A well-stocked bug-out bag is one of the staples of prepping. And bugging out is a necessary response to certain disasters. When I lived in Florida, a while back, it was common to see “Hurricane Evacuation Route” signs on the roads. Sometimes you need to Get Out Of Dodge. What I’d like to discuss in this post is how to weight the risks of hunkering down versus the risks of bugging out. Too often, the discussion focuses on the risks of remaining in place. Bugging out also carries risks.
On any ordinary day, if you decide to take a road trip, you probably don’t need to worry about food. You can stop at any of the over 600,000 restaurants, or pick up a few ready-to-eat items at any of the over 280,000 food stores in the U.S. today. But when the S really hits the fan, you might not have that option.
When the tidal wave hit Fukushima, Japan, the grocery stores in Tokyo, 175 miles away. Tokyo was not affected by the tidal wave or radioactive fallout. But people panicked and they emptied the shelves of all the food stores. Restaurants ran out of food and closed. It took weeks to restock the food.
If you bug out, you need to consider your food options. How much food can you take with you? You probably won’t have cooking facilities, so the types of food you can take are limited. You don’t want to bug out to “safety”, only to find a new disaster: no food. If a large number of persons are evacuating an area, there may not be enough food at their destination.
Other than taking food with you, another option is to plan your bug out to a more distant location than most of the crowd. If you can get further away, by departing sooner, you might be beyond the area affected by crowds seeking food.
The need for water is a little different. Usually, a bug out location can provide water for a sharp increase in persons, as long as there is power. Again, traveling sooner and further makes it more likely you will find water.
But I would suggest that a wilderness bug out location might not provide sufficient clean water. You see this a lot on prepping and survival blogs — tips for camping out when you bug out. But it is not usually a practical option. Hunting and gathering food in the wilderness takes much time, effort, equipment, and skills. And water sources are often contaminated.
You might want to include water purification equipment in your bug out bag. Some water sources in cities and towns might not be entirely safe, especially in an emergency, when water is given out from trucks into random assortments of containers.
When you evacuate your home, there are additional health risks. Being in a crowded location, without ideal facilities for personal hygiene, increases the likelihood of catching a disease: a cold, the flu, or something more serious. The stress of traveling and of enduring more difficult living and sleeping arrangements adds stress, which can be a factor in susceptibility to disease. This particular risk will vary depending on the individual person.
Suppose there is a snowstorm in a town, and one thousand persons go out and shovel their driveway or walkway when it is over. The stress of shoveling increases the likelihood that some of those persons will have a heart attack. I don’t know what the exact odds are, but they certainly increase. So what happens when a million persons evacuate an area? The additional stress on those persons is probably responsible for an increase in heart attacks and other illnesses.
If you are healthy and fit, perhaps the odds of this factor affecting you are low. But it is something to consider.
Suppose that you evacuate by car in the winter, and you are stranded on the roadway in a snowstorm. You may have been better off at home. Your car may run out of gas while idling, and you will not be able to keep warm. If you live in an area with cold winters, your car should probably have a bug out kit that includes blankets or sleeping bags (not just space blankets).
What if you but out in response to radioactive fallout from a power plant disaster? Panic might result in a traffic jam that would strand you in your car, while radioactive fallout surrounds you. A house basement offers some protection from fallout. A car offers little or no protection. If you are not in an area where evacuation is necessary to survive, you might want to consider bugging out to your basement.
Whenever you evacuate your home, you have to consider not only where you will go, but how long you will stay there. Will you run out of food and supplies? What will you do for work if you cannot return home anytime soon? It’s a complicated decision, and I can’t offer any hard and fast rules to evaluate the risks. But what I will suggest to you is that most persons will panic and flee, whereas the well-prepared prepper will make a rational decision based on an awareness of the risks of leaving compared to the risks of staying.