With recent weather happenings, we’ve been watching a lot of The Weather Channel. This led us to a discussion about weather and emergency preparedness during our homeschool studies. I revealed to my daughter that we have emergency bag kits in case we have to evacuate our house during an emergency. I also confessed that we haven’t updated them in about four years (gross, I know), so we put that on our upcoming homeschool schedule to take care as part of our emergency preparedness lesson plans.
And then, something really weird happened.
Why Does Your Family Need ‘Bug Out Bags’?
About an hour after I talked to my daughter about getting our backpacks updated, I received an emergency text for our area:
It was a reminder that emergencies can happen any time for many different reasons — cut gas lines, chemical spills, weather issues, fires, and so much more (but I’m pretty sure not a zombie apocalypse!). It was also the validation that I needed to get better prepared and get our emergency backpacks cleaned out and updated.
What Are ‘Bug Out Bags’?
Emergency evacuation bags are sometimes called “bug out bags,” thought to be named after the “‘bail-out bag’ emergency kit many military aviators carry.”
Everyone in your entire family each needs to have their own emergency bag, preferably in backpack form in the event that you have to quickly leave your home and are unable to use your car and must walk to shelter. Plus, even preschoolers can carry a backpack comfortably (provided that the bags are not too heavy).
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that you prepare your family for 72-hours of emergency (think: no power, no access to food/grocery stores/emergency help, etc.). You can buy emergency bags already pre-packed (like this one), or you can pack your own emergency bag.
In our house, we prefer to pack our own emergency bag because we like to customize them with exactly what we need. This way can be more costly, but you can buy the basics (food, water, socks, etc.) and then slowly add the more expensive items (weather radio, etc.) over time.
Another reason I like to pack our own bags is because I think kids especially need specific and familiar items during an emergency. Kids will need comfort and their own items provide that. (And, don’t forget, they will also be looking to see how you are reacting to the emergency!) If your child has a special blanket or stuffed animal that comforts them, consider buying a duplicate and putting it in their emergency kit just in case you have to leave the house quickly and your child doesn’t have a chance to grab the other one. Also, put a surprise or two in your bag to present to the child when you get to the shelter, hotel, or the place where you land. Lastly, choose a different colored backpack for each child so that they can easily spot and grab their own bag in an emergency.
Some people prepare emergency bags for a situation where our lives as we know it change and we no longer have access to food, power, emergency services, etc. However, we are going to talk about packing a bag for a 72-hour emergency (and assume you will have access to food, power, and help after that).
Also, don’t be afraid to discuss emergencies with your kids and get them involved in packing their own bags. Explaining everything as you pack it (“This is how you use a whistle in an emergency or if you are in danger. We’re hanging it on the front of your bag.”) will help children be more comfortable if they ever have to use their bag.
TIP: Be sure to place everything, even clothing, in plastic, closable (like Ziploc) bags to protect them against rain and other elements. Also, store your emergency backpacks in a place where you can easily grab them and go.
One last tip? Review your bag every six months (not the four year rotation that I’m on) and replace food that has expired and update clothing sizes or styles for the season.
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Packing 72-Hour Emergency ‘Grab-and-Go’ Bags for Kids (And Reasons Why You Need These Items)
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It will be tempting to scrimp on a backpack, especially if you have a larger family and it can start to get costly. But do not buy cheaper backpacks. Remember, you may have to walk/hike to your safety point and you don’t want cheap backpacks to rip or break on the way! Buy a good, hiking backpack for each of your children’s appropriate size.
This may be another area where you want to save money, but I’ll caution you against that, too. In an emergency, you have no idea where you might end up — you may be sleeping on the floor in a huge stadium acting as a shelter or maybe even outdoors. You want a good, all-season sleeping bag to help protect your family and keep them warm. You’ll need one that rolls up tight in a bag that can be attached to the bottom of the hiking backpack.
• Non-perishable food (pick some of these and place them in a plastic zip bag to protect them from water. You will need enough for around three days):
(We like the Starkist Tuna Creations because they have a variety of flavors so everyone can pick their own favorites. Also, they have a pretty long shelf life.)
-Dried fruit packages
-Single serve almond butter
-Suckers/hard candies/Ring Pops (treats will be important as comfort items during emergencies, but don’t pack anything that can easily melt like chocolate)
-Single serve Kool-Aid packs (that can be added to water)
-Gummy snacks/fruit roll ups
-Hot chocolate packs and/or tea bags
You may not have access to hot water or being able to heat water, so only pack a couple of these.
I know that cracker packs are a popular choice for emergency bags, but I try to avoid foods that can easy crush. I also like the single serve packs of foods that you can eat right out of the pack (like the tuna and almond butter)
• Water — we like these emergency water pouches because you can pack a couple of these and they’re easy to carry in backpacks (especially for kids because bottled waters can get heavy) and also have long shelf lives.
It is recommended that you have at least one gallon of water per person, per day for all uses — cooking, drinking, and hygiene. (And don’t forget about your furry family members!) However, we are helping you pack a 72-hour bag with the thoughts that you will have help or access to more food/water after the 72 hours.
• Copies of identification (your identification and the child’s identification)
Have copies of your child’s vaccination and allergy records, and identification, as well as copies of your driver’s license, passport, and insurance cards. If you need an identification for your homeschooled child, check out Homeschool Buyers Co-op where you can print one for free. List several emergency contact numbers and your address on these copies. Place them in a plastic bag to protect them from moisture.
Emergency thermal blankets are a good addition to a survival bag because they are compact and add no additional weight, but provide extra warmth (even under your sleeping bag). They can also help protect you from rain, snow, and other moisture.
• One change of clothes:
We buy sweat pants, sweat shirts, and t-shirts and keep them in the bag at all times (we don’t wear them at other times). For kids, consider buying a size larger for the bag. You can always roll up pants or sleeves, but too tight clothes won’t work. (Especially if you’re like me and forget to update your bag regularly. Oops!) Your clothes for a 72-hour bag should include three changes of underwear and three changes of good socks (like wool hiking socks). (Clearly these needs change if you have a baby or someone who is potty training.) Learn how to fold the clothes into a ‘skivvy roll’ to save space.
Light rain ponchos are great because there’s a lot of room for kids to grow into them. Also, they are lightweight and easy to carry.
• Hat and gloves
No matter where you live, you’ll still want to include hats/caps and gloves that will protect your kids against any kind of moisture, sun, and elements, and help keep them warm (even when they sleep).
It may seem weird to include sunglasses in a child’s emergency bag, but you may be walking in the sun or outside for extended periods of time.
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We like head lamp flashlights that you wear on your head and adjust for all head sizes. We brought these to the beach with us one year (for our daughter to play outside) and we got hit by a storm and the electricity went out and these were great. You can walk around and see in the dark, but your hands stay free. (Don’t forget extra batteries!)
• Glow Sticks
Glow sticks aren’t just for parties! If you lose power, glow sticks light up an area fairly well and are much safer than candles. Also, if you have to walk somewhere in the dark, hanging glow sticks on each of your backpacks will help you keep track of each other. Another way you can use glow sticks is to put them along the floor and create a visible walk way during a power outage.
Even if your child is not old enough to use matches, I think it is still important to pack some in their bag. What if the matches from your bag get destroyed?
• Emergency hand crank solar radio (optional)
I put optional on this for a kid’s bag, but it is a must-have for at least one of the bags in your family. I recommend the ones that are a weather radio and a regular AM/FM radio so you can hear news, too. (Remember, you need a back-up for your mobile phone. Cellular towers may not alway work or may be jammed during emergency situations and you need another way to get emergency information!) Also, look for the emergency radios that you can crank to charge or can be solar charged. Be sure that it has a charging port for your phones or devices (in some cases, you may have to get a convertor, so test it out with your devices before an emergency). Our emergency crank weather radio also has a flashlight on the front.
• Emergency whistle
Emergency whistles are good in case your child gets lost or is in danger. Give them the whistle, discuss how/when to use it, and let them practice. They’ll have a blast!
• Walkie talkies (optional)
Walkie talkies can be helpful and fun during an emergency. If cell towers are down and your family has to split up (think: using different bathrooms in a shelter), it would be helpful to be able to keep in touch with them.
• Mess kit
Again, you have no idea what will be accessible to your family during an emergency, so it’s helpful to carry your own plate/utensils. I like this one because you can even use the little cup to drink out of and it all stores away neatly.
• Hand warmers
No matter where you live (warm or cold climate), if there’s no electricity and you’re wet, you’re going to be cold. So grab some of those hand warmers and foot or toe warmers warmers for each of your bags.
• Tablet/phones and chargers
Don’t forget to take your phones and tablets, as well as the chargers. In some instances, you may be evacuating to a shelter with power, so you’ll want a way to communicate, play games, and charge your devices.
If you have devices, you’ll want your earbuds (headphones). Plus, they can help drown out others if a shelter is really noisy.
• Toothbrush kit and hygiene kit (travel shampoo, soap, and wash cloth)
Be prepared by packing your own hygiene items for each child. Don’t forget the wash cloth or hand towel, which can be used as a napkin, to wash with, or emergency compress, if needed.
• Antibacterial wipes
Antibacterial wipes are helpful because not only can they work to keep you clean if there is a shortage of water or no place to shower/bathe, but they can also be used for toilet paper in a pinch.
• Sunscreen and bug spray
Bug spray isn’t just for outdoors. If you are sheltered in a large building with many others, ants and other bugs may start to come in because of the food and waste. Protect yourself by packing some bug spray.
I also like to add some fun, character bandaids to my travel first aid kit that might make the kids smile in stressful situations.
• Children’s Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen
Remember, during an emergency you may not have access to stores and medication. Packing Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen is helpful because they can be taken together during extreme fevers. Also, be sure to pack any regular medication your kids take (or put them in a place near the bags that can be easily grabbed on the way out during an emergency).
• Books/comics/puzzle books (search and find, etc.)
We also like those those on the go coloring/activity/sticker packs because it has crayons, coloring pages, and stickers in a self-contained pack for easy carrying in a backpack.
• Favorite blanket or stuffed animal
Comfort items are a must to help keep kids calm.
• Quiet toys (cards, small packs of Lego blocks, small puzzle packs, coloring/paper/crayons)
You might have to occupy your kids for a couple of days without power (in a strange place). So in each bag, include a book, paper and crayons, and a quiet toy.
For each kid’s bag, place $10 in ones and one dollar in quarters. You never know what money you may need in an emergency and people may not be able to break larger bills. Plus, if vending machines are available, your kids should be able to buy something with dollars or quarters.
After you fill the backpacks, put them on the kids to make sure that they’re aren’t too heavy for each child. Let your kids have some time to practice walking around with them on. If the bags are too heavy, you’ll have to rearrange and decide what can be left out and what is a must-have.
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