and your workplace (yes, one each). That’s because you may get stuck at work for at least the first day and your car may be lost due to earthquake, fire or riots.

Okay, enough already…what should go into the bag?

Bag – The bag itself should be light, durable and comfortable. I prefer surplus medium size G.I. rucksacks. They are cheap and readily available. I put the shoulder straps directly on the rucksack itself, without using the frame. The frames are useful for heavy loads, but they are too rigid for easy storage of the bag until it is needed.

Water – You should have four 8 oz. bottles of water in the bag at a minimum. Pace yourself, and consume one bottle in the A.M. and one in the P.M. You can also use U.S. Coast Guard approved Mainstay 4 oz. water packets in place/addition to the bottles of water. It is also a good idea to include a water filter bottle (such as MSR, Katyden or Steripen), commonly used by hikers. In the event you run out of your stored water, you can use the water filter bottle with any natural water source you come across on your journey.

Food – If you are physically active, you will need a minimum of 2,500 calories per day. You should count on three days worth of food. The trick is to store food that is consumable on the go with little preparation, but won’t go bad during the months that it is stored. Ideally, you would have a mix of MREs, emergency ration bars and even some no-cook canned goods like pork ‘n’ beans or vienna sausage. If you do include canned goods, make sure to get them with the pull top as you may not have a can opener on the go. One each MRE, ration bar, can) per day should provide enough calories and nutrition for whatever you need to do.

Raingear – Getting wet is the number one precursor to total failure during a disaster. Once you get wet, you will soon get cold, sick and demoralized. At a minimum, you should get a rain poncho but ideally, you would have a full rain suit in your bag. They are cheap and readily available at any drugstore, sporting goods shop or major retailer. I suggest you get dark muted colors like blue and green so that you don’t draw attention to yourself. The clear and yellow rain gear only invite the curious to interfere with your progress.

Underwear – On the move, you will get sweaty and dirty. You need to have at least one more set of socks, t-shirt and briefs in your bag to swap out as needed. Never go for more than one day with wet underwear; if you can’t rotate it, then consider going strap

Headgear – Any hat that is comfortable, shades the eyes and provides protection from the sun is fine. I prefer a full brim that goes all the way around like a boonie hat rather than a ball cap though. It should be cheap, light and crushable.

Footwear – An old pair of sneakers or running shoes will work. Include some cushioned inserts and rubber overboots if possible. The overboots should fit over the sneakers, so take them with you when you are trying them on for purchase.

Flashlight – You will need a flashlight. You can go cheap or high tech, just make sure it has batteries or a hand crank when you need it. LED lamps are more durable and have longer battery life than normal bulbs.

Radio – You’ll need to stay informed about the disaster and the impacts affecting your route home. Get a cheap radio with batteries or a hand-crank. The all-in-on emergency radio, light, cell phone charger is fine, but be mindful of the room it will take up in the bag.

You can add more to the bag but that’s the basics. Multi-tools, firearms, campsite shovels, medical supplies, alcohol, are all options, but are just extensions of the bare necessities.

You probably have a hiking or schoolbook backpack at home right now. Most of the other items are probably around the house too. Put it together and stick it in the car tonight.



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