Emergency Lessons – Review Your Go Bag

This article is one of a series of posts that emerged due to the recent wildfires that ravaged California wine country near our home.

Having a Go Bag is an important tool in being prepared for an emergency situation.  Equally important is making sure your go bag is truly ready for anything that comes.  This means not just buying a bag from Amazon and stuffing it in the closet behind lots of junk.  On a regular basis you should break out the bag, empty the contents out and review what’s included, what’s left out and what needs to be replaced or repaired.

Penny and I have had a Go Bag for a couple of years now, thanks to an active neighborhood preparedness group in the Oakland Hills where we previously lived.  We put together our bag in part spurred by a friendly competition among neighbors to see who could come up with the best example.

The problem is, we had not reviewed what was in the bag since that time, perhaps 2 years ago or more.  Prior to reviewing it, I could not even be certain what was in it anymore.  Worse yet, there was some non-perishable food in there but one that had an expiration date that had long since expired.  This is not good planning!

After the wildfire scare in California Wine Country I opened our bag and and did an inventory and analysis of what we had and what we needed.  You can read more about all of the items in the bag in my previous post.  Here are most of the bag contents scattered:

When reviewing things here were the takeaways, discoveries and things added to the to do list.

Emergency Radio Issues

We have a cheap, but fairly nice emergency radio and light.  The hand crank means never having to worry about batteries.  A nice feature of the unit is that it could be used to recharge cell phones and other small devices.  First problem I discovered is that the adapters from their phone jack power output to USB were missing.  I found them in a closet upstairs later.  Second problem, even with those adapters, it didn’t work.  The connections and adapters are cheaply made and did not seem to output any power at all.  We have actually never charged anything with this device.

Takeaway: The moral of the story is to check everything, make sure it works and keep all applicable pieces together at all times.

Expiration Dates

Things don’t last forever.  While I did find our AA batteries were still potent enough, we earlier found that our non-perishable food was woefully out of date.  Slightly stale food in an emergency may be fine, but they were perhaps a bit beyond that.  Our sunscreen’s use by date is in the past.  It may still work, but it’s effectiveness may be lessened.

Takeaway: Check expiration dates on all items in your go bag.  Cycle out items nearing expiration dates and refresh with new items.  The water blister packs and chemical light sources have expiration dates too.  Those were fine in our bag.  They may not be in yours.

Irrelevant Information

In our previous home there was a fantastic emergency preparedness group and we had a wealth of good information about escape routes from the area, local shelter locations and 2-way radio frequencies for communication.  But this was for Oakland.  All of this is useless given our current location.

We correctly included copies of our drivers licenses and insurance cards in our go bag.  The problem is that both of our insurance policies had been switched to other companies by our employers.

Takeaway: Review documents in your go bag and update them to be relevant to your current situation.

Missing Things

Our recent experience with the wildfires brought to mind a few things we should add to our go bags.  The top item was N95 Masks.  When the wildfires broke out there was often heavy smoke in the air and going outside was irritating at best.  I was away on a business trip and bought some to take back home, where they were scarce or unavailable.

Takeaway: Check your Go Bag on a regular basis.  I set up a yearly reminder in my Remember The Milk personal organizer to ping me one year after I check our Go Bag.

Another important point is that your Go Bag should never be sitting behind piled up junk in your closet.  It should be easily visible so that it can be found and grabbed in an instant.

TL;DR

In a nutshell: Have a go bag ready and check it regularly.

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