Evacuation Preparation: Bugging Out on Someone Else's Terms

Evacuation Preparation: Bugging Out on Someone Else’s Terms

It happens with nary a moment’s notice. A train carrying toxic chemicals derails. Floodwaters suddenly begin to rise. Wildfires take a turn and increase in intensity. This isn’t a head-for-the-hills-and-hunker-down-in-a-bunker situation, but you do need to beat feet and head for a safer location. Odds are pretty good that the authorities in the area will be nipping at your heels to keep you moving, too.

An emergency evacuation differs from a bugout in a couple of subtle, but important, ways. An evacuation is usually a sudden and immediate event. Not always, of course, such as in the case of a hurricane warning. More often than not, it is something that happens at the drop of a hat. Bugging out, though, is hopefully a more deliberate action taken in response to a deteriorating situation in your area.

Next is the length of time involved. An evacuation is typically a temporary situation. You’re leaving and probably doing so in a hurry, but you’ll be back relatively soon. Think of it as a very impromptu “vacation” of sorts. A bugout, on the other hand, is likely to involve a lengthy, if not permanent, stay away from home: You’re heading for the hills, and you’re not looking back.

Getting stuck in traffic snarls is something to avoid when evacuating.
Getting stuck in traffic snarls is something to avoid when evacuating.

The third difference between bugging out and evacuating concerns who makes the final decision to leave. Chances are that if the crisis has devolved to the point at which you’re bugging out, you’ve made the determination on your own to leave. Evacuations, however, are often initiated by government agencies and will usually involve law enforcement handling at least some of the duties. In other words, bugging out is voluntary, while evacuation might involve someone else making that decision for you.

It is always better if you are making the decision to leave rather than having that decision made for you. Always strive to keep close tabs on developing situations in your area, and take action as you see fit. If you wait for the authorities to announce an evacuation, you risk getting caught up in the inevitable traffic snarls and such.

That said, it is possible to take some precautions and do some planning for an unplanned evacuation.


If you live in a hurricane-prone area, you have, no doubt, seen evacuation route signs. These pre-planned routes will take residents away from the coast and toward a major city—one far enough inland to be safe from the hurricane and related damage. Nevertheless, as we’ve seen time and again, those routes quickly become not much more than slowly moving parking lots ahead of the storm.

There are two choices: Get out of town ahead of the crowd or find routes that are likely to be far less traveled. While the ideal would be the former, of course, plan ahead for the latter, just in case.

Fortunately, disaster response agencies have done much of the work for you. Planned evacuation routes are a matter of public record, as are the overall disaster response plans currently in place. Most counties and many municipalities have an established emergency management department or committee. Often, although not always, this is a function of the sheriff’s office or police department.

Once you’ve located the contact information for the emergency management director, contact him or her about obtaining copies of the disaster plans for your area—specifically, plans related to evacuation routes.

Examining these established evacuation routes will tell you where the majority of people will be headed in a major crisis. Wherever possible, plan your own routes to stay away from those areas. This will hopefully allow you to avoid most of the crowds and get out of the area quickly. Get to know your area very well, and you’ll be able to take advantage of little-used side streets, farm lanes, back alleys and more.

Bear in mind, too, that although the route you plot might be far longer in total mileage than a more direct one, you’ll likely be able to move much faster, because you won’t be fighting against traffic snarls, etc.

Street maps might be necessary if your phone’s GPS isn’t an option.
Street maps might be necessary if your phone’s GPS isn’t an option.

Those disaster plans might also include information about roadblocks that will be set up and used to funnel traffic into the evacuation routes. Knowing their locations beforehand will help you plan your own routes around them. A word of caution, though: Do not put yourself in a position in which you catch the attention of law enforcement. Should that happen, you might find your journey coming to an abrupt end.


Just as with bugging out, evacuation planning should involve choosing a few different destinations ahead of time. However, they need not be campsites out in the middle of nowhere and far from any population centers.

Don’t get me wrong; if that’s your plan, have at it. What I’m saying is that because an evacuation isn’t likely to be due to a societal collapse, but rather because of a temporary condition, you might be better off heading for the home of a family member or perhaps just a motel.

Again, though, you need to do your homework. Talk to family members or friends about your plans, and be sure they are willing and able to accommodate your family and you for a few days. (Be sure to reciprocate, of course, should they need a place to go.) You might even go so far as to store a small amount of supplies at their home (for instance, a few sets of clothing and some toiletries in a duffel bag or small plastic tote). If you trust them implicitly, you might also include a bit of cash.

If an inexpensive motel fits into your plans, be sure to contact it now to make sure it will accept pets, should that be an issue for your family. Many smaller motels will allow small dogs and cats, but some will draw the line at larger breeds. It pays to find this out ahead of time, rather than showing up in the middle of the night with your Rottweiler, only to discover you need to find a new place to go.

A cheap (but clean) motel room might be all you need for a place to crash for a night or two until you can return home.
A cheap (but clean) motel room might be all you need for a place to crash for a night or two until you can return home.

I recommend choosing at least three potential evacuation destinations, preferably in different compass directions from your home. This gives you options, depending on the nature of the calamity forcing you to hit the road. Given that evacuation situations are almost always reasonably local, you probably don’t need to plan a cross-country journey, either. Traveling an hour or two from home is usually sufficient.

If at all possible, avoid being forced into any sort of government-run emergency shelter. While this might turn out to be your only option in some situations, in most cases, you’ll be far better off if you’re able to stay with family or friends outside the affected area. Remember, though, that even a community emergency shelter will be a better option than trying to tread water for days on end in a flood.


Because an evacuation is usually a more temporary situation than a bugout, the gear and supplies that should be included in your evacuation kit will differ a bit from the traditional bugout bag. Gone, for instance, are the majority of shelter supplies, such as tents, sleeping bags, mats and the like. This isn’t an extended camping trip; it’s more like a weekend jaunt to Grandma’s house for the holidays.

When assembling your evacuation kit, think along the lines of a short vacation rather than living off the land. Pack enough supplies, clothing and toiletries to last your family a few days. Don’t forget a supply of any prescription medications you or a family member has to take.

Your evacuation kit should also have copies of all your important papers, just in case your home is damaged in the disaster. Flash drives are an excellent option for this. It can take some time and effort to scan everything and save it to the USB drive, but it is definitely worth it and is better than lugging around a stack of paper. These documents should include:

  • Identification: Scanned copies of driver’s licenses, school ID cards for the children and a copy of each social security card
  • Insurance policies: Home, auto, life
  • Bank statements: One scanned copy for each bank account, updated annually
  • Credit card statements: One scanned copy for each account, updated annually
  • Health records: Immunization records for each family member, along with information regarding allergies, prescriptions and any other known health issues, updated annually or as needed
  • Property ownership records: Deed for real estate, registration for vehicles.

Evacuation Kit Checklist


evacEvacuation is less like bugging out and more like a short vacation. That said, your bugout bag can certainly double as your evacuation kit with a little tweaking.

1. Clothing and toiletries
2. Nonperishable snacks and bottles of water
3. Water filter
4. Prescription medications
5. Flash drive
6. Road map
7. Cash, identification card and credit cards

Something else to add to the flash drive is a video inventory of your home and personal property. Flash drives today contain a lot of memory and will easily handle large video files. Take your digital camera
and video each room. For high-end electronics and other expensive items, be sure to zoom in and capture model and serial numbers. Open drawers, cabinets and closets. In the event you lose your home
in the disaster, this video record will be a lifesaver when it comes to figuring out what was lost.

In addition, consider going through your family photo albums—both physical photos, as well as digital ones—and adding favorites to the thumb drive.

A bugout bag would normally contain supplies for procuring food in the wild, such as fishing tackle, snares and other devices. When evacuating, however, the focus is on getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. You won’t be spending time running a trap line. Therefore, just be sure to include in your kit some nonperishable snacks and a few bottles of water.

I recommend adding some type of water filtration system. Depending on the nature of the disaster, clean water might be difficult to find until you’ve gotten well outside the affected area. You don’t want to add a case of the “trots” on top of an already stressful situation.

Keep in mind that the world outside the affected area will be relatively normal. Cash and at least one low-balance credit card will be your best friends. Even if you escape home with little more than the
clothes on your back, you’ll be able to pay for fuel, food and other necessities.

Additional items to consider for your evacuation kit

medIn this day and age, it seems as if almost everyone is taking one or more prescription medications. Many of these meds are either life-sustaining or can have severe side effects if they are suddenly ceased. Therefore, if you or family members regularly take one or more medications, you’ll need to have a supply with you when you evacuate.

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this takes a little time but has zero added expense. Most prescriptions allow you to get a refill when you still have a few days left on the current supply. Get your refill as soon as you’re able to do so and then set aside the overlap supply for your evacuation kit. Do this a few times, always rotating out the old medications and replacing them with a new supply, and it won’t take long before you have a stash that will last a week or more.

Understand that it is vitally important not to skip doses for the sake of saving meds for your kits.

petYou should take the time to assemble a small kit for each pet that will be evacuating with you. These supplies need not be kept separate from the main evacuation kit, of course. The pet evacuation kit should contain, at a minimum:

Leash and muzzle: Even the best-behaved pet might act out when stressed. And, if you end up at a community shelter, the staff probably won’t allow the animal inside unless leashed and muzzled, if not crated.

Health record: Obtain from your veterinarian a complete copy of the pet’s immunizations and other health information.

Food: Many pets suffer digestive upsets if their food is suddenly changed. Have a small supply of their normal food, along with a few of their favorite treats.

Foldable water dish: Critters usually have a rather hard time drinking water from a bottle. Head to your favorite pet supply store for a foldable water dish to keep in the kit. Toss in a water bottle or two, as well.

Photos of you and your pet: If you and your pet become separated, a good photo of you with your pet will go a long way toward identifying it and proving ownership. Our pets rely on us to provide for their safety and well-being. Don’t let them down.

Emergency evacuations happen without notice, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead for them. Your bugout bags can serve as evacuation kits with a little tweaking.

After all, it is better to be overprepared than to be lacking in essentials. If you take the time to plan your routes and set up your evacuation destinations, you’ll be far better off than those around you.

Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of ASG.

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