By Misty Ann Khan and Dionne Silva Peters
I have a habit of always living like I’m about to put my house on the market as a way to keep my home tidy and uncluttered. Post Hurricane Harvey I find myself thinking more in terms of imminent mandatory evacuation. Many of us here in Houston were threatened with that possibility and unfortunately, for all too many of my friends and neighbors, it became a reality. Now it’s not just about being neat and uncluttered, it’s about knowing what I would take if I had to leave in a hurry, and where to find it.
My good friend Dionne Peters was one of the Houstonians who had to make that call before she boarded a boat with her husband, son, dog, and cat after reservoir waters were released in Houston. This house was not in the 100 year flood plain so no one thought for a minute they were in danger of flooding. Harvey was just a real special guy. Per Dionne:
“I never dreamed that I would ever be in a situation that would require a “bug out bag”, or having a bag prepared with items to live by in the event of a quick get away. This flood has taught me so many lessons and having a prepared bag is one of them.”
As Dionne was conveying this story to me, I thought to myself, “a bug out bag – how would I decide what to take?”
In fact, my mother and I had also engaged in a similar activity believing that her home was about to flood. In Mom’s case she got lucky and did not get water in her house, but we didn’t know that when we were frantically throwing clothes, shoes, jewelry, and pictures in suit cases all the while receiving a constant barrage of texts and calls from family members urging us to get out quickly. Not the best circumstances to be making important decisions.
In hindsight, Dionne realized that she missed some of the things she wished she would have grabbed. So we decided to put together a post (video coming soon on YouTube) with recommendations for how to pack a “bug out bag” should you find yourself needing to get out quickly. I’ll let Dionne take it from here…
I’ll start with what I actually brought and how useless the majority of it was. I wore a set of workout capris, an athletic bra top and tank shirt. Of course, I grabbed my jewelry, which I then put inside my small Louis Vuitton. I packed, my laptop, my phone, chargers, 2 t-shirts, a clean pair of underwear, a bra, flip flops, a pair of sneakers, a pair of socks, a hair brush, my house keys, wallet and I believe that’s all. All of these things were in a canvas cross-body tote which was then placed in a tall kitchen bag and sealed with a knot. The laptop was knotted off in its own plastic bag inside the tote. [Peanut Gallery: The plastic bag came in handy given it was raining and one of the bags fell out of the boat…]
But, as I climbed off the boat, I realized that I could have been more prepared. But, who imagines that they will be in a flood or disaster rescue situation??
My jewelry was useless to have, but I learned that some of my neighbors’ homes were looted during the flood, and I felt some comfort in knowing that what small amount of jewelry I had was safe with me. My laptop was useful when I was able to access wifi and it holds photos and videos from throughout the years. I wore my flip flops after I got off the rescue boat. Had my husband not carried out our important documents, I would have had those in my bag. I had my wallet with ID and credit cards. What I did not bring was a change of pants. Had it not been for my fabulous neighbors, who lent me a pair of pants, I would have had nothing to change into.
So, taking this experience, I put together a list of items to have ready to go, should the need to leave in an emergency ever arise again. I think my list covers the basics, and at the least, includes items that I wish I had brought.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
- Shampoo, conditioner
- Body wash and lotion
- Hair brush
- Hair ties
- Small first aid kit
- Small manicure kit
I recommend travel sizes kept in a gallon Ziplock bag. Where ever you may end up, you will want to clean up and having your own toiletries provides some comfort with the familiar scents of soaps and lotions. My first night was spent at an inexpensive hotel and although the hotel provided small bottles of soap, shampoo and conditioner, I felt out of sorts until I was able to clean up with my usual brand of toiletries. [Peanut Gallery: I keep these things in a toiletry bag ready to go because I travel for work so often – looks like that bag may come in handy even if you don’t travel often]
- 1-2 short sleeved shirt/s
- 1-2 Long sleeved shirt/s
- One pair of jeans
- One pair of shorts (if summer, if winter fleece pants)
- 2 pairs of socks
- 2 pairs of underwear
- 2 bra tops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 1 baseball cap
- 1 pair of flip flops (if summer)
- 1 windbreaker/rain jacket
- 1 pair of waders
Additional Items to Consider
- Important documents
- External hard drive (if used as your primary computer backup)
- Device chargers (phones, laptop, etc.)
Always know where your important documents are and keep them together. We have always kept ours in a plastic envelope in our safe. Many documents will be accessible online or through a third party (such as your insurance coverage and will), but others are harder to reproduce such as birth certificates, passports, social security cards, and vehicle titles.
I also want to point out that any of the items I’ve listed would be great to bring to a rescue site. In most disaster rescue situations people are leaving everything behind.
Thank you so much, Dionne, for sharing your story and lessons learned – hopefully this list will be a huge help to others during future emergencies. If you have some thoughts or experiences to share, we love to hear about them in the comments.