You can’t take everything with you when you’re evacuating due to a wildfire or other life-threatening emergency. A lightweight “go bag” is not like the emergency supplies you maintain at your home in case you have to shelter in place for days.
A go bag has the essentials you’ll need — medicines to a portable phone charger — that you can carry if you have to flee on foot or use public transportation.
First, here’s what to do now to prepare:
- Enroll in Public Alerts, Citizen Alert or a service in your county to be notified via text, call or email by emergency response agencies when you need to take action such as shelter-in-place or evacuate.
- Make sure everyone in your household knows your emergency escape plan including how to safely exit dwellings, where you will all reunite and how you will contact each other in case power lines or phone signals aren’t working. Redfora, the San Francisco-based company that sells emergency kits, has a Guide To Creating an Emergency Plan.
- Plan how you will care for your pets in an emergency. Update information on a pet ID tag or microchip if you have changed your address, phone number or emergency contact outside your immediate area. Place a pet rescue alert sticker near the front door or window so it’s visible to rescue workers.
- Know your home and auto insurance policy coverage, limits and requirements. Ask your insurance company now how to create a home inventory list and if you need to take photos.
- Create a digital financial binder. Scan important documents such as passports, birth certificates, Social Security cards, medication list and medical information, insurance policies, financial accounts, titles and a deed/lease to your home for proof of address. Keep copies of important contacts and documents together in a safe, waterproof box. Do not store any documents that reveal your personal information in an emergency bag in case the bag is misplaced or stolen.
- Print out the American Red Cross’ emergency preparedness checklist and see what more you need to do.
- The National Weather Service website posts information about local wind speed and direction, which may inform your fire evacuation route. Follow the instructions of local officials.
Assemble essentials in one place. Many of the must-have supplies may already be in your home, like hygiene items, but you’ll need duplicates so you can access them fast in an emergency.
Have a pair of long pants, a long-sleeve shirt or jacket, face covering, pair of hard-sole shoes or boots, and protective goggles near the go bag to put on before leaving.
Also pack a lightweight travel bag for your pet and identify a place to stay that will accept animals. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) app should list open shelters during an active disaster in your area.
Consider the color of your portable disaster kit. Some people want it red so it’s easy to spot, while others buy an ordinary-looking backpack, duffel or rolling cargo bag that won’t draw attention to the valuables inside. Some people remove patches identifying the bag as a disaster or first-aid kit.
Keep bags as light as possible by including only essentials:
- Protective: Face masks, N95 and other respirator masks, full-face smoke mask, goggles, disinfecting wipes
- Extra cash, eyeglasses, medicines. Ask your doctor, health insurance provider or pharmacist for an emergency supply of prescription and nonprescription medications
- Food and drink: If you think stores will be closed and you’re going somewhere without food and water, pack half-cup pouches of water and non-salty, nonperishable packets of food.
- Simple backup light, radio and charger: If there’s no place to plug in a device, you’ll appreciate the American Red Cross Clipray crank-powered, flashlight and phone charger ($21). Cranking for one minute produces power for 10 minutes of light. See other hand-crank chargers.
- A multitool (starting at $16) can provide, at your fingertips, knives, pliers, screwdrivers, bottle and can openers, an electrical crimper, wire stripper, file, saw, awl and ruler ($18.99). Leatherman has heavy-duty stainless-steel multitools ($129.95) has 21 tools, including wire cutters and scissors.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radar live app offers real-time radar images and severe weather alerts.
The Eton FRX3 American Red Cross emergency NOAA weather radio comes with a USB smartphone charger, LED flashlight and red beacon ($69.99). The alert function automatically broadcasts any emergency weather alerts for your area. Keep the compact radio (6.9 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide) charged with its solar panel, hand-crank or a built-in rechargeable battery.
A portable emergency radio ($49.98) with real-time NOAA weather reports and Public Emergency Alert System information can be powered by a hand-crank generator, solar panel, rechargeable batteries or wall power adapter. See other solar-powered or battery-powered weather radios.
If it’s safe to stay inside your home when a wildfire is far away, have an alternative source of power in case fire, smoke and particulate matter cause voltage lines to arc and trip offline.
Install weather sealing around gaps and plan for you and your pets to stay in a room with the fewest windows, preferably without a fireplace, vent or other openings to the outside. If you need one, keep a portable air cleaner or air conditioner running in that room.
First aid kit: The First Aid Only Store has an all-purpose first aid emergency kit for $19.50 with 299 items and a total weight of one pound. Add a pocket-size American Red Cross Emergency First Aid Guide or download the free Red Cross emergency app.
See other first aid kits
The American Red Cross and Ready.gov, which educates people on what to do to prepare for natural and manmade disasters, from earthquakes to wildfires, recommends every household has a basic disaster kit with supplies for three days to cover your family and pets if you are evacuated and two weeks of supplies if you’re hunkering down in your home.
You may already have most of the critical items. Replenish what you’ve used or add what you don’t have. Refresh and update water and food every six months.
Water: If water pipes break or the water supply is contaminated, you’ll need a source for a gallon of water a day per person to drink, cook with and clean. Your pet needs a gallon of water a day too. Portland Earthquake Kits explains how to safely store water. Containers should be certified free of BPA-containing plastics and specifically made to hold drinking water.
- Water containers can safely store one gallon of water. Fill them up, mark the date and in six months, use the water to landscape and fill the container again
- WaterBOB stores 100 gallons of drinking water in a BPA-free, heavy-duty, food-grade plastic container that fits in the bathtub. Fill it immediately after an emergency to have fresh water for up to 16 weeks. If out of stock and you can’t wait, an alternative is the Agptek disposable bathtub cover liner (12 pack for $29.95)
Food: It’s recommended that you have enough nonperishable food for two weeks, according to the American Red Cross. Experts recommend that nonperishable, easy-to-prepare food, like canned, ready-to-eat soup, not be super salty.
If you want to freeze meals, consider having a backup freezer.
Portland Fire & Rescue has a safety checklist that includes making sure electrical and heating equipment are in good working condition and not overheating.
Here’s what you should do to make sure your family and your home are prepared for fires:
- Place fire extinguishers on every level of your home.
- Install smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on each level of your home and in each bedroom.
- Purchase collapsible ladders for each upstairs bedroom. Typical ladders measure 15 feet and cover two stories of your home.
- Remove clothes, rags and other materials around furnaces, stoves and other heat-producing equipment.
- Clear the lint buildup in your dryer after every use and the area behind your dryer every few months.
- Close the fireplace screen to stop embers from popping onto the floor or carpet.
- Clean your chimney every year. Soot can harden on chimney walls as flammable creosote.
- Make sure your electrical cords are in covers and don’t run under carpets or against your walls.
- Space heaters and heat-producing appliances like toasters and hair dryers should be at least three feet away from anything flammable such as curtains, beds and other linens.
- Lighted candles should always be contained and monitored.
- Know how to feel the temperature of the bottom of doors and avoid opening doors if they are too hot.
- Practice family fire drills twice per year.
- Learn more by reading emergency guides
- Keep your car’s gas tank at least half full in case you have to quickly evacuate. Gas stations may be closed during emergencies and unable to pump gas during power outages, says Ready.gov. Take one car per family to reduce congestion on roads.
- Keep an emergency whistle in each bedroom to wake up your family members in the night if there’s a fire or other emergency.
- Know how to locate and shut off the gas using an emergency shut off tool.
- Consider purchasing a smart water shut-off valve, which will automatically stop your water supply if a pipe bursts.
- Better yet, consider investing in smart home technology for real-time updates on everything from water leaks to abnormally humid conditions in your home. Insurance companies often offer discounts when smart home devices are installed.
- Test your smoke detectors and other safety equipment frequently.
It’s always a good idea to have an emergency kit in your car.
Redfora has car kits packed with roadside essentials and core emergency items to help with a highway breakdown or to have the emergency essentials ready in case of wildfire, earthquake, flood, power outage. With each purchase, 1% is donated through Redfora Relief to a family that is suddenly homeless, disaster relief agencies in need of support or smart prevention projects.
— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072